"The fate of a very noble and innocent woman is now committed to your hands, and only presumptive proof is laid before you. 'The circumstance is always a fact; the presumption is the inference drawn from that fact. It is hence called presumptive proof, because it proceeds merely in opinion.' Suffer no brilliant sophistry to dazzle your judgment, no remnant of prejudice to swerve you from the path of fidelity to your oath. To your calm reasoning, your generous manly hearts, your Christian consciences, I resign the desolate prisoner; and as you deal with her, so may the God above us, the just and holy God who has numbered the hairs of her innocent head, deal here and hereafter with you and yours."
That magnetic influence, whereby the emotions of an audience are swayed, as the tides that follow the moon, was in large measure the heritage of the handsome man who held the eyes of the jurymen in an almost unwinking gaze; and when his uplifted arm slowly fell to his side, Judge Dent grasped it in mute congratulation, and Mr. Churchill took his hand, and shook it warmly.
Mr. Wolverton came forward to sum up the evidence for the prosecution, and laboriously recapitulated and dwelt upon the mass of facts which he claimed was susceptible of but one interpretation, and must compel the jury to convict, in accordance with the indictment.
Upon the ears of the prisoner, his words fell as a harsh, meaningless murmur; and above the insistent mutter, rose and fell the waves of a rich, resonant voice, that surrounded, penetrated, electrified her brain; thrilled her whole being with a strange and inexplicable sensation of happiness. For months she had fought against the singular fascination that dwelt in those brilliant blue eyes, and lurked in every line of the swart, stern face; holding at bay the magnetic attraction which he exerted from the hour of the preliminary examination. Of all men, she had feared him most, had shrunk from every opportunity of contact, had execrated him as the malign personification, the veritable incarnation of the evil destiny that had hounded her from the day she first saw X——.
Listening to his appeal for her deliverance, each word throbbing with the fervent beat of a heart that she knew was all her own, an exquisite sense of rest gradually stole over her; as a long-suffering child spent with pain, sinks, soothed at last in the enfolding arms of protective love. That dark, eloquent face drew, held her gaze with the spell of a loadstone, and even in the imminence of her jeopardy, she recalled the strange resemblance he bore to the militant angel she had once seen in a painting, where he wrestled with Satan for possession of the body of Moses. Disgrace, peril, the gaunt spectre of death suddenly dissolved, vanished in the glorious burst of rosy light that streamed into all the chill chambers of her heart; and she bowed her head in her hands, to hide the crimson that painted her cheeks.
How long Mr. Wolverton talked, she never knew; but the lull that succeeded was broken by the tones of Judge Parkman.
"Beryl Brentano, it is my duty to remind you that this is the last opportunity the law allows you, to speak in your own vindication. The testimony has all been presented to those appointed to decide upon its value. If there be any final statement that you may desire to offer in self-defence, you must make it now."
Could the hundreds who watched and waited ever forget the sight of that superb, erect figure, that exquisite face, proud as Hypatia's, patient as Perpetua's; or the sound of that pathetic, unwavering voice? Mournfully, yet steadily, she raised her great grey eyes, darkened by the violet shadows suffering had cast, and looked at her judges.
"I am guiltless of any and all crime. I have neither robbed, nor murdered; and I am neither principal, nor accomplice in the horrible sin imputed to me. I know nothing of the chloroform; I never touched the andiron; I never saw Gen'l Darrington but once. He gave me the gold and the sapphires, and I am as innocent of his death, and of the destruction of his will as the sinless little children who prattle at your firesides and nestle to sleep in your arms. My life has been disgraced and ruined by no act of mine, for I have kept my hands, my heart, my soul, as pure and free from crime as they were when God gave them to me. I am the helpless prey of suspicion, and the guiltless victim of the law. O, my judges! I do not crave your mercy—that is the despairing prayer of conscious guilt; I demand at your hands, justice."
The rushing sound as of a coming flood filled her ears, and her words echoed vaguely from some immeasurably distant height. The gaslights seemed whirling in a Walpurgis maze, as she sat down and once more veiled her face in her hands.
When she recovered sufficiently to listen, Mr. Churchill had risen for the closing speech of the prosecution.
"Gentlemen of the Jury: I were a blot upon a noble profession, a disgrace to honorable manhood, and a monster in my own estimation, if I could approach the fatal Finis of this melancholy trial, without painful emotions of profound regret, that the solemn responsibility of my official position makes me the reluctant bearer of the last stern message uttered by retributive justice. How infinitely more enviable the duty of the Amicus Curiae, my gallant friend and quondam colleague, who in voluntary defence has so ingeniously, eloquently and nobly led a forlorn hope, that he knew was already irretrievably lost? Desperate, indeed, must he deem that cause for which he battles so valiantly, when dire extremity goads him to lift a rebellious and unfilial voice against the provisions of his foster-mother, Criminal Jurisprudence, in whose service he won the brilliant distinction and crown of laurel that excite the admiration and envy of a large family of his less fortunate foster-brothers. I honor his heroism, applaud his chivalrous zeal, and wish that I stood in his place; but not mine the privilege of mounting the white horse, and waving the red flag of the 'Lactees.' Dedicated to the mournful rites of justice, I have laid an iron hand on the quivering lips of pity, that cried to me like the voice of one of my own little ones; and very sorrowfully, at the command of conscience, reason and my official duty, I obey the mandate to ring down the black curtain on a terrible tragedy, feeling like Dante, when he confronted the doomed—
"'And to a part I come, where no light shines.'"
So clearly and ably has my distinguished associate, Mr. Wolverton, presented all the legal points bearing upon the nature and value of the proof, submitted for your examination, that any attempt to buttress his powerful argument, were an unpardonable reflection upon your intelligence, and his skill; and I shall confine my last effort in behalf of justice, to a brief analysis and comparison of the hypothesis of the defence, with the verified result of the prosecution.
"Beautiful and sparkling as the frail glass of Murano, and equally as thin, as treacherously brittle, is the theory so skilfully manufactured in behalf of the accused; and so adroitly exhibited that the ingenious facets catch every possible gleam, and for a moment almost dazzle the eyes of the beholder. In attempting to cast a lance against the shield of circumstantial evidence, his weapon rebounded, recoiled upon his fine spun crystal and shivered it. What were the materials wherewith he worked? Circumstances, strained, well nigh dislocated by the effort to force them to fit into his Procrustean measure. A man was seen on the night of the twenty-sixth, who appeared unduly anxious to quit X—before daylight; and again the mysterious stranger was seen in a distant town in Pennsylvania, where he showed some gold coins of a certain denomination, and dropped on the floor one-half of an envelope, that once contained a will. In view of these circumstances (the prosecution calls them facts), the counsel for the defence PRESUMES that said stranger committed the murder, stole the will; and offers this opinion as presumptive proof that the prisoner is innocent. The argument runs thus: this man was an accepted lover of the accused, and therefore he must have destroyed the will that beggared his betrothed; but it is nowhere in evidence, that any lover existed, outside of the counsel's imagination; yet Asmodeus like he must appear when called for, and so we are expected to infer, assume, presume that because he stole the will he must be her lover. Does it not make your head swim to spin round in this circle of reasoning? In assailing the validity of circumstantial evidence, has he not cut his bridges, burned his ships behind him?
"Gentlemen, fain would I seize this theory were it credible, and setting thereon, as in an ark, this most unfortunate prisoner, float her safely through the deluge of ruin, anchor her in peaceful security upon some far-off Ararat; but it has gone to pieces in the hands of its architect. Instead of rescuing the drowning, the wreck serves only to beat her down. If we accept the hypothesis of a lover at all, it will furnish the one missing link in the terrible chain that clanks around the luckless prisoner. The disappearance of the three hundred and twenty dollars has sorely perplexed the prosecution, and unexpectedly the defence offers us the one circumstance we lacked; the lover was lurking in the neighborhood, to learn the result of the visit, to escort her home; and to him the prisoner gave the missing gold, to him intrusted the destruction of the will. If that man came to 'Elm Bluff' prepared to rob and murder, by whom was he incited and instigated; and who was the accessory, and therefore particeps criminis? The prisoner's handkerchief was the medium of chloroforming that venerable old man, and can there be a reasonable doubt that she aided in administering it?
"The prosecution could not explain why she came from the direction of the railroad bridge, which was far out of her way from 'Elm Bluff'; but the defence gives the most satisfactory solution: she was there, dividing her blood-stained spoils with the equally guilty accomplice—her lover. The prosecution brings to the bar of retribution only one criminal; the defence not only fastens the guilt upon this unhappy woman, by supplying the missing links, but proves premeditation, by the person of an accomplice. Four months have been spent in hunting some fact that would tend to exculpate the accused, but each circumstance dragged to light serves only to swell the dismal chorus, 'Woe to the guilty'. To-day she sits in the ashes of desolation, condemned by the unanimous evidence of every known fact connecred with this awful tragedy. To oppose this black and frightful host of proofs, what does she offer us? Simply her bare, solemnly reiterated denial of guilt. We hold our breath, hoping against hope that she will give some explanation, some solution, that our pitying hearts are waiting so eagerly to hear; but dumb as the Sphinx, she awaits her doom. You will weigh that bare denial in the scale with the evidence, and in this momentous duty recollect the cautious admonition that has been furnished to guide you: 'Cosceding that asseverations of innocence are always deserving of consideration by the executive, what is there to invest them with a conclusive efficacy, in opposition to a chain of presumptive evidence, the force and weight of which falls short only of mathematical demonstration?' The astute and eloquent counsel for defence, has cited some well-known cases, to shake your faith in the value of merely presumptive proof.
"I offer for your consideration, an instance of the fallibility of merely bare, unsupported denial of guilt on the part of the accused. A priest at Lauterbach was suspected, arrested and tried for the murder of a woman, under very aggravated circumstances. He was subjected to eighty examinations; and each time solemnly denied the crime. Even when confronted at midnight with the skull of the victim murdered eight years before, he vehemently protested his innocence; called on the skull to declare him not the assassin, and appealed to the Holy Trinity to proclaim his innocence. Finally he confessed his crime; testified that while cutting the throat of his victim, he had exhorted her to repentance, had given her absolution, and that having concealed the corpse, he had said masses for her soul.
