"Umph!" ejaculated Miss McPherson, with an upward toss of the chin. Then, turning to Grey, she said, "And did you, too, like all the foreign habits?"
"No, indeed," was Grey's reply. "Just think of having your coffee and roll brought to you in the morning while you are in bed, and eating it in the smelling room, without washing your hands, and then going to sleep again. That is what I call very narsty, as the English say, though they do not use the word in that sense."
"You forget that Miss McPherson is English," Mrs. Jerrold said, and the lady in question at once rejoined:
"Never mind. I do not believe in spoiling a story for relation's sake, or country's either, and I fully agree with Grey that the Continental habit of breakfasting in bed, with unwashed face and hands, is a very nasty one, in the American sense of the word. I never did it, and never would."
"You have been on the Continent, then?" Mr. Jerrold asked, and instantly there came upon Miss McPherson's face an expression of bitter pain, as if some sad memory had been stirred; then, quickly recovering herself, she answered:
"Yes, I was at school in Paris a year, and traveled another year all over Switzerland, Germany, and Italy. It may seem strange to Grey, who probably cannot realize that I was ever young, to know that I, too, have my Alpenstock as a voucher for the mountains I have climbed and the chasms I have crossed. Did you go to Monte-Carlo?"
The question was addressed to Grey, who replied:
"Yes, we were there four days."
"Did you play?"
"No, I did not even see them play. They would not let me in; I was too young, and I should not have played anyway, for I promised Aunt Lucy I would not," Grey said, and Miss McPherson replied, with startling vehemence:
"That's right, my boy! that's right! Never, never play for money so long as you live. You have no idea what perils lurk around the gaming-table, or what an accursed spot Monte-Carlo is, beautiful as it is to look at. Those lovely grounds are haunted with the ghosts of the suicides who, ruined body and soul, have rushed unprepared into the presence of their Maker."
None of the guests had ever seen Miss McPherson so excited, and for a moment there was silence while they gazed at her wonderingly, as she sat with lips compressed and nostrils dilated, looking intently over their heads at something they could not see, but which evidently was very vivid to her.
Mrs. Geraldine was the first to speak, and she said, half laughingly:
"You are quite as much prejudiced against Rouge et Noir as your brother, for when I told him I tried my luck at Monte-Carlo and won twenty-five dollars, he seemed horrified, and I think it took him some hours to regard me with favor again."
"Yes, and he had reason. The McPhersons have all good cause to abhor the very name of gambling," Miss McPherson replied, hitching her chair a little further away from Geraldine as from something poisonous; then, in her characteristic way of suddenly changing the conversation, she said: "You saw my nephew, Neil McPherson?"
"Oh, yes," Mrs. Jerrold replied. "We saw a good deal of him; he is very fine-looking, with such gentlemanly manners for a boy. I should be glad if Grey would imitate him," and she glanced at her son, on whose face a cloud instantly fell.
Miss McPherson saw it, and turning to him she asked:
"How did you like Neil? Boys are sometimes better judges of each other than older people. Did you think him very nice?"
Remembering Miss McPherson's love for the naked truth, Grey spoke out boldly.
"No, madam; at first I did not like him at all. We had a fight!"
"A fight!" Miss McPherson repeated, in surprise, as did both Hannah and Lucy simultaneously, while Mrs. Jerrold interposed:
"I think, Grey, I would not mention that, as it reflects no credit upon you."
"But he insulted me first," Grey replied, and Miss McPherson insisted:
"Tell it, Grey, and do not omit anything, because I am his aunt. Tell it exactly as it was. I want the truth."
Thus encouraged, Grey began: "I know I did not do right, but he made me so angry. It was the Fourth of July and we were at Melrose stopping at the George Inn, while Mr. McPherson's family were at the Abbey Hotel close to the old ruin. There were several Americans at our house, and because of that the proprietor hung out our national flag. It was such a lovely morning, and when I went into the street and saw the Stars and Stripes waving in the English wind, I hurrahed with all my might and threw up my cap in the air.
"'May I ask why you are making so much noise?' somebody said close to me, and turning round I saw a lad about my own age, wearing a tall stove-pipe hat, for he was an Eton boy.
"His manner provoked me quite as much as his words, it was so overbearing, and picking up my cap, I said: 'Why, it's the Fourth of July, and that is the Star-spangled Banner!'
"'Star-spangled fiddlestick!' he retorted, tapping the ground with the tip of his boot.' And so you are a Yankee? I heard there was a lot of them here.'
"'Yes, I'm a Yankee,' I replied; 'a genuine down-easter and proud of it too, and who, are you?'
"'I? Why, I am Neil McPherson, an Eton boy, and my father is the Hon. John McPherson, and my mother is Lady Jane McPherson,' he replied, in a tone intended to annihilate me wholly.
"But I stood my ground, and said:
"'Oh, you are Neil McPherson, are you? and your father is an honorable, and your mother a lady? Well, I am Grey Jerrold, of Boston, and my father is an honorable, and my mother is a lady, too!"
"'Now, reely, you make me larf,' he cried. 'Your father may be an honorable—I believe you have such things—but your mother is not a lady; there are no ladies in America—born ladies, such as we have in the United Kingdom. And pray what have you Yankees done, except to make money, that you should all be so infernally proud of your country and that rag?' pointing to the flag.
"By this time my blood was up, and I squared up to him, saying:
"'What have we done? We have whipped Johnny Bull just as I am going to thrash you under that very flag which you were pleased to designate a rag.'
"He saw I meant business, and bucked off, saying:
"'Oh, but you carn't. I'm the son of Lady Jane McPherson, you know, and you carn't touch me.'
"'We'll see if I carn't,' I answered, and then I pitched in and thrashed him till he cried for quarter, and I let him go, threatening all sorts of vengeance upon me, the worst of which was that he would tell his mother and have me arrested for assault and battery.
"That was my introduction to Neil McPherson, and I am ashamed of it now, for I came to like him very much."
During the recital Miss McPherson had laughed until the tears ran down her cheeks, a thing very unusual to her, while neither Hannah nor Lucy could repress a smile at Grey's earnestness, but Mr. Jerrold looked very grave, and his wife annoyed and displeased.
"I am glad to hear you acknowledge that you are ashamed," Mr. Jerrold said; "for I was very much ashamed that a son of mine should so far forget himself as to fight a stranger whom he had never seen before. But, in justice to you, I must add what you have omitted, which is that you went and apologized to the boy for the affront."
"Did you?" Miss McPherson said, turning to Grey, who replied:
"Yes; and I must say that he received my rather bungling apology better than I supposed he would.
"'All right,' he said, offering me his hand; 'I dare say I was a cad to say what I did of your flag, but you needn't have hit me quite so hard. Where did you learn boxing?'
"'I never learned it,' I told him. 'It was natural to all the Yankees, who were born with clenched fists, ready to go at it.'
"He believed me, and said 'Reely, is that so?' and then he invited me to play billiards with him, and we got to be good friends, and he asked all sorts of questions about America, and said that our girls were the prettiest in the world when they were young. All the English say that, and Neil had heard it forty times, so it was not original with him. He said, however, that pretty as they were, his cousin, Bessie, was far prettier, that she was a most beautiful little creature, and as sweet as she was beautiful."
"Bessie!" Miss McPherson exclaimed, with a peculiar ring in her voice, and a manner of greater interest than she had evinced in Grey's recital of his encounter with Neil, "Do you mean the daughter of Archibald McPherson, my nephew, and did you see her? Did you see Archie?"
Grey colored, and replied;
"No, I did not, for mother wished to punish me for fighting Neil, and so when a Mrs. Smithers asked us to spend a week with the McPhersons at her home in Middlesex, I was left behind in London with some friends, but I had great fun. I went to the Tower, and the circus, and the Abbey, and the museum, and everywhere, though I was sorry not to see Bessie, who with her father and mother, was also at Captain Smithers'."
"You saw them, then," Miss McPherson continued, addressing herself to Mrs. Jerrold, "You saw Archie, and his wife and Bessie. What is Archie like? I never saw him, but I have his wife. She was the daughter of a milliner, or dressmaker, or ballet-dancer, from Wales, in the vicinity of Bangor, or Carnarvon, I believe."
"Carnarvon!" Hannah repeated quickly, while a sudden pallor came to her lips and forehead, but no one noticed it, and Geraldine hesitated a little, uncertain as to how far she dared to tell the truth and not give offense.
But she was soon relieved from all uneasiness on that score, by Miss McPherson, who, noticing her hesitancy, said:
"Don't be afraid to tell me exactly as it is, for were Archie ten times my nephew, I would rather hear the whole truth just as Grey told it of Neil. So, then, what did you think of Archie? I have an idea he is a good-natured, good for nothing, shiftless fellow, who never earned a penny in his life, and who gets his living from any one who will give it to him."
She spoke with a great asperity of manner, and then waited for Geraldine, who replied:
"You have stated the case in much stronger language than I should have done, but in the main I believe you are right. Mr. Archibald McPherson is one whom you could not possibly mistake for other than a gentleman. He is courteous, and kind, and agreeable, but very indolent, I should say, for he never stands when he can sit, and never sits when he can recline; indeed, his position is always a lounging one, and he impressed me as if he were afraid of falling to pieces if he exerted himself."
"Just so, that is what I thought," Miss Betsey said, emphatically. "He takes it from his father, rather than his mother. She, I believe, had some energy and snap She was a chorus singer in some opera, and I did not like the match, though I now believe she was too good for Hugh. And now for Archie's wife, Daisy they call her. What of her?"
Mrs. Jerrold evidently had no scruples about freeing her mind with regard to Daisy McPherson, and she answered, promptly:
"I did not like her at all, neither did Lady Jane, and I tried my best to keep aloof from her, but could not; she is pushing and aggressive and sweetly unconscious that she is not wanted. And yet she is exceedingly pretty, with that innocent kind of face and childish, appealing way which women detest, but which takes with the men," and Mrs. Geraldine glanced sharply at her husband, who was just then very busy with his pudding, and pretended not to hear her, while she went on: "She has some accomplishments, speaks French and German, I believe, perfectly, sings simple ballads tolerably well, but rolls her eyes frightfully, and is so conscious of herself that she disgusts you. I should call her a regular Becky Sharp, always managing to get the best of everything, and, as she told me herself, always having on her list two or three invitations for as many weeks, to as many different places."
"But how does she do it?" Miss Betsey asked, and Mrs. Jerrold replied:
"I hardly know, nor do the ladies themselves. Sometimes, as in the case of Mrs. Smithers, the invitation is genuine and sincere, but oftener it is a mere form at which Daisy jumps at once, thanking the lady sweetly, and either asking her to fix a time, or more frequently fixing it herself to suit her own convenience. She has a most wonderful talent, too, forgetting presents of clothes and jewelry for herself and Bessie, and that is the way they live, for they have no means, or, at least, very little, except what she manages to get from the men by philopoenas, or bets, or games at cards and chess, where they allow her to win, because she almost begs them to let her do so. She even got five pounds from my husband on a wager, which he did not at first think in earnest."
And again the black eyes flashed at Button, who now looked up from the orange he was peeling and said laughingly:
"Yes, Daisy did me out of twenty-five dollars in the neatest possible manner, and would have fleeced me out of twenty-five more if I had not been on my guard against her. She got twenty-five pounds out of Lord Hardy who was a guest at the Smithers', but he acted as if it were a pleasure to be cheated by so pretty a woman, and she is the prettiest woman I ever saw."
"Umph!" Miss Betsey said again, while Geraldine continued:
"Yes, she is pretty, with a pink and white complexion, blue eyes and golden hair, which curls naturally, and which she still wears hanging down her back so as to show it to good advantage, and she a woman of thirty."
"No, Geraldine, you are mistaken," Mr. Jerrold said, quickly. "You forget that she was married at seventeen, and Bessie is only eight; so, at the most, Daisy cannot be more than twenty-six."
"I am glad you know her age so well," Mrs. Geraldine retorted, "I think twenty-six too old to wear one's hair streaming down the back. We were all disgusted, and especially Lady Jane, whose room was just across the hall, directly opposite hers. She told me herself that she would never have accepted Mrs. Smithers' invitation had she known that adventuress was to be there. And yet she was very kind to little Bessie. Indeed, no one could look at that child and not love her at once, and pity her, too, for the influence with which she was surrounded."
"Yes, Bessie—tell me of her," and Miss McPherson leaned forward eagerly. "They pretend she was named for me. Then why not call her Betsey, if that is her name?"
"Would you call a child Betsey?" Hannah asked, joining for the first time in the conversation.
"No, of course not. I think it horrid, but if I was christened Betsey, no power on earth could turn me into a Bessie; but go on and tell me about her," and she turned to Mrs. Geraldine, who continued:
"She has her mother's wonderful beauty, with all its refinement of her father, and such a sweet expression that you feel like kissing her. Her eyes, like her mother's, are blue, but so clear and dark that at times they seemed almost black, especially when there came into them as there often did, a troubled look, when Daisy was relating some of her adventures, which we knew could not be true. At such times, it was curious to watch the child as she listened with her great wide-open eyes and flushed cheeks, while her breath came in short gasps, as if she were longing to contradict her mother, and this she sometimes did.
"'Mamma, mamma, please,' she would say. 'Haven't you forgotten? Wasn't it this way?' but a look would silence her, and there would settle upon her face and about her mouth that patient, sorrowful expression pitiful to see in one so young."
"And her father, was he fond of her?" Miss McPherson asked, and Mrs. Jerrold replied:
"Yes, very, and she of him. She seemed to recognize the difference between him and her mother, and kept by him most of the time. It was a very pretty sight to see her with her arms around his neck and her bright head leaning on his arm, while she looked up at him so lovingly and sympathizingly, too, as they watched the maneuvers of her mother. Once I heard her say to him, when Daisy was flirting more than usual and attracting all eyes to her, 'I shall never do like that; but mamma is very pretty, isn't she?'
"'Yes, darling, very pretty,' he answered, and then they kissed each other very quietly. I wish you could see Bessie."
It was not often that Geraldine praised anything or anybody as she praised this little English girl who had made a strong impression upon her, and of whom she might have said more if Miss McPherson had not rejoined:
"I did see her once, and her mother, too. I was home three years ago, you know, and I went to Aberystwyth in Wales, where I heard Archie was staying, but I did not make myself known to him, I was so disgusted with what I heard of his wife's conduct, which he allowed without a word of protest. But I was anxious to see the child, and one morning I sat on a bench on the Marine Terrace watching a group of children playing near me. I was almost sure that the one with the blue eyes and bright hair was Archie's and so I called aloud, 'Betsey McPherson, are you there?'
"Instantly she came to me, and folding her hands in my lap, looked up at me with her wondering eyes and said:
"'I am Bessie McPherson, not Betsey.'
"'Weren't you christened Betsey?' I asked, and she replied:
"'Yes, but they never call me that. It's a horrid name, mamma says.'
"'Then why did she give it to you?' I said, and she answered with the utmost gravity:
"'For some old auntie in America who has money; but she never sent me a thing, nor answered papa's letter. I think she is mean, don't you?'
"I did not tell her what I thought of the old auntie, though I could not repress a smile at her frankness, which pleased me more than prevarication would have done.
"'Where is your papa?' I asked, and she replied:
"'At the Queen's Hotel, but it is awful expensive there, and papa says we can't afford it much longer. But mamma says we must stay till she finds some place to visit. There she is now, and that is Lord Hardy with her; they are going over to the old ruins,' and she pointed to a young woman in the distance, bedizened out in white muslin and blue ribbons, with her yellow hair hanging down her back, and her big straw hat in her hand instead of on her head; and she was talking and laughing and coquetting with a short, spindle-legged chap, not much taller than herself, and looking with his light curly hair and mustache like a poodle-dog.
"'Who did you say he was?' I asked, and the child answered me:
"'Lord Hardy, mamma's friend. He is very rich and very nice. He gives me lots of things, and sometimes buys us all first class tickets, and then it is so grand. I don't like to go second-class, but, you see, papa is very poor.'
"'How, then, can he afford to stop at expensive hotels?' I asked, and she said, while a shadow came over her face:
"'We couldn't if we didn't have one small room on the top floor, where I sleep on the lounge. I never go to table d'hote but stay in my room and eat whatever mamma can slip into her pocket without the waiters seeing her. Sometimes it is not much, and then I am so hungry; but mamma will get us an invitation to visit somebody soon, and then I can eat all I want.'"
The guests had listened very attentively to this recital, and none more so than Grey, who leaned eagerly forward, with quivering lips and moistened eyes, as he exclaimed:
"Poor little girl, how I wish she had some of my dinner! Why didn't you bring her home with you, away from her wicked mother?"
Miss McPherson did not reply, for there dawned upon her suddenly a fear lest she had talked too much, and her manner changed at once, while she sank into an abstracted mood, and her eyes had in them a far-off look, as if she were seeing the child who came to her upon the sands of Aberystwyth and looked into her face with eyes she had never been able to forget, and which she could now see so plainly, though the little girl was thousands of miles away.
Dinner being over Hannah said it was time for her to go home, and Lucy accordingly ordered the sleigh to be brought to the door.
"You will come to-morrow as early as possible," Hannah said to her brother, who replied:
"Yes, immediately after breakfast, for I must go back to Boston on the afternoon train, I have an engagement for Saturday."
"So soon?" Hannah said, in a tone of disappointment: "I hoped you would stay longer; father will be so sorry; he has anticipated your visit so much."
"It is impossible. I have promised for Saturday, and must keep the appointment," and Burton Jerrold leisurely scraped and trimmed his thumb nail, but did not explain that the appointment he must keep was with the members of his club, who gave a dinner on Saturday.
He knew very well that he could remain in Allington until Saturday afternoon and then reach home in time for the dinner; but the place was almost as distasteful to him as to his wife, and he gladly seized upon any pretext to shorten his stay as much as possible.
"Shall I tell father that you will come with Burton to-morrow?" Hannah asked her sister, who instantly assumed that air of invalidism which she found so convenient when anything disagreeable was suggested for her to do.
Drawing her shawl more closely about her, and glancing with a little shiver at the window, she replied:
"N-no, I hardly think I shall go out to-morrow, it will be so cold, and probably stormy; but you may expect me for a little while on Saturday, if the day is fine."
"But I shall come and stay till Monday, and I hope you have a lot of mince pies baked up. Last Thanksgiving we were in Paris, and had pea soup, and brains, and eels, and stewed celery for dinner," Grey said, as he kissed his aunt and bade her good-by.
AFTER THE DINNER.
The carriage which took Hannah home also took Miss McPherson to the door of her dwelling, a large, old-fashioned New England house, with a wide hall through the center, and a square room on either side; one the drawing-room or parlor in which the massive furniture had not been changed during the twenty years and more that Miss Betsey had lived there; the other the living room where the lady sat, and ate, and received her friends and where now a bright fire was burning in the Franklin stove, and the kettle was singing upon the hob, while a little round Swiss table was standing on the Persian rug before the fire, and on it the delicate cup and saucer, and sugar bowl, and creamer, which Miss McPherson had herself bought at Sevres years ago, when the life she looked forward to was very different from what had actually come to her. Possibly the memory of the day when she walked through those brilliant rooms at Sevres, and bought her costly wares, softened a little her somewhat harsh, uncompromising nature, for there was a very womanly expression on her usually severe face as she sipped her favorite oolong, and gazed dreamily into the fire, where she seemed to see again the sweet face of the child who had talked to her on the shores of Cardigan Bay, and whose innocent prattle had by turns amused, and interested, and enraged her. And, as she gazed she thought:
"Yes, Grey was right. Why didn't I take the little thing in my arms and bring her home with me? To think of her being hungry, when there is enough wasted in this house every day to feed her! And why did I so far forget myself as to talk as I did to-day—I, who am usually so silent with regard to my affairs! Why need I have told them that Archie's wife was a trollop. I suppose the venom is still rankling in me for the name she called me, 'Old Sour Krout!'" and Miss Betsey smiled grimly as she remembered all, the child upon the terrace had said to her that summer morning three years ago, "She is truthful, at all events," she continued, "and I like that, and wish I had her here. She would be a comfort to me, now that I am old, and the house has no young life in it, except my cats. There's the bedroom at the end of the hall, opening from my room. She could have that, and I should be so happy fitting it up for her. I'd trim it with blue, and have hangings at the bed, and—"
Here she stopped, seized with a sudden inspiration, and summoning the housemaid, Flora, to her, she said:
"Remove the tea things and bring my writing-desk."
Flora obeyed, and her mistress was soon deep in the construction of a letter to Archibald McPherson, to whom she made the proposition that he should bring his daughter Betsey to her, or if he did not care to cross the ocean himself, that he place her under the charge of some reliable person who was coming to America and who would see her safely to Allington, or, that failing, she did not know but she would come herself for the child, so anxious was she to have her.
"I shall not try to conceal from you that I have seen her. You know that by the result. I did see her on the terrace, and saw your wife, too, and I liked the child, and want her for my own, to train as I please and to bring up to some useful occupation, so that, if necessary, she can earn her own living. There has been too much false pride in our family on account of birth and blood. The idea that because you are born a gentleman or lady you must not work is absurd. Would it not be more honorable to sweep the streets, or scour knives and pare potatoes, than to sponge one's living out of strangers who despise you in then hearts even when inviting you to their houses? We have men, and women too, in America who do not work but get their living from others, and we call them tramps, and have them arrested as vagrants. But that is neither here nor there. I want you to give little Betsey to me, and she, at least, will never regret it. But don't let me hope of a fortune influence you, for my will was made years ago, and not a McPherson is remembered in it. Still, if Betsey pleases me, I may add a codicil and give her a few thousands, but don't count upon it, or my death either. We are a long-lived race, and I am perfectly strong and well; so, if you let me have her, do it because you think it will be better for her, morally and spiritually, to be removed from the poisonous atmosphere which surrounds her. I liked her face; I liked her voice; I liked her frankness. I shall like her; so send her, and I will bear the expense; or write and say you can't, and that will close the book.
"Your aunt, Miss BETSEY McPHERSON. Allington, Mass.
"P.S. I shall direct this to the old home in Wales, though I have no idea you are there, as I hear your wife prefers to be traveling."
The letter finished and directed, Miss Betsey sat a long time gazing dreamily into the fire and thinking of the past, the present, and the possible future, when a bright-haired child might be sitting there by her side and making her life less lonely and aimless than it was now.
Meanwhile the party at Grey's Park had gathered around the fire in the drawing-room, and Geraldine was repeating to her sister the particulars of her presentation to the queen, shivering occasionally as she heard the sleet and snow beating against the window, for with the going down of the sun the storm had commenced again with redoubled fury, and the wind howled dismally as it swept past the corners of the house, bearing with it blinding sheets of snow and rain, and sounding some times like human sobbing as it died away in the distance.
"Is there some one crying outside, or is it the wind?" Mr. Jerrold asked, as the sobbing seemed like a wail of anguish, while there crept over him one of those indefinable presentiments which we have all felt at times and could not explain; a presentiment in his case of coming evil, whose shadow was already upon him.
"It is the wind," Grey said. "What an awful storm for Thanksgiving night!" and rising, he walked to the window just as outside there was the sound of a fast-coming vehicle, which stopped at the side piazza.
A few moments later the door of the drawing-room opened, and a servant appeared with a note, which she handed to Mr. Jerrold, saying:
"Sam Powley brought this from your sister. He says your father is very bad."
Mr. Jerrold was not greatly surprised. It seemed to him he had expected this, for the sobbing of the wind had sounded to him like his father's voice calling to him in the storm. Taking the note from the girl, he tore it open and read:
"DEAR BROTHER: On my return home I found our father much worse, indeed, I have never seen him so bad, and he insists upon your coming to him to-night, so I have sent Sam for you, with instructions to call on his return for our clergyman, Mr. Sanford, as he wishes particularly to see him. Come at once, and come alone."
The words "come alone" were underscored, and Burton felt intuitively that the secret he had long suspected and which had shadowed his father's life, was at last coming to him unsought. He was sure of it, and knew why Hannah had written "come alone." It meant that Grey must not come with him, and when the boy who had stood beside him and read the note with him, exclaimed, "Grandpa is worse; he is going to die; let us go at once," he said, very decidedly:
"No, my son, not to-night. To-morrow you shall go and stay all day, but not to-night, in this storm."
Very unwillingly Grey yielded, and saw his father depart without him.
"How is my father? How does he seem?" Mr. Jerrold asked of the boy Sam, who replied:
"I don't know; I have not seen him. He would not even let me in this afternoon when Miss Hannah was gone. He locked the door, and I heard him working at something on the floor by his bed, as if trying to tear up the plank. He was there when Miss Hannah came home and found him. I guess he is pretty crazy. But here we are at the minister's, I was to stop for him, you know. You will have to hold the horse. I sha'n't be long," and reining up to the gate of the rectory Sam plunged into the snow, and wading to the door, gave a tremendous peal upon the brass knocker.
The Rev. Mr. Sanford, who had for many years been rector of the little church in Allington, was taking his evening tea with his better-half, Mrs. Martha Sanford, a little, plump, red-faced woman, with light gray eyes and yellow hair, who ruled her husband with a rod of iron, and would have ruled his parish if they had not rebelled against her. With all her faults, however, she took excellent care of her lord and master, and looked after his health as carefully as she did after his household interests; and on this particular night, because he had complained of a slight hoarseness to which he was subject, she had at once enveloped his throat with folds of red flannel, under which was a slice of salt pork, her favorite remedy for all troubles of a bronchial nature. And, in his warmly wadded dressing-gown and padded slippers, the reverend man sat enjoying his tea and crisp slices of toast, which Mrs. Martha prepared for him herself, when the sound of the brass knocker startled them both, and made Mrs. Martha start so suddenly that the slice of bread she was toasting dropped from the fork upon the hot coals, where it was soon reduced to ashes.
"Who can be pounding like that on such a night as this?" she asked, as she hastened to open the hall-door, which admitted such a gust of wind that she came near shutting it in Sam's face.
But the boy managed to crowd into the hall, and shaking a whole snow-bank of snow from his cap and coat, he began:
"If you please, ma'am, old Mr. Jerrold is very bad indeed, and Miss Hannah wants the minister to come right off. Mr. Burton Jerrold is out in the sleigh, waiting for him, and says he must hurry."
"Mr. Sanford go out such a night as this! It's impossible! He is half sick now. What does old Mr. Jerrold want?" Mrs. Sanford said, sharply; and Sam replied, as he shook down another mass of snow upon the carpet:
"Don't know; the Sacrament, mebby, as I guess he's going to die," and the boy advanced a step or two into the warmly lighted room, where the rector, who had risen to his feet, was beginning to divest himself of his dressing-gown.
"Stay back; you have brought snow enough into the hall without spoiling the parlor carpet, too," Mrs. Martha said, angrily; then, going to her husband, whose purpose she divined, she continued; "Charles, are you crazy, to think of going out in this storm?"
"But, my dear," the rector began, meekly, "if the poor old man is dying—and Hannah would never have sent in such a storm unless she thought so—if he is dying and desires the comfort of the communion, shall I refuse it to him because of a little inconvenience to myself? No, no; I have not so learned Christ. Please bring me my coat, Martha, and my boots, and the little communion service."
"A pretty time of day to think of that, just as the candle is burned to the snuff," Mrs. Martha retorted. "Here for years you have exhorted and entreated him to be confirmed, and he has resisted all your appeals with the excuse that for him to go to the Lord's table would be a mortal sin; and now, just at the last, in such a storm, he sends for you. I consider it an insult to his Creator and to you, too."
"Will you please bring my coat and boots and things? I can never quite find them myself," was all the rector said, and knowing that further opposition was useless, Mrs. Martha went in quest of the boots and overshoes, and coat and overcoat and muffler, and fur cap and mittens, and heavy shawl, in which she enveloped her husband, lamenting that there was not ready a hot soap-stone for his feet, which were sure to suffer.
But the little man did not need the soap-stone; he had the warmest, kindest, most unselfish heart that ever beat in a human breast, and never thought of the storm, as he waded through the deep snow and took his seat beside Burton Jerrold in the sleigh, which Sam drove rapidly toward the farm-house in the pasture.
THE HORROR AT THE FARM-HOUSE.
When Hannah reached home the gray November afternoon was already merging into the dark night, which was made still darker by the violence of the increasing storm, and never had Hannah's home seemed so desolate and dreary as it did when the sleigh turned from the highway into the cross-road which lead to it, and she saw through the gathering gloom the low, snow-covered roof and the windows from which no welcoming light was shining. It had been so bright, and cheerful, and warm in the drawing-room at Grey's Park, and here all was cold, and cheerless, and dark, as she went into the house with a vague presentiment of the horror awaiting her.
Entering through the wood-shed she stumbled upon Sam, who was sitting on a pile of wood, and who said to her:
"I guess your father is mighty bad. I didn't go near him till I heard him groaning and praying, and taking on so, that I opened the door and asked if he wanted anything. Then he jumped out of bed and told me to be gone, spying on him, and he locked the door on me, and I heard him as if he was under the bed trying to tear up the floor, and I ran out here, for I was afraid."
"Under the bed!" Hannah repeated, while a cold sweat oozed from every pore. "He must be crazy! But do not come with me to his room; it would make him worse. I can manage him alone; but please make a fire in the summer kitchen and stay there this evening. Father seems to know when any one is in the next room and it troubles him."
"Yes-m," the boy replied, thinking it a very strange freak that the old man would allow no one with him except his daughter.
But Sam was neither quick nor suspicious, and glad of any change from the cold wood-shed, he started to kindle a fire in the room adjoining, which in summer was used for a kitchen, while Hannah, lighting a candle, hastened to the door of her father's room, which she found locked, while from within she heard labored breathing, and a sound like tugging at a board which evidently offered resistance.
"Father," she cried, in terror, "let me in! It is I, Hannah, and Sam is in the wood-shed."
After a moment the key was turned and Hannah stepped inside, locking the door after her.
In the middle of the floor her father stood, with his long white hair falling around his corpse-like face and his eyes bright with the excitement of delirium. The bed was moved toward the center of the room and in the farthest corner a board of the floor had been partially removed.
"What are you doing?" Hannah asked, advancing quickly to her father.
"Oh, Hannah," the old man said, whimperingly; "I did so want to be sure that it was there. I dreamed it was gone, that it had never been there, and it was so real I wanted to see. I thought I'd get done before you came, but it was so hard. I cannot get the boards up. But you can do it; go down on your knees and take the floor up just this once. I'll never ask it again. It was thirty-one years ago to-night, and when it is thirty-two I shall be dead. Go down, Hannah, I want to know if it is there still, the horror I have slept over every night for thirty-one long years."
"No, father," Hannah answered, firmly. "Ask me anything but that. Be satisfied that it is there. Who should take it away, when no one knows but ourselves? Get into bed, father; you are shivering with cold."
Like a conquered child the old man obeyed her and crept into bed, while she drew the blankets around him, and then stooping down in the dark corner she drove the loosened board to its place, shuddering as she did so and experiencing a feeling of terror such as she had not felt before in years. Pushing the bed back to its usual position, she sat down by her father and tried to quiet him, for he was strangely restless, and talked of, things which made the blood curdle in her veins.
"Hark!" he exclaimed, as a gust of wind went shrieking past the window. "What was that, Hannah, that sound like a human cry?"
"It was only the wind. A wild storm is sweeping over the hills to-night," she said, as she drew a little nearer to him and took his hand in hers as if to give herself courage, for she, too, fancied there was in the wailing wind the echo of a cry she never could forget.
"Yes," the old man replied, "just such a storm as shook the house thirty-one years ago to-night, and above it all I hear Rover's howl and the awful word you shouted aloud and which the winds caught up and carried everywhere so that the world is full of it. Do you remember it, Hannah!"
Did she remember it. Ask rather could she ever forget the awful word which it seemed to her was written on the very walls and doors of the house, and on her forehead where all the world might see it!
Ask her if she remembered, when even now, after the lapse of thirty-one years, she could hear so distinctly the shriek of despair, which, as her father had said, the winds had caught up and carried over the hills and far away, where it was still repeating itself over and over again, and would go on forever until reparation were made, if that were possible now.
It was always ringing in her ears, just as the stains were on her hands, where she felt them as she clasped her long thin fingers convulsively and wondered if she were going mad.
Her father was very quiet now; he was falling asleep, and sinking on her knees beside the bed, the wretched woman moaned piteously:
"Oh, my Father in heaven, how long must I bear this burden which to-night presses so heavily? Help me, help me, for I am so weak and sad. Thou knowest I was innocent, and I have tried so hard to do right. If I have failed—if I ought to have spoken in spite of the vow, forgive me, for if my sin is great, great, too, has been my punishment.
"I cannot stay here," she thought, as she rose from her knees. "The room is full of phantoms which gibber at me from the dark corners, and shout the word in my ears as I shouted it that awful night when Rover kept me company. Poor old Rover, lying under the snow. If he were only here I should not be quite so desolate. I believe that for the first time in my life I am a coward," and shaking with cold, or fear, or both, Hannah left her father's room and went into the kitchen, where Sam was stuffing the stove with wood.
The moment she appeared, however, he withdrew the stick he was crowding in, and began to close some of the draughts. But she said to him:
"Don't do that, Sam. Let it burn; put on more. I am very cold. And light a candle, Sam; three candles! It is so dark here, and the wind howls so. Does it say anything to you, Sam? Any word, I mean?"
Sam had no idea what she meant, nor, indeed, did he think if she meant any thing, for his wits came slowly. People called him stupid, and this was his greatest recommendation to Hannah, who could not have had a bright, quick-seeing boy in her household.
Sam suited her, and his answer to her question was characteristic of him.
"No, I don't hear nothin' it says, only it screams like a panther in a fit," and Sam deliberately lighted the three candles, and placed them on the table, while Hannah drew a hard wooden chair to the stove, and putting her feet upon the hearth, clasped her hands around her knees, and sat there till she was thoroughly warm, and her nerves were quieted.
She was not afraid now, and taking one of the candles she went to her father's room and found him sleeping, with a calm, peaceful expression on his face, and another look, too, which made her heart stand still a moment, for she felt intuitively that the black shadow of death had crept into the room.
Suddenly he awoke, and seeing her standing by him smiled lovingly upon her, and said:
"Is that you, Hannah? faithful always, but your work is almost done, I am going home very soon to the dear Saviour. I am sure of it. I know it. My sins are washed away in His blood; even the stains upon my hands, which are clean and white now as were Grey's the day he caught and held me so fast. May God bless the boy and make him a good man, and a comfort to you, my child, who have been so much to me, the best, most unselfish of daughters. And something tells me you will be happy when I am gone. I hope so, I pray so; and now, Hannah, send for Burton. I shall not be here in the morning, and I must see him once more, and send for Mr. Sanford, too. I must see him before I die. Burton and the minister, no one else; not even the boy Grey; he must not come, for, Hannah, I am going to tell!"
"What, father?" Hannah gasped, and he replied:
"I am going at last to confess the whole to my son and the clergyman. I must do it. I shall die easier."
"But, father," Hannah cried, in alarm, "reflect a moment. What possible good can it do to tell Mr. Sanford, or even Burton? It would only give him unnecessary pain. You have kept it so long, why not let the grave bury your secret?"
"Because I cannot," the old man answered, "I must tell Burton. I have always intended to do it at the last, so that he might know what you have borne. Perhaps he may be kinder, gentler with you. Burton stands well with men; high in the world, but he is not like you; he would never have done what you have, and I want him to know that there is a sacrifice which ennobles one more than all the honors of the world, and I want Mr. Sanford to know why I could not go forward and ratify my baptismal vows, as he has so often urged me to do, thinking me obstinate in my refusal; and I wish to hear him say that he believes I am forgiven; that Christ will receive me, even me, a—Oh, Hannah, I can not say that word. I cannot give myself that name. I never have, you know. It was so sudden, so without forethought, and, could I live my life over again, I think I should tell at once, and not bury the secret as I did. But hurry, Hannah. Send Sam. I have but a few hours to live. Tell them to come quickly, Burton and the minister, not Grey."
So Hannah wrote the note to her brother, and gave it to Sam, who, in a most unwilling frame of mind, harnessed the horse, and started in the storm for Grey's Park.
Meanwhile, in anticipation of the coming of the guests, Hannah put her father's room a little more to rights, lighted another candle, put more wood in the stove, and then sat down to wait the result, with a heart which it seemed to her had ceased to beat, so pulseless and dead it lay in her bosom. She had no fear of anything personally adverse to herself or her father arising from the telling of the secret kept so many years. It would be safe with Mr. Sanford, while her proud brother would die a thousand deaths sooner than reveal it; but, oh, how cruelly he would be hurt, and how he would shrink from the story, and blame her that she allowed it to be told, especially to the clergyman—and she might perhaps prevent that yet. So she made another effort, but her father was determined.
"I must, I must; I shall die easier, and he will never tell. We have known him so long. Twenty-five years he has been here, and he took to us from the first. Do you remember how often he used to come and read to you on the bench under the apple tree?"
"Yes, father," Hannah answered, with a gasp, and he went on:
"Seeing you two together so much, I used to think he had a liking for you, and you for him. Did you, Hannah? Were you and the minister ever engaged?"
"No, father, never," Hannah replied, as she pressed her hands tightly together, while two great burning tears rolled down her cheeks.
"And yet you were a comely enough lass then," her father rejoined, as if bent on tormenting her. "You had lost your bright color to be sure, but there was something very winsome in your face and eyes, and manner; and he might better have married you than the sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued, fussy Martha Craig, who, like the Martha of old, is troubled about many things, and leads the minister a stirred up kind of life."
"Mrs. Sanford is a model housekeeper, and takes good care of her husband," Hannah said, softly; and then, as she heard the sound of voices outside, she arose quickly, and went to meet her brother, and the man who, her father had said, would better have married her than the "sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued Martha."
The rector was full of interest and concern as he stepped into the room, and when Hannah apologized for sending for him on such a night, he answered promptly:
"Not at all, not at all. If I can be of any comfort to you or your father, I should be very sorry not to come. How is he?"
Hannah did not answer him, so intent was she upon studying her brother's face, which was anything but sympathetic, as he shook the snow from his overcoat and warmed his hands by the stove. The Hon. Burton Jerrold liked his comfort and ease, and as he was far from easy or comfortable, he made his sister feel it by his manner, if not by his words.
"Is father so much worse that you must send for us in this storm?" he asked, and Hannah replied:
"Yes, he is very bad. He says he is going to die, and I believe it. He will not last the night out, and of course I must send for you, and he insisted that Mr. Sanford should come too."
"Yes, certainly; I am glad he did," the clergyman rejoined, thrusting his hands into his coat-pocket. "He wishes the communion, I dare say," and he placed reverently upon the table the little silver service.
Hannah's face flushed as she replied;
"He did not mention that, I do not suppose he thinks he can receive it. What he wishes is to see you, to talk to you, to—to—"
She hesitated, her brother's countenance was so forbidding, then added, quickly:
"'He wishes to tell you something which he has kept for years," and her voice sank to a whisper as she glanced again at her brother.
It was coming, then, the thing he had suspected so long, and which he never had wished to learn, and Burton Jerrold breathed hard as he said:
"But surely, Hannah, if there are family secrets to be told, I am the one to hear them, and not a stranger. Mr. Sanford can have no interest in our affairs."
"I could not help it, brother," Hannah said, mildly. "I tried to dissuade him, but he would not listen, and Mr. Sanford is not like a stranger to us."
She turned her dark eyes full of tears upon the clergyman, who gave her back an answering glance which her brother did not observe, and would not have comprehended if he had.
"Yes, Hannah," Mr. Sanford said, "you can trust me; be the secret one of life or death, it is safe with me as with you." And he gave her his hand by way of affirmation.
And Hannah took the offered hand and held fast to it as a drowning man holds to a straw, while the tears ran like rain down her pale face.
"Hannah! Burton! Are you there, and the minister? There is no time to lose," came feebly from the sick-room, and Hannah said:
"He is calling us; go to him, please. I will join you in a minute."
Then she hurried to the summer kitchen, where she found Sam, who thought his work done, and was removing his boots preparatory to going to bed.
"Wait, Sam," she said. "I am sorry, for I know you are tired and sleepy, but you must sit up a while longer, and take Mr. Sanford home. I will bring you an easy-chair in which you can sleep till I want you."
Thus speaking, she brought a large Boston rocker and a pillow for the tired boy, who, she knew, would soon be fast asleep, with no suspicion of what was about to transpire in the sick-room to which she next repaired, closing the door behind her. Her father had both Burton's hands in his, and was crying like a little child.
"Oh, my son, my son," he said, "if I could undo the past, I should not have to turn my eyes from my own child in shame, and that I have done ever since you were a boy, and came from Boston to see us. How old was he, Hannah? How old was Burton when the terrible thing happened?"
"'Twelve," Hannah answered, and her father went wandering on like one out of his mind, talking of Burton when he was a boy—of his dead wife—of Hannah, who had suffered so long, and of the storm, which he said was like the one which swept the New England hills thirty-one years ago that very night, when the snow fell so deep that no one came near the place till Monday.
"Three whole days," he said. "Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and I had time to hide the dark deed so securely that it has never been suspected."
Burton started quickly, and glanced at his sister with a look of amazed inquiry. He had thought of forgery, and theft, and embezzlement, but never of what his father's words might imply, and the cold sweat began to froze from the palms of his hands while a kind of nightmare crept over him, and kept him rooted to the spot as his father went on:
"But, oh! what agony of remorse I have endured! The tortures of the lost are not more intense than my sufferings have been! Think of my meeting people day after day with the mark of Cain upon my brow, burning there so hotly that it seemed as if you must all see it, and know my guilt. How could I join myself to God's people with this sin unconfessed? I could not, and yet, I feel in my heart that I am forgiven, washed in His blood as white as snow, so that there is rest for me in Paradise. Still, I must confess; I must tell you, my son, and you, my minister; but no one else—not Grey—no, no, not the boy Grey, who loves me so much. His life must not be shadowed with disgrace. He must not hate me in my coffin. Oh, Grey! Grey! May God bless the boy and give him every needful happiness, and make him so good and noble that his life will blot out the stain upon our name.
"Father!" Burton cried, in a choking voice; "for pity's sake, have done, and tell me what you mean! The suspense is terrible."
"I mean," and the old man spoke clearly and distinctly—"I mean that, thirty-one years ago to-night, in the heat of passion, I killed a man in the kitchen yonder, and buried him under this floor, under my bed, and I have slept over his grave ever since!"
"A murderer!" dropped from Burton Jerrold's pale lips; and "A murderer!" was echoed in the next room by lips far whiter than Burton Jerrold's, and which quivered with mortal pain as the boy Grey started from his stooping position over the stove and felt that he was dying.
For Grey was there, and had been for the last few minutes, and had heard the secret which he was not to know.
After his father left Grey's Park, he had sat a few minutes with his mother and aunt, and then, complaining of a headache, had asked to be excused, and gone to his room, which was at the head of some stairs leading down into a narrow hall and out into the side yard. When the boy entered his chamber, he had no intention of going to the farm-house, but as he thought of his grandfather dying, and that to-morrow might perhaps be too late to see him alive, the wish to go there grew stronger and stronger, until it became an impulse which he could not resist.
"Something tells me I must go," he said; "that it is needful for me to be there, and go I shall. I am not afraid of the snow. It cannot be more than a foot on the level. I have waded through more banks than that, and it is only a mile from here across the fields and through the woods. I shall not tell any one, but I am going."
And in a few moments Grey had descended the stairs, and unlocking the outer door, locked it again, and putting the key in his pocket, started for the farm-house, striking into a cross-road which led across the fields, and which in summer he used often to take in preference to the highway. It was a little nearer, and led through grassy lanes, and cool pinewoods, and pleasant pasture lands, across a stream where he had once built a dam, and had a little water-wheel which his grandfather made for him.
The way, however, was anything but pleasant now, with the cold, dark sky, the tall, leafless trees, and the drifting snow, which he found was more than a foot deep on the level, except in the woods, where it had not fallen so thickly. But Grey was young and fearless, and he went on rapidly, until he reached the knoll from which the house was visible not far away. It had ceased snowing by this time, and the moon, which was nearly at its full, was struggling to show itself through a rift in the gray clouds. The wind, however, was still blowing in wild gusts, and as it swept past him he, too, fancied it had in it a human sound.
"It is like Aunt Hannah's voice calling to me. I am glad I came, though I suppose father will scold," he said, as he paused a moment to rest, and then rapidly descended the knoll to the house.
Entering by the wood-shed door, which was first reached, he went into the summer kitchen, and passed on into the second kitchen, where a candle was burning dimly, and where he stopped a moment by the warm stove. No one heard him, no one knew he was there; but as he stood in the silence and darkness he heard distinctly his grandfather's voice, and this was what he heard:
"I must tell you, my son, and you, my minister; but no one else, not Grey—no, no, not, the boy Grey, who loves me so much. His life must not be shadowed with disgrace. He must not hate me in my coffin. Oh, Grey! Grey! May God bless him and give him every needful happiness, and make him so good and noble that his life will blot out the stain upon our name."
Here Grey, who stood motionless, heard his father say:
"For pity's sake tell me what you mean; the suspense is terrible."
And then came the awful response, which sounded through the silent room like the knell to all the boy's future happiness and peace of mind.
"Thirty-one years ago to-night, in the heat of passion I killed a man in the kitchen yonder, and buried him under this floor, under my bed, and I have slept on his grave ever since!"
No wonder Grey's face grew white as the face of a corpse, while his heart throbbed with unutterable pain as he whispered the word his father had said aloud.
His grandfather, whom he had thought so good, and loved so much, a murderer! He had killed a man in that very room, perhaps on the spot where the boy was standing, and Grey recoiled from the place, and looked down upon the floor, which gave no sign of the tragedy enacted there thirty-one years ago, and kept hidden ever since.
Like a flash of lightning Grey saw all the past, and understood now what had been singular in his grandfather's manner and in his Aunt Hannah's, too; for she had been privy to the deed, and had helped to keep it from the world, and to Grey this was the bitterest thought of all, the one which made him sick, and faint and dizzy, as he groped his way to the door, which he opened and closed cautiously, and then fell heavily upon his face in the snow, with all consciousness for the moment blotted out.
The chill, however, and the damp revived him almost immediately, and struggling to his feet he started on his route back to Grey's Park along the same road he had come, seeing nothing, bearing nothing but that one word, that name his father had given to his grandfather, and which he, too, had echoed. Over and over again the winds repeated it until the, woods seemed full of it, and he said to himself:
"Will it always be so? Shall I never hear anything but that again so long as I live, and I am so young, only fourteen, and I meant to be a great and honorable man, and a good one, too. And I can still be that. God knows I am not to blame. Would he hear me, I wonder, if I should ask him now to take some of this pain away which fills my heart to bursting!"
And there, on the pure white snow, in the shadow of the leafless woods, the heart-broken boy knelt down, and with clasped hands, and the great tears streaming over his upturned face, asked God to forgive him for his grandfather's sin, and take the pain away, and help him to be a good man, if he could never be great and distinguished. And God heard that prayer made to him in the wintry night, from the depths of the boyish heart, and a feeling of quiet came over Grey as he resumed his walk.
"I am not to blame," he said, "and people will not think so if they know, which they never will, for father will not tell, nor Mr. Sanford either; but I shall always know, and life will never be the same to me again."
It certainly looked forlorn and dreary enough to him by the time he reached Grey's Park, and letting himself quietly in, he crept noiselessly up to his bed, from which he did not rise until late the next morning, when his Aunt Lucy came herself to call him, and told him his grandfather was dead.
AT THE OLD MAN'S BEDSIDE.
When the word "murderer!" dropped from Burton Jerrold's lips, his father started as if a bullet had pierced his heart, and the hot blood surged up into his face, as he said:
"Oh, my son, my son, that you should be the first to call me by a name which even Hannah has never spoken, and she has known it all the time. She saw me do the deed; she helped me bury it. Poor Hannah!"
"You!" and Burton turned fiercely upon his sister, who stood like a block of marble and almost as colorless. "You helped. Then you were an accessory to the crime, and never spoke, never told! No wonder your hair turned white before its time!"
"Brother! brother!" Hannah cried, as she threw up her hands in an anguish of entreaty. "You do not know, you cannot guess, or you would never reproach me thus."
"But I do know that you kept silence, and that I, who thought myself so honorable and high, am branded with disgrace, am the son of a—"
"Stay!" and the dying man gathered all his remaining strength for the reproof. "You shall not call me by that name again. You shall not speak thus to your sister, the noblest woman and the most faithful daughter God ever gave to the world. I bound her by a solemn oath not to speak, even had she wished to, which she did not, for I was her father; your father, too, and I know that in some respects you are not worthy to touch the hem of her garment. Say, Mr. Sanford," and he turned to the rector, who had stood looking on, stupefied with what he heard, "did Hannah do wrong, not to bear witness against me?"
"Hannah never does wrong," the rector said, rousing himself, and going a step nearer to her he took her cold, clammy hand between his own, and held it there, while he continued: "Mr. Jerrold, you reproach your sister for her silence, but consider what her speaking would have done for you! If you feel it so keenly when only you and I know of it, what would you have felt had the whole world been made cognizant of the fact? I do not know the circumstances of your father's crime. Probably there was great provocation, and that it was done in self-defense, and if so the gallows would not have been his punishment, though a prison might, and do you think that as the son of a felon you could have stood where you do now in the world's estimation? No; instead of reproaches, which I do not believe spring from a sense of justice, rather thank your sister who has given all the brightness of her life to shield her father from punishment and you from disgrace."
The rector spoke more severely than was his wont, for he felt a contempt for the man whose real character he now understood better than he had before; but his words had a good effect, for Burton saw the truth there was in them, and turning to his sister, who was sobbing piteously he said:
"Forgive me, Hannah, if I seemed unjust. I am so stunned and hurt that I am not myself, and do not know what I say. I am glad you kept silent; to have spoken would have been to ruin me; but why, having kept the secret so long, did you not keep it longer? Why did not father take it with him to his grave? Surely no good can come from wounding and humiliating me so cruelly."
"Perhaps not, my son," the old man answered, feebly. "For you it might have been better if I had never spoken. Possibly it is a morbid fancy, but I felt that I must confess to my minister. My conscience said so, and that I must tell you in order that you may be a comfort and help to Hannah in what she means to do."
"What does she mean to do?" Burton asked, in alarm, and his father replied:
"Make restitution in some way to the friends of the man I killed, if she can find them."
"Oh!" and Burton set his teeth firmly together as he thought what danger there might be in restitution, for that would involve confession, and that meant disgrace to the Jerrold name. "I shall prevent that if I can; it is well, after all, that I should know," he thought; then to his father he said; "Who was the man? Where are his friends? Tell me all now."
"Yes, I will; but, Hannah, look—I thought I heard some one moving in the next room, a few minutes ago," the old man said, and going to the door, Hannah glanced around the empty kitchen which bore no trace of the white-faced boy who not long before, had left it with an aching heart, and who at that moment was kneeling in the snow and asking God to forgive him for his grandfather's sin.
"There is no one there, and Sam is sleeping soundly in the room beyond," she said, as she returned to her father's side, and taking her place by him passed her arm around him and supported and reassured him, while he told the story of that awful night, a story which the author will tell in her own words rather than in those of the dying man, who introduced a great deal of matter irrelevant to the case.
Forty years or more before the night of which we write, there had come to Allington a peddler, whose home was across the sea, in Carnarvon, Wales. He was a little, cross eyed, red-haired, wiry man, with a blunt, sharp way of speaking, but was very popular with the citizens of Allington, to whom he sold such small articles as he could conveniently carry in a bundle upon his back; needles, pins, thread, pencils, matches, thimbles, cough lozengers, Brandreth's pills, handkerchiefs, ribbons, combs, and sometimes Irish laces and Balbriggans formed a part of his heterogeneous stock, which was varied from time to time to suit the season, or the wants of his customers.
Very close at a bargain, and very saving of his money, he seldom stopped at the hotel, but passed the night at the houses of his acquaintances, who frequently made no charge for his meals or his lodgings. Especially was this the case at the farm-house where the peddler, whose name was Joel Rogers, was always welcome, and where he usually staid when in Allington. Between Peter Jerrold and the peddler there was a strong friendship, and the two often sat into the small hours of the night, while the latter told marvelous tales of his wild Welsh country, which he held above all other lands, and to which, the last time he was seen in Allington, he said he was about to return.
For three days he remained in the town, selling off the most of his stock, and then bidding his friends good-by, started late on the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day for the adjoining town, where a few debts were owing him, and where he hoped to dispose of the rest of his merchandise.
As he left the village the snow began to fall heavily and this, perhaps, was why he decided to stop at the farm-house, which was not upon the highway, but nearly half a mile from it, upon a cross-road which led through Peter Jerrold's farm to the town line, and which was seldom traveled by any one except by Peter Jerrold himself and those who came to visit him. Thus the house stood in a most lonely, secluded spot, with only the chimney and the top of the roof visible to the people of the neighborhood.
Here Peter Jerrold lived with his daughter Hannah, who was now nearly fifteen, and who had kept his house since her mother's death, which occurred when she was twelve years old.
Bright, unselfish, and very pretty, Hannah was a general favorite with the people of Allington and many were the merry-makings and frolics held at the old farm-house by her young friends. But these were suddenly brought to an end by a fearful sickness which came upon Hannah, and, which transformed her from the light-hearted, joyous girl of fifteen, into a quiet, reserved, white-faced woman, who might have passed for twenty-five, and whose hair at eighteen was beginning to turn gray. It was the fever, the people said, and Hannah permitted them to think so, though she knew that the cause lay behind the fever, and dated from the awful night when Joel Rogers came into their kitchen, and asked for shelter from the storm, which was readily granted him.
It was probably his last visit, he said, as it was doubtful if he ever returned to America, for he meant to settle down and die in Carnarvon, his old home, where his only sister, Elizabeth, was living. Then he talked of his money, which, he said, was considerable, and was mostly invested in some slate quarries in the vicinity of Carnarvon.
For a long time the two men sat before the wood fire, talking of England and Wales, eating the apples which Hannah brought them from the cellar, and drinking freely of some wine which Peter had made himself, and which he brought out in honor of his friend's last visit.
This at last began to take effect, making them loud and noisy, and inclined to contradict each other, and quarrel generally, and then, as the peddler was counting out his gold, of which he had several hundred dollars he turned suddenly to Mr. Jerrold, and said:
"By the way, you have never paid me the five dollars I loaned you when I was here last winter."
The latter affirmed that he had paid it in the spring, and that Hannah saw him do it, which was the fact. But the peddler persisted in his demand, and grew louder and more vociferous in his language, calling both Peter Jerrold and Hannah liars, and saying he would have his money if he went to law to get it.
A violent quarrel then ensued, and such epithets as liar, cheat, and swindler were freely interchanged, and then there was a simultaneous spring at each other, the chairs were overturned and they were rolling upon the floor, dealing each other fierce blows and tearing each other's hair like wild beasts. It was the peddler who struck first, but Peter, being the stronger of the two, got his antagonist under him, and with a stick of wood which was lying upon the hearth struck him upon the head, inflicting a fearful wound from which the blood flowed in torrents, staining Peter's hands and face as he pushed back his hair, and sobered him at once. But it was too late, for when Hannah, who, during the fight, had cowered in the corner with her hands over her eyes, withdrew them as the struggle ceased, and looked at the white, blood-stained face over which her father was bending, she knew the man was dead, and with a cry of horror, ran from the room out into the darkness, where shriek after shriek of "Murder! Murder!" rang out upon the air and was drowned by the louder scream of the terrible storm which was sweeping over the hills that Thanksgiving night.
Beside her in the snow crouched the house-dog, Rover, trembling with fear, and mingling his howling cry of terror with her more awful one of murder. The dog had been a witness of the fray, keeping close by his mistress' side, and occasionally uttering a low growl of disapproval as the blows fell thick and fast, and when at last it was over, and the dead man lay white and still, with his blood upon the floor, Rover sprang toward his master with a loud, angry bark and then fled with Hannah into the storm, where he mingled his cry with hers and added to the horror of the scene.
"Half-crazed with what he had done, and terrified lest be should be detected, Peter Jerrold's first idea was of self-preservation from the law, and the cries he had heard outside filled him with rage and fear. Staggering to his daughter's side he struck the dog a savage blow, then taking Hannah roughly by the arm and leading her into the house, he said to her, fiercely:
"Are you crazy, girl, that you yell out your father's guilt to the world? You and that brute of a dog, whom I will kill and so have him out of the way! Here, you Rover, come here!" he said to the dog, who was standing before Hannah, bristling with anger and growling at intervals, "Come here while I finish you," and he opened the door of the wood-shed where he always kept the gun he had carried in the war of 1812.
Divining his intention Hannah stepped between him and Rover, on whose head she laid her hand protectingly, while she said:
"Father, you will not touch the dog, if you value your own safety, for if you do, every man in Allington shall know what you have done, before to-morrow dawns. Isn't it enough that you have killed him!" and she pointed shudderingly to the inanimate form upon the floor.
For a moment Peter Jerrold regarded her with the face of a maniac; then his expression changed, and with a burst of tears and sobs he fell upon his knees at her feet, and clasping the hem of her dress abjectly in his hands, besought her to pity him, to have mercy, and save him from the gallows, for in the first frenzy of fear he felt it would be his life they would require if once his guilt were known.
"I cannot die a felon's death. You do not want your poor father hung! Think of yourself; think of Burton; both so young, to carry such a disgrace all your lives. I did not mean to kill him; God knows I didn't. He provoked me so, he hit me first, and I struck harder than I thought, and he is dead. Oh, what shall I do? What shall I do? I cannot be hung; you will not betray me. Promise me you will not!"
She had no thought of betraying him, except as she had threatened it in defense of Rover, who now stood up erect, looking first at her, and then at her father, as if curious to see how it would end.
"Father, I have no wish to see you hung," Hannah said, while her knees shook under her at the thought. "I shall not witness against you, if I can help it. But what will you do? How can you keep it a secret? People will know, when they see him, that he did not die by fair means."
To her the thought of hiding the crime had not occurred, and a shudder of horror ran through her frame when her father said:
"People need not know. He was going to Europe. Let them think he has gone, and we will bury him, you and I, where he will never be found."
"Bury him here? Where? and Hannah's teeth chattered with fright, as she thought of living all her life in a house which held a buried secret in the shape of a murdered man.
"Bury him under the floor of my room, over in the corner where the bed always stands," the father replied so calmly that Hannah looked at him wonderingly to see if he were utterly void of feeling, that he could speak so quietly of what filled her with unspeakable dread.
But he was neither callous nor unconcerned. He was merely stunned with the magnitude and suddenness of his crime, and the natural fear of its detection. The repentance, the remorse were to come afterward, and be meted out to him in such measure of bitterness as has seldom fallen to the lot of man. Regarding his daughter fixedly for a moment, he said in a hard, reckless kind of way:
"Hannah, there is no use in whimpering now. The deed is done, and cannot be undone; though, God is my witness, I would give my life in a moment for the one I have taken, if I could, and I swear to you solemnly that I wish I had been the one killed rather than the one to kill. But it was not to be so. I have slain my friend. The world would call it murder, as you did, and hang me. I cannot be hung. I must hide it, bury it, and you must help and swear on the Bible not to tell so long as I live. Will you do it? Answer, quick, and let us get to work, for I am a very coward, and hear voices in the storm as of people coming to take me. Will you help me, and will you swear?"
"Oh, father, father," Hannah cried, in an agony of entreaty; "do not ask me to help! Do not ask me to swear, though I promise not to tell, if I can avoid it. But if he is missed, if inquiry is made for him, if he is traced here, and I am questioned, am put upon my oath, I cannot tell a lie, and maybe they would not hang you when they knew the circumstances. He was very unreasonable and aggravating, and called us both liars. I can testify to that. Oh, father, consider a moment! Would it not be better to go at once, and confess the truth to some one who has influence. Captain Grey is our friend. Tell him, and ask his advice. Go, father; now, and leave him where he lies. I shall not be afraid to stay alone, knowing you are doing right. Go, father."
She was on her knees before him now, clasping his feet, and pleading piteously. But she might as well have talked to a stone.
"Give himself up to the hangman? Never!" he answered. And she was no daughter of his to desire his death, as she evidently did. She could stay there in the corner with her dog, as great a sneak as herself! He did not wish her services; he could manage alone, he said, angrily, as he turned from her and entered his room, where she heard him moving out his bed, and knew that he was taking up a portion of the floor.
Then there came over her a great blackness, and a buzzing in her head like the sound of many bees in the summer time, and she fell upon her face, unconscious of everything. How long she lay thus she did not know, but when she came to herself again there was no light in the room except that made by the dying fire upon the hearth and Rover was licking her cold face and hands, and now and then uttering a low whine as if in token of sympathy. The body was still upon the floor near her, but from her father's room there came a sound, the import of which she understood perfectly. Shivering as with a chill, she moaned:
"Oh! how can I bear it? My life will be one long, living death, and I shall always want to shriek out the dreadful thing which father says I must keep! Can I? Ought I? And could they hang my father? I do not think so. They would call it manslaughter, and pardon him, for my sake—for Burton's."
And here the poor girl groaned bitterly, as she thought of Burton, her young brother, whom she loved so much, and of whom she was so proud, and for whom she was so glad that he could live in Boston, amid all the fine sights of a city, which suited him better than the homely life at the farm-house. When, after her mother's funeral, her aunt, Mrs. Wetherby, had offered to take him home with her and bring him up as her own, Hannah had felt for a time as if she could not let him go and leave her there alone; but when she thought of all the benefit it would be to him, and saw how much he wished it, she stifled every selfish feeling, for his sake, and saw him leave her without a sign of the pain at her heart, or the unutterable longing she had for his companionship. And now, as she thought of him, her bitterest pang came from the fact that if this deed were known, he would suffer all his life from the shame of it, and, to herself, she said:
"For Burton's sake, I must bear it always, and alone. He must never know what I know. No one must ever know, and may God forgive me if I am doing wrong!" And falling upon her knees, with her head upon Rover's neck, the wretched girl prayed earnestly for grace to know what was right, and strength to do it.
And He who hears every sincere cry for help, even though His ear may seem deaf, and the heavens brass, sending back the cry like an unmeaning sound, gave her the strength needful for the hour, and a feeling of calmness stole over her, making her quiet, and even fearless of the stiffened form lying so near her upon the floor.
But when, a few minutes later, her father appeared in the door, with a candle in his hand, and said to her, "I have done all I can do alone; you must help me now," the old terror came back, and staggering to her feet, she asked:
"What do you wish me to do?"
"Help carry him into the next room," her father replied, and then forgetting Burton, forgetting everything, she burst out again:
"Oh, father, will it not be better to tell the truth, at once? The fact that you do so will go a long way toward clearing you. The people all respect you so much, and they know he was quarrelsome and insulting at times. Think, father, think!"
"I have thought," he answered, "and I tell you I cannot be hanged!" then going swiftly to his bed-room he came back with a Bible in his hand, and standing before the white-faced girl, said to her: "I see I cannot trust you, unless you swear upon this book, never, while I live, to breathe to any living person what has been done here to-night. When I am dead do what you like, but swear now, as you hope for heaven, never to tell!"
And Hannah took the oath which he dictated to her, and kissed the sacred book which seemed to burn her lips as she did so. She had sworn. She would keep the vow to the end, and her father knew it, and with this fear lifted from his mind he became almost cheerful in his manner, as he explained to her what she was to do.
And Hannah obeyed him, and with limbs which trembled in every joint went with him to the attic and helped him bring down some boards which had lain there for years and on which she and Burton had played many an hour in days gone by. She knew what he was going to do with them, and without a word held the light while he fashioned the rude coffin in which he laid the dead man, but not until she had with her own hands reverently and tenderly washed the blood from the ghastly face and bound about the wound upon the temple a handkerchief which she found in his pack. Then, after the body was placed in the box, she took a pillow from her father's bed, and putting on it a clean covering and placing it under the peddler's head, folded his hands upon his breast, and kneeling beside the box bowed her head upon the boards and began the Lord's Prayer.
It was her burial service for the dead, all she could think of, and for a moment her father stood staring at her as if stupefied with what he saw; then his features relaxed, and falling on his knees beside her he cried out piteously:
"Oh, Father in heaven, forgive, forgive! Thou knowest I did not mean to do it. Have mercy, have mercy! Blot out my great sin, and if a prayer for the dead is not wrong, grant that this man, my friend, whom I sent into eternity with no time for repentance, may be among the saved; forbid that I should destroy him body and soul. Oh, help me! for the brand of Cain is upon me, and already my punishment seems greater than I can bear. If I could give my life for his I would do so gladly, but I cannot, and I must live on in torment forever and ever, with this blood-stain on my hands burning like coals of fire. Oh, my heavenly Father, have mercy! I did not mean to do it."
His head was on the rough coffin and he was sobbing in wild abandonment of despair, while Hannah, too, knelt beside him, with a face as white as the dead man's and eyes into which there had come a look of fright and horror, which would never entirely leave them until her dying day.
In a corner of the room Rover had been lying for the last fifteen or twenty minutes, eyeing the proceedings warily, and occasionally giving a growl of disapproval when his master came near him, and when the body was lifted into the coffin, he uttered a long, deep howl which echoed through the house like the wail of some troubled spirit, drifting on the wings of the wind still moaning around the windows and the doors.
"Oh, Rover, Rover, don't!" Hannah cried, going to him, and winding her arms around his neck, "Be quiet, Rover, or I shall die."
As if he comprehended her meaning the noble brute lay down again, and resting his head upon his paws, looked on until his master gave way to his paroxysm of grief. Then he arose, and going up to the prostrate man, licked his hair and face just as, earlier in the night, he had licked Hannah's when she lay beside him on the floor. He was only a dog, but his sympathy was reassuring to the wretched man, who looked up, and with a faint smile, said to his daughter:
"Rover forgives and pities me. I will take it as a token that God will do so, too; and now we must finish our work."
As if endued with superhuman strength, Hannah helped her father carry the body to the grave he had dug, and there they buried it, while her tears fell like rain, and her father's lips moved with the words:
"Forgive, forgive; I did not mean to kill him."
Everything belonging to the peddler was buried with him, except a leathern bag in which was the gold he had counted in the evening, and a small tin box fastened by a padlock, the key of which was found in his pocket, and his silver watch, which Hannah laid aside with a thought of the sister Elizabeth, whom he had mentioned with so much affection, and who, he said, was to be his heir. The money and the watch belonged to her and must be kept sacredly until the day when Hannah could safely give them to her, as she fully meant to do. For the rest there was nothing of any value, and they buried it with him, and filled the grave, or rather the father filled it, while Hannah held the light, and Rover looked on curiously.
Then, when all was done, when the floor was nailed down securely, the bed moved back to its place, the blood-stains washed from the kitchen floor, and there was nothing left to indicate the awful tragedy which had been enacted there, the father and daughter sat down with Rover lying between them, and talked as to how they would face it.
On the table beside them lay the watch, the leathern bag, and the box which had belonged to the deceased. In the bag there were several hundred dollars in twenty, ten, and five dollar gold pieces, and in the box, which Hannah unlocked, there were some papers, and tied together with a faded ribbon was a lock of dark brown hair, a bit of purple heather, a few English violets, and some leaves of ivy; while on the paper in which they were wrapped was the date of a summer day, many, many years ago, when the dead man was young. Whatever might have been the romance of which this souvenir was the sign, it was buried forever with the past, and Hannah put it back in the box as carefully and tenderly as if it were the hand of the woman on whose head that brown tress once grew.
The next thing which met the view was a picture painted on ivory of a young girl who might have been sixteen or eighteen years of age, and whose face was so beautiful that Hannah uttered an exclamation of surprise as she held it to the light and examined it closely.
The dress was old-fashioned, and such as would indicate that the wearer belonged to the middle, rather than the wealthy class, but Hannah did not think of that, so absorbed was she in the beauty of the fresh, young face, and the expression of the large blue eyes, which seemed to look at her so intently. The dark brown tress, so carefully wrapped in paper, and bearing the scent of English violets and heather blossoms could never have grown on this girl's head, for the wavy hair which fell in such masses upon her neck was of that peculiar shade of gold, dashed with red, seldom seen in America, and which latterly has become so fashionable, that where nature fails to produce it, art has been called into requisition, and achieved most wonderful success.
"Oh, how lovely she is," Hannah said, showing the picture to her father. "This must be his sister, the Elizabeth he was so fond of. He said once she was many year's younger than himself, and very beautiful. I do not wonder he loved her."
The bundle of papers was next examined, and found to contain a few receipts for moneys paid in England and America, and the will of the deceased, executed some months before, and in which he gave everything he possessed to his beloved and only sister, Elizabeth, her heirs and assigns forever.
"Father!" Hannah said, with a trembling voice, as she finished reading aloud this will, "I am sure that this is his sister's picture, and we have a duty to do. We must find Elizabeth Rogers, and put her in possession of her own, this gold in the box, and whatever else he may have owned in Wales. He spoke of shares in some mines or quarries. These all belong to his sister, and we must not defraud her; those blue eyes would haunt me forever. What shall we do?"
She was looking earnestly at her father, over whose face there came a sudden pallor, and a hard, bitter expression, as he answered her:
"Find her! Of course! Advertise! go to Wales, if necessary, in search of her, or get a lawyer to do it! Break your vow; tell the whole truth, as you would have to, in order to establish his death; and get me hanged! That would be the result of restitution."
"Oh, father," Hannah cried in terror. "Is there no other way? If I find this woman and give her her own, must I tell her the whole truth? Will it not be enough if I say he is dead, that I saw him die, that I helped to lay him in his coffin? I would not mention you, or that I had a father. Surely she would be satisfied."
"Yes, she might, but not the law. I do not understand the ins and outs myself, there are so many questions necessary to make a thing legal, but this I am sure of; the whole thing would be ripped up, and I hanged, as I told you. No, Hannah, you cannot find this woman while I live, which, please God, may not be long. When I am gone, find her, if you like, but you must shield me. Remember your vow, and—and—swear again, not to move in the matter while I live."
He was growing so excited with this new fear that his daughter shrank from him in alarm, and at last yielding to his importunities took another oath of secrecy, which doomed the blue-eyed woman in Wales to a life of poverty, if such now were her portion.
"But what shall we do with this money?" Hannah asked.
And her father replied:
"Keep it until you can restore it to its rightful owner without harm to me. Elizabeth may never get it, but her heirs, some child yet unborn, may be made rich by you, one day, who knows?"
Yes, some child then unborn might one day be richer for this crime, but that did not comfort Hannah, now, and the future held no gleam of hope or happiness for her, as she put the papers, and the watch, and the gold, and the portrait, together in the tin box, and tried to think where she could hide them.
Owing to the storm, and the depth of the snow, no one visited the lonely farm-house until the Monday following the tragedy, when a neighbor came breaking through the drifts to see how it fared with Peter, who tried to appear natural as he talked of the depth of the snow, and inquired for the news, and mentally anathematized the dog Rover, who, the moment the stranger appeared, stretched himself before the bedroom door with a keen, watchful look in his eyes, as if he were on the alert and guarding the terrible secret.
And this habit, commenced that morning, was continued by the faithful creature up to the day of his death, which happened several years later. No matter where he was, whether chasing a rabbit through the woods or sleeping by the stable door, he seemed by some instinct to know when a visitor arrived, and hastened at once to his post, from which neither threats nor persuasions could dislodge him. For Hannah tried both, but when she coaxed he whined and whisked his big tail on the floor, and when she threatened he growled and showed his teeth, but staid there just the same.
The Monday night following the tragedy, Hannah was stricken down with a low, nervous fever, which lasted for weeks, and from which she arose the mere shadow of her former self. All life and vivacity had left her, and instead of a girl of fifteen she seemed like a woman of twenty-five, so quiet and reserved she became, with no color in her cheeks, no elasticity in her step, no joy in her voice, no brightness anywhere except in her large dark eyes, which shone with unusual brilliancy, and had in them always a look which puzzled and fascinated her friends, who little dreamed of what those strangely bright, beautiful eyes saw constantly before them.
Whether sleeping or waking the picture was always there, of the dead man on the floor with the blood-stains on his face, and she felt the touch of the clammy hands which she had folded upon his breast. She could not go to school again, for in her morbid state of mind to study was impossible, and so she staid at home, brooding over the past and shrinking from the future, with no companionship except that of Rover, who seemed so fully to understand and sympathize with her. Oftentimes when her work for the day was done, and she sat down listlessly upon a little seat beneath the apple tree which grew in the yard, the dog would go to her, and putting his head in her lap, gaze into her face with such a human look of pity in his eyes that her tears would fall like rain, as she wound her arms around his neck and sobbed:
"Oh, dear old Rover, you know, and you are sorry for me. What should I do without you! What shall I do when you are gone?" and the white lips would frame a prayer that Rover might be spared to her long, for without him life would be intolerable.
And yet Hannah had no foolish fancies, filled though the house was, with the image of the dead man. She did not believe in ghosts, and had no fear that the occupant of the hidden grave beneath the floor would come back to trouble her; it was rather the horror of the crime, the sin, which so oppressed her, filling her with the wildest fancies, and making her see always the dreadful word murder written everywhere upon the walls, and the blood-stains on the floor, where no trace was visible to other eyes than hers. Sometimes in the dark night, in her lonely bed beneath the roof, with the stars looking in upon her, she felt as if her brain were on fire and that she was going mad with the load of anguish and guilt, for she accused herself as equally guilty with her father, inasmuch as she had witnessed the deed and was helping him to conceal it.
"But God knows I cannot help it. I am bound with bonds I cannot break," she would cry, as she stretched her hands toward heaven in dumb supplication for pardon and peace, which came at last to the troubled spirit.
And though she never knew again the joy of youth which had left her forever, there came to her long intervals of rest and quiet and comparative peace, if not happiness; and when, three years after the tragedy which had blighted her young life, she, with others of her companions, ratified her baptismal vows and openly confessed Christ, He who sees and knows the secrets of all hearts, knew that among those who knelt to receive the rite of confirmation there was not one purer or more sincere than she who thought herself the vilest of the vile.
Naturally, as time rolled on, and the peddler Rogers came no more to Allington, inquiries were made for him, the people wondering if he intended remaining in Wales the remainder of his life, or would he appear in their midst again some day, with his balbriggans and Irish linens. But as he had never been more to the citizens than a peddler of dry-goods, he was soon forgotten, and Peter Jerrold's secret was safe under the floor, and the tin box, with the gold and the will, was safe in the niche of the huge chimney, where Hannah had hidden it, until such time as it could be given into the hands of the rightful owner. For this Hannah fully intended doing. How, or when, or by what agency, she could not tell, but sometime in the future, restitution would be made, either to Elizabeth or her heirs. She had calculated the interest on the money, and resolved yearly to lay by that amount for the benefit of the Rogers heirs. Everything pertaining to Carnarvon she read up, knowing perfectly its history, where it was situated, how to reach it, and almost fancying that she knew the very house where the peddler had lived, and where possibly Elizabeth was still living. And some day she would find the place and give up the money and will, and tell as much of the past as was necessary to tell, but no more.
And with this end in view she lived her dreary, monotonous life, which knew no change, except on the rare intervals when her young brother Burton, came up from Boston to spend a few days with the father and sister from whom he was growing estranged so fast; for between them and himself there was nothing common, and he was always glad when his short visit was over, and he was free to return to the life more in accordance with his taste than that at the farm-house.
When Rover died, several years after the tragedy of which he was a witness, Hannah felt that she had lost all that made life endurable, and mourned for him as for a human friend. With all the faithful sagacity of his race the noble brute had clung to her, seldom quitting her side, and frequently, when her heart was saddest, and she was weeping by herself, licking her face and hair, and uttering a kind of low cry, as if he understood her perfectly; and when at last he died, it was with his head in her lap, and her tears falling upon his shaggy face. Even to the last he was faithful to the charge he had so long assumed. A neighbor had come into the kitchen, and dragging himself from the mat on which he was lying, Rover crawled to the door of the bedroom, and stretched himself in front of it, while in the dying eyes lifted to Hannah's face, there was an expression of unutterable love and regret for the mistress he was leaving forever. When the visitor left the house, Hannah tried to coax the dog back to his mat near the stove, but he was too weak to move, and so she placed a blanket under him and kneeling by his side, put his head in her lap, and held it there until he ceased to breathe.
After his death there was nothing to relieve the tedium of Hannah's life, and but for her trust in God her reason must have given way under the strain, for it was not only her own sorrow, but her father's as well, which she had to bear. With him there was no rest, day or night, and every breath was a prayer for mercy and forgiveness.
At first he was continually haunted with a fear of detection, and frequently in the night he would steal noiselessly to Hannah's room, and awakening her with a whisper, tell her there were men about the house, come to arrest him, and charge her with having broken her oath and betrayed him into the hands of the law. Every possible precaution against a surprise was taken. Iron bolts were put on the doors, the windows were nailed down, and the house was never for an hour left alone. The people said the man was deranged, and pitied the young girl who, from daily association with him, was becoming almost as peculiar as himself.