Anna hardly knew herself in this phase of her character, and her brother certainly did not.
"Don't be hard on me, Anna," he said, looking at her in a kind of dogged, uncertain way. "I'll do what you say, only don't be hard. It's come so sudden, that my head is like a whirlpool. Lily, Willie, Willie. The child I saw, you mean—yes, the child—I—saw—did it say he—was—my—boy?"
The words were thick and far apart. The head drooped lower and lower, the color all left the lips, and in spite of Anna's vigorous shakes, or still more vigorous hartshorn, overtaxed nature gave way, and the doctor fainted at last. It was Anna's turn now to wonder what she should do, and she was about summoning aid from some quarter when the door opened suddenly, and Hugh ushered in a stranger—the convict, who had kept his word, and came to tell what he knew of this complicated mystery, about which every invited guest was talking, and which was keeping Ellen Tiffton at home in a fever of excitement to know what it all meant.
"There will be no bridal at Spring Bank to-night, and if the invited guests have any respect for the family, they will remain quietly at home, restraining their curiosity until another day.
"ONE WHO HAS AUTHORITY"
Such were the contents of the ten different notes left at ten different houses in the neighborhood of Spring Bank that April day, by a strange horseman, who carried them all himself and saw that they were delivered.
The rider kept on his way, reining his panting steed at last before the door of Spring Bank, and casting about him anxious glances as he sprang up the steps. There was nobody in sight but Hugh, who was expecting him, and who, in reply to his inquiries for the doctor, told where he was, and that a stranger was with him. There was a low, hurried conversation between the two, a partial revelation of the business which had brought Sullivan to the house where were congregated so many of his victims; and at its close Hugh's face was deadly white, for he knew now that he had met Dr. Richards before, and that 'Lina could not be his wife.
"The villain!" he muttered, involuntarily clinching his fist as if to smite the dastard as he followed Sullivan into the parlor, starting back when he saw the prostrate form upon the floor, and heard the lady say: "My brother, sir, has fainted."
She was Anna, then; and Hugh guessed rightly why she was there.
"Madam," he began, but ere another word was uttered, there fell upon his ear a shriek which seemed to cleave the very air and made even the fainting man move in his unconsciousness.
It was Mrs. Worthington, who, with hands outstretched as if to keep him off, stood upon the threshold, gazing in mute terror at the horror of her life, whispering incoherently: "What is it, Hugh? How came he here? Save me, save me from him!"
A look, half of sorrow, half of contempt, flitted across the stranger's face as he answered for Hugh kindly, gently: "Is the very sight of me so terrible to you, Eliza? I am only here to set matters right. Here for our daughter's sake. Eliza, where is our child?"
He had drawn nearer to her as he said this last, but she intuitively turned to Hugh, who started suddenly, growing white and faint as a suspicion of the truth flashed upon him.
"Mother?" he began, interrogatively, winding his arm about her, for she was the weaker of the two.
She knew what he would ask, and with her eye still upon the man who fascinated her gaze, she answered, sadly: "Forgive me, Hugh. He was—my husband; he is—'Lina's father, not yours, Hugh—oh! Heaven be praised, not yours!" and she clung closely to her boy, as if glad one child, at least, was not tainted with the Murdock blood.
The convict smiled bitterly, and said to Hugh himself:
"Your mother is right. She was once my wife, but the law set her free from the galling chain. Will some one call Densie Densmore in? I may need her testimony."
No one volunteered to go for Densie Densmore, and he was about repeating his request, when Alice came tripping down the stairs, and pausing at the parlor door, looked in.
"Anna!" she exclaimed, but uttered no other sound for the terror of something terrible, which kept her silent.
She stood looking from one to the other, until the convict said:
"Young lady, will you call in Densie Densmore? And stay, let the bride know. She is wanted, too. I may as well confront all my victims at once."
Alice never knew what she said to Densie, or 'Lina either. She was only conscious of following them both down the stairs and into that dreadful room. No one had said that she was wanted, but she could not keep away. She must go, and she did, keeping close to Densie, who took but one step, then with a delirious laugh, she darted upon the stranger like a tigress, and seizing his arm, said, between a shriek and hiss:
"David Murdock, why are you here, a wolf in the sheepfold? Tell me, where is my stolen daughter?"
For an instant the convict regarded the raving woman, and then, as if in answer to her question, with a half nod, his glance rested on 'Lina, who, too much terrified to speak, had crept near to her affianced husband, now returning to consciousness. Hugh alone saw the nod, and it brought him at once to 'Lina, where, with his arm upon her chair, he stood as if he would protect her. Noble Hugh! 'Lina never knew one-half how good and generous he was until just as she was losing him.
"Densie," the convict said, trying in vain to shake off the hand which held him so firmly: "Densie, be calm, and wait, as you see the others doing. They all, save one, are interested in me."
"But my daughter, my stolen daughter. I'll have her, or your life!" was Densie's fierce reply.
"Auntie," and Alice glided to Densie's side.
She alone could control that strange being, roused now as she had not been roused in years. At the sound of her voice, and the touch of her fingers on her hand, Densie released her hold and suffered herself to be led to a chair, while Alice knelt beside her.
There was a moment's hesitancy, and his face flushed and paled alternately ere the convict could summon courage to begin.
"Take this seat, sir, you need it," Hugh said, bringing him a chair and then resuming his watch over 'Lina, who involuntarily leaned her throbbing head upon his arm, and with the others listened to that strange tale of sin.
THE CONVICT'S STORY
"It is not an easy task to confess how bad one has been," the stranger said, "and once no power could have tempted me to do it; but several years of prison life have taught me some wholesome lessons, and I am not the same man I was when, Densie Densmore"—and his glance turned toward her—"when I met you, and won your love. Against you first I sinned. You are my oldest victim, and it's meet I should begin with you."
"Yes, with me—me first, and tell me quick of my stolen baby," she faintly moaned.
Her ferocity of manner all was gone, and the poor, white-haired creature sat quietly where Alice had put her, while the story proceeded:
"You know, Densie, but these do not, how I won your love with promises of marriage, and then deserted you just when you needed me most. I had found new prey by that time—was on the eve of marriage with one who was too good for me. I left you and married Mrs. Eliza Worthington. I—"
The story was interrupted at this point by a cry from 'Lina, who moaned:
"No, no, oh no! He is not my father; is he, Hugh? Tell me no. John, Dr. Richards, pray look at me and say it's all a dream, a dreadful dream! Oh, Hugh!" and to the brother, scorned so often, poor 'Lina turned for sympathy, while the stranger continued:
"It would be useless for me to say now that I loved her, Eliza, but I did, and when I heard soon after my marriage that I was a father, I said: 'Densie will never rest now until she finds me, and she must not come between me and Eliza," so I feigned an excuse and left my new wife for a few weeks. Eliza, you remember I said I had business in New York, and so I had. I went to Densie Densmore. I professed sorrow for the past. I made her believe me, and then laid a most diabolical plan. Money will do anything, and I had more than people supposed. I had a mother, too, at that time, a woman old and infirm, and good, even if I was her son. To her I went with a tale, half false, half true. There was a little child, I said, a little girl, whose mother was not my wife. I would have made her so, I said, but she died at the child's birth. Would my mother take that baby for my sake? She did not refuse, so I named a day when I would bring it. 'Twas that day, Densie, when I took you to the museum, and on pretense of a little business I must transact at a house in Park Row, I left you for an hour, but never went back again."
"No, never back again—never. I waited so long, waited till I almost thought I heard my baby cry, and then went home; but baby was gone. Alice, do you hear me?—baby was gone;" and the poor, mumbling creature, rocking to and fro, buried her bony fingers in Alice's fair hair.
"Poor Densie! poor auntie!" was all Alice said, as she regarded with horror the man, who went on:
"Yes, baby was gone—gone to my mother's, in a part of the city where there was no probability of its being found and I was gone, too. You are shocked, fair maiden, and well you may be," the convict said.
"In course of time there was a daughter born to me and to Eliza; a sweet little, brown-haired, brown-eyed girl, whom we named Adaline."
Instinctively every one in that room glanced at the black eyes and hair of 'Lina, marveling at the change.
"I loved this little girl, as it was natural I should, more than I loved the other, whose mother was a servant. Besides that, she was not so deeply branded as the other; see—" and pushing back the thick locks from his forehead, he disclosed his birthmark, while 'Lina suddenly put her hand where she knew there was another like it.
"At last there came a separation. Eliza would not live with me longer and I went away, but pined so for my child that I contrived to steal her, and carried her to my mother, where was the other one. 'Twas there you tracked me, Densie. You came one day, enacting a fearful scene, and frightening my children until they fled in terror and hid away from your sight."
"I remember, I remember now. That's where I heard the name," 'Lina said, while the convict continued:
"I said you were a mad woman. I made mother believe it; but she never recovered from the shock, and six weeks after your visit, I was alone with my two girls, Densie and Adaline. I could not attend to them both, and so I sent one to Eliza and kept the other myself, hiring a housekeeper, and to prevent being dogged by Densie again, I passed as Mr. Monroe Gordon, guardian to the little child whom I loved so much."
"That was Adah," fell in the whisper from the doctor's lips, but caught the ear of no one.
All were too intent upon the story, which proceeded:
"She grew, and grew in beauty, my fair, lovely child, and I was wondrously proud of her, giving her every advantage in my power. I sent her to the best of schools, and even looked forward to the day when she should take the position she was so well fitted to fill. After she was grown to girlhood we boarded, she as the ward, I as the guardian still, and then one unlucky day I stumbled upon you, Dr. John, but not until you had first stumbled upon my daughter, and been charmed with her beauty, passing yourself as some one else—as George Hastings, I believe—lest your fashionable associates should know how the aristocratic Dr. Richards was in love with a poor, unknown orphan, boarding up two flights of stairs."
"Who is he talking about, Hugh? Does he mean me? My head throbs so, I don't quite understand," 'Lina said, piteously, while Hugh held the poor aching head against his bosom, crushing the orange blossoms, and whispering softly:
"He means Adah."
"Yes, Adah," the convict rejoined. "John Richards fancied Adah Gordon, as she was called, but loved his pride and position more. I'll do you justice, though, young man, I believe at one time you really and truly loved my child, and but for your mother's letters might have married her honorably. But you were afraid of that mother. Your pride was stronger than your love; and as I was determined that you should have my daughter, I proposed a mock marriage."
"Monster! You, her father, planned that fiendish act!" and Alice's blue eyes flashed indignantly upon him, while Hugh, forgetting that the idea was not new to him, walked up before the "monster," as if to lay him at his feet.
"Listen, while I explain, and you will see the monster had an object," returned the stranger, speaking to Alice, instead of Hugh. "There were several reasons why I wished Adah to marry Dr. Richards, and as one of them concerns this scar upon my forehead, I will tell you here its history. You, madam," addressing himself to Anna, "have probably heard how your greatgrandfather died."
"It happened almost a century of years ago, when there was not the difference of position between the proud Richards line and the humble Murdocks that there is now. Your greatgrandfather and mine were friends, boon companions, but one fatal night, when more wine than usual had been drunk, there arose a fearful quarrel between the two, and with a knife snatched from a sideboard standing near, Murdock gave his comrade a blow which resulted in his death. Sobered at once, and nearly beside himself with terror, he rushed frantically to the chamber of his sleeping wife, and laying his blood-wet hands upon her brow, screamed for her to rise, which she did immediately, nearly fainting, it is said, when by the light of the lamp her husband bore, she saw the bloody print upon her forehead. Three months afterward my grandfather was born, and over his left temple was the hated mark which has clung to us ever since, and which a noted clairvoyant predicted would never disappear until the feudal parties came together, and a Murdock wedding with a Richards. The offspring of such union would be without taint or blemish, he said, and I am told, sir, your boy is fair as alabaster."
Dr. Richards, to whom this appeal was made, only stared blankly at him, like one who hears in a dream, but 'Lina, catching at everything pertaining to the doctor, said, quickly:
"His boy! Where is his boy? Oh, what does it all mean?"
"Poor girl!" and the convict spoke sorrowfully. "I did not think she would take it so hard, but the worst is not yet told, and I must hasten. I ingratiated myself at once into John Richards' good graces and when I knew it would answer, I suggested a mock marriage. First, however, I would know something definite of his family as they were then, and so, as a Mr. Morris, who wished to purchase a country seat, I went to Snowdon, and after some inquiries in the village, forced my way to Terrace Hill. The lady listening to me was the only one I saw, and I felt sure she at least would be kind to Adah. On my return to New York, I urged the marriage more pertinaciously than at first, saying, by way of excusing myself, that as I was only Adah's guardian, I could not, of course, feel toward her as a near relative would feel—that as I had already expended large sums of money on her, I was getting tired of it, and would be glad to be released, hinting, by way of smoothing the fiendish proposition, my belief that, from constant association, he would come to love her so much that at last he would really and truly make her his wife. He did hesitate—he did seem shocked, and if I remember rightly, called me a brute, an unnatural guardian, and all that; but little by little I gained ground, until at last he consented, and I hurried the matter at once, lest he should repent.
"I had an acquaintance, I said, who lived a few miles from the city—a man who, for money, would do anything, and who, as a feigned justice of the peace, would go through with the ceremony, and ever after keep his own counsel. I wonder the doctor did not make some inquiries concerning this so-called justice, but I think I am right in saying that he is not remarkably clear-headed, and this weakness saved me much trouble, and after a long time I arranged the matter with my friend, who was a lawful justice, staying with his brother, at that time absent in Europe. This being done, I decided upon Hugh Worthington for a witness, as being the person, of all the world, who should be present at Adah's bridal. He had recently come to New York. I had accidentally made his acquaintance, acquiring so strong an influence over him that I could almost mold him to my will. I did not tell him what I wanted until I had tempted him with drugged wine, and he did not realize what he was doing. He knew enough, however, to sign his name and to salute the bride, who really was a bride, as lawful a one as any who ever turned from the altar where she had registered her vows."
"Oh, joy, joy!" and Alice sprang at once to her feet, and hastening to the doctor's side, said to him, authoritatively:
"You hear, you understand, Adah is your wife, your very own, and you must go back to her at once. She's in your own home as Rose Markham. She went from here, Adah Hastings, whose husband's name was George. You do understand me?" and Alice grew very earnest as the doctor failed to rouse up, as she thought he ought to do.
Appealing next to Anna, she continued:
"Pray, make him comprehend that his wife is at Terrace Hill."
Very gently Anna answered:
"She was there, but she has gone. He knows it; I came to tell him, but she fled immediately after recognizing my brother, and left a letter revealing the whole."
It had come to 'Lina by this time that Dr. Richards could never be her husband, and with a bitter cry, she covered her face with her hands, and went shivering to the corner where Mrs. Worthington sat, as if a mother's sympathy were needed now, and coveted as it had never been before.
"Oh, mother," she sobbed, laying her head in Mrs. Worthington's lap, "I wish I had never been born."
Sadly her wail of disappointment rang through the room, and then the convict went on with his interrupted narrative.
"When the marriage was over, Mr. Hastings took his wife to another part of the city, hiding her from his fashionable associates, staying with her most of the time, and appearing to love her so much that I thought it would not be long before I should venture to tell him the truth. I went South on a little business which a companion and myself had planned together—the very laudable business of stealing negroes from one State and selling them in another. Some of you know that I was caught in my traffic, and that the negro stealer Sullivan, was safely lodged in prison, from which he was released but two days since. Fearing there might be some mistake, I wrote from my prison home to Adah herself, but suppose it did not reach New York till after she had left it. My poor, dear little girl, thoughts of her have helped to make me a better man than I ever was before. I am not perfect now, but I certainly am not as hard, as wicked, or bad as when I first wore the felon's dress."
A casual observer would have said that Densie Densmore had heard less of that strange story than any one else, but her hearing faculties had been sharpened, and not a word was missed by her—not a link lost in the entire narrative, and when the narrator expressed his love for his daughter, she darted upon him again, shrieking wildly:
"And that child whom you loved was the baby you stole, and I shall see her again—shall hear that blessed name of mother from her own sweet lips."
A little apart from the others, his eyes fixed earnestly upon the convict, stood Hugh. His mind, too, had gathered in every fact, but he had reached a widely different conclusion from what poor Densie had.
"Answer her," he said, gravely, as the convict did not reply. "Tell her if Adah be her child, or—'Lina—which?"
Had a clap of thunder cleft the air around her, 'Lina could not have started up sooner than she did. The convict took his eyes away from her, pitying her so much, while Densie's bony hand was raised as if to thrust her off, and Densie's voice exclaimed: "Not this, not this. She despises me, a white nigger. I will not be her mother. The other one—Densie, I named her—she is mine—"
The convict shook his head. "No, Densie, not Adah, I kept her, my lawful child, and sent the other back. It was a bold move, and I wonder it was not questioned, but Adaline's eyes were not so black then as they are now, and though six months older than the other, she was small for her age, and cannot now be so tall as Adah. The mark, too, must have strengthened the deception, as I knew it would, and eighteen months sometimes changes a child materially; so Eliza took it for granted that the girl she received as Adaline, and whose real name was Densie, was her own; but Adah Hastings is her daughter and Hugh's half-sister, while this young woman is—the child of myself and Densie Densmore!"
Alice, Anna, and the doctor looked aghast, while Mrs. Worthington murmured audibly: "Adah, Adah, darling Adah, she always seemed near to me; and Willie, precious Willie—oh, I want them here now!"
One mother had claimed her own, but alas, the fond cry of welcome to sweet Adah Hastings was a death knell to 'Lina, for it seemed to shut her out of that gentle woman's heart. There was no place for her, and in her terrible desolation she stood alone, her eyes wandering wistfully from one to another, but turning very quickly when they fell on the white-haired Densie, her mother. She would not have it so; she could not own the woman she had affected to despise, that servant for her mother, that villain for her father, and worse—oh, infinitely worse than all—she had no right to be born! A child of sin and shame, disgraced, disowned, forsaken. It was a terrible blow, and the proud girl staggered beneath it.
"Will no one speak to me?" she said, at last; "no one break this dreadful silence? Has everybody forsaken me? Do you all loathe and hate the offspring of such parents? Won't somebody pity and care for me?"
"Yes, 'Lina," and Hugh—the one from whom she had the least right to expect pity—Hugh came to her side; and winding his arm around her, said, with a choking voice: "I will not forsake you, 'Lina; I will care for you the same as ever, and so long as I have a home you shall have one, too."
"Oh, Hugh, I don't deserve this from you!" was 'Lina's faint response, as she laid her head upon his bosom, whispering: "Take me away—from them all—upstairs—on the bed I am so sick, and my head is bursting open!"
Hugh was strong as a young giant, and lifting gently the yielding form, he bore it from the room—the bridal room, which she would never enter again, until he brought her back—and laid her softly down beneath the windows, dropping tears upon her white, still face, and whispering:
As Hugh passed out with his burden in his arms, the bewildered company seemed to rally; but the convict was the first to act. Turning to Mrs. Worthington he said:
"Eliza, I am here to-night for my children's sake; and now that I have done what I came to do, I shall leave you, only asking that you continue to be a mother to the poor girl who is really the only sufferer. The rest have cause for joy; you in particular," turning to the doctor, who suddenly seemed to break the spell which had bound him, and springing to his feet, exclaimed:
"Yes, Lily shall he found, Lily shall be found; but I must see my boy first. Anna, can't we go now, to-night?"
That was impossible, Alice said; and as hers was the only clear head in the household, she set herself at once to plan for everybody. To the convict and the doctor she paid no heed; but the tired Anna was conducted at once to her own room, and made to take the rest she so much needed. Densie too was cared for kindly, soothingly; for the poor old woman was nearly crushed with all she had heard; and Alice, as she left her upon the bed, heard her muttering deliriously to herself:
"She wouldn't let her own mother eat with her. She compared me to a white nigger; and can I receive her now? No, no; and she don't wish it. Yet I pitied her when her heart snapped to pieces there in the middle of the room; poor girl, poor girl!"
When Alice returned again to the parlor, the convict had gone. There had been a short consultation between himself and the doctor, an engagement to meet in Cincinnati to arrange their plan of search; and then he had turned again to his once wife, still sitting in her corner, motionless, white, and paralyzed with nervous terror.
"You need not fear me, Eliza," he said, kindly, "I shall probably never trouble you again; and though you have no cause to believe my word, I tell you solemnly that I will never rest until I have found our daughter, and sent her back to you. Be kind to Densie Densmore; she was more sinned against than sinning. Good-by, Eliza, good-by."
He did not offer her his hand; he knew she would not touch it; but with one farewell look of contrition and regret, he left her, and mounting the horse which had brought him there, he dashed away from Spring Bank, just as Colonel Tiffton reined up to the gate.
Nell would give him no peace until he went over to see what it all meant and if there really was to be no wedding. It was Alice who met him in the hall, explaining to him as much as she thought necessary, and asking him, on his return, to wait a little by the field gate, and turn back any other guest who might be on the road.
The colonel promised compliance with her request, and thus were kept away two carriage loads of people whose curiosity had prompted them to disregard the contents of the note brought to them so mysteriously.
Spring Bank was not honored with wedding guests that night; and when the clock struck eight, the appointed hour for the bridal, only the bridegroom sat in the dreary parlor, his head bent down upon the sofa arm, and his chest heaving with the sobs he could not repress as he thought of all poor Lily had suffered since he left her so cruelly. Hugh had told him what he did not understand before. He had come into the room for his mother, whom 'Lina was pleading to see; and after leading her to the chamber of the half-delirious girl, he had returned to the doctor, and related to him all he knew of Adah, dwelling long upon her gentleness and beauty, which had won from him a brother's love, even though he knew not she was his Sister.
"I was a wretch, a villain!" the doctor groaned. Then looking wistfully at Hugh, he said: "Do you think she loves me still? Listen to what she says in her farewell to Anna," and with faltering voice, he read: "That killed the love and now, if I could, I would not be his except for Willie's sake.' Do you think she meant it?"
"I have no doubt of it, sir. How could her love outlive everything? Curses and blows might not have killed it, but when you thought to ruin her good name, to deny your child, she would be less than woman could she forgive. Why, I hate and despise you myself for the wrong you have done my sister," and Hugh's tall form seemed to take on an increased height as he stood, gazing down on one who could not meet his eye, but cowered and hid his face.
It was the first time Hugh had called Adah "my sister," and it seemed to fill every nook and corner of his great heart with unutterable love for the absent girl. "Sister, sister," he kept repeating to himself, and as he did so, his resentful indignation grew toward the man who had so cruelly deceived her, until at last he abruptly left the room, lest his hot temper should get the mastery, and he knock down his dastardly brother-in-law, as he greatly wished to do.
It was a sad house at Spring Bank that night, and only the negroes were capable of any enjoyment. Terrified at first at what by dint of listening they saw and heard, they assembled in the kitchen, and together rehearsed the strange story, wondering if none of the tempting supper prepared with so much care would be touched by the whites. If not, they, of course, had the next best right, and when about midnight Mrs. Worthington passed hurriedly through the dining-room, the table gave evidence that somebody had partaken of the marriage feast, and not very sparingly either. But she did not care, her thoughts were divided between the distant Adah, her daughter—her own—the little brown-eyed child she had been so proud of years ago, and the moaning, wretched girl upstairs, 'Lina, tossing distractedly from side to side; now holding her throbbing head, and now thrusting out her hot, dry hands, as if to keep off some fancied form, whose hair, she said, was white as snow, and who claimed to be her mother.
The shock had been a terrible one to 'Lina—terrible in more senses than one. She did love Dr. Richards; and the losing him was enough of itself to drive her mad; but worse even than this, and far more humiliating to her pride, was the discovery of her parentage, the knowing that a convict was her father, a common servant her mother, and that no marriage tie had hallowed her birth.
"Oh, I can't bear it!" she cried. "I can't. I wish I might die! Will nobody kill me? Hugh, you will, I know!"
But Hugh was away for the family physician, for he would not trust a gossiping servant to do the errand. Once before that doctor had stood by 'Lina's bedside, and felt her feverish pulse, but his face then was not as anxious as now. He did not speak of danger, but Hugh, who watched him narrowly, read it in his face, and following him down the stairs, asked to be told the truth.
"She is going to be very sick. She may get well, but I have little to hope from symptoms like hers."
That was the doctor's reply, and with a sigh Hugh went back to the sick girl, who had given him little else than sarcasm and scorn.
Drearily the morning dawned, but there were no bridal slumbers to be broken, no bridal farewells said. There were indeed good-byes to be spoken, for Anna was impatient to be gone. But for Adah, who must be found, and Willie, who must be cared for, and Charlie, who was waiting for her, she would have tarried longer, and helped to nurse the girl whom she pitied so much. But even Alice said she had better go, and so at an early hour she was ready to leave the house she had entered under so unpleasant circumstances.
"I would like to see 'Lina," she said to Alice, who carried the request to the sick room.
But 'Lina refused. "I can't," she said; "she hates, she despises me, and she has reason. Tell her I was not worthy to be her sister; tell her anything you like; but the doctor—oh, Alice, do you think he'll come, just for a minute, before he goes?"
It was not a pleasant thing for the doctor to meet 'Lina now face to face, for of course she wished to reproach him for his treachery. But she did not—she thought only of herself; and when at last, urged on by Anna and Alice, he entered into her presence, she only offered him her hand at first, without a single word. He was shocked to find her so sick, for a few hours had worked a marvelous change in her, and he shrank from the bright eyes fixed so eagerly on his face.
"Oh Dr. Richards," she began at last, "if I loved you less it would not be so hard to tell you what I must. I did love you, bad as I am, but I meant to deceive you. It was for me that Adah kept silence at Terrace Hill. Adah, I almost hate her for having crossed my path."
There was a fearfully vindictive gleam in the bright eyes now, and the doctor shudderingly looked away, while 'Lina, with a soft tone, continued: "You believed me rich, and whether you loved me afterward or not, you sought me first for my money. I kept up the delusion, for in no other way could I have won you. Dr. Richards, if I die, as perhaps I may, I shall have one less sin for which to atone, if I confess to you that instead of the heiress you imagined me to be, I had scarcely money enough to pay my board at that hotel. Hugh, who himself is poor, furnished what means I had, and most of my jewelry was borrowed. Do you hear that? Do you know what you have escaped?"
She almost shrieked at the last.
"Go," she continued, "find your Adah. It's nothing but Adah now. I see her name in everything. Hugh thinks of nothing else, and why should he? She's his sister, and I—oh! I'm nobody but a beggarly servant's brat. I wish I was dead! I wish I was dead! and I will be pretty soon."
This was their parting, and the doctor left her room a soberer, sadder man than he had entered it. Half an hour later, and he, with Anna, was fast nearing Versailles, where they were joined by Mr. Millbrook, and together the three started on their homeward route.
Rapidly the tidings flew, told in a thousand different ways, and the neighborhood was all on fire with the strange gossip. But little cared they at Spring Bank for the storm outside, so fierce a one was beating at their doors, that even the fall of Sumter failed to elicit more than a casual remark from Hugh, who read without the slightest emotion the President's call for seventy-five thousand men. Tenderer than a brother was Hugh to the sick girl upstairs, staying by her so patiently that none save Alice ever guessed how he longed to be free and join in the search for Adah. To her it had been revealed by a few words accidentally overheard. "Oh, Adah, sister, I know that I could find you, but my duty is here."
This was what he said, and Alice felt her heart throb with increased respect for the unselfish man, who gave no other token of his impatience to be gone, but stayed home hour after hour in that close, feverish room, ministering to all of 'Lina's fancies, and treating her as if no word of disagreement had ever passed between them. Night after night, day after day, 'Lina grew worse, until at last, there was no hope, and the council of physicians summoned to her side said that she would die. Then Densie softened again, but did not go near the dying one. She could not be sent away a second time, so she stayed in her own room, which witnessed many a scene of agonizing prayer, for the poor girl passing so surely to another world.
"God save her at the last. God let her into heaven," was the burden of shattered Densie's prayer, while Alice's was much like it, and Hugh, too, more than once bowed his head upon the burning hands he held, and asked that space might be given her for repentance, shuddering as he recalled the time when, like her, he lay at death's door, unprepared to enter in. Was he prepared now? Had he made a proper use of life and health restored? Alas! that the answer conscience forced upon him should have wrung out so sharp a groan. "But I will be," he said, and laying his own face by 'Lina's, he promised that if God would bring her reason back, so they could tell her of the untried world her feet were nearing, he would henceforth be a better man, and try to serve the God who heard and answered that earnest prayer.
It was many days ere the fever abated, but there came a morning in early May when the eyes were not so fearfully bright as they had been, while the wild ravings were hushed, and 'Lina lay quietly upon her pillow.
"Do you know me?" Alice asked, bending gently over her, while Hugh, from the other side of the bed, leaned eagerly forward for the reply.
"Yes, Alice, but where am I? This is not New York—not my room. Have I—am I sick, very sick?" and 'Lina's eyes took a terrified expression as she read the truth in Alice's face. "I am not going to die, am I?" she continued, casting upon Alice a look which would have wrung out the truth, even if Alice had been disposed to withhold it, which she was not.
"You are very sick," she answered, "and though we hope for the best, the doctor does not encourage us much. Are you willing to die, 'Lina?"
Neither Hugh nor Alice ever forgot the tone of 'Lina's voice as she replied:
"Willing? No!" or the expression of her face, as she turned it to the wall, and motioned them to leave her.
For two days after that she neither spoke nor gave other token of interest in anything passing around her, but at the expiration of that time, as Alice sat by her, she suddenly exclaimed:
"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. I wish He had said that some other way, for if that means we cannot be forgiven until we forgive everybody, there's no hope for me, for I cannot, I will not forgive Densie Densmore for being my mother, neither will I forgive Adah Hastings for having crossed my path. If she had never seen the doctor I should have been his wife, and never have known who or what I was. I hate them both, Densie and Adah, so you need not pray for me. I heard you last night, and even Hugh has taken it up, but it's no use. I can't forgive."
'Lina was very much excited—so much indeed, that Alice could not talk with her then; and for days this was the burden of her remarks. She could not forgive Densie and Adah, and until she did, there was no use for her or any one else to pray. But the prayers she could not say for herself were said for her by others, while Alice omitted no proper occasion for talking with her personally on the subject she felt to be all-important. Nor were these efforts without their effect; the bitter tone when speaking of Densie ceased at last, and Alice was one day surprised at 'Lina's asking to see her, together with Mrs. Worthington. Timidly, Densie approached the bed from which she had once been so angrily dismissed. But there was nothing to fear now from the white, wasted girl, whose large eyes fastened themselves a moment on the wrinkled face; then with a shudder, closed tightly, while the lip quivered with a grieved, suffering expression. She did not say to poor old Densie that she acknowledged her as a mother, or that she felt for her the slightest thrill of love. She was through with deception; and when, at last, she spoke to the anxiously waiting woman, it was only to say:
"I wanted to tell you that I have forgiven you; but I cannot call you mother. You must not expect it. I know no mother but this one," and the white hand reached itself toward Mrs. Worthington, who took it unhesitatingly and held it between her own, while 'Lina continued: "I've given you little cause to love me, and I know how glad you must be that another, and not I, is your real daughter. I did not know what made me so bad, but I understand it now. I saw myself so plainly in that man's eyes; it was his nature in me which made me so hateful to Hugh. Oh, Hugh! the memory of what I've been to him is the hardest part of all," and covering her face with the sheet, 'Lina wept bitterly; while Hugh, who was standing behind her, laid his warm hand on her head, smoothing her hair caressingly, as he said:
"Never mind that, 'Lina; I, too, was bad to you. If 'Lina can forgive me, I surely can forgive 'Lina."
There was the sound of convulsive sobbing; and then, uncovering her face, 'Lina raised herself up, and laying her hand on Hugh's bosom, answered through her tears:
"I wish I had always felt as I do now. Hugh, you don't know how bad I've been. Why, I used to be ashamed to call you brother, if any fine people were near."
There was a sparkle of indignation in Alice's blue eyes.
"You have no cause to be ashamed of Hugh," she said, quickly, the tone of her voice coming like a revelation to 'Lina, who scanned her face eagerly, and then, turning, looked curiously up to Hugh.
"I'm glad, I'm glad," she whispered, "for I know now you are worthy even of her."
"You are mistaken, 'Lina," Hugh said, huskily, while 'Lina continued; "And, Hugh, I must tell you more, how bad I've been. You remember the money you sent to Adah last summer in mother's letter. I kept the whole. I burned the letter, and mother never saw it. I bought jewelry with Adah's money. I did so many things, I—I—it goes from me now. I can't remember all. Oh, must I confess the whole, everything, before I can say, 'Forgive us our trespasses?'"
"No, 'Lina. Unless you can repair some wrong, you are not bound to tell every little thing. Confession is due to God alone," Alice whispered to the agitated girl, who looked bewildered, as she answered back: "But God knows all now, and you do not; besides, I can't feel sorry toward Him as I do toward others. I try and try, but the feeling is not there—the sorry feeling, I mean, as sorry as I want to feel."
"God, who knows our feebleness, accepts our purposes to do better, and gives us strength to carry them out," Alice whispered, again bending over 'Lina, on whose pallid, distressed face a ray of hope for a moment shone.
"I have good purposes," she murmured; "but I can't, I can't. I don't know as they are real; maybe, if I get well, they would not last, and it's all so dark, so desolate—nothing to make life desirable—no home, no name, no friends—and death is so terrible. Oh, Hugh, Hugh! don't let me go. You are strong; you can hold me back, even from Death himself; and I can be good to you; I can feel on that point, and I tell you truly that, standing as I am with the world behind and death before, I see nothing to make life desirable, but you, Hugh, my noble, my abused brother. To make you love me, as I hope I might, is worth living for. You would stand by me, Hugh—you, if no one else, and I wish I could tell you how fast the great throbs of love keep coming to my heart. Dear Hugh, Hugh, Brother Hugh, don't let me die—hold me fast."
With an icy shiver, she clung closer to Hugh, as if he could indeed do battle with the king of terror stealing slowly into that room.
"Somebody say 'Our Father,'" she whispered, "I can't remember how it goes."
"Do you forgive and love everybody?" Alice asked, sighing as she saw the bitter expression flash for an instant over the pinched features, while the white lips answered: "Not Adah, no, not Adah."
Alice could not pray after that, not aloud at least, and a deep silence fell upon the group assembled around the deathbed. 'Lina slept at last, slept quietly on Hugh's strong arm, and gradually the hard expression on the face relaxed, giving way to one of quiet peace, and Densie, watching her anxiously, whispered beneath her breath: "See, the Murdock is all gone, and her face is like a baby's face. Maybe she would call me mother now."
Poor Densie! Eagerly she waited for the close of that long sleep, her eye the first to note that it was ended, and 'Lina awake again. Still the silence remained unbroken, while 'Lina seemed lost to all else save the thoughts burning at her breast—thoughts which brought a quiver to her lips, and forced out upon her brow great drops of sweat, which Densie wiped away, unnoticed, it may be, or at least unrebuked. The noonday sun of May was shining broadly into the room, but to 'Lina it was night, and she said to Alice, now kneeling at her side: "It's growing dark; they'll light the street lamps pretty soon, and the band will play in the yard, but I shall not hear them. New York and Saratoga are a great ways off, and so is Terrace Hill. Tell him I meant to deceive him, but I did love him. Tell Adah I do forgive her, and I would like to see her, for she is my half-sister. The bitter is all gone. I am in charity with everybody, everybody. May I say 'Our Father' now? It goes and comes, goes and comes, forgive our trespasses, my trespasses; how is it, Hugh? Say it with me once, and you, too, mother."
She did not look toward Densie, but her hand fell off that way, and Densie, with a low cry began with Hugh the soothing prayer in which 'Lina joined feebly, throwing in ejaculatory sentences of her own.
"I forgive Densie Densmore; I forgive Adah, Adah, everybody. Forgive my trespasses then as I forgive those that trespass against me. Bless Hugh, dear Hugh, noble Hugh. Forgive us our trespasses, forgive us our trespasses, our trespasses, forgive my trespasses, me, forgive, forgive."
It was the last word which ever passed 'Lina's lips, "Forgive, forgive," and Hugh, with his ear close to the lips, heard the faint murmur even after the hands had fallen from his neck where in the last struggle they had been clasped, and after the look which comes but once to all had settled on her face. That was the last of 'Lina, with that cry for pardon she passed away, and though it was but a deathbed repentance, and she, the departed, had much need for pardon, Alice and the half-acknowledged mother clung to it as to a ray of hope, knowing how tender and full of compassion was the blessed Savior, even to those who turn not to Him until the river of death is bearing them away. Very gently Hugh laid the dead girl back upon the pillow, and leaving one kiss on her white forehead, hurried away to his own room, where, unseen to mortal eye, he could ask for knowledge to give himself aright to the God who had come so near to them.
There were no noisy outbursts among the negroes when told their young mistress was dead, for 'Lina had not been greatly loved. The sight of Alice's swollen eyes and tear-stained face affected Mug, it is true, but even she could not cry until she had coaxed old Uncle Sam to repeat to her, for the twentieth time, the story of Bethlehem's little children slain, by order of the cruel Herod. This story, told in old Sam's peculiar way, had the desired effect, and the tears which refused to start even at the sight of 'Lina dead, flowed freely for the little ones over whom Rachel wept, refusing to be comforted.
"I can cry dreffully now, Miss Alice, I'se sorry, Miss 'Lina is dead, very sorry. She never can come back any more, can she?" Mug sobbed, running up to Alice, and hiding her face in her dress.
And this was about as real as any grief expressed by the blacks for 'Lina. Poor 'Lina, she had taken no pains to win affection while she was living, and she could not expect to be missed much when she was gone. Hugh mourned for her the most, more even than his mother or Densie Densmore—the latter of whom seemed crazier than ever, shutting herself entirely in her room, and refusing to be present at the funeral. 'Lina had been ashamed of her, she said, and she would not disgrace her by claiming relationship now that she was dead, so with eyes whose blackness was dimmed by tears, she watched from her window the procession moving from the yard, across the fields, and out to the hillside, where the Spring Bank dead were buried, and where on the last day of blooming, beautiful May, they laid 'Lina to rest, forgetting all her faults, and speaking only kindly words of her as they went slowly back to the house, from which she had gone forever.
A few days after 'Lina's burial, there came three letters to Spring Bank, one to Mrs. Worthington from Murdock, as he now chose to be called, saying that though he had looked, and was still looking everywhere for the missing Adah, he could only trace her, and that but vaguely, to the Greenbush depot, where he lost sight of her entirely, no one after that having seen a person bearing the least resemblance to her. After a consultation with the doctor, he had advertised for her, and he inclosed a copy of the advertisement, as it appeared in the different papers of Boston, Albany, and New York.
"If A—— H—— will let her whereabouts be known to her friends, she will hear of something to her advantage."
This was the purport of Murdock's letter, if we except a kind of inquiry after 'Lina, of whose death he had not heard.
The second, for Alice, was from Anna Richards, who was also ignorant as yet of 'Lina's decease. After inquiring kindly for the unfortunate girl, she wrote:
"I have great hopes of my erring brother, now that I know how his whole heart goes toward his beautiful boy, our darling Willie. I wish poor, dear Lily could have seen him when, on his arrival at Terrace Hill, he not only bent over, but knelt by the crib of his sleeping child, waking him at once, and hugging him to his bosom, while his tears dropped like rain. I am sure she would have chosen to be his wife, for her own sake as well as Willie's.
"You know how proud my mother and sisters are, and it would surprise you, as it does me, to see them pet, and spoil, and fondle Willie, who rules the entire household, mother even allowing him to bring wheelbarrow, drum, and trumpet into the parlor, declaring that she likes the noise, as it stirs up her blood. Willie has made a vast change in our once quiet home, and I fear I shall meet with much opposition when I take him away, as I expect to do next month, for Lily gave him to me, and brother John has said that I may have him until the mother is found, while Charlie is perfectly willing; and thus, you see, my cup of joy is full.
"Brother is away now, hunting for Adah, and I am wicked enough not to miss him, so busy am I in the few preparations needed by the wife of a poor missionary."
Then, in a postscript. Anna added: "I forgot to tell you that Charlie and I are to be married some time in July, that the Presbyterian Society of Snowdon has given him a call to be their pastor, that he has accepted, and what is best of all, has actually rented your old home for us to live in. I don't know how it will seem to stop on Sundays at the meeting house instead of keeping on to our dear, old St. Luke's. I love the service dearly, but I love my Charlie more, notwithstanding that he calls me his little heretic, and accuses me of proselytizing intentions towards himself. I have never confessed it before, but, seriously, I have strong hopes of seeing him yet in surplice and gown; but till that time comes, I shall be a real good Presbyterian, or orthodox, as they are called here in Massachusetts.
"Perhaps you may have heard that mother was once much opposed to Charlie. I must say, however, that she has done well at the last, for when I told her I had found him, and that we were to be married, she said she was glad on the whole, as it relieved her of a load, and she hoped I would be happy."
Anna did not explain to Alice that the load of which her mother was relieved was mostly Charlie's hidden letters, given up with a full confession of the pains taken to conceal them, and a frank acknowledgment of wrong to Anna, who, as her letter indicated, was far too happy to be angry for a single moment. With a smile, Alice finished the childlike letter, so much like Anna. Then feeling that Hugh would be glad to hear from Willie, she went in quest of him, finding him at the end of the long piazza, where he sat gazing vacantly at the open letter in his hand—Irving Stanley's letter, which he passed at once to Alice in exchange for Anna's given to him.
Glancing at the name at the bottom of the page, Alice blushed painfully, feeling rather than seeing that Hugh was watching her, and guessing of what he was thinking. Irving did not know of 'Lina's death. From Dr. Richards, whom he had accidentally met on Broadway, he had heard of her sudden illness, and apparently accepted that as the reason why the marriage was not consummated. Intuitively, however, he felt that there must be something behind, but he was far too well-bred to ask any idle questions, and in his letter he merely inquired after 'Lina, as after any sick friend, playfully hoping that for the sake of the doctor, who looked very blue, she would soon recover and make him the happiest man alive. Then followed some allusions to the relationship existing between himself and Hugh, with regrets that more had not been made of it, and then he said that having decided to accompany his sister and Mrs. Ellsworth on her tour to Europe, whither she would go the latter part of July, and having nothing in particular to occupy him in the interim, he would, with Hugh's permission, spend a few days at Spring Bank. He did not say he was coming to see Alice Johnson, but Hugh understood it just the same, feeling confident that his sole object in visiting Kentucky was to take Alice back with him, and carry her off to Europe.
Some such idea flitted across Alice's mind as she read that letter, and for a single instant her eyes sparkled with delight at the thought of wandering over Europe in company with Mrs. Ellsworth and Irving Stanley; but when she looked at Hugh, the bright vision faded, and with it all desire to go with Irving Stanley, even should he ask her. Hugh needed her more than Irving Stanley. He was, if possible, more worthy of her. His noble, unselfish devotion to 'Lina had finished the work begun on that memorable night, when she said to him: "I may learn to love you," and from the moment when to 'Lina's passionate cry, "Will no one pity me?" he had answered, "Yes, 'Lina, I will care for you," her heart had been all his own, and more than once as she watched with him by 'Lina's bedside, she had been tempted to wind her arm around his neck and whisper in his ear:
"Hugh, I love you now, I will be your wife."
But propriety had held her back and made her far more reserved toward him than she had ever been before. Terribly jealous where she was concerned, Hugh was quick to notice the change, and the gloomy shadow on his face was not caused wholly by 'Lina's sad death, as many had supposed. Hugh was very unhappy. Instead of learning to love him, as he had sometimes hoped she might, Alice had come to dislike him, shunning his society, and always making some pretense to get away if, by chance, they were left alone; and now, as the closing act in the sad drama, Irving Stanley was coming to carry her off forever.
Hugh's heart was very sore as he sat there waiting for Alice to finish that letter, and speak to him about it. What a long, long time it took her to read it through—longer than it needed, he was sure, for the handwriting was very plain and the letter very brief.
Alice knew he was waiting for her, and after hesitating a while, she went up to him, and laying her hand on his shoulder, as she had not done in weeks, she said:
"You will be glad to see your cousin?"
"Yes; I suppose so. Shall you?"
He turned partly around, so he could look at her; and this it was which brought the blood so quickly to her face, making her stammer as she replied:
"Of course I shall be glad. I like him very much; but—"
Here she stopped, for she did not know how to tell Hugh that she was not glad in the way which he supposed.
"But what?" he asked, "What were you going to say?" and in his eyes there was a look which drove Alice's courage away, and made her answer:
"It's queer the doctor did not tell him anything except that 'Lina was sick."
"There are a great many queer people in this world," Hugh replied, rather testily, while Alice mildly rejoined.
"The letter has been delayed, and he will be here day after to-morrow. Did you notice?"
"Yes; and as I am impatient to go for Adah, the sooner he comes the better, for the sooner it will leave me at liberty. Would it be very impolite for me to go at once, and leave you to entertain him?"
"Of course it would," said Alice. "Adah's claim is a strong one, I'll admit; but the doctor and Mr. Murdock are doing their best; and I ask, as a favor, that you remain at home to meet Mr. Stanley."
Now Hugh knew that nothing could have tempted him to leave Spring Bank so long as Irving Stanley was there; but as he was just in a mood to be unreasonable, he replied that, "if Alice wished it, he should remain at home until Mr. Stanley's visit was ended."
Alice felt exceedingly uncomfortable, for never had Hugh been so provokingly distant and cool, and she was really glad when at last a carriage appeared across the fields, and she knew the "city cousin," as Hugh called him, was coming.
He had come, and up in the chamber where 'Lina died, was making the toilet necessary after his hot dusty ride. Hugh, heartily ashamed of his conduct for the last two days, had received him most cordially, meeting him at the gate, and holding him by the hand, as they walked together to the house, where Mrs. Worthington stood waiting for him, her lips quivering, and tears dimming her eyes, as she said to him: "Yes, 'Lina is dead."
Irving had heard as much at the depot, and heard, too, a strange story, the truth of which he greatly doubted. Mrs. Worthington had been 'Lina's mother, he believed, and his sympathy went out toward her at once, making him forget that Alice was not there to meet him, as he half expected she would be, although they were really comparative strangers.
It was not until a rather late hour that Alice joined him, sitting upon the cool piazza, with Hugh as his companion. In summer Alice always wore white, and now, as she came tripping down the long piazza, her muslin dress floating about her like a snowy mist, her fair hair falling softly about her face and on her neck, a few geranium leaves twined among the glossy curls, and her lustrous eyes sparkling with excitement, both Irving Stanley and Hugh held their breath and watched her as she came, the one jealously and half angry that she was so beautiful, the other admiringly and with a feeling of wonder at the beauty he had never seen surpassed.
Alice was perfectly self-possessed, and greeted Mr. Stanley as she would have greeted any friend—and she was glad to see him—spoke of Saratoga, and then inquired for Mrs. Ellsworth about whom poor 'Lina had talked so much.
Mrs. Ellsworth was well, Irving said, though very busy with her preparations for going to Europe, adding "it was not so much pleasure which was taking her there as by the hope that by some of the Paris physicians her little deformed Jennie might be benefited. She had secured a gem of a governess for her daughter, a young lady whom he had not yet seen, but over whose beauty and accomplishments his staid sister Carrie had really waxed eloquent."
Hugh cared nothing for that governess, and after a little, thinking he was not wanted, stole quietly away, and being moodily inclined, rambled off to 'Lina's grave, half wishing, as he stood there in the moonlight, that he, too, was lying beside it.
"Were I sure of heaven, it would be a blessed thing to die," he thought, "for this world has little in it to make me happy. Oh, Alice, Golden Hair, I could almost wish we had never met, though, as I told her once, I would rather have loved and lost her than never have loved her at all."
Poor Hugh! He was mistaken with regard to Alice. She was not listening to love words. She was telling Irving Stanley as much of 'Lina's sad story as she thought necessary, and Irving, though really interested, was, we must confess, too intent on watching the changing expressions of her beautiful face to comprehend it clearly in all its complicated parts.
He understood that 'Lina was not, and that a certain Adah Hastings was, Mrs. Worthington's child; understood, too, that Adah was the wife of Dr. Richards—that she had at some time, not quite clear to him, been at Terrace Hill, but he somehow received the impression that she eventually fled from Spring Bank after recognizing the doctor, and never once thought of associating her with the young woman to whom, many months previously, he had been so kind in the crowded car, and whose sad, brown eyes had haunted him at intervals ever since.
Irving Stanley was not what could well be called fickle. He admired ladies indiscriminately, respected them all, liked some very much, and next to Alice was more attracted by and pleased with Adah's face than any he had ever seen save that of "the Brownie," which seemed to him much like it. He had thought of Adah often, but had as often associated her with some tall, bewhiskered man, who loved her and her little boy as she deserved to be loved. With this idea constantly before him, Adah had gradually faded from his mind, leaving there only the image of one who had made the strongest impression upon him of any whom he yet had met. Alice Johnson, she was the star he followed now, hers the presence which would make that projected tour through Europe all sunshine. Irving had decided to be married; his mother said he ought; Augusta said he ought; Mrs. Ellsworth said he ought; and so, as Hugh suspected, he had come to Kentucky for the sole purpose of asking Alice to be his wife. At sight, however, of Hugh, so much improved, so gentlemanly, and so fine looking, his heart began to misgive him, and Hugh would have been surprised could he have known that Irving Stanley was as jealous of him as he was of Irving Stanley. Yet, such was the fact, and it was a hard matter to tell which was the more miserable of the two, Irving or Hugh, when at last the latter returned from 'Lina's grave, and seated himself upon the moon-lighted piazza, a little apart from the lovers, as he believed Irving and Alice to be.
By mutual consent the conversation turned upon the war, and Alice could scarcely forbear laying her hand in Hugh's in token of approbation as she watched the glow of enthusiasm kindling in his cheek, and the fire of patriotism flashing from his dark, handsome eyes.
"I wonder, with your strong desire to punish the South, that you are not in the field," Irving said, a little dryly, for though not a sympathizer with the rebellion, he was a Baltimorean, and not yet quite as much aroused as Hugh, who replied at once:
"And so I should have been, but for circumstances I could not control. I shall soon start in quest of my sister, and when she is found I shall volunteer at once, fighting like a blood-hound, until some ball strikes me down."
This he said savagely, and partly for Alice's benefit; never, however, glancing at her, and so he failed to see the sudden pallor on her cheek, as she heard, in fancy, the whizzing of the ball which was to lay that stalwart form in the dust.
"No, sir," Hugh continued fiercely, "it's not for lack of will that I am not with them to-day; and, I assure you, nothing could take me to Europe at such a time as this, unless I went to be rid of the trouble," and springing from his chair, Hugh strode up and down the piazza, chafing like a caged lion, while Irving Stanley's face flushed faintly at the insinuation he could not help understand, and Alice looked surprised that Hugh should so far have forgotten his position as host.
The same thought came to Hugh at last, and turning suddenly in his walk, he confronted Irving Stanley, and offering him his hand, said:
"Forgive me, sir, for my rudeness. When I get upon the war, I grow too much excited. I knew you were from Baltimore, and I was fearful you might uphold that infernal mob which murdered the brave Massachusetts boys. I could lay that city in ashes."
Irving took the offered hand, and answered, good humoredly:
"That would punish the innocent as well as the guilty, so I am not with you there, though, like you, I recoil in horror from the perpetration of that fiendish attack upon peaceable troops. I was there myself, and did what I could to quiet the tumult, receiving more than one brickbat for my interference. One word more, Cousin Hugh, I am not going to Europe to be rid of the trouble, or for pleasure either, but as my sister's escort. I do not yet see that my country needs me; when I do I shall come home and join the Union army. We may meet yet on some battlefield, and if we do you will see I am no coward or traitor either."
Alice's face was white now as marble, and her breath came hurriedly. The war, before so far off, seemed very near—a terrible reality, when those two young men talked of standing side by side on some field of carnage. Hugh noticed her now, and attributing her emotions wholly to her fears for Irving Stanley, wrung the hand of the latter and then walked away, half wishing that the leafy woods beyond the distant fields were so many human beings and he was one of them, marching on to duty.
In this quiet way two days went by, Irving Stanley, quiet, pleasant, gentlemanly, and winning all hearts by his extreme suavity of manner; Hugh, silent, fitful, moody; Alice, artificially gay, and even merry, trying so hard to make up Hugh's deficiencies, that she led poor Irving astray, and made him honestly believe she might be won. It was on the morning of the third day that he resolved to end the uncertainty, and know just how she regarded him. Hugh had gone to Frankfort, he supposed; Mrs. Worthington was suffering from a nervous headache, while Densie, as usual, sat in her own room, mostly silent, but occasionally whispering to herself, "White nigger, white nigger—that's me!" Apparently it was the best opportunity he could have, and joining Alice in the large, cool parlor, he seated himself beside her, and with the thought that nothing was gained by waiting, plunged at once into his subject.
"Alice," he began, "I must leave here to-morrow, and the business on which I came is not yet transacted. Can't you guess what it is? Has not my manner told you why I came to Kentucky?"
Alice was far too truthful to affect ignorance, and though it cost her a most painful effort to do so, she answered, frankly: "I think I can guess."
"And you will not tell me no?" Irving said, involuntarily winding his arm around her, and drawing her drooping head nearer to him.
Just then a shadow fell upon them, but neither noticed it, or dreamed of the tall form passing the window and pausing long enough to see Irving Stanley's arm around Alice's neck, to hear Irving Stanley as he continued: "Darling Alice, you will be my wife?"
The rest was lost to Hugh, who had not yet started for Frankfort, as Irving supposed. With every faculty paralyzed save that of locomotion, he hurried away to where Rocket stood waiting for him, and mounting his pet, went dashing across the fields, conscious of nothing save that Golden Hair was lost forever. In his rapid walk down the piazza he had not observed Old Sam, seated in the door, nor heard the mumbled words, "Poor Massa Hugh! I'se berry sorry for him, berry! I kinder thought, 'fore t'other chap comed, Miss Ellis was hankerin' after him a little. Poor Massa Hugh!"
Old Sam, like Hugh, had heard Irving Stanley's impassioned words, for the window nearby was opened wide; he had seen, too, the deadly pallor on Hugh's face, and how for an instant he staggered, as from a blow, covering his eyes with his hands and whispering as he passed the negro, "Oh, Alice, Golden Hair!"
All this Sam had witnessed, and in his sympathy for "Massa Hugh" he failed to hear the rest of Irving's wooing, or Alice's low-spoken answer. She could not be Irving Stanley's wife. She made him understand that, and then added, sadly: "I am sorry I cannot love you as I ought, for I well know the meed of gratitude I owe to one who saved my life, and I have wanted so much to thank you, only you did not seem to remember me at all."
In blank amazement Mr. Stanley asked her what she meant, while Alice, equally amazed, replied: "Surely, you have not forgotten me? Can I be mistaken? I am the little girl whom Irving Stanley rescued from drowning, when the St. Helena took fire, several years ago."
"I was never on a burning boat, never saw the St. Helena," was Mr. Stanley's reply; and then for a moment the two regarded each other intently, but Irving was the first to speak.
"It was Hugh," he said. "It must have been Hugh, for I remember now that when he was a lad, or youth, his uncle sometimes called him Irving, which is, I think, his middle name."
"Yes, Yes, H.I. Worthington. I've seen it written thus, but never thought to ask what 'I.' was for. It was Hugh, and I mistook that old man for his father. I understand it now," and Alice spoke hurriedly, her fair face coloring with excitement as the truth flashed upon her that she was Golden Hair.
Then the bright color faded away, and alarmed at the pallor which succeeded it, Irving Stanley passed his arm supportingly around her, asking if she were faint. Old Sam, moving away from the door, saw her as she sat thus, but did not hear her reply: "It takes me so by surprise. Poor Hugh, how he must have suffered."
She said this last more to herself than to Irving Stanley, who, nevertheless, saw in it a meaning; and looking her earnestly in the face, said to her: "Alice, you cannot be my wife, because your heart is given to Hugh Worthington. Is it not so?"
Alice would not deceive him, and she answered, frankly: "It is," while Irving replied: "I approve your choice, although it makes me very wretched. You will be happy with him. Heaven bless you both."
He dared not trust himself to say another word, but hurrying from her presence, sought the shelter of the woods, where alone he could school himself to bear this terrible disappointment.
Hugh did not return until evening, and the first object he saw distinctly as he galloped to the house, was Alice, sitting near to Irving upon the pleasant piazza, just as it was natural that she should sit. He did not observe that his mother was there with them; he did not think of anything as he rode past them with nod and smile, save that life henceforth was but a dreary, hopeless blank to him.
Leaving Rocket in Claib's care, he sauntered to the back piazza, where Sam was sitting, and taking a seat beside him startled him by saying that he should start on the morrow in quest of his missing sister.
"Yes, massah," was Sam's quiet reply, for he understood the reason of this sudden journey.
Old Sam pitied Hugh, and after a moment's silence his pity expressed itself in words. Laying his dark hand on Hugh's bowed head, he said:
"Poor Massah Hugh. Sam kin feel for you ef he is black. Niggers kin love like the white folks does."
"What do you mean? What do you know?" Hugh asked, a little haughtily, while Sam fearlessly replied:
"'Scuse me, massah, but I hears dem dis mornin'—hears de city chap sparkin' Miss Ellis, and seen his arm spang round her, too, with her sweet face, white as wool, lyin' in his buzzum."
"You saw this after I was gone?" Hugh asked, eagerly, and Sam replied:
"Yes, massah, strue as preachin', and I'se sorry for massah. I prays that he may somewhar find anodder Miss Ellis, only not quite so nice, 'cause he can't."
Hugh smiled bitterly, as he rejoined:
"Pray rather that I may find Adah, that is the object now for which I live; and, Sam, keep what you have seen to yourself. Be faithful to Miss Johnson and kind to mother. There's no telling when I shall return. I may join the Federal Army, but not a word of this to any one."
"Oh, massah," Sam began, but Hugh left him ere he finished, and compelled himself to join the group on the front side of the building, startling them as he had Sam by announcing his determination to start on the morrow for New York.
Alice's exclamation of surprise was lost as Irving rejoined:
"Then we may travel together, as I, too, leave in the morning."
Hugh gave him a rapid, searching glance, and then his eye fell on Alice, whose white face he jealously fancied was caused by the prospect of parting so soon with her affianced husband. He could not guess whether she were going to Europe or not. A few weeks seemed so short a time in which to prepare, that he half believed she might induce Mr. Stanley to defer the trip till autumn. But he would not ask. She would surely tell him at the last, he thought. She ought, at least, to trust him as a brother, and say to him:
"Hugh, I am engaged to Mr. Stanley, and when you return, if you are long gone, I shall probably not be here."
But she said to him no such thing, and only the whiteness of her face and the occasional quivering of her long eyelashes, showed that she felt at all, as at an early hour next morning she presided at the breakfast prepared for the travelers. There was no tremor in her voice, no hesitancy in her manner, and a stranger could not have told which of the young men before her held her heart in his possession, or which had kept her wakeful the entire night, revolving the propriety of telling him ere he left that the Golden Hair he loved so much was willing to be his.
"Perhaps he will speak to me. I'll wait," was the final decision, as, rising from her sleepless pillow, she sat down in the gray dawn of the morning and penned a hasty note, which she thrust into his hand at parting, little dreaming how long a time would intervene ere they would meet again.
He had not said to her or to his mother that he might join the army, gathering so fast from every Northern city and hamlet; only Sam knew this, and so the mother longing for her daughter was pleased rather than surprised at his abrupt departure, bidding him Godspeed, and lading him with messages of love for Adah and the little boy. Alice, too, tried to smile as she said good-by, but it died upon her lips and a tear trembled on her cheek, when Hugh dropped the little hand he never expected to hold again just as he held it then.
Feeling intuitively that Irving and Alice would rather say their parting words alone, Hugh drew his mother with him as he advanced into the midst of the sobbing, howling negroes assembled to see him off. But Alice had nothing to say which she would not have said in his presence. Irving Stanley understood better than Hugh, and he merely raised her cold hand to his lips, saying as he did so:
"Just this once; I shall never kiss it again."
He was in the carriage when Hugh came up, and Alice stood leaning against one of the tall pillars, a deep flush now upon her cheek, and tears filling her soft blue eyes. In another moment the carriage was rolling from the yard, neither Irving nor Hugh venturing to look back, and both as by mutual consent avoiding the mention of Alice, whose name was not spoken once during their journey together to Cincinnati, where they parted company, Irving continuing his homeward route, while Hugh stopped in the city to arrange a matter of business with his banker there. It was not until Irving was gone and he alone in his room that he opened the little note given him by Alice, the note which would tell him of her approaching marriage, he believed. How then was he surprised when he read:
"DEAR HUGH: I have at last discovered the mistake under which, for so many years, I have been laboring. It was not Irving Stanley who saved me from the water, but your own noble self, and you have generously kept silent all this time, permitting me to expend upon another the gratitude due to you.
"Dear Hugh, I wish I had known earlier, or that you did not leave us so soon. It seems so cold, thanking you on paper, but I have no other opportunity, and must do it here.
"Heaven bless you, Hugh. My mother prayed often for the preserver of her child, and need I tell you that I, too, shall never forget to pray for you? The Lord keep you in all your ways, and lead you safely to your sister.
Many times Hugh read this note, then pressing it to his lips thrust it into his bosom, but failed to see what Alice had hoped he might see, that the love he once asked for was his, and his alone. He was too sure that another was preferred before him to reason clearly, and the only emotions he experienced from reading her note were feelings of pleasure that she had been set right at last, and that Irving had not withheld from her the truth.
"That ends the drama," he said. "I don't quite believe she is going with him to Europe, but she will be his when he returns; and henceforth my duty must be to forget, if possible, that ever I knew I loved her. Oh, Golden Hair, why did I ever meet, or meeting you, why was I suffered to love her so devotedly, if I must lose her at the last!"
There were great drops of sweat about Hugh's lips and on his forehead, as, burying his face in his hands, he laid both upon the table, and battled manfully with his love for Alice Johnson, a love which refused at once to surrender its object, even though there seemed no longer a shadow of hope in which to take refuge.
"God, help me in my sorrow," was the prayer which fell from the quivering lips, but did not break the silence of that little room, where none, save God, witnessed the conflict, the last Hugh ever fought for Alice Johnson.
He could give her up at length; could think, without a shudder, of the time when another than himself would call her his wife; and when, late that afternoon, he took the evening train for Cleveland, not one in the crowded car would have guessed how sore was the heart of the young man who plunged so energetically into the spirited war argument in progress between a Northern and Southern politician. It was a splendid escape valve for his pent-up feelings, and Hugh carried everything before him, taking by turns both sides of the question, and effectually silencing the two combatants, who said to each other in parting: "We shall hear from that Kentuckian again, though whether in Rebeldom or Yankeeland we cannot tell."
LETTERS FROM HUGH AND IRVING STANLEY
Claib had brought two letters from the office, one for Mrs. Worthington from Hugh, and one for Alice from Irving Stanley. This last had been long delayed, and as she broke the seal a little nervously, reading that his trip to Europe had been deferred on account of the illness of his sister's governess, but that he was going on board the ship that day, July tenth, and that his sister was there with him and the governess, "A modest, sweet-faced body," he wrote, "who looks very girl-like from the fact that her soft, brown hair is worn short in her neck."
Alice had a tolerably clear insight into Irving Stanley's character, and immediately her mind conjured up visions of what might be the result of a sea voyage and months of intimate companionship with that sweet-faced governess, "who wore her soft, brown hair short in her neck."
"I hope it may be so," she thought; and folding up her letter, she was about going out to the rustic seat beneath a tall maple where Mug sat, whispering over the primer she was trying so hard to read, when a cry from Mrs. Worthington arrested her attention and brought her at once to the side of the half-fainting woman.
"What is it?" Alice asked, in much alarm, and Mrs. Worthington replied: "Oh, Hugh, Hugh, my boy! he's enlisted, joined the army! I shall never see him again!"
Could Hugh have seen Alice then he would not for a moment have doubted the nature of her feelings toward himself. She did not cry out, nor faint, but her face turned white as the dress she wore, while her hands pressed so tightly together, that her long, taper nails left the impress in her flesh.
"God keep him from danger and death," she murmured; then, winding her arms around the stricken mother, she wiped her tears away; and to her moaning cry that she was left alone, replied: "Let me be your child till he returns, or, if he never does—"
She could get no further, for the very idea was overwhelming, and sinking down beside Hugh's mother, she laid her head on her lap, and wept bitterly. Alas, that scenes like this should be so common in our once happy land, but so it is. Mothers start with terror and grow faint over the boy just enlisted for the war; then follow him with prayers and yearning love to the distant battlefield; then wait and watch for tidings from him; and then too often read with streaming eyes and hearts swelling with agony, the fatal message which says their boy is dead.
It was a sad day at Spring Bank when first the news of Hugh's enlistment came, sadder even than when 'Lina died, for Hugh seemed as really dead as if they all had heard the hissing shell or whizzing ball which was to bear his young life away. It was nearly two months since he left home, and he could find no trace of Adah, though searching faithfully for her, in conjunction with Murdock and Dr. Richards, both of whom had joined him in New York.
"If Murdock cannot find her," he wrote, "I am convinced no one can, and I leave the matter now to him, feeling that another duty calls me, the duty of fighting for my country."
It was just after the disastrous battle of Bull Run, when people were wild with excitement, and Hugh was thus borne with the tide, until at last he found himself enrolled as a private in a regiment of cavalry gathering in one of the Northern States. There had been an instant's hesitation, a clinging of the heart to the dear old home at Spring Bank, where his mother and Alice were; a thought of Irving Stanley, and then, with an eagerness which made his whole frame tremble, he had seized the pen and written down his name, amid deafening cheers for the brave Kentuckian. This done, there was no turning back; nor did he desire it. It seemed as if he were made for war, so eagerly he longed to join the fray. Only one thing was wanting, and that was Rocket. He had tried the "Yankee horses," as he called them, but found them far inferior to his pet. Rocket he must have, and in his letter to his mother he made arrangements for her to send him northward by a Versailles merchant, who, he knew, was coming to New York.
Hugh and Rocket, they would make a splendid match, and so Alice thought, as, on the day when Rocket was led away, she stood with her arms around his graceful neck, whispering to him the words of love she would fain have sent his master. She had recovered from the first shock of Hugh's enlistment. She could think of him now calmly as a soldier; could pray that God would keep him, and even feel a throb of pride that one who had lived so many years in Kentucky, then poising almost equally in the scale, should come out so bravely for the right, though by that act he called down curses on his head from those at home who favored rebellion, and who, if they fought at all, would cast in their lot with the seceding States. She had written to Hugh a kind, sisterly letter, telling him how proud she was of him, and how her sympathy and prayers would follow him everywhere. "And if," she had added, in concluding, "you are sick, or wounded, I will come to you as a sister might do. I will find you wherever you are."
She had sent this letter to him three weeks before, and now she stood caressing the beautiful Rocket, who sometimes proudly arched his long neck, and then looked wistfully at the sad group gathered around him, as if he knew that was no ordinary parting. Colonel Tiffton, who had heard what was going on, had ridden over to expostulate with Mrs. Worthington against sending Rocket North. "Better keep him at home," he said, "and tell Hugh to come back, and let those who had raised the muss settle their own difficulty."
The old colonel, who was a native of Virginia, did not know exactly where he stood. "He was very patriotic," he said, "very, but hanged if he knew which side to take—both were wrong. He didn't go Nell's doctrine, for Nell was a rabid Secesh; neither did he swallow Abe Lincoln, and he'd advise Alice to keep a little more quiet, for there was no knowing what the hotheads might do. He'd heard of Harney's threatening vengeance on all Unionists, and now that Hugh was gone he might pounce on Spring Bank any night."
"Let him!" and Alice's blue eyes flashed brightly, while her girlish figure seemed to expand and grow higher as she continued: "he will find no cowards here. I never touched a revolver in my life. I am quite as much afraid of one that is not loaded as of one that is, but I'll conquer the weakness. I'll begin to-day. I'll learn to handle firearms. I'll practice shooting at a mark, and if Hugh is killed I'll—oh, Hugh! Hugh—"
She could not tell what she would do, for the woman conquered all other feelings, and laying her face on Rocket's silken mane, she sobbed aloud.
"There's pluck, by George!" muttered the old colonel. "I most wish Nell was that way of thinking."
It was time now for Rocket to go, and 'mid the deafening howls of the negroes and the tears of Mrs. Worthington and Alice he was led away, the latter watching him until he was lost to sight beyond the distant hill, then, falling on her knees, she prayed, as many a one has done, that God would be with our brave soldiers, giving them the victory, and keeping one of them, at least, from falling.
Sadly, gloomily the autumn days came on, and the land was rife with war and rumors of war. In the vicinity of Spring Bank were many patriots, but there were hot Secessionists there also, and bitter contentions ensued. Old friends were estranged, families were divided, neighbors watched each other jealously, while all seemed waiting anxiously for the result. Toward Spring Bank the aspersions of the Confederate adherents were particularly directed. That Hugh should go North and join the Federal army was taken as an insult, while Mrs. Worthington and Alice were closely watched, and all their sayings eagerly repeated. But Alice did not care. Fully convinced of the right, and that she had yet a work to do, she carried out her plan so boldly announced to Colonel Tiffton, and all through the autumn months the frequent clash of firearms was heard in the Spring Bank woods, where Alice, with Mug at her side, like her constant shadow, "shot at her marks," hitting once Colonel Tiffton's dog, and coming pretty near hitting the old colonel himself as he rode leisurely through the woods.
After that Alice confided her experiments to the open fields, where she could see whatever was in danger, and Harney, galloping up and down the pike, stirring up dissension and scattering his opinions broadcast through the country, saw her more than once at her occupation, smiling grimly as he muttered to himself: "It's possible I may try a hand with you at shooting some day, my fair Yankee miss."
Blacker, and darker, and thicker the war clouds gathered on our horizon, but our story has little to do with that first year of carnage, when human blood was poured as freely as water, from the Cumberland to the Potomac. Over all that we pass, and open the scene again in the summer of '62, when people were gradually waking to the fact that Richmond was not so easily taken, or the South so easily conquered.
There had been a desertion from a regiment on the Potomac. An officer of inferior rank, but whose position had been such as to make him the possessor of much valuable information, and whose perfect loyalty had been for some time suspected, was missing from his command one morning, and under such circumstances as to leave little doubt that his intention was to reach the enemy's lines if possible. Long and loud were the invectives against the traitor, and none were deeper in their denunciations than Captain Hugh Worthington, as, seated on his fiery war horse, Rocket, he heard from Irving Stanley the story of Dr. Richards' disgrace.
"He should be pursued, brought back, and shot!" he said, emphatically, feeling that he would like much to be one of the pursuers, already on the track of the treacherous doctor, who skillfully eluded them all, and just at the close of a warm summer day, when afar, in his New England home, his Sister Anna was reading, with an aching heart, the story of his disgrace, he sat in the shadow of the Virginia woods, weary, footsore and faint with the pain caused from his ankle, sprained by a recent fall.
He had hunted for Adah until entirely discouraged, and partly as a panacea for the remorse preying so constantly upon him, and partly in compliance with Anna's entreaties, he had at last joined the Federal army, and been sworn in with the full expectation of some lucrative office. But his unlucky star was in the ascendant. Stories derogatory to his character were set afloat, and the final result of the whole was that he found himself enrolled in a company where he knew he was disliked, and under a captain whom he thoroughly detested, for the fraud practiced upon himself. In this condition he was sent to the Potomac, and while on duty as a picket, grew to be on the most friendly terms with more than one of the enemy, planning at last to desert, and effecting his escape one stormy night, when the watch were off their guard. Owing to some mistake, the aid promised by his Rebel friends had not been extended, and as best he could he was making his way to Richmond, when, worn out with hunger, watchfulness and fatigue, he sank down to die, as he believed, at the entrance of some beautiful woods which skirted the borders of a well-kept farm in Virginia. Before him, at the distance of nearly a quarter of a mile, a large, handsome house was visible, and by the wreath of smoke curling from the rear chimney, he knew it was inhabited, and thought once to go there, and beg for the food he craved so terribly. But fear kept him back—the people might be Unionists, and might detain him a prisoner until the officers upon his track came up. Dr. Richards was cowardly, and so with a groan, he laid his head upon the grass, and half wished that he had died ere he came to be the miserable wretch he was. The pain in his ankle was by this time intolerable, and the limb was swelling so fast that to walk on the morrow was impossible, and if he found a shelter at all, it must be found that night.
Midway between himself and the house was a comfortable-looking barn, whither he resolved to go. But the journey was a tedious one, and brought to his flushed forehead great drops of sweat, wrung out by the agony it caused him to step upon his foot. At last, when he could bear his weight upon it no longer, he sank upon the ground, and crawling slowly upon his hands and knees, reached the barn just as it was growing dark, and the shadows creeping into the corners made him half shrink with terror lest they were the bayonets of those whose coming he was constantly expecting. He could not climb to the scaffolding, and so he sought a friendly pile of hay, and crouching down behind it, ere long fell asleep for the first time in three long days and nights.
The early June sun was just shining through the cracks between the boards when he awoke, sore, stiff, feverish, burning with thirst, and utterly unable to use the poor, swollen foot, which lay so helplessly upon the hay.
"Oh, for Anna now," he moaned; "if she were only here; or Lily, dear Lily, she would pity and forgive, could she see me now."
But hark, what sound is it which falls upon his ear, making him quake with fear, and, in spite of his aching ankle, creep farther behind the hay? It is a footstep—a light, tripping step, and it comes that way, nearer, nearer, until a shadow falls between the open chinks and the bright sunshine without. Then it moves on, around the corner, pausing for a moment, while the hidden coward holds his breath, and listens anxiously, hoping nothing is coming there. But there is, and it enters the same door through which he came the previous night—a girlish figure, with a basket on her arm—a basket in which she puts the eggs she knows just where to find. Not behind the hay, where a poor wretch was almost dead with terror. There was no nest there, and so she failed to see the ghastly face, pinched with hunger and pain, the glassy eyes, the uncombed hair, and soiled tattered garments of him who once was known as one of fashion's most fastidious dandies.
She had secured her eggs for the morning meal, and the doctor hoped she was about to leave, when there was a rustling of the hay, and he almost uttered a scream of fear. But the sound died on his lips, as he heard the voice of prayer—heard that young girl as she prayed, and the words she uttered stopped, for an instant, the pulsations of his heart, and partly took his senses away. First for her baby boy she prayed, asking that God would be to him father and mother both, and keep him from temptation. Then for her country, her distracted, bleeding country, and the doctor, listening to her, knew it was no Rebel tongue calling so earnestly on God to save the Union, praying so touchingly for the poor, suffering soldiers, and coming at last even to him, the miserable outcast, whose bloodshot eyes grew blind, and whose brain grew giddy and wild, as he heard again Lily's voice, pleading for George, wherever he might be. She did not say: "God send him back to me, who loves him still." She only asked forgiveness for the father of her boy, but this was proof to the listener that she did not hate him, and forgetful of his pain he raised himself upon his elbow, and looking over the pile of hay, saw her where she knelt. Lily, Adah, his wife, her fair face covered by her hands, and her soft, brown hair cut short and curling in her neck.
Twice he essayed to speak, but his tongue refused to move, and he sank back exhausted, just as Adah arose from her knees and turned to leave the barn. He could not let her go. He should die before she came again; he was half dying now, and it would be so sweet to breathe out his life upon her bosom, with perhaps her forgiving kiss upon his lips.
"Adah!" he tried to say; but the quivering lips made no sound, and Adah passed out, leaving him there alone. "Adah, Lily, Anna," he gasped, hardly knowing himself whose name he called in his despair.
She heard that sound, and started suddenly, for she thought it was her old, familiar name which no one knew there at Sunny Mead. For a moment she paused; but it came not again, and so she turned the corner, and her shadow fell a second time on the haggard face pressed against that crevice in the wall, the opening large enough to thrust the long fingers through, in the wild hope of detaining her as she passed.
It was a gasping, bitter cry; but it reached her, and looking back, she saw the pale hand beckoning, the fingers motioning feebly, as if begging her to return. There was a moment's hesitation, and then conquering her timidity, Adah went back, shuddering as she passed the still beckoning hand, and caught a glimpse of the wild eyes peering at her through the crevice.
She heard it distinctly now, and with it came thoughts of Hugh. It must be he; and her feet scarcely touched the ground in her eagerness to find him. Over the threshold, across the floor, and behind the hay she bounded; but stood aghast at the spectacle before her. He had struggled to his knees; and with his sprained limb coiled under him, his ashen lips apart, and his arms stretched out, he was waiting for her. But Adah did not spring into those trembling arms, as once she would have done. She would never willingly rest in their embrace again; and utter, overwhelming surprise was the only emotion on her face as she recognized him, not so much by his looks as by the name he gave her.
"George, oh, George, how came you here?" she asked, drawing backward from the arm reached out to touch her.
He felt that he was repulsed, and, with a wail which smote painfully on Adah's heart, he fell forward on his face, sobbing: "Oh, Adah, Lily, pity me, pity me, if you can't forgive! I have slept for three nights in the woods, without once tasting food! My ankle is sprained, my strength is gone, and I wish that I were dead!"
She had drawn nearer to him, while he spoke, near enough to recognize her country's uniform, all soiled and tattered though it was. He was a soldier, then—Liberty's loyal son—and that fact awoke a throb of pity.
"George," she said, kneeling down beside him, and laying her hand upon his ragged coat, "tell me how came you here, and where is your company?"
He would not deceive her, though tempted to do so, and he answered her truthfully: "Lily, I am a deserter. I am trying to join the enemy!"
He did not see the indignant flash of her eyes, or the look of scorn upon her face, but he felt the reproach her silence implied, and dared not look up.
"George," she began at last, sternly, very sternly, "but for Him who bade us forgive seventy times seven, I should feel inclined to leave you here to die; but when I remember how much He is tried with one, I feel that I am to be no one's judge. Tell me, then, why you have deserted; and tell me, too—oh, George, in mercy—tell me if you know aught of Willie?"
The mother had forgotten all the wrongs heaped upon the wife, and Adah drew nearer to him now, so near, indeed, that his arm encircled her at last, and held her close; but the ragged, dirty, fallen creature did not dare to kiss her, and could only press her convulsively to his breast, as he attempted an answer to her question.
"You must be quick," she said, suddenly remembering herself; "it is growing late, Mrs. Ellsworth will be waiting for her breakfast; and since the stampede of her servants, two old negroes and myself are all there are left to care for the house. Stay," she added, as a new thought seemed to strike her; "I must go, or they will look for me; but after breakfast I will return, and do for you what I can. Lie down again upon the hay."
She spoke kindly to him, but he felt it was as she would have spoken to any one in distress, and not as once she had addressed him. But he knew that he deserved it, and he suffered her to leave him, watching her with streaming eyes as she hurried along the path, and counting the minutes, which seemed to him like hours, ere he saw her returning. She was very white when she came back, and he noticed that she frequently glanced toward the house, as if haunted by some terror. Constantly expecting detection, he grasped her arm, as she bent to bathe his swollen foot, and whispered huskily: "Adah, there's something on your mind—some evil you fear. Tell me, is any one after me!"
Adah nodded; while, like a frightened child, the tall man clung to her neck, saying, piteously: "Don't give me up! Don't tell; they would hang me, perhaps!"
"They ought to do so," trembled on Adah's lips, but she suppressed the words, and went on bandaging up the ankle, and handling it as carefully as if it had not belonged to a deserter.
He did not feel pain now in his anxiety, as he asked: "Who is it, Adah? who's after me?" but he started when she replied, with downcast eyes and a flush upon her cheek: "Major Irving Stanley. You were in his regiment, the ——th New York Volunteers."
Dr. Richards drew a relieved breath. "I'd rather it were he than Captain Worthington, who hates me so cordially. Adah, you must hide me; I have so much to tell. I know your parents, your brother, your husband; and I am he. It was not a mock marriage. It has been proved real. It was a genuine justice who married us, and you are my lawful wife. Oh, pray, please don't hurt me so." He uttered a scream of pain as Adah's hands pressed heavily now upon the hard, purple flesh.
She scarcely knew what she was doing as she listened to his words and heard that she was indeed his wife. Two years before, such news would have overwhelmed her with delight, but now for a single instant a fierce and almost resentful pang shot through her heart as she thought of being bound for life to one for whom she had no love, and whose very caresses made her loathe him more and more. But when she thought of Willie, and how the stain upon his birth was washed away, the hard look left her eyes, and her hot tears dropped upon the ankle she was bandaging.