"The forlorn and hopeless condition of the prisoner at this bar, appeals pathetically to that compassion which we are taught to believe coexists with justice, even in the omnipotent God we worship; yet in the face of incontrovertible facts elicited from reliable witnesses, of coincidences which no theory of accident can explain, can we stifle convictions, solely because she pleads 'not guilty'? Pertinent, indeed, was the ringing cry of that ancient prosecutor: 'Most illustrious Caesar! if denial of guilt be sufficient defence, who would ever be convicted?' You have been assured that inferences drawn from probable facts eclipse the stupendous falsehood of Ananias and Sapphira! Then the same family strain inevitably crops out, in the loosely-woven web of defensive presumptive evidence—whose pedigree we trace to the same parentage. God forbid that I should commit the sacrilege of arrogating His divine attribute—infallibility—for any human authority, however exalted; or claim it for any amount of proof, presumptive or positive. 'It is because humanity even when most cautious and discriminating is so mournfully fallible and prone to error, that in judging its own frailty, we require the aid and reverently invoke the guidance of Jehovah.' In your solemn deliberations bear in mind this epitome of an opinion, entitled to more than a passing consideration: 'Perhaps strong circumstantial evidence in cases of crime, committed for the most part in secret, is the most satisfactory of any from whence to draw the conclusion of guilt; for men may be seduced to perjury, by many base motives; but it can scarcely happen that many circumstances, especially if they be such over which the accuser could have no control, forming altogether the links of a transaction, should all unfortunately concur to fix the presumption of guilt on an individual, and yet such a conclusion be erroneous.'
"Gentlemen of the jury: the prosecution believes that the overwhelming mass of evidence laid before you proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the prisoner did premeditatedly murder and rob Robert Luke Darrington; and in the name of justice, we demand that you vindicate the majesty of outraged law, by rendering a verdict of 'guilty'. All the evidence in this case points the finger of doom at the prisoner, as to the time, the place, the opportunity, the means, the conduct and the motive. Suffer not sympathy for youthful womanhood and wonderful beauty, to make you recreant to the obligations of your oath, to decide this issue of life or death, strictly in accordance with the proofs presented; and bitterly painful as is your impending duty, do not allow the wail of pity to drown the demands of justice, or the voice of that blood that cries to heaven for vengeance upon the murderess. May the righteous God who rules the destinies of the universe guide you, and enable you to perform faithfully your awful duty."
Painfully solemn was the profound silence that pervaded the court-room, and the eyes of the multitude turned anxiously to the grave countenance of the Judge. Mr. Dunbar had seated himself at a small table, not far from Beryl, and resting his elbow upon it, leaned his right temple in the palm of his hand, watching from beneath his contracted black brows the earnest, expectant faces of the jurymen; and his keen, glowing eyes indexed little of the fierce, wolfish pangs that gnawed ceaselessly at his heart, as the intolerable suspense drew near its end.
Judge Parkman leaned forward.
"Gentlemen of the jury: before entering that box, as the appointed ministers of justice, to arbitrate upon the most momentous issue that can engage human attention—the life or death of a fellow creature—you called your Maker to witness that you would divest your minds of every shadow of prejudice, would calmly, carefully, dispassionately consider, analyze and weigh the evidence submitted for your investigation; and irrespective of consequences, render a verdict in strict accordance with the proofs presented. You have listened to the testimony of the witnesses, to the theory of the prosecution, to the theory of the counsel for the defence; you have heard the statement of the accused, her repeated denial of the crime with which she stands charged; and finally you have heard the arguments of counsel, the summing up of all the evidence. The peculiar character of some of the facts presented as proof, requires on your part the keenest and most exhaustive analysis of the inferences to be drawn from them, and you 'have need of patience, wisdom and courage'. While it is impossible that you can contemplate the distressing condition of the accused without emotions of profound compassion, your duty 'is prescribed by the law, which allows you no liberty to indulge any sentiment, inconsistent with its strict performance'. You should begin with the legal presumption that the prisoner is innocent, and that presumption must continue, until her guilt is satisfactorily proved. This is the legal right of the prisoner; contingent on no peculiar circumstances of any particular case, but is the common right of every person accused of a crime. The law surrounds the prisoner with a coat of mail, that only irrefragable proofs of guilt can pierce, and the law declares her innocent, unless the proof you have heard on her trial satisfies you, beyond a reasonable doubt, that she is guilty. What constitutes reasonable doubt, it becomes your duty to earnestly and carefully consider. It is charged that the defendant, on the night of the twenty-sixth of October, did wilfully, deliberately, and premeditatedly murder Robert Luke Darrington, by striking him with a brass andiron. The legal definition of murder is the unlawful killing of another, with malice aforethought; and is divided into two degrees. Any murder committed knowingly, intentionally and wantonly, and without just cause or excuse, is murder in the first degree; and this is the offence charged against the prisoner at the bar. If you believe from the evidence, that the defendant, Beryl Brentano, did at the time and place named, wilfully and premeditatedly kill Robert Luke Darrington, then it will become your duty to find the defendant guilty of murder; if you do not so believe, then it will be your duty to acquit her. A copy of the legal definition of homicide, embracing murder in the first and second degrees, and of manslaughter in the first and second degrees, will be furnished for your instruction; and it is your right and privilege after a careful examination of all the evidence, to convict of a lesser crime than that charged in the indictment, provided all the evidence in this case, should so convince your minds, to the exclusion of a reasonable doubt.
"In your deliberations you will constantly bear in memory, the following long established rules provided for the guidance of jurors:
"'I.—The burden of proof rests upon the prosecution, and does not shift or change to the defendant in any phase or stage of the case.
"'II.—Before the jury can convict the accused, they must be satisfied from the evidence that she is guilty of the offence charged in the indictment, beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not sufficient that they should believe her guilt only probable. No degree of probability merely, will authorize a conviction; but the evidence must be of such character and tendency as to produce a moral certainty of the prisoner's guilt, to the exclusion of reasonable doubt.
"'III.—Each fact which is necessary in the chain of circumstances to establish the guilt of the accused, must be distinctly proved by competent legal evidence, and if the jury have reasonable doubt as to any material fact, necessary to be proved in order to support the hypothesis of the prisoner's guilt, to the exclusion of every other reasonable hypothesis, they must find her not guilty.
"'IV.—If the jury are satisfied from the evidence, that the accused is guilty of the offence charged, beyond reasonable doubt, and no rational hypothesis or explanation can be framed or given (upon the whole evidence in the cause) consistent with the innocence of the accused, and at the same time consistent with the facts proved, they ought to find her guilty. The jury are the exclusive judges of the evidence, of its weight, and of the credibility of the witnesses. It is their duty to accept and be governed by the law, as given by the Court in its instructions.'
"The evidence in this case is not direct and positive, but presumptive; and your attention has been called to some well known cases of persons convicted of, and executed for capital crimes, whose entire innocence was subsequently made apparent. These arguments and cases only prove that, 'all human evidence, whether it be positive or presumptive in its character, like everything else that partakes of mortality, is fallible. The reason may be as completely convinced by circumstantial—as by positive evidence, and yet may possibly not arrive at the truth by either.'
"The true question, therefore, for your consideration, is not the kind of evidence in this case, but it is, what is the result of it in your minds? If it has failed to satisfy you of the guilt of the accused, and your minds are not convinced, vacillate in doubt, then you must acquit her, be the evidence what it may, positive or presumptive; but if the result of the whole evidence satisfies you, it you are convinced that she is guilty, then it is imperatively your duty to convict her, even if the character of the evidence be wholly circumstantial." Such is the law.
"In resigning this case to you, I deem it my duty to direct your attention to one point, which I suggest that you consider. If the accused administered chloroform, did it indicate that her original intention was solely to rob the vault? Is the act of administering the chloroform consistent with the theory of deliberate and premeditated murder? In examining the facts submitted by counsel, take the suggestion just presented, with you, and if the facts and circumstances proved against her, can be accounted for on the theory of intended, deliberate robbery, without necessarily involving premeditated murder, it is your privilege to put that merciful construction upon them.
"Gentlemen of the jury, I commit this mournful and terrible case to your decision; and solemnly adjure you to be governed in your deliberations, by the evidence as you understand it, by the law as furnished in these instructions, and to render such verdict, as your reason compels, as your matured judgment demands, and your conscience unhesitatingly approves and sanctions. May God direct and control your decision."
Drifting along the stream of testimony that rolled in front of the jury-box, an eager and excited public had with scarcely a dissenting voice arrived at the conclusion, that the verdict was narrowed to the limits of only two possibilities. It was confidently expected that the jury would either acquit unconditionally, or fail to agree; thus prolonging suspense, by a mistrial. It was six o'clock when, the jurors, bearing the andiron, handkerchief, pipe, and a diagram of the bedroom at "Elm Bluff", were led away to their final deliberation; yet so well assured was the mass of spectators, that they would promptly return to render a favorable verdict, that despite the inclemency of the weather, there was no perceptible diminution of the anxious crowd of men and women.
The night had settled prematurely down, black and stormy; and though the fury of the gale seemed at one time to have spent itself, the wind veered to the implacable east, and instead of fitful gusts, a steady roaring blast freighted with rain smote the darkness. The officer conducted his prisoner across the dim corridor, and opened the door of the small anteroom, which frequent occupancy had rendered gloomily familiar.
"I wish I could make you more comfortable, and it is a shame to shut you up in such an ice-box. I will throw my overcoat on the floor, and you can wrap your feet up in it. Yes, you must take it. I shall keep warm at the stove in the Sheriff's room. The Judge will not wait later than ten o'clock, then I'll take you back to Mrs. Singleton. It seems you prefer to remain here alone."
