"She consented to see Mr. Prince Darrington?"
"Oh, no! It was the merest accident that he succeeded in speaking to her. He happened to come the day that I took her out for the first time in the garden, for a little fresh air in the sunshine; and we met him and Ned on the walk. O, Mr. Dunbar! It was pitiful to see her face, when the young man took off his hat, and said:
"'I am General Darrington's adopted son.'
"She was so weak she had been leaning on me, but she threw up her head, and her figure stiffened into steel. 'You imagine that I am the person who robbed you of Gen'l Darrington's fortune? I suffer for crimes I did not commit; and am the innocent victim selected to atone for your injuries. My wrongs are more cruel than yours. You merely lost lands and money. Can you, by the wildest flight of fancy conjecture that aught but disgrace and utter ruin remain for me?' Ned and I walked away; and when we came back she had stepped into the hall, and drawn the inside door between them. He was standing bareheaded, gazing up at her, and she was looking down at him through the open iron lattice, as if he were the real culprit. That night she had a nervous chill that lasted several hours, and we promised that no one should be allowed to see her. Of course the inspectors go everywhere, and when Ned opened her door, I was with her, giving her the tonic the Doctor ordered three times a day. I had prepared her for their visit, but when the gentlemen crowded in, she put her hands over her face and hid it on the table. There was not a syllable uttered, and they walked out quickly."
"Will you do me the kindness to persuade her to see me?"
"I am sure, sir, she will refuse; because she desires most especially to be shielded from your visits."
"Nevertheless, I intend to see her. Please say that I am here, and have brought the papers Mr. Singleton desired me to prepare for her."
Ten minutes elapsed before the warden's wife returned, shaking her head:
"She prefers not seeing you, but thanks you for the paper which she wishes left with Mr. Singleton. When she has read it, Mr. Singleton will probably bring you some message. She hopes you will believe that she is very grateful for your attention to her request."
"Go back and tell her that unless she admits me, she shall never see the paper, for I distinctly decline to put it in any hand but hers; and, moreover, tell her she asked me to obtain for her a certain article which, for reasons best known to herself, she holds very dear. This is her only opportunity to receive it, which must be directly from me. Say that this is the last time I will insist upon intruding, and after to-day she shall not be allowed the privilege of refusing me an audience. I am here solely in her behalf, and I am determined to see her now."
When Mrs. Singleton came back the second time, she appeared unwontedly subdued, perplexed; and her usually merry eyes were gravely fixed with curious intentness upon the face of her visitor.
"The room straight ahead of you, with the door partly open, at the end of this corridor. She sees you 'only on condition that this is to be the final annoyance'. Mr. Dunbar, you were born to tyrannize. It seems to me you have merely to will a thing, in order to accomplish it."
"If that were true, do you suppose I would allow her to remain one hour in this accursed cage of blood-smeared criminals?"
Down the dim corridor he walked slowly, as if in no haste to finish his errand, stepped into the designated cell, and closed the door behind him.
The apartment eight by twelve feet possessed the redeeming feature of a high ceiling, and on either side of the southwest corner wall, a window only two feet wide allowed the afternoon sunshine to print upon the bare floor the shadow of longitudinal iron bars fastened into the stone sills. A narrow bedstead, merely a low black cot of interlacing iron straps, stood against the eastern side, and opposite, a broad shelf, also of iron, ran along the walls and held a tin ewer and basin, a few books, and a pile of clothing neatly folded.
Across the angle niche between the windows a wooden bench had been drawn; in front of it stood a chair and oval table, on which lay some sheets of paper, pen and ink, and a great bunch of yellow jasmine, and wild pink azaleas that lavishly sprinkled the air with their delicate spicery. Pencils, crayons, charcoal and several large squares of cardboard and drawing-paper were heaped at one end of the bench, and beside these sat the occupant of the cell, leaning with folded arms on the table in front of her; and holding in her lap the vicious, ocelot-eyed yellow cat.
Against the shimmering glory of Spring sunshine streaming down upon her, head and throat were outlined like those of haloed martyrs that Mantegna and Sodoma left as imperishable types of patient suffering.
When the visitor came forward to the table that barred nearer approach, she made no attempt to rise, and for a moment both were mute. He saw the noble head shorn of its splendid coronal of braids, and covered thickly with short, waving, bronzed tendrils of silky hair, that held in its glistening mesh the reddish lustre of old gold, and the deep shadows of time-mellowed mahogany. That most skilful of all sculptors, hopeless sorrow, had narrowed to a perfect oval the wan face, waxen in its cold purity; and traced about the exquisite mouth those sad, patient curves that attest suffering which sublimates, that belong alone to the beauty of holiness. Eyes unusually large and shadowy now, beneath their black fringes, were indescribably eloquent with the pathos of a complete, uncomplaining surrender to woes that earth could never cure; and the slender wasted fingers, in their bloodless semi-transparency, might have belonged to some chiselled image of death. Every jot and tittle of the degrading external badges of felony had been meted out, and instead of the mourning garment she had worn in court, her dress to-day was of the coarse dark-blue home-spun checked with brown, which constituted the prison uniform of female convicts.
As Mr. Dunbar noted the solemn repose, the pathetic grace with which she endured the symbols that emblazoned her ignominous doom, a dark red glow suffused his face, a flush of shame for the indignity which he had been impotent to avert.
"Who dared to cut your hair—and thrust that garb upon you? They promised me you should be exempt from brands of felony."
"When one is beaten with many stripes, a blow more or less matters little; is not computed. They kindly tell me that illness and the doctor's commands cost me the loss of my hair; and after all, why should I object to the convict coiffure? Nothing matters any more."
"Why not admit at once that, Bernice-like, you freely offered up your beautiful hair as love's sacrifice?"
He spoke hotly, and an ungovernable rage possessed him as he realized that though so near, and apparently so helpless, she was yet so immeasurably removed, so utterly inaccessible. Her drooping white lids lifted; she looked steadily up at him, and the mournful eyes held no hint of denial. He stretched his hand across the table, and all the gnawing hunger at his heart leaped into his voice, that trembled with entreaty.
"For God's sake give me your hand just once, as proof that you forgive my share in this cruel, dastardly outrage."
"Do not touch me. When we shake hands it must be as seal upon a very sacred compact, which you are not yet ready to make."
She straightened herself, and her hands were removed from the table; fell to stroking the cat lying on her knee.
"What conditions would you impose upon me?"
"Sit down, Mr. Dunbar, and let us transact the necessary business which alone made this interview possible."
With an imperious gesture, befitting some sovereign who reluctantly accords audience, she motioned him to the chair, and as he seated himself his eyes gleamed ominously.
"It pleases you to ignore our past relations?"
"Even so. To-day we meet merely as attorney and client to arrange the final QUID PRO QUO. You have brought the paper?"
"I inferred from your message that you desired as exact a copy as memory permitted. Here it is."
He took from his pocket a long legal envelope.
"I believe you stated that your father originally drew up this paper, and that recently you altered and re-wrote it?"
"Those are the facts relative to it."
"Can you recall the date of the revision?"
"Nearly a year ago. Last May it was signed in the presence of Doctor Ledyard and Colonel Powell, who also signed as witnesses, though ignorant of its contents."
"You offer me this as a correct expression of Gen'l Darrington's wishes regarding the distribution of his estate, real and personal?"
"At your request I furnish from memory a copy of Gen'l Darrington's will, which I have faithfully endeavored to recall, and I conscientiously believe this to be strictly accurate. Shall I read it?"
A severe and prolonged fit of coughing delayed her reply; and when she held out her hand for the paper, her breathing was painfully rapid and labored.
"I will not tax you. Let me glance over it."
Spreading the long sheets open before her, she leaned over the table and read.
In the palm of her right hand rested her temple, and the left smoothed and turned the leaves. Crossing his arms on the top of the table, the attorney bent forward and surrendered himself to the coveted delight of studying the face, that had made summary shipwreck of his matrimonial fortune. No slightest detail escaped him; the burnished locks curled loosely around the forehead smooth as a sleeping baby's, the broad arch of the delicately-pencilled black brows, the Madonna droop of the lids whose heavy sable fringes deepened the bluish shadows beneath the eyes, the straight, flawless nose, the perfect chin with its deeply-incised dimple, the remarkably beautiful mouth, which despairing grief had kissed and made its own.
Pale as marble, the proud, patrician face was pure as some bending lily frozen on its graceful, rounded stem: and the tapering fingers with daintily curved, polished nails would have suited better the lace and velvet of royal robes than the rough home-spun sleeves folded back from the white wrists.
Mr. Dunbar had met many lovely, gracious, high-bred women, yet escaped heart whole; and even the nobility and sweetness of his pretty fiancee, enhanced by the surrounding glamour of heiresship, failed to touch the flood gates of tender love that a pauper's hand had suddenly unloosed, to sweep as a destroying torrent through the fair garden of his most cherished hopes. What was the spell exerted by the young convict when she grappled his heart, and in the havoc of her own life carried down all the possibilities of his future peace? Personal ambition, calculating mercenary selfishness had melted away in the volcanic madness that seized him, and to his own soul he acknowledged that his dominant and supreme wish was to gather in his arms and hold forever the condemned woman, who wore with such sublime serenity the livery of felony.
After all, have we misread our classics? Had not Homer a prevision of the faith that Aphrodites' altar belonged in the Temple of the Fates?
Beryl refolded the paper and looked up. In the face so close to hers, she saw all the yearning tenderness, the over-mastering love that had convulsed his nature, and before the pleading magnetic eyes that essayed to probe her soul, hers fell.
As out of a cloud, some burst of sunlight striking through the ruby vestments of apostles in a cathedral window falls aslant and suddenly crimsons the marble features of a sculptured angel guarding the high altar, so unexpectedly a vivid blush dyed the girl's cheeks. Her lips trembled; she swept her hand across her eyes as though blotting out some fascination upon which it was not her privilege to dwell; then the glow faded, she moved back on the bench, and leaned her head against the wall.
"Where are the bonds and other securities described in this paper?"
"In a compartment of the safety deposit vault of the—Bank, of which Gen'l Darrington was a large stockholder and director. His box was opened last week in presence of his adopted son, and we hoped to find perhaps a duplicate of the lost will; but there was not even a memorandum to indicate his last wishes."
