"Looking at the case dispassionately from a professional point of view, I am sorry to tell you that the judge would scarcely be warranted in granting bail. Were I still upon the bench, I could not conscientiously release her, in the face of constantly accumulating evidence against her, although she has my deepest compassion. Conceding, however, for the moment, that Parkman consents to the petition and the girl is set at liberty, are you prepared to pay the large forfeit, if she, realizing the fearful odds against her acquittal, should take permanent bail by absconding before the trial? Abstract sympathy and generous sentiments are one phase of this matter; positively paying a fifteen or a twenty-thousand-dollar-bond is quite another. Weigh it carefully. We pity this unfortunate prisoner, but we know absolutely nothing in her favor, to counterbalance the terrible array of accusing circumstances fate has piled against her. If she be guilty, can she resist the temptation to escape by flight; and if indeed she be innocent, how much more difficult to await all that is involved in this trial, and abide the issue? Because she is beautiful, has a refined and noble air, and seems unsullied as some grand snow image, do not blind yourself to the fact, that for aught we can prove to the contrary, she may have a heart as black as Tullias', hands as bloody as Brunehaut's."
"You believe that as little as I do. I have pondered the matter in all its aspects, and I take the risk."
"You can afford to pay for her flight?"
"I will pay for her flight, no matter what it may cost."
Judge Dent took her hand between both his.
"Let us be frank."
"'The things we do— We do; we'll wear no mask, as if we blushed!'"
"Are you so assured of the woman's fidelity; or do you deliberately leave the door ajar, foreseeing the result, deeming this the most expedient method of cutting the Gordian knot?"
For a moment she hesitated, then her soft brown eyes looked down bravely into his.
"I believe she is innocent, and that she will be loyal if released on bail; but if I mistake her character, and she should flee for her life from the lifted sword of justice, then I shall gladly pay the expense of playing Alexander's role; and shall feel rejoiced that she lives to repent her crime; and that the man to whom I have promised my hand, has been relieved of the awful responsibility of hunting her to death."
"Have you made him acquainted with this scheme?"
"Certainly not. I owed it to you to secure your approbation and co-operation, before mentioning the matter to him."
"Have you considered the opposition which, without inconsistency, he cannot fail to offer? As prosecuting attorney for the Darringtons he would be recreant to his client, if he consented to release on bail."
"His sympathy is deeply enlisted in her behalf, and I do not anticipate opposition; nevertheless, it would not deter me from the attempt to free her, at least temporarily from prison. As you have no connection with the trial, I can see no impropriety in your telling Judge Parkman, that the girl's health demands a change of air and scene, and that it is my desire to furnish any bond he may deem suitable, and then bring the prisoner under my own roof, until the day fixed for her trial. If you are unwilling to speak to him, will you permit me to mention the subject to him?"
"I fear enthusiasm is hurrying you into a proposal, the possibly grave consequences of which you do not realize. You would run a great risk in bringing here that unfortunate woman, over whose head has gathered so black a cloud of suspicion. In becoming her gaoler, you assume a fearful responsibility."
"I fully comprehend all the hazard, and with your permission, I shall not shrink. I have a conviction, for which I can offer no adequate grounds, that this girl is as innocent as I am; and if all the world hissed and jeered, I should stretch out my hand to her. Do you recollect Ortes' booty when Antwerp fell into Alva's hands? The keys of the dungeons. I would rather swing wide the barred doors of yonder human cage across the river, and lead that woman out under God's free sky, than wear all of Alva's jewels, own his gold. Uncle, will you speak, or shall I?"
"I must first talk with Churchill and Dunbar. Your effort might result only in injury to the prisoner; because if she were brought into Court on writ of Habeas Corpus, and refused bail, as I fear would be the case, the failure would operate very unfavorably for her cause, on public opinion, of which after all, in nineteen cases out of twenty, the jury verdict is a reflection. Some new evidence has been presented since the preliminary examination, and its character will determine the question of bail. If I can see any chance of your success I will speak to Parkman; for, indeed, my dear child, I honor your motive, and share your hope; but unless I find more encouragement than I expect, I will not complicate matters by a futile attempt, which would certainly recoil disastrously."
"Thank you, Uncle Mitchell. Please act promptly. I have set my heart of hearts on having that poor young woman here to spend Christmas. Her freedom to walk about in the sunshine, is the one Christmas gift I covet; and I know you will gratify me if possible. You have only four days in which to secure my present."
"When do you expect to see Dunbar?"
"I promised to ride with him this afternoon; but I prefer not to discuss this subject, as he has earnestly requested me 'to abstain from any reference to that gloomy business during his hours of recreation;' and I have no intention of setting black care en croupe to share our canter to-day. Having told me that when he leaves his office to visit us, he locks his professional affairs in his desk, you can readily understand that good taste enforces respect for his wishes, at least in the matter of avoiding tabooed topics."
"Does it occur to you that he will object very strenuously to seeing the personification of 'that gloomy business' sitting at your hearth-stone? That he may refuse to lock up in his law office the significant and disagreeable reflection, that the woman whom he arrested find prosecutes for a vile crime, is championed and housed by one whom he claims as his promised wife? Dunbar has a keen eye for the 'eternal fitness of things,' and, where you are concerned, is a jealous stickler for social convenance. I warn you he will be bitterly offended, if you bring General Darrington's granddaughter under this roof."
Her delicate flower-like face flushed; and the slight figure became proudly erect.
"It is my house, and I acquit him of the presumption of desiring to dictate to whom its doors shall be opened. If he has no confidence in my discretion, no respect for my motives, no tolerance for difference of opinion in a matter of vital importance, then the sooner our engagement is annulled the better for both of us. When I have taken my vows, I hope I shall steadfastly keep them, but meantime I am still a Gordon. The irrevocable ubi tu Caius, ego Caia, has not yet been uttered, and while it would grieve me very much to wound his feelings, I claim the exercise of my own judgment. I am not indifferent to his wishes; on the contrary, I ardently desire, as far as is consistent with my self-respect, to defer to them; but when I pledged him my faith, I did not surrender my will, nor obliterate my individuality."
Judge Dent rose, put his arm around her shoulders, and drew the sunny head to his breast.
"Leo, listen to me. There is no heaven on earth, but the nearest approach to it, the outlying suburbs whence we get bewildering glimpses of beatitude beyond, is the season of courtship and betrothal. In the magical days of sweetheartdom, a silvery glorifying glamour wraps the world, brims jagged black chasms with glittering mist, paves rugged paths with its shimmering folds, and tenderly covers very deep in rose leaves, the clay feet of our idols. That wonderful light shines only once full upon us, but the memory of it streams all along the succeeding journey; follows us up the arid heights, throws its mellow afterglow on the darkening road, as we go swiftly down the slippery hill of life. It comes to all, as hope's happy prophecy, this sparkling prologue, and we never dream that it is the sweetest and best of the drama that follows; but let me tell you, enjoy it while you may. Beautiful, hallowing sweetheart days, keep them unclouded, guard them from strife; hold them for the precious enchantment they bring, and take an old man's advice, do not quarrel with your sweetheart."
He kissed her cheek, and when the door closed behind him, she sat down and covered her face with her hands.
Was that witching light already fading in her sky? Was the storm even now muttering, that would rudely toss aside the rose leaves that garlanded the feet of her beloved? In the midst of her eloquent prologue would darkness smite suddenly, and end the drama? Life had poured its richest wine into the cup she held to her lips; should she risk spilling the priceless draught? She could turn a deaf ear to teazing whispers of suspicion, she could shut her eyes to the spectre that threw up warning hands, and so drift on; but the dream would be broken perhaps too late, and all time could not repair the possible shipwreck. Into the chill shadow of this problem plunged Miss Patty, bringing through the room the penetrating spicery of an apron full of pinks, which she was sorting and tying in star-shaped clusters.
"An extraordinary and most unexpected thing has happened, and I know you will be surprised."
"What is it, Aunt Patty? Something very pleasant, I hope."
"I have actually changed my opinion; and you know how tenacious I usually am of my well-matured views, because they are always founded on such sound reasons. Quite surprised, aren't you, dear?"
"That is far too mild and inadequate a term to express my sensations. Your views and opinions bear the same royal, inviolable seal as those of the Medes and Persians, and from their unchangeableness must have floated down the stream of Aryan migration, from some infallible fountain in Bactria. I should not be much more astonished to hear that Cynosure had grown giddy, had swung down and waltzed in the arms of Sirius."
"Leo, that sounds very pedantic, and there is nothing I dislike more. A woman bedecked with rags and tags of farfetched learning, is about as attractive an object as if she had turned out a full beard and mustache. I am very sure you have heard me assert more than once, that I verily believe Venus herself would scare all the men into monasteries, if she wore blue stockings. Too much learning in a lady's conversation is as utterly unpardonable as a waste of lemon and nutmeg in a chicken-pie; or a superfluity of cheese in Turbot a la creme; just a hint of the flavor, the merest soupcon is all that is admissible in either. I came in to tell you, that I have experienced quite a change of feeling with reference to that poor young lady, whom Mr. Dunbar with such officious haste arrested and threw into gaol. I am now convinced that a great wrong has been committed."
For a moment Leo stooped to stroke the head of her Siberian hound, crouching on the velvet rug at her feet; then she frankly met the twinkling black eyes that peered over their gold-rimmed spectacles.
"I am glad to hear it; but to what circumstance is so deckled a revulsion of sentiment attributable?"
"You know I have great confidence in Sister Serena's sagacity, and during the past fortnight she has talked frequently with me on the subject of the prisoner. When she undertook to nurse the poor child, she too considered her guilty of the unnatural crime; but by degrees she began to doubt it. About ten days ago, she says she went to the penitentiary, and found the prisoner reading a Bible which she had borrowed from the gaoler's wife. She asked her if she would like her to offer up a prayer, in her behalf, and they knelt down side by side. Sister Serena prayed that God would melt her heart if she was guilty, and help her to repent. While they were still on their knees, Sister Serena put one arm around her and said:
"'God knows whether you are the criminal; and if so, let me beg of you to make a full confession; it will unload your conscience, and may be the means of arousing more sympathy in the public heart.' She says that the poor girl looked at her a moment so reproachfully, and answered: 'When we meet in heaven, you will understand how cruelly your words hurt me. I know that appearances are hopelessly against me, and I expect to die; but I am so innocent, I keep my soul close to God, for He who knows the truth, will help me to bear man's injustice.' Then she prayed aloud for herself, that she might endure patiently and meekly an awful punishment which she did not deserve; and while she prayed, her countenance was so pure, so angelic, and there was such unmistakable fervor and sincerity in her petition, that Sister Serena says she could not help bursting into tears, and she actually begged the girl's pardon for having doubted her innocence. She has fallen completely in love with the poor young creature, and tells me she finds her wonderfully talented and cultivated. This morning she showed me some of the most beautiful designs for decorating our altar on Christmas, which the prisoner sketched for her. She cut all the models for her, and gave her such lovely suggestions, and when Sister Serena thanked her, she says the most touching smile she ever saw came into that child's face, as she answered: 'I ought to thank you for the privilege of decorating my Savior's altar, at the last Christmas I shall spend on earth. Next year, I shall spend Jesus' birthday with Him.' I felt so uncomfortable when I heard all that passed between her and Sister Serena, that I could not be easy until I had seen for myself; and as Sister Serena was going over to carry some letters to be painted and gilded, I went with her. I have seen her, and talked with her, and I pity the hard, bitter, unregenerate and vindictive heart of the man who is prosecuting her for murder. I do not believe that in all the world, Mr. Dunbar can find twelve men idiotic and vicious enough to convict that beautiful orphan girl; and his failure will do as little credit to his intellect, as success would to his moral nature."
"While I prefer to exclude Mr. Dunbar's name from our discussions, I think it merely bare justice to the absent, to assure you that he desires her conviction even less than you or I; and will do all in his power to avert it. I feel more interest in this matter than you can possibly realize, and, believing her innocent, I will befriend her to the last extremity. Did Sister Serena succeed in fitting the black dress I sent?"
"The poor child had on a mourning dress, but I was not aware you sent it. Losing her mother seems almost to have broken her heart. Poor Ellice Darrington! Petted and fostered like a hot-house flower, and then to die a pauper in a hospital! What an awful retribution for her disobedience to her parents? There is the bell."
"Yes, Auntie, and I must ask you to excuse me. Some of my Sunday-school class are coming to practise their carols, and conclude a little holiday preparation, and I hear them now on the steps."
"Did Mitchell show you Leighton's telegram?"
"He told me the good news, that at the last moment Leighton had filled his pulpit for the holidays, and would preach for us on Christmas. How delightfully it will revive the dear old days to have him back? Fancy our hanging up our stockings once more at the foot of Uncle Mitchell's bed! Your letter must have been eloquent, indeed, to entice him from the splendors of the metropolis, to the yule log at our quiet 'Lilacs'; and his coming is a tribute of gratitude to you, for all your loving care of him. I know you are so happy at the thought of taking the Holy Communion from the hand of your dear boy, that it will consecrate this Christmas above all others; and I congratulate you heartily, dear Aunt Patty."
It was late in the afternoon of Saturday, Christmas Eve, when Leo knocked at the door of Mrs. Singleton's room. A dispirited expression characterized the countenance usually serene and happy, and between her brows a perpendicular line marked the advent of anxious foreboding. Her hopeful scheme had dissolved, vanished like a puff of steam on icy air, leaving only a teazing memory of mocking failure. Judge Dent's conference with the District Solicitor, had convinced him of the futility of any attempt to secure bail; moreover, a message from the prisoner earnestly exhorted them to abandon all intercessory designs in her behalf, as she would not accept release on bail, and preferred to await her trial.
"Good evening, Miss Gordon. If you want to see her, Ned will show you the way to the chapel, where I left her a while ago. Since her mother's death, the only comfort she gets, is from the organ; so we let her go there very often. I would go with you, but I want to finish a black shawl I am crocheting for her."
The warden escorted his visitor through the chill dim corridors that had formerly so appalled Beryl's soul, and upon the steps of the chapel, both paused to listen. On the small cabinet organ, a skilful hand was playing a grand and solemn aria, which Leo had heard once before in the cool depths of Freiburg Cathedral. It had impressed her then most powerfully, as the despairing invocation of some doomed Titan; to-day it thrilled her with keen and intolerable pain. Waving the warden back, she softly entered the chapel, closed the door, and sat down.
Through the narrow windows, the afternoon sunlight, fettered by shadowy bars, fell on the bare floor, and the radiance smote the organ and the wan face of the musician, gilding the dark reddish-brown hair coiled loosely on her nobly poised head. Her black dress enhanced the extreme pallor of delicate features, which, outlined against that golden background, bore a strong resemblance to the lovely portrait of Titian's wife in the Louvre. Unmindful of the keys, across which her fingers strayed, she was gazing off into space, as if seeking some friendly face; and to the same sombre, passionate, plaintive melody she sang:
"The way is dark, my Father! Cloud upon cloud Is gathering thickly o'er my head, and loud The thunders roar above me. O, see—I stand Like one bewildered! Father, take my hand— And through the gloom lead safely home Thy Child! The day declines, my Father! and the night Is drawing darkly down. My faithless sight Sees ghostly visions. Fears like a spectral band Encompass me. O, Father, take my hand, And from the night lead up to light Thy Child! The cross is heavy, Father! I have borne It long, and still do bear it. I cannot stand Or go alone. O, Father, take my hand, And reaching down, lead to the crown Thy Child!"
The voice was wonderfully sweet and rich, vibrating with the intense pathos of minor chords in a mellow old violoncello, and either from physical weakness, or the weight of woe, it quivered at last into a thrilling cry. Tears were dripping over Leo's cheeks, as she went up to the chancel railing, and leaning across, put out her hand. Beryl rose and came forward, and so, with only the pine balustrade between, the two stood palm in palm. No moisture dimmed the prisoner's eyes, but around her beautiful mouth sorrowful curves betokened the fierceness of the ordeal she was enduring; and her lips trembled a little, like rose leaves under a sudden rude gust.
"I have wanted very much to see you, Miss Gordon, to thank you for the great kindness that prompted your effort to help me; and yet, I have no hope of expressing adequately the comfort I derived from this manifestation of your confidence. The knowledge that you offered security for me, above all, that you were willing to take me—an outcast, almost a convicted criminal—into the holy shelter of your own home, oh! you can never realize, unless you stood in my place, how it soothes my heart, how it will always make a bright spot in the blackness of my situation. The full sympathy of a noble woman is the best tonic for a feeble sufferer, who knows the world has turned its back upon her. If I were unworthy, your goodness would be the keenest lash that could scourge me; but forlorn though I seem, your friendship brings me measureless balm, and while I could never have accepted your generous offer, I thank you sincerely."
"Why were you so unwilling that I should try to release you?"
"I have not a dollar to pay my expenses anywhere, and I appreciated too fully all that was involved in your hospitable offer, to take me under your roof, to be willing to avail myself of it. Here I am provided for, by those who believe me guilty; and here I have the kind sympathy of Mr. and Mrs. Singleton, who were my first friends when the storm broke over my doomed head. To go out of prison into the world now, would be torturing, because I am proud and sensitive; and these dark walls screen me from the curious observation from which I shrink, as from being flayed. To the desolate and homeless, change of place brings no relief; and since there is no escape for me, I prefer to wait here for the end, which, after all, cannot be very distant."
"Do you refer to the trial next month?"
"No, to that which yawns behind the trial; a shallow gash out there under the pines, where the sound of the penitentiary bell tolls requiems for the souls of its mangled victims."
"Hush! hush! You wrong yourself by imagining the possibility of such horrible results. Gloomy surroundings, coupled with your great bereavement, render you morbidly despondent; and it was the hope of cheering you, that made me so anxious to get you away. If I could only take you home, even for one week!"
"The wish has cheered me inexpressibly. How good, how noble, how tender you are! Miss Gordon, because I am so grateful, let me now say one thing. You cannot help me in future, and it would grieve me to think that I fell, as an unlifting shadow, between your heart and the sunshine that warms it. In the night of my wretchedness, you have groped your way to me, and in defiance of the circumstances that are so cruelly leagued to strangle me, you throw your confidence like a warm mantle around my shivering soul; you have courageously laid your pure, womanly hands in mine—oh, God bless you! God reward you! Do you think I could bear to know that I had caused even a hand's breadth of cloud to drift over the heavenly blue of your happy sky? The bow of promise that spans your life is no secret. Let no thought of me jar the harmony that reigned before I came here. Leave me to my doom, which human hands cannot avert now; and be happy without questioning. Inexorable fate stands behind men; makes them, sometimes, irresponsible puppets."
A deep flush had risen to Leo's temples, and withdrawing her hand, she shaded her face for a moment. The great bell below the tower clock rang sullenly.
"Good-bye, Miss Gordon. I had permission to stay here only till the bell sounded. Pray for me, but do not come again. Visits to me could bring you nothing but sorrow in return for your compassion, and that would add to my misery. I wish you a pleasant Christmas, a happy New Year, and as cloudless a life as your great goodness deserves."
Once more their hands met, in a long close clasp, then Leo laid on the chancel railing a large square envelope.
"It is only a Christmas card, but so lovely, I know your artistic taste cannot fail to admire it; and it may brighten your cheerless room. It is the three-hundred-dollar-prize-card, and particularly beautiful."
