After a few years the aged pastor, who had so long officiated in the stone church on the common, died, and the Rev. Charles Sanford, fresh from the Theological Seminary, was called to take his place. Full of energy and zeal in his work, the young rector soon made himself acquainted with all his parishioners, and seemed to find a peculiar attraction in the inmates of the farm-house, where he spent a great deal of time, arguing with the father on the nature of the unpardonable sin, and answering the many questions his host propounded to him upon the subject of genuine repentance and its fruits, and how far confession to man was necessary that one might be saved.
To these discourses Hannah was always an attentive listener, and there came gradually a new light into her dark eyes, and a faint color to her white cheeks, when she saw the rector coming up the walk, and met his winning smile. But all this was ended at last; for, after a night in June, when she walked with the young clergyman through the pasture land under the row of chestnut trees which grew upon the hill-side, he came less frequently to the farm-house, and when he did come his discourse was mostly with her father, whom he was laboring to convince that it was his duty to be confirmed. But Peter always answered him:
"No, you don't know what you ask. I am too vile, too great a sinner for that. The very stones would cry out against me."
The clergyman thought him crazy, and after a time abandoned the effort, and went but seldom to the farm-house, where Hannah had again entered the dark cloud in which his coming had made a rift, and which now seemed darker than ever, because of the momentary brightness which had been thrown upon it. She, too, had labored with her father as Mr. Sanford had done, telling him of the peace which was sure to follow a duty performed, but he answered her:
"Never, child, never; for, don't you see, I must first confess, and that is to put the halter around my own neck. They would hang me now, sure, for the concealment, if for nothing more. It might have been better if I had told at first, as you advised. I believe now they would have been lenient toward me. A few years in prison, perhaps, and then freedom the rest of my life. Oh, if I had done it. But now it is forever too late. God may forgive me. I think he will, but I can never join his church with this crime on my soul."
After this Hannah said no more to him upon the subject, but bent all her energies to soothe and rid him of the morbid, half-crazy fancies which had taken possession of him.
And so the wretched years went on, until Peter Jerrold had numbered more than three score years and ten, and suffered enough to atone many times for crimes far more heinous than his had been. But nature at last could endure no more, and on the Thanksgiving night, thirty-one years after the event which had blighted his life, he felt that he was dying, and insisted upon confessing his sin not only to his son, but also to his clergyman, who has been his friend and spiritual adviser for so many years.
"I shall die so much easier," he said to Hannah, who sent for them both, and then with her arm around her father, held him against her bosom, while he told in substance, and with frequent pauses for breath, the story we have narrated.
THE EFFECT OF THE STORY.
After the first great shock of surprise, when the word murderer dropped from his lips, and he reproached his sister so harshly and unreasonably, Burton Jerrold stood with folded arms, and a gloomy, unsympathetic face, as immovable at first as if he had been a stone, and listened to the tale as repeated by his father. But when the tragic part was reached, and he saw the dead man on the floor, his sister crouching in the corner of the room, with Rover at her side, the rude coffin, the open grave, and the secret midnight burial, his breath came in long, shuddering gasps, and the perspiration stood in great drops upon his forehead and about his pallid lips. And when his father said, "I buried him here in this room, under this bed, where I have slept ever since, and he is there now," he started backward as suddenly as if the ghost of the peddler had risen from the floor and confronted him. Then, staggering forward, he would have fallen if Mr. Sanford had not caught him by the arm and supported him a moment.
Bringing him a chair, the clergyman said to him, pityingly:
"Sit down, Mr. Jerrold, and try to compose yourself. You are not in fault: no one can blame you."
"No, no, I know it; but it hurts me just the same. The disgrace! I can never be happy again. Oh, Hannah, why did you let him tell me? I cannot bear it, I cannot!" the wretched Burton moaned, and his father replied:
"Your sister has borne it for thirty-one years. Are you less brave than she?"
"I don't know. Yes, I believe I am. I have more at stake than she. Our positions are not the same. There is Geraldine, and Grey, I can never look them in the face again, knowing what I know," Burton cried, impetuously, and covering his face with his hands, he sobbed as strong men never sob, save when some terrible storm, which they feel themselves inadequate to meet, is beating pitilessly upon them.
"Oh, brother," Hannah said, in her soft, entreating voice, "this is worse than all the rest. Don't take it so hard. It is not so bad as you think. You will not be disgraced. Geraldine will never know: the world will never know. Char—Mr. Sanford is just as safe as I. He will never tell," and the dark eyes looked for one moment at the man whom, in her excitement and forgetfulness, she had almost called by his Christian name, and who, in response to the call and the look, went to her side, and laying his hand upon her head, said, solemnly:
"As heaven is my witness, what I have heard here to-night shall never pass my lips."
Pressing his hand for an instant upon Hannah's bowed head, he withdrew it, but staid at her side until the recital was ended, and the old man, who was sinking fast, said to him, in a faint whisper:
"You know all now, and why I could not join the church. It was too late to tell the world of my guilt. God knew it. I believe he has baptized me with His Holy Spirit. Do you think that as His minister you can pray for my departing soul?"
"Yes, yes," the clergyman replied, and falling upon his knees, for he saw in the pinched face the look he could not mistake, he began the prayer for the dying one, who whispered, faintly:
"That is good, very good. And now, Hannah, the Lord's Prayer once more; it is the last. We have said it many times together, you and I, when the night was blackest and we could think of nothing else. Where are you, Hannah?" he added, in a tone of alarm, as if he had lost her. "It is growing dark and I cannot see. You must not leave me now. We have kept together so long."
"I am here, father; with my arm around your neck, and I am kissing your dear face," Hannah said, and then, bending over him, she commenced the prayer they had so often said together when no other words would come.
Faintly the old man's voice joined hers and that of the clergyman, and only Burton was silent. He could not pray, but sat silent, while his father whispered at short intervals:
"Forgive; yes, that's the good word, and I am forgiven. I feel it. I know it. Salvation is sure, even for me, and in heaven I shall wait and watch for you, Hannah, the best and truest daughter a man ever had. Oh, God bless my Hannah, and grant that some joy, some happiness may come to her when I am gone; and Grey, the baby Grey, oh, bless him, too, with every needful blessing—the baby Grey, whose little hands took the stain, the smart from mine—my Grey, whom I love so much."
"And Burton, too!" Hannah suggested, as her father ceased speaking without mentioning his son.
"Yes," he replied, rousing a little. "And Burton, my son; God bless him. But he is not like you, Hannah, nor like Grey. He could not forgive as you have; he will never forgive me. And yet he is very just, very good, very respectable, and the Hon. Burton Jerrold, of Boston. Tell him good-by and God bless him from me, the murderer!"
Those were the last words he ever spoke, for though he lingered for some hours it was in a kind of stupor, from which they could not rouse him.
Seeing that he could be of no further service, and remembering the careful Martha, who, he knew, was sitting up for him, armed with reproaches for the lateness of the hour, and various medicines as preventives for the cold he was sure to have taken, Mr. Sanford signified his intention to return home, and insisted that the boy Sam should not be awakened to drive him there.
The storm had ceased, the moon had come out, and he greatly preferred the walk, he said, even if the snow were deep. There were curious thoughts crowding in the brain of the grave, quiet man, tumultuous thoughts, which spanned a score of years and brought with them keen joy as well as a bitter pain. He was standing before the kitchen fire, with Hannah near him, holding the warm muffler he was to tie around his neck. Regarding her fixedly for a moment, he said, addressing her by the old pet name which had once been so familiar to him:
"Hanny, that is why you said 'no' to me that summer night when we walked together under the chestnut trees, and I felt that you had broken my heart?"
Any one who saw Hannah Jerrold at that moment would have called her beautiful, with the sudden light which shone in her dark eyes, the bright color which, came to her cheeks, and the softness which spread itself all over her upturned face, as she answered, promptly, and still very modestly:
"Yes, Charlie, that was the reason."
For an instant these two, whom a cruel fate had separated, looked into each other's eyes with a look in which the love of twenty years was embodied; then involuntarily the hands clasped, and the man and the woman who had walked together under the chestnut trees twenty years ago, kissed each other for the first time in their lives, she feeling that on her part there was nothing unwomanly, nothing wrong in the act, and he feeling that on his part there was not the shadow of infidelity to the woman who bore his name and looked so carefully after his welfare. The one was his wife, whom he respected greatly, and to whose wishes he sacrificed every wish of his own, when he could conscientiously do so; the other was the woman he had loved in the long ago, and whose "no," spoken so decidedly, and with no explanation except that it must be, had sent him from her with a heart-ache from which he now knew he had never fully recovered.
Twelve years after that summer, the memory of which was still half joy, half pain, he had married Miss Martha Adams, of Cambridge, because a mutual friend had told him he ought to do so, that a bachelor clergyman was never as useful as a married one, and that Miss Martha, a maiden lady of thirty-five, was eminently fitted to fulfill the duties of a rector's wife, for she came from a long line of clergy and for years had run the Sunday-school, and the sewing society, and the church generally in the parish to which she belonged. Added to this she had some money and excellent health, two good things in a minister's wife as everybody knew.
Mr. Sanford promised his friend to think about it, and then, one afternoon, walked across the fields to the house among the rocks and looked again at Hannah, who was twelve years older and graver and quieter than when she won the love of his young manhood; but there was something inexpressibly sweet in the pale, sad face, and the large dark eyes thrilled him as they did of old, so that he found his longing for her greater, if possible, than ever. But when he said to her, "Hanny, have you ever regretted your answer to me?" and she replied, "No, never," he turned away, and, walking back across the fields to his own home, wrote to his friend in Walpole, signifying his readiness to be introduced to Miss Martha Adams. The result of this was that Martha had been his wife for nearly eight years, and ruled him with a rod of iron, which she, however, sometimes covered, so that he did not feel it quite so much as he might otherwise have done. But it pressed heavily now, as in the clear, cold night he walked slowly home through the deep, untrodden snow, which he scarcely minded, so intent were his thoughts upon the past and what might have been.
Alas! for the many hearts, aching in secret and sending backward vain regrets for what might have been, what should have been, but what can never be. And, if sometimes the heart thus wrung cries out with a great cry for the happiness it has missed, is there disloyalty to him or her who stands where another should have stood? God only knows, and He is far more merciful and ready to forgive his erring children than are they to forgive each other. And he must have pitied the man who, with a thought of Hannah thrilling every fiber of his heart, went back to the home where Martha was waiting impatiently for him, with words of chiding upon her lips.
He knew it would be so, knew she would sit up for him until morning, if necessary, and knew, too, that in all probability bowls of herb tea and a hot foot-bath awaited him, for Martha was careful of his health, and sometimes oppressive with her attentions, and he sighed as he drew near his home and saw the light, and thought, "Oh, if she would only go to bed and leave me alone awhile, and not make me talk."
But she was up and waiting for him, in her purple flannel dressing-gown, which did not improve her ruddy complexion, and a frown on her face, which deepened into a scowl as he came in and she saw the condition of his boots and the lower part of his pants.
"Charles Sanford," she began, "do you mean to say you walked, and do you know what time it is?"
"Yes, Martha," he answered, meekly, "it is very late, but I could not help it, and I insisted upon walking rather than have the tired, sleeping boy come out in the cold. I needed the exercise. I am not cold."
"But you have taken cold. You needn't tell me, and I've got the water ready for a foot-bath, and some hot boneset tea. How did you leave Mr. Jerrold? and did he take the sacrament at last?" she said, and he replied:
"No, he did not; he—"
But before he could say more she burst out with growing irritability:
"Not take it! Why then did he send for you on such a night, and why did you stay so long?"
She was pouring the boiling water into the foot-tub, in which she had put a preparation of mustard and prickly ash and red pepper, which she kept on hand for extreme cases like this, and the odor of the steam made him sick and faint, as, grasping the mantel, he replied:
"He wished me to pray with him; he will not live till morning. Please don't talk to me any more. I am more tired than I thought, and something makes me very sick."
He was as white as ashes, and with all her better, softer nature roused, for Martha was at heart a very good woman, she helped him to a chair, and bathed his head in alcohol, and rubbed his hands, and did not question him again. But she made him swallow the herb tea, and she kept on talking herself, wondering what Hannah would do after her father was gone. Would she stay there alone, or live with her brother? Most likely the former, as Mrs. Jerrold would never have her in her family, and really, one could not blame her, Hannah was so peculiar and queer. Pity was that she had never married; an old maid was always in the way.
And then Mrs. Martha, as if bent on torturing her husband, to whom every word was a stab, wondered if any man ever had wanted Hannah Jerrold for his wife, and asked her husband if he had ever heard of any such thing.
"I should not be likely to know it," he replied, "for until you came, I never heard any gossip."
There was an implied rebuke in this answer, and it silenced Mrs. Martha, who said no more of Hannah, but as soon as possible got her lord to bed, with a soapstone at his feet and a blanket wrapped around him, in order to make him sweat and break up the cold she was certain he had taken.
Meanwhile at the farm-house Burton and his sister were standing together near the kitchen fire, where poor Grey had stood two hours before, and heard what changed the coloring of his whole life. They were speaking of him, and what they said was this:
"If it were only myself I might bear it," Burton said, "though life can never be to me again what it has been, and I shall think like Cain that the sin is branded on me; and I was so proud, and stood so high, and meant to make the name of Jerrold so honorable a name that Grey and his children would rejoice that they bore it. Of course Grey will never know, but I shall, and that will make a difference. Hannah," he added, quickly, struck by something in her face, "what did you mean, or rather what did father mean by your making restitution to the peddler's friends? What is there to restore?"
In his recital of his crime the old man had omitted to speak of the money and the will, or, at most, he had touched so lightly upon them that it had escaped the notice of his son, whose mind was wholly absorbed in one idea, and that of the body buried under the floor within a few feet of him. Hannah explained to him what her father meant, and told him of the box and the gold, to which she had every year added the interest—compound interest, too—so that the amount had more than quadrupled, and she had found it necessary to have another and larger box in which to keep the treasure.
"That is why I have so often asked you to change bills into gold for me," she said. "Paper might depreciate in value, or the banks go down, but gold is gold everywhere, and I have tried so hard to earn or save the interest, denying myself many things which I should have enjoyed as well as most women, and getting for myself the reputation of closeness and even stinginess, which I did not deserve. I had to be economical with myself to meet my payments, which increased as the years went on, until they are so large that sometimes I have not been able to put the whole in the box at the end of the year, and I am behindhand now, but I keep an exact account, and shall make it up in time."
"But, Hannah, I used to give you money willingly, and would have given you more if you had asked for it. I had no idea of this," Burton said, and she replied:
"Yes, I know you would, but I did not like to do it, for fear you would think me extravagant and wonder what I did with so much. Not a penny you gave us ever went into the box. That was my matter, not yours; and I have worked so hard to do it, for father was not able to look after the farm, which of itself is poor and barren, and as he was only willing to hire a boy, I have done a man's work myself at times."
"You, Hannah—you?" Burton said, gazing at the pale-faced, frail-looking woman, who had done the work of a man rather than ask money of him who sometimes spent more on one large party than she did in a whole year, and who said to him, with a sad smile:
"Yes; I have spaded the garden, and planted the corn in the field back of the hill, where no one could see me, and have helped Sam get in the hay, though I never attempted to mow; but I did lay up a bit of stone wall which had tumbled down, I have done what I could."
Poor Hannah! No wonder that her hands, once so small and shapely, were broad, and hard, and rough, and not much like Mrs. Geraldine's, on which there were diamonds enough to more than liquidate the debt due to Elizabeth Rogers and her heirs; and no wonder that her dress, which so often offended her brother's artistic and critical eye, was coarse, and plain, and selected with a view to durability rather than comeliness. She had done what she could, and what few women would have done, and Burton knew it, and was conscious of a great feeling of respect and pity, if not affection, for her, as she stood before him in a stooping posture, with her toil-worn hands clasped together as if asking his pardon for having intruded her own joyless life upon his notice. But above every other feeling in his heart was the horrible fear of exposure if she attempted restitution, and he said to her at last:
"I am sorry for you, Hannah, and I can understand how, with your extreme conscientiousness, you believed it your duty to do as you have done. But this must go no further. To discover Elizabeth Rogers is to confess ourselves the children of a murderer, and this I cannot allow. You have no right to visit father's sin upon Grey, who would be sure to find it out if you stirred in the matter. He is sensitive, very, and proud of his name. It would kill him to know what we do."
"No, brother, it would hurt him, but not kill him." Hannah said, with energy; "and ever since he was a little child I have depended upon him to comfort me, to help me, as I knew he would when he was older; and something tells me he will find the heirs. I do not mean to tell him until he is a man, able to understand."
"Hannah!" and there was fierce anger in the voice. "You are not my sister if you ever dare tell Grey this thing, or hint it to him in any way. He must never know it, both for his own sake and mine. I could not even look at him without shame if he knew what my father was. You have kept it thirty-one years; keep it thirty-one longer, and, as you vowed secrecy to my father, so swear to me solemnly, as you hope for Heaven, never to tell Grey or any one."
He had seized her wrist, and held it so tightly that she winced with pain as she cried out:
"Oh, Burton, I cannot; I must restore the money and the will."
"Stuff and nonsense!" he repeated, growing more and more excited. "That woman is dead before this, and her heirs, if she had any, scattered to the winds. People never miss what they never had, and they will not miss this paltry sum. Promise me, that you will drop this insane idea of restitution and never reveal what you know, even after Geraldine and I are dead, should you outlive us both. Think of the disgrace to the Greys."
And so, worried, and worn, and half crazed with fatigue and excitement, Hannah bound herself again, and, had not Grey already known the secret, Elizabeth Rogers' heirs would never have heard of the tin box in the chimney, from which place Hannah brought it at last to show the contents to her brother, who, perfectly sure that she would keep her word, could calmly examine the will and scan the features of the young girl upon the ivory.
"She is very lovely," he said, "though evidently she belongs to the working class; her dress indicates as much. But whoever she is or was, she is not like this now; she is old or dead. Put it back in the box, Hannah, and if ever you accidentally find to a certainty where the original is, or her heirs, send the will and the money to her from Boston or New York, and she will thus get her own without knowing where it came from."
This was rather a lame way to make restitution, but Hannah seized upon it as something feasible, and felt in a measure comforted. She would herself go to Europe some time, and hunt up the Rogers heirs so cautiously that no suspicion could attach to her, and then, having found them, she would send them the will and the money she was hoarding for them. This was a ray of hope amid the darkness—the straw to which she clung; and the future did not seem quite so cheerless, even when, a few hours later, she stood with her brother by the side of her dead father, who had died without a struggle or sigh, just as the chill morning was breaking in the east and giving promise of a fairer day than the previous one had been.
GREY AND THE SECRET.
Breakfast was waiting in the pleasant dining-room at Grey's Park, where Burton Jerrold sat before the fire, with his head bent down and his face so white and ghastly that his wife, when she came in and saw him, was moved with a great pity for him, though she wondered much that his sorrow should be so acute for the father he had never seemed very fond of in life. Stooping over him she kissed him softly, and said:
"I am sorry you feel so badly, Burton. Your father was old, and quite ready to die; surely that should comfort you a little."
"Yes, yes, I know; but please don't talk to me now," he replied, with a gesture of the hand as if to silence her.
He was not sorry for his father's death, but he was willing, nay glad, that she should think so, for he could not tell her of the load of shame from which he should never be free.
"What would she say if she knew?" he asked himself, as he remembered all her pride of blood, and birth, and family. And Grey, his only boy, of whom he was so proud, and who, he fully expected, would some day fill one of the highest posts in the land;—what would he say if he knew his father was the son of a murderer? Burton would not soften the crime even in thought, though he knew that had his father been arrested at the time, he could only have been convicted of manslaughter, and possibly not of that. But he called it by the hard name murder, and shuddered as he thought of Grey.
"But he never will know," he said to himself, "Hannah will keep her promise, and I do not fear Mr. Sanford, though I'd give half my fortune—yes, all—if he had not been told. Grey will never know. But I know, and must meet his innocent eyes, and hear him talk of his grandfather as of saint."
It was at this point in his soliloquy that Grey came slowly in, his face whiter than his father's, with dark rings around his eyes, which were heavy and swollen with the tears he had shed. Grey had not slept at all, for the dreadful words, "I killed a man, and buried him under my bed," were continually ringing in his ears, while the ghost of the murdered man seemed present with him, urging him to vengeance for the wrong, until at last, when he could bear it no longer, he stretched his hands out into the darkness, and cried:
"What is it you want with me? I am not to blame, but if there is any thing I can do to make it right, I'll do it, when I am man. Now, go away and do not torment me so."
Grey knew there was nothing there, knew that the spirits of the departed do not come back again, but he was not in a frame of mind to reason clearly upon anything. He only knew how wretched he was, and that after his promise to redress the dead man's wrongs he grew calmer and more quiet, though there was still the terrible pain and disappointment in his heart, especially when he thought of his Aunt Hannah, whom he had held so high, and whom he now felt he had loved and revered more than any other person.
Remembering all the past, which at times had puzzled him, and which he now understood, he was certain that she had known from the first, and so was an accomplice. Possibly the law would not touch her, he reasoned, as he tried to fancy what might have been had this thing been known to the public; but he remembered having heard of a case which happened in an adjoining town many years before, where, at the instigation of his wife, a man was killed and thrown into his own well. The wife was hung in Worcester with her three accomplices, but a woman who was in the house at the time went free, though she was ever after known as "Old 'Scape Gallows," and shunned accordingly. Was his Aunt Hannah like her? Would people thus call her, if they knew?
"No, no; oh, no," he cried in agony. "She is not like that! Please God, grant that my Aunt Hannah is a good woman still. I cannot lose faith in her, and I love her so much."
And thus the dreadful night wore to an end, and the morning found Grey burning with fever, while a sharp pain, like a knife, cut through his temples every time he moved. He was not surprised when Lucy came and told him his grandfather was dead. He expected it, but with a moan he buried his face in his pillow, and sobbed:
"Oh, grandpa, where are you now, I wonder; and I thought you so good, so sure of Heaven. Please, God, have mercy on him. Oh, I can not bear it. I cannot bear to think that he is lost! And he loved me so, and blessed me on his death-bed."
This was the burden of Grey's grief, for he did not stop to consider all the years of sincere repentance which had purified the soul just gone, and made it fit for heaven, and his heart was very sore as he slowly dressed himself and went down to the breakfast-room to meet his father, who knew what he did, and who must feel it just as keenly.
Grey's first impulse was to fall upon his neck and cry out:
"I know it. I heard it. I was there. We will bear it together," but when he remembered that his grandfather had said: "that he was not to know," he restrained himself, and said very quietly:
"Grandpa is dead. Aunt Lucy told me. When is the funeral?"
The voice was not like Grey's, and Mr. Jerrold looked up quickly to meet the eyes which fell at once as did his own. Neither could look in the other's face with that secret which each knew and was hiding from the other. But both were outwardly calm, and the breakfast passed quietly, with no reference to the recent event occupying the minds of all. Mrs. Jerrold and her sister had expected that Grey would feel his loss keenly and possibly be noisy in his boyish demonstrations of grief, but they were not prepared for the torpor which seemed to have settled upon him, and which kept him indoors all day sitting by the fire over which he shivered as if in a chill, though his cheeks were crimson, and he sometimes wiped the drops of sweat from his lips and forehead. His head was still aching terribly, and he was cold and faint, and this was a sufficient reason for his declining to accompany his Aunt Lucy, when, after breakfast was over, she went with his father to the farm-house, where she spent nearly the entire day, seeing to the many little things necessary for the funeral, and which Hannah could not attend to.
Geraldine did not go. Her nerves were not equal to it and she should only be in the way, she said. So she sent her love to Hannah and remained at home with Grey, who seldom spoke to her, and scarcely stirred, though occasionally his mother saw his lips move and great tears roll down his cheeks.
"I supposed he would care, but not so much as this," she thought, as she watched him anxiously, wondering at the strength of his love for an old man in whom she had never even felt interested.
Once, moved with pity for him, she put her hand on his head, just as in the morning she had put it on her husband's, and stooping, kissed him tenderly, saying:
"I am sorry for you, Grey. It is really making you sick. Try and not feel so badly. Your grandfather was old and ready to die. You would not have him back, he is so happy now."
Just as his father had done when she tried to comfort him, so Grey did. He made a gesture for her to stop, and said piteously:
"Please don't talk to me now, I cannot bear it;" so she sat down again beside him, while he continued to nurse the bitter thoughts crowding so fast upon him:
Was his grandfather happy now? Was it well with him in the world to which he had gone? he kept asking himself over and over again all that dreary day and the drearier night which followed, and which left him whiter, sadder, if possible, than ever.
The funeral was appointed for half past two on Saturday afternoon, and Burton, who went over in the morning, asked Grey to go with him.
"Your Aunt Hannah will expect you. She was disappointed in not seeing you yesterday," but Grey said promptly:
"No, I'll wait, and go with mother."
So Mr. Jerrold went alone with Lucy, leaving his wife and Grey to join him about half past one, just before the neighbors began to assemble. When Grey came in, Hannah, who was already draped in her mourning robe which Lucy had provided for her, went up to him, and putting her arms around him, said, very low and gently, but with no sadness in the tone:
"Oh, Grey, I am so glad you have come and sorry you are suffering so from headache, but I know just how you loved him and how he loved you—better than anything else in the world. Will you come with me and see him now? He looks so calm and peaceful and happy, just as you never saw him look."
"Oh, no, no!" Grey cried, wrenching himself from her. "I cannot see him; don't ask me, please."
"Not see your grandfather who loved you so much? Oh, Grey!" Hannah exclaimed, with both wonder and reproach in her voice. "I want you to remember him as he looks now, so different from what he was in life."
"But I cannot," Grey said, "I never saw any one dead; I cannot bear it," and going from her he took a seat in the kitchen as far as possible from the bedroom which held so much horror for him.
He knew his grandfather was not there, for he was lying in his coffin in the front room, where Lucy Grey had put the flowers brought from the conservatory at Grey's Park. But the other one was there, under the floor where he had lain for thirty-one years, and Grey was thinking of him, wondering who he was and if no inquiries had ever been made for him. The room was a haunted place for him, and he was glad the door was closed, and once, when Lucy went into it for something, he started us if to keep her back. Then remembering that he must never be supposed to know the secret of that room, he sank again into his chair in the corner, where he staid until the people began to assemble, when he went with his mother into the adjoining room, where the coffin was and where he sat immovable as a stone through the service, which, was not very long. The hymn, which had been selected by Hannah, was the one commencing with, "Asleep in Jesus, that blest sleep, from which none ever wake to weep," and as the mournful music filled the rooms, and the words came distinctly to Grey's ears, he started as if struck a blow, while to himself he said:
"Is he asleep in Jesus? If I only knew! Can no one tell me? Poor grandpa!"
Then he was quiet again, and listened intently to what Mr. Sanford was saying of the deceased. Contrary to his usual custom, the rector spoke of the dead man, who had gone down to the grave like a sheaf of grain fully ripe and meet for the kingdom of Heaven.
"There can be no mistake," he said, "I was with him a few hours before he died. I heard his words of contrition for sins committed and his assurance that all was peace and joy and brightness beyond the tomb. His sins, of which he repented as few ever have, were all washed away in Jesus' blood, and while to-day we stand around his grave, he is safe with the Savior he loved and trusted to the end."
What else he said, Grey did not know, for the sudden reaction in his feelings. Mr. Sanford was with his grandfather at the last. He had heard the dreadful words, "I killed a man!" and yet he declared the sinner saved. He must know, he who had stood by so many death-beds.
"Yes, he is asleep in Jesus," Grey whispered, while over him there stole a feeling of deep joy, mingled with remorse that he had ever doubted the goodness of his grandfather, who had prayed for and blessed him on the Thanksgiving Day which seemed so long ago.
Grey could look upon him now, and when his Aunt Hannah and his father rose to take their leave of the corpse, he went with them, lingering by the coffin after they had returned to their seats, and bending over the white, still face, where death had left a smile, so peaceful, so inexpressibly sweet that it touched the boy keenly, and stooping down he kissed the stiffened lips, and murmured, through his tears:
"Dear grandpa, forgive me for doubting you, I know you were good. I know you are in heaven."
He spoke in a whisper and no one heard what he said, though all noted the pallor of his face and the heavy rings about his eyes, and when the next day it was rumored in town that he was very sick, no one was surprised. It was brain fever, induced by the strain upon his mental powers, and the cold he had taken that night when, unknown to any one, he had gone to the farm-house through the storm, and returned again.
For three weeks he lay at the very gates of death, watched and cared for as few boys have ever been cared for and watched, for he was the idol of hearts which would break if he were to die. The farm-house was shut up, and Hannah took her post as chief nurse to the boy she loved so much, and whose condition puzzled her a little. Once, in the first days of his illness, when, after an absence of an hour or so, she re-entered the room, where his father was keeping watch, he lifted his bright, fever-stricken eyes to her face, and asked:
"Who was the man?"
"What man?" Hannah and her brother asked, simultaneously, a great fear in the heart of each lest the other had betrayed what Grey was not to know.
"Have you told him?" Burton whispered to his sister, who answered:
"You know I have not." Then, turning to Grey, who was still looking at her, she said to him again: "What man?"
For a moment the wild, bright eyes regarded her fixedly; then there seemed to come over the boy a gleam of reason, and he replied:
"I don't know."
After that he never mentioned the man again, or in any way alluded to the secret weighing so heavily upon the two who watched him so constantly—Hannah and his father. Not a word ever passed between them either on the subject, so anxious were they for the life of the lad, who in his delirium talked constantly of the past, of Europe, and the ship, and the mountains he had climbed, and whose names were on his Alpenstock. Again he was at Carnarvon, going over the old castle, and again at Melrose, fighting on the fourth of July with Neil McPherson, who had said his mother was not a lady. Then there were quieter moods, when he talked of and to little Bessie McPherson, whom he had never seen, but who came to him in his delirium, and, with her sunny blue eyes and golden hair, hovered around his bed, while he questioned her of the little room high up in the hotel, where she went without her dinner so often, while her heartless mother dined luxuriantly.
"Send for her and bring her here, where she can have enough to eat. Why don't you send for Bessie?" he would say to them; and once he said it to Miss McPherson, who was standing by his bedside, and who replied:
"I have sent for her; she is coming."
"All right!" he answered. "Stuff her when she comes. Give her all the mince pie she can eat, and all the griddle cakes. She never saw any at home."
After that he was more quiet; but every morning and evening he asked, "Has Bessie come?" and when told, "Not yet," he would reply, "Send her to me when she comes; I want to see her."
And so the time went on until the fever spent itself, and there came a morning when Grey awoke to perfect consciousness of the present and a vague remembrance of the past. They told him how long he had been sick, and how anxious they had been.
"Did I talk much?" he asked his Aunt Lucy, when she was alone with him.
"Yes, most of the time," she replied, and over his face there flitted a shadow of fear lest he had talked of things he ought not.
"What did I say?" he asked; and she told him as nearly as she could remember.
"And Aunt Hannah was here all the time? Where is she now?" he inquired; and Lucy replied:
She went home last night, for the first time in two weeks. She had to go, as the snow had drifted under the eaves, and the house was leaking badly."
"Is she there alone?" Grey asked, with a shudder, as he thought of that hidden grave under the floor.
"No, Sam is there, and I sent Sarah with her," was Lucy's answer, and after a moment Grey continued:
"Wasn't Mr. Sanford here once; in the room, I mean?"
"Yes, many times," Lucy replied. "He prayed for you here two or three times, and in the church every Sunday."
"Send for him. I want to see him. Send now," Grey said, adding, as he saw the expression of joy on his aunt's face, and guessed what was in her mind. "Don't think I'm awful good, or going to join the church. It is not that, but I want to see the minister before Aunt Hannah comes back."
Fortunately Mr. Sanford was at that very moment below. He had stopped on his way to the post-office to inquire for Grey, at whose side he soon stood, holding the pale hand in his, and looking inquiringly into the eager face of the boy who had asked to see him alone, and who said to him as he had to his Aunt Lucy;
"Don't think I am good, or going to join the church, for I am not, I thank you for praying for me. I guess it helped me pull through, and I am going to pray myself by and by, but I don't want you to talk to me about that now. I want to ask you something. Grandpa never joined the church, and at the funeral you said he was good, that he was safe; did you mean it?"
Grey's eyes were fixed earnestly upon the rector, who answered, unhesitatingly:
"I wish I were as sure of heaven as he. I know he is safe."
"You are sure?" Grey rejoined, flushing a little, for now he was nearing the real object of his interview with the rector, "You are sure, and Aunt Hannah is sure. She ought to know. You believe her a good woman?"
Mr. Sanford could not understand the breathless eagerness with which Grey awaited his reply, which came quickly, decidedly:
"Your Aunt Hannah! Yes, she is the best, the truest, the purest woman who ever lived. She is a martyr, a saint, an angel. I never knew one like her."
"Thank you," Grey said, with a look of intense relief in his eyes. "You have made me very happy. I wanted to feel sure, about grandpa; and now, please go. I am very tired; some time I will see you again."
So the rector left him, feeling a little disappointed with the result of his interview. He had hoped that Grey wished to speak with him of himself, and of his new resolves for the future, when, in fact, it was only a wish to be reassured of his grandfather's safety, which the boy possibly doubted a little because he had never united himself with the church. That Hannah had anything to do with it the rector never suspected and did not dream of the great gladness in Grey's heart as he kept repeating to himself:
"She is good, even if she did know. She is a saint, a martyr, an angel; and I distrusted her; but all my life hereafter I will devote to her by way of atonement."
It was late in the afternoon when Hannah returned to Grey's Park, and went up to see her nephew, of whose improved condition she had heard.
"Oh, auntie," he cried, when he saw her. "I am so glad to have you back;" and Hannah did not guess that the boy had her back in more ways than one, but she kissed him, and cried over him, and told him how her heart had ached when she feared she might lose him, and how desolate the world would be without him, while he told her how much he loved her, and how he meant to care for her when he was a man, and take her to Europe, and everywhere.
"And you will grow young again," he said. "You have never had any youth, I guess. How old are you, auntie?"
She told him she was forty-six, and making a little mental subtraction he thought:
"Fifteen when it happened. No, she has had no youth, no girlhood;" but to her he said: "You do not look so old, and you are very pretty still; not exactly like Aunt Lucy or mother. You are different from them both, though more like Aunt Lucy, whose face is the sweetest I ever saw except yours, which looks as if Christ had put His hand hard upon it and left His impress there."
There were great tears upon the face where Christ had laid His hands so hard, and Grey kissed them away, and then asked about the old house, and said he was coming to spend the day with her just as soon as possible, and the night, too, adding, in a sudden burst of bravery and enthusiasm:
"And I'll sleep in grandpa's room, if you wish it, I am not afraid because he died in there."
"No, no," Hannah said, and her cheek paled a little. "It is not necessary for you to sleep there. No one will ever do that again. I shall always keep it as he left it."
Grey knew what she meant, but made no comment, and as he seemed very tired Hannah soon left him to rest.
Naturally strong and full of vigor, Grey's recovery was rapid, and in ten days from the time the fever left him, his father drove him to the farm-house, where Hannah was expecting him, with the south room made as cheerful as possible, and a most tempting lunch spread for him upon a little round table before the fire. Mr. Jerrold was going to Boston that afternoon, and so Grey was left alone with his aunt, as he wished to be, for he meant to tell her that he, too, shared her secret, and after his father had gone and his lunch was over, he burst out suddenly:
"Auntie, there is something I must tell you. I can't keep it any longer. I was here the night grandpa died. I was in the kitchen, and heard about—about that under the floor!"
"Grey!" Hannah gasped, as her work dropped from her nerveless hands, which shook violently.
"Yes," Grey went on. "I wanted to come with father, but he said no, and so I went to my room but could not go to bed, for I knew grandpa was dying, and I wished to see him, and I stole out the back way, and came across the fields and into the kitchen, where I stood warming myself by the stove and heard you all talking in the next room. I did not mean to listen, but I could not help it, and I heard grandpa say: 'Thirty-one years ago, to-night, I killed a man in the kitchen yonder, and buried him under the floor, under my bed, and have slept over him ever since.' You see I remember his very words, they affected me so much, I thought the floor came up and struck me in the face, and that my throat would burst with the lump which almost strangled me. I did not hear any more, for I ran from the house into the open air where I could breathe, and went back to Grey's Park, and up to my room without being missed at all. I thought I should die, and that was what made me sick, and why I did not come here till the funeral and why I did not want to see grandpa. I was so disappointed, so shocked, and afraid he was not in heaven, till I heard what Mr. Sanford said, and, auntie, I must tell you all, I thought dreadful things of you, too, because you knew. I thought you were what they said 'Old 'Scape Gallows' was, an accomplice."
"Oh, Grey, my boy, no, no," Hannah cried aghast. "This is worse than death, and from you. I cannot bear it."
In an instant Grey was kneeling at her side, imploring her forgiveness and telling her he did not think this of her now.
"I know you are good, a saint, a martyr, an angel, the best woman that ever lived. Mr. Sanford said so."
"Mr. Sanford!" Hannah, exclaimed. "What do you mean? You have not spoken to him?"
"Not of that," Grey said. "But I sent for him, you know, and Aunt Lucy thought I was going to be good and join the church, but I only wanted him to tell me sure that grandpa was safe, and that you were good, as I used to think you were. He never suspected I was inquiring about you, I brought it in so neat; but he said you were a martyr, a saint, an angel, and the best woman that ever lived, and I believed him, and love you so much, and pity you so much for all you must have suffered. And, now, tell me about it. Don't omit a single detail. I want to know it all."
So she told him everything, and when the story was ended, he took her white face between his two hands, and kissing it tenderly, said:
"Now, I am sure you are a saint, a martyr, an angel; but the martyrdom is over. I shall take care of you, I will help you find Elizabeth Rogers or her heirs, and father shall not know. I'll go to Europe when I am a man, and inquire at every house in Carnarvon for Joel Rogers or his sister; and when I find the heirs, I will send the money to them, and they shall never know where it came from; and if there are shares in quarries and mines, I'll manage that somehow. I am to be a lawyer, you know, and I can find some kink which will work."
How he comforted her with his cheery, hopeful words, and how fast the hours flew by until Tom came to take him back to Grey's Park. But Grey begged so hard to stay all night, that Hannah ventured to keep him, and Tom returned without him.
"I am not a bit afraid of the house now, and would as soon sleep in grandpa's room as anywhere," he said to Hannah, as they sat together in the evening, and then they talked of her future until Grey was old enough to take care of her, as he meant to do.
"Shall you stay here?" he asked, and Hannah replied:
"I don't know yet what I shall do, I shall let your father decide for me."
"You might live with us in Boston," Grey said. "That would be jolly for me; but I don't know how you and mother would hitch together, you are so unlike. I wish I was big, and married, and then I know just where you would go. But father will arrange it, I am sure."
And three weeks later, when Burton came up from Boston after his son, he did arrange it for her.
"It is of no use," he said to her. "I have tried meeting and mingling with my friends, and I feel as if they saw on my face what is always in my mind, and if I stay in Boston I shall some day scream out to the public that my father was a murderer. I could not help it, and I can understand now how Lucy was wrought upon to do what she did in church when they thought her crazy. I shall be crazy, too, if I stay here, and I am going away. Geraldine likes Europe, and so do I; and as I can leave my business as well as not, I shall shut up my house, and go abroad until I feel that I can look my fellowmen in the face."
"And Grey?" Hannah asked, sorrowfully, knowing how dreary her life would be with him so far away.
"I shall take him with me," her brother replied, "I shall put him in school somewhere in England or Germany, and send him eventually to Oxford. But you will stay here, won't you? I'd rather you would."
"Yes," she answered, still more sadly, for she fully understood the intense selfishness of the man, who went on:
"I shall be happier, knowing you are here, for I cannot have the house sold, or rented, or even left alone, lest by some chance the secret of our lives should be discovered. I am almost as morbid on the subject as father was: but with you here, I shall feel safe. You can have any one live with you whom you choose, and I will supply you with plenty of money. So I do not see why you should not in time be quite content."
"Yes, brother," Hannah said, very low; "but shall I not see Grey for years?"
"Perhaps not; I don't know," was her brother's reply, as he arose to go, without a single throb of pity for the woman who was to be left alone in the home so hateful to him.
But Grey, when he heard of the plan, which did not surprise him, comforted her with the assurance that he should spend all his long vacations with her, as he did not mind crossing the ocean at all.
"I may be with you oftener than if I were in America, and then some time I'll go to Carnarvon and begin the search. So, don't feel so badly," he said to her as he saw the great tears roll down her cheeks, and guessed in part her sorrow.
And so the necessary arrangements were made as rapidly as possible, and one Saturday about the middle of March, Hannah stood on the wharf in New York with a feeling like death in her heart, and saw Grey sail away and leave her there alone.
After Miss McPherson had sent her letter to her nephew, Archie, asking him to give his little daughter to her keeping, her whole nature seemed to change, and there was on her face a look of happy expectancy rarely seen there before. Even her cook, Sarah, and her maid, Flora, noticed and discussed it as they sat together by the kitchen fire; but as Miss McPherson never encouraged familiarities with her domestics, they asked her no questions, and only wondered and speculated when she bade them remove everything from the small bedroom at the end of the upper hall, which communicated with her own sleeping apartment. But when this room was papered and painted, and furnished with a pretty carpet of drab and blue, and a single iron bedstead with lace hangings, and a child's bureau and rocking-chair, and more than all when a large doll was bought, with a complete wardrobe for it, Flora could no longer restrain her curiosity, but asked if her mistress were expecting a child.
"Yes," was the reply, "my grandniece, Betsey, who was named for me. She lives at Stoneleigh, my old home in Wales, and I may get a letter any day saying she has sailed. I shall go to New York to meet her so have my things ready for me to start at a moment's notice."
So confident was Miss McPherson that her nephew would be glad to have his daughter removed from the influences around her to a home where she was sure of enough to eat, and that his frivolous wife would be glad to be rid of a child who must be in the way of her flirtations, that she was constantly expecting to hear that she was coming. She did not believe Archie would bring her himself, but she thought he would probably consign her to the care of some reliable person, or put her in charge of the captain or stewardess, and in her anxiety to have the little girl she had written a second letter three days after she sent the first. In this she had suggested the stewardess of the Celtic, whom she knew, and with whom she assured Archie he could trust his child. But days and weeks went by, until it was past the middle of June, and still there were no tidings of Bessie; at last, however, there came a foreign letter, addressed in a woman's hand to:
"Miss Elizabeth McPherson, Allington, Worcester Co., Mass., U.S.A."
The Elizabeth was an affront to the good woman, who bristled all over with resentment, as she held the dainty envelope in her hand and studied the strange monogram, "D.A.M." (Daisy Allen McPherson).
"Swears even in her monogram! I knew she would," was Miss Betsey's comment, as she broke the seal and began to read, first muttering to herself, "She writes well enough."
The letter was as follows:
"STONELEIGH, BANGOR, June 3d.
"OUR DEAR AUNT."
"Umph! I'm not her aunt," was the mental comment, and then she read on:
"We have just come home from Paris, where we spent several delightful weeks with a party of friends, who would gladly have kept us longer, but Archie was homesick for the old place, though what he can see in it to admire I am sure I do not know. So here we are for an indefinite length of time, and here we found both your letters, which old Anthony, who grows more and more stupid every year, failed to forward to us in Paris. As Archie leaves everything to me, he said I must answer the letters, and thank you for your offer to remove our little girl from the poisonous atmosphere you think surrounds her, and bring her up morally and spiritually. I do not know what the atmosphere of Stoneleigh used to be when you lived here, but I assure you it is very healthy now; not at all poisonous, or malarious. We have had some of the oldest yews cut down and that lets in the sunshine and fresh air, too.
"But I am wandering from the object of my letter, which is to say that we cannot let you have our little Bessie, even with the prospect of her learning to scour knives and pare potatoes, and possibly having a few thousands, if she does well. Archie would as soon part with his eyes as with Bessie; while nothing short of an assured fortune, and that a large one, would induce me to give her up. She is in one sense my stock in trade—"
"Heartless wretch!" dropped from the indignant lady's lips. "Her stock in trade! What does she mean? Does she play out this child for her own base purposes?"
Then she read on:
"Strangers are always attracted by her, and through her we make so many pleasant acquaintances. Indeed, she quite throws me into the shade, but I am not at all jealous. I am satisfied to be known only as Bessie's mother. I am very proud of her, and hope some day to see her at least a countess."
"Countess! Fool!" muttered Miss Betsey, and read on:
"The inclosed photograph is like her in features, but fails, I think, in expression, but I send it, as it will give you some idea of her as she is now."
Here Miss Betsey stopped, and taking a card from the bit of tissue paper in which it was wrapped, gazed earnestly and with a feeling of intense yearning and bitter disappointment upon the beautiful face, whose great wide-open, blue eyes looked at her, just as they had looked at her on the sands at Aberystwyth. The photographer's art had succeeded admirably with Bessie, and made a most wonderful picture of childish innocence and beauty, besides bringing out about the mouth and into the eyes that patient, half sorry expression which spoke to Miss Betsey of loneliness and hunger far up in the fourth and fifth stories of fashionable hotels, where the little girl often ate her smuggled dinner of rolls and nuts and raisins, and whatever else her mother could convey into her pocket unobserved by those around her.
"Yes, she looks as if a big slice of plum pudding or mince pie would do her good! Poor little thing, and I am not to have her," Miss Betsey said, with a lump in her throat, as she continued reading:
"You saw her once, I know, three years ago, at Aberystwyth, though she had no idea then who the funny woman was who asked her so many questions. Why didn't you make yourself known to us? Archie would have been delighted to meet you. He never saw you, I believe. And why didn't you speak to me when I went by as Bessie says I did? Was Archie with me, I wonder? or, was it young Lord Hardy from Dublin, Archie's best friend? He was with us there, and sometimes walked with me when Archie was not inclined to go out. He is very nice, and Archie is very fond of him, while to Bessie and me he is like a brother."
Here Miss Betsey stopped again, and taking off her spectacles harangued the tortoise-shell cat, who was sitting on the rug and looking at her.
"Archie's friend! her brother! Humbug! It does make me so mad to see a married woman with a young snipper-snapper of a fellow chasing after her, and using her husband as a cover. Mark my words, the woman who does that is not a pure, good woman at heart, or in thought, though outwardly she may be sweet as sugar; and her husband—
"Well, he is both weak and unmanly to allow it, and is looked upon with contempt."
To all this Mrs. Tortoise-shell purred an assent, and the lady went on with the letter.
"Bessie is wailing for me to go for a walk, and so I must bring this letter to a close. Archie sends his love, and will, with me, be very glad to welcome you to your old home, should you care to visit it. When I was a child I thought it the grandest place in the world, but it is very much run down, for we have no money with which to keep it up, and have only the two servants, Anthony and Dorothy, both of whom are getting old. And yet I do not complain of Archie for not trying to do something. Once, however, before we were married I tried to rouse him to something like energy, and caring for himself, but since seeing the world, his world I mean, for you know of course I am not what would be considered his equal socially, I have changed my mind, and do not blame him at all. Brought up as he was with an idea that he must not work, it is very hard for him to overcome early prejudices of training and education, and I think his uncle, the Hon. John, would be intensely mortified to have his nephew in trade, though he is very careful not to give him any thing toward his support, and we are so poor that even a hundred pounds would be a fortune to us. Maybe some good angel will send it to us by and by.
"Hoping it most devoutly, I have the honor to be,
"Very sincerely, your niece,
"DAISY ALLEN McPHERSON.
"P.S.—Bessie thanks you again for the turquois ring you sent her."
"A hundred pounds! Five hundred dollars! and maybe she devoutly hopes I shall be the good angel who will send it to her, but she is mistaken. Do I look like an angel?" Miss Betsey said, fiercely, addressing herself again to the cat. "No, they may go to destruction their own way. I wash my hands of them. I should have been glad for the little girl, but I can't have her. She will grow up like her mother, marry some fool, have her friend and brother dangling after her, and smuggle dinners and lunches for her children up in the attic. Well, so be it. That ends it forever!"
The letter was an insult from beginning to end, and Miss McPherson felt it as such, and with a sigh of keen regret as for something lost, she put away the picture, and when Flora asked when little Miss Bessie was coming, she answered curtly:
The season is June; the time fourteen years prior to the commencement of this story, and the place an old garden in Wales, about half way between Bangor and the suspension bridge across Menai Straits. The garden, which was very large, must have been beautiful, in the days when money was more plenty with the proprietor than at present; but now there were marks of neglect and decay everywhere, and in some parts of it the shrubs, and vines, and roses were mixed together in so hopeless a tangle that to separate them seemed impossible, while the yew trees, of which there were several, grew dark, and thick, and untrimmed, and cast heavy shadows upon the grass plats near them. The central part of the garden, however, showed signs of care. The broad gravel walk was clean and smooth, and the straight borders beside it were full of summer flowers, among which roses were conspicuous. Indeed, there were roses everywhere, for Anthony loved them as if they were his children, and so did the white-faced invalid indoors, whose room old Dorothy, Anthony's wife, kept filled with the freshest and choicest. It did not matter to her that the sick man had wandered very far from the path of duty, and was dying from excessive dissipation; he was her pride, her boy, whom she had tended from his babyhood, and whom she would watch over and care for to the last. She had defended and stood by him, when he brought home a pretty little brown-eyed, brown haired creature, whose only fault was her poverty and the fact that she was a chorus singer in the operas in London, where Hugh McPherson had seen and fallen in love with her. Two years she lived at Stoneleigh, happy as the singing birds which flew about the place and built their nests in the yews, and then one summer morning she died, and left to Dorothy's care a little boy of three weeks, who, without much attention from any one as regarded his moral and mental culture, had scrambled along somehow, and had reached the age of sixteen without a single serious thought as to his future and without ever having made the least exertion for himself. Dorothy and Anthony, the two servants of the place, had taken care of him, and would continue to do so even after his father's death, or, if they did not, his uncle, the Hon. John McPherson, in London, would never see him want, he thought; so, with no bad habits except his extreme indolence, which amounted to absolute laziness, the boy's days passed on, until the hot summer morning in June, when he lay asleep on a broad bench under the shade of a yew tree, with his face upturned to the sunlight which penetrated through the overchanging boughs and fell in patches upon him. Occasionally a fly or honey-bee came and buzzed about him, but never alighted upon him, because of the watchful vigilance of the young girl who stood by his side, shielding him from the sun's rays with her person and her while cape bonnet, which she also used to scare away the insects, for Archie McPherson must not be troubled even in his sleep, if care of hers could prevent it.
The girl who was not more than twelve in reality, though, her training had made her much older in knowledge and experience, was singularly beautiful, with great blue eyes and wavy golden hair, which fell in long curls to her waist. Her dress, though scrupulously neat and clean, and becoming, indicated that she belonged to the middle or working class, far below the social position of the boy. But whatever inequality of rank there was between them, she had never felt it, for ever since she could remember anything, Archie McPherson had played with and petted and teased her, and she was almost as much at home at Stoneleigh as in the work-room of her mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Allen, who made dresses for the ladies of Bangor and vicinity.
"How handsome he is," she said to herself, as she gazed admiringly upon the sleeping boy, "and how white and slim his hands are. A great deal whiter than mine, but that, I suppose, is because he is a gentleman's son, and I have to wash dishes, and sweep and dust the rooms;" and the girl glanced regretfully at her own hands, which, though fat and well-shaped, were brown, and showed signs of the dusting and dish-washing required of her by her mother, whose means were very limited, and whose dressmaking did not warrant luxury of any kind.
"I wish my hands were white, and that I could wear diamond rings like the ladies at the George," she continued; "and sometime I will, if they are only shams. Half the world does not know the difference."
Just then a handsome carriage containing a gentleman and lady, child and nurse, and maid, turned in at the lodge gate, which Anthony opened very respectfully, with a pull at his forelock.
"That's the McPhersons from London! What an ugly, proud-looking thing Lady Jane is!" the girl thought, and in watching the carriage as it drove toward the house she relaxed her vigilance so far that a huge blue bottle-fly which had been skirting around the spot, for some time, alighted squarely upon Archie's nose, and roused him from his slumber.
Yawning lazily, and stretching his long arms, he looked up, and seeing his companion, called out, in a tone half familiar, half patronizing, as he would address an inferior:
"Halloo, Daze, what are you doing here?"
"Keeping the sun and the flies off from you; they bite awfully this morning," she answered, quietly, and Archie continued:
"Upon my word, Daze, you are a little trump, standing bareheaded in the sun to shield me! How long have you been here?"
"Half an hour, perhaps; and I was getting tired," was the girl's reply; but Archie did not ask her to sit down beside him, for he wanted all the bench to lounge upon, and leaning upon his elbow he went on talking to her, and answering her questions jestingly, until she said:
"How is your father?"
Then there came a shadow upon the face of the boy, who replied:
"He is worse, and they have sent for Uncle John and Lady Jane. We expect them to-day."
"Yes, I know; they came while you were asleep. Lady Jane looks very proud," Daisy said, and Archie rejoined:
"She looks as she is then. I hate her!"
If Archie hated her, Daisy did too, and she answered promptly, "So do I!" though she had never seen the lady in question until that morning when she rode by, arching her long neck and looking curiously around her.
"She thinks the world made only for her and the baby Neil," Archie said, "and Dorothy thinks so too. She is in a great way about her coming because we have no servants, I don't care! Let Uncle John give us some money if they want style when they come to Stoneleigh."
"That's so!" and Daisy nodded approvingly; then she went on: "Mother has made some lemon jelly for the dinner, because Dorothy says she makes it so nice, and I am going over this evening to wash the dishes and help Dorothy a little."
"You? I wouldn't!" Archie said, looking reflectingly at her.
"But she will give me a shilling toward a new sash," was the girl's answer, and Archie replied:
"I'll give you the shilling; don't go," and he put his hand in his pocket for the shilling, which Daisy knew was not there, for the poverty of the McPhersons of Stoneleigh was no secret in the neighborhood any more than was the pride which kept them so poor.
She had often heard both discussed by her mother's customers, and when Archie said, as he withdrew his hand empty, "Plague on it, what a bother it is never to have any money; I wish we were not so poor. I wonder how I can make a fortune; I've thought of forty ways," she asked saucