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Audrey
by Mary Johnston
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In that moment the Audrey of the woods, a creature lithe and agile and strong of wrist as of will, had thrown herself upon him, clutching the hand that held the knife. He strove to dash her from him, but in vain; the house was in an uproar; and now Haward's hands were at his throat, Haward's voice was crying to that fair devil, that Audrey for whom he had built his house, who was balking him of revenge, whose body was between him and his enemy! Suddenly he was all savage; as upon a night in Fair View house he had cast off the trammels of his white blood, so now. An access of furious strength came to him; he shook himself free; the knife gleamed in the air, descended.... He drew it from the bosom into which he had plunged it, and as Haward caught her in his arms, who would else have sunk to the floor, the half-breed burst through the horror-stricken throng, brandishing the red blade and loudly speaking in the tongue of the Monacans. Like a whirlwind he was gone from the house, and for a time none thought to follow him.



They bore her into the small white house, and up the stair to her own room, and laid her upon the bed. Dr. Contesse came and went away, and came again. There was a crowd in Palace Street before the theatre. A man mounting the doorstep so that he might be heard of all, said clearly, "She may live until dawn,—no longer." Later, one came out of the house and asked that there might be quiet. The crowd melted away, but throughout the mild night, filled with the soft airs and thousand odors of the spring, people stayed about the place, standing silent in the street or sitting on the garden benches.

In the room upstairs lay Darden's Audrey, with crossed hands and head put slightly back. She lay still, upon the edge of death, nor seemed to care that it was so. Her eyes were closed, and at intervals one sitting at the bed head laid touch upon her pulse, or held before her lips a slight ringlet of her hair. Mary Stagg sat by the window and wept, but Haward, kneeling, hid his face in the covering of the bed. The form upon it was not more still than he; Mistress Stagg, also, stifled her sobs, for it seemed not a place for loud grief.

In the room below, amidst the tinsel frippery of small wares, waited others whose lives had touched the life that was ebbing away. Now and then one spoke in a hushed voice, a window was raised, a servant bringing in fresh candles trod too heavily; then the quiet closed in again. Late in the night came through the open windows a distant clamor, and presently a man ran down Palace Street, and as he ran called aloud some tidings. MacLean, standing near the door, went softly out. When he returned, Colonel Byrd, sitting at the table, lifted inquiring brows. "They took him in the reeds near the Capitol landing," said the Highlander grimly. "He's in the gaol now, but whether the people will leave him there"—

The night wore on, grew old, passed into the cold melancholy of its latest hour. Darden's Audrey sighed and stirred, and a little strength coming to her parting spirit, she opened her eyes and loosed her hands. The physician held to her lips the cordial, and she drank a very little. Haward lifted his head, and as Contesse passed him to set down the cup, caught him by the sleeve. The other looked pityingly at the man into whose face had come a flush of hope. "'T is but the last flickering of the flame," he said. "Soon even the spark will vanish."

Audrey began to speak. At first her words were wild and wandering, but, the mist lifting somewhat, she presently knew Mistress Stagg, and liked to have her take the doctor's place beside her. At Haward she looked doubtfully, with wide eyes, as scarce understanding. When he called her name she faintly shook her head, then turned it slightly from him and veiled her eyes. It came to him with a terrible pang that the memory of their latest meetings was wiped from her brain, and that she was afraid of his broken words and the tears upon her hand.

When she spoke again it was to ask for the minister. He was below, and Mistress Stagg went weeping down the stairs to summon him. He came, but would not touch the girl; only stood, with his hat in his hand, and looked down upon her with bleared eyes and a heavy countenance.

"I am to die, am I not?" she asked, with her gaze upon him.

"That is as God wills, Audrey," he answered.

"I am not afraid to die."

"You have no need," he said, and going out of the room and down the stairs, made Stagg pour for him a glass of aqua vitae.

Audrey closed her eyes, and when she opened them again there seemed to be many persons in the room. One was bending over her whom at first she thought was Molly, but soon she saw more clearly, and smiled at the pale and sorrowful face. The lady bent lower yet, and kissed her on the forehead. "Audrey," she said, and Audrey looking up at her answered, "Evelyn."

When the dawn came glimmering in the windows, when the mist was cold and the birds were faintly heard, they raised her upon her pillows, and wiped the death dew from her forehead. "Audrey, Audrey, Audrey!" cried Haward, and caught at her hands.

She looked at him with a faint and doubtful smile, remembering nothing of that hour in the room below, of those minutes in the moonlit garden. "Gather the rosebuds while ye may," she said; and then, "The house is large. Good giant, eat me not!"

The man upon his knees beside her uttered a cry, and began to speak to her, thickly, rapidly, words of agony, entreaty, and love. To-morrow and for all life habit would resume its sway, and lost love, remorse, and vain regrets put on a mask that was cold and fine and able to deceive. To-night there spoke the awakened heart. With her hands cold in his, with his agonized gaze upon the face from which the light was slowly passing, he poured forth his passion and his anguish, and she listened not. They moistened her lips, and one opened wide the window that gave upon the east. "It was all a dream," she said; and again, "All a dream." A little later, while the sky flushed slowly and the light of the candles grew pale, she began suddenly, and in a stronger voice, to speak as Arpasia:—

"'If it be happiness, alas! to die, To lie forgotten in the silent grave'"—

"Forgotten!" cried Haward. "Audrey, Audrey, Audrey! Go not from me! Oh, love, love, stay awhile!"

"The mountains," said Audrey clearly. "The sun upon them and the lifting mist."

"The mountains!" he cried. "Ay, we will go to them, Audrey, we will go together! Why, you are stronger, sweetheart! There is strength in your voice and your hands, and a light in your eyes. Oh, if you will live, Audrey, I will make you happy! You shall take me to the mountains—we will go together, you and I! Audrey, Audrey"—

But Audrey was gone already.

THE END

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