"Yes, entirely alone."
"You are positive, you won't try a little hot punch, or a glass of wine?"
"Thank you, but I wish only to be alone."
"Don't be too down-hearted. You will never be convicted under that indictment, at least not by this jury, for I have a suspicion that there is one man among them, who will stand out until the stars fall, and I will tell you why. I happened to be looking at him, when your Christmas card was shown by Mr. Dunbar. The moment he saw it, he started, stretched out his hand, and as he looked at it, I saw him choke up, and pass his hand over his eyes. Soon after Christmas, that man lost his only child, a girl five years old, who had scarlet fever. To divert her mind, they gave her a Christmas card to play with, that some friend had sent to her mother. She had it in her hand when she died, in convulsions, and it was put in her coffin and buried with her. My wife helped to nurse and shroud her, and she told me it was the card shown in court; it was your card. The law can't cut out the heartstrings of the jury, and I don't believe that man would lift his hand against your life, any sooner than he would strike the face of his dead child."
He locked the door, and Beryl found herself at last alone, in the dreary little den where a single gas burner served only to show the surrounding cheerlessness. The furniture comprised a wooden bench along the wall, two chairs, and a table in the middle of the floor; and on the dusty panes of the grated window, a ray of ruddy light from a lamp post in the street beneath, broke through the leaden lances of the rain, and struggled for admission.
The neurotic pharmacopoeia contains nothing so potent as despair to steady quivering nerves, and steel to superhuman endurance. For Beryl, the pendulum of suspense had ceased to swing, because the spring of hope had snapped; and the complete surrender, the mute acceptance of the worst possible to come, had left her numb, impervious to dread. As one by one the discovered facts spelled unmistakably the name of her brother, allowing no margin to doubt his guilt, the necessity of atonement absorbed every other consideration; and the desire to avert his punishment extinguished the last remnant of selfish anxiety. If by suffering in his stead, she could secure to him life—the opportunities of repentance, of expiation, of making his peace with God, of saving his immortal soul—how insignificant seemed all else. The innate love of life, the natural yearning for happiness, the once fervent aspirations for fame—the indescribable longing for the fruition of youth's high hopes, which like a Siren sang somewhere in the golden mists of futurity—all these were now crushed beyond recognition in the whirlwind that had wrecked her.
Her father slept under silvery olives in a Tuscan dell, her mother within hearing of the waves that broke on the Atlantic shore; and if the wanderer could be purified by penitential tears, what mattered the shattering of the family circle on earth, when in the eternal Beyond, it would be indissolubly reformed? Over the black gulf that yawned in her young, pure life, the wings of her Christian faith bore her steadily, unwaveringly to the heavenly rest, that she knew remained for the people of God; and so, she seemed to have shaken hands with the things of time and earth, and to stand on the border land, girded for departure. To meet her beloved dead, with the blessed announcement that Bertie must join them after a while, because she had ransomed his precious soul; and that the family would be complete under the heavenly roof, was recompense so rich, that the fangs of disgrace, of physical and mental torture were effectually extracted. By day and by night the ladder of prayer lifted her soul into that serene realm, where the fountains of balm are never drained; and into her face stole the reflection of that peace which only communion with the Christian's God can bring to those whom grief has claimed for its own.
To-night, as she listened to the Coronach chanted by the gale, and the dismal accompaniment of the pelting rain, she realized how utterly isolated was her position, and kneeling on the bare floor, crossed her arms on the table, bowed her bead upon them, and prayed for patience and strength. The ordeal had been fiery, but the end was at hand, and release must be near.
She heard quick steps in the corridor, and the key was turned in the lock. Had the jury so promptly decided to destroy her? For an instant only, she shut her eyes; and when she opened them, Mr. Dunbar was leaning over her, folding closely about her shoulders some heavy wrap, whose soft fur collar his fingers buttoned around her throat. She had not known that she was cold, until the delicious sensation of warmth crept like a caressing touch over her chilled limbs. She did not stir, and neither spoke; but after a moment he turned toward the door; then she rose.
"There is something I wish to say, and this is my last opportunity, as after to-night we shall not meet again. During the past four months I have said harsh, bitter things to you, and have unjustly judged you. In grateful recognition of all that you have so faithfully essayed to accomplish in my behalf, I ask you now to forget everything but my gratitude for your effort to save me; and I offer my hand to you, as the one friend who sacrificed even his manly pride, and endured humiliation in order to redress my wrongs. I thank you very sincerely, Mr. Dunbar."
He took her outstretched hand, pressed it against his cheek, his eyes, held it to his lips; then a half smothered groan escaped him, and afraid to trust himself, he went quickly out.
Believing that she stood on the confines of another world, she had possessed her soul in patience, waiting for the consummation of the sacrifice; yet at the crisis of her fate, that singular, incomprehensible influence, long resisted, drew her thoughts to him, whom she regarded as the chosen puppet of destiny to hurry her into an untimely grave. She had fought the battle with him, under fearful odds; conscious of sedition in the heart that defied him, warily clutching with one hand the throat of rebellion in her citadel, while with the other, she parried assault.
Keeping lonely vigil, amid the strewn wreck of life and hope, she had waved away one persistent thought, that lit up the blackness with a sudden glory, that came with the face of an angel of light, and babbled with the silvery tongue of sorcery. As far as her future was concerned, this world had practically come to a premature end; but above the roar of ruin, and out of the yawning graves of slaughtered possibilities, rose and rang the challenge: If she had never come South, if she could have been allowed the chance of happiness that seemed every woman's birthright, if she had met and known Mr. Dunbar, before he was pledged to another; what then? If she were once more the Beryl of old, and he were free? If? What necromancy so wonderful, as the potentiality of if? Weighed in that popular balance—appearances—how stood the poor friendless prisoner, loaded with suspicion, tarnished with obloquy, on the verge of an ignominious death; in comparison with the fair, proud heiress, dowered with blue blood, powerful in patrician influence, rich in all that made her the envy of her social world?
In the dazzling zenith of temporal prosperity, Leo Gordon considered the heart of her betrothed her most precious possession; the one jewel which she would gladly have given all else to preserve; and yet, fate tore it from her grasp, and laid it at the feet, nay thrust it into the white hand of the woman who must die for a fiendish crime. A latter-day seer tells us, that in all realms, "Between laws there is no analogy, there is Continuity"; then in the universe of ethical sociology, who shall trace the illimitable ramifications of the Law of Compensation?
Up and down, back and forth, slowly, wearily walked the prisoner; and when the town clock struck eight, she mechanically counted each stroke. As in drowning men, the landmarks of a lifetime rise, huddle, almost press upon the glazing eyes, so the phantasmagoria of Beryl's past, seemed projected in strange luminousness upon the pall of the present, like profiles in silvery flame cast on a black curtain.
Holding her father's hand, she walked in the Odenwald; sitting beside her mother on a carpet of purple vetches, she stemmed strawberries in a garden near Pistoja; clinging to Bertie's jacket, she followed him across dimpling sands to dip her feet in the blue Mediterranean waves, that broke in laughter, showing teeth of foam, where dying sunsets reddened all the beach. Through sunny arcades, flushed with pomegranate, glowing with orange, silvered with lemon blossoms, came the tinkling music of contadini bells, the bleating of kids, the twittering of happy birds, the distant chime of an Angelus; all the subtle harmony, the fragmentary melody that flickers through an Impromptu of Chopin or Schubert. She saw the simulacrum of her former self, the proud, happy Beryl of old, singing from the score of the "Messiah", in the organ loft of a marble church; she heard the rich tenor voice of her handsome brother, as he trilled a barcarole one night, crossing the Atlantic; she smelled the tuberoses at Mentone, the faint breath of lilies her father had loved so well, and then, blotting all else, there rose clear as some line of Morghen's, that attic room; the invalid's bed, the low chair beside it, the wasted figure, the suffering, fever-flushed face of the beloved mother, as she saw her last, with the Grand Duke jasmine fastened at her throat.
The door was thrown open, and the officer beckoned her to follow him. Back into the crowded court-room, where people pressed even into the window sills for standing room, where Judge and counsel sat gravely expectant; where the stillness of death had suddenly fallen. The officer conducted her to the bar, then drew back, and Mr. Dunbar came and stood at her side; resting his hand on the back of her chair.
In that solemn hush, the measured tramp of the jury advancing, and filing into their box, had the mournful, measured beat as of pall bearers, keeping step to a dismal dirge; and when the foreman laid upon the table the fatal brass unicorn, the muffled sound seemed ominous as the grating of a coffin lowered upon the cross bars of a gaping grave. As the roll was called, each man rose, and answered in a low but distinct tone. Then the clerk of the court asked:
"Gentlemen of the jury, have you agreed upon your verdict?"
"We have," replied the foreman.
"What say you! Guilty, or not guilty?"
Beryl had risen, and the gaslight shining full upon her pale, Phidian face, showed no trace of trepidation. Only the pathetic patience of a sublime surrender was visible on her frozen features. The eyes preternaturally large and luminous were raised far above the sea of heads, and their strained gaze might almost have been fixed upon the unveiled face of the God she trusted. Her hands were folded over her mother's ring, her noble head thrown proudly back.
"We the jury, in the case of the State against Beryl Brentano, find defendant not guilty as charged in the indictment; but guilty of manslaughter in the first degree; and we do earnestly commend her to the mercy of the Court."
The girl staggered slightly, as if recoiling from a blow, and Mr. Dunbar caught her arm, steadied her. The long pent tide of popular feeling broke its barriers, and the gates of Pandemonium seemed to swing open. Women sobbed; men groaned. In vain the Judge thundered "Silence", "Order!" and not until an officer advanced to obey the command, to clear the court-room, was there any perceptible lull, in the storm of indignation.
Turning to the Judge, Mr. Dunbar said:
"In behalf of the prisoner, I most respectfully beg that the Court will end her suspense; and render her return to this bar unnecessary by promptly pronouncing sentence."
"Is it the wish of the prisoner, that sentence should not be delayed?"