"Can you tell me whether Mr. Prince Darrington will take any legal steps to recover the legacy which the loss of the will appears to have cancelled?"
"He certainly has no such intention."
"Are you quite sure of his views?"
"Absolutely sure, having talked with him this morning. I speak authoritatively."
"He was entirely dependent on Gen'l Darrington?"
"Wholly so with regard to pecuniary resources."
"At present he is as much a beggar as I was that day when I first saw X—? Is it true that want of money obliged him to quit Germany before he obtained the university degree, for which his studies were intended to fit him?"
"Strictly true. He sorely laments his inability to complete the course of study, and hopes at some future day to return and reap the distinction which he feels sure awaits him in scientific fields."
A brief silence followed, and the girl's thoughts seemed to drift far from her gloomy surroundings to some lofty plane of peace beyond the ills of time. Once more a spasm of coughing seized her; then she looked at the attorney.
"I learned in court that the destruction of Gen'l Darrington's will would secure to my mother the possession of all his estate. She has entered into Rest; into possession of her heritage in Christ's kingdom. Am I, her child, the lawful heir of Gen'l Darrington's fortune? Are there any legal quibbles that could affect my rights?"
"I am aware of none. The estate is certainly yours, and the law will sustain your claims."
"Claim? I only claim the right to repair as far as possible a wrong for which I suffer, yet am not responsible. I sent for a copy of the will because—"
"May I tell you why? Because in order to execute its provisions, it was essential that you should know them accurately."
The assurance that he interpreted so correctly her motive, brought a quick throb to her tired Heart, and a faint flush of pleasure to her thin cheeks.
"Had you read as accurately my intentions, six months ago, when you woke me from my sleep under the pine trees, how different the current of many lives! Mr. Dunbar, my ignorance of legal forms constrains me to accept your assistance in a matter which I am unwilling to delay—" She hesitated, and he smiled bitterly.
"You need be at no trouble to emphasize your reluctance. I quite understand your ineradicable repugnance. Nevertheless good luck ordains that only I can serve you at present, so be pleased to command me."
"Thank you. I wish you to help me make my will."
"How long do you suppose I can endure this 'death in life?' I am patient because I hope and believe my release is not far distant. Galloping consumption is a short avenue to freedom."
He caught his breath, and the blood ebbed from his lips, but he hurled aside the suggestion as though it were a coiled viper.
"Life has for you one charm which will successfully hold death at bay. Love has sustained you thus far; it will lend wings to the years that must ultimately bring the recompense for which you long, the sight of him whose crime you expiate."
He could not understand the peculiar smile that parted her lips, nor the far-away, preoccupied expression that crept into her sad eyes.
"Nevertheless I have decided to make my will. I desire that in every detail it shall duplicate the provisions of the instrument I am punished for having stolen and destroyed; and I charge you to write it so carefully, that when all the legacies shall have been paid, the residue of the estate cannot fail to reach the hands of the son for whom it was intended. To Mr. Prince Darrington I give and bequeath, mark you now, ALL MY RIGHT AND TITLE to the fortune left by Gen'l Darrington."
"Before I pledge myself to execute this commission, I wish you to know that of such testamentary disposition of your estate, I should become remotely a beneficiary. Mr. Darrington has asked my only sister to be his wife, and their marriage is contingent merely on his financial ability to maintain her comfortably. Mine is scarcely the proper hand to pour the rich stream of your possessions into his empty coffers."
"I am well aware of the tie that binds your sister and Mr. Darrington."
"Since when have you known it?"
"No prison walls are sufficiently thick to turn the stream of gossip; it trickles, oozes through all barriers. Exactly when or how I became acquainted with your family secret is not germane to the subject under consideration."
"Cognizant of the fact that Gen'l Darrington's adopted son was my prospective brother-in-law, you have paid me the compliment of believing that selfish, pecuniary motives incited my zeal in securing your prosecution, for the loss of the fortune I coveted? Your heart garners that insult to me?"
The only storm signal that defied his habitual control, was the intense glow in his eyes where an electric spark rayed out through the blue depths.
"I might tell you, that my heart is a sepulchre too crowded with dead hopes to hold resentment against their slayer; but you have a right to something more. I pay you the just tribute of grateful admiration for the unselfish heroism that prompted you to plead so eloquently in defence of a forsaken woman who, living or dead, defrauded your sister of a brilliant fortune. You fought courageously to save me, and I am quite willing you should know that it is partly due to my recognition of your bravery in leading that forlorn hope, that I am anxious by immediate reparation to restore matters to their original status. Life is so uncertain I can leave nothing to chance; and when my will is signed and sealed, and in your possession, I shall know that even if I should be suddenly set free, Mr. Darrington and your sister will enjoy their heritage. When you will have drawn up the paper send it to Mr. Singleton. I will sign it in his presence and that of the doctor, which will suffice for witnesses."
"In view of the peculiar provisions of the will, I prefer you should employ some other instrument for its preparation. Judge Dent, Churchill or Wolverton, will gladly serve you, and I will send to you whomsoever you select. I decline to become the medium of transferring the accursed money that cost you so dearly, to the man whom my sister expects to marry."
"As you will; only let there be no delay. Ask Judge Dent to prove his friendship for Gen'l Darrington by enabling me to execute his wishes."
"Judge Dent went this morning to New York; but by the latter part of the week you may expect the paper for signature."
"That relieves one anxiety, for while I was so ill I was tortured by the thought that I could not make just restitution to innocent sufferers. Mr. Dunbar, a yet graver apprehension now oppresses me. If I should live, how can I put the rightful owners in immediate possession? What process does the law prescribe for conveying the property directly to Mr. Darrington?"
"Ordinarily the execution of a deed of gift from you to him, would accomplish that object."
"Will you please write out the proper form on the paper in front of you?"
"I certainly will not."
"May I know why?"
"For two reasons. Personally, the deed of gift would embarrass me even more than the will. Professionally, it occurs to me you are not of age; hence the transfer would be invalid at present. Pardon me, how old are you?"
"I was eighteen on the fourth of July last. Grim sarcasm is it not, that the child of Independence Day should be locked up in a dungeon?"
"The law of the State requires the age of twenty-one years to insure the validity of such a transaction as that which you contemplate."
"Do you mean that my hands are tied; that if I should live, I can do nothing for more than two years?"
"Such is the law."
"Then the justice that fled from criminal law, steers equally clear of the civil code? What curious paradoxes, what subtleties of finesse lurk in those fine meshes of jurisprudence, ingeniously spread to succor wary guilt, to tangle and trip the careless feet of innocence! All the world knows that the dearest wish that warmed General Darrington's heart was to disinherit and repudiate his daughter, and to secure his worldly goods to his adopted son; and yet because a sheet of paper expressing that desire could not be produced in court, the will of the dead is defied, and the fortune is thrust into the hated hands which its owner swore should never touch it; hands that the law says murdered in order to steal. When the child of the disowned and repudiated, holding sacred the unfortunate man's wishes, refuses to accept the blood-bought heritage, and attempts to replace the fatal legacy in the possession of those for whom it was notoriously intended—this Tartufe of justice strides forward and forbids righteous restitution; postpones the rendering of 'Caesar's things to Caesar' for two years, in order to save the condemned the additional pang of regretting the generosity of her minority! Human wills, intentions and aims, no matter how laudable and well known, are blandly strangled by judicial red tape, and laid away with pompous ceremonial in the dusty catacombs of legal form. Grimly grotesque, this masquerade of equity! Something must be done for Mr. Darrington, to enable him to finish his studies and embark on the career his father designed."
"He is a man, and can learn to carve his way unaided."
She sighed wearily, and a troubled look crossed her face; while the visitor followed with longing eyes the slow motion of her delicate hand, beautiful as Herses', that softly stroked the cat purring against her shoulder.
"Surely there is an outlet to this snare. You could help me if you would."
"I? Do you imagine that after all the injuries I have inflicted on you, I can consent to help you beggar yourself?"
"You know that I would sooner handle red-hot ploughshares, than touch a dollar, a cent, of that fortune. It would greatly relieve my mind and comfort me, if you would indicate some method by which I can convey to Mr. Darrington that which really belongs to him. Unless he can enjoy it, it might as well be in the grave now with its former owner. Do help me."
The pathetic pleading of face and voice almost unnerved him, but he sat silent.
"Cannot I dispose at least of the income or interest? If a definite amount should be allowed me each year, during my minority, could I do as I please with that sum?"
"Certainly you have that right. I may as well tell you, there is one method of accomplishing your aim, by applying to the Legislature to legalize your acts by declaring you of age. At present the estate is in the hands of Mr. Wolverton, whom the Probate Court has appointed administrator; and at the expiration of eighteen months from the date of Gen'l Darrington's death, the control of the whole will devolve to some extent upon you. Meanwhile the administrator will allow you annually a reasonable amount."
"Do you know what sum Mr. Darrington required while abroad?"
"I am told his allowance was four thousand dollars per annum. Histology, morphology, and aetiology are whims too costly for impecunious students. Prince must reduce his stable of hobbies."
"No, he is entitled to canter as many as he likes, and the money could not be better spent than in promoting the noble work of the advancement of Science. The problem is solved, and my earthly cares are at an end. Leave the copy you brought, and ask Mr. Wolverton to see me to-morrow. He shall write both the will and the deed of gift, which you think can be made valid, and meanwhile the annual allowance must be paid as formerly to the son. Whether I live or die, the wishes of the dead will be respected, and Prince Darrington shall have his own. It is an intense relief to know that two innocent and happy lives will never feel the fatal chill of my shadow; and when your sister enters 'Elm Bluff' as its mistress, the balance-sheet will be complete."
As if some dreaded task had been finally accomplished, she drew a deep sigh of weariness that was cut short by a spell of coughing.
"There is a Scriptural injunction concerning kindness to enemies, which amounts to heaping coals of fire on their heads; and to my unregenerate nature, it savors more of subtile inquisitorial cruelty, than of Christian charity."
"Your sister is not my enemy, I hope, and need I so rank your sister's brother? There is one thing more, which even your sarcasm shall not prevent."
She drew from beneath the cardboard a paper box, placed it on the table and removed the lid.
"I presume the Sheriff meant kindly when he sent me this as my property, which having testified to suit the prosecution, was returned to the burglar in whose possession it was found. The sight of it was as humiliating as a blow on the cheek. Some gifts are fatal; nevertheless, you must ascribe no sinister motive to me, when I fulfil that injunction of Gen'l Darrington's last Will and Testament, which set apart these sapphires for his son's bride. They are just as I received them from his hands. My mother, for whom they were intended, never saw them; I thank God that she wears the eternal jewels that He provides for the faithful and the pure in heart. I wish you to deliver this case, and the gold pieces, one hundred dollars, to Mr. Darrington; and it will be a mercy to rid me of torturing reminders."
She looked at the azure flame leaping from the superb stones, and pushed the box away with a gesture of loathing.
"Beautifully blue as those weird nebulae in the far, far South; that brood over the ocean wastes where cyclones are born; but to me and to mine, the baleful medium of an inherited curse. Having accomplished my doom, may they bring only benison to your sister."
"I would see adders fastened in her ears and twined around her neck sooner than those—"
"At least take them out of my sight; give them to Mr. Darrington. They are maddening reminders of a perished past. Now, to the last iota, I have made all possible restitution, and the account is squared; for in exchange for that life, which I am condemned as having taken, my own is the forfeit. The expiation is complete."
She seemed to have forgotten his presence, as her gaze rested on the ring she wore, and a happy smile momentarily glorified the pale face.
She started, winced, shivered; and threw up her hand with the haughty denial he so well remembered.
"Hush! Only my precious dead ever called me so. You must not dare!"
Something she read in the face that leaned toward her, filled her with vague dread, and despite her efforts, she trembled visibly.
"Mr. Dunbar, I am very weary; tired—oh! how tired, body and soul."
"You dismiss me? Recollect I was warned that this would be the last interview accorded me, and I beg your indulgence. If you knew all, if you could imagine one-half the sorrow you have caused me, you would consider our accounts as satisfactorily balanced as your settlement with the Darringtons. Whether you have ruined my life, or are destined to purify and exalt it, remains to be determined. To see you as you are, is almost beyond my powers of endurance, and for my own sake—mark you—to ease my own heart, I shall redouble my efforts to have you liberated. There is one speedy process, the discovery of the man whom, thus far, you have shielded so effectually; and next week I begin the hunt in earnest by going West."
He saw her fingers clutch each other, and the artery in her throat throb quickly.
"How many victims are required to appease the manes of Gen'l Darrington? Be satisfied with having sacrificed me, and waste no more time in search that can bring neither recompense to you, nor consolation to me. If I can bear my fate, you, sir, have no right to interfere."
"Then, like the selfish man I am, I usurp the right. What damnable infatuation can bind you to that miserable poltroon, who skulks in safety, knowing that the penalty of his evil deeds falls on you? One explanation has suggested itself: it haunts me like a fiend, and only you can exorcise it. Are you married to that brute, and is it loyalty that nerves you? For God's sake do not trifle, tell me the truth."
He leaned across the table, caught her hands. She shook off his touch, and her eyes were ablaze.
"Are you insane? How dare you cherish such a suspicion? The bare conjecture is an insult, and you must know it is false. Married? I?"
"Forgive me if I wound you, but indeed I could conceive of no other solution of the mystery of your self-sacrifice; for it is utterly incredible that unless some indissoluble tie bound you, that cowardly knave could command your allegiance. It maddens me to think that you, so far beyond all other women, can tolerate the thought of that—"
"Hush! hush! You conjure phantoms with which to taunt and torture. You pity me so keenly, that your judgment becomes distorted, and you chase chimeras. Banish imaginary husbands, Western journeys, even the thought of my wretched doom, and try henceforth to forget that I ever saw X—."
"What does this mean? It was not on your hand when I held it so long that day—in my own. Tell me, and quiet my pain."
He pointed to the heavy ring, which was much too large for the wasted finger where it glistened.
"What does it mean? A tale of woe. It means that when my broken-hearted mother was dying among strangers, in a hospital, she kissed her wedding ring, and sent it with her love and blessing to the child—she idolized. It means—" She held up her waxen hand, and into her voice stole immeasurable tenderness: "Shall I tell you all it means? This little gold hoop inscribed inside 'I. B. to E. D.,' girdles all that this world has left for me; memories of father, mother, sunny childhood in a peaceful home, lofty ambitions, happy, happy beautiful hopes that once belonged to the girl Beryl, whom pitiless calamity has broken on her cruel wheel. Walled up, dying slowly in a convict's tomb, the only light that shines into my desolate heart, flickers through this little circle; and clasping it close through the long, long nights, when horrible images brood like vampires, it soothes me, like the touch of the dear hand which it graced so long, and brings me dreams of the fair, sweet past."
Was it the mist in his eyes that showed her almost glorified by the level rays of the setting sun, as like a tired child she leaned her head against the wall, a pale image of resignation?
To lose her was a conjecture so fraught with pain, that his swart face blanched, and his voice quivered under its weight of tender entreaty.
"What is it that sustains you in your frightful martyrdom? Why do you endure these horrors which might be abolished? You hurl me back upon the loathsome thought that love, love for a depraved, brutal wretch is the secret that baffles me. I might be able to see you die, to lay you, stainless snowdrop that you are, in the coffin that would keep you sacred forever; but please God! I will never endure the pain of seeing you leave these sheltering walls to walk into that man's arms. I swear to you by all I hold most precious, that if he be yet alive, I will hand him over to retribution."
He had pushed aside the table, and stood before her, with the one wholly absorbing love of his life glowing in his face. She dared not meet the gaze that thrilled her with an exquisite happiness, and involuntarily rose. Had she not strangled the impulse, her fluttering heart would have prompted her to lean forward, rest her head against his arm, and tell him all; but close as they stood, and realizing that she reigned supreme in his affection, one seemed to rise reproachfully between them; that generous, gentle woman to whom his faith was pledged. No matter at what cost, she must guard Leo's peace of mind; and to dispel his jealous illusion now, would speedily overwhelm the tottering fabric of his allegiance. Folding her arms tightly across her breast, she answered proudly:
"So be it then. Do your worst."
"You admit it!"
"I admit nothing."
"You defy me?"
"Defy? It seems I am always at the mercy of Tiberius."
"Can you look at me, and deny that you are screening your lover?"
She quickly lifted her head, with a peculiar haughty movement that reminded him of a desperate stag at bay, and he never forgot the expression of her eyes.
"I deny that Miss Gordon's accepted lover has any right to catechise me concerning a subject which, were his suspicions correct, should invest it with a sanctity inviolable by wanton curiosity."
He recoiled slightly as from a lash.
"Miss Gordon is on the eve of sailing through the sunny isles of Greece; and while she is absent I purpose finding my nepenthe in my hunt for murderers among Montana wilds. You have defied me, and I will do my worst, nay, my very best to catch and hang that cowardly rogue who adroitly used your handkerchief as the instrument to aid his crime."
She walked a few steps, putting once more between them the table, against which she leaned.
"If you are successful, and the mystery of that awful murder should be unravelled, you will then comprehend something of the desperation that makes me endure even this crucifixion of soul; and in that day, when you discover the fugitive lover, you will blush for the taunts aimed at a defenceless and sorely-stricken woman."
"Nevertheless, I bend my energies henceforth to his capture and punishment."
"Because he is my lover? Or because he may be a criminal? Ask that question of your honor. Answer it to your own conscience, and to the noble heart of the trusting woman you asked to become your wife. Mr. Dunbar, you must leave me now; my strength is almost spent."
Baffled, exasperated, he approached the table and took something from his vest-pocket.
"I hold my honor flawless, and with the sanction of my conscience I prefer to answer to you—you alone—because he is your lover, I will have his life."
She smiled, and her eyes drooped; but there was strange emphasis in her words as she clasped her hands:
"God keep my lover now and forever. Mr. Dunbar, when you discover him, I have no fear that you will harm one hair in his dear head."
"If you knew all you have cost me, you might understand why I will never forego my compensation. I bide my time; but I shall win. You asked me, as a special favor, to preserve and secure for you something which you held very valuable. Because no wish of yours can ever be forgotten, I have complied with your request and brought you this 'precious souvenir' of a tender past."
He tore away the paper wrapping, and held toward her the meerschaum pipe, then dropped it on the table as though it burned his fingers.
At sight of it, a sudden faintness made the girl reel, and she put her hand to her throat, as if to loosen a throttling touch. Her eyes filled, and in a whirling mist she seemed to see the beloved face of the father long dead, of the gay, beautiful young brother who had wrought her ruin. Weakness overpowered her, and sinking to her knees, she drew the pipe closer, laid it against her cheek, folded her arms over it on the table and bowed her head.
What a host of mocking phantoms leaped through the portals of the Bygone—babbling of the glorious golden dawn that was whitening into a radiant morning, when the day-star fell back below the horizon, and night devoured the new-born day. Memory comes, sometimes, in the guise of an angel, wearing fragrant chaplets, singing us the perfect harmonies of a hallowed past; but oftener still, as a fury scourging with serpents; and always over her shoulder peers the wan face and pitying eyes of a divine Regret.
The sun had gone down behind the dense pine forest stretching beyond the prison, but the sky was a vast shifting flame of waning rose and deepening scarlet, and the glow from the West still defied the shadows gathering in the cell. Beryl was so still, that Mr. Dunbar feared she had fainted from exhaustion.
He stepped to her side, and laid his hand on the bronzed head, smoothing caressingly yet reverently the short, silky hair. Ah, the unfathomable tenderness with which he bent over the only woman he ever loved; the intolerable pain of the thought that after all he might lose her. He heard the shuddering sob that broke from her overtaxed and aching heart, and despite his jealous rage he felt unmanned. When she raised her face, tears hung on her lashes.
"I will thank you, Mr. Dunbar, as long as I live, for this last and greatest kindness. If I could tell you what this precious relic represents to me, oh, if you knew! you would pity me indeed."