"Thank you, dear Miss Gordon. It may help to deaden the merciless stings of memory, which all day long has tortured me by unrolling the past, where my Christmas days stand out like illuminated capitals on black-letter pages."
Deaden the stings of memory? What spell suddenly evoked the image of her invalid mother, all the details of the attic room, the litter of pencils on the table; the windows of a florist's shop where, standing on the pavement, she had studied hungrily the shapes of the blossoms poverty denied her as models; the interior of the Creche, which she had penetrated in order to sketch the heads of sleeping babies, as a study for cherubs?
Leo had almost reached the door, when a passionate, indescribably mournful cry arrested her steps.
"Too late!—too late! O, God! What a cruel mockery!"
Beryl stood leaning against the railing of the altar, with the light of the setting sun falling aslant on the gilded card she held up in one hand; on her white convulsed face, where tears fell in a scalding flood. Retracing her steps, Leo said falteringly:
"In my efforts to comfort you, have I only wounded more sorely? How have I hurt you? What can I do?"
"No—no! you are an angel of pity, hovering over an abyss of ruin, whose darkest horrors you only imagine faintly. What can you do? Nothing, but pray to God to paralyze my tongue, and grant me death, before I lose my last clutch on faith, and curse my Creator, and drift down to eternal perdition! It was hard enough before, but this mockery maddens."
With a sudden abandonment, she hurled the card away, threw her arms around Leo's neck and sobbed unrestrainedly. Tenderly the latter held her shivering form, as the proud head fell on her shoulder; and after a time, Beryl lifted a face white as an annunciation lily, drenched by tropical rain.
"I thought misfortune had emptied all her vials, and that I was nerved, because there was nothing more to dread. But the worst is always behind, and this is the irony of fate. You think that merely a rhetorical metaphor, a tragic trope? How should you know? That Christmas card is the solitary dove I sent out to hunt a resting-place for mother and for me, when the flood engulfed us. It was my design sent to Boston, to compete for the prizes offered. How I dreamed, how I toiled! Haunting the flower shops for a glimpse of heartsease, and passion flowers, and stars of Bethlehem; begging a butcher at the abattoir to spare a lamb, until I could sketch it; kneeling by cradles in the public Creche to get the full red curve of a baby's sucking lips, as they forsook the bottle, the dimple in the tiny hands, the tendrils of hair on the satin brow! Over that card I sang, and I wept; I worked, hoped, prayed, believed! So much depended upon it! Could the Christ to whom I dedicated it, fail to answer my prayer for success? Three hundred dollars! What a mint! It would pay the doctor, and make mother comfortable, and get her a warm new suit for coming winter. Oh! it is so easy to believe in God, until He denies us; and to trust Christ, till He hurls our prayers back, and the stones crush us. Only three hundred dollars between life and death; between a happy, proud girl with a noble future, and a disgraced, broken-hearted wreck trampled into a convict's grave! It would have saved all; all the awful consequences of the journey here, which only dire extremity of need forced upon me. On the fatal day I started South, I went at the last moment, hoping that some tidings from my card would come on angel wings. The decision had been made, but the awards were not yet published, and so my doom was sealed. To-morrow, happy women, no more innocent than I am, will smile at my Christmas card, and give it with warm kisses and loving words to their dear ones; and to-day, my white dove of hope, flies back in my face, with the talons of a harpy, to devour me with maddening reminders of 'what might have been'. My coveted three hundred dollars! Three hundred taunting fiends! to jeer and torment me. The Christmas sun will shine on a pauper's empty cot in a charity hospital; on a disgraced, insulted, forsaken convict. Take away this last mockery, it is more than I can bear. There on the back in gilt letters—Prize Card—Three Hundred Dollars! Yet a stranger paid for my mother's coffin, and—. Three hundred furies to lash my heart out! Too late! Take it away! too late! oh, too late! This is worse than the pangs of death."
The Christmas Sabbath dawned cold and dim, and along the eastern sky gray marbled masses of cloud with dun, stratified bases, built themselves into the likeness of vast teocallis to Tonatiuh, over whose apex the struggling rays fell red and presageful. Dulled by the stained glass windows, the light that filled the semi-circular chapel at "The Lilacs", was chill and sombre, until the fair sacristan held a taper over the tall wax candles on each side of the altar, whence a mellow radiance soon streamed over all; flashing along the golden letters under the cross, and upon the gilded pipes of the little organ. On the marble steps in front of the altar were two baskets filled with white camellias, and great spikes of pink and blue hyacinths, that seemed to break their hearts in waves of aromatic incense. The family Bible of the Gordons lay open, on the reading desk, and upon its yellow pages rested a Maltese cross of snowy Roman hyacinths. Looping back the purple velvet portiere over the arch leading into the library, Leo sat down on the organ bench to await the coming of the family, leisurely arranged the stops, and marked in her prayer-book the Collect for Christmas. In her morning robe of crimson cashmere, with its cascade of soft rich lace foaming from throat to feet, and wearing a dainty cluster of double white violets fastened just below one ear, where the wax light kissed her sunny hair, she appeared a St. Cecilia, very fair and sweet, to the eyes of the man who stood a moment unperceived beneath the arch. A figure of medium height, clad in priestly garments, with a white surplice sweeping to the marble floor; a finely modelled head thickly fleeced with light brown hair, a serene pleasant face, with regular features, deep-set black eyes magnified by spectacles, and an expression of habitual placidity, that bespoke a soul consecrated by noble aims, and at perfect peace with his God.
Hearing his step as he crossed the floor, Leo looked over her shoulder, smiled, and began to play softly, while he ascended the steps and knelt before the altar. After some moments Miss Patty rustled in, sank on her knees and finally settled herself comfortably on one of the crescent-shaped, cushioned sofas; then Judge Dent entered, followed by Justine and the aged negro butler, Joel, the two servants finding seats just behind their master. Doctor Leighton Douglass selected his hymns, and the leaves of five prayer-books fluttered, as Collects were found, but Leo continued to play.
Twice she turned and looked around the chapel, seeking some one, delaying the commencement of the service. Finally accepting defeat, her pretty fingers fell from the keys, and with them dropped two tears, forced from her by the keen disappointment that robbed this occasion of all its anticipated pleasure. Singularly free from fashionable elocutionary affectations, and certain declamatory stage tricks, by which the recitation of the Creed and the Lord's Prayer becomes a competitive test of lungs in the race for breath, Leighton Douglass read the morning service, in a well-modulated voice, and with a profound solemnity that left its impress on each heart. The responses were fervent, and the Christmas hymns were sung with joyful earnestness; then priestly arms rose like the wings of a great snowy dove, and from holy, priestly lips fell the mellow music of the benediction:
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen."
Even while he pronounced the words, a whirring rustle filled the beautiful oratory, and two of Leo's pet ring-doves, fluttering round and round the frescoed ceiling, descended swiftly. One perched upon her head, cooing softly, and its mate nestled down with outspread pinions, pecking at the white muslin folds on Doctor Douglass' shoulder.
"Paracletes, dun plumed! Leo, let us accept them as happy auguries, prophetic of divine blessing on our future work in the Master's vineyard. My cousin, I wish you a very happy Christmas."
He had approached the organ where she sat, and held out his hand.
"Happy Christmas, Leighton, and many thanks to you for this consecrating service in my place of prayer. After today, it will always seem a more hallowed shrine, and before you leave us, we will gather here as a family, and join in the celebration of the Holy Communion."
They stood a moment hand in hand, looking into each other's eyes; and watching them, Miss Patty's heart swelled with pardonable pride in the two, whom her loving arms had so tenderly cradled. Pinching her brother's hand, as she walked with him under the velvet draperies, she whispered:
"What a noble match for both! And he's only her second cousin."
Leo's eyes were wet with tears, which Doctor Douglass ascribed to devotional fervor; and withdrawing her hand, she opened one of the windows, and called the doves to the stone ledge, putting them very gently out upon the ivy wreaths that clambered up the wall, and peeped into the chapel.
"I believe you are sacristan here?" he said, pointing to the candles that flared, as the wind rushed in.
"Yes, here I sweep, dust, decorate daily, allowing no other touch; and here I bring my daintiest, rarest flowers, as tribute to Him who tapestried the earth with blossoms, and sprinkled it with perfumes—when? Not until just before the advent of humanity, whose material kingdom was perfected, and furnished in anticipation of his arrival."
Extinguishing the candles, she closed the old Bible, covered it with a square of velvet, and hung the cross of hyacinths upon the folded hands of one of the marble angels that upheld the altar.
"Pure-handed women are natural priestesses, meet for temple ministration; and I have no doubt your exoteric labors here, merely typify the secret daily sweeping out of evil thoughts, the dusting away of motes of selfishness, the decorating with noble beautiful aims, and holy deeds, whereby you sanctify that inner shrine, your own soul."
"Praise from you means so much, that you need not stoop to flatter me. The very vestments of you Levites should exhale infectious humility; and I especially need exhortations against pride, my besetting sin. I built this chapel, not because I am good, but in order to grow better. Every dwelling has its room in which the inmates gather to eat, to study, to work, to sleep; why not to pray, the most important privilege of many that divide humanity from brutes? After all, the pagans were wiser than we, and the heads of families were household priests, setting examples of piety at every rising of the sun."
"Let us see. Greek and Roman fathers laid a cake dripping with wine, a wreath of violets, a heart of honey-comb, a brace of doves on the home altar, and immediately thereafter, set the example of violating every clause in the Decalogue. Mark you, paganism drew fine lines in morals, long anterior to the era of monotheism and of Moses, and furnished immortal types of all the virtues; yet the excess of its religious ceremonial, robbed it of vital fructifying energies. The frequency and publicity of sacerdotal service, usurped the place of daily individual piety. The tendency of all outward symbolical observances, unduly multiplied, is to substitute mere formalism for fervor."
"Leighton, humanity craves the concrete. All the universe is God's temple, yet the chill breath of the abstract freezes our hearts; and we pray best in some pillared niche consecrated and set apart, I recall a day in Umbria, when the wonderful light of sunset fell on ilex and olive, on mountain snows, on valleys billowing between vine-mantled hills, on creamy marble walls, on columned campaniles; and standing there, I seemed verily to absorb, to become saturated as it were, with the reigning essence of beauty. I walked on, a few steps, lifted a worn, frayed leather curtain, and looked into a small gray, dingy church, where a mist of incense blurred the lights on the ancient altar, and the muffled roll of an organ broke into sonorous waves, like reverberations of far-away thunder; and why was it, tell me, that the universal glory thrilled me only as a sensuous chord of color, but in the dark corner consecrated to the worship of our God, my soul expanded, as if a holy finger touched it, and I fell on my knees, and prayed? Each of us comes into this world dowered with the behest to make desperate war against that indissoluble 'Triple Alliance, the World, the Flesh and the Devil,' and needing all the auxiliaries possible, I resort to conscription wherever I can recruit. Since I am two thousand years too young to set up a statue of Hestia yonder in my imitation prostas, I have built instead this small sacred nook for prayer, which helps me spiritually, much as the Ulah aids Islam."
"Your oratory is lovely, and I wish its counterpart adorned every homestead in our land; but are you quite sure that in your individual experience you are not mistaking effect for cause? Your holy heart demands fit shrine for—"
"I am quite sure I will not allow you to stand a moment longer on this cold floor; and I do not intend that you shall pay me undeserved compliments. It is derogatory to your dignity, and dangerous to my modicum of humility. As soon as you are ready for breakfast, come to the dining-room, where Santa Klaus left his remembrances last night. O, Leighton! I had half a mind to hang up two stockings at uncle's bed, for the sake of dear old lang syne. If we could only shut our eyes, and drift back to the magical time of aprons, short clothes, and roundabouts, when a sugar rooster with green wings and pink head, and a doll that could open and shut her eyes, were considered more precious than Tiffany's jewels, or Collamore's Crown Derby! Can Delmonico offer you a repast half as appetizing as the hominy, the tea cakes, the honey and the sweet milk which you and I used to enjoy at our supper just at sunset, at our own little table set under the red mulberry trees in the back yard?"
"Why should my cousin, whose present is so rose-colored, whose future so blissful, turn to rake amid the ashes of the past?"
"Because, like Lot's wife, we are all prone to stare backward. Who lives in the present? Do you? When we are young we pant for the future, that pitches painted tents before us. When we are older, we live in the past, that wraps itself in a sacred gilding glamour, and is vocal with the happy echoes which alone survive. Far-off fields before and behind us are so dewy, so vividly green; and the present is gray and stony, and barren of charm, and we turn fretfully. It is part of the grim tyranny of Time that it is tideless; that the stream bears remorselessly on, and on, never back to the dear old spots; always on, to lose itself in the eternal and unknown. So, to-day's Christmas lacks the zest of its predecessors."
Leo loosened the gilded chain that looped the curtains, and as the purple folds fell behind her, hiding the arch, Doctor Douglass said gently:
"There is a solemn truth and wise admonition in one of Rabbi Tyra's dicta: 'Thy yesterday is thy past; thy to-day is thy future; thy to-morrow is a secret.'"
"Leo, here is a package and a note which arrived during service, and as Mr. Dunbar's servant said there was no answer expected, he did not wait."
As Miss Patty delivered the parcel to her niece, the minister walked away to lay aside his vestments, but he noted the sudden hardening of his cousin's face, the flush of displeasure, the haughty curl of her lips; and on his ears fell his aunt's voice:
"You expected and waited for him at morning prayer?"
"I invited him to join us, if he felt disposed to do so."
"What possible excuse can he offer for such negligence, when he knew that Leighton would read the service?"
An uwonted sparkle leaped into Leo's mild hazel eyes, and without examination she handed the package and note to Justine.
"Lay them in the drawer of my writing-desk, and then call all the servants into the dining-room. Auntie, tardy excuses must wait longer for an audience than we waited for the writer. Come to breakfast; uncle will be impatient, and I want to enjoy his surprise when he sees his Santa Klaus."
She was sorely disappointed, deeply affronted by Mr. Dunbar's failure to present himself on an occasion at which she had especially desired his presence; and as she recalled the affectionate phraseology of her note of invitation, her fair cheek burned with an intolerable sense of humiliation. Was it partition, or total loss, of her precious kingdom? In after years, she designated this Christmas as the era when the "sceptre departed from Judah;" but putting away the chagrin, and sealing the well of bitterness in her heart, she exchanged holiday greetings, and proudly wore her royal robes throughout the day, holding sternly off the spectre, which grimly bided its time—the hour of her abdication.
Through the benevolent and compassionate efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Singleton, some faint reflection of the outside world festivities penetrated the dismal monotony of prison routine; and the hearts of the inmates were softened and gladdened by kind tokens of remembrance, that carried the thoughts of bearded convicts back to Christmas carols in innocent youth, and to the mother's knees where prayers were lisped.
Illness had secured to Beryl immunity from contact with her comrades in misery, and except to visit the little chapel, she never left the sheltering walls of her small comfortless room, grateful for the unexpected boon of silent seclusion. Her Christmas greeting had been little Dick's sweet lips kissing her cheek, as he deposited upon her narrow bed the black and white shawl his mother had knitted, and a box left by Miss Gordon on the previous day, which contained half a dozen pretty handkerchiefs with mourning borders, some delicate perfume and soaps, toilet brushes and a sachet.
An hour later, when Mrs. Singleton and her babies had gone to spend the day with relatives in the city, Beryl went to the window, pushed the sash up, and listened to the ringing of the Sabbath-school bells, as every church beyond the river called its nursery to the altar, to celebrate the day. The metallic clangor was mellowed by distance, rising and falling like rhythmic waves, and the faint echo, filtered through dense pine forests behind the penitentiary, had the ghostly iteration of the Folge Fond.
A gaunt yellow kitten, with a faded red ribbon knotted about its neck, and vicious, amber-colored eyes that were a perpetual challenge, had fled from the tender mercies of Dick to the city of refuge under Beryl's cot; and community of suffering had kindled an attachment that now prompted the lesser waif to spring into the girl's folded arms, and rub its head against her shoulder. Mechanically Beryl's hand stroked the creature's ear, while it purred softly under the caress; but suddenly its back curved into an arch, the tail broadened, the purr became a growl. Had association lifted the brute's instincts to the plane of human antipathies?
The warden had opened the door and quickly closed it, after ushering in a tall figure, who wore an overcoat which was buttoned from throat to knees. At sight of Mr. Dunbar, the cat plunged to the floor, and sped away to the darkest corner under the iron bedstead.
"Good morning. I dare not utter here the greetings of the day, because you would construe it into a heartless mockery."
He came forward hesitatingly, and she turned swiftly away, pressing her face against the bars of the window, waving him back.
"Why will you persist in regarding as an enemy, the one person in all the world who is most anxious to befriend you?"
Still no answer; only the repellent gesture warning him away.
"Will you allow me, this Christmas morning, to comfort myself in some degree, by leaving here a few flowers to brighten your desolate surroundings?"
He held out a bouquet of rare and brilliant hothouse blossoms, whose delicious fragrance had already pervaded the room. They stood side by side, yet she shrank farther, and kept her face averted, shivering perceptibly. Lifting one arm he drew down the sash to shut out the freezing air.
"You are resolved neither to look at nor speak to me? So be it. At least you must listen to me. You may not care to hear that I have been absent, but perhaps it will interest you to know that I went in search of the man for whose crime you are paying the penalty."
If he expected her to wince under the probe, her nerves were taut, and she defied the steel; but the face she now turned fully to him was so blanched by illness, so hopeless in its rigid calm, that he felt a keen pain at his own heart.
"Prisoners, victims of justice, have, it seems, no privileges; else my one request, my earnest prayer to be shielded from your presence, might have protected me from this intrusion. Are you akin to Parrhasius that you come to gloat over the agonies of a moral and mental vivisection? The sight of suffering to which you have brought a helpless woman, is scarcely the recompense I was taught to suppose agreeable to a chivalrous Southern gentleman. If, wearing the red livery of Justice, undue zeal for vengeance betrayed you into the fatal mistake of trampling me into this horrible place, there might be palliation; but for the brutal persistency with which you thrust your tormenting presence upon me, not even heavenly charity could possibly find pardon. Literally you are heaping insult upon awful injury. Is it a refinement of cruelty that brings you here to watch and analyze my suffering, as a biologist looks through lenses at an insect he empales, or Pasteur scrutinizes the mortal throes of the victims into whose veins he has injected poison?"
If she had drawn a lash across his face, it would not have stung more keenly than her words, so expressive of detestation.
"Will you consider for a moment the possibility that other motives actuate me; that ceaseless regret, remorse, if you choose, for a terrible mistake, impels me to come here in the hope of making reparation?"
"Such a supposition is as inconceivable as the idea of reparation. When a reaper goes forth to his ripe harvest, his lawful labor, and wantonly turns aside into a by-path, to try the edge of his sickle on an humble, unoffending stalk that fights for life among the grass and weeds, and struggles to get its head sufficiently in the sunshine to bloom—when he cuts it off unopened, crushes it into the sod, can he make reparation? Although it is neither bearded yellow wheat, nor yet a black tare, it proved the temper of his blade; and all the skill, all the science of universal humanity, cannot re-erect the stem, cannot remove the stains, cannot unfold the bruised petals. There are wrongs that all time will never repair. Your sword of justice needs no whetting; one stroke has laid me low."
"I purpose to file it two-edged, in order to make no more mistakes. Before long I shall cut down the real criminal, the principal, who shall not escape, and for whom you shall not suffer."
"Then 'a life for a life' no longer satisfies? How many are required? The law has need of a sacrificial stone wide as that of the Aztecs. Is justice a'daughter of the horse-leech'?"
"So help me God—"
"Hush! Take not His name upon your lips. Men like you cannot afford to credit the existence of a holy God. This is Christmas—at least according to the almanac—now as a 'chivalrous Southern gentleman,' will you grant me a very great favor if I humbly crave it? Ah, noblesse oblige! you cannot deny me. I beg of you, then, leave me instantly; come here no more. Never let me see your face again, or hear your voice, except in the court-room, when I am tried for the crime which you have told the world I committed. This boon is the sole possible reparation left you."
She had clasped her hands so tightly, that the nails were bloodless, and the fluttering in her white throat betrayed the throbbing of her heart.
"You are afraid of me, because you dread my discovering your secret, which is—"
"You have done your worst. You have locked me away from a dying mother; disgraced an innocent life; broken a girl's pure, happy heart; what else is there to dread? Although a bird knows full well when it has received its death wound, instinct drives it to flutter, drag itself as far as possible from the gaze of the sportsman, and gasp out its agony in some lonely place."
"When I hunt birds, and a partridge droops its wings, and hovers almost at my feet, inviting capture, I know beyond all peradventure that it is only love's ruse; that something she holds dearer than her own life, is thereby screened, saved. You are guilty of a great crime against yourself, you are submitting tacitly, consenting to an awful doom, in order to spare and protect the real murderer."
He bent closer, watching breathlessly for some change in her white stony face; but her sad eyes met his with no wavering of the lids, and only her delicate nostrils dilated slightly. She raised her locked hands, rested her lips a moment on her mother's ring, as if drinking some needed tonic, and answered in the same low, quiet tone:
"Then, prime minister of justice, set me free, and punish the guilty. Who murdered General Darrington?"
"You have known from the beginning; and I intend to set you free, when that cowardly miscreant has been secured. You would die to save your lover; you, proud, brave, noble natured, would sacrifice your precious life for that wretched, vile poltroon, who flees and leaves you to suffer in his stead! Truly, there is no mystery so profound, so complex, so subtle as a woman's heart. To die for his crimes, were a happier fate than to sully your fair soul by alliance with one so degraded; and, by the help of God, I intend to snatch you from both!"
He had put his hands for an instant upon her shoulders, and his handsome face flushed, eloquent with the feeling that he no longer cared to disguise, was so close to hers, that she felt his breath on her cheek.
Swiftly, unerringly she comprehended everything; and the suddenness of the discovery dazzled, awed her, as one might feel under the blue flash of a dagger when thrust into one's clasp for novice fingers to feel the edge. Was the weapon valued merely because of the possibility of fleshing it in the heart of him who had darkened her life? Did he understand as fully the marvellous change in the beautiful face, that had lured him from his chapel tryst with his betrothed? He was on the alert for signals of distress, of embarrassment, of terror; but what meant the glad light that leaped up in her eyes, the quick flush staining her wan cheek, the triumphant smile curving lips that a moment before might have belonged to Guercino's Mater Dolorosa, the relaxation of figure and features, the unmistakable expression of intense relief that stole into the countenance?
"Will you be so good as to tell me my lover's name, and where the fox terriers of the law unearthed him?"
"I will tell you something which you do not already know; that I have found a clue, that I shall hunt him out, hide, crouch where he may; that here, where he sinned, he shall expiate his crime, and that when your lover is hung, your name, your honor, shall be vindicated. So much, Lennox Dunbar promises you, on his honor as a gentleman."
"Words, vapid words! Empty, worthless as last year's nests. My lover," she laughed scornfully, "is quite safe even from your malevolence. If indeed 'one touch of nature makes the whole world kin,' one might expect some pity from the guild of love swains; and it augurs sadly for Miss Gordon's future, that the spell is so utterly broken."
His dark face reddened, lowered.
"If you please, we will keep Miss Gordon's name out of the conversation, and hereafter when—"
"Enough! I shall keep her image in my grateful heart, the few tedious months I have to live; and there seems indeed a sort of poetic justice in the fact that the bride you covet, has become the truest, tenderest friend of the hapless girl whom you are prosecuting for murder."
"I forbid such insolent presumption! You shall not utter the name my father gave me. It is holy as my baptism; it must be kept unsullied for my lover's lips to fondle. This is your last visit here, for if you dare to intrude again, I will demand protection from the warden. I will bear no more."
As he looked at her, the witchery of her youthful loveliness, heightened by the angry sparkle in her deep eyes, by the vivid carnation of her curling lips, mastered him; and when he thought of the brown-haired woman to whom he was pledged, he set his teeth tight, to smother an execration. He moved toward the door, paused, and came back.
"Will it comfort you to know that I suffer even more than you do; that I am plunged into a fiercer purgatory than that to which I have condemned you? I am devoured by regret; but I will atone. I came here as your friend; I can never be less, and in defiance of your hatred, I shall prove my sincerity. Because I bemoan my rash haste, will you say good-bye kindly? Some day, perhaps, you will understand."
He held out his hand, and his blue eyes lost their steely glitter, filled with a prayer for pardon.
She picked up the bouquet which had fallen from the window sill to the floor, and without hesitation put it into his fingers:
"I think I understand all that words could ever explain. My short stream of life is very near the great ocean of rest. I have ceased to struggle, ceased to hope; and since the end is so close, I wish no active warfare even with those who wronged me most foully. If you will spare me the sight of you, I will try to forget the added misery of the visits you have forced upon me, and perhaps some of the bitterness may die out. Take the flowers to Miss Gordon; leave no trace to remind me of your persecution. We bear chastisement because we must, but the sight of the rod renews the sting; so, henceforth, I hope to see you no more. When we meet before our God, I may have a new heart, swept clean of earthly hate, but until then—until then—"
He caught her fingers, crushed his lips against them, and walked from the room, leaving the bouquet a shattered mass of perfume in the middle of the floor.
Standing before Leon Gerome's tragic picture, and listening to the sepulchral echo that floats down the arcade of centuries. "Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant," nineteenth century womanhood frowns, and deplores the brutal depravity which alone explains the presence of that white-veiled vestal band, whose snowy arms are thrust in signal over the parapet of the bloody arena; yet fair daughters of the latest civilization show unblushing flower faces among the heaving mass of the "great unwashed" who crowd our court-rooms—and listen to revolting details more repugnant to genuine modesty, than the mangled remains in the Colosseum. The rosy thumbs of Roman vestals were potent ballots in the Eternal City, and possibly were thrown only in the scale of mercy; but having no voice in verdicts, to what conservative motive may be ascribed the presence of women at criminal trials? Are the children of Culture, the heiresses of "all the ages", really more refined than the proud old dames of the era of Spartacus?
Is the spectacle of mere physical torture, in gladiatorial combats, or in the bloody precincts of plaza de toros, as grossly demoralizing as the loathsome minutiae of heinous crimes upon which legal orators dilate; and which Argus reporters, with magnifying lenses at every eye, reproduce for countless newspapers, that serve as wings for transporting moral dynamite to hearthstones and nurseries all over our land? Is there a distinction, without a difference, between police gazettes and the journalistic press?
If extremes meet, and the march of human progress be along no asymtotic line, is the day very distant when we shall welcome the Renaissance of that wisdom which two thousand years ago held its august tribunal in the solemn hours of night, when darkness hid from the Judges everything save well-authenticated facts? The supreme aim of civil and criminal law being the conservation of national and individual purity, to what shall we attribute the paradox presented in its administration, whereby its temples become lairs of libel, their moral atmosphere defiled by the monstrous vivisection of parental character by children, the slaughter of family reputation, the exhaustive analysis of every species of sin forbidden by the Decalogue, and floods of vulgar vituperation dreadful as the Apocalyptic vials? Can this generation
"—in the foremost files of time—"
afford to believe that a grim significance lurks in the desuetude of typical judicial ermine?
Traditions of ante bellum custom proclaimed that "good society" in the town of X—, formerly considered the precincts of courts as unfit for ladies as the fetid air of morgues, or the surgical instruments on dissecting tables; but the vanguard of cosmopolitan freedom and progress had pitched tents in the old-fashioned place, and recruited rapidly from the ranks of the invaded; hence it came to pass, that on the second day of the murder trial, when the preliminaries of jury empanelling had been completed, and all were ready to launch the case, X—announced its social emancipation from ancient canons of decorum, by the unwonted spectacle of benches crowded with "ladies", whose silken garments were crushed against the coarser fabrics of proletariat. Despite the piercing cold of a morning late in February, the mass of human furnaces had raised the temperature to a degree that encouraged the fluttering of fans, and necessitated the order that no additional spectators should be admitted.
Viewed through the leaden haze of fearful anticipation, the horror of the impending trial had seemed unendurable to the proud and sensitive girl, whom the Sheriff placed on a seat fronting the sea of curious faces, the battery of scrutinizing eyes turned on her from the jury-box. Four months of dread had unnerved her, yet now when the cruel actuality seized her in its iron grasp, that superb strength which the inevitable lends to conscious innocence, so steeled and fortified her, that she felt lifted to some lonely height, where numbness eased her aching wounds.
Pallid and motionless, she sat like a statue, save for the slow strokes of her right hand upon the red gold of her mother's ring; and the sound of a man's voice reading a formula, seemed to echo from an immeasurable distance. She had consented to, had deliberately accepted the worst possible fate, and realized the isolation of her lot; but for one thing she was not prepared, and its unexpectedness threatened to shiver her calmness. Two women made their way toward her: Dyce and Sister Serena. The former sat down in the rear of the prisoner, the latter stood for a few seconds, and her thin delicate hand fell upon the girl's shoulder. At sight of the sweet, placid countenance below the floating white muslin veil, Beryl's lips quivered into a sad smile; and as they shook hands she whispered:
"I believe even the gallows will not frighten you two from my side."
Sister Serena seated herself as close as possible, drew from her pocket a gray woollen stocking, and began to knit. For an instant Beryl's eyes closed, to shut in the sudden gush of grateful tears; when she opened them, Mr. Churchill had risen:
"May it please the Court, Gentlemen of the Jury: If fidelity to duty involved no sacrifice of personal feeling, should we make it the touchstone of human character, value it as the most precious jewel in the crown of human virtues? I were less than a man, immeasurably less than a gentleman, were I capable of addressing you to-day, in obedience to the behests of justice, and in fulfilment of the stern requirements of my official position, without emotions of profound regret, that implacable Duty, to whom I have sworn allegiance, forces me to hush the pleading whispers of my pitying heart, to smother the tender instincts of human sympathy, and to listen only to the solemn mandate of those laws, which alone can secure to our race the enjoyment of life, liberty and property. An extended professional career has hitherto furnished me no parallel for the peculiarly painful exigencies of this occasion; and an awful responsibility scourges me with scorpion lash to a most unwelcome task. When man crosses swords with man on any arena, innate pride nerves his arm and kindles enthusiasm, but alas, for the man! be he worthy the name, who draws his blade and sees before him a young, helpless, beautiful woman, disarmed. Were it not a bailable offence in the court of honor, if his arm fell palsied? Each of you who has a mother, a wife, a lily browed daughter, put yourself in my place, lend me your sympathy; and at least applaud the loyalty that strangles all individuality, and renders me bound thrall of official duty. Counsel for the defence has been repeatedly offered, nay, pressed upon the prisoner, but as often persistently rejected; hence the almost paralyzing repugnance with which I approach my theme.
"The Grand Jury of the county, at its last sitting, returned to this court a bill of indictment, charging the prisoner at the bar with the wilful, deliberate and premeditated murder of Robert Luke Darrington, by striking him with a brass andiron. To this indictment she has pleaded 'Not Guilty,' and stands before her God and this community for trial. Gentlemen of the jury, you represent this commonwealth, jealous of the inviolability of its laws, and by virtue of your oaths, you are solemnly pledged to decide upon her guilt or innocence, in strict accordance with the evidence that may be laid before you. In fulfilling this sacred duty, you will, I feel assured, be governed exclusively by a stern regard to the demands of public justice. While it taxes our reluctant credulity to believe that a crime so hideous could have been committed by a woman's hand, could have been perpetrated without provocation, within the borders of our peaceful community, nevertheless, the evidence we shall adduce must inevitably force you to the melancholy conclusion that the prisoner at the bar is guilty of the offence, with which she stands charged. The indictment which you are about to try, charges Beryl Brentano with the murder.
"In outlining the evidence which will be presented in support of this indictment, I earnestly desire that you will give me your dispassionate and undivided attention; and I call God to witness, that disclaiming personal animosity and undue zeal for vengeance, I am sorrowfully indicating as an officer of the law, a path of inquiry, that must lead you to that goal where, before the altar of Truth, Justice swings her divine scales, and bids Nemesis unsheathe her sword.
"On the afternoon of October the twenty-sixth, about three o'clock, a stranger arrived in X—and inquired of the station agent what road would carry her to 'Elm Bluff', the home of General Darrington; assuring him she would return in time to take the north-bound train at 7.15, as urgent business necessitated her return. Demanding an interview with Gen'l Darrington, she was admitted, incognito, and proclaimed herself his granddaughter, sent hither by a sick mother, to procure a certain sum of money required for specified purposes. That the interview was stormy, was characterized by fierce invective on her part, and by bitter denunciation and recrimination on his, is too well established to admit of question; and they parted implacable foes, as is attested by the fact that he drove her from his room through a rear and unfrequented door, opening into a flower garden, whence she wandered over the grounds until she found the gate. The vital import of this interview lies in the great stress Gen'l Darrington placed upon the statement he iterated and reiterated; that he had disinherited his daughter, and drawn up a will bequeathing his entire estate to his step-son Prince.
"Miss Brentano did not leave X—at 7.15, though she had ample time to do so, after quitting 'Elm Bluff'. She loitered about the station house until nearly half-past eight, then disappeared. At 10 P.M. she was seen and identified by a person who had met her at 'Elm Bluff', crouching behind a tree near the road that led to that ill-fated house, and when questioned regarding her presence there, gave unsatisfactory answers. At half-past two o'clock she was next seen hastening toward the station office, along the line of the railroad, from the direction of the water tank, which is situated nearly a mile north of town. Meanwhile an unusually severe storm had been followed by a drenching rain, and the stranger's garments were wet, when, after a confused and contradictory account of her movements, she boarded the 3.05 train bound north.
"During that night, certainly after ten o'clock, Gen'l Darrington was murdered. His vault was forced open, money was stolen, and most significant of all, the WILL was abstracted. Criminal jurisprudence holds that the absence of motive renders nugatory much weighty testimony. In this melancholy cause, could a more powerful motive be imagined than that which goaded the prisoner to dip her fair hands in her grandfather's blood, in order to possess and destroy that will, which stood as an everlasting barrier between her and the estate she coveted?
"Crimes are referrible to two potent passions of the human soul; malice, engendering thirst for revenge, and the insatiable lust of money. If that old man had died a natural death, leaving the will he had signed, his property would have belonged to the adopted son, to whom he bequeathed it, and Mrs. Brentano and her daughter would have remained paupers. Cut off by assassination, and with no record of his last wishes in existence, the beloved son is bereft of his legacy, and Beryl Brentano and her mother inherit the blood-bought riches they covet. When arrested, gold coins and jewels identified as those formerly deposited in Gen'l Darrington's vault, were found in possession of the prisoner; and as if every emissary of fate were armed with warrants for her detection, a handkerchief bearing her initials, and saturated with the chloroform which she had administered to her victim, was taken from the pillow, where his honored gray head rested, when he slept his last sleep on earth. Further analysis would insult your intelligence, and having very briefly laid before you the intended line of testimony, I believe I have assigned a motive for this monstrous crime, which must precipitate the vengeance of the law, in a degree commensurate with its enormity. Time, opportunity, motive, when in full accord, constitute a fatal triad, and the suspicious and unexplainable conduct of the prisoner in various respects, furnishes, in connection with other circumstances of this case, the strongest presumptive evidence of her guilt. These circumstances, far beyond the realm of human volition, smelted and shaped in the rolling mills of destiny, form the tramway along which already the car of doom thunders; and when they shall have been fully proved to you, by unassailable testimony, no alternative remains but the verdict of guilty. Mournful as is the duty, and awfully solemn the necessity that leaves the issue of life and death in your hands, remember, gentlemen, Curran's immortal words: 'A juror's oath is the adamantine chain that binds the integrity of man to the throne of eternal justice'."
No trace of emotion was visible on the prisoner's face, except at the harsh mention of her mother's name; when a shudder was perceptible, as in one where dentist's steel pierces a sensitive nerve. In order to avoid the hundreds of eyes that stabbed her like merciless probes, her own had been raised and fixed upon a portion of the cornice in the room where a family of spiders held busy camp; but a fascination song resisted, finally drew their gaze down to a seat near the bar, and she encountered the steady, sorrowful regard of Mr. Dunbar.
Two months had elapsed since the Christmas morning on which she had rejected his floral offering, and during that weary season of waiting, she had refused to see any visitors except Dyce and Sister Serena; resolutely denying admittance to Miss Gordon. She knew that he had been absent, had searched for some testimony in New York, and now meeting his eyes, she saw a sudden change in their expression—a sparkle, a smile of encouragement, a declaration of success. He fancied he understood the shadow of dread that drifted over her face; and she realized at that instant, that of all foes, she had most to apprehend from the man who she knew loved her with an unreasoning and ineradicable fervor. How much had he discovered? She could defy the district solicitor, the judge, the jury; but only one method of silencing the battery that was ambushed in those gleaming blue eyes presented itself. To extinguish his jealousy, by removing the figment of a rival, might rob him of the motive that explained his persistent pursuit of the clue she had concealed; but it would simultaneously demolish, also, the barrier that stretched between Miss Gordon's happy heart and the bitter waves of a cruel disappointment. If assured that her own affection was unpledged, would the bare form and ceremonial of honor bind his allegiance to his betrothed? Absorbed in these reflections, the prisoner became temporarily oblivious of the proceedings; and it was not until Sister Serena touched her arm, that she saw the vast throng was watching her, waiting for some reply. The Judge repeated his question:
"Is it the desire of the prisoner to answer the presentation of the prosecution? Having refused professional defence, you now have the option of addressing the Court."
"Let the prosecution proceed."
There was no quiver in her voice, as cold, sweet and distinct it found its way to the extremity of the wide apartment; yet therein lurked no defiance. She resumed her seat, and her eyes sank, until the long black fringes veiled their depths. Unperceived, Judge Dent had found a seat behind her, and leaning forward he whispered:
"Will you permit me to speak for you?"
"But it cuts me to the heart to see you so forsaken, so helpless."
"God is my helper; He will not forsake me."
The first witness called and sworn was Doctor Ledyard, the physician who for many years had attended General Darrington; and who testified that when summoned to examine the body of deceased, on the morning of the inquest, he had found it so rigid that at least eight hours must have elapsed since life became extinct. Had discovered no blood stains, and only two contusions, one on the right temple, where a circular black spot was conspicuous, and a bluish bruise over the region of the heart. He had visited deceased on the morning of previous day, and he then appeared much better, and almost relieved of rheumatism and pains attributable to an old wound in the right knee. The skull had not been fractured by the blow on the temple, but witness believed it had caused death; and the andiron, which he identified as the one found on the floor close to the deceased, was so unusually massive, he was positive that if hurled with any force, it would produce a fatal result.
Mr. Churchill: "Did you at that examination detect any traces of chloroform?"
"There was an odor of chloroform very perceptible when we lifted the hair to examine the skull; and on searching the room, we found a vial which had contained chloroform, and was beside the pillow, where a portion had evidently leaked out."
"Could death have occurred in consequence of inhaling that chloroform?"
"If so, the deceased could never have risen, and would have been found in his bed; moreover, the limbs were drawn up, and bent into a position totally inconsistent with any theory of death produced by anaesthetics; and the body was rigid as iron."
The foregoing testimony was confirmed by that of Doctor Cranmar, a resident physician, who had been summoned by the Coroner to assist Doctor Ledyard in the examination, reported formally at the inquest.
"Here, gentlemen of the jury, is the fatal weapon with which a woman's hand, supernaturally nerved in the struggle for gain, struck down, destroyed a venerable old man, an honored citizen, whose gray hairs should have shielded him from the murderous assault of a mercenary adventuress. Can she behold without a shudder, this tell-tale instrument of her monstrous crime?"
High above his head, Mr. Churchill raised the old-fashioned andiron, and involuntarily Beryl glanced at the quaint brass figure, cast in the form of a unicorn, with a heavy ball surmounting the horn.
Sullen, crestfallen and woe-begone was the demeanor of the old negro, who had been brought vi et armis by a constable, from the seclusion of a corner of the "Bend Plantation", where he had secreted himself, to avoid the shame of bearing testimony against his mistress' child. When placed on the witness stand, he crossed his arms over his chest, planted his right foot firmly in advance, and fixed his eyes on the leather strings that tied his shoes.
After some unimportant preliminaries, the District Solicitor asked:
"When did you first see the prisoner, who now sits before you?"
"When she come to our house, the evening before ole Marster died."
"You admitted her to your Master's presence?"
"I never tuck no sech libberties. He tole me to let her in."
"You carried her to his room?"
"About what time of the day was it?"
"Gen'l Darrington always dined at three o'clock. Was it before or after dinner?"
"How long was the prisoner in the General's room?"
"Did she leave the house by the front door, or the side door?"
"Can't say. Didn't see her when she come out."
"About how long was she in the house?"
"I totes no watch, and I never had no luck guessing. I'm shore to land wrong."
"Was it one hour or two?"
"Mebbe more, mebbe less."
"Where were you during that visit?"
"Feedin' my game pullets in the backyard."
"Did you hear any part of the conversation between the prisoner and Gen'l Darrington?"
"No, sir! I'm above the meanness of eavesdrapping."
"How did you learn that she was the granddaughter of Gen'l Darrington?"
"Miss Angerline, the white 'oman what mends and sews, come to the back piazer, and beckoned me to run there. She said ther must be a 'high ole fracas', them was her words, agoin' on in Marster's room, for he was cussin' and swearin', and his granddaughter was jawing back very vicious. Sez I, 'Who'? Sez she, 'His granddaughter; that is Ellice's chile'. Sez I, 'How do you know so much'? Sez she, 'I was darning them liberry curtains, and I couldn't help hearing the wrangle'. Sez I, 'You picked a oncommon handy time to tackle them curtains; they must be mighty good to cure the ear-itch'. She axed me if I didn't see the family favor in the 'oman's face; and I tole her no, but I would see for myself. Sez she, to me, 'No yow won't, for the Gen'l is in a tearing rage, and he's done drove her out, and kicked and slammed the doors. She's gone.'"
"Then you did not see her?"
"I went to the front piazer, and I seen her far down the lawn, but Marster rung his bell so savage, I had to run back to him."
"Did he tell you the prisoner was his granddaughter?"
"Did you mention the fact to him?"
"I wouldn't 'a dared to meddle with his fambly bizness!"
"He appeared very angry and excited?"
"He 'peard to want some ole Conyyac what was in the sideboard, and I brung the bottle to him."
"Do you remember whether his vault in the wall was open, when you answered the bell?"
"I didn't notice it."
"Where did you sleep that night?"
"On a pallet in the middle passage, nigh the star steps."
"Was that your usual custom?"
"No, sir. But the boy what had been sleepin' in the house while ole Marster was sick, had gone to set up with his daddy's corpse, and I tuck his place."
"Did you hear any unusual noise during the night?"
"Only the squalling of the pea-fowul what was oncommon oneasy, and the thunder that was ear-splitting. One clap was so tremenjous it raised me plum off'en the pallet, and jarred me to my backbone, as if a cannon had gone off close by."
"Now, Bedney, state carefully all the circumstances under which you found your master the next morning; and remember you are on your oath, to speak the truth, and all the truth."
"He was a early riser, and always wanted his shavin' water promp'. When his bell didn't ring, I thought the storm had kep' him awake, and he was having a mornin' nap, to make up for lost time. The clock had struck eight, and the cook said as how the steak and chops was as dry as a bone from waitin', and so I got the water and went to Marster's door. It was shet tight, and I knocked easy. He never answered; so I knocked louder; and thinkin' somethin' was shorely wrong, I opened the door—"
"Go on. What did you find?"
"Mars Alfred, sir, it's very harryfyin to my feelins."
"Go on. You are required to state all you saw, all you know."
Bedney drew back his right foot, advanced his left. Took out his handkerchief, wiped his face and refolded his arms.
"My Marster was layin' on the rug before the fireplace, and his knees was all drawed up. His right arm, was stretched out, so—and his left hand was all doubled up. I know'd he was dead, before I tetched him, for his face was set; and pinched and blue. I reckon I hollered, but I can't say, for the next thing I knowed, the horsler and the cook, and Miss Angerline, and Dyce, my ole 'oman, and Gord knows who all, was streamin' in and out and screamin'."
"What was the condition of the room?"
"The front window was up, and the blinds was flung wide open, and a cheer was upside clown close to it. The red vases what stood on the fire-place mantle was smashed on the carpet, and the handi'on was close to Marster's right hand. The vault was open, and papers was strowed plentiful round on the floor under it. Then the neighburs and the Doctor, and the Crowner come runnin' in, and I sot down by the bed and cried like a chile. Pretty soon they turned us all out and hilt the inquess."
"You do not recollect any other circumstance?"
"The lamp on the table was burnin'—and ther' wan't much oil left in it. I seen Miss Angerline blow it out, after the Doctor come."
"Who found the chloroform vial?"
"Did you hear any name mentioned as that of the murderer?"
"Miss Angerline tole the Crowner, that ef the will was missin', Gen'l Darrington's granddaughter had stole it. They two, with some other gentleman, sarched the vault, and Miss Angerline said everything was higgledy piggledy and no will there."
"You testified before the Coroner?"
"Why did you not give him the handkerchief you found?"
"I didn't have it then."
"When and where did you get it? Be very careful now."
For the first time Bedney raised his eyes toward the place where Dyce sat near the prisoner, and he hesitated. He took some tobacco from his vest pocket, stowed it away in the hollow of his cheek, and re-crossed his arms.
"When Marster was dressed, and they carried him out to the drawing-room, Dyce was standin' cryin' by the fireplace, and I went to the bed, and put my hand under the bolster, where Marster always kep' his watch and his pistol. The watch was ther' but no pistol; and just sorter stuffed under the pillow case—was, a hank'cher. I tuk the watch straight to the gentlemen in the drawin'-room, and they come back and sarched for the pistol, and we foun' it layin' in its case in the table draw'. Of all the nights in his life, ole Marster had forgot to lay his pistol handy."
"Never mind about the pistol. What became of the handkerchief?"
"When I picked it up, an injun-rubber stopper rolled out, and as ther' wan't no value in a hank'cher, I saw no harm in keepin' it—for a'mento of ole Marster's death."
"You knew it was a lady's handkerchief."
"No, sir! I didn't know it then; and what's more, I don't know it now."
"Is not this the identical handkerchief you found?"
"Cant say. 'Dentical is a ticklish trap for a pusson on oath. It do look like it, to be shore; but two seed in a okrey pod is ezactly alike, and one is one, and t'other is t'other."
"Look at it. To the best of your knowledge and belief it is the identical handkerchief you found on Gen'l Darrington's pillow?"
"What I found had red specks sewed in the border, and this seems jest like it; but I don't sware to no dentical—'cause I means to be kereful; and I will stand to the aidge of my oath; but—Mars Alfred—don't shove me over it."
"Can't you read?"
"No, sir; I never hankered after book-larnin' tomfoolery, and other freedom frauds."
"You know your A B C's?"
"No more 'n a blind mule."
As the solicitor took from the table in front of the jury box, the embroidered square of cambric, and held it up by two corners, every eye in the court-room fastened upon it; and a deadly faintness seized the prisoner, whitening lips that hitherto had kept their scarlet outlines.
"Gentlemen of the jury, if the murdered man could stand before you, for one instant only, his frozen finger would point to the fatal letters which destiny seems to have left as a bloody brand. Here in indelible colors are wrought 'B. B.'!—Beryl Brentano. Do you wonder, gentlemen, that when this overwhelming evidence of her guilt came into my possession, compassion for a beautiful woman was strangled by supreme horror, in the contemplation of the depravity of a female monster? If these crimson letters were gaping wounds, could their bloody lips more solemnly accuse yonder blanched, shuddering, conscience-stricken woman of the sickening crime of murdering her aged, infirm grandfather, from whose veins she drew the red tide that now curdles at her heart?"
As the third day of the trial wore away, the dense crowd in the court-room became acquainted with the sensation of having been unjustly defrauded of the customary public peruisite; because the monotonous proceedings were entirely devoid of the spirited verbal duels, the microscopic hair splitting, the biting sarcasms of opposing counsel, the brow-beating of witnesses, the tenacious wrangling over invisible legal points, which usually vary and spice the routine and stimulate the interest of curious spectators. When a spiritless fox disdains to double, and stands waiting for the hounds, who have only to rend it, hunters feel cheated, and deem it no chase.
To the impatient spectators, it appeared a very tame, one-sided, and anomalous trial, where like a slow stream the evidences of guilt oozed, and settled about the prisoner, who challenged the credibility of no witness, and waived all the privileges of cross-examination. Now and then, the audience criticised in whispers the "undue latitude" allowed by the Judge, to the District Solicitor; but their "exceptions" were informal, and the prosecution received no serious or important rebuff.
Was the accused utterly callous, or paralyzed by consciousness of her crime; or biding her time for a dramatic outburst of vindicating testimony? To her sensitive nature, the ordeal of sitting day after day to be stared at by a curious and prejudiced public, was more torturing than the pangs of Marsyas; and she wondered whether a courageous Roman captive who was shorn of his eyelids, and set under the blistering sun of Africa, suffered any more keenly; but motionless, apparently impassive as a stone mask, on whose features pitiless storms beat in vain, she bore without wincing the agony of her humiliation. Very white and still, she sat hour by hour with downcast eyes, and folded hands; and those who watched most closely could detect only one change of position; now and then she raised her clasped hands, and rested her lips a moment on the locked fingers, then dropped them wearily on her lap.
Even when a juryman asked two searching questions of a witness, she showed no sign of perturbation, and avoided meeting the eyes in the jury-box, as though they belonged to basilisks. Was it only three days since the beginning of this excruciating martyrdom of soul; and how much longer could she endure silently, and keep her reason?
At times, Sister Serena's hand forsook the knitting, to lay a soft, caressing touch of encouragement and sympathy on the girl's shoulder; and Dyce's burning indignation vented itself in frequent audible grating of her strong white teeth. So passed Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, in the examination of witnesses who recapitulated all that had been elicited at the preliminary investigation; and each nook and cranny of recollection in the mind of Anthony Burk, the station agent; of Belshazzer Tatem, the lame gardener; of lean and acrid Miss Angeline, the seamstress, was illuminated by the lurid light of Mr. Churchill's adroit interrogation. Thus far, the prosecution had been conducted by the District Solicitor, with the occasional assistance of Mr. Wolverton, who, in conjunction with Mr. Dunbar, had appeared as representative of the Darrington estate, and its legal heir, Prince; and when court adjourned on Wednesday, the belief was generally entertained that no defence was possible; and that at the last moment, the prisoner would confess her crime, and appeal to the mercy of the jury. As the deputy sheriff led his prisoner toward the rear entrance, where stood the dismal funereal black wagon in which she was brought from prison to court, Judge Dent came quickly to meet her.
"My niece, Miss Gordon, could not, of course, come into the court-room, but she is here in the library, with her aunt, and desires to see you for a moment?"
"Tell her I am grateful for her kind motives, but I wish to see no one now."
"For your own sake, consider the—ah! here is my niece."
"I hope you need no verbal assurance of my deep sympathy, and my constant prayers," said Leo, taking one passive hand between hers, and pressing it warmly.
"Miss Gordon, I am comforted by your compassion, and by your unwavering confidence in a stranger whom your townsmen hold up as a 'female monster'. Because I so profoundly realize how good you are, I am unwilling that you should identify yourself with my hopeless cause. My sufferings will soon be over, and then I want no shadowy reflex cast upon the smiling blue sky of your future. I have nothing more to lose, save the burden of a life—that I shall be glad to lay down; but you—! Be careful, do not jeopardize your beautiful dream of happiness."
"Why do you persist in rejecting the overtures of those who could assist, who might successfully defend you? I beg of you, consent to receive and confer with counsel, even to-night."
"You will never understand why I must not, till the earth gives up her dead. You tremble, because only one more link can be added to the chain that is coiling about my neck, and that link is the testimony of the man whose name you expect to bear. Miss Gordon"—she stooped closer, and whispered slowly: "Do not upbraid your lover; be tender, cling to him; and afford me the consolation of knowing that the unfortunate woman you befriended, and trusted, cast not even a fleeting shadow between your heart and his. Pray for me, that I may be patient and strong. God bless you."
Turning swiftly, she hurried on to the officer, who had courteously withdrawn a few yards distant. As he opened the door of the wagon, he handed her a loosely folded sheet of paper.
"I promised to deliver your answer as soon as possible."
By aid of the red glow, burning low in the western sky, she read:
"Mr. Dunbar requests that for her own sake, Miss Brentano will grant him an interview this evening."
"My answer must necessarily be verbal. Say that I will see no one."
To the solitude and darkness of prison she fled for relief, as into some merciful sheltering arms; and not even the loving solicitude of Mrs. Singleton was permitted to penetrate her seclusion, or share her dreary vigil. Another sleepless night dragged its leaden hours to meet the dawn, bringing no rest to the desolate soul, who silently grappled with fate, while every womanly instinct shuddered at the loathsome degradation forced upon her. Face downward on her hard, narrow cot, she recalled the terrible accusations, the opprobrious epithets, and tearless, convulsive sobs of passionate protest shook her from head to foot.
Tortured with indignation and shame, at the insults heaped upon her, yet sternly resolved to endure silently, these nights were veritable stations along her Via Dolorosa; and fortified her for the daily flagellation in front of the jury-box.
On Thursday a slow, sleeting rain enveloped the world in a gray cowl, bristling with ice needles; yet when Judge Parkman took his seat at nine o'clock, there was a perceptible increase in the living mass, packed in every available inch of space.
For the first time, Mr. Dunbar's seat between his colleagues was vacant; and Mr. Churchill and Mr. Wolverton were conversing in an animated whisper.
Clad in mourning garments, and with a long crape veil put back from her face, the prisoner was escorted to her accustomed place; and braced by a supreme effort for the critical hour, which she felt assured was at hand, her pale set features gleamed like those of a marble statue shrouded in black.
Called to the stand, Simon Frisby testified that "he was telegraph operator, and night train despatcher for railway in X—. On October the twenty-sixth, had just gone on duty at 8 P.M. at the station, when prisoner came in, and sent a telegram to New York. A copy of that message had been surrendered to the District Solicitor. Witness had remained all night in his office, which adjoined the ladies' waiting-room, and his attention having been attracted by the unusual fact that it was left open and lighted, he had twice gone to the door and looked in, but saw no one. Thought the last inspection was about two o'clock, immediately after he had sent a message to the conductor on train No. 4. Saw prisoner when she came in, a half hour later, and heard the conversation between her and Burk, the station agent. Was very positive prisoner could not have been in the ladies' waiting-room during the severe storm."
Mr. Churchill read aloud the telegram addressed to Mrs. Ignace Brentano: "Complete success required delay. All will be satisfactory. Expect me Saturday. B. B."
He commented on its ambiguous phraseology, sent the message to the jury for inspection, and resumed his chair.
Sister Serena's knitting fell from her fingers; Dyce groaned audibly, and Judge Dent, sitting quite near, uttered a heavy sigh. The statue throbbed into life, drew herself proudly up; and with a haughty poise of the head, her grand eloquent gray eyes looked up at the witness, and for the first time during the trial bore a challenge. For fully a moment, eye met eye, soul looked into soul, with only a few feet of space dividing prisoner from witness; and as the girl scanned the dark, resolute, sternly chiselled face, cold, yet handsome as some faultless bronze god, a singular smile unbent her frozen lips, and Judge Dent and Sister Serena wondered what the scarcely audible ejaculation meant:
"At the mercy of Tiberius!"
No faintest reflection of the fierce pain at his heart could have been discerned on that non-committal countenance; and as he turned to the jury, his swart magnetic face appeared cruelly hard, sinister.
"I first saw the prisoner at 'Elm Bluff', on the afternoon previous to Gen'l Darrington's death. When I came out of the house, she was sitting bareheaded on the front steps, fanning herself with her hat, and while I was untying my horse, she followed Bedney into the library. The blinds were open and I saw her pass the window, walking in the direction of the bedroom."
Mr. Churchill: "At that time did you suspect her relationship to your client, Gen'l Darrington?"
"I did not."
"What was the impression left upon your mind?"
"That she was a distinguished stranger, upon some important errand."
"She excited your suspicions at once?"
"Nothing had occurred to justify suspicion. My curiosity was aroused. Several hours later I was again at 'Elm Bluff' on legal business, and found Gen'l Darrington much disturbed in consequence of an interview with the prisoner, who, he informed me, was the child of his daughter, whom he had many years previous disowned and disinherited. In referring to this interview, his words were: 'I was harsh to the girl, so harsh that she turned upon me, savage as a strong cub defending a crippled, helpless dam. Mother and daughter know now that the last card has been played; for I gave the girl distinctly to understand, that at my death Prince would inherit every iota of my estate, and that my will had been carefully written in order to cut them off without a cent.'"
"You were led to infer that Gen'l Darrington had refused her application for money?"
"There was no mention of an application for money, hence I inferred nothing."
"During that conversation, the last which Gen'l Darrington held on earth, did he not tell you he was oppressed by an awful presentiment connected with his granddaughter?"
"His words were: 'Somehow I am unable to get rid of the strange, disagreeable presentiment that girl let behind her as a farewell legacy. She stood there at the glass door, and raised her hand: 'Gen'l Darrington, when you lie down to die, may God have more mercy on your poor soul, than you have shown to your suffering child.'
"I advised him to sleep off the disagreeable train of thought, and as I bade him good night, his last words were: