A bright spot burned on Miss Dent's wrinkled cheek, and she knitted her brows, and shook her head.
"He is so absorbed in his holy work that he has no leisure for such trifles as love-making; but if he should ever honor a woman by the offer of his consecrated hand, it must be one of large fortune, who will dedicate herself and her money to the accomplishment of his ecclesiastical schemes."
The corners of Miss Gordon's mouth twitched mutinously, but she contrived to throw much innocent surprise and questioning into the handsome brown eyes, which she lifted from her gold-hearted pansies, to her Aunt's face.
"Could you possibly associate mercenary motives with any step which he might take? Such a supposition would be totally incompatible with my estimate of his character."
"When a man dedicates himself to a solemn mission, he is lifted far above the ordinary plane, can dispense with sentimental conventionalities, and must learn to regard all human relations as merely means to an end. Want of money has palsied many an arm lifted to advance the good of the Church; and zeal without funds, accomplishes as little as rusty machinery stiff from lack of oil. If Dr. Douglass could only control even a hundred thousand dollars, what shining monuments he would leave to immortalize him! Indeed, it passes my comprehension how persons who could so easily help him, deliberately turn a deaf ear to the 'cry from Macedonia'."
"There is far more eclat in trips to Macedonia, but the God of recompense does not forget the steady, tireless help and sympathy extended to the needy, who dwell within sight of our own doors. Organized society work is good, but individual self-sacrifice and labor are much better; and if every unit did full duty, co-operative systems would not be so necessary; still, Leighton's scheme commends itself to every woman's heart, and when I answered his letter, I expressed cordially my approbation."
"Did you prove your faith by your works, and send him a large check?"
"Auntie, dear, do you expect me to stultify all your training, both your example and precept—for lo! these many years—by setting my left hand to gossip about my right? I am very sure."
"Well, Andrew, what is it?"
"A boy from Mr. Dunbar's office has just galloped up, and says I am to tell you he can't ride to the Falls to-day, as he expected, because of some pressing business; and he wants to know if the Judge will come into town right away? Mr. Dunbar will explain when he comes late this evening."
"Very well. Tell Daniel I shall not want 'Rebel' saddled; and say to the messenger that my Uncle is not at home. Aunt Patty, do you know where he has gone?"
"Doubtless to his office; where else should he be? He said he had a pile of tiresome papers to examine to-day."
Miss Gordon folded up her work, laid it away in a dainty basket lined with blue satin and flounced with lace; and after pausing a moment to pet her Aunt's white Maltese cat which lay dozing In the sunshine, walked away toward a Small hot-house, built quite near the dining-room, and connected with it by an arcade, covered in summer by vines, in winter by glass.
Twenty-four years before that day, when a proud, fond young mother puffed and tucked the marvel of lace and linen cambric, which was intended as a christening robe for her baby, and laid it away with spicery of rose leaves and sachet of lavender and deer tongue, to wait until a "furlough" allowed the child's father to be present at the baptism, she had supposed that its delicate folds would one day adorn a dimpled rosy-faced infant, for whom the name Aurelia Gordon had long been selected. Fate cruelly vetoed all the details of the programme, carefully arranged by maternal affection; and the lurid sun that set in clouds of smoke on one of the most desperate battles of the Confederacy, saw Colonel Gordon's brave, patriotic soul released on that long "furlough" which glory granted her heroes; saw his devoted wife a wailing widow. The red burial of battle had precluded the solemnization of baptismal rites at the sacred marble font; and when four days after Colonel Gordon's death, his frail young wife welcomed the summons to an everlasting re-union, she laid her cold hands on her baby's golden head, and died, as she whispered:
"Name her Leo, for her father."
So it came to pass, that the clergyman who read the burial service beside the mother's coffin, lifted the cooing infant in the midst of a weeping funeral throng, and with a faltering voice baptized her, in the presence of the dead, Leo Gordon.
To the care of her sister Patty, and of her widowed brother, Judge Dent, Mrs. Gordon had consigned her child; and transplanted so early to her uncle's house, the orphan knew no other home.
When the problem of vast numerical preponderance had solved itself in accordance with the rules of avoirdupois, and history—fond like all garrulous old crones of repeating even her inglorious episodes—had triumphantly inscribed on her bloody tablets, that once more the Few were throttled and trampled by the Many, then the fabled "Ragnarok" of the Sagas described only approximately the doom of the devastated South. In the financial and social chaos that followed the invasion by "loyal" hordes, rushing under "sealed orders" on the mission of "Reconstruction," and eminently successful in "reconstructing" their individual fortunes, an anomaly presented itself for the consideration of political economists. The wealthy classes of ante bellum days were the most destitute paupers that the newly-risen Union sun shone upon.
The French Revolution and its subsequent eruptions of Communism failed to destroy the value of land; and the emancipation of Russian serfs may have stimulated agricultural activity, but that political and social Communism which the Pandora of "reconstruction" let loose throughout the conquered States of the South, accomplished all that the victors could have desired.
Abandoned by the laborers God had fitted to endure toil under climatic conditions peculiar to the soil, vast silent fields of weeds stared blankly, and the richer a man found himself in ancestral acres, the more hopelessly was he manacled by taxes. "Reconstructionists" most thoroughly inoculated with "Loyal" rabies, held in lofty disdain the claims of widows and orphans, and the right of minors was as dead as that of secession. In the general maelstrom, Colonel Gordon's large estate went to pieces; but after a time, Judge Dent took lessons from his new political masters in the science of wrecking, and by degrees, as fragments and shreds stranded, he collected and secreted them. Certain mining interests were protected, and some valuable plantations in distant sugar belts, were secured. As guardian of his sister's daughter, he changed, or renewed investments in stocks which rapidly increased in value, until an unusually large fortune had accumulated: and verifying figures justified his boast, that his niece and ward was the wealthiest heiress in the State.
Reared in a household which consisted of an elderly uncle and aunt, and a middle-aged governess, Leo Gordon had never known intimate association with younger people; and while her nature was gentle and tranquil, she gradually imbibed the grave and rather prim ideas which were in vogue when Miss Patty was the reigning belle of her county. Although petted and indulged, she had not been spoiled, and remained singularly free from the selfishness usually developed in the character of an only child, nurtured in the midst of mature relatives. When eighteen years old, Leo, accompanied by her governess, Mrs. Eldridge, had been sent to New York and Boston for educational advantages, which it was supposed that her own section of the country could not supply; and subsequently the two went abroad, gleaning knowledge in the great centres of European Art. During their sojourn in Munich, Mrs. Eldridge died after a very brief illness; and returning to her southern home, Leo found herself the object of social homage.
Thoroughly well-bred, accomplished, graceful and pretty, she commanded universal admiration; yet her manner was marked by a quiet, grave dignity, and a peculiar reticence, at variance with the prevailing type of young ladyhood, now alas! too dominant; whose premature emancipation from home rule, and old-fashioned canons of decorum renders "American girlhood" synonymous with flippant pertness. Moulded by two women who were imbued with the spirit of Richter's admonition: "Girls like the priestesses of old, should be educated only in sacred places, and never hear, much less see, what is rude, immoral or violent"; the pate tendre of Leo's character showed unmistakably the potter's marks.
She shrewdly surmised that the knowledge of her unusual wealth contributed to swell the number of her suitors, and she was twenty-four years old when Lennox Dunbar, for whom she had long secretly cherished a partiality, succeeded in placing his ring on her fair, slender hand. In character they differed widely, and the deep and tender love that filled her heart, found only a faint echo in his cold and more selfish nature, which had carefully calculated all the advantages derivable from this alliance.
He cordially admired and esteemed his brown-eyed fair-haired fiancee, considered her the personification of feminine refinement and delicacy; and congratulated himself warmly on his great good fortune in winning her affection; but tender emotions found little scope for exercise in his intensely practical, busy life, which was devoted to the attainment of eminence in his profession; and the merely dynamic apparatus which did duty as his heart, had never been disturbed by any feeling sufficiently deep to quicken his calm, steady pulse.
There were times, when Leo wondered whether all accepted lovers were as undemonstrative as her own, and she would have been happier had he occasionally forgotten professional aspirations, in the charm of her presence; but her confidence in the purity and fidelity of his affection was unshaken, even by the dismal predictions of Miss Patty, who found it impossible to reconcile herself to the failure of her darling scheme, that Leo should marry her second cousin, Leighton Douglass, D.D., and devote her fortune to the advancement of his church.
To-day, as she sought pleasant work in arranging the ferns and carnations of her conservatory, her thoughts reverted to the previous evening, which Mr. Dunbar had spent with her; and she could not avoid indulging regret, that he should have allowed business affairs to interfere with their engagement for horseback riding, but her reverie was speedily interrupted by the excited tones of her aunt's voice.
"Leo! Leo! Where do you hide yourself?"
"Here, Auntie, in the conservatory."
"Oh! my child, such dreadful news! Such a frightful tragedy!"
Pale and panting, Miss Patty ran down the arcade, and stumbled over a barricade of potted plants on the threshold of the door.
"What is the matter? Is it my Uncle, or—or Lennox?"
Leo sprang to her feet, and caught her aunt's arm.
"Horrible! horrible! General Darrington was robbed, and then most brutally murdered last night!"
"Murdered! Can it be possible? Murdered—by whom?"
"How should I know? The whole town is wild about it. My brother is at Elm Bluff, with the body, and I shall take the carriage and drive over there at once. Dear me; I am so nervous I can't stand still, and my teeth chatter like a pair of castanets."
"Perhaps there may be some mistake. How did you hear it?"
"Your Uncle Mitchell sent a boy to tell me why he was detained. There has been a coroner's inquest, and of course, as an old and intimate friend of General Darrington's, Mitchell feels he must do all he can. Poor old gentleman! So proud and aristocratic! To be murdered in his own house, like any common pauper! Positively it makes me sick. May the Lord have mercy on his soul."
"Amen!" murmured Leo.
"Will you go with me to Elm Bluff?"
"Oh, no! Not for worlds. Why should I? Women will only be in the way; and who could desire to contemplate so horrible a spectacle? It will merely harrow your feelings, Aunt Patty, and you can do no good."
"It is my Christian duty as a neighbor; and I was always very fond of the first Mrs. Darrington, Helena Tracey. What is this wicked world coming to? Robbery and murder stalking bare-faced through the land. It will be a dreadful blow to Mitchell, because he and Luke Darrington have been intimate all their lives. I see the carriage coming round, so I must get my bonnet and wrap."
"I presume Mr. Dunbar is engaged in the same melancholy details which occupy my uncle."
"Doubtless he is, because his father was General Darrington's attorney until his health failed; and Lennox is now his lawyer and business agent. It is a thousand pities that Prince is away in Europe."
Two hours after the carriage had disappeared on the road leading to Elm Bluff, Leo crossed the grassy lawn, and sat down near the gate, on a rustic bench under a cluster of tall lilacs, which gave their name to her uncle's home.
A keen north wind whistling through neighboring walnut tree tops, drove the dying leaves like frightened flocks before it, and ever and anon the ripened nuts pattered down, hiding themselves under the drift of yellow foliage, that had sheltered them in cool greenery during summer heats. Overhead a red squirrel barked and frisked, and across the pale-blue sky, feathered nomads, teal or mallard, moved swiftly en echelon, their quivering pinions flashing like silver, as they fled southward. On a distant hillside cattle browsed, and sheep wandered; and the drowsy tinkle of bells, as the herd wended homeward, seemed a nocturne of rest, for the closing day.
How serene, harmonious and holy all nature appeared; and yet a few miles distant, into what a fierce seething whirlpool of conflicting passions, of hatred and bloodthirsty vengeance, had human crime plunged an entire community. We plume ourselves upon nineteenth century civilization, upon ethical advancement, upon Christian progress; we adorn our cathedrals, build temples for art treasures, and museums for science, and listen to preludes of the "music of the future;" and we shudder at the mention of vice, as at the remembrance of the tortures of Regulus, but will the Cain type ever become extinct, like the dodo, or the ichthyosaurus? When will the laws of heredity, and the by-laws of agnation result in an altruism, where human bloodshed is an unknown horror?
The apostles of Evolution tell us, that in the genealogical ages during which man has struggled upward, from the lower stages of vertebrate and mammal to the genus of catarrhine apes, he has gradually thrown off bestial instincts, and that the tiger taint will ultimately be totally eliminated; that "original sin is neither more nor less than the brute inheritance which every man carries with him, and that Evolution is an advance toward true salvation." Meanwhile what becomes of the "Survival of the Fittest", which is only a euphemism for the strangling of the feeble by the strong? We can understand how perfection, or permanence of type, individual and national, demands carnage, and entails all the dire catalogue of human woes, but wherein is altruism evolved? How many aeons shall we wait, to behold the leopard and the lamb pasturing together in peace?
Pondering this problem, as he rode along the public road outside the boundary of Judge Dent's lawn, Mr. Dunbar caught a glimpse of his betrothed, sitting behind the hedge of lilacs, and he lifted his hat, hoping that she would meet him at the entrance; but although she bowed in recognition, he was forced to open the gate and admit himself. Throwing the bridle rein over one of the iron spikes of the fence, and taking off his gloves, he approached the bench.
"Dare I flatter myself, that my queen deigns to meet me half way?"
He took her outstretched hand, and kissed it softly, while his glance noted every detail of her handsome fawn-colored dress, with its jabot of creamy lace, and the cluster of crimson carnations in her belt. The touch of his lips on her fingers, deepened the flush in her cheeks, and, making room for him beside her, she replied:
"Sit down, and tell me if this dreadful news about General Darrington be indeed true? I have hoped there might be some mistake, some exaggeration."
"Some horrors exceed the possibility of verbal exaggeration, and last night's tragedy is one of that class. General Darrington was most brutally murdered."
"Poor old gentleman! How incredible it seems that such awful crimes can be committed in our quiet neighborhood? who could have been so guilty; and what motive could have prompted such a fiendish act?"
"The one all-powerful evil passion of mankind—greed of gold; lust of filthy lucre. He was first robbed, then murdered by the thief, to avoid detection and punishment. There is unmistakable evidence that the General was chloroformed while asleep; but he must have awakened in time to discover the robber, with whom he struggled desperately, and by whom he was struck down. The coroner's inquest developed some startling facts."
"Has any clue been discovered which would indicate the murderer?"
"A handful of clues."
"Then you have a theory concerning the person who perpetrated this awful crime?"
"My dear Leo, not a theory, but a conviction; I might almost say an absolute knowledge."
"Would it be pardonable for me to ask whom you suspect; would it be a violation of professional etiquette for you to tell me?"
"Certainly, my dearest, you can ask me anything, only—" he paused a moment; and she put her hand quickly on his arm.
"I see. Do not tell me mere suspicions; they might cruelly wrong an innocent person; and I ought not to have asked the question."
"My hesitation arose from a totally different source, and I was merely wondering whether you, my sweet saint, could believe that a woman committed the bloody deed."
"Oh, Mr. Dunbar, impossible! A woman guilty of taking that old man's life? The supposition is as horrible as the crime itself."
Passing his hand lightly over her crimped fair hair, and looking down into her eyes, as brown as the back of a thrush, her lover replied:
"I find that the nobler and purer a woman's heart is, the less she credits the existence of vice and the possibility of crime among her own sex. You doubtless consider the Brinvilliers, Fredegonds, Fulvias and Faustinas, quite as fabulous as Centaurs, Sirens and Were-wolves; and I feel as reluctant to shake your fair faith in womanhood, as to dash the dew from a rose-bud, or rudely brush the bloom a cluster of tempting grapes; but the grim truth must be told, that our old friend was robbed and murdered by a woman."
"One of his servants? They all seemed devotedly attached to him."
"No, by his granddaughter, a young and very beautiful woman; Beryl Brentano, the child of General Darrington's daughter Ellice, whom he had disowned on account of her wretched marriage with a foreigner, who taught her music and the languages. Of course you have heard from your aunt and uncle all the details of that family episode. Yesterday this girl Beryl suddenly presented herself at Elm Bluff, and demanded money from her grandfather; alleging that her mother's life was in danger for want of it. I learn there was a stormy interview, part of the conversation having been overheard by two persons; and the General, who was as vindictive as a Modoc, or a Cossack, drove the young lady through a door leading down to the rosery. This occurred in the afternoon, immediately after I left Elm Bluff, where I went to obtain his signature to a deed to some lands recently sold in Texas. I saw the girl sitting on the front steps, and when she rose and looked at me, her superb physique impressed me powerfully. She is as beautiful and stately as some goddess stepping out of the Norse 'Edda', and altogether a remarkable looking person. It will appear in evidence, that the General harshly refused her pleadings, and made a point of assuring her that his will, already prepared, would forever debar her mother and herself from any inheritance at his death; as he had bequeathed his entire estate to his adopted son Prince. Unfortunately, she learned where the will was kept, as during the interview, persons in the next room distinctly heard the peculiar noise made by the sliding door of the iron vault, where General Darrington kept all his valuable papers. She disappeared from Elm Bluff about sunset, going toward town; and last night at ten o'clock, when I left you and rode home, I saw her lurking in the pine woods not very far from the bridge over the branch, near the park gate. She was evidently hiding, as she sat on the ground half screened by a tree; but my horse shied and plunged badly, and when she rose, the full moon showed her face and figure distinctly. There was something so mysterious in her movements, that I asked her if she had lost her way; to which she curtly replied that she had not. I learn from Burk, the station agent, that her actions aroused his suspicion, and that instead of leaving town, as she said she intended, by the 7:15 train, she hung about the station, and finally took the 3:05 express this morning. He said she had begged permission to stay in the waiting-room, but that at 2:30 A.M., when he went back to open the ticket office, she was nowhere to be found; and that later, he saw her coming down the railroad track. She must have gone back to Elm Bluff after I passed her on the road, and effected an entrance through the window on the front piazza, as it was found open; and the awful work of robbery and murder was accomplished during the storm, which you know was so frightful that it drowned all minor sounds. This morning when the General did not ring for his hot water at the usual time, it was supposed that he was sleeping late, but finally old Bedney knocked. Unable to arouse his master, he opened the door, and found our old friend lying on the floor, near the fireplace. He had been dead for hours, and close to his head was a heavy brass andiron, which evidently had been snatched from the hearth by the murderess, who must have dealt the fatal blow with it, as there was a dark spot on his temple, and also on the left side near the heart. The room was in disorder, and two glass vases on the mantel were shivered, as though some missile had struck them—probably a heavy ledger which was found on the floor."
"How horrible! But no woman could have overpowered a man like General Darrington."
"Physically, his granddaughter was more than a match for him, especially since his last illness; and I assure you she looks like some daughter of the Vikings. She certainly is a woman of grand proportions, and wonderfully symmetrical."
"What is her age?"
"About eighteen, I should think; though her size and a certain majestic bearing might convey the impression that she was older."
"How can you connect so dreadful a crime with a young and beautiful woman, of whom you know absolutely nothing?"
"My theory is, that she intended merely to get possession of the will, the contents of which had been made known to her—and of the money, that she knew or surmised was kept in the vault. When the effect of the chloroform wore off, and the General waked to find her at the vault; a struggle evidently took place, and in desperation at the thought of being detected, she killed him. You do not understand all the bearings of even slight circumstances in a case like this, but we who make a study of such sad matters, know the significance of the disappearance of the will; the destruction of which could benefit only her mother and herself. The vault was open; the gold, silver, some valuable jewelry, and the will are missing from the tin box. All the other papers were left, even a package of bonds, amounting to thousands of dollars. She seemed to know that the bonds might lead to detection, hence she did not take them. On the floor, and in the bottom of the tin box were found two twenty-dollar gold pieces. We are collecting all the evidence, and it constitutes a powerful array of proof."
"We? Do you mean that you are hunting down a woman?"
Miss Gordon withdrew her hand from her lover's, and instinctively moved farther from him.
"I am most diligently hunting down the author of a foul and awful crime; and it is my duty to my friend and client to use every possible exertion, in discovering and bringing to punishment the person who robbed and murdered him—be it man, woman or child. Feminine youth and beauty are no aegis against the barbed javelins of justice and the District Solicitor (Mr. Churchill) and I, have no doubt of the guilt of the woman, who will soon be put on trial here for her monstrous and unnatural crime."
In a deep, narrow "railway cut," through Virginia hills, a south-bound freight train had been so badly wrecked in consequence of a "washout," that the southern passenger express going north was detained fourteen hours; thereby missing connection at Washington City, where the passengers were again delayed nearly twelve hours. Tired and very hungry, having eaten nothing but a sandwich and a cup of coffee for three days, Beryl felt profoundly thankful when the cars rolled into Jersey City. In the bustle and confusion incident to arrival in that Babel, she did not observe the scrutiny to which she was subjected by a man genteelly dressed, who gave her his hand as she stepped down from the train, and kept by her side while she hastened in the direction of the ferry.
Reaching the slip where the boat awaited passengers, she was vexed to see it backing out into the stream, and leaned against the chain which barred egress until the next trip.
"You have only five minutes to wait for the boat. You seem to have had a long and trying journey, madam?"
Glancing at him for the first time, Beryl perceived that he held a slip of yellow paper from which he looked now and then to her face. His features were coarse and heavy, but his eyes were keen as a ferret's; and without answering his question, she turned away and looked across the water which teemed with craft of every description, laden with freight animate and inanimate, passing to and from the vast city, whose spires, domes and forest of masts rose like a gray cloud against the sky, etching there their leaden outlines.
"You live at No.—West—Street, between 8th and 9th Avenue?"
"You are a stranger, and your questions are offensive and impertinent."
As she turned and confronted him haughtily, he stepped closer to her, threw back his blue overcoat, and pointed to the metal badge on his breast.
"I am an officer of the law, and have a warrant for your arrest. You are Beryl Brentano."
"I am Beryl Brentano, yes; but there is some blunder, some mistake. How dare you annoy me? Arrest me? Me!"
"Do not make a scene. My instructions are to deal with you as gently as possible. Better come quietly into the station near, and I will read you the warrant, otherwise I shall be obliged to use force. You see I have two assistants yonder."
"Arrested for what? By whom?"
"I am ordered to arrest you for the murder of General Darrington."
"Murder! General Darrington is alive and well. I have just left him. Stand back! Do not touch me. I will call on the police to protect me."
Laying his fingers firmly on her arm, he beckoned to two men clad in police uniform, who promptly approached.
"You see resistance is worse than useless, and since there is no escape, come quietly."
"You are insulting me, under some frightful mistake. I am a lady. Do I look like a criminal?"
"General Darrington has been robbed and murdered, and I have telegraphic orders to arrest and hold a woman named Beryl Brentano, who corresponds in every respect with the description of the person suspected of having committed the crime."
Hitherto she had attributed the insult of the interview to some question of mistaken identity, but as she slowly comprehended the possibility that she was the person accused, and intended for arrest, a sickening horror seized and almost paralyzed her, blanching her face and turning her to stone. As he led her along the street, she staggered from the numbness that possessed her, and her eyes stared blankly, like those of a somnambulist. When she had been ushered into a room where several policemen were lounging and smoking, the intolerable sense of shame and indignation shook off her apathy.
"This is a cruel and outrageous wrong, and only base cowards could wantonly insult an unprotected and innocent woman. You call yourselves men? Have you no mothers, no sisters, whose memory can arouse some reverence, some respect for womanhood in your brutal souls?"
Electric lamps set in the sockets of some marble face, might perhaps resemble the blaze that leaped up in her eyes, as she wrenched her arm from the officer's profaning touch, and her voice rang like the clash of steel.
"Madam, we are allowed no discretion; we are only the blind and deaf machines that obey orders. Read the warrant, and you will understand that our duty is imperative."
Again and again she read the paper, in which the sheriff of the county where Elm Bluff is situated, demanded her arrest and return to X—-, on the charge of robbery and murder committed during the night which she had spent at the station. Then several telegrams were placed before her. The description of herself, her dress, even of the little basket and shawl, was minutely accurate; and by degrees the horror of her situation, and her utter helplessness, became frightfully distinct. The papers fell from her nerveless fingers, and one desperate cry broke from her white lips:
"O just God! Will you permit such a shameful, cruel outrage? Save me from this horrible injustice and disgrace!"
Seeing neither the men, nor the room, her strained gaze seemed in her great agony fixed upon the face of Him, who, silvering the lilies of the field and watching the flight of sparrows, has tender care for all who trust Him. Even in this terrible trial, the girl's first thought was of her mother; and of the disastrous effect that the misfortune would produce upon the invalid.
"I am sorry to tell you, that we are required to search all persons arrested under similar charges, and in the next room a female detective will receive and retain every thing in your possession, except your clothing. You are suspected of having secreted money, jewelry and some very valuable papers."
"Suspected of being a common thief! I am as innocent as any angel beside the throne of Christ! Save me at least from the degradation of being searched. Here is my basket, and here is my purse."
She handed him the worn leather pocket-book, which contained only the few pennies reserved to pay her passage across the ferry, and turned the pocket of her dress inside cut.
At the tap of a hand-bell, a tall, angular woman opened the door of an adjoining room.
"Mrs. Foster, you will very carefully examine the prisoner, and search her clothing for papers, as well as valuables."
"Spare me at least this indignity!" cried the shuddering girl.
"Come with me, madam. We have no choice."
When the door closed behind her, the constable walked up and down the floor.
"How deceitful appearances are! That woman looks as pure and innocent as an angel, and I half believed her protestations; but here in the basket, sure enough, hidden at the bottom, are the jewelry and the gold. No sign of the papers, but she may have destroyed them.
"Thief or not, she is a grand beauty; and if her heart was not in that prayer she put up just now, she is a grand actress also. This is a beastly trade of ours, hunting down and trapping the unwary. Sometimes I feel no better than a sleuth-hound, and that girl's eyes went through and through me a while ago like a two-edged dirk."
As he vented his views of his profession, one of the policemen lighted his pipe and puffed vigorously.
Mrs. Foster came back, followed by her victim.
"I find absolutely nothing secreted on the prisoner."
"No papers of any description?"
"Madam, your basket contains the missing jewelry and money, at least a portion of it, and I shall place it in the hands of the sheriff."
"The money and jewels are not mine. They belong to my mother, to whom they were given by her father; and she needs the money at this moment—"
"Let me advise you to say as little as possible for your own sake; because your words will be weighed against you."
"I speak only the truth, and it will, it must, vindicate me. What papers are you searching for?"
"General Darrington's will. It was stolen with the money. Here is yesterday's paper, with an account of the whole affair, telegraphed from X——. If you need to learn anything, you will understand when you read it."
The sight of the capital letters in the Telegraphic Despatches, coupling her name with a heinous and revolting crime, seemed to stab her eyes with red-hot thrusts; and shivering from head to foot, she slowly realized the suspicious significance of the disappearance of the will, which was the sole obstacle that debarred her from her grandfather's wealth. Although sustained by an unfaltering trust in the omnipotence of innocence, she was tormented by a dread spectre that would not "down" at her bidding; how could she prove that the money and jewels had been given to her? Would the shock of the tidings of her arrest kill her mother? Was there any possible way by which she might be kept in ignorance of this foul disgrace?
Beryl hid her face in her hands, and tried to think, but the whole universe appeared spinning into chaos. She had opposed the trip South so steadily and vehemently: had so sorrowfully and reluctantly yielded at last to maternal solicitation, and had been oppressed with such dire forebodings of some resultant evil. So bitter was her repugnance to the application to her grandfather, that she had set out on her journey feeling as though it were a challenge to fate; and this was the answer? The vague distrust, the subtle sombre presentiment, the haunting shadow of an inexplicable ill, had all meant this; this bloody horror, dragging her fair name down to the loathsome mire of the slums of crime. Had some merciful angel leaned from the parapets of heaven and warned her; or did her father's spirit, in mysterious communion of deathless love and prescient guardianship, stir her soul to oppose her mother's scheme? Sceptical and heedless Tarquins are we all, whom our patient Sibylline intuitions finally abandon to the woes which they sought to avert.
In the maddening rush and whirl of Beryl's reflections, her mother's image was the one centre around which all things circled; and at length, rallying her energies, she turned to her captor.
"You intend to take me to prison?"
"I am obliged to detain and deliver you to the officer who has come from X—-with the warrant, and who will carry you back there for trial. He knew from the detentions along the route, that he could easily overhaul you here, so he went straight to Trenton with a requisition from the Governor of his State upon Governor Mansfield, for your surrender. It is but a short run to the Capital, and he expects to get here in time to catch the train going South to-day. We had a telegram a while ago, saying the papers were all right, and that he would meet us at the train, as there will be only a few moments to spare."
"But I must first see my mother. I must give her the money and explain—"
"The money will be claimed by the officer who takes charge of you."
"Have you no mercy? My mother is ill, destitute; and she will die unless I can go to her. Oh! I beg of you, for the sake of common humanity, carry me home, if only for five minutes! Just let me see mother, let me speak to her!"
In the intensity of her dread, she fell upon her knees, and lifted her hands imploringly; and the anguish in her white quivering face was so piteous that the man turned his head away.
"I would oblige you if I could, but it is impossible. The law is cruel, as you say, but it is intended as a terror to evil-doers. Things look awfully black for you, but all the same I am sorry for you, if your mother is to suffer for your deeds. If you wish to write to her, I will see that she receives your note; but you have very little time left."
"O God! how hard! What a foul, horrible wrong inflicted upon the innocent!"
She cowered on the floor, unconscious that she still knelt; seeing only the suffering woman in that dreary attic across the river, where sunken feverish eyes watched for her return.
Accidentally Beryl's gaze fell on the bunch of faded chrysanthemums which had dropped unnoticed on the floor, and snatching them she buried her face in their petals. Their perfume was the potent spell that now melted her to tears, and the tension of her overtaxed nerves gave way in a passionate burst of sobs. When she rose a few moments later, the storm had passed; the face regained its stony rigidity, and henceforth she fronted fate with an unnatural calmness.
"Will you give me some paper and a pen?"
"You can write here at the desk."
Mrs. Foster approached her, and said hesitatingly:
"Would it comfort you at all, for me to go and see your mother and explain why you could not return to her? I am very sorry for you, poor thing."
"Thank you, but—you could not explain, and the sight of a stranger would startle her. In one way you can help me; do you know Dr. Grantlin of New York?"
"Only by reputation; but I can find him."
"Will you deliver into his hand the note I am writing?"
"I certainly will."
"Before nine o'clock to-night."
"Thank you—a thousand times."
After a while she folded a sheet containing these words:
"DEAR DR. GRANTLIN:
"In the extremity of my distress, I appeal to you as a Christian gentleman, as a true physician, a healer of the suffering, and under God, the guardian of my mother's life. You know why I went to my grandfather. He gave me the money, one hundred dollars, and some valuable jewels. When in sight of home, I have been arrested on the charge of having murdered my grandfather, and stolen his will. Need I tell you that I am as innocent as you are? The thought of my mother is the bitterest drop in my cup of shame and sorrow. You can judge best, how much it may be expedient to tell her, and you can devise the kindest method of breaking the truth, if she must know it. Have her removed to the hospital, and do not postpone the operation. O Doctor! be pitiful, be tender to her, and do not let her need any little comforts. Some day I will pay you for all expenses incurred in her behalf, but at present I have not a dollar, as the money has been seized. I am sure you will not deny my prayer, and may God reward and bless you, for your mercy to my precious mother.
"In grateful trust,
"P.S.—If you approve, deliver the enclosed note."
On a separate sheet she wrote:
"MY DARLING MOTHER:
"Finding it necessary to return to X—-, I have requested Dr. Grantlin to take particularly good care of you for a few days. Your father will never forgive, never receive you, but he kindly complied with your request and gave me one hundred dollars. Try to be patient until I can come and tell you everything, and believe that God will not forsake us. With these hurried lines, I send you a few chrysanthemums—your favorite flowers—which I gathered in the rose garden of your old home. When you smell them, think of your little girl who loves you better than her own life, and who will hasten home at the earliest possible moment, to take you in her arms. Mother, pray for me, and may God be very merciful to you, my dearest, and to—
"Your devoted child,
She had bound the withered flowers together with a strip of fringe from her shawl, and now, with dry eyes and firm white lips, she kissed them twice, pinned the last note around them and laid the whole in Mrs. Foster's hand.
"I trust you to deliver them in person to Dr. Grantlin before you sleep to-night; and if I survive this awful outrage, perpetrated under the name of law, I will find you some day, and thank you."
Looking at the lovely face, pure in its frozen calm, as some marble lily in the fingers of a monumental effigy, Mrs. Foster felt the tears dimming her own vision and said earnestly:
"Keep as silent as possible. The less you say, the safer you will be; and run no risk of contradicting your own statements."
"I appreciate your motive, but I have nothing to conceal."
Beryl laid her hand on her shawl, then drew back.
"Am I allowed the use of my shawl?"
"Oh, certainly, madam."
The officer would have opened and put it around her, but with an indescribable movement of proud repulsion, she shook it out, then wrapped it closely about her, and sat down, keeping her eyes fixed on the face of the clock ticking over the fireplace. After a long and profound silence, the man who had arrested her, said gravely and gently:
"Time is up. I must deliver you to Officer Gibson at the train. Come with me."
She rose, gave her hand to Mrs. Foster, and stooping suddenly touched with her lips the withered flowers, then followed silently.
In subsequent years, when she attempted to recall consecutively the incidents of the ensuing forty-eight hours, they eluded her, like the flitting phantasmagoria that throng delirium; yet subtle links fastened the details upon her brain, and sometimes most unexpectedly, that psychic necromancer—association of ideas—selected some episode from the sombre kaleidoscope of this dismal journey, and set it in lurid light before her, as startling and unwelcome as the face of an enemy long dead. Life and personality partook in some degree of duality; all that she had been before she saw Elm Bluff, seemed a hopelessly distinct existence, yet irrevocably chained to the mutilated and blackened Afterward, like the grim and loathsome unions enforced by the Noyades of Nantes.
The sun did not forget to shine, nor the moon to keep her appointment with the throbbing stars that signalled all along her circuit. Men whistled, children laughed; the train thundered through tunnels, and flew across golden stubble fields, where grain shocks and hay stacks crowded like tents of the God of plenty, in the Autumnal bivouac; and throughout the long days and dreary lagging nights. Beryl was fully conscious of a ceaseless surveillance, of an ever-present shadow, which was tall and gaunt, wore a drab overcoat and slouched hat, and was redolent of tobacco. As silent as two mummies in the crypts of Karnac they sat side by side; and twice when the officer touched her arm and asked if she would take some refreshments, she merely shook her head, and tightened the folds of her veil; shrinking closer to the window against which she leaned. Not until they approached X—-, and she recognized some features of the landscape, were her lips unsealed:
"What persons are responsible for my arrest?"
"Our District Solicitor, Mr. Churchill, and Mr. Dunbar, the lawyer, who made the affidavit under which the warrant was issued. I am only a deputy, acting under orders from the sheriff."
"You are taking me to prison?"
"Perhaps not; it depends on the result of the preliminary examination, and you may be allowed bail."
A ray of hope silvered the shrouding gloom; there was a possibility of escaping the stain of incarceration.
"When will the examination take place?"
"About noon to-day. You will have time to eat something and freshen up a little. Here we are. What a crowd to welcome us! Don't stir. We will just wait a while, and I will get you into a carriage as quietly as possible."
He whispered some directions to the conductor of the train, and standing in the aisle with his arm across the seat, screened her from the gaze of a motley crew of men and boys who rushed in to stare at the prisoner, whose arrival had been impatiently expected. On the railway platform and about the station house surged a sea of human heads, straining now in the direction of the first passenger coach; and when in answer to some question, the conductor pointed to the sleeping car which was at the rear of the train, the mass swayed down the track.
"Quick! Now is our time!"
The deputy sheriff hurried her out, almost lifted her from the steps, and pushing her forward, turned a corner of the street, and handed her into a carriage which awaited them.
To Beryl many hours seemed to have crept away, since she had been left alone in a small dusty apartment, adjoining the office where the chief magistrate of X—-daily held court. Too restless to sit still, she paced up and down the floor, trying to collect her thoughts, and at last knelt by the side of a table, and laid her weight of dread and peril before the Throne of the God she trusted. The Father of the fatherless and Friend of the friendless, would surely protect her in this hour of intolerable degradation.
"O, Thou that hearest prayer; unto Thee shall all flesh come."
The door opened, and a venerable, gray-haired man approached the table, where her head was bent upon her crossed arms. When she lifted her white face, with the violet circles under her dry eyes, making them appear preternaturally large and luminous, and the beautiful mouth contracted by a spasm of intense pain, a deep sigh of compassion passed the stranger's lips.
"I am Mitchell Dent, an old friend of General Darrington's, and of your mother, who has often sat upon my knee. Because of my affection for your grandfather, I have asked permission to see you for a few moments. If you are unjustly accused, I desire to befriend you, and offer you some advice. I am told you assert your innocence of the great crime of which you are suspected. I hope you can prove it; but for your own sake I advise you to waive an examination, and await the action of the Grand Jury, as you have had no opportunity of consulting counsel, or preparing your defence."
"You knew my mother? Then you should require no other proof that her child is not a criminal. I am innocent of every offence against General Darrington, except that of being my father's daughter; and my unjustifiable arrest is almost as foul a wrong as his murder."
She drew herself proudly to her full height, and as his eyes dwelt in irrepressible admiration upon her, his manhood did homage to her grace and dignity, and he took off his hat.
"I earnestly hope so; and the law holds every person innocent until her guilt be fully proved and established."
"Of the significance of law terms I know nothing; and of the usages of courts I am equally ignorant. If, as you suggest, I should waive an examination, should I escape imprisonment?"
"Then I must be tried at once; because I want to hurry back to my mother who is ill, and needs me."
"But you have no counsel as yet, and delay is your best policy."
"Delay might cost my mother's life. I have no money to pay a lawyer to stand up and mystify matters, and my best policy is to defend myself, by telling the simple truth."
Again Judge Dent sighed. Could guilt be masked by this fair semblance of childlike guilelessness?
"Can you summon any witnesses to prove that you were not at Elm Bluff on the night of the storm?"
"Yes, the ticket agent knows I was in the waiting-room during that storm."
He shook his gray head.
"He will be one of the strongest witnesses against you."
"Then I have no witnesses except—God, and my conscience."
The door opened, and with his watch in his hand the deputy sheriff entered.
"Sorry to shorten your interview, Judge, but you know we have a martinet in yonder, a regular Turk, and he splits seconds into fractions."
As Judge Dent withdrew, Beryl realized that her hour of woe had arrived, and she began to pin her veil tightly over her face.
"Come along—You can't keep your veil on. Try to be as non-committal as possible when they ask you crooked questions. Of course I want justice done, and I hope I am a faithful servant of the law; but if you are as innocent as a flock of ring-doves, the lawyers will try to confuse you."
He attempted to lead her, but she drew back.
"I will follow you; but please do not hold my arm; do not touch me."
A moment later, a door opened and closed, a glare of light showed her a crowded room; a monotonous hum like the swell of the sea fell on her ear; then stifled ejaculations, to which succeeded a sudden, deathlike hush. The officer placed a chair for her in front of the platform where the magistrate sat, and retired to the rear of the room. With some difficulty Judge Dent made his way through the throng of spectators, and seated himself beside Mr. Dunbar.
"Well, sir, how did the prisoner impress you?" asked the latter, as he folded up a paper.
"Dunbar, you have made a mistake. I have spent the best of my life in the study of criminals; and if that woman yonder is not innocent, I am in my dotage."
"Pardon me, Judge, if I dispute both propositions. I made no mistake; and you are merely, in the goodness of your heart, and the fervor of your chivalry, dazzled momentarily by the glamour of extraordinary beauty and touching youth."
When Beryl recovered in some degree from the shock of finding herself actually on trial, she endeavored to collect her faculties; but the violent palpitation of her heart was almost suffocating, and in her ears the surging as of an ocean tide, drowned the accents of the magistrate. At first the words were as meaningless as some Sanskrit formula, but gradually her attention grasped and comprehended. In a strident incisive voice he read from a paper on the desk before him:
"At an inquisition held at X—-, T—-county, on the twenty-seventh day of October, before me, Jeremiah Bateman, Coroner of said county, on the body of Robert Luke Darrington, there lying dead, by the jurors whose names are hereto subscribed; the said jurors upon their oath do say that Robert Luke Darrington came to his death on the night of Thursday, October twenty-sixth, by a murderous assault committed upon him by means of a heavy brass andiron. And from all the evidence brought before them, the jury believe that the fatal blow was feloniously given by the hand of his granddaughter, Beryl Brentano.
"In testimony whereof, the said jurors have hereunto set their hands, this twenty-seventh day of October, A.D., 18—.
"JEREMIAH BATEMAN, Coroner."
"In consequence of this verdict, and by virtue of a warrant issued at the request of the District Solicitor, Governor Glenbeigh made a prompt requisition for the arrest and detention of the said Beryl Brentano, who has been identified and returned to this city, to answer the charges brought against her. The prisoner will unveil and stand up.
"Beryl Brentano, you are charged with the murder of Robert Luke Darrington, by striking him with a brass andiron. Are you guilty, or not guilty?"
"Not guilty." Her voice was unsteady, but the words were distinct.
Mr. Dunbar, Mr. Burk, and a middle-aged woman lean as Cassius, came nearer to the platform, and after a leisurely survey of the girl's face and figure, pronounced her the person whom they had severally accused of the crime of causing the death of General Darrington.
The canons that govern psychical phenomena are as occult as the abstraction of the "fourth division of space"; and they defy the realism of common-place probability, mock all analysis, and annihilate distance. When Beryl had first met the keen scrutiny of Mr. Dunbar's glittering blue eyes, their baleful influence made her shiver slightly; and now at the instant in which he approached, and inspected her closely, she forgot that she was on trial for her life, became temporarily oblivious of her dismal entourage, and stood once more before a marble image in the Vatican, where the light streamed full on the cold face, that for centuries has been the synonym of blended beauty and cruelty. In her ears rang again the words her father had rend aloud at her side, while she sketched: "But he does not inspire confidence, by the smile that would like to express goodness. The finely cut underlip that rises from the strongly marked hollow over the chin ought to sharpen with a dash of contempt the conscious superiority that lies upon his broad, magnificent forehead. His smile is in strong contrast with the cold gaze of the large open eyes; a gaze that hesitates not, but without mercy verifies a judgment fixed in advance, that gives up every one to condemnation."
The dusty crowded court-room appeared to swim in the rich aroma distilled from the creamy hearts of Roman hyacinths; and the velvet lips of purple Roman violets suddenly babbled out the secret of the mysterious repulsion which had puzzled her, from the hour in which she first looked into Mr. Dunbar's face; his strange resemblance to the Chiaramonti Tiberius, which she had studied and copied so carefully. In days gone by, the subtle repose, the marvelous beauty of that marble face, where as yet the demon of destruction had cast no stain, possessed a singular fascination for her; and now the haunting likeness which had perplexed her at Elm Bluff, became associated inseparably with old Bedney's description of Mr. Dunbar's merciless treatment of witnesses, and Beryl realized with alarming clearness that in her grandfather's lawyer she had met the incarnation of her cruel fate.
Standing quite near her, he gravely related, with emphatic distinctness and careful detail, his first meeting with the prisoner on the piazza at Elm Bluff, and the vivid impression she left on his mind; his return to Elm Bluff about half-past nine the same evening, in order to get a deed which he had forgotten to put into his pocket at the first visit. Learning that General Darrington had not yet retired for the night, he sent in to ask for the deed, and was summoned "to come and get it himself." On entering the bedroom, he found his client wrapped in a cashmere dressing-gown, and sitting in an easy chair by the window, which opened on the north or front piazza. He appeared much perturbed and harassed, and in reply to inquiries touching his health, answered that he was "completely shaken up, and unnerved, by a very stormy and disagreeable interview held that afternoon with the child of his wayward daughter Ellice. "When witness asked: "Did not the great beauty of the embassadress accomplish the pardon and restoration of the erring mother?" General Darrington had struck his cane violently on the floor, and exclaimed: "Don't talk such infernal nonsense! Did you ever hear of my pardoning a wrong against my family name and honor? Does any man live, idiotic enough to consider me so soft-hearted? No, no. On the contrary, I was harsh to the girl; so harsh that she turned upon me, savage as a strong cub defending a crippled helpless dam. They know now that the last card has been played, and the game ended; for I gave her distinctly to understand that at my death, Prince would inherit every iota of my estate, and that my will had cut them off without a cent. I meant it then, I mean it now. I swear that lowborn fiddler's brood shall never darken these doors; but somehow, I am unable to get rid of the strange, disagreeable sensation the girl left behind her, as a farewell legacy. She stood there at that glass door, and raised her hand like a prophetess. 'General Darrington, when you lie down to die, may God have more mercy on your poor soul than you have shown to your suffering child.'"
Witness advised him to go to bed, and sleep off the unpleasant recollections of the day, but he said it was so oppressively hot, he wanted to sit at the window, which was wide open. Witness having secured the deed, which was on the table in the room, bade his client good-night, and left the house.
He was riding toward town, and thought it was about ten o'clock, when he saw the prisoner sitting under a pine tree near the road, and not more than a half a mile from the bridge over the "Branch" that runs at the foot of Elm Bluff. His horse had shied and plunged at sight of her, and, the moonlight being bright as day, witness easily recognized her as the same person he had seen earlier in the afternoon. Thinking her appearance there at that hour was rather mysterious, he asked her if she had lost her way; to which she replied "No, sir." On the following morning, when the mournful news of the murder of General Darrington had convulsed the entire community with grief and horror, witness had smothered his reluctance to proceed against a woman, and a solemn sense of duty forced him to bring these suspicious circumstances to the knowledge of the District Solicitor.
While he gave his testimony, Mr. Dunbar watched her closely for some trace of emotion, but she met his gaze without the movement of a muscle, and he detected not even a quiver of the jet lashes that darkened her proud gray eyes.
Antony Burk next testified that he had given the accused instructions about the road to Elm Bluff, when she arrived at X—; and that after buying her return ticket, she told him it was necessary she should take the 7:15 train, and that she would be sure to catch it. The train was a few minutes late, but had pulled out of the station twenty minutes before the prisoner came back, when she appeared much annoyed at having missed it.
Then she had sent a telegram (a copy of which was in the possession of the Solicitor), and requested him to allow her to remain in the ladies' waiting-room until the next train at 3:05. He had directed her to a hotel close by, but she declined going there. Thinking she was fatigued and might relish it, he had, after supper, carried a pitcher of iced tea to the waiting-room, but though he remained there until nine o'clock she was nowhere visible. He went home and went to sleep, but the violence of the storm aroused him; and when he took his lantern and went back to unlock the ticket office, he searched the whole place, and the prisoner was not in the building. This was at half-past two A.M., and the pitcher of tea remained untouched where he had placed it. It was not raining when he returned, and a few minutes after he had hunted for the prisoner, he was standing in the door of his office and he saw her coming down the railway track, from the direction of the water tank and the bridge. She was breathing rapidly as if she had been running, and witness noticed that her clothes were damp, and that some drops of water fell from the edge of her hat. A lamp-post stood in front of the station, and he saw her plainly; asked her why she did not stay in the room, which he had left open for her? Prisoner said she had remained there. Witness told her he knew better; that she was not there at nine nor yet at half-past two o'clock. The accused did not appear inclined to talk, and gave no explanation, but got aboard the 3:05 train. Witness considered her actions so suspicious, that he had related all he knew to Mr. Dunbar, who had summoned him before the magistrate. He (witness) was very loath to think evil of a woman, especially one so beautiful and noble looking, and if he wronged her, he hoped God would forgive him; but he never dodged telling the truth.
Here the female Cassius rose, and gave her name as Angeline Dobbs.
"She had for several years attended to the sewing and mending at Elm Bluff, being summoned there whenever her services were required. On the afternoon previous to General Darrington's death she was sitting at her needlework in the hall of the second story of his house. As the day was very hot, she had opened the door leading out to an iron balcony, which projected just over the front hall door downstairs; and since the piazza was open from the roof to the floor, she had peeped over, and seen the prisoner when she arrived and had watched her while she sat on the steps, waiting to be admitted. After the accused had been inside the house some time, she (witness) recollected that she had seen a hole in one of the lace curtains in the library downstairs, and thought this would be such a nice time to darn it. The library was opposite the drawing room, and adjoined General Darrington's bed-room. The door was open and witness heard what she supposed was a quarrel, as General Darrington's voice was loud and violent; and she distinctly heard him say: 'My will is so strong, no contest can touch it! and it will stand forever between your mother and my property.' Soon after, General Darrington had slammed the door, and though she heard loud tones for some time, she could not make out the words. The impression left on witness's mind was that the prisoner was very impudent to the old gentleman; and not long afterward she saw accused standing in the rose garden, pretending to gather some flowers, but really looking up and down at the front windows. Witness knew the prisoner saw the vault where the General kept his papers, because she heard it opened while she was in the bed-room. The door of the vault or safe did not open on hinges, but was iron, and slid on a metal rod, which made a very peculiar squeaking sound. When she heard the noise she thought that General Darrington was so enraged that he got the will to show prisoner it was all fixed forever, against her and her mother."
When Miss Dobbs sat down, a lame man, disfigured by a scar on his cheek, learned upon a stick and testified:
"My name is Belshazzar Tatem. Was an orderly sergeant attached to General Darrington's staff dtiring the war; but since that time have been a florist and gardener, and am employed to trim hedges and vines, and transplant flowers at Elm Bluff." On the afternoon of the prisoner's visit there, he was resetting violet roots on a border under the western veranda, upon which opened the glass door leading out from the General's bed-room. He had heard an angry altercation carried on between General Darrington and some one, and supposed he was scolding one of the servants. He went to a shed in the barn yard to get a spade he needed, and when he came back he saw the prisoner walk down the steps, and thought it singular a stranger should leave the house that way. Wondered whom she could be, and wondered also that the General had quarrelled with such a splendid looking lady. Next morning when he went back to his work, he noticed the glass door was shut, but the red curtain inside was looped back. He thought it was half-past eight o'clock, when he heard a loud cry in the bed-room, and very soon after, somebody screamed. He ran up the steps, but the glass door was locked on the inside, and when he went around and got into the room, the first thing he saw was General Darrington's body lying on the floor, with his feet toward the hearth, and his head almost on a line with the iron vault built in the wall. The servants were screaming and wringing their hands, and he called them to help him lift the General, thinking that he had dropped in a fit; but he found him stone cold and stiff. There was no sign of blood anywhere, but a heavy, old-fashioned brass andiron was lying close to the General's head, and he saw a black spot like a bruise on his right temple. General Darrington wore his night clothes, and the bed showed he had been asleep there. Some broken vases were on the floor and hearth, and the vault was wide open. The tin box was upside down on the carpet, and some papers in envelopes were scattered about.
Witness had picked up a leather bag carefully tied at the top with red tape, drawn into hard knots; but in one side he found a hole which had been cut with a knife, and at the bottom of the bag was a twenty-dollar gold piece. Two more coins of the same value were discovered on the floor, when General Darrington's body was lifted; and on the bolster of the bed lay a bottle containing chloroform. Witness immediately sent off for some of General Darrington's friends, and also notified the coroner; and he did not leave the room again until the inquest was held. The window on the front piazza was open, and witness had searched the piazza and the grounds for tracks, but discovered no traces of the burglar and murderer, who had escaped before the rain ceased, otherwise the tracks would have been found. Witness was positive that the prisoner was the same person whom he had seen coming out of the bed-room, and with whom General Darrington had quarrelled.
The sheriff here handed to the magistrate, the gold pieces found on the floor at Elm Bluff, by the last witness; then the little wicker basket which had been taken from the prisoner when she was arrested. The coins discovered therein were taken out, and careful comparison showed that they corresponded exactly with those picked up after the murder. The case of sapphires was also shown, and Mr. Dunbar rose to say, that "The prosecution would prove by the attorney who drew up General Darrington's will, that these exceedingly valuable stones had been bequeathed by a clause in that will to Prince Darrington, as a bridal present for whomsoever he might marry."
A brief silence ensued, during which the magistrate pulled at the corner of his tawny mustache, and earnestly regarded the prisoner. She stood, with her beautiful white hands clasped before her, the slender fingers interlaced, the head thrown proudly back. Extreme pallor had given place to a vivid flush that dyed her cheeks, and crimsoned her delicate lips; and her eyes looking straight into space, glowed with an unnatural and indescribable lustre. Tadmor's queen Bath Zabbai could not have appeared more regal in her haughty pose, amid the exulting shouts that rent the skies of conquering Rome. The magistrate cleared his throat, and addressed the accused.
"You are Beryl Brentano, the granddaughter of General Darrington?"
"I am Beryl Brentano."
"You have heard the charges brought against you. What have you to say in defence?"
"That I am innocent of every accusation."
"By what witnesses will you prove it?"
"By a statement of the whole truth in detail, if I may be allowed to make it."
Here the Solicitor, Mr. Churchill, rose and said:
"While faithfully discharging my official duties, loyalty to justice does not smother the accents of human sympathy; and before proceeding any further, I hope your Honor will appoint some counsel to confer with and advise the prisoner. Her isolation appeals to every noble instinct of manhood, and it were indeed puerile tribute to our lamented General Darrington, to bring his granddaughter before this tribunal, without the aid and defence of legal advisers. Justice itself would not be welcome to me, if unjustly won. My friend, Mr. Hazelton, who is present, has expressed his desire to defend the prisoner; and while I am aware that your Honor is under the impression she refuses to accept counsel, I trust you will nevertheless commit her, until she can confer with him."
Mr. Hazelton rose and bowed, in tacit approval.
Beryl advanced a few steps, and her clear pure voice thrilled every heart in the crowded room.
"I need no help to tell the truth, and I want to conceal nothing. Time is inexpressibly valuable to me now, for a human life more precious than my own is at stake; and if I am detained here, my mother may die. May I speak at once, and explain the circumstances which you consider so mysterious as to justify the shameful indignity put upon me?"
"Since you assume the responsibility of your own defence, you may proceed with your statement. Relate what occurred from the hour you reached Elm Bluff, until you left X—-next morning."
"I came here to deliver in person a letter written by my mother to her father, General Darrington, because other letters sent through the mail, had been returned unread. It contained a request for one hundred dollars to pay the expense of a surgical operation, which we hoped would restore her health. When I reached Elm Bluff, I waited on the steps, until General Darrington's attorney finished his business and came out; then I was led by an old colored man to the bed-room where General Darrington sat. I gave no name, fearing he might refuse to admit me, and he was very courteous in his manner until I laid the letter before him. He immediately recognized the handwriting, and threw it to the floor, declaring that no human being had the right to address him as father, except his son Prince. I picked up the letter, and insisted he should at least read the petition of a suffering, and perhaps dying woman. He was very violent in his denunciation of my parents, and his voice was loud and angry. So painful was the whole interview, that it was a bitter trial to me to remain in his presence, but knowing how absolutely necessary it was that mother should obtain the money, I forced myself to beg him to read the letter. Finally he consented, read it, and seemed somewhat softened; but he tore it into strips and threw it from him. He drank several glasses of wine from a decanter on the table, and offered me some, expressing the opinion that I must be tired from my journey. I declined it. General Darrington then questioned me about my family, my mode of living; and after a few moments became very much excited, renewing his harsh invectives against my parents. It was at this stage of the interview that he uttered the identical words quoted by the witness: 'My Will is so strong, no contest can touch it, and it will stand forever between your mother and my property.'
"Immediately after, he went to the door leading into the library and called 'Bedney!' No one answered, and he shut the door, kicking it as it closed. When he came back to his chair, he said very bitterly: 'At least we will have no eavesdroppers at this resurrection of my dead.' He told me all the story of my mother's girlhood; of her marriage, which had infuriated him; that he had sent her a certain proportion of property, and then disowned and disinherited her. Afterward he described his lonely life, his second marriage which was very happy, and his adoption of his wife's son, who, he repeatedly told me, had usurped my mother's place in his affections. Finally he said:
"'Your mother has asked for one hundred dollars. You shall have it; not because I recognize her as child of mine, but because a sick woman appeals to a Southern gentleman.'
"He took a bunch of keys from his pocket, and with one of them opened a safe or iron closet on the wall near the chimney, and from that vault he brought a square black tin box to the table, where he opened it. He took out a leather bag, and counted into my hand five gold pieces of twenty dollars each. The money was given so ungraciously that I told him I would not accept it, save as a loan for mother's benefit; and that as soon as I could earn it I would return the amount to him. I was so anxious to get away, I started toward the library door, but he called me back, and gave me the morocco case which contains the sapphires. He said my mother's mother had bought them as a gift for her daughter, to be worn when she was graduated at school; but as she married and left school without his knowledge, the jewels had never been seen by her. He told me he had intended to give them to his son Prince, for his bride, but that now he would send them to mother, who could sell them for a handsome sum, because they were valuable. He showed so much sorrow at this time, that I begged him to give me some message of pardon and affection, which she would prize infinitely more than money or jewels; but he again became angry and bitter, and so I left him. I came away by the door leading out on the iron veranda, because he directed me to do so, saying that he did not wish me to meet the servants, who would pry and tattle. When I closed the glass door I saw him standing in the middle of the room, leaning on his cane, and he had the black tin box in his hand. The sun was setting then, and now—"
She ceased speaking for some seconds, then raised her hands toward heaven, and with uplifted eyes that seemed in their strained gaze to pierce beyond the veil, she added with solemn emphasis:
"I call God to witness, that was the last and only time I ever saw General Darrington. That was the last and only visit I ever made to Elm Bluff."
There was a general movement among the spectators, and audible excitement, which was promptly quelled by the magistrate.
"Silence there in front, or I shall order the room cleared."
Turning toward Beryl, he said:
"If you left Elm Bluff at sunset, why did you not take the 7:15 train?"
"I tried to do so, but missed it because I desired to obey my mother's injunctions as strictly as possible. She gave me a small bunch of flowers, and asked me to be sure to lay them for her on her mother's grave. When I reached the cemetery, which you know is in sight of the road from Elm Bluff, the gate was locked, and it required some time to enable me to climb over the wall and find the monument. It was growing dark, and when I arrived at the station, I learned the train had just gone."
"Why did you not go to a hotel, as you were advised to do?"
"Because after sending the telegram to my mother, I had no money to pay for lodging; and I asked permission to stay in the ladies' waiting-room."
"State where and how you spent the night."
"It was very hot and sultry in that room, and as there was a bright moon shining, I walked out to get some fresh air. The pine woods had appeared so pretty and pleasant that afternoon, that I went on and on toward them, and did not realize how far they were. I met people passing along the road, and it did not seem lonely. The smell of the pines was new to me, and to enjoy it, I sat down on the straw. I was tired, and must have fallen asleep at once, for I remember nothing till some noise startled me, and there I saw the same man on horseback in the road, whom I had met at Elm Bluff. He asked me if I had misled my way, and I answered 'No, sir.' The height of the moon showed me it was late, and as I was frightened at finding myself alone in the woods, I almost ran back to the railway station, where I saw no one, except a telegraph operator, who seemed to be asleep in his chair. I cannot say what time it was, because I could not see the clock. Soon after, it began to thunder, and all through that terrible storm I was alone in the waiting-room. So great was my relief when the wind and lightning ceased, that I went to sleep, and dreamed of a happy time when I lived in Italy, and of talking with one very dear to me. Just then I awoke with a start, and heard a voice talking outside, which seemed very familiar. There were two persons; one, a negro, said:
"'There ain't no train 'till daylight, excepting the through freight.'
"The other person asked: 'When is it due?' The negro answered:
"'Pretty soon, but it don't stop here; it goes to the water tank where it blows for the railroad bridge; and that is only a short distance up the track.'
"I think I must have been only half awake, and with my mind fixed on my dream, I ran out in front of the station house. An old negro man limping down the street was the only person visible, and while I watched him he suddenly vanished. I went along the track for some distance but saw no one; and when I came back, the ticket agent was standing in the door of his office. I cannot explain to you the singular impulse which carried me out, when I heard the dialogue, because it is inexplicable to myself, save by the supposition that I was still dreaming; and yet I saw the negro man distinctly. There was a lamp-post near him, and he had a bundle on his shoulder. When the 3:05 train came, I went aboard and left X—-."
A smile parted Mr. Dunbar's lips, and his handsome teeth glittered as he whispered to Judge Dent:
"Even your chivalrous compassion can scarcely digest this knotty solution of her movements that night. As a fabrication, it does little credit to her ingenuity."
"Her statement impresses me differently. She is either entirely innocent, or she had an accomplice, whose voice she recognized; and this clue should be investigated."
The District Solicitor rose and bowed to the Magistrate.
"With your Honor's permission, I should like to ask the prisoner whom she expected to see, when she recognized the voice?"
"A person who is very dear to me, but who is not in the United States."
"What is the name of that person?"
Her lips moved to pronounce his name, but some swift intuitive warning restrained the utterance. Suddenly a new horror, a ghastly possibility, thrust itself for the first time before her, and she felt as though some hand of ice clutched her heart.
Those who watched her so closely, saw the blood ebb from cheeks and lips; noted the ashy pallor that succeeded, and the strange groping motion of her hands. She staggered toward the platform, and when the Magistrate caught her arm, she fell against him like some tottering marble image, entirely unconscious.
* * * * *
So prolonged and death-like was the swoon, and so futile the usual methods of restoration, that the prisoner was carried into the small ante-room, and laid upon a wooden bench; where a physician, who chanced to be in the audience, was summoned to attend her. Finding restoratives ineffectual, he took out his lancet:
"This is no ordinary fainting fit."
He attempted to roll up one of her sleeves, but seeing this was impracticable, would have unfastened her dress, had not Judge Dent arrested his hand.
"No, doctor; cut out the sleeve if necessary, but don't touch her otherwise."
"Let me assist you; I can easily bare the arm."
As he spoke, Mr. Dunbar knelt beside the bench, and with a small, sharp pen-knife ripped the seam from elbow to shoulder, from elbow to wrist, swiftly and deftly folding back the sleeve, and exposing the perfect moulding of the snowy arm.
"Just hold the hand, Dunbar, so as to keep it steady."
Clasping closely the hand, which the physician laid in his palm the attorney noted the exquisite symmetry of the slender fingers and oval nails. He bent forward and watched the frozen face. When the heavily lashed lids quivered and lifted, and she looked vacantly at the grave compassionate countenances leaning over her, a certain tightening of the hold upon her fingers, drew her attention. Her gaze fastened on the lawyer's blue eyes as if by a subtle malign fascination. The veil that shrouded consciousness was rent, not fully raised; and as in some dream the solemn eyes appeared to search his. A strange shivering thrill shot along his nerves, and his quiet, well regulated heart so long the docile obedient motor, fettered vassal of his will, bounded, strained hard on the steel cable that held it in thrall.
"You feel better now?" asked the physician, who was stanching the flow of blood.
Still her gaze seemed to penetrate the inmost recesses of the lawyer's nature, calling into sudden revolt dormant elements that amazed and defied him.
A shadowy smile curved her pale lips.
"At the mercy of Tiberius. At the mercy of Tiberius."
Those present looked inquiringly at each other.
"Her mind wanders a little. Sheriff, give her some of that brandy. She is as weak as a baby."
Judge Dent raised her head, and the officer held the tumbler to her mouth; while the former said gently:
"My poor girl, drink a little, it will strengthen you."
With a gesture of loathing, she rejected it; and as she attempted to raise herself, all the dire extremity of her peril rushed back upon her mind, like a black overwhelming tide from the sea of the past.
"Lie still, until I have bandaged your arm. Here, Dunbar, you acquitted yourself so dexterously with your knife, just lend a hand. Hold the arm until I secure the bandage."
To find herself surrounded by men, helpless in the grasp of strangers, with no womanly touch or glance to sustain her, served to intensify her misery; and wrenching herself free, she struggled into a sitting posture, then staggered to her feet. The heavy coil of hair loosened when they bore her from the court-room, now released itself from restraining pins, and fell in burnished waves to her knees, clothing her with a glory, such as the world's great masters in art reserve for the beatified. Had all the blood that fed her heart been drained, she would not have appeared more deadly pale, and in her wide eyes was the desperate look of a doomed animal, that feels the hot fangs of the hounds, and the cold steel of the hunters.
"Be persuaded for your own sake, to swallow some stimulant, of which you are sadly in need. You will require all your strength, and, as a physician, I insist upon your taking my prescription."
"If I might have some water. Just a little water."
Some one brought a brown stone pitcher, and she drank long and thirstily; then looked for a moment at the faces of those who crowded about her.
"What will be done now?"
Every eye fell to the floor, and after a painful silence Judge Dent said very gently:
"For the present, the Magistrate will retain you in custody, until the action of the Grand Jury. Should they fail to indict you, then you will at once be released."
"I am to go to prison? I am to be thrust among convicts, vile criminals! I—? My father's Beryl? O, righteous God! Where is Thy justice? O, Christ! Is Thy mercy a mockery?"
She stood, with her chin resting on her clenched hands, and twice a long violent shudder shook her from head to foot.
"I hope your imprisonment will be only temporary. The Grand Jury will be in session next week. Meantime diligent search may discover the persons whose conversation you overheard at the station; and if you be innocent, we are all your friends, and the law, which now seems so stern, will prove your strongest protector and vindicator."
Judge Dent stood close beside her, as he essayed these words of comfort, and saw that she caught her breath as though in mortal agony. Her face writhed, and she shut her eyes, unable to contemplate some hideous apparition. He suspected that she was fighting desperately an impulse that suggested succor; and he was sure she had strangled it, when her hands fell nerveless at her side, and she raised her bowed head. If the finger of paralysis had passed over her features, they would not have appeared more hopelessly fixed. Mechanically she twisted and coiled her hair, and took the hat and shawl which the officer held out to her.
"If I can assist you in any way, you have only to send for me."
She looked at Judge Dent intently, for an instant, then shook her head.
"No one can help me now."
She tied her veil over her face, and silently followed the deputy sheriff to a carriage, that stood near the pavement.
When he would have assisted her, she haughtily repelled him.
"I will follow you, because I must; but do not put your hands on me."
In ante bellum days, when States' Rights was a sacred faith, a revered and precious palladium, State pride blossomed under Southern skies, and State coffers overflowed with the abundance wherewith God blessed the land. During that period, when it became necessary to select a site for a new Penitentiary, the salubrity and central location of X—-had so strongly commended it, that the spacious structure was erected within its limits, and regarded as an architectural triumph of which the State might justly boast. Soon after this had been completed, the old county jail, situated on the border of the town, was burned one windy March night; then the red rain of war deluged the land, and when the ghastly sun of "Reconstruction" smiled upon the grave of States' Rights, Municipal money disappeared in subterranean channels. Thus it came to pass, that with the exception of a small "lockup" attached to Police Headquarters, X—had failed to rebuild its jail, and domiciled its dangerous transgressors in the great stone prison; paying therefor to the State an annual amount per capita.
Built of gray granite which darkened with time and weather stains, its massive walls, machicolated roof, and tall arched clock-tower lifted their leaden outlines against the sky, and cast a brooding shadow over the town, lying below; a grim perpetual menace to all who subsequently found themselves locked in its reformatory arms. Separated from the bustling mart and busy traffic, by the winding river that divided the little city into North and South X—, it crested an eminence on the north; and the single lower story flanking the main edifice east and west, resembled the trailing wings of some vast bird of prey, an exaggerated simulacrum of a monstrous gray condor perched on a "coigne of vantage," waiting to swoop upon its victims. Encircled by a tall brick wall, which was surmounted by iron spikes sharp as bayonets, that defied escalade, the grounds extended to the verge of the swift stream in front, and stretched back to the border of a heavily timbered tract of pine land, a bit of primeval forest left to stare at the encroaching armies of Philistinism.
Within the precincts of the yard, the tender conservatism of our great-hearted mother Nature, gently toned the savage stony features; and even under the chill frown of iron barred windows, golden sunshine bravely smiled, soft grasses wove their emerald velvet tapestries starred and flushed with dainty satin petals, which late Autumn roses showered in munificent contribution, to the work of pitying love.
In a comfortably furnished room situated in the second story of the main building, sat a woman apparently thirty-five years old, who was singing to a baby lying face downward on her lap, while with one hand she rocked the wicker cradle beside her, where a boy of four years was tossing. Her hazel eyes were full of kindly light, the whole face eloquent with that patient, limitless tenderness, which is the magic chrism of maternity, wherewith Lucina and Cuba abundantly anoint Motherhood. The blessed and infallible nepenthe for all childhood's ills and aches, mother touch, mother songs, soon held soothing sway; and when the woman laid the sleeping babe on her own bed, and covered her with a shawl, she saw her husband leaning against the partly open door.
"Come here, Susie. The kids are snug and safe for the present, and I want you."
"For shame, Ned! To call our darlings such a beastly name. Kids, indeed! My sweetest, loveliest lambs!"
"There! Hear yourself! If I can see any choice of respectability between kids and lambs, may I turn to a thoroughbred Southdown, and take the blue ribbon at the next Fair. Beasts of the field, all of them. The always-wide-awake-contrariness of womankind is a curious and fearful thing. If I had called our beloved towheads, lambs, you would have sworn through blue ruin that they were the cutest, spryest pair of spotted kids, that ever skipped over a five-railed fence!"
"So much the worse for you, Ned Singleton, that you are such a hopeless heathen; you do not even know where the Elect are appointed to stand, at that great day when the sheep come up on the right hand of the Lord, and the goats go down to the left. If you read your Bible more, I should have less to teach you."
"Oh! but let me tell you, I thought of all that before I made up my mind to marry the daughter of a Presbyterian preacher. I knew your dear little blue-nose would keep the orthodox trail; and being one of the Elect you could not get the points of the celestial compass mixed. Don't you forget, that it is part of the unspoken marriage contract, that the wife must not only keep her own soul white, but bleach her husband's also; and no matter what a reprobate a man may be, he always expects his better-half, by hook or by crook, to steer him into heaven."
He put his hands on his wife's shoulders, shook her, in token of mastery, and kissed her.
"What do you want of my 'always-wide-awake-contrariness'? I have half a mind not to help you out of your scrape; for of course you have mired somewhere. What is the matter now, Ned?"
"Yes—stuck hard and fast; so my dear little woman, don't you go back on your wedding-day promises, but just lend a helping hand. I don't know what is to be done with that poor young woman in No. 19. One of the under-wardens, Jarvis, sleeps this week right under her cell, and he tells me that all night long she tramps up and down, without cessation, like some caged animal. This is her third day in, and she has not touched a morsel; though at Judge Dent's request I ordered some extras given her. Jarvis said she was not sullen, but he thought it proper to report to me that she seemed to act very strangely; so I went up to see after her. When I opened the door she was walking up and down the floor, with her hands locked at the back of her head, and I declare, Susie, she looks five years older than when she came here. There are great dark hollows under her eyes, and two red spots like coals of fire on her cheeks. I said: 'Are you sick, that you reject your meals?' To which she replied: 'Don't trouble yourself to send me food; I cannot eat!' Then I told her I understood that she was restless at night, and I advised her to take a mixture which would quiet her nerves. She shook her head, and I could not bear to look at her; the eyes seemed so like a wounded fawn's, brimful of misery. I asked her if there was anything I could do, to make her more comfortable; or if she needed medicine. All this time she kept up her quick walk to and fro, and she answered: 'Thank you. I need nothing—but death; and that will come soon.' Now what could I say? I felt such a lump in my throat, that if Solomon had whispered to me some kind speech, I could not have uttered it, so I got out of the room just as fast as possible, to dry the tears that somehow would blur my eyes. When they are surly, or snappish, or violent, or insolent, I know exactly what to do, and have no trouble; but hang me, if I can cope with this lady—there it is out! She is a lady every inch, and as much out of place here as I should be in Queen Victoria's drawing-room. Men are clumsy brutes, even in kid gloves, and bruise much oftener than they heal. Whenever I am in that girl's presence, I have a queer feeling that I am walking on eggs, and tip-toe as I may, shall smash things. If something is not done, she will be ill on our hands, and a funeral will balk the bloodhounds."