"Tell me. Trust me. God knows I would never betray your confidence, no matter what it cost me."
It was a powerful temptation to divulge the truth, and her heart whispered that Bertie's safety would be secured by removing all jealous incentive to his pursuit; but she remembered the fair, sweet, heroic woman who had dared her fiance's wrath in order to unbar those prison doors; who had faithfully and delicately thrown over the convict the mantle of her friendship; and the loyal soul of the prisoner strangled its weakness.
Perishing in the desert where scorching sands stifled her, she had surrendered to death, when love sprang to her side, lifted her into the heavenly peace of dewy palms, and held to parched lips the sparkling draught a glimpse of which electrified her. Would starvation entitle her to drink? Over the head of pleading love stretched the arm of stony-eyed duty, striking into the dust the crystal drops, withering the palms; and following her stern beckon, the thirsty pilgrim re-trod the sands of surrender, more intolerable than before, because the oasis was still in sight. Duty! Rugged incorruptible Spartan dame, whose inflexible mandate is ever: "With your shield, or on it."
Beryl put up her hand, drew his from her head to her lips, kissed it softly.
"Good-bye, Mr. Dunbar. I promise you one thing. If I find I cannot live, I will send for you. Upon the border of the grave I will open my heart. You shall see all; and then you will understand, and deliver a message which I must leave in your hands. Give my grateful remembrance to Miss Gordon. Make her happy; and ask her to pray for me, that I may be patient. Now leave me, for I can bear no more."
She put aside his hand, and hid her face once more. He stooped, laid his lips on the shining hair, and walked away. At the door he paused. The long corridor was very dim and gloomy, and the deep-toned bell in the tower was ringing slowly. Looking back into the cell, he saw that Beryl had risen, and against the sullen red glow on the western window, her face and figure outlined a silhouette of hopeless desolation.
Each human soul is dowered with an inherent adaptability to its environment, with an innate energy which properly directed, grapples successfully with all assailing ills; and Time, the tireless reconciler, flies always low at our side, hardening the fibre of endurance, stealthily administering that supreme and infallible anaesthetic whereby the torturing throes of human woe are surely stilled. Existence involves strife; mental and moral growth depend upon the vigor with which it is waged, and scorning cowardice, Nature provides the weapons essential to victory. The evils that afflict humanity are meted out with a marvellously accurate reference to the idiosyncrasies of character; and no weight is imposed which cannot by heroic effort be sustained. The Socratic belief that if all misfortunes were laid in a heap, whence every man and woman must draw an equal portion, each would select the burden temporarily laid down and walk away comforted, was merely an adumbration of the sublimer truth, "As thy day, so shall thy strength be."
Very slowly physical health and spiritual patience came back to Beryl; but by degrees she bravely lifted the stained and mutilated wreck of life, and staggered on her lonely way, finding that repose which means the death of hope.
At one time death had smilingly pushed ajar the door that opened into eternal peace, and beckoned her bruised soul to follow; then mockingly barred escape, and left her to renew the battle. From that double window in the second story of the prison, she watched the silver of full moons shining on the spectral white columns that crowned "Elm Bluff", the fire of setting suns that blazed ruby-red as Gubbio wine, along the line of casements that pierced the front facade, a bristling perpetual reminder of the tragedy that cried to heaven for vengeance. She learned exactly where to expect the first glimpse of the slender opal crescent in the primrose west; followed its waxing brilliance as it sailed out of the green bights of the pine forest, its waning pallor, amid the sparkling splendor of planets that lit the far east.
As the constellations trod the mazes of their stately minuet across the distant field of blue, their outlines grew familiar as human countenances; and from the darkness of her cell she turned to the great golden stars throbbing in midnight skies, peering in through the iron bars like pitying eyes of heavenly guardians. Locked away from human companionship, and grateful for the isolation of her narrow cell, the lonely woman found tender compensation in the kindly embrace of Nature's arms, drawn closely about her.
The procession of the seasons became to her the advent of so many angels, who leaned in at her window and taught her the secret of floral runes; the mysterious gamut of bird melodies, the shrill and weird dithyrambics of the insect world; the recitative and andante and scherzo of wind and rain, of hail and sleet, in storm symphonies.
The Angel of Spring, with the snow of dogwood, and the faint pink of apple blossoms on her dimpling cheeks; with violet censers swinging incense before her crocus-sandalled feet, and the bleating of young lambs that nestled in her warm arms.
The Angel of Summer, full blown as the red roses flaunting amid the golden grain and amber silk tassels that garlanded her sunny brow; poised languorously on the glittering apex of salmon clouds at whose base lightning flickered and thunder growled,—watching through drowsy half shut lids the speckled broods of partridges scurrying with frantic haste through the wild poppies of ripe wheat fields, the brown covey of shy doves ambushed among purple morning glories swinging in the dense shade of rustling corn; listening as in a dream to the laughter of reapers, whetting scythes in the blistering glare of meadow slopes, yet hearing all the while, the low, sweet babble of the slender stream that trickled through pine roots, down the hillside, and added its silvery tinkle to the lullaby crooned by the river to its fringe of willows, its sleeping lily pads.
The Angel of Autumn, radiant through her crystal veil of falling rain, as with caressing touches she deepened the crimson on orchard treasures, mellowed the heart of vineyard clusters, painted the leaves with hectic glory that reconciled to their approaching fall, smiled on the chestnuts that burst their burrs to greet her, whispered to the squirrels that the banquet was ready; kissed into starry bloom blue asters crowding about her knees, and left the scarlet of her lips on the kingdom of berries ordained to flush the forest aisles, where wolfish winds howled, when leaves had rustled down to die, and verdure was no more.
The Angel of Winter, a sad, mute image, wan as her robes of snow, stretching white wings to shelter perishing birds huddled on the cold pall that covered a numb world,—crowned with icicles that clasped her silver locks, shedding tears that froze upon her marble cheeks; standing on the universal grave where Nature lay bound in cerements, hearkening to the dismal hooting of the owl at her feet, the sharp insistent cry of gray killdees hovering above icy marshes, the wailing tempest dirge over the dead earth; and while with one benignant hand she tenderly folded her mantle about the sleepers, the other kindled a conflagration along the western sky, that reddened and warmed even the wastes of snow, and when she beckoned, the attendant stars seemed to circle closer and closer, burning with an added lustre that made night glorious. Answering her call, the Auroral arch sprang out of the North, spanning the sky with waving banners of orange and violet flame, that illumined the Niobe of the Seasons, as she hovered with out-stretched glittering pinions, and mournful ice-dimmed eyes above her shrouded dead children.
With returning health, had come to Beryl activity of those artistic instincts, which for a time, had slumbered in the torpor of despair; and when her daily task of work had been accomplished, the prisoner leaned with folded arms on the stone ledge of the window, and studied every changing aspect of earth and atmosphere. By degrees the old ambition stirred, and she began to sketch the slow panorama of July clouds, built of mist and foam into the likeness of domes of burnished copper, and campaniles of silver; the opaque mountain masses, stratified along the horizon, leaden in hue, with sullen bluish gorges where ravening January winds made their lair; the intricate, graceful tracery of gnaried bare boughs and interlacing twigs, that would serve as a framework when May hung up her green portieres to screen the down-lined boudoirs where happy birds nestled; the gray stone arches of the bridge in the valley below, the groups of cattle couched on the rocky hillside, up which the pine forest marched like ranks of giants.
On sultry afternoons she watched lengthening tree-shadows creep across the reddish-brown carpeting of straw, and in the long nights when sleeplessness betrayed her into the clutches of torturing retrospection, she waited and longed for the pearly lustre that paved the east for the rosy feet of dawn; listened to the beating of Nature's heart in the solemn roar of the Falls two miles away, in the strophe and anti-strophe of winds quivering through pine tops, the startled cry of birds dozing in cedar thickets, the shrill droning of crickets, the monotonous recrimination of katydids, the peculiar, querulous call of a family of flying squirrels housed in the cleft of an old magnolia, the Gregorian chant of frogs cradled in the sedge and ferns, where the river lapped and gurgled.
Humanity had turned its back upon her; but the sinless world of creation, with all its glorious chords of beautiful color, and the soothing witchery of the solemn voices of the night, ministered abundantly to eye and ear. She had hoped and prayed to die; God denied her petition; and sent, instead of His Angel of Death, two to comfort her, the Angel of Health and the Angel of Resignation; whereby she understood, that she had not yet earned surcease from suffering, but was needed for future work in the Master's vineyard.
If live she must, through the five years of piacular sacrifice, why vitiate its efficacy by rebellious repining, that seemed an affront to the divine arbiter of human destinies? She could not escape the cross; and bitterness of heart might jeopardize the crown. Beggared by time, could she afford to risk the eternal heritage? The deepest conviction of her soul was, "Behind fate, stands God"; hidden for a season, deaf and blind and mute, it seemed, but always surely there; waiting His own appointed season of rescue, and of recompense. So strong was her faith in His overruling wisdom and mercy, that her soul found rest, through perpetual prayer for patience; and as weeks slipped into months, and season followed season, she realized that though no roses of happiness could ever bloom along her arid path, the lilies of peace kissed her tired feet.
Somewhere in the wicked world, Bertie was astray; and perhaps God has kept her alive, intending she should fulfil her mission years hence, by bringing him out of the snares of temptation, back into the fold of Christ's redeemed. Five years of penal servitude to ransom his soul; was the price exorbitant?
One dull, wintry afternoon as she pressed close to the window, to catch the fading light on the page of her Bible, it chanced to be the chapter in St. Luke, which contained the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican; and while she read, a great compunction smote her; a remorseful sense of having scorned as utterly unclean and debased, her suffering fellow prisoners.
Was there no work to be done for the dear Master, in that moral lazaretto—the long rows of cells down stairs, where some had been consigned for 'ninety-nine years'? Hitherto, she had shrunk from contact, as from leprous contagion; meeting the Penitentiary inmates only in the chapel where, since her restoration to health, she went regularly to sing and play on the organ, when the chaplain held service. The world had cruelly misjudged her; was she any more lenient to those who might be equally innocent?
Next day she went humbly, yet shyly, down to the common work-room, and took her place among the publicans, hoping that the soul of some outcast might be won to repentance. Now and then messages of sympathy reached her from the outside world, in the form of flowers, books, magazines; and two of the jurors who convicted her, sent from time to time generous contributions of dainty articles that materially promoted her comfort; while a third, whose dead child had clung to her Christmas card, eased his regretful pangs by the gift of a box containing paper, canvas, crayons, brushes, paints, and all requisite appliances for artistic work.
Sister Serena had gone on a labor of love, to a distant State; and faithful Dyce, hopelessly crippled by a fall from the mule which she was forcing across the bridge leading to the State dungeon, had been permanently consigned to the wide rocking chair, beside her cabin hearth at "Elm Bluff".
It was a bleak night in January, and intensely cold, when Mrs. Singleton wrapped a shawl about her head, and ran along the dark corridor to the cell, where Beryl was walking up and down to keep herself warm. Only the moonlight illumined it, as the rays fell on the bare floor, making a broad band of silver beneath the window.
"I forgot to tell you, that something very dreadful happened at the 'Lilacs' last week. Judge Dent had a stroke of paralysis and died the same night. As if that were not trouble enough to last for a while at least, the house took fire in that high wind yesterday, and burned to the ground; leaving poor Miss Patty Dent without a roof to cover her. She had gone to the cemetery to carry flowers to her brother's grave, and when she returned, it was too late to save anything. Miss Gordon's new wing cost thousands of dollars and was furnished like a palace, so I am told; but the flames destroyed every vestige of the beautiful house, and the pictures and statues. It seems that it was heavily insured, but money can't buy the old portraits and family silver, the mahogany and glass, and the yellow damask—that have been kept in the Dent family since George Washington was a teething baby; and Miss Patty wails loudest over the loss of an old, old timey communion service, that the Dents boasted Queen Anne gave to one of them, who was an Episcopal minister. The poor old soul is almost crazy, I hear, and Mr. Dunbar carries her to New York to-morrow, where she has a nephew living; and next month she will go to Europe to join Miss Gordon. It is reported in town, that when Judge Dent died so suddenly, Miss Patty sent a cable telegram to her niece to come home; but early yesterday, just before the fire, an answer came by cable, asking Miss Patty to come to Europe. Some people think Mr. Dunbar intends escorting her, and that when he meets Miss Gordon, the marriage will take place over there; but I never will believe that, till it happens."
She peered curiously into the face of her listener, but the light was too dim to enable her to read its expression.
"Why not? Under the circumstances, such a course seems eminently natural and proper."
"Do you really think he intends marrying?"
"I am the confidant of neither the gentleman nor the lady; but you told me long ago, that a marriage engagement existed between them; and since both have shown me much kindness and sympathy, I sincerely hope their united lives may be very happy. If Mr. Dunbar searched the universe, he could scarcely find Miss Gordon's equal, certainly not her superior; and he cannot fail to appreciate his good fortune in winning her."
Mrs. Singleton lifted her shoulder significantly. "Perhaps! but you can never be sure of men. They are about as uncertain calculations as the hatching of guinea eggs, or the sprouting of parsley seed. What is theirs can't be worth much; but what belongs to somebody else, is invaluable; moreover, they are liable to sudden tantrums of sheer obstinacy, that hang on like whooping-cough, or a sprain in one's joints. Did you never see a mule take the sulks on his way to the corn crib and the fodder rack, and refuse to budge, even for his own benefit? Some men are just that perverse. Mr. Dunbar is trailing game, worth more to him at present, than a sweetheart across the Atlantic Ocean; which reminds me of what brought me here. He asked Ned to-day, if you saw Mr. Darrington yesterday when he came here; and learning that you did not, he gave him this paper, which he said would explain what the Legislature did last month, about declaring you of age. Ned told him you signed some document Mr. Wolverton brought here last week, which secured all the property to Mr. Darrington, and he said he had been informed of the transaction, and that Mr. Darrington would soon go back to Germany. Then he added: 'Singleton, present my respects to Miss Brentano and tell her, I am happy to say that my trip West last summer was not entirely unsuccessful. It has furnished me with a very valuable clue. She will understand.' Oh, dear! how bitterly cold it is! Come to my room, and get thoroughly thawed; Ned is down stairs, and the children are asleep."
"No, thank you; I should only feel the cold more, when I came back."
"Then take my shawl and cover your ears and throat. There, you must. Good night."
She closed the door, and fled down the long black passage, to the bright cozy room, where her babes slumbered.
Slowly Beryl resumed her walk from window to door, from bar to bar, but of the stinging cold she grew oblivious; and the blood burned in her cheeks and throbbed with almost suffocating violence at her heart.
She comprehended fully the significance of the message, and dared not comfort herself with the supposition that it was prompted by a spirit of bravado.
To what quarter of the globe was he tracking the desperate culprit, who had fled sorely wounded from his murderous assault? Ignorant of his mother's death, and of his sister's expiatory incarceration, might not Bertie venture back to the great city, where she had last seen him; and be trapped by those wily "Quaestores Paricidii" of the nineteenth century—special detectives?
Fettered, muzzled by the stone walls of her dungeon, she could send him no warning, could only pray and endure, while she and her reckless, wayward brother drifted helplessly down the dark, swift river of doom. At every revival of fears for his safety, up started the mighty temptation that never slumbered, to confess all to Mr. Dunbar; but as persistently she took it by the throat, and crushed it back, resolved at all hazards to secure, if possible, the happiness of the woman who had trusted her.
In the midst of the wreck of her life, out of the depths of the dust of humiliation, had sprung the beautiful blossom of love, shedding its intoxicating fragrance over ruin; yet, because the asp of treachery lurked in the exquisite, folded petals, she shut her eyes to the bewildering loveliness, and loyalty strove to tear it up by the roots, to trample it out; learning thereby, that the fibrous thread had struck deep into her own heart, defying ejectment.
She had forbidden his visits, interdicted letters; but she could not expel the vision of a dear face that haunted her memory; nor exorcise the spell of a voice that had first thrilled her pulses when pleading with the jury in her behalf.
Sometimes she wondered whether she had been created as a mere sentient plummet to sound every gulf of human woe; then humbly recanted the impious repining, and thanked God that, at least, she had been spared that deepest of all abysses, the Hades of remorse. That which comes to most women as the supreme earthly joy—the consciousness of possessing the heart of the man they love, fell upon Beryl like the lash of flagellation; rendering doubly fierce the battle of renunciation, which she fought, knowing that sedition and treason were raising the standard of revolt within the fortress.
During the eight months that had elapsed since Leo sailed for Europe, Beryl had exchanged no word with Mr. Dunbar; but twice a sudden, tumultuous leaping of her heart surprised her at sight of him, standing in the door of the chapel; watching her as she sat within the altar rail, playing the little organ, while the convict congregation stood up to sing. Although no name was ever appended, she knew what hand had directed the various American and foreign art magazines, which brought their argosy of beauty to divert and gladden her sombre meditations.
On Christmas morning, the second of her sojourn within penitentiary walls, the express messenger had brought to the door of her cell, two packages, one a glowing heart of crimson and purple passion flowers, the other an exquisite engraving of Sir Frederick Leighton's "Hercules Wrestling with Death"; and below the printed title, she recognized the bold characters traced in red ink: "The Alcestis you emulate."
To-night, a ray of moonlight crept across the wall, and shivered its silver over the rigid face of the dead wife in the picture; and the prisoner, gazing mournfully at it, comprehended that her own fate was sadder than that of the immortal Greek devotee. To die for Admetus after he had sworn on the altar of his gods, that he would spend alone the remainder of his days, solaced by no fair successor, dedicating his fidelity to appease her manes, was comparatively easy; but to turn away, voluntarily resign the man she loved, and assist in forging the links which she must live to see chaining him to a happy rival, were an ordeal more appalling to Alcestis than premature descent into the dusky realm of Persephone.
To secure to her brother immunity from pursuit, and to Miss Gordon the allegiance of the husband of her choice, was the problem that banished sleep and kept Beryl pacing the floor, until welcome day hung her orange mantle over the quivering splendor of the morning star. One final effort was all that seemed possible now; and kneeling before the table she wrote and sealed a note, to be delivered before the express train bore the lawyer away on his journey:
"Your message was received, and it has so disquieted and alarmed me that I am forced to treat for peace. If you will cancel your police contracts, cease your search, go to Europe with Miss Dent, and pledge me your honor to marry Miss Gordon before you return, I will solemnly promise, bind myself in the sight of the God I serve, to live and to die Beryl Brentano; and never, without your consent and permission, will I look again on the face of the man whom you are hunting to death. The assurance of his safety will atone for all you have made me suffer; will nerve me to bear whatever the future may hold. You will imagine you understand, but it is impossible that you can ever realize the nature of the pain this proposal involves for me; nevertheless, if you accept and keep the compact, I believe you know that, at all costs, I shall never forfeit the pledged word of
When marriage vows had irrevocably committed Leo's happiness to his honor, it might then be safe to tell him the truth, and solicit release from the self-imposed terms. Five hours later, she received an answer:
"A trifle too late, you unfurled the flag of truce. With my game in sight, I decline to forego the chase. For your solicitude regarding my marriage, I tender my thanks; and the assurance, that no magnet can draw, not all the charms of Circe lure me across the Atlantic, until I have accomplished my purpose. The tardiness of your proposal is unerring appraiser of its costliness; and I were a monster of cruelty to debar you the sight of your idol, though I bring him with the grim garniture of chains and handcuffs. When I consign Miss Dent to her relatives in New York, I go to a miners' camp in Dakota, to identify a man bearing the marks of one who fled from X—-, and lost his pipe, on the night he murdered Gen'l Darrington.
To temporize longer would be fatal to Bertie; and no alternative remained but to tell the simple truth.
Without an instant's delay she took up her pen, but ere half a line had been traced on the paper, a hoarse whistle, somewhat muffled by distance, told her the attempt was futile; and through the valley beyond the river a trailing serpent of black smoke showed the express train darting northward. The attorney had left X—-, but might linger in New York sufficiently long for a letter to reach him; and doubtless his address could be learned at his office:
"If Mr. Dunbar will give me an opportunity of acquainting him with some facts, he is anxious to discover, he shall find it unnecessary to travel to Dakota; and will thank me for saving him from the long journey he contemplates.
The sun was setting when Mr. Singleton returned from the attorney's office, and held out the note which he had been instructed to address and deposit in the mail.
"If it is a matter of any importance, I am sorry to tell you that this cannot reach Mr. Dunbar immediately. He goes only as far as Philadelphia, where Miss Dent's nephew meets her; then Dunbar travels right on West without stopping, till he reaches Bismarck. He left instructions at his office to retain all mail matter here, for a couple of weeks, then forward to Washington City; as business would detain him there some days after his return from the west. Good gracious! how white your lips are. Sit down. What ails you?"
She put her hand over her eyes, and tried to collect her thoughts. To suffer so long, so keenly, and yet lose the victory; could it be possible that her sacrifice would prove utterly futile?
"Mr. Singleton, you have shown me many times your friendly sympathy, and I am again forced to tax your kindness. It is important that I should see or communicate with Mr. Dunbar within the next forty-eight hours. Could you induce the telegraph operator here to have a message delivered to him on the train, before it reaches Washington City?"
"I will certainly do my best; and to insure it I will go to the railroad operator, who understands the stations, and can catch Dunbar more easily than a message from the general office. Write our your telegram, while I order my buggy."
"MR. DUNBAR. On board Train No. 2.
"Please let me see you before you go West. I promise information that will render you unwilling to make the journey to Bismarck."
Anxiously she computed the time within which an answer might reasonably be expected; and her heart dwelt as a suppliant before God, that the message would avail to arrest pursuit; but hours wore wearily away, tedious days trod upon the slow skirts of dreary nights; and no response lifted the burden of dread. Hope whispered feebly that his failure to send a telegraphic reply, implied his intention of returning to X—-from Philadelphia; and she clung to this rope of sand until a week had passed. Then the conviction was inevitable that he regarded her appeal as merely a ruse to divert his course, to delay the seizure of his prey; and that while he misinterpreted the motive that prompted her message, she had merely furnished an additional goad to his jealous hatred.
As helpless wrack borne on the sullen tide of destiny, she struck her trembling hands together, and cried out in the dark solitude of her cell: "Verily! The stars in their courses fought against Sisera."
The winter was marked by an unusual severity of cold, which prolonged the rigor of mid-season until late in February, and despite the efforts of penitentiary officials who made unprecedented requisitions upon the board of inspectors, for additional clothing, the pent human herd suffered keenly.
Alarmed by the rapidly increasing rate of sickness within the "walls," Mr. Singleton demanded a sanitary commission, which, after apparently thorough investigation, reported no visible local cause for the mortality among the convicts; but the germs of disease grew swiftly as other evil weeds, and the first week in March saw a hideous harvest of diphtheria of the most malignant type.
At the earliest intimation of the character of the pestilence, the warden's wife fled with her little children to her mother's home in a neighboring county; maternal solicitude having extinguished her womanly reluctance to desert her husband, at a juncture when her presence and assistance would so materially have cheered, and lightened his labors. An attempt was made to isolate the first case in the hospital, but the cots in that spacious apartment filled beyond the limits of accommodation; and soon, a large proportion of the cells on the ground floor held each its victim of the fatal disease, that as the scythe of death cut a wide swath through convict ranks. Consulting physicians walked through the infected ward, altered prescriptions, advised disinfectants which were liberally used, until the building seemed to exhale pungent, wholesome, but unsavory odors; yet there was no abatement in the virulence of the type. When the twenty-third case was entered on the hospital list, the trustees and inspectors determined to remove all who showed no symptom of the contagion, to an old, long-abandoned cotton factory several miles distant; where the vacant houses of former operatives would afford temporary shelter; and to diminish the chances of carrying infection, each prisoner was carefully examined by the attending physician, and then furnished with an entirely new suit of clothing.
When the nature of the epidemic could no longer be concealed from the inmates, instinctive horror drove them from the neighborhood of the victims, and like frightened sheep they huddled in remote corners, removed as far as possible from the infected precincts, and loath to minister to the needs of the sufferers.
Two men, and as many women, selected and detailed as nurses in their respective wards, openly rebelled; and while Doctor Moffat and Mr. Singleton were discussing the feasibility of procuring outside assistance, the door of the dispensary adjoining the hospital, opened, and Beryl walked up to the table, where medicines were weighed and mixed.
"Put me to work among the sick. I want to help you."
"You! What could you do? I should as soon take a magnolia blossom to scrub the pots and pans of a filthy kitchen," answered the doctor, looking up over his spectacles from the powder he was grinding in a glass mortar.
"I can follow your directions; I can obey orders; and physicians deem that the sine qua non in nurses. Closed lips, open ears, willing hands are supposed to outweigh any amount of unlicensed brains. Try me."
"No. I am not willing. Go back up-stairs, and stay there," said the warden.
"Why may I not assist in nursing?"
"In the first place you are not fit to mix with those poor creatures, in yonder; their oaths would curdle your blood; and in the second, you are not strong, and would be sure to take the disease at once."
"I am perfectly well; my lungs are now as healthy as yours, and I am not afraid of diphtheria. You detailed nurses, who refused to serve; I volunteer; have you any right to reject me?"
"Yes, the right to protect and save your life, which is worth twenty of those already in danger," replied Mr. Singleton, pausing in his task of filling capsules with quinine.
"Who made you a judge of the value of souls? My life belongs first to God, who gave it, next to myself; and if I choose to jeopardize it, in work among my suffering comrades in disgrace, you must not usurp the authority to prevent me."
"Has it become so intolerable that you desire to commit suicide, under the specious plea of philanthropic martyrdom?" said Doctor Moffat, whose keen black eyes scanned her closely, from beneath shaggy gray brows.
"I think I may safely say, no such selfish motive underlies my resolution. My heart is full of pity, and of dread for some women here, who admit their guilt, yet have sought no pardon from the Maker their sins insult. Sick souls cry out to me louder than dying bodies; and who dare deny me the privilege of ministering to both? The parable of the sparrows is no fable to me; and if, while trying to comfort my unhappy associates here, God calls me out of this dark stony vineyard, His will alone overrules all; and I can meet His face in peace. We say: 'Lord what wilt Thou have us to do?' and when the answer comes, pointing us to perilous and loathsome labors, will He forget if we shut our eyes, and turn away, coveting the sunny fields into which He sent others to toil? Let me go to my work."
During almost eighteen months, both men had studied her character as manifested in the trying phases of prison existence, finding no flaw; to-day they looked up reverently at the graceful form in its homespun uniform, at the calm, colorless face, wearing its crown of meekness, with an inalienable, proud air of cold repose.
"To keep you here is about as sacrilegious as it would have been to thrust St. Catherine among the chain-gang in the galleys," muttered the doctor.
"No doubt duty called her to much worse places; therefore, when she died, the angels buried her on Sinai," answered the prisoner; before whose wistful eyes drifted the memory of Luini's picture.
"You have set your heart on this; nothing less will content you?"
"While the necessity continues, nothing less will content me."
"Remember, you voluntarily take your life in your own hands."
"I assume the entire responsibility for any risk incurred."
"Then, I wish you God speed; for the harvest is white, the laborers few."
"Why, doctor! I relied on you to help me keep her out of reach. If anything happens, how shall I pacify Susie? She made me promise every possible care of her favorite. Look here, only an hour ago I received a letter and this package marked, 'One for Ned; the other for Miss Beryl.' Two little red flannel safety bags, cure-alls, to be tied around our necks, close to our noses, as if we could not smell them a half mile off? Assafoetida, garlic, camphor, 'jimson weed,' valerian powder—phew! What not? Mixed as a voudoo chowder, and a scent twice as loud!"
"Be thankful your wife is not here to enforce the wearing of the sanitary sachet," said the doctor, allowing himself a grimace of contemptuous disgust.
"So I am! but being a bachelor, answerable only to yourself, you cannot understand how absence does not exonerate me from the promise made when she started away. I would sooner face an 'army with banners,' than that little brown-eyed woman of mine when she takes the lapel of my coat in one hand, raises the forefinger of the other, turns her head sideways like a thrush watching a wriggling worm, and says, in a voice that rises as fast as the sound a mouse makes racing up the treble of the piano keys: 'Ump! whew! Didn't I tell you so? The minute my back was turned, of course you made ducks and drakes of all your promises. Show me a "Flying Jenney," that the tip end of any idiot's little finger can spin around, and I'll christen it Edward McTwaddle Singleton!' Seems funny to you, doctor? Just wait till you are married, and your Susan shuts the door and interviews you, picking a whole flock of crows, till you wonder if it isn't raining black feathers. When I am taken to taw about this nursing business, I shall lose no time in laying the blame on you."
"I will assure Mrs. Singleton that you endeavored to dissuade me; and that you faithfully kept your promise to shield me from danger."
"Which she will not believe, because she knows that I have the power to lock you up indefinitely. Besides, if you live to explain matters, there will be no necessity; but suppose you do not? You are running into the jaws of an awful danger, and if—"
His frank, pleasant countenance clouded, he gnawed his mustache, and the question ended in a long sigh. After a moment, a low, sweet voice completed the sentence:
"If I should die, your tender-hearted wife is so truly and faithfully my friend, that she could not regret to hear I have entered into my rest."
There was a brief silence, during which the physician crossed the floor, opened a glass door and surveyed the stock of drugs. When he came back, and took up the pestle, he spoke with solemn emphasis:
"This is the most malignant type of an always dangerous disease that I have ever encountered; and constant exposure to it, without the careful, persistent use of tonic and disinfectant precautions, would be tantamount to walking unvaccinated into a pest-house, where people were dying of confluent small-pox. I have no desire to frighten, but it is proper that I should warn you; and insist upon the duty of watching your own health as closely as the symptoms of the victims you are desirous of nursing. Will you follow the regimen I shall prescribe for yourself?"
The warden finished filling the capsules, rose and looked at his watch.
"As far as the chances go, it is 'heads I win, tails you lose'; and sorry enough I am to see you come down and dare the pestilence; but since you are, I might as well say what I was asked to tell you last night. For your sake I kept silent; now since you persist, I wash my hands of all responsibility for the consequences. You have heard the history of the woman Iva Le Bougeois, better known in the 'walls' as the 'Bloody Duchess'. Two days ago the scourge struck her down; she is very ill, the worst symptoms have appeared, and she is almost frantic with terror. Last night, at 12 o'clock, I was going the rounds of the sick wards, and found her wringing her hands, and running up and down the cell like a maniac. I tried to quiet and encourage her, but she paid no more attention than if stone deaf; and when I started to leave her, she seized my arm, and begged me to ask you to come and stay with her. She thinks if you would sing for her, she could listen, and forget the horrible things that haunt her. It is positively sickening to see her terror at the thought of death. Poor, desperate creature."
"Yet you withheld her message when I might have comforted her?"
"It was a crazy whim. In hardened cases like hers, death-bed remorse counts for very little. Her conscience is lashing her; could you quiet that? Could you bleach out the blood that spots her soul?"
"Yes, by leading her to One who can."
"Remember, you asked me as a special favor to keep you as far apart as possible from all of her class."
"At that time, overwhelmed by the misery of my own fate, I was pitiless to the sufferings of others. The rod that smote me was very cruel then; but by degrees it seems to bud like Aaron's with precious promise, that may expand into the immortal flowers of souls redeemed. I dwelt too long in the seat of the Pharisees; I shall live closer to God, walking humbly among the Publicans. Will you show me the way to the woman who wishes to see me?"
"Not yet. There are some instructions that must be carefully weighed before I can install you as nurse, in that dismal mire of moral and physical corruption. Singleton, send the hospital steward to me."
There are spectacles which brand themselves so ineffaceably upon memory, that time has no power to impair their vividness; and of such were some of the scenes witnessed by the new nurse.
Sitting on the side of her cot, from which the gray blanket had been dragged and folded half across her shoulders, where one hand held it, while the other clutched savagely at her throat; with her bare delicate feet beating a tattoo on the white sanded floor, and her thin nostrils dilated in the battle for breath, Iva Le Bougeois moaned in abject terror. The coarse, unbleached "domestic" night-gown that fell to her ankles was streaked across the bosom with some dark brown fluid; and similar marks stained the pillow where her restless head had tossed. The hot eyes and parched red lips seemed to have drained all the tainted blood from her olive cheeks, save where, just beneath the lower lids, ominous terra-cotta rings had been painted and glazed by the disease.
As Beryl pushed open the iron door, and held up the lantern, that its brightness might stream into the cell, where even at five o'clock in the afternoon of a rainy day darkness reigned, the rays flashed back from the glowing eyes chatoyant as a cougar's.
"Your message was not delivered until to-day, and I lost no time in coming."
The small head, where short, straight, blue-black locks, rumpled and disordered, were piled elfishly around the low brow, was thrown up with the swift movement of some startled furry animal, alert even in the throes of death.
"Is all hope over? Did they tell you there is no chance for me?"
The voice was hoarse and thick, the articulation indistinct and smothered.
"No. They think you very ill, but still hope the remedies will save you. The doctor says your fine constitution ought to conquer the disease."
"I am beyond the remedy—because I can't swallow any longer. Since the doctor left me, I have tried and tried. See—"
From a bench within reach, she lifted a small yellow bowl, which contained a dark mixture, put it to her lips, and chafing her swollen glands, attempted several times to swallow the liquid. A gurgling sound betrayed the futility of the effort, the medicine gushed from her nose, the eyes seemed starting from their sockets, and even the husky cry of the sufferer was strangled, as she cowered down.
"Compose yourself; nervousness increases the difficulty. Once I had diphtheria, and could not swallow for two days, yet I recovered. Be quiet, and let me try to help you."
Kneeling in front of her, Beryl turned up the wick of the lantern, and with a small brush attached to a silver wire, finally succeeded in cauterizing and removing a portion of the poisonous growth that was rapidly narrowing the avenue of breath. The spasm of coughing that ensued was Nature's auxiliary effort, and temporarily relieved the tightening clutch.
After a few moments, a dose of the medicine was successfully administered; and then the slender, shapely brown hand of the woman grasped the nurse's blue homespun dress.
"Don't leave me! Save me. Oh, don't let me strangle here alone—in the dark; don't let me die! I'm not fit. I know where I shall go. It's not the devil I dread; I have known many devils in this world,—but God. I am afraid of God!"
"Lie down, and cover your shoulders. If it comforts you to have me, I will stay gladly. The doctor, the warden, all of us will do what we can to cure you; but the help you need most, can come only from one whose pity is greater and tenderer than ours, your merciful God. Lift up your heart in prayer to him; ask him to forgive your sins, and spare you to lead a better life."
"He would not hear, because He knows how black my heart has been all these years; since I gave myself up to hate and cursing. You can't understand—you are not one of us. You are as much out of place here, as one of the angels would be, held over the flames of torment till the wings singed. From the first time we saw you in the chapel, and more and more ever since, we found out you did not belong here. I have been so wicked—so wicked—!"
She paused, panting, then hurried on.
"When the chaplain tried to talk to me, and gave me a book to read, I dashed it back in his face, and insulted him. One Saturday they sent me to sweep out and dust the chapel, and when I finished, I laid down on one of the benches to rest. You went in to practise, not knowing I was there; and began to sing. As I listened, something seemed to stir and wake up in my heart, and somehow the music shook me out of myself. There was one hymn, so solemn, so thrilling, and the end of every verse was, 'Oh, Lamb of God! I come!'—and you sang it with a great cry, as if you were running to meet some one. I had not wept—for oh! I don't know how long—not since—. Then you played on the organ some variations on a tune—'The Sweet By-and-by'—and the tears started, and I seemed but a leaf in a wild storm. That was the song my little boy used to sing! There was a Sunday-school in the basement of a church next to our house, and he would stand at the window, and listen till he caught the tune, and learned the words. Oh, that hymn! Every note stung me like a whip lash when I heard it again. My child's face as I saw him the last time I put him to bed; when he opened his drowsy eyes, and raised up to kiss me good-night, came back to me, and seemed to sing, 'In the sweet by-and-by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.' No—never—never! Oh, my boy! My beautiful angel Max—there is no room for me, on that heavenly shore! Oh! my darling—there is NO 'Sweet by-and-by' FOR MOTHER NOW."
She had started up, with arms clasped around her knees, and her convulsed face lifted toward the low ceiling of the cell, writhed, as she drew her breath in hissing gasps.
"You loved your little boy?"
"You are not a mother, or you wouldn't ask me that If ever you had felt your baby's sweet warm lips on yours, you would know that it is mother-love that makes tigers of women. Because I idolized my little one, I could not bear the cruel wrong of having him torn from me, taught to despise me; and so I loved him best when I slew him, and I was so mad, with the delirium of pain and rage and despair, that I forgot I was putting the gulf of perdition between us. Rather than submit to separation in this world, than have him raised by them, to turn away from his mother as a thing too vile to wear his father's name, I lost him for ever and ever! My son, my star-eyed darling."
"Listen to me. You loved him so tenderly, that no matter how wilful or disobedient he might have been, you forgave him every offence; and when he sobbed on your bosom, you felt he was doubly dear, and hugged him closer to your heart? Even stronger and deeper is God's love for us. Dare you call yourself more pitiful, more tender than your Father in heaven, who gave you the capacity to love your child, because He so compassionately loves His children? We sin, we go far astray, we think mercy is exhausted, and the door shut against us; but when we truly repent and go back, and kneel, and pray to be forgiven, Christ Himself unbars the door and leads us in; and our Father, loving those whom He created, pardons all; and only requires that we sin no more. God does not follow us; we must humbly go back all the distance we have put between us by our wickedness; but the heavens will fall before He fails to keep His promise to forgive, when we do genuinely repent of our wrongdoing."
"It is easy for the good to believe that. You are innocent of any crime, and you are punished for other people's sins, not for your own; so you can't understand how I dread the thought of God, because I know the blackness of my heart, when, to get my revenge, I sold my soul to Satan. Oh! the horror of feeling that I can't undo the bargain; that pay-day has come! I had the vengeance, I snatched out of God's hands, and for a while I gloated over it; but now the awful price! My little one in heaven with the angels; knowing that his mother is a devil—eternally."
Her head had fallen upon her knees, and in the frenzy of despair she rocked to and fro.
"Don't you remember that the most sinful woman Christ met on earth, was the one of all others that He first revealed Himself to, when He came out of the grave? Because she was so nearly lost, and He had forgiven so much, in order to save her, her purified heart was doubly dear, and he honored her more than the disciples, who had escaped the depth of her wickedness. Try to find comfort in the belief, that if sincere remorse and contrition redeemed the soul of Mary Magdalen, the same Savior who pitied and pardoned her will not deny your prayer."
"God believed her, because she proved her repentance by leading a new, purer life. But I have no chance left to prove mine. If she had been cut off in the midst of her sins, as I am, she would have been obliged to pay in her ruined soul to the Satan she had served so long. When I am called to the settlement, it seems an insult and a mockery to ask God, whom I have defied, to save me. If I could only have a little time to show my penitence."
"Perhaps you may be spared; but if not, God sees your contrition just as fully now as if you lived fifty years to show it in good works. He sees you are sincerely remorseful, and would be a true Christian, if He allowed you an opportunity. That is the blessedness of our religion, that when Christ gives us a new heart, purified by repentance and faith in Him, He says it makes clean hands, in His sight, no matter how black they might have been. One of the thieves was already on the cross, in the agonies of death, with his sins fresh on his soul, and no possible chance of atoning for his past, by future dedication of his life to good; but Christ saw his heart was genuinely repentant, and though the man did not escape crucifixion by humanity, his pardoned soul met Jesus that same day in Paradise. It is not acceptance of our good deeds, though they are required, it is forgiveness of our sins, that makes Christ so precious. Pray from the very bottom of your heart, to God, and try to take hold of the promise to the truly penitent; and trust—trust Him."
For a moment the crouching figure was still, as if the sufferer mentally grasped at some shred of hope; then she fell back on her pillow, and groaned.
"Do you know all I have done? Do you think there is any mercy for—"
"Hush, every word taxes your failing strength. Compose yourself."
"I can't! As long as I have breath let me tell you. If I shut my eyes, horrible things seem to be pouncing upon me; dreadful shapes laugh, and beckon to me, and I see—oh! pity me! I see my murdered child, with the blood spouting, foaming, the velvety brown eyes I loved to kiss, staring and glazed as I dragged his little body to—"
With a gurgling scream she paused, shivered, panted.
"It is a feverish dream. Your child is safe in heaven; ask your Father to let you see his face among the angels."
"It's not fever; it's the past, my own crimes that come to follow me to judgment and accuse me. The hand of my first-born pointing over the last bar at the mother who killed him! Do you wonder I am afraid to die? I don't deny my bloody deeds—but after all it was a foul wrong that drove me to desperation; and God knows, man's injustice brought me to my sin. I was a spoiled, motherless child, married at sixteen to a man whose family despised me, because my pretty face had ruined their scheme of a match with an heiress, whose money was needed to retrieve their fortunes. They never forgave the marriage, and after a few years, mischief began to brew.
"I loved my husband, but his nature was too austere to deal patiently with my freakish, petulant, volcanic temper; and when he lectured me for my frivolity, obstinacy plunged me into excesses of gayety, that at heart I did not enjoy. His mother and sister shunned me more and more, poisoned his mind with wicked and unfounded suspicions, and so we grew mutually distrustful. He tired of me, and he showed it. I loved him. Oh! I loved him better, and better, as I saw him drifting away. He neglected me, spent his leisure where he met the woman he had once intended to marry. I was so maddened with jealous heart-ache, some evil spirit prompted me to try and punish him with the same pangs. That was my first sin of deception; I pretended an attachment I never felt, hoping to rekindle my husband's affection. Like many another heart-sick wife, I was caught in my own snare; and while I was as innocent of any wrong as my own baby boy, his father was glad of a pretext to excuse his alienation. People slandered me; and because I loved Allen so deeply, I was too proud to defend myself, until too late.
"God is my witness, my husband was the only man I ever loved; ah! how dear he was to me! His very garments were precious; and I have kissed and cried over his gloves, his slippers. The touch of his hand was worth all the world to me, but he withheld it. When you know your husband loves you, he may ill treat, may trample you under his feet, but you can forgive him all; you caress the heel that bruises you. Allen ceased to show me ordinary consideration, stung me with sneers, threatened separation; even shrunk from the boy, because he was mine.
"There came a day, when some fiend forged a letter, and the same vile hand laid it in my husband's desk. Only God knows whose is the guilt of that black deed, but I believe it was his sister's work. Allen cursed me as unworthy to be the mother of his child, and swore he would be free. On my knees I begged him to hear, and acquit me. I confessed all my yearning love for him, I assured him I was the victim of a foul plot; and that if he would only take me back to the heaven of his heart, he would find that no man ever had a more devoted wife. He wanted an excuse to put me out of his way; he repulsed me with scorn, and before the sun set, he forsook me, and took up his abode with his mother and sister. Oh! the cruel wrong of that dreadful, parting scene!"
She sprang from the cot, breathless from the passionate recital, beating the air with one small slender hand, while the other tore at the swollen cords of her tortured throat.
Beryl caught the round, prettily turned wrist, and felt the feeble thread of pulse that was only a wild flutter, under the olive satin of the hot skin.
"This excitement only hastens the end you dread. Lie down, and I will pray for you."
"I shall soon lie down for ever. Let me walk a little, before my feet slide into the grave."
She staggered twice across the length of the cell, then tottered and fell back on the cot. At every respiration the thin nostrils flared, and the glazed ring below the eyes lost its sullen red tinge, took on blue shadows.
"I did not know then I was to lose my child also; but before long, all the scheme was made clear. Allen sued for a divorce. He wanted to shake me off; and he persuaded himself all the foul things my enemies had concocted must be true. I had lost his love; I was too proud to show my torn heart to the world; and men make the laws to suit themselves, and they help each other to break chains that gall, so Allen was set free. I shut myself up in two rooms, with my boy, and saw no one. Even then, though my heart was breaking, and I wept away the lonely days—longing for the sight of my husband's face, starving for the sound of his voice—I bore up; because I knew I was innocent, and unjustly censured, and I had my child to comfort me. He slept in my arms and kept me human; and we were all the world to each other.
"Then the last blow fell. There came a note, whose every word bit my heart like an adder. Allen demanded the boy, whom the law gave to his guardianship; and I was warned I must make no attempt to see him after he was taken away, because he would be taught to forget me. I refused. I dared the officer to lay hands on my little one, and I was so frantic with grief, the man had compassion, and left me. Two nights afterward, I rocked him to sleep and put him in bed. His arms fell from my neck; half aroused, he nestled his face to mine—kissed me. I went into the next room, to finish a shirt I was making for him, and I shut the door, fearing the noise of the machine would wake him. I sewed half an hour, and—when I went back, the bed was empty, my child was gone.
"I think I went utterly mad then. I can remember putting my lips to the dent on the little ruffled pillow, where his head had lain, and swearing that I would have my revenge.
"That night turned me to stone; every tender feeling seemed to petrify. When I learned that Allen was soon to marry the woman for whom he had cast me off, and that my boy was to have a new mother to teach him to hate me, it did not grieve me; I had lost all power of suffering; but it woke up a legion of fiends where my heart used to beat, and I bided my time. Happy women in happy homes think me a monster. With their husbands' arms around them, and their babies prattling at their knees, they bear my wrongs so meekly, and shudder at my depravity. When I thought of Allen, who was my first and last and only love, giving my place to some other woman, who was no more worthy than I knew myself to be; and of the baby, who had slept on my heart, and was so dear because he had his father's eyes and his father's brown curls, growing up to deny and condemn his innocent but disgraced mother, it was more than I could bear. I was not insane; oh, no! But I was possessed by more than seven devils; and revenge was all this world could give me. My husband's family had ruined me; so I would spoil their match a second time.
"The wedding was to be very private, but I bribed a servant and got into the house, and stood behind the damask curtains. Allen's mother and sister came in, leading my boy; and they were so close to me I could see the long silky lashes resting against my baby's brow, as his great brown eyes looked wonderingly at a horseshoe of roses dangling from the chandelier. Then my husband, my handsome husband—my darling's father, walked in, with the bride on his arm, and the minister met them, saying: 'Dearly beloved—.' I ceased to be a woman then, I was a fury, a wild beast—and two minutes later my darlings were mine once more, safe from that other woman—dead at my feet. Then the ball I aimed at my own breast missed its destination. I fell on my slaughtered idols; seeing in a bloody mist the wide eyes of my baby boy, and the mangled face of the husband whose kiss was the only heaven I shall ever know. I meant to die with them, but I failed; so they sent me here. That was years ago; but I was a stone until that day in the chapel, when you sang my Max's song, 'By-and-By'."
There was a brief silence, and Beryl's voice wavered as she said very gently:
"Your trials were fiery; and though the crime was frightfully black, God judges us according to the natures we are born with, and the temptations that betray us; and He forgives all, if we are true penitents and throw ourselves trustingly on His mercy. Now take this powder; it will make you sleep."
"Will you stay with me? I shall not trouble anybody much longer. Say a prayer for my sinful soul, that is going down into the eternal night."
"Let us pray together, that your pardoned soul may find blessed and eternal peace."
Coming softly to the door, the doctor looked in through the iron lattice, saw the figure of the nurse kneeling on the sanded floor, with her bronzed head close to the pillow where the moaning victim's lay; and involuntarily he took off his cloth cap, and bowed his gray head to listen to the brief but solemn petition that went up from the dungeon to the supreme and unerring Judge.
When he returned to the same spot an hour later, Beryl sat on the side of the cot, with one hand clasping the brown wrist thrown across her lap, the other pressed gently over the sufferer's hot, aching eyes; and wonderfully sweet was the rich voice that chanted low:
"Just as I am, without one plea, But that Thy blood was shed for me. And that Thou bidd'st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God! I come, I come! Just as I am, and waiting not To rid my soul of one dark blot, To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God! I come, I come!"
The noon sun was shining over a wet world, kindling into diamonds the crystal fringe of rain drops hanging from the green lances of willows, where a tufted red bird arched his scarlet throat in madrigal—when four men lifted a cot, and bore it with its apparently dying burden to a spot upon which the warm light fell in a golden flood.
Between the Destroying Angel and his gasping prey, stepped two, anointed with the chrism of the Priesthood of Cure; and undismayed by the strident, sibilant, fitful breath that distorted the blue lips of the victim, they parried the sweep of the scythe of death, with the tiny, glittering steel blade surgery cunningly fashions; and through its silver canula, tracheotomy recalled the vanishing spirit, triumphantly renewed the lease of life.
At sunset on the same day, Beryl followed the warden to the door of the large hospital.
"Of all pitiful sights here, this has harrowed me the most. The doctors did all they could, and the chaplain worked hard to save her soul, but she was like flint, till just before the end, when she raised up, and heard her child crying down in the work-room, where it had been put to sleep. We could scarcely hold her; she fought like a panther to get out of bed, till the blood gushed from her nose, and though she could not speak plainly, she pointed, and we made out: 'Baby—Dovie'. The doctor would not consent that we should expose the child to the risk, but I could not hold out against that poor creature's pleading wild eyes, so I just brought the little one. What a strangling cry she gave, when I put it in her arms, and how the tears poured! She was almost gone, and we saw that she wanted to tell us something about the child, but we could not understand. The doctor put a pencil in her hand, and held a sheet of paper before her, and she tried to scrawl her wishes, but all we can read is: 'Her father won't ever own her. Baptize—her Dovie—Eve Werneth's baby. Don't ever tell her she was born in jail. Raise her a good—good—.' She had a sort of spasm then, and squeezed the child so tight, it screamed. In five minutes, she was dead. Only nineteen years old, and the little one just two years; and not yet weaned! I don't know what to do; so I brought you. If I touch the child, it seems frightened almost to death, but maybe you can coax it away. Poor little thing! What a mercy if it could die!"