"You imagine I am one of the generous contributors? Be easy; I have not offered you a cent. I am merely the bearer of the gift, or rather the attempt at restitution. Your refusal will grieve them, and add to the pangs of regret that very justly afflict them at present."
"I have some money which Doctor Grantlin collected for my Christmas card. He retained only a portion of the amount, and sent me the remainder. Mr. Singleton keeps it for me, and it is all that I need now."
"The purse contains also a ticket to New York, as it has been supposed that you would desire to return there at once."
"Take all back, with my earnest thanks. I prefer to owe X—only the remembrance of the great kindness which some few have shown me. The officers here have been uniformly considerate and courteous to me; Mr. and Mrs. Singleton will ever be very dear to me for numberless kind deeds; and Sister Serena was a staff of strength during that frightful black week of the trial."
She paused, and her voice betrayed something of the tumult at her heart, as while a sudden wave of scarlet overflowed her cheeks, she rose and held out both hands.
"Mr. Dunbar, if I have seemed unappreciative of your great exertions in my behalf, it is merely because there are some matters which I can never explain in this world. One thing I ask you to believe when I am gone. I will never, so long as I live, cease to remember the debt I owe you. I am and shall be inexpressibly grateful to you, and whenever I think of my terrible sojourn here, be sure I shall recall tenderly—oh! how tenderly! the two friends who trusted and believed in my innocence, when all the world denounced me; the two who generously clung to me when public opinion branded me as an outcast—you two—my best friends, you and Miss Gordon. It makes me proud and happy to know in this hour of my vindication, that in her, and in your good opinion, I needed none. Out of your united lives, let me pass as a fleeting gray shadow."
"Out of my life you can never pass. Into it you have brought disappointment, humiliation, and a keenness of suffering such as I never imagined I was capable of enduring; and some recompense I will have. You hope to plunge into the vortex of a great city, where you can elude observation and obliterate all traces. Do not cherish the ghost of such a delusion. Go where you may, but I give you fair warning, you cannot escape me; and the day you meet that guilty vagabond, you betray him to the scouts of justice."
He held her hands in a close, warm clasp, and a flush crossed his brow, as he looked down into her quivering face where a smile which he could not interpret, seemed only a challenge.
"Would a generous man, worthy of Miss Gordon, harass and persecute a very unhappy and unfortunate woman, who asks at his hands only to be forgotten completely, to be left in peace?"
"I lay no claim to generosity, and, where you are concerned, I am supremely selfish. Miss Gordon has no need of your championship; she is quite equal to redressing her own wrongs, when the necessity presents itself. You are struggling to free your hands, so be it. I have a close carriage at the gate, and to make assurance doubly sure, I have come to take you to 'Elm Bluff'; to show you the face, and ask you to identify it. Understand me, I will harass you with no questions; nor will I intrude upon you there. I have ordered the grounds cleared, have posted police to prevent the possibility of any occurrence unpleasant to you; and all I ask is, that alone, you will examine this witness, produced so strangely for your justification. I shall wait for you in the rose garden, and if you can come down from that gallery and tell me that the face is unknown to you, that the man photographed in the act of stealing, is a stranger, is not the man you love so well that you bore worse than death to save him from punishment, then I will give up the quest; and you may flee unwatched to the ends of the earth."
"Never again will I see that place which has blasted every hope that life held for me."
"Not even to clear away aspersion from his beloved name?"
"I pray God, his beloved and sacred name may never be associated with a crime so awful."
"You will not go to see the face? Remember, I shall ask you neither yea nor nay. I shall need only to look once into your eyes, after you have seen the Gorgon. Beryl, my white rose! Are you ashamed to show me your idol's face?"
"I will never go to 'Elm Bluff'."
"It is no longer necessary. You know already the features printed there, and your avoidance stamps them with infamy. How can your lofty soul, your pure heart, tolerate a creature so craven, so vile?"
"We love not always whom we would, or should, were choice permitted us; and to whom I have given my heart, my whole deep heart, you shall never learn."
The mournful smile that lent such wistful loveliness to her flushed face, seemed to him merely a renewed defiance.
"I bide my time, knowing it will surely come. You are free, but be careful. Once when you lay upon the brink of the grave, unconscious, I knelt at your side and took you in my arms; laid your head on my heart, felt your cheek touch mine. Then and there I made a covenant with my soul; and no other man's arms shall ever enfold you. Ah, my Rosa Alba! I could dig your grave with my own hands, sooner than see that thief claim you. I am a proud man, and you have dragged me through the slough of humiliation, but to-day, as I bid you good-bye, I realize how one felt, who looking at the bust of him she loved supremely, said with her last breath: 'Voila mon univers, mon espoir, et mes dieux!' How soon we meet again depends solely on your future course. You know the conditions; and I promise you I will not swerve one iota."
He took her hand, drew it across his cheek, laid it on his lips; and a moment later walked away, with the faded flowers folded close in his palm.
Conveniently contiguous to the busy centre of a wide and populous city, situated on the shore of one of those great inland fresh-water seas, whose lake line girdles the primeval American upheaval, the Laurentian rocks,—stands in the middle of a square, enclosed by a stone coping and an iron railing, a stately pile of brick and granite several stories high, flanked by wings that enclose in the rear a spacious court. The facade was originally designed in the trabeated style, and still retained its massive entrance, with straight, grooved lintel over the door which was adorned by four round columns; but subsequent additions reflected the fluctuations of popular architectural taste, in the later arched windows, the broad oriel with its carved corbel, and in the new eastern wing, that had flowered into a Tudor tower with bulbous cupola. The strip of velvet sward between the street and the house entrance, was embossed with brilliant coleus set in the form of anchors; and a raised border, running the entire length under the windows of the basement, was ablaze with geraniums of various hues.
On a granite pediment above the portico, a large bronze anchor was supported, and beneath it was cut, in projecting letters: "The Umilta Anchorage".
In front of the building ran a broad, paved boulevard; in the rear, the enclosure was bounded by a stone wall, overgrown with ivy, and built upon the verge of the blue lake, whose waves broke against the base, and rolled away in the distance beyond the northern horizon.
Fully in accord with the liberal eclecticism that characterized its exterior, was the wide-eyed, deep, tender-hearted charity which, ignoring all denominational barriers, opened its doors in cordial welcome to worthy, homeless women, whom misfortune had swept away from family moorings, and whose clean hands and pure hearts sought some avenue to honest work. The institution was a memorial erected and endowed by a wealthy man, whose only child Umilta, just crossing the threshold of womanhood, had been lost in a sudden storm on the lake; whose fair, drowned face had been washed ashore just below the stone wall, and whose statue stood, guarded by marble angels, in the small chapel in the centre of the building, which was designed as an enduring monument to commemorate her untimely fate, and perpetuate her name.
Divided into various industrial departments, the "Anchorage" was maintained almost entirely by the labor of its inmates; and it had rarely been found necessary to draw from the reserve endowment fund, that was gradually accumulating for future contingencies.
Trained nurses, trained housekeepers were furnished on demand; lace curtains mended, laundered; dainty lingerie of every description, from a baby's wardrobe to a bride's trousseau; ornamental needle-work on all fabrics; artificial flowers, card engraving, artistic designs for upholstering, menus, type-writing, all readily supplied to customers; and certain confectionery put up in pretty boxes made by the inmates, and bearing the "Anchor" stamp. A school of drawing, etching, painting, and embroidery attracted many pupils; and a few pensioners who had grown too infirm and dim-eyed for active work, had a warm, bright room where they knitted stockings and underwear of various kinds.
At one end of the long refectory was emblazoned on the wall: "For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in Heaven, the same is my brother and sister and mother." At the other: "Bear ye one another's burdens." The chapel contained no pulpit, but on a marble altar stood a life-size figure of a woman clinging to the cross: and on the walls hung paintings representing the Crucifixion, the Descent, the Resurrection and the Mater Dolorosa; while in a niche at the extremity, behind the altar, an Ecce Homo of carved ivory was suspended above a gilt cross, and just beneath it glittered the motto "Faith, Hope, Charity". Every morning and evening the band of women gathered here, and recited the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer; but on Sabbath the members attended the church best suited to their individual tenets.
The infirmary was a cheerful, airy room, and here professional nurses were trained under the guidance of visiting physicians; and in an adjoining kitchen were taught to prepare the articles of diet usually belonging to the regimen of sick rooms.
Widows, maidens, Catholics, Protestants, admitted from the age of eighteen to forty, these "Umilta Sisters" were received on probation for eighteen months; then entered upon a term of five years, subject to renewal at will; bound by specified rules, but no irrevocable vow. Yielding implicit obedience to the matron, elected by themselves every four years—subject to approval and ratification by the Chapter of Trustees, they were recognized wherever they went by the gray garb, the white aprons, and snowy mob caps peculiar to the institution.
Fashionable women patronized and fondled the "Anchorage", for much the same reason that led them to pamper their pugs; and since the Chapter of Trustees consisted of men of wealth and prominence, their wives, as magnates in le beau monde, set the seal of "style" upon articles manufactured there, by ordering quilted satin afghans with anchors of pansies embroidered in the centre, for their baby carriages; painted tea gowns; favors for a "German", or fans and bonbonnieres for birthday parties.
If children of the Brahmin caste of millionairdom were seized by the Pariah ills of measles, or chicken-pox, or mumps, it was deemed quite as imperatively the duty of doting parents to provide an "Anchorage" nurse, as to secure an eminent physician, and the most costly brand of condensed milk. In the name of sweet charity, gay gauzy-winged butterflies of fashion harnessed themselves in ropes of roses, and dragged the car of benevolence; as painted papillons drew chariots of goddesses on ancient classic walls; so in the realm of social economy the ubiquitous law of correlation of industrial force—of conservation of energy—transmuted the arrested labor of the rich and idle into the fostering heat that stimulated the working poor.
Scarcely a month previous to her unexpected release from prison, Beryl had received a letter from Doctor Grantlin, enclosing one addressed to "Sister Ruth, Matron of Anchorage". He wrote that his daughter's health demanded some German baths; and on the eve of sailing, he desired to secure for the prisoner a temporary refuge, should the efforts which he had heard were made to obtain her pardon, prove successful. As a nephew of the founder, and a cousin of the young lady for whom the "Anchorage" was intended as a lasting memorial, he had always been accorded certain privileges by the trustees; and the letter, if presented to the matron, would insure at least an entrance into the haven of rest, until the prisoner could mature some plan for her future.
Spurred away from X—by the dread of another interview with the man whom she had assiduously shunned, and of being required to visit "Elm Bluff" and scrutinize the accusing picture, Beryl had shrouded herself in her heavy mourning, and fled from the scene of her suffering, on the 3 A.M. train Sunday morning; ten hours after receiving the certificate of her discharge. Shrinking from observation, she refused Mr. Singleton permission to accompany her to the station house, and bade him good-bye three squares distant; promising to write soon to his still absent wife, and assured by him that a farewell letter of affectionate gratitude should be promptly delivered to Dyce. Fortunately a stranger stood in the office and sold her a ticket; and in the same corner, where twenty months before she had knelt during the storm, she waited once more for the sound of the train. How welcome to her the shuddering shriek that tore its way through the dewy silence of the star-lit summer night, and she hurried out, standing almost on the rails, in her impatience to depart.
Several travellers were grouped near a pile of luggage awaiting the train, but as it rolled swiftly in and jarred itself to a standstill, she saw even through her crape veil a well known figure, leaning against an iron post that held an electric lamp. She sprang up the steps leading to the platform, and took the first vacant seat, which was in front of an open window.
The silvery radiance from the globe just opposite, streamed in, and her heart seemed to cease beating as the tall form moved forward and taking off his hat, stood at the side of the car. Neither spoke. But when the brass bell rang its signal and the train trembled into motion, a hand was thrust in, and dropped upon her lap a cluster of exquisite white roses, with one scarlet passion flower glowing in the centre.
During the three days spent in New York, Beryl's wounds bled afresh, and she felt even more desolate than while sheltered behind prison walls. The six-storied tenement house where she had last seen her mother's face, and kissed her in final farewell, had been demolished to make room for a new furniture warehouse. Strange nurses in the hospital could tell her nothing concerning the last hours of the beloved dead; and the only spot in the wide western world that seemed to belong to her, was a narrow strip of ground in a remote corner of the great cemetery, where a green mound held its square granite slab, bearing the words "Ellice Darrington Brentano."
With her face bowed upon that stone, the lonely woman had wept away the long hours of an afternoon that decided her plan for the future.
Dr. Grantlin had gone abroad for an indefinite period, and no one knew the contents of his last letter. In New York her movements would be subject to the SURVEILLANCE she most desired to escape; but in that distant city where the "Anchorage" was situated, she might disappear, leaving no more trace than that of a stone dropped in some stormy, surging sea.
To find Bertie and reclaim him, was the only goal of hope life held for her, and to accomplish this, the first requisite was to effectually lose herself.
Anxious and protracted deliberation finally resulted in an advertisement, which she carried next morning to the "Herald" office, to be inserted for six months in the personal column, unless answered.
"BERTIE, IF YOU WANT THE LOST BUTTON WE BOUGHT AT LUCCA, WHEN CAN GIGINA HAND IT TO YOU IN ST. CATHERINE'S, CANADA?"
She wore her old blue bunting dress, and a faded blue veil when she delivered the notice at the office of the newspaper, and paid in advance the cost of its publication. Later in the same day, clad in her mourning garments, she went down to the Grand Central Depot and bought a railway ticket; and the night express bore her away on her long journey westward.
It was on the fourth of July, her twenty-first birthday, that she entered the reception room at the "Anchorage", and presented in conjunction with Doctor Grantlin's letter, a copy of the newspaper printed at X—, which contained an article descriptive of the discovery of the picture on the glass door; and expressive of the profound sympathy of the public for the prisoner so unjustly punished by incarceration.
For twenty years a resident of the institution, over which she had repeatedly presided, Sister Ruth was now a woman of fifty-five, whose white hair shone beneath her cap border like a band of spun silver, and whose yellowish, dim eyes seemed unnaturally large behind their spectacles. Thin and wrinkled, her face was nobly redeemed by a remarkably beautiful, patient mouth; and her angular, wiry figure, by small feet and very slender hands, where the veins rose like blue cords lacing ivory satin. Over the shoulders of her gray flannel dress was worn the distinctive badge of her office, a white mull handkerchief pleated surplice fashion into her girdle, whence hung by a silver chain a set of tablets; and the folds of mull were fastened at her throat by a silver anchor.
Having deliberately read letter and paper, she put the former in her pocket, and returned the latter with a stately yet graceful inclination of the head, that would have been creditable in Mdm. Recamier's salon.
"I have expected you for some weeks, an earlier letter from Doctor Grantlin having prepared me for your arrival; but it appears you have not been released from prison by the pardon he anticipated?"
"No, madam; the authorities who caused my arrest and imprisonment, considered the discovery of the printed door a complete refutation of the accusation against me, and ordered my release. I come here not as a pardoned criminal, but as an unfortunate victim of circumstantial evidence; acquitted of all suspicion by a circumstance even stranger than those which seemed to condemn me. In the darkest days of my desolation, Doctor Grantlin believed me innocent, honored me with his confidence and friendship, soothed my mother's dying hour; and he will rejoice to learn that acquittal anticipated the mockery of a pardon. Only his generous encouragement emboldened me to hope for a temporary shelter here."
"Then you have no desire to become a permanent resident?"
"At present, I shall be grateful if allowed to enjoy the privilege of hiding my sore heart for a while from the gaze of a world that has cruelly wronged me. I want to rest where wicked men and women do not pollute the air, where I can try to forget the horrors of convict life; and the rest I need is not idleness, it is labor of some kind that will so fully employ my hands and brain, that when I lie down at night my sad, aching heart and wounded soul can find balm in sleep. Locked at night into a dark cell has made existence for nearly eighteen months a mere hideous vigil, broken by fitful nightmare. To see only pure faces, to listen to sweet feminine voices that never knew the desecration of blasphemy, to exchange the grim, fetid precincts of a penitentiary for a holy haven such as this, is indeed a glimpse of paradise to a tortured spirit."
"Have you special reasons for wishing to shun observation?"
The dim eyes probed like some dull blade that tears the tissues.
"Yes, madam, special cause to want to be forgotten by the public, who have stared me at times almost to frenzy."
"You are an orphan, I am told; with no living relatives in America."
"I am an orphan; and think I have no relative in the United States."
"In the very peculiar circumstances that surround and isolate you, I should imagine you would esteem it a great privilege to cast your lot here, and become one of the permanently located Sisters of the 'Anchorage'. Ours is a noble and consecrated mission."
"Knowing literally nothing of your institution, except that it is a hive of industrious good women, offering a home and honest work to homeless and innocent unfortunates, I could not pledge myself to a life which might not prove suitable on closer acquaintance. Take me in; give me employment that will prevent me from being a tax upon your hospitality and mercifully shelter me from pitiless curiosity and gossip."
"Even were our sympathies not enlisted in your behalf, Doctor Grantlin's request would insure your admission, at least for a season. Where is your luggage?"
"I have only a trunk, for which I have retained the railway check, until I ascertained your willingness to receive me."
"Give it to me."
She crossed the room and pressed the knob of a bell on the opposite wall. Almost simultaneously a door opened, and to a stout, middle-aged woman who appeared on the threshold, the matron gave instructions in an under tone.
Returning to the stranger, she resumed:
"I infer from the Doctor's letter, that you are a gifted person. In what lines do your talents run?"
"Perhaps I should not lay claim to talent, but I am, by grace of study, a good musician; and I draw and paint, at least with facility. At one time I supported my mother and myself by singing in a choir, but diphtheria closed that avenue of work. With the restoration of health, I think I have recovered my voice. I am an expert needle woman, and can embroider well, especially on fine linen."
"Do you feel competent to teach a class in 'water color', in our Art School? Our aquarelle Sister is threatened with amaurosis, and the oculist prohibits all work at present."
"You can form an opinion of my qualifications by examining some sketches which are in my trunk. I have furnished several designs for the 'Society of Decorative Art', and have sold a number of painted articles at the Woman's Exchange."
"Then I think you have only to step into a vacant niche, and supply a need which was beginning to perplex us. During the latter part of September, an International Scientific Congress will be held in this city, and one of our patrons, Mr. Brompton, who expects to entertain the distinguished foreign delegates, has given us an order for dinner cards for eight courses, and each set for twenty-four covers. As nearly as we can comprehend the design, his intention is to represent the order of creation in fish, game, fruits and flowers; and each card will illustrate some special era in geology and zoology. The cream and ices set are expected to show the history of Polar regions as far as known, and at the conclusion of the banquet, each guest will be presented with a velvet smoking cap, to which must be attached a card representing 'scientific soap-bubbles pricked by the last scientists' junta'. Now while the 'Anchorage's' cultured art standard claims to be as high as any, East, we should scarcely venture to fill this order, had not two of the professors in our University, promised to map out the order, and furnish some dots in the way of engravings, which will aid the accomplishment of the work; and we are particularly desirous of pleasing our patron, from whom the 'Anchorage' expects a bequest. If you think you can successfully undertake a portion of this order, given us by Mr. Brompton, we shall make you doubly welcome."
"I think I may safely promise satisfactory work in the line you designate; and at least, I shall be grateful for the privilege of making the attempt."
"You are aware, I presume, that all inmates of the 'Anchorage' are required to wear its regulation uniform."
"I shall be very glad to don it; hoping it may possess some spell to exorcise memories of the last uniform I wore; the blue homespun of penitentiary convicts."
"You must try to forget all that. The 'Anchorage' gates shut fast on the former lives we led; here we dwell in a busy present, hoping to secure a blessed future. Come with me to the cutting room, and be measured for your flannel uniform; then one of the Sisters will show you to your own cell in this consecrated bee-hive, which you will find as peaceful as its name implies."
The first story contained the reception rooms, chapel, schoolroom, apartments for the display of sample articles manufactured; the refectory, kitchen and laundry; and one low wide room with glass on three sides, where orchids and carnations, the floral specialties of the institution, were grown. On the second floor were various workrooms, supplied with materials required for the particular fabric therein manufactured or ornamented; and cut off from communication, was the east wing, used exclusively as an infirmary, and provided with its separate kitchen and laundry. The third story embraced the dormitory, a broad, lofty apartment divided by carved scroll work and snowy curtains, into three sets of sleeves running the entire length of the floor; separated by carpeted aisles, and containing all the articles of furniture needed by each occupant. On the ceiling directly over every bed, was inscribed in gilt letters, some text from the Bible, exhorting to patience, diligence, frugality, humility, gentleness, obedience, cheerfulness, honesty, truthfulness and purity; and mid-way the central aisle, where a chandelier swung, two steps led to a raised desk, whence at night issued the voice of the reader, who made audible to all the occupants the selected chapter in the Bible. At ten o'clock a bell was rung by the Sister upon whom devolved the duty of acting as night watch; then lights were extinguished save in the infirmary. This common dormitory was reserved for Sisters who had spent at least five years in the building; and to probationers were given small rooms on the second story of the west wing.
The third story of the same wing fronted north, and served as a studio where all designs were drawn and painted; and upon its walls hung pictures in oil and water color, engravings, vignettes, and all the artistic odds and ends given or lent by sympathetic patrons.
Each story was supplied with bath-rooms, and the entire work of the various departments was performed by the appointed corps of inmates; the Sisters of the wash tub, and of the broom brigade, being selected for the work best adapted to their physical and intellectual development.
Visitors lingered longest in the great kitchen with its arched recess where the range was fitted; where like organ pipes glittering copper boilers rose, and burnished copper measures and buckets glinted on the carved shelves running along one side. The adjoining pastry room was tiled with stone, furnished with counters covered with marble slabs, and with refrigerators built into the wall; and here the white-capped, white-aproned priestesses of pots, pans and pestles moved quietly to and fro, performing the labor upon which depended in great degree the usefulness of artificers in all other departments.
The refectory opened on a narrow terrace at the rear of the building, which was sodded with turf and starred with pansies and ox-eyed daisies, and on the wide, stone window sills sat boxes and vases filled with maiden-hair ferns and oxalis, with heliotrope and double white violets. Three lines of tables ran down this bright pretty room, and in the centre rose a spiral stair to a cushioned seat, where when "Grace" had been pronounced, the Reader for the day made selections from such volumes of prose or poetry as were deemed by the Matron elevating and purifying in influence; tonic for the soul, stimulant for the brain, balm for the heart.
Close to the rear wall overhanging the lake, ran a treillage of grape vines, and on the small grass sown plat of garden, belated paeonies tossed up their brilliant balls, as play-things for the wind that swept over the blue waves, breaking into a fringe of foam beyond the stone enclosure.
Except at meals, and during the last half hour in the dormitory, night and morning, no restriction of silence was imposed, and one hour was set apart at noon for merely social intercourse, or any individual scheme of labor. Busy, tranquil, cheerful, often merry, they endeavored to eschew evil thoughts; and cultivated that rare charity which makes each tolerant of the failings of the other, which broadens a sympathy that can excuse individual differences of opinion, and that consecrates the harmony of true home life.
The room assigned to Beryl was at the extremity of the second story, just beneath the studio; and as the north end of the wings was built at each corner into projections that were crowned with bell towers, this apartment had a circular oriel window, swung like a basket from the wall, and guarded by an iron balcony. Cool, quiet, restful as an oratory seemed the nest; with its floor covered by matting diapered in blue, its low, wide bedstead of curled maple, with snowy Marseilles quilt, and crisply fluted pillow cases; its book shelves hanging on the wall, surmounted by a copy in oil of Angelico's Elizabeth of Hungary, with rapt face upraised as she lifted her rose-laden skirt.
The lambrequins of blue canton flannel were bordered with trailing convolvulus in pink cretonne, and the diaphanous folds of white muslin curtains held in the centre an embroidered anchor which dragged inward, as the breeze rushed in through open windows. An arched recess in the wall, whence a door communicated with the adjoining chamber, was concealed by a portiere of blue that matched the lambrequins, and the alcove served as a miniature dressing-room, where the brass faucet emptied into a marble basin.
In this apartment the imperial sway of dull maroons, sullen Pompeiian reds, and sombre murky olives had never cast encroaching shadows upon the dainty brightness of tender rose and blue, nor toned down the silvery reflection of the great sea of waters that flashed under the sunshine like some vast shifting mirror.
Travel-worn and very weary, Beryl sat down by the window and looked out over the lake, that far as the eye could reach, lifted its sparkling bosom to the cloudless dim blue of heaven, effacing the sky line; dotted with sails like huge white butterflies, etched here and there with spectral, shadowy ship masts, overflown by gray gulls burnished into the likeness of Zophiels' pinions, as their wings swiftly dipped.
Driven by storms of adversity away from the busy world of her earlier youth, leaving the wrack of hopes behind, she had drifted on the chartless current of fate into this Umilta Sisterhood, this latter day Beguinage; where, provided with work that would furnish her daily bread, she could hide her proud head without a sense of shame. Doctor Grantlin, in compliance with her request, would keep the secret of her retreat; and surely here she might escape forever the scrutiny and the dangerous magnetism of the man who had irretrievably marred her fair, ambitious youth.
To-day, twenty-one, full statured in womanhood, prematurely scorched and scarred in spirit by fierce ordeals, she saw the pale ghost of her girlhood flitting away amid the ruins of the past; and knew that instead of making the voyage of life under silken sails gilded with the light, and fanned by the breath of love and happiness, she had been swept under black skies before a howling hurricane, into an unexpected port,—where, lashed to the deck with "torn strips of hope", she had finally moored a strained, dismasted barque in the "Anchorage", whence with swelling canvas and flying pennons no ships ever went forth.
A rush of grateful tears filled her tired eyes, and soothed by the consciousness of an inviolable security, her trembling lips moved in a prayer of thankfulness to God, upon whom she had stayed her tortured soul, grappling it to the blessed promise: "Lo, I am with you always. I will never leave you nor forsake you."
"Why deny it, Leo? Let us at least be frankly realistic, and 'call a spade a spade' when we set ourselves to dig ditches, draining the stagnant pools of life. Each human being has a special goal toward which he or she strains, with nineteen chances out of twenty against reaching it in time; and if it be won, is it worth the race? With some of us it is love, ambition, mundane prosperity; with others, intellectual supremacy, moral perfection, exalted spirituality, sublimated altruism; but after all, in the final analysis, it is only hedonism! Each struggles with teeth and claws for that which gives the largest promise of pleasure to body, mind, or soul, as the individual happens to incline. To Sybarites the race is too short to be fatiguing, and the goal is only an ambuscade for satiety and ennui; to ascetics, the race course stretches to the borders of futurity, but even for them one form of pleasure, spiritual pleasure, lights up eternity. The thing we want, we want; not because of its orthodoxy, or its excellency or beauty PER SE; we want it because it gratifies some idiosyncratic craving of our threefold natures. The good things of this world are very adroitly and ingeniously labelled, but we rummage in the bonbonniere for a certain marron glace, and if it be not there, all the caramels in Venice, all the 'gluko' in Greece, all the rahatlicum in Turkey will not appease us."
With her arms thrown back, and clasped around the satin cushion crushed against her head and shoulders, Miss Cutting lay on a red plush divan in her father's picture gallery at home; and the swathing folds of a topaz-hued surah gown embroidered with scarlet poppies half concealed the feet that beat a tattoo on the polished oak floor.
"Then you have missed your marron glace?" answered Leo, turning from the contemplation of a new picture which Mr. Cutting had recently added to his collection.
"Of course. Do not all of us sooner or later? Where is yours? Safe under lock and key, or hanging on some crag, ripening for the confectioner; or filched by some stealthy white hand, devoured by some eager lips that smile derisively at you while they nibble?"
From beneath drooping lids, Alma's oblique glance noted the result of her Scipio Africanus' tactics.
"Alma, too intemperate and prolonged diet of sweets has ruined your digestion; has rendered you an ethical dyspeptic. A surfeit of sugar betrays itself in fermentation, and you have reached the stage of moral acidulation."
"Ah, don't drift into homiletics! I see your marron grows hard by the vineyard where sour grapes flourish. Leo, I am not so serenely proud as you, but a trifle more honest, and I have cried for my bonbon, never flouting its delicious flavor; hence, when I am ordered back to boiled milk and oatmeal, I make no feint to disguise my wry faces."
Alma's low, teasing laugh stung like some persistent buzzing insect, and a slight flush tinged her companion's cheek as she replied:
"Why plunge to the opposite extreme? You will starve on that porridge you are desperately preparing for yourself."
"What else remains? This world is a huge bazaar, a big church fair, and like other eager-eyed children I promptly set my heart on the great 'bisc' doll with its head turning coquettishly from side to side, singing snatches from 'La Grande Duchcsse', and clad like Sheba's queen! I stake all my pennies on a chance in the raffle, which has a 'consolation prize' hidden away from vulgar gaze. By and by the dice rattle, and over my head, quite out of my reach, is borne the coveted beauty (owned now by a girl I know), bowing and singing to the new owner, who exultantly exhibits her as she departs; and into my outstretched arms falls something hideous enough to play Medusa in a tableau, a rag baby with grinning Senegambian lips, rayless owlish eyes, and a concave nose whose nostrils suggest the Catacombs! Bitter rage and murderous fury possess me, but I am much too wise to show my tempers at the fair; so I hug my 'consolation prize', and get away as fast as possible with my treasure, and once safe from observation, box, deride, trample upon it, and toss it into the garret as suitable prey for dust, cobwebs and mildew! After a time, the keenness of the disappointment dulls, like all other human aches that do not kill, and by degrees I think less vindictively of the despised substitute. Finally comes a day, when all else failing to amuse me, I creep sheepishly into the attic and pick up the rejected, and persuade myself it is at least better than no doll at all, and forthwith adorn it with rags of finery; but the echoes of 'La Grande Duchesse' will always ring in my ears, and through the halo of tears I see ever and anon the prize beauty that was withheld. The two-edged sword in the diablerie of fate is, that we are ordained to fret after 'bisc,' when stuffed rags have been meted out as our share of the fair."
Leo drew a chair near the divan and seated herself; looking steadily into the velvety black eyes that instead of betraying hid, like a domino, the soul of their owner.
"Alma, better cross empty arms forever over empty heart, than mock your womanhood by acceptance of a 'consolation prize'."
"We all say that the day after the fair; but wait a few years as I have done; and like all your sisters in the ranks of the disappointed, you will ultimately crawl back to the attic and kiss the thick lips, and try to persuade yourself the nose is not so formidable, though certainly a trifle less classic than Antinous's! We set out with our eyes fixed on Vega, blazing above, and flaunt our banner—'tout ou rien!'—but when the campaign ends, Vega laughs at us from the horizon, quitting our world; and we console ourselves with a rushlight, and shelter it carefully from the wind with another flag: 'Quand on n'a pas ce qu'on aime, il faut aimer ce qu'on a!' Such is the worldly wisdom that comes with ripening years, like the deep stain on the sunny side of a peach. Moreover, 'folding empty arms,' is only melodrama metaphor, and 'empty hearts' are, begging your pardon, only figments of romantic brains. Our hearts aren't empty, more's the pity! They hold deep, deep, the image of Vega, and the flare of the tallow eandle on the surface serves as cross lights to dazzle the world, and help us to hide the reflection of our star. I saw that metaphor in some novel, and recognize its truth. Do you, my princess?"
"I will never so utterly degrade myself. I could neither lower my standard, nor sacrifice my ideal," said Leo, with a touch of scorn in her usually gentle voice.
"You prefer that your ideal should sacrifice you? One enjoys for a season the wide expanse visible from that lofty emotional pinnacle; but the atmosphere is too rarefied, and we gladly descend to the warm, denser air of the plains of common sense selfishness. If it be lowering your standard to become the wife of a bishop (the youngest ever ordained in his State), clothed with the double distilled odors of sanctity and popularity, then heaven help your standard, which only heaven can fitly house."
"Since you persist in assuming that so flattering an offer has been made me, I will set this subject at rest, by a final assurance that even were your surmise correct, I could never under any imaginable circumstances marry my cousin, Bishop Douglass. Although I trust and reverence him beyond all other men, 'I love my cousin cousinly, no more,' and he is too much absorbed by his holy office and its solemn responsibilities, to waste thought on the frail, sweet, rosy garland of any woman's love. Fret yourself no longer in casting matrimonial horoscopes for me."
The flushed cheeks, and a certain icy curtness in Leo's tone, warned her companion that she was rashly invading sacred precincts.
"Eight years ago I made the solemn asseveration that I would never marry; and I ran as a raw recruit to swell the army of foolish virgins who lost all the wedding splendors, the hypothetical 'cakes and ale', for want of the oil of worldly wisdom. Now I am thirty-three, and my lamp is filled to the brim, and the bridegroom is in sight. Why not? Adverse weather, rain, rust and mildew spoiled my beautiful golden harvest ten years ago, but aftermath is better than bare stubble fields, and though you miss the song of the reapers, you escape starvation. Deny it as we may, we are hopelessly given over to fetichism, and each one of us ties around her stone image some beguiling orthodox label. Leo, yours is pride, masquerading in the dun garb of 'religious duty'. Mine is self-love, pure and simple, the worldly weal of Alma Cutting; but nominally it is dubbed 'grateful requital of a life of devotion' in my lover! You grieve over my heartlessness? That is the one compensation time brings, when men and women have killed the best in our natures. Teeth ache fiercely; then the nerve dies, and we have surcease from pain, and find comfort in knowing that the darkening wreck can throb no more. There was a time when the pangs of Prometheus seemed only pastime to mine, but all things end; and now I get on as comfortably without a heart, as the victims of vivisection—the frogs, and guinea pigs, and rabbits—do without their brains."
"I do indeed grieve over the fatal step you contemplate; I grieve over your unwomanliness in marrying a man whom you do not even pretend to love; and some terrible penalty will avenge the outrage against feminine nature. Some day your heart will stir in its cold torpor, and then all Dante's visions of horror, will become your realities, scuurging you down to despair."
"Because 'Farleigh Court' may lie dangerously close to 'Denzil Place'? Be easy, Leo; the cold remains of my ossified affection will lie in as decorous repose as the harmless ash heaps of some long buried damosel of the era of Lars Porsenna, dug out of Vulci or Chiusi. To make a safe and brilliant marriage is the acme of social success. What else does the world to which I belong, offer me now?"
"There remains always, Alma, the alternative of listening to the instinctive monitors God set to watch in every woman's nature; and we have the precious and inalienable privilege of being true to ourselves. Better mourn your 'bisc' than stoop to a lower substitute. Be loyal to yourself, be true to your own heart."
"I know myself rather too intimately to offer a tribute of admiration on the altar of ego; and I prefer to make the experiment of trying to be true and loyal to some one else, with whose imperfections I am not so well acquainted. When you meet your adorable 'bisc' in society, with a wife hanging on his arm,—when as pater familias he convoys his flock of small children who tread on your toes at the chrysanthemum shows, what then? The world, my world, is generously and munificently lax, and though the limits of respectable endurance may be as hard to find as the 'fourth dimension of space', or the authenticity of the 'Book of Jasher', still for decency's sake we submit there are limits of decorum; certain proprietorial domains upon which we may not openly poach; and mcum et tuum though moribund, is not yet numbered with belief in the 'grail'. Female emancipation is not quite complete even in America, and noblesse oblige! our code still reads: 'Zeus has unquestioned right to Io; but woe betide Io when she suns her heart in the smiles that belong to Hera!' Some women find exhilaration in the effort to excel, by flying closest to the flame without singeing their satin wings; by executing a pirouette on the extremest ledge of the abyss, yet escape toppling in; female Blondins skipping across the tight rope of Platonic friendship, stretched above the unmentionable. You are shocked?"
"Indeed, I am pained. I can scarcely recognize the Alma of old."
"Wait one moment, I have the floor. In the days when I wept for my—shall I say 'bisc'? for impersonality is hedged about with safety, and the consolation prize had not yet been invited to come back from Coventry, a funny trifle set me to thinking seriously of my sin of covetousness. One summer at a certain fashionable resort, let us call it villeggiatura of the Lepidoptera, the amusement programme had reached the last act, and people yawned for something new, when 'sweet charity' came to the rescue, and proposed an entertainment to raise funds for enlarging an ecclesiastical 'Columbary' where aged, unsightly and repentant doves might moult, and renew their plumage. Musical, dramatic, poetic recitations, and tableaux vivants constituted the method of collecting the money, and the selections would have made Rabelais chuckle. We had the most flagitiously erotic passages (rendered in costume) from opera and opera bouffe, living reproductions of the tragic pose of Paolo and Francesca that would hare inspired Cabanel anew; of 'Ginevra Da Siena,' of 'Vivien,'—a carnival of the carnal! where nurseries were robbed to supply the mimic ballet, and where bald-headed clergyman, and white-haired mothers in Israel clapped and encored. One fair forsaken dame, whose indignant spouse was seeking a divorce, came to the footlights in an artistic garment so decollete that a man sitting behind me whispered to his friend: 'What pictures does she suggest to you? "Phryne before the Judges"—or Long's "Thisbe?" She languorously waved a floral fan of crimson carnations, and recited with all of Siddons' grace and Rachel's fire selections from a book of poems, that were so many dynamite bombs of vice smothered in roses. Amid tumultuous applause, she gave as encore something that contained a fragment of Feydeau, and its closing words woke up my drowsy soul, like a clap of thunder: 'Ce que les poetes appellent l'amour, et les moralistes l'adultere!' Leo, there is a moral somnambulism more frightful than that which leads to midnight promenades on the combs of roofs, and the borders of Goat Island; so I wiped my tears away, and after that day, began to read the billet doux and wear the flowers of my 'consolation prize'."
"You do not love him, and your marriage will degrade you in your own estimation. Your bridal vows will be perjury, an insult to your God, and a foul terrible wrong against the man who trusts your truthfulness. According to our church, wedlock is a 'holy ordinance'; and to me an unloving wife is unhallowed; is a blot on her sex, only a few degrees removed from unmarried mothers. You know the difference between friendship and love, and when you go to the altar, and give the former in exchange for the latter, the base counterfeit for the true gold, you are consciously and premeditatedly dishonest."
"Thanks, for your clearness of diction, your perspicuity which leaves no cobweb of misty doubt wherewith to drape my shivering moral deformity! To 'see ourselves as others see us' is as disappointing as the result of plunging one's hand into the 'grab-bag', but at least it brings the stimulating tingle of a new sensation. Suppose each knows perfectly well that as regards the true gold, both are equally bankrupt? There is a queer moral fungus called 'honesty among thieves', and we both know that we never sang snatches from Offenbach to each other, through pink 'bisc' lips. He loved quite desperately a mignonne of a blonde, with heavenly blue eyes and cherubic yellow hair, who, not knowing his expectations from a California uncle, jilted him for a rich Cuban. Look you, Leo, because I cannot wear Kohinoor, must I disport myself without any diamond necklace? Since he can never own 'La Peregrina,' must he eschew pearl studs in his shield front? We distinctly understand that we are not first prizes; but perhaps we may be something better than total blanks in the lottery, even though we quite realize the difference between love and friendship. Do you? Portia should know every jot and tittle of the law, and all the subtle shades of evidence, before she lifts her voice in court."
Alma pushed away her cushion, sat upright, and the slumbering fire flashed up under her jet lashes.
"If I do, that knowledge which earlier or later comes to all women, is certainly linked with the comforting consciousness that I can trust myself to govern and protect myself, without being tied to a watch-dog, whose baying would serve much the same purpose as that picture in mosaic in the House of the Tragic Poet. I have a very sincere affection for you, Alma, but the day on which you sell yourself in a loveless marriage, will strain hard on the cable of esteem."
"Is it for this reason that you refuse to officiate as my bridesmaid?"
"Solely because I will neither witness nor participate in an act which will give me great pain by lowering my estimate of your character."
Alma's long, supple, tapering fingers were outstretched, and taking Leo's white dimpled hands, drew them caressingly to her face, pressing a palm against each cheek.
"Your good opinion is so precious, I cannot afford to lose it. We accept men's flattery and expect their compliments, because it is a traditional homage that survives the chivalry that inspired it; but we don't mistake chaff for wheat, and the purest, sweetest, noblest and holiest friendship in life is that of a true, good woman. The perfume is as different as the stale odor of a cigar, from the breath of the honeysuckle that bleached all night under crystal dew, floats in at your window like a message from heaven, I love you dearly, my pretty Portia, hence I wince a trifle at your harsh ascription of cave canem motives in my marriage. In the idyllic Arthurian days, the 'Lily Maid of Astolot' made a touching picture, weeping and dying for the man who rode away, marauding on kingly preserves; but this is the era of wise, common sense 'Maud Mullers', and she and the Judge, mating as best they can, lead peaceful lives in a wholesome atmosphere, and cause no scandal by following 'affinities' across the lines of law; as some high in literature, art, and society have done, trusting that the starred mantle of genius would hide their moral leprosy. With all my faults, at least I am honest; and when I bow my stiff neck under the yoke connubial, I promise you I will keep step demurely and sedately. Do you remember a sombre book we read while yachting, which contained this brave confession of a woman, whose marriage made her historic? 'I thought I had done with life. I knew I had now cause to be proud of belonging to this man, and I was proud. At the same time I as little feigned ardent love for him, as he demanded it from me.' Leo, you and I represent different types. You are an eagle brooding in cold eternal solitude upon the heights, rather than be wooed by valley hawks; I am only a very tired wren, who missed a mate on my first Valentine season, and seeing my plumage grows a rusty brown, I accept the overtures of one similarly forlorn, and hope for serene domesticity under the sheltering eaves of some quiet, cosey barn. You are a nobler bird, no doubt; but trust me dear, I shall be the happier."
Leo withdrew her hands, and pushed back her chair, widening the space that divided them.
"You disappoint me keenly. I thought you too brave to crouch before the jeers hurled at 'old maidenism'. Moral cowardice is the last flaw I expected in one of your fibre."
"Wait till you are thirty-three, and stand as a target at Society's archery meeting. Yesterday Celeste was pale with horror when she showed me two white hairs pulled from my 'bangs', and added, 'Helas races! and powdered hair no more the style!' My dear girl—
"'True love, of course, is scarcely in society, Unless in fancy dress, and masked like one of us—'"
still I really am very proud of my six feet two inches prospective conjugal yoke-fellow; proud of his martial bearing, his brilliant reputation, 'proud of his pride'; and I think I shall grow very fond of him, because in a mild way I think he cares for me'; and we can make a little Indian Summer for each other before the frosts of Winter fall upon us. What else can I do with my life? Think of it. Papa will be married soon, and while I don't propose to tear my hair and insult his bride, nobody can be expected to reach such altitudes of self-abnegation as to want a step-mother. Poor papa, I am sure I hope he may be very happy, but it is superhuman to elect to live under the same roof, and smile benignantly on his bliss. Rivers, too, has slipped under the matrimonial noose, and I am absolutely thrown on my own resources for companionship. What does society offer me? Haggard, weazen old witch, bedizened in a painted mask; don't I know the yellow teeth and bleared eyes behind the paste-board, and the sharp nails in the claws hidden under undressed kid? Have not I gone around for years on her gaudy wheel, like that patient, uncomplaining goat we saw stepping on the broad spokes of the great wheel that churned the butter, and pressed the cheese in that dairy, near Udine? The dizzying circle, where one must step, step—keep time or be lost! In Winter, balls, receptions, luncheons, teas, Germans, theatre parties, opera suppers; a rush for the first glimpse of the last picture that emerges from the custom-house; for a bouquet of the newest rose that took the prize at the London Show. In season, coaching parties, tally ho! Then fox hunting minus the fox, and later, boating and bathing and lawn tennis!—and—always—everywhere heart-burnings, vapid formalities; beaux setting belles at each other like terriers scrambling after a mouse; mothers lying in wait, as wise cats watching to get their paws on the first-class catch they know their pretty kittens cannot manage successfully. Oh! Don't I know it all! I dare say my world is the very best possible of its kind; and I am not cynical, but oh Lord! I am so deadly tired of everything, and everybody."
"No wonder, unless you mercilessly calumniate it; but you have only yourself to blame. You made social success your aim, fashionable life your temple of worship, sham your only God. If you habitually drink poppy juice, can you fail to be drowsy?"
"Oh bless you! I have been polytheistic as any other well-read pagan of my day, and changed the heads and the labels of the fetiches on my altar almost as often as my ball wardrobe. I aspired to 'culture' in all the 'cults', and I improved diligently my opportunities. One year the stylish craze was sesthetics, and I fought my way to the front of the bedlamites raving about Sapphic types, 'Sibylla Palmifera' and 'Astarte Syriaca'; and I wore miraculously limp, draggled skirts, that tangled about my feet tight as the robes of Burne Jones' 'Vivien.' Next season the star of ceramics and bric-a-brac was in the ascendant, and I ran the gamut of Satsuma, Kyoto, de la Robbia, Limoge and Gubbio; of niello, and millchori glass, of Queen Anne brass and Japanese bronze; while my snuff boxes and my 'symphony in fans' graced all the loan exhibitions. Soon after, a celebrated scientist from England who had bowled over all the pins set up by his predecessors, lectured in our Bojotia; and fired with zeal for truth, I swept aside all my costly idealistic rubbish into a 'doomed pyramid of the vanities', and swore allegiance to the Positive, the 'Knowable', whose priests handled hammers, spectroscopes, electric batteries—and who set up for me a whole Pantheon of science fetiches. I bought a microscope and peered into tissues, pollen cells, diatoms, ditch ooze; and pitied my clever and very talented grandmother who died ignorant of the family secrets revealed by 'totemism', ignorant of 'parthenogenesis' which proved so conclusively the truth of her own firm conviction, that the faults she deplored in her son's children were all inherited directly from her daughter-in-law, whom she detested; ignorant of the fact that the sun which she regarded as a dazzling yellow fire was by bolometric measures shown to be in reality of a restful, and refreshing blue color. By the time I was fully convinced that teleology was as dead as the Ptolemaic theory, and that 'wings were not planned for flight, but that flight has produced wings', hence that Haeckel's gospel of 'Dysteleology' or purposelessness in Nature satisfactorily explained creation—a great wave of oriental theosophy overflowed us; and a revival of Buddhism invited me to seek Nirvana as the final beatitude, where—
"'We shall be Part of the mighty universal whole, And through all icons mix and mingle with the Kosmic Soul!'"
Or to make matters clearer still:
"'Om, mani Padma, Om! the dewdrop slips Into the shining sea!'"
Even a sponge can hold only so much, and I fell back—or shall I say forward—in the path of progress to rest in the dimness of agnosticism. Is it strange, Leo, that I am desperately tired; and willing to plant my feet on the rock of matrimony, which will neither dissolve nor slip away, and to which my vows will moor me firmly?"
"If you had clung to your Bible, and prayed more, you would not have wasted so signally the years that might have brought you enduring happiness. Forgive me, Alma, but you have lived solely for self."
"Yet now, when I propose to live solely for somebody else, you shake me off, and repudiate me? Selfish you think? I dare say I am, but religion now-a-day winks at that, nay fosters it. Each church is an octopus, and the members are laboriously striving to disprove the Saviour's admonition: 'Ye cannot serve God and mammon.' I am no worse than my ritualistic sisters whom I meet and gossip with, under cover of the organ muttering, and sometimes I wonder if after all we are any nearer the kingdom of heaven that Christ preached, than the pagans whose customs we retain under evangelical names. 'They sacrificed a white kid to the propitious divinities, and a black kid to the unpropiticus.' Do not we likewise? The church or one of its pensioners needs money; so instead of denying ourselves some secular amusement, cutting short our chablis, terrapin, pate de foie gras, gateau, Grec, Amontillado; wearing less sealskin and sables, buying fewer pigeon-blood rubies, absolutely mortifying the flesh in order to offer a contribution out of our pockets to God, how ingeniously we devise schemes to extract the largest possible amount of purely personal pleasure from the expenditure of the sum, we call our contribution to charity? We build chapels, and feed orphans, and clothe widows, and endow reformatories, and establish beds in hospitals, how? By a devout, consecrating self-denial which manifests itself in eating and drinking, in singing and dancing, at kirmess, charity balls, amateur theatricals, garden parties; where the cost of our XV. Siecle costume is quadruple the price of the ticket that admits to our sacrifice of black and white kids in the same sanctuary. We serve God with one hand, and we surely serve with the other the Mammon of selfishness and vanity. We have Lenten service, Lenten dietetics, Lenten costumes even; Lenten progressive euchre, Lenten clubs; but where are the Lenten virtues, where the genuine humility, charity, self-dedication of body and soul to true holiness?"
"The church is a school. If pupils will not heed admonition, and defy the efforts of instructors, is the institution responsible for the failure in education? The eradication of selfishness is the mission of the churches; and if we individually practised at home a genuine self-denial for righteousness' sake, we should collectively show the world fewer flaws for scoffing reprimand."
"The Shepherds are too timid to control their flocks. If they only had the nerve to pick us up, turn our hearts inside out, show us the black corners, and the ossifications, and call sin, sin, we should begin to realize what despicable shams we are. Dr. Douglass, the Bishop, is the only one I know who lays us on the dissecting table, and who does not speak of 'human fallibility' when he means vice. He told us one day that the Gospel required a line of demarcation between the godly and the ungodly, between Christians and unbelievers; but that it has become imaginary like the meridian and the equator; and that he very much feared the strongest microscope in the laboratories could not find where the boundary line ran between the World, the Flesh and the Devil, and the Kingdom of God in our souls. I am sorry a distant State called him to her Episcopal chair, for his cold steel is needed among us. Now tell me, Leo, what you intend to do with your life?"
"Spend it for God and my fellow creatures; and enjoy all the pure happiness I can appropriate without wronging others. I have so many privileges granted me, that I ought to accomplish some good in this world, as a thank offering."
"Take care you don't make a fetich of Jerusalem missions, Chinese tracts, and Sheltering Arms; and lose your dear, sweet personality in a goody-goody machine bigot. Forgive me, dear old girl, but sometimes I fear a shadow has fallen in your sunshine."
"Sooner or later they fall into every life, yet mine will pass away I feel assured. 'Pain, suffering, failure are as needful as ballast to a ship, without which it does not draw enough water, becomes a plaything for the winds and waves, travels no certain road, and easily overturns.' If the gloomiest pessimist of this century can extract that comfort, what may I not hope for my future? I am going to rebuild my house at X——and when it is completed, I shall expect the privilege of returning the hospitality you have so kindly shown me. I shall be very busy for at least two years, and I am glad to know that Aunt Patty is beginning to manifest some interest in my plans."
"Leo, may I ask something?"
"If you are quite sure you have the right to ask, and that I can have no reason to decline answering."
"I can't bear that you should live and die without being a happy wife. I don't want you to become a mere benevolent automaton set aside for church work, and charities; getting solemn and thin, with patient curves deepening around your mouth, and loneliness looking out of—
"'Eyes, meek as gentle Mercy's at the throne of heaven.'"
"To be a happy wife is the dream of womanhood, and if the day should ever dawn when God gives me that crown of joy, I shall wear it gladly, proudly, and feel that this world has yielded me its richest blessing; but, Alma, to-day I know no man whom I could marry with the hope of that perfect union which alone sanctions and hallows wedded love. I must be all the world to my husband; and he—next to God—must be the universe to me. There is Gen'l Haughton coming up the stairs, so I considerately efface myself. Good-bye till luncheon."
As she glided away and disappeared behind the curtain leading into the library, Alma looked after her, with very misty eyes, full of tenderness.
"Brave, proud soul; deep, sorrowful heart. If she can't drown her star, at least she will admit no lesser light. She will never swerve one iota from her lofty standard, and some day, please God, she may yet wear her coveted crown right royally. Governor Glenbeigh is worthy even of her, but will his devotion win her at last?"
If it be true that the universal Law of Labor, physical or mental, emanated from the Creator as a penal statute, for disobedience which forfeited Eden, how merciful and how marvellous is the delicacy of an adjustment, whereby all growth of body, mind and soul being conditioned by work, humanity converts punishment into benediction; escapes degeneration, attains development solely in accordance with the provisions of the primeval curse, man's heritage of labor? Amid the wreck of sacerdotal systems, the destruction of national gods, the periodical tidal waves of scepticism, the gospel of work maintains triumphantly its legions of evangels; its apostolic succession direct from Adam; its myriad temples always alight with altar fires, always vocal with the sublime hymn swelling from millions of consecrated throats.
The one infallible tonic for weakened souls, the one supreme balm for bruised hearts is the divinely distilled chrism of labor.
Absorbed in the round of duties that employed her hands and thoughts, and necessitated dedication of every waking hour, Beryl found more solace than she had dared to hope; and the artistic fancies which she had supposed extinguished, spread their frail gossamer wings and fluttered shyly into the serene sunshine that had broken rpon her frozen life. The distinctively ornamental character of many of the industrial pursuits at the "Anchorage", demanded originality and variety of designs, and as this department had been assigned to her, she entered with increasing zest the tempting field of congenial employment; yet day by day, bending over her tasks, she never lost sight of the chain that clanked at her wrist, that bound her to a hideous past, to a murky, lowering and menacing future.
Weeks slipped away, months rolled on; Autumn overtook her. Winter snows and sleet blanched the heavenly blue of the dimpling lake, and no tidings reached her from the wanderer, for whom she prayed. The advertisement had elicited no reply, and though it had long ceased to appear, she daily searched the personal column of the "Herald", with a vague expectation of some response. If her brother still lived, was the world so wide, that she could never trace his erring passage through it? Would no instinct of natural affection prompt him to seek news of the mother who had idolized him? After a while she must renew the quest, but for the present, safety demanded her seclusion; and since only Doctor Grantlin knew the place of her retreat, she felt secure from discovery.
One Spring day, when warm South winds had kissed open the spicy lips of lilacs, and yellowed the terrace with crocus flakes, Beryl dismissed her class of pupils in drawing and painting, and was engaged in dusting the plaster casts, and arranging the palettes and pencils left in disorder. The door opened, and a pretty, young German Sister looked in.
"Sister Ruth have need of you to do some errands; and you must go on the street; so you will get your bonnet and veil. Is it that you will be there soon?"
"I will come at once, Sister Elsbeth."
For several days Sister Ruth had been confined to her room by inflammatory rheumatism, and when Beryl entered, the invalid presented the appearance of a mummy swathed in red flannel.
"I am sorry to disturb you, and equally sorry that I feel obliged to exact a reluctant service, because I know you dislike to visit the business part of the city, and there I must send you. This note from Mrs. Vanderdonk will explain the nature of the business, which I can intrust to no one except yourself; and you will see that the commission admits of no delay. Here is your car fare. Go first to No. 100 Lucre Avenue, talk fully with Mrs. Vanderdonk, and then ride down to Jardon & Jackson's and get all the material you think will be required. You will observe, she lays great stress on the superfine quality of the plush. Order the bill delivered with the goods; and if anything be required in your department, you had better leave the list with Kling & Turner."
Three squares south of the "Anchorage" ran a line of street cars which carried her away to the heart of the city; and at the expiration of an hour and a half, Beryl had executed the commission, and was walking homeward, watching for a car which would expedite her return. Dreading identification, she went rarely into the great thoroughfare; and now felt doubly shielded from observation by the Quaker-shaped drab bonnet and veil that covered her white cap. As she was passing the entrance of a dancing academy, a throng of boys and girls poured out, filling the sidewalk, and creating a temporary blockade, through which a gentleman laden with several packages, elbowed his way. A moment later, Beryl's foot struck some obstacle, and looking down she saw a large portfolio lying on the pavement. It was a handsome morocco case, with the initials "G. McI.", stamped in gilt upon the cover, which was tied with well-worn strings. She held it up, looked around, even turned back, thinking that the owner might have returned to search for it; but the gentleman who had hurried through the crowd was no longer visible, and in the distance she fancied she saw a similar figure cross the street, and spring upon a car rolling in the opposite direction.
The human clot had dissolved, the juvenile assembly had drifted away; and as no one appeared to claim the lost article, she signalled to the driver of the car passing just then, entered and took a seat in one corner. The only passengers were two nurses with bands of little ones, seeking fresh air in a neighboring park; and slipping the book under her veil, Beryl began to examine its contents. A glance showed her that it belonged to some artist, and was filled with sketches neatly numbered and dated; while between the leaves lay specimens of ferns and lichens carefully pressed.
The studies were varied, and in all stages of advancement; here two elk heads and a buffalo; there a gaunt coyote crouching in the chaparral; a cluster of giant oaks; far off, a waving line of mountain peaks; a canon with vultures sailing high above it; cow boys, and a shoreless sea of prairie, with no shadows except those cast by filmy clouds drifting against the sun. Slowly turning the leaves, which showed everywhere a master's skilful hand, Beryl found two sheets of paper tied together with a strand of silk; and between them lay a fold of tissue paper, to preserve some delicate lines. She untied the knot, and carefully lifted the tissue, looking at the sketch.
A faint, inarticulate cry escaped her, and she sank back an instant in the corner of the seat; but the chatter of the nurses, and the whimpering wail of one dissatisfied baby mercifully drowned the sound. The car, the trees on the Street, the belfry of a church seemed spinning in some witch's dance, and an icy wind swept over and chilled her. She threw aside her veil, stooped, and her lips whitened.
What was there in the figure of a kneeling monk, to drive the blood in cold waves to her throbbing heart? The sketch represented the head and shoulders of a man, whose cowl had fallen back, exposing the outlines and moulding of a face and throat absolutely flawless in beauty, yet darkened by the reflection of some overpowering and irremediable woe. The features were youthful as St. Sebastian's; the expression that of one prematurely aged by severe and unremitting mental conflict; but neither shaven crown, nor cowl availed to disguise Bertie Brentano, and as his sister's eyes gazed at the sketch, it wavered, swam, vanished in a mist of tears.
In one corner of the sheet a man's hand had written "Brother Luke", August the 10th. Had relenting fate, or a merciful prayer-answering-God placed in her hand the long sought clue? When Beryl recovered from the shock of recognition, and looked around, she found the car empty; and discovered that she had been carried several squares beyond the street where she intended to get out and walk.
Carefully replacing the tissue paper and silk thread, she tied the leathern straps of the portfolio, and left the car, holding the sketches close to her heart as she hurried homeward. When she turned a corner and caught sight of the bronze anchor over the door, she involuntarily slackened her pace, and at the same moment a policeman crossed the street, stood in front of her, and touched his cap. The sight of his uniform thrilled her with a premonition of danger.
"Pardon me, Sister, but something has been lost on the street."
"A portfolio? I have found it."
"It is very valuable to the owner."
"I intend having it advertised in to-morrow's paper."
"The person to whom it belongs, wishes to leave the city; to-night, hence his haste in trying to recover it."
"I picked it up in front of Heilwiggs' Dancing Academy. How did you know who had found it?"
"The owner discovered he had dropped it, soon after he boarded a car, where Captain Tunstall of our force happened to be, and he at once telegraphed to all the stations to be on the look out. A boot-black whose stand is near Heilwiggs', reported that he saw one of the 'Gray Women' pick up something, and get on an upbound car. Our station was telephoned to interview the 'Anchorage', so you see we are prompt. I was just going over to ring the bell, and make inquiries."
"Who lost the book?"
"A man named McIlvane, an Englishman I think, who is obliged to hurry on to-night, in order to catch some New York steamer where his passage is engaged."
"You are sure he is a foreigner?" asked Beryl, who was feverishly revolving the possibility that the sketch belonged to some detective, and was intended for identification of the picture on the glass door at X——.
"You can't be sure of anything that is only lip deep, but that was the account telephoned to us. There is a reward of twenty dollars if the book is delivered by eight P.M.; after that time, ten dollars, and directions left by which to forward it to London. He said it was worthless to anybody else, but contained a lot of pictures he valued."
"I do not want the reward, but before I surrender the portfolio, I must see the owner."
"For reasons that concern only myself. He can come here, and claim his property; or I will take it to him, and restore it, after he has answered some questions. You are quite welcome to the reward, which I am sure you merit because of your promptness and circumspection. Will you notify him that he can obtain his book by calling at the 'Anchorage'?"
"Our instructions are, to deliver the book at Room 213, Hotel Lucullus. It is now four o'clock."
"I will not surrender the book to you; but I will accompany you to the hotel, and deliver it to the owner in your presence. Let us lose no time."
"Very well. Sister, I'll keep a little behind, and jump on the first red star car that passes down. Look out for me on the platform, and I'll stop the car for you."
"Thank you," said Beryl, wondering whether the sanctity of her garb exacted this mark of deference, or whether the instinctive chivalry of American manhood prompted him to spare her the appearance of police surveillance.
Keeping her in sight, he loitered until they found themselves on the same car, where the officer, apparently engrossed by his cigarette, retained his stand on the rear platform. In front of the hotel two omnibuses were discharging their human freight, and in the confusion, Beryl and her escort passed unobserved into the building. He motioned her into one of the reception rooms on the second floor, and made his way to the office.
Drawing her quaint bonnet as far over her face as possible, and straightening her veil, Beryl sat down on a sofa and tried to quiet the beating of her pulses, the nervous tremor that shook her. She had ventured shyly out of her covert, and like all other hunted creatures, trembled at her own daring in making capture feasible. Memory rendered her vaguely apprehensive; bitter experience quickened her suspicions.
Was she running straight into some fatal trap, ingeniously baited with her brother's portrait? Would the Sheriff in X——, would Mr. Dunbar himself, recognize her in her gray disguise? She walked to a mirror set in the wall, and stared at her own image, put up one hand and pushed out of sight every ring of hair that showed beneath the white cap frill; then reassured, resumed her seat. How long the waiting seemed.
Somebody's pet Skye terrier, blanketed with scarlet satin embroidered with a monogram in gilt, had defied the bienseance of fashionable canine and feline etiquette, by flying at somebody's sedate, snowy Maltese cat, whose collar of silver bells jangled out of tune, as the combatants rolled on the velvet carpet, swept like a cyclone through the reception room, fled up the corridor. Two pretty children, gay as paroquets, in their cardinal plush cloaks, ran to the piano and began a furious tattoo, while their nurse gossiped with the bell boy.
With her hands locked around the portfolio, Beryl sat watching the door; and at last the policeman appeared at the threshold, where he paused an instant, then vanished.
A gentleman apparently forty years of age came in, and approached her. He was short in stature, florid, slightly bald; wore mutton chop whiskers, and a traveling suit of gray tweed broadly checked.
Beryl rose, the stranger bowed.
"Ah, you have my sketch book! Madam, I am eternally your debtor. Intrinsically worthless, perhaps; yet there are reasons which make it inestimably valuable to me."
"I picked it up from the pavement, and though I opened and examined it, you will find the contents intact. Will you look through it?"
"Oh! I dare say it is all right. No one cares for unfinished sketches, and these are mere studies."
He untied the thongs, turned over a dozen or more papers, then closed the lid, and put his hand in his pocket.
"I offered a reward to—"
"I wish no fee, sir; but the policeman has taken some trouble in the matter, and without his aid I should probably not have been able to restore it. Pay him what you promised, or may deem proper; and then permit me to ask for some information, which I think you can give me."
She beckoned to the officer who looked in just then; and when the money had been counted into his hand, the latter lifted his cap.
"Sister, shall I see you safe on the car?"
"Thank you, no. I can find my way home. I teach drawing at the 'Anchorage', and desire to ask a few questions of this gentleman, who I am sure is an artist."
When the policeman had left them, Beryl took the portfolio and opened it, while the owner watched her curiously, striving to penetrate the silver gray folds of her veil.
"May I ask whether you expect to leave America immediately?"
"I expect to sail on the steamer for Liverpool next Saturday."
"Have you relatives in this country?"
"None. I am merely a tourist, seeking glimpses of the best of this vast continent of yours."
"Did you make these sketches?"
"I did, from time to time; in fact, mine has been a sketching tour, and this book is one of several I have filled in America."
With trembling fingers she untied the silk, lifted the sketch, and said in a voice which, despite her efforts, quivered:
"I hope, sir, you will not consider me unwarrantably inquisitive, if I ask, where did you see this face?"
"Ah! My monk of the mountains? That is 'Brother Luke'; looks like one of Il Frate's wonderful heads, does he not? I saw him—let me see? Egad! Just exactly where it was, that is the rub! It was far west, beyond Assiniboia; somewhere in Alberta I am sure."
"Was it on British soil, or in the United States?"
"Certainly in British territory; and on one of the excursions I made from Calgary. I think it was while hunting in the mountains between Alberta and British Columbia. Let me see the sketch. Yes—10th of August; I was in that region until 1st of September."
Beryl drew a deep breath of intense relief, as she reflected that foreign territory might bar pursuit; and leaning forward, she asked hesitatingly:
"Have you any objection to telling me the circumstances under which you saw him; the situation in which you found him?"
"None whatever; but may I ask if you know him? Is my sketch so good a portrait?"
"It is wonderfully like one I knew years ago; and of whom I desire to receive tidings. My friend is a handsome man about twenty-four years of age."
"I was camping out with a hunting party, and one day while they were away gunning, I went to sketch a bit of fir wood clinging to the side of a rocky gorge. The day was hot, and I sat down to rest in the shadow of a stone ledge, that jutted over the cove where a spring bubbled from the crag, and made a ribbon of water. Here is the place, on this sheet. Over there, are the fir trees. Very soon I heard a rich voice chanting a solemn strain from Palestrinas' Miserere; the very music I had listened to in the Sistine Chapel, a few months before; and peeping from my sheltered nook, I saw a man clad in monkish garb stoop to drink from the spring. He sat a while, with his arms clasped around his knees, and his profile was so perfect I seized my pencil and drew the outlines; but before I completed it, he suddenly fell upon his knees, and the intense anguish, remorse, contrition—what not—so changed the countenance, that while he prayed, I made rapidly a new sketch. Then the most extraordinary thing happened. He rose, and turning fully toward me, I saw that one-half of his face was nobly regular, classically perfect; while the other side was hideously distorted, deformed. Absolutely he was 'Hyperion and Satyr' combined—with one set of features between them. I suppose my astonishment caused me to utter some exclamation, for he glanced up the cliff, saw me, turned and fled. I shouted and ran, but could not overtake him, and when I reached the open space, I saw a figure speeding away on a white mustang pony, and knew from the fluttering of the black skirts that it was the same man. My sketch shows the right side of his face, the other was drawn down almost beyond the lineaments of humanity. Beg pardon, madam, but would you be so good as to tell me whether this freak of nature was congenital, or the result of some frightful accident?"
Beryl had shut her eyes, and her lips were compressed to stifle the moan that struggled in her throat. When she spoke, the stranger detected a change in her voice.
"The person whose countenance was recalled by your sketch, was afflicted by no physical blemish, when last I saw him."
"His appearance was so singular, that I made sundry inquiries about him, but only one person seemed ever to have encountered him; and that was a half-breed Indian driver, belonging to our party. He told me, 'Brother Luke' belonged to a band of monks living somewhere beyond the mountains; and that he sometimes crossed, searching for stray cattle. That is the history of my sketch, and since I am indebted to you for its recovery, I regret for your sake that it is so meagre."
"It was last August that you made the sketch?"
"Last August. And now may I ask, to whom my thanks are due?"
"I am merely an humble member of a sisterhood of working women, and my name could possess no interest for you. I owe you an apology for trespassing upon your time, and prying into the mysteries of your portfolio; but the beauty of your sketch, and its startling resemblance to one in whom I have long felt an interest, must plead my pardon. I am grateful, sir, for your courtesy, and will detain you no longer."
He bowed profoundly; she bent her head, and walked quickly away, keeping her face lowered, dreading observation.
For the first time since her trial and conviction, a sensation of perfect tranquillity shed rest upon her anxious and foreboding heart. Bertie was safe from capture, on foreign soil; and the testimony of the traveller that he prayed in the solitude of the wilderness, brought her the comforting assurance, that the fires of remorse had begun the purification of his sinful soul from the crime that had blackened so many lives. Trained in his early youth at a Jesuit College, his sympathies had ever been with the priesthood to whom his tutors belonged; and his sister readily understood how swiftly he fled to their penitential, expiatory system, when the blood of his grandfather had stained his hands, and the scouts of the law hunted him to desert wilds.
Vain of the personal beauty that had always distinguished him, she comprehended the keenness of the humiliation, which would goad him to screen in a cloister, the facial mutilation, that punished him more excruciatingly than hair shirt, or flagellation. Beyond the reach of extradition (as she fondly hoped), inviolate beneath the cowl of some Order which, in protecting his body, essayed also to cleanse, regenerate and sanctify his imperilled soul, could she not now dismiss the tormenting apprehension that sleeping or waking had persistently dogged her, since the day when she saw the fuchsias on the handkerchief, and the mother-of-pearl grapes on the sleeve button, in the penitentiary cell?