"She wishes to know her fate."
She had uttered no sound, but the lashes trembled, fell over the tired, aching, strained eyes; and lifting her locked hands she bowed her chin upon them.
Some moments elapsed, before Judge Parkman spoke; then his voice was low and solemn.
"Beryl Brentano, you have been indicted for the deliberate and premeditated murder of your grandfather, Robert Luke Darrington. Twelve men, selected for their intelligence and impartiality, have patiently and attentively listened to the evidence in this case, and have under oath endeavored to discover the truth of this charge. You have had the benefit of a fair trial, by unbiased judges, and finally, the jury in the conscientious discharge of their duty, have convicted you of manslaughter in the first degree, and commended you to the mercy of the Court. In consideration of your youth, of the peculiar circumstances surrounding you, and especially, in deference to the wishes and recommendation of the jury—whose verdict, the Court approves, I therefore pronounce upon you the lightest penalty which the law affixes to the crime of manslaughter, of which you stand convicted; which sentence is—that you be taken hence to the State Penitentiary, and there be kept securely, for the term of five years."
With a swift movement, Mr. Dunbar drew the crape veil over her face, put her arm through his, and led her into the corridor. Hurriedly he exchanged some words in an undertone with the two officers, who accompanied him to the rear entrance of the court-house; and then, in answer to a shrill whistle, a close carriage drawn by two horses drew up to the door, followed by the dismal equipage set apart for the transportation of prisoners. The deputy sheriff stepped forward, trying to shield the girl from the driving rain, and assisted her into the carriage. Mr. Dunbar sprang in and seated himself opposite. The officer closed the door, ordered the coachman to drive on, and then entering the gloomy black box, followed closely, keeping always in sight of the vehicle in advance.
The clock striking ten, sounded through the muffling storm a knell as mournful as some tolling bell, while into that wild, moaning Friday night, went the desolate woman, wearing henceforth the brand of Cain—remanded to the convict's home.
She had thrown back her veil to ease the stifling sensation in her throat, and Mr. Dunbar could see now and then, as they dashed past a street lamp, that she sat upright, still as stone.
At last she said, in a tone peculiarly calm, like that of one talking in sleep:
"What did it mean—that verdict?"
"That you went back to 'Elm Bluff' with no intention of attacking Gen'l Darrington."
"That I went there deliberately to steal, and then to avoid detection, killed him? That was the verdict of the jury?"
She waited a moment.
"Answer me. That was the meaning? That was the most merciful verdict they could give to the world?"
Only the hissing sound of the rain upon the glass pane of the carriage, made reply.
They had reached the bridge, when a hysterical laugh startled the man, who leaned back on the front seat, with his arms crossed tightly over a heart throbbing with almost unendurable pain.
"To steal, to rob, to plunder. Branded for all time a thief, a rogue, a murderess. I!—I—"
A passionate wail told the strain was broken: "I, my father's darling, my father's Beryl! Hurled into a living tomb, herded with convicts, with the vilest outcasts that disgrace the earth—this is worse than a thousand deaths! It would have been so merciful to crush out the life they mangled; but to doom me to the slow torture of this loathsome grave, where death brings no release! To die is so easy, so blessed; but to live—a convicted felon! O, my God! my God! Hast Thou indeed forsaken me?"
In the appalling realization of her fate, she rocked to and fro for a moment only, fiercely shaken by the horror of a future never before contemplated. Then the proud soul stifled its shuddering sigh, lifted its burden of shame, silently struggled up its awful Via Crucis. Mute and still, she leaned back in the corner of the carriage.
"I could have saved you, but you would not accept deliverance. You thwarted every effort, tied the hands that might have set you free; and by your own premeditated course throughout the trial, deliberately dragged this doom down upon your head. You counted the cost, and you elected, chose of your own free will to offer yourself as a sacrifice, to the law, for the crime of another. You are your own merciless fate, decreeing self-immolation. You were willing to die, in order to save that man's life; and you can certainly summon fortitude to endure five years' deprivation of his society; sustained by the hope that having thereby purchased his security, you may yet reap the reward your heart demands, reunion with its worthless, degraded idol. I have watched, weighed, studied you; searched every stray record of your fair young life, found the clear pages all pure; and I have doubted, marvelled that you, lily-hearted, lily-souled, lily-handed, could cast the pearl of your love down in the mire, to be trampled by swinish feet."
The darkness of the City of Dis that seemed to brood under the wings of the stormy night, veiled Beryl's face; and her silence goaded him beyond the limits of prudence, which he had warily surveyed for himself.
"Day and night, I hear the maddening echo of your accusing cry, 'You have ruined my life!' God knows, you have as effectually ruined mine. You have your revenge—if it comfort you to know it; but I am incapable of your sublime renunciation. I am no patient martyr; I am, instead, an intensely selfish man. You choose to hug the ashes of desolation; I purpose to sweep away the wreck, to rebuild on the foundation of one hope, which all the legions in hell cannot shake. Between you and me the battle has only begun, and nothing but your death or my victory will end it. You have your revenge; I intend to enjoy mine. Though he burrow as a mole, or skulk in some fastness of Alaska, I will track and seize that cowardly miscreant, and when the law receives its guilty victim, you shall be freed from suspicion, freed from prison, and most precious of all boons, you shall be freed forever from the vile contamination of his polluting touch. For the pangs you have inflicted on me, I will have my revenge: you shall never be profaned by the name of wife."
Up the rocky hill toiled the horses, arching their necks as they stooped their faces to avoid the blinding rain: and soon the huge blot of prison walls, like a crouching monster ambushed in surrounding gloom, barred the way.
In two windows of the second story, burned lights that borrowed lurid rays in their passage through the mist, and seemed to glow angrily, like the red eyes of a sullen beast of prey. The carriage stopped. A moment after, the deputy-sheriff sprang from his wagon and rang the bell close to the great gate. Two dogs bayed hoarsely, and somewhere in the building an answering bell sounded.
Beryl leaned forward.
"Mr. Dunbar, there is one last favor I ask at your hands. I want my—my—I want that pipe, that was shown in court. Will you ask that it may be given to me? Will you send it to me?"
A half strangled, scarcely audible oath was his only reply.
She put out her hand, laid it on his.
"You dare caused me so much suffering, surely you will not deny me this only recompense I shall ever ask."
His hand closed over hers.
"If I bring it to you, will you confess who smoked it last?"
"After to-night, sir, I think it best I should never see your face again."
The officer opened the carriage door, the warden approached, carrying a lantern in one hand and an umbrella in the other. Mr. Dunbar stepped from the carriage and turning, stretched out his arms, suddenly snatched the girl for an instant close to his heart, and lifted her to the ground.
The warden opened the gate, swinging his lantern high to light the way, and by its flickering rays Lennox Dunbar saw the beautiful white face, the wonderful, sad eyes, the wan lips contracted by a spasm of pain.
She turned and followed the warden; the lights wavered; the great iron gate swung back in its groove, the bolt fell with a sullen clang; the massive key rattled, a chain clanked, and all was darkness as she was locked irrevocably into her living tomb.
The annual resurrection had begun; the pulse of Nature quickened, rose, throbbed under the vernal summons; pale, tender grass-blades peeped above the mould, houstonias lifted their blue disks to the March sun, and while the world of birds commenced their preludes where silky young leaves shyly fluttered, earth and sky were wrapped in that silvery haze with which coy Springtime half veils her radiant face. The vivid verdure of wheat and oat fields, the cooler aqua marina of long stretches of rye, served as mere groundwork for displaying in bold relief the snowy tufts of plum, the creamy clusters of pear, and the glowing pink of peach orchards that clothed the hillsides, and brimmed the valleys with fragrant prophecies of fruitful plenty.
Dimmed by distance to fine lines of steel, wavered the flocks of wild geese flying from steaming bayous to icy lakes in the far North, and now and then as the ranks dipped, a white flash lit the vignettes traced against the misty, pearl-gray sky.
Spring sunshine had kissed the lips of death, and universal life sprang palpitating to begin anew the appointed yearly cycle; yet amid the flush and stir of mother earth, there lay hopelessly still and cold some human hopes, which no divine "Come forth" would ever revivify.
Into the face of Leo Gordon had crept that strange and indescribable change, which is analogous to the peculiar aspect of the clear heavens when dark clouds just faintly rim the horizon, below which they heap their sombre, sullen masses, projecting upward weird shadows.
Apparently the sun of prosperity burned in the zenith and gilded her path with happiness, but analyzed by the prism of her consciousness the brightness faded, the colors paled, and grim menace crossed all, like the dark lines of Fraunhofer. To be chosen, loved, wooed and won exclusively for herself, irrespective of all extraneous appurtenances and advantages, is the supreme hope innate in every woman, and the dread that her wealth might invest her with charms not intrinsic, had made Leo unusually distrustful of the motives of her numerous suitors. That Leighton Douglass loved the woman, not the heiress, she knew beyond the possibility of cavil or doubt, and when, after mature deliberation, she promised her hand to Mr. Dunbar, she had felt equally sure that no mercenary consideration biased his choice or inspired his professions of attachment.
For a nature so proudly poised, so averse to all impulsive manifestations of emotion, her affections were surprisingly warm and clinging, and she loved him with all the depth and fervor of her tender, generous heart; hence the slow torture of her humiliation in the hour of disenchantment. To women who love is given a sixth sense, a subtile instinct whereby, as in an occult alembic, they discern the poison that steals into their wine of joy; so Leo was not long in ignorance that her coveted kingdom belonged by right of conquest to another, and that she reigned only nominally and by courtesy.
The evil we most abhor generally espies us afar off, chases tirelessly, crouches at our feet, grimacing triumphantly at our impotence to escape its loathsome clutches; and Leo's pride bled sorely in the realization that she had sold her hand and heart for base counterfeit equivalents. In a crisis of keen disappointment, only very noble natures can remain strictly just, yet in arraigning her lover for disloyalty, this sorrowing woman abstained from casting all the blame upon him. He had not intentionally deceived her, had not deliberately betrayed her trust; he was the unwilling victim of an inexplicable fascination against which she felt assured he had struggled sullenly and persistently; and which, in destroying the beautiful edifice of their mutual hopes, offered him nothing but humiliation in exchange.
Standing to-day beside the pyramid of scarlet geraniums, and velvety, gold-powdered begonias in the centre of the octagonal room, where the warm Spring sun shone down through the dome, falling aslant on the great snowy owl and the rose-colored cockatoo smoothing their plumes on the top of the glittering brass cages—Leo contrasted the luxurious and elegant details of her lovely home with the grim and bleak cell where, in shame and ignominy, dwelt the young stranger who had stolen her throne. A beggar by the road-side had filched from the queen in her palace, her crown and sceptre, and the pomp and splendor of royal surroundings only mocked and emphasized an empty sham. Merely a trifle paler than usual, and somewhat heavy-eyed from acquaintance with midnight vigils, she proudly bore her new burden of grief with her wonted easy grace; but the pretty mouth was compressed into harder, narrower lines, and the delicate nose dilated in a haughtier curve. Sooner or later we all learn the wisdom of the unwelcome admonition: "Fortune sells what we believe she gives."
For two months Leo's relations with Mr. Dunbar had been distinctly strained, and while both carefully avoided any verbal attempt at explanation, her manner had grown more distant, his more scrupulously courteous, but pre-occupied, guarded and cold. Knowing that abdication was inevitable, she slowly revolved the best method of release, which promised the least sacrifice of womanly dignity, and the greatest economy of unpleasantness on the part of her betrothed.
During the week of the trial, she had seen him but twice, and immediately after he had been summoned to attend some suit in New Orleans, and had hurriedly bidden her adieu in the presence of others. With punctilious regularity he wrote studiedly polished, graceful yet merely friendly letters, and like ice morsels they slowly widened the glacier creeping between the two.
To her council she admitted only her bruised pride, her bleeding heart, her relentless incorruptible conscience; and over the conclusion, she shed no tears, made no moan, allowed no margin for pity. Early on that Spring morning, she had received a glowing sheaf of La France and Duchess de Brabant roses, accompanied by a brief note announcing Mr. Dunbar's return, and requesting an interview at noon. The tone of her reply was markedly cordial, and after offering congratulations upon his birthday, she begged his acceptance of a souvenir made for the occasion by her own hands, a dainty "bit of embroidery which she flattered herself, he would value for the sake of the donor."
Who doubts that Vashti made a most elaborate toilette, on that day of humiliation, when discarded and discrowned she trailed her royal robes for the last time across the marble courts of Shushan, going forth to make room for Queen Esther? Amid the loops of lace at her throat, and into the jewelled clasp of her belt, Leo had fastened the exquisite roses, noting the perfect harmony of her costume, as she smoothed the folds of the sapphire velvet robe which she knew that Mr. Dunbar particularly admired. The lofty, beautiful room was aglow with rich color from oriental rugs strewn about the marble floor, from masses of hyacinths and crimson camellias in stands, baskets, vases; from brilliant tropical birds flitting to and fro; and through the gilt wire vista of the aviary, the fountain in the peristyle beyond threw up its silvery hands to arrest attention, and softly beat time to the music of the gold and green canaries. The large white owl with wide, prescient, berylline eyes, rose suddenly, and on slow wings circled round and round, flying gradually to the ceiling of the dome, then swooped back to its perch; and the Siberian hound, a huge, dun-hued creature, lifted his head from the velvet rug and rubbed it against his mistress' dress.
As the sound of a step she knew so well, rang in the vestibule, the blood leaped to Leo's cheeks, but she walked quickly forward, and met her visitor just beneath the "Salve" in the scroll of olives, putting out her hands across the onyx table with its red and black bowl of violets. Thus at arm's length, she held him a moment.
"I am very glad to see you; and I wish you a happy birthday, hoping your new year may be as bright as the sun that ushers it in; and as full of fragrance as these lovely roses, which I wear in honor of the day."
Hand in hand, she smiled up into his handsome face, and certainly he had never looked more kingly, more worthy of her homage.
"Thank you, dear Leo. The light and sweetness of my future can be blotted out, only by losing you. You must be the fulfilment of your own kind wishes."
He raised her left hand, kissed it lightly, and as she withdrew her fingers and resumed her seat, in front of an ottoman ablaze with a tangled mass of brilliant Berlin wool, he sat down at her side.
Ere she was aware of his intention, he pushed the ottoman beyond her reach, and dexterously catching her hand, took the gold thimble from her finger and dropped it into his vest pocket.
"Perish the fetich of needle-work, crochet and knitting! To-day at least it shall not come between us;—and I claim your eyes, your undivided attention. Now tell me how many of my rivals, how many audacious suitors you have held at bay, by these gay Penelope webs woven in my absence?"
"Has Ulysses the right to be curious? Should not memories of Calypso incline him to unlock the fetters of Penelope?"
"Did she ever for one instant deem the silken cords she hugged to her loyal, tender heart—fetters? Sweet, patient incarnation of unquestioning fidelity, she stands the eternal antithesis of Mrs. Caudle. From Kittie's letter, I inferred you were not well; but certainly, my dear Leo, I never saw you look more lovely than to-day."
"Just now Kittie's perceptions are awry, dazzled by the rose light that wrap? her world. Has Prince arrived?"
"Yes, he came yesterday, and my little sister is entirely and overwhelmingly happy, for he is literally her Prince. Physically he is much improved; has developed surprisingly, but has the shy, taciturn manner of a student, and is, I fear, a hopeless bookworm."
"Why should his literary taste disquiet you? He went to Germany to foster his scholarly inclination."
"Why? Why should a man apprentice himself to a carpenter, and become an expert joiner, when he can never obtain the tools requisite to enable him to work successfully? His aspirations run along the grooves of science; and after dear little Kittie, his favorite Goddess is Biology. Trained in the laboratory of a German scientist, where every imaginable facility for researches in vivisection, and for the investigation of certain biological problems was afforded him, he lands in America empty-handed, and behold my carpenter minus tools."
"Having fitted himself for the profession, you surely will not attempt now to discourage or dissuade him."
"The logic of impecuniosity will doubtless accomplish more than the dissuasion of friends. Microscopic inspection of red and white corpuscles, of virus, tissues, protoplasm and chlorophyl is probably very interesting to lovers of microbes, and students of segmentation, but such abstract pursuits appertain to purple and fine linen. A profession means much; but ability to practise, infinitely more. Just now the paramount problem is, how Prince can best make his bread. Six months ago, he was prospectively so rich that he could indulge the whim of blowing scientific soap-bubbles labelled with abstruse symbols; at present, necessity directs his attention to paying his board bills."
"I thought a liberal allowance had been settled upon him, and ample provision made for his future?"
"So there certainly was, on paper; but the destruction of the record invalidated the gift."
"All the world knows that he has the rights of an adopted son."
"All the world knows equally well, that failing to produce the will, Prince has lost his legacy, and must enlist in the army of 'bread-winners'."
"Then what becomes of 'Elm Bluff' and its fine estate?"
"They descend in the line decreed alike by law and nature, to the nearest blood relation."
Leo felt the blood reddening her throat and cheeks, but under the quick glance of her hazel eyes, his handsome face always en garde showed no embarrassing consciousness. Fearful of silence, she said in a perplexed, inconsequent tone:
"How manifestly unjust. Poor Kittie!"
"Why poor Kittie? Her beaming face is eloquent repudiation of your pity, and she verily believes her blond-headed, scholarly Prince a bountiful equivalent for all Croesus' belongings. Rich little Kittie! After all, where genuine love reigns, worldly environment matters comparatively little; love makes happiness, and happiness is the reconciler."
A throb of pain shook the woman's heart as she realized the bitter truth that he spoke from an experience born out of season: that he was athirst for that which her fortune, her love, her own fair, graceful self could never give him.
She looked at him, with an arch smile lighting her face, but he saw the trembling of her lips, noted the metallic ring in her voice.
"'Et in Arcadia Ego?' Recent associations have rendered you idyllic. I can recall a period when 'love in a cottage' was the target that challenged the keenest arrows of your satire. Rich little Kittie has my warmest congratulations. Will Prince remain in X—?"
"How can he? The demand here for amateur scientists is not sufficiently encouraging; and I rather think he gravitates toward a college professorship, which might at least supply him abundantly with rabbits, turtles, frogs and guinea-pigs for biological manipulation and experiment. One of the gay balloons floating through his mind, is a series of lectures to be delivered in the large cities. Heredity is his pet hobby, and he proposes to canter it under the saddle of Weismann's theory (whatever that may be), expounding it to scientific Americans. As yet no plans have crystallized. His allowance was paid semi-annually, but of course it failed him last January, and no alternative presents itself but some attempt to utilize his technical lore. There is a vacancy in the faculty of C—-University, and I shall write at once to the board of trustees."
Like a moth, Leo flitted closer to the flame.
"Will he make no attempt to secure his rights?"
"He is too wise to waste his time in so fruitless an endeavor."
"Have you advised him to submit tamely to the deprivation of his fortune?"
"He has not consulted me, but Wolverton, who is his cousin, convinced him of the futility of any legal proceedings."
"Does General Darrington's granddaughter understand that Prince's career will be ruined for want of the money to which he is entitled?"
"I am not acquainted with the views Gen'l Darrington's granddaughter entertains concerning Prince, as I have not seen her since the trial ended. Have you?"
Each looked steadily at the other, and under the gleam of his eyes, hers fell, and her color flickered.
"I went once, but was denied admission. Even Sister Serena sees her no longer. You doubtless know that she is recovering slowly from a severe attack of illness."
"I have heard nothing since the night she was convicted and sentenced. To-day I found a message at my office from Singleton, asking me to call at my earliest convenience at the penitentiary, on a matter of legal business. To what it refers, I know not, as I came immediately here."
There was a brief silence, in which his gaze mercilessly searched her fair, proud face; then with a supreme effort she laid her hand suddenly on his, and looked up smiling:
"I believe I was growing very impatient over your prolonged absence in New Orleans. Time dragged dismally, and I was never more rejoiced than when I received your last letter, and knew that I should see you to-day. Lennox, I have set my heart on something, which only your consent and acquiescence will secure to me. I am about to ask for a mammoth sugar-plum that has dangled temptingly before my eyes for nearly a year, and I shall enjoy it the more if you bestow it graciously. Can you be generous and indulge my selfish whim?"
He felt a quiver in the cold fingers over which his warm hand closed, saw the throbbing of the artery in her white throat, the ebbing of the scarlet in lips that bravely held their coaxing, smiling curves, and he knew that the crisis he had long foreseen was drawing near.
Leaning closer, he looked down into her brown eyes. The end must come; but he would not precipitate it. Like Francis at Pavia, he acknowledged to himself that all was lost, save honor.
"Whenever my Leo convinces me she can be selfish, I promise all that she can possibly ask; but the selfishness must first be incontrovertibly established."
He had never been dearer to her than at that moment, when his brilliant eyes seemed to search her soul and magnetize her; yet she did not falter and the aching of her heart was a goad to her will.
"You merely shower lesser sugar-plums, intending they shall surfeit. Lennox, you know how often I have longed to make the journey to Greece, Asia Minor and Egypt; you remember I have repeatedly expressed the wish? You—"
"Pardon me, sweetheart, but this is the first time I ever heard it." "You forget. At last the consummation unfolds itself as smoothly as the fourth act of a melodrama. My friend and schoolmate, Alma Cutting, of New York, invites a small party of ladies and gentlemen to accompany her in a cruise through the Levant, on her father's new and elegant steam yacht 'Cleopatra'. I have pressing letters from Alma and Mr. Cutting, kindly urging me to join them in New York by the first of May, at which time they expect to start on a preliminary cruise through the North and Baltic seas; drifting southward so as to reach Sicily and Malta as soon as cool weather permits. Do you wonder that so charming and picturesque a tour tempts me sorely?"
Unconsciously she had hurried her enunciation, but imperturbable as the bronze he resembled, Mr. Dunbar listened; merely passing his left arm around her, drawing her resisting form closer to him, holding her firmly.
"I am waiting for the selfish aspect of this scheme, else I should answer at once, the coveted sugar-plum is yours, and we will make the tour whenever you like, with the minor difference of mere details; we will go in our own yacht."
She caught her breath, and for an instant the world swam in a burst of dazzling light. Beyond the reach of the usurper's witchery, was it not possible that she might regain the alienated heart? Love chanted, it is worth the trial; take him away, win him back. Pride sternly set foot upon this spark of hope, with cruel insistence answering: his love has never been yours; defrauded of the diamond, will you accept and patiently wear paste? The quick revulsion was tantalizing as would have been the vanishing of the ram from Abraham's gladdened sight; the swift withdrawal of Diana's stag into the miraculous cloud at Aulis.
"That would be too severe a tax upon your good nature and indulgence, and involves a sacrifice of your professional plans, which I certainly am not so intensely and monstrously selfish as to permit you to make. I am so well aware of the reasons that necessitate your remaining in America, in order to secure the appointment you are laboring to obtain, that I refuse the sugar plum if bought with your disappointment."
"Selfishness not established; you must plead on some better ground. Suppose that the happiness of the woman who has done me the honor to promise me her hand, is just now my supreme aim, paramount to every other ambitious scheme; and that to insure it, I hazard all else? Remember the privilege of choice is mine."
It was the instinct not of affection, but of honor straining hard to hold him to his allegiance, and her proud spirit thrilled under the consciousness of his motive in striving to spare her. A crimson spot burned on each cheek, a spark kindled in the soft, tender eyes. She struggled to free herself, but his clasp tightened.
"Conceding the generosity that would impel you to immolate your feelings, in order to gratify my willies, I decline the sacrifice. You must indulge my desire to receive my sugar plum in the bonbonniere of the 'Cleopatra'."
He pressed her sunny head against his shoulder, and rested his cheek on hers.
"Is it my Leo's wish to leave me, to go alone?"
"Yes, to accompany Alma."
"For an absence of indefinite duration?"
"Certainly for a year; possibly longer; but you must be gracious in yielding. If you really desire to promote my happiness, let me go feeling that you consent freely."
He comprehended fully all that he was surrendering, the noble, pure, devoted heart; the refining, elevating companionship, the control of a liberal fortune, the proud distinction of calling her his wife; and yet above the refrain of many mingled regrets, he felt an infinite relief that he had been spared the responsibility of the estrangement.
"Whatever your happiness demands, I cannot refuse to concede, but you can scarcely require me to receive 'graciously' the only construction I can possibly place upon your request; that I am no longer an essential element in your happiness."
Knowing that he owed her every possible reparation, he was resolved to shield her womanly pride from any additional wounds. He withdrew his encircling arm, released her hand, walked to the end of the aviary, and stood watching the shimmer of the fountain, where two of the ring-doves held their wings aslant to catch the spray. After some moments she joined him, and laid her slender fingers on his arm.
"Dear Lennox, I propose at least a temporary change in our relations, and even at the risk of incurring your displeasure, I prefer to be perfectly frank. When you asked me to become your wife, neither of us contemplated the long separation involved in this cruise abroad, which I ardently desire for many reasons to make; and I am unwilling to fetter either you or myself by an engagement during my absence. I want to be entirely free, bound by no promise; and could I ask release, unless you accepted yours?"
He put his palm under her chin, and lifted the sweet, pure face, forcing her to return his gaze.
"Have I forfeited your confidence?"
"No. Lennox. I have an indestructible faith in your honor."
Her clear, truthful eyes assured him she acquitted him of all intention to violate in any jot or tittle the forms of his allegiance.
"You deem me incapable of intentionally betraying your noble trust?"
"I do—indeed I do."
"My peerless Leo, have you ceased to love me?"
She shut her eyes an instant, and the delicate, flower face blanched; the treacherous lips quivered:
"Who has supplanted me in your heart, for once I know it was all my own?"
"Lennox, you are still more to me than all the world beside; but I ask time, I must be free at present. Let me go away untrammelled; consider yourself as unfettered, as before our engagement, and when the year expires, if you deem me absolutely necessary to your happiness, you can readily ask a renewal of your bonds, and I can be sure by that time whether my happiness depends upon becoming your wife. After to-day I shall not wear your ring; and if, while away, I send it back to you, interpret it as a final decision that in the future we can only be very faithful and attached friends. I have sadly mistaken your character if you refuse me release from a compact which I now certainly desire to cancel."
A shadow fell over his face, and he sighed heavily; but whether the utterance of regret or relief she never knew.
"Your heart shall no longer be burdened by bonds which I can loosen. Because your peace and happiness are more to me than my own, I grant you complete release. When my ring affronts you with disagreeable memories of a past, which will always be hallowed and precious to me, as the one beautiful dream that brightened my youth, that crowned me for a season at least with the trust and love of the noblest woman I have ever known, do not return it; let it slip from the hand it made my own, and find in the blue sea a grave as deep as the chasm—that you will—shall divide our lives. I honor you too profoundly to question your course; yet there is an explanation which I owe to myself as well as to you. Leo, no man can ever be worthy to call you wife, but perhaps I am less unworthy than you probably deem me? While in New Orleans, I wrote a long letter, which I afterward decided not to send by mail. I brought it to-day, intending to put it into your hand."
He took from the inside pocket of his coat, an envelope addressed to her, broke the seal and pointed at the head of the sheet to the date, some three weeks earlier. She surmised by that wonderful instinct which God grants women as armor against the slow, ponderous aggressiveness of man's tyranny, the nature of its contents. Had she merely anticipated by an hour his petition for release? Even the bitterness of this conjecture was neutralized by the testimony it bore to his integrity of purpose, his unwillingness to conceal his disloyalty. When temples are shattered and altars crumble, we save our idol and flee into the wilderness, exulting in the assurance that no clay feet defile it.
Leo shook her head and gently put aside the proffered letter.
"You wrote it for the eyes of one who had pledged herself to bear your name; the revocation of that promise annuls my right to read it."
Mr. Dunbar understood the apprehension that made her shiver slightly. She was marching away proudly with flying colors, having dictated the terms of his capitulation. Should he suffer the imputation of treachery and intentional deception, rather than turn the tide of battle, trail her banner in the dust, and add to her pain by mortally stabbing that intense womanly pride which now swallowed up every emotion of her soul?
The more thoroughly chivalrous a man's nature, the keener his craving for the honors of war.
"Because henceforth our paths diverge, I prefer to offer you my exculpation, desiring amid the general wreck, to retain at least your undiminished esteem. Will you read my confession?"
"No; that would entail the necessity of absolution, and I might not be able to command the requisite amiability, should occasion demand it. We have shaken hands with the past, and you owe me nothing now but pardon for any pain I may have given you, and occasional kind thoughts when the ocean divides us. I promise you my unwavering esteem; in exchange grant me your cordial friendship."
She was growing strangely white, and her breath fluttered, but eyes and lips came to the rescue with a steadfast smile.
"You allow me no alternative but submission to your will; yet remember, dear Leo, that in surrendering your pledged faith, I hold myself as free from any intentional forfeiture, as on the day you gave me your promise."
"In token that I believe it, I salute and wear your roses."
She bent her head, touched with her lips the flowers at her throat, and smiling bravely, held out both hands. He took them, joined the palms, and kissed her softly, reverently on the forehead.
"God bless you, dear Leo. To have known so intimately a nature as noble and exalted as yours, has left an indelible impression for good upon my life, which must henceforth be very kinely. Good-bye."
With beat of drum, and blare of bugles, pride claimed the victory; but as Leo watched the tall, fine form pass out from the beautiful home she had fondly hoped to share with him, she clasped her hands across her lips to stifle the cry that told how dearly she had bought the semblance of triumph.
When the quick echo of his horse's hoofs died away, she went swiftly to her writing desk.
"Dear Uncle: Please send the enclosed telegram to Mr. Cutting. I had a sad but decisive interview with Mr. Dunbar, and after obtaining his consent to my tour, we thought it best to annul our engagement. Tell Aunt Patty, and spare me all questions. I have not been hasty, and I asked to be released, because I have deemed it best to leave him entirely free."
Sealing the note she rang for Justine.
"Take this to my uncle's study, and tell Andrew to bring my phaeton to the door at four o'clock. Until then, see that no one disturbs me."
With averted face she held out the envelope, then the curtain fell; and in solitude the aching heart went over the fatal field, silently burying its slain hopes, realizing the bitterness of its Cadmean victory.
"Certainly, Prince, I understand your motives and applaud your decision, which is creditable alike to your heart and head. At father's death he confided Kittie to my guardianship, and I cannot consent to her scheme of going abroad with you, until your studies have been completed. She has a few thousands, it is true, but her slim fortune would not suffice to accomplish your scientific object, and even if it were larger, you are quite right to decline with thanks'. Kittie must be patient, and you must be firm, for you are both quite young enough to afford to wait a few years. Loving little heart! She longed to aid you, and this was the only method that presented itself. If we can secure the commission I mentioned last week, your marriage need only be deferred until Kittie is twenty-one. After all, Prince, when you bartered your name and became a Darrington, for sake of this fair heritage, you only accomplished early in life that into which sooner or later all men are betrayed, the sale of a birthright for a mess of pottage; the clutching at the shadowy present, thereby losing the substantial future."
"On that score I indulge no regrets. General Darrington was the only father I ever knew, and since it was his wish, I shall gladly wear the name with which he endowed me, in grateful recognition of the affection, confidence and generous kindness he lavished upon me. That the rich legacy he designed for me has been diverted into the channel of all others most repugnant to him, is my misfortune, not his fault; for ho took every possible precaution to secure my inheritance. Had I been indeed his own son, he could not have done more, and I have a son's right to mourn sincerely over his cruel and untimely end."
The two men sat on the front steps at "Elm Bluff", and as Prince's eyes wandered over the exceeding beauty of the "great greenery" of velvet lawn, the stately, venerable growth of forest trees, wearing the adolescent mask of tender young foliage, the outlying fields flanking the park, the sunny acres now awave with crinkling mantles of grain, he sighed very heavily at the realization of all that adverse fortune had snatched away.
Blond as Baldur of the Voluspa, with a wealth of golden brown beard veiling his lips and chin, he appeared far more than six years the junior of the clear cut, smoothly shaven face that belonged to his prospective brother-in-law; and their countenances contrasted as vividly as the portraiture of bland phlegmatic Norse Aesir, with some bronze image of Mercury, as keenly alert as his sacred symbolic cocks.
Strolling leisurely through the flowery decoying fields, that beckon all around the outskirts of the vast, lonely wilderness of positive Science, the dewy freshness of the youthful amateur still clung to Prince's garments; even as souvenirs gathered by flitting Summer tourists prattle of glimpses of wild, towering fastnesses, where strewn bones of martyr pioneers whiten as monuments of failure. In the guise of a green-kirtled enchantress, with wild poppies and primroses wreathed above her starry eyes, Science was luring him through the borderland of her kingdom, toward that dark, chill, central realm where, transformed as a gnome, she clutches her votaries, plunges into the primeval abyss-the matrix of time—and sets them the Egyptian task of weighing, analyzing the Titanic "potential" energy, the infinitesimal atomic engines, the "kinetic" force, the chemical motors, the subtle intangible magnetic currents, whereby in the thundering, hissing, whirling laboratory of Nature, nebulae grow into astral and solar systems; the prophetic floral forms of crystals become, after disintegration, instinct with organic vegetable germs,—and the Sphinx Life—blur-eyed—deaf, blind, sets forth on her slow evolutionary journey through the wastes of aeons; mounting finally into that throne of rest fore-ordained through groping ages, crowned with the soul of Shakspeare, sceptred with the brain of Newton.
Like a child with some Chinese puzzle far beyond the grasp of his smooth, uncreased baby brain, Prince played in unfeigned delight with his problem: "Given the Universe, to explain the origin and permanence of Law," without any assistance from the exploded hypothesis of a law maker. Equipped with hammer, chisel, microscope, spectroscope and crucibles, he essayed the solution, undismayed by memories of his classics, of Sisyphus and Tantalus; seeing only the nodding poppies, the gilded primroses of his dancing goddess.
Will he discover ere long, that a lesser riddle would have been to stand in the manufactory of the Faubourg St. Marcel, and abolishing the pattern of the designers, the directing touch of Lebrun, the restraint of the heddle, demand that the blind, insensate automatic warp and woof should originate, design and trace as well as mechanically execute the weaving of the marvellous tapestries?
"Prince. I learn from Kittie that you visited the penitentiary last week."
"Yes. I could not resist the curiosity to see the author of my recent misfortunes; but I regret the sight. I am haunted by the painful recurrence of that blanched, hopeless, beautiful face, which reminds me of a pathetic picture I saw abroad—Charlotte Corday peering through the bars of her dungeon window."
"With a difference surely! Marat's murderess gloried in her crime; an innocent prisoner languishes yonder, in that stone cage beyond the river."
Mr. Dunbar pointed over the billowing sea of green tree tops, toward an irregular dark shadow that blurred the northern sky line; and his eagle eyes darkened as they discerned the prison outlines.
"Did you ever see a sketch of Rossetti's 'Pandora'?" asked Prince.
"The face is somewhat like that young prisoner's; the same mystical, prescient melancholy in the wide eyes, as if she realized she was predestine to work woe. I am heartily glad I was spared the pain of the prosecution, for had I been here, compassion would almost have paralyzed the effort to secure justice; and now, while my loss is irreparable, the law insures punishment for father's wrongs. As I walk about this dear old place, which he intended I should possess, and recall all that we had planned, it seems hard indeed that I find myself so unable to execute his wishes. After a few days, when I shall leave it, I suppose that for the next five years the house will become an owl roost and den of bats and spiders. On Thursday I go temporarily to Charleston to visit my uncle, Doctor Thornton, who offers me a place in his office, and a home at his hearthstone."
"Why specifically for five years?"
"That is the term of her imprisonment. At the expiration of her sentence, I presume Gen. Darringtor's grand-daughter will hasten to take possession of her dearly-bought domain."
A derisive smile unbent the tight lines of the lawyer's mouth.
"Come here to live? She would sooner spring into the jaws of hell!"
Prince Darrington's large light eyes opened wide, in a questioning stare.
"If she is innocent, as you believe, why should she shrink from occupying the family homestead? If she be guilty, which I (having seen her) cannot credit, there is no probability that remorseful scruples would influence her. No conceivable contingency can ever again make it my home, and on Thursday I go away forever."
"That which a man claims and expects, generally deserts and betrays him; it is the unforeseen, the unexpected that comes in the form of benediction. Time is the master magician, and 'Tout went a qui sait attendre'. Kittie may yet trail her velvet robe as chatelaine through these noble old halls and galleries. Come to my office at ten o'clock tomorrow; I may have an answer to my letter to Doctor Balfour."
Six months before, Mr. Dunbar had walked down these steps, mounted his horse and hurried away to keep tryst with the fair, noble woman, whose promised hand was the guerdon of ambitious schemes, and years of patient, persistent wooing. To-day he rode slowly to a parting interview, which would sever the last link that Bad so long held their lives in tender association. Whatever of regret mingled with the contemplation of his ruined matrimonial castle, lay hidden so deep in the debris, that no faintest reflection was visible in his inscrutable face.
When he reached the railway station where a special car containing a small party, awaited the arrival of the north bound train that would attach it to its sinuous length, a number of friends had assembled to say good-bye to the departing favorite. The announcement of Miss Gordon's extended yachting trip, had excited much comment in social circles, and while people wondered at the prolongation of the engagement, none but her immediate family suspected that the betrothal had been cancelled.
Leo's wonted gracious composure betrayed no hint of the truth, and she greeted Mr. Dunbar with outstretched hand and a friendly smile.
"I am indebted to your kind courtesy, Lennox, for the most auspicious omen at the outset of my long journey; and I shall not attempt to tell you how cordially I appreciate your tasteful souvenir. Your roses are exquisite, and fragrant as the message they bring me."
She glanced up at a large horseshoe made of her favorite pink roses, which had been hung by a silver wire directly over the seat she occupied.
"Will you give me your interpretation of their message?"
He swept aside a shawl and reticule, and sat down beside her.
"It is written legibly all over their lovely petals. You wish me a rose-strewn itinerary, all conceivable forms of 'good luck'; as though you stood on tip-toe and shouted after me: 'Gluck auf.' As a happy augury, I accept it. Like the old Romans, you have offered up for me a dainty sacrifice to propitiate Domiduca—the goddess who grants travellers a safe return home."
"Meanwhile I hope you see quite as clearly, that the thorns have all been stripped off and set thickly along my path?"
Her smiling eyes met his steadily, and the brave heart showed no quailing.
"If I imagine that complimentary inference is written between the lines, is it not pardonable to welcome the assurance that you will sometimes be sharply pricked into remembrance of your absent friend?"
At this moment, with clanging bells and thundering wheels the train swept in, and Leo rose to exchange last greetings with numerous friends Judge Dent and Miss Patty accompanied her as far as New York, and when the car had been coupled at the end of the long line, and all was in readiness, Mr. Dunbar took his companion's hand.
"When we parted last, I was angry and hasty. Now I desire to make one farewell request. You ask a release from our engagement. I grant it. I hold you perfectly free; but I will consider myself bound, pledged to you until the expiration of one year. Nothing you can say shall alter my determination; but twelve months hence, if you can trust your happiness to my hands, send me this message: 'I wear your ring.' Once more I offer you my letter of confession. Will you receive it now; will you look into the heart which I have bared for your scrutiny?"
"No. I voluntarily forfeited that right, when I asked my freedom. If your letter contains aught that would change my high regard, my confidence, my affectionate interest in your happiness, I am doubly anxious to avoid acquaintance with its contents. You have long held the first place in my esteem, why seek to impair my valuation of your character? Let us be friends, now and forever."
"Remember you broke your fetters; I hug mine—a year longer. Forget me if you will; but Leo, when your heart refuses to be strangled, suffer its cry to reach me. Whatever the future may decree, you shall always be my noble ideal of exalted womanhood, my own proud, sensitive, unselfish Leo; and from the depth of my heart I wish you a pleasant tour, and a safe and speedy return."
A premonitory thrill shook the ear, and dropping the fingers that lay cold as marble in his, Mr. Dunbar swung himself to the station platform. The train moved off, but he knew that it would return in switching, and so he stood hat in hand.
As it slowly glided back, he stepped close to the open window, and Leo's last look at the man she had loved so long and well, showed him with the sun shining on his superb form, and coldly locked face. He saw her hazel eyes dim in their mist of unshed tears, and the sweet, blanched lips trembling from the spasm that held her heart. She leaned down, laid her hand on his shoulder.
"Dear Lennox, open your hand carefully; there—hold it close. Good-bye."
Into his palm she dropped something; their faces almost touched, eyes met, heart looked into heart; then Leo smiled and drew back, lowering her veil, and as the cars shivered, lurched, moved on, Mr. Dunbar put on his hat and unclosed his fingers.
The white fire leaping in the diamonds destroyed the last vestige of a betrothal, that he had once regarded as the summum bonum of his successful career; consumed in its incipiency the farewell compact, which his regard for Leo's womanly pride, and an honorable desire to cling as closely as possible to at least the loyal forms of allegiance, had prompted him to impose upon himself.
Apparently unwounded, she would sail away victrix, with gay pennons flying through distant summer seas, while he remained, stranded on the reefs of adverse fate, a target for cynical society batteries, a victim of the condolence of sympathizing friends.
In reality he felt the benignant touch of fortune still upon his head, and thanked her heartily that Leo had taken the initiative; that no overt act of disloyalty blurred his escutcheon, and above all, that he had been spared the humiliation of acknowledging his inability to resist the strange fascination that dragged him from his allegiance, as Auroras swing the needle from the pole. He did not attempt to underrate the vastness of his loss, nor to condone the folly which he designated as "infernal idiocy"; yet conscience acquitted him of intentionally betraying the trust a noble woman had reposed; and his vanity was appeased by the conviction that though Leo had cast him out of her life, she went abroad because she loved him supremely. Putting the ring in his pocket, he turned away as from a grave that had closed forever over that which once held ail the promise of life.
Three hours later, that carefully written letter acknowledging to his fiancee that his heart had rebelliously swung from its moorings, under the magnetic strain of another woman, and asking her tender forbearance to aid him in conquering a weakness for which he blushed, had been reduced to a drab shadow on his office hearth; and the lawyer was engrossed by the preparation of a testamentary document, which embraced several pages of legal cap. Again and again he read it over, pausing now and then as if striving to recall some invisible scroll, and at last as if satisfied with the result, placed it in an envelope, thrust it into his pocket, and once more mounted his horse. The ceaseless and intense yearning to see again the young stranger, who seemed destined to play the role of Ate in so many lives, would no longer be denied; and at a swift gallop he took the road leading to the penitentiary.
Four or five carriages were drawn up in front of the iron gate, and when, in answer to the bell, Jarvis, the underwarden, came forward to admit Mr. Dunbar, he informed him that the State Inspectors were making a tour of investigation through the building.
"I want to see Singleton."
"Just now he is engaged showing the inspectors around, and they generally turn everything upside down, and inside out. If you will step into the office and wait awhile, he will be at leisure."
"Where is Mrs. Singleton?"
"She has just gone into the women's workroom. One of the sewing gang is epileptic, and fell in a fit a few minutes ago, so I sent for her. Come this way and I will find her."
The visitor hesitated, drew back.
"Is Miss Brentano there also?"
"No. She is still on the infirmary list."
Jarvis opened the door of a long, well-lighted but narrow room, in the centre of which was a table extending to the lower end; and on each side of it sat women busily engaged in stitching and binding shoes, and finishing off various articles of clothing; while two were ticketing a pile of red flannel and blue hickory shirts. Four sewing-machines stood near the wall where grated windows admitted sunshine, and their hymn to Labor was the only sound that broke the brooding silence. The room was scrupulously clean and tidy, and the inmates, wearing the regulation uniform of blue-striped homespun, appeared comparatively neat; but sordid, sullen, repulsively coarse and brutish were many of the countenances bent over the daily task, and now and then swift, furtive glances from downcast eyes betrayed close kinship with lower animals.
At one of the machines sat a woman whose age could not have exceeded twenty-eight years, with a figure of the Juno type, and a beautiful dark face where tawny chatoyant eyes showed the baleful fire of a leopardess. Winding a bobbin, she leaned back in her chair, with the indolent, haughty grace of a sultana, and when she held the bobbin up against the light for an instant, her slender olive hand and rounded wrist might have belonged to Cleopatra.
"Who is that woman winding thread?"
"Her name is Iva Le Bougeois, but we call her the 'Bloody Duchess'. She was sent up here two years ago, from one of the lower counties, for wholesale butchery. Seems her husband got a divorce, and was on the eve of marrying again. She posted herself about the second wedding, and managed to make her way into the parlor, where she hid behind the window curtains. Just as the couple stood up to be married, she cut her little boy's throat with a razor, dragged the body in front of the bride, and before any one could move, drew a revolver, blew the top of her husband's head off, and then shot herself. The ball passed through her shoulder and broke her arm, but as you see, she was spared, as many another wildcat has been. Her friends and counsel tried to prove insanity, but the plea was too thin; so she landed here for a term of twenty years, and it will take every day of it to cut her claws. She is as hard as flint, and her heart is as black as a wolf's mouth."
"Medea's wrongs generally end in Medea's crimes," answered the visitor; watching the defiant poise of the small shapely head, covered with crisp, raven locks. Having less acquaintance with the classics than with the details of prison discipline, the under-warden stared.
After a moment he pointed to a diminutive figure standing at the end of the long table, and engaged in folding some white garments.
"See that pretty little thing, with the yellow head? Shouldn't you say she looks like an angel, and ought to be put on the altar to hear the prayers of sinners? Would you believe she is a mother? Arson is her hobby. She is a regular 'fire-bug'. She was adopted by a German couple, and one night, when the old farmer had come home with the money paid him for his sheep and hogs, she stole the last cent he had, pocketed all the oold frau's silver spoons, poured kerosene around the floor, set fire to the house in several places, locked the door and ran for her life. A peddler happened to seek quarters for the night, and finding the place on fire, managed to break through the windows and save the old folks from being roasted alive. When the case came to trial it was proved that she had set fire to two other buildings, but on account of her youth had escaped prosecution. They could not hang her, though she deserved the gallows, and her child was born three months after she came here. Looks innocent as a wax doll doesn't she? Eve Werneth she calls herself; and she is well named after the original mother of all sin. She is Satan's own imp, and we chain her every night, for she boasts that when things grow tiresome to her she always burns her way out. I think she is the worst case we have, except the young mulatto—I don't see her here just now—who was sent up for life, for poisoning a baby she was hired to nurse. There is Mrs. Singleton."
The warden's wife came forward with a vial in one hand, and at sight of the visitor, paused and held out the other.
"How'dy do, Mr. Dunbar. You are waiting to see Ned?"
"I much prefer seeing you, if you have leisure for an interview. Singleton can join us when the inspectors take their leave."
"Very well; come up stairs. Jarvis, send Ned up as soon as you can."
She led the way to the room where her two children were at play, and breaking a ginger cake between them, dragged their toys into one corner, and bade them build block houses, without a riot.
"I have never received even a verbal reply to the note which I requested your husband to place in Miss Brentano's hands."
"Probably you never will. She took cold by being dragged back and forth to court during that freezing weather, and two days after her conviction she was taken ill with pneumonia. First one lung, then the other, and the case took a typhoid form. For six weeks she could not lift her head, and now though she goes about my rooms, and into the yard a little, she is awfully shattered, and has a bad cough, Once when we had scarcely any hope, she asked the doctor to give her no more medicine; said that it would be a mercy to let her die. Poor thing! her proud spirit is as broken as her body, and the thought of being seen seems to torture her. Dyce is the only person whom she allows to come near her."
"Where is she?"
"We were obliged to move her, after she was sentenced, but the doctor said one of those cells down stairs would be certain and quick death for her, with her lungs in such a condition; so we put her in the smallest room on this floor; the last one at the end of the corridor. It is only a closet it is true, but it is right in the angle, and has two narrow slits of windows, one opening south, the other west, and the sunshine gets in. The day after her trial ended, she sent for the sheriff, who happened to be here, and asked him if solitary confinement was not considered a more severe penalty than any other form here? When he told her it was, she said: Then it could not be construed into clemency or favoritism if you ordered me into solitary confinement? Certainly not, he told her. Whereupon she begged him to allow her to be shut up away from the others, as she would sooner sit in the dark and see no human being, than be forced to associate with the horrible, guilty outcasts down stairs. While he and Ned were consulting about her case, she was taken very ill. Of course you know Ned has a good deal of latitude and discretion allowed him, and the doctor is on our side, but even at best, the rules are stern. She takes her meals alone, and the only place where she meets the other convicts—isn't it a shame to call her one!—is the chapel; and even there she is separated, because Ned has given her charge of the organ. Everybody under sentence is obliged to work, but she does not go down into the general sewing room. The superintendent of that department apportions a certain amount of sewing, and her share is sent up daily to her. She really is not able to work, but begged that we should give her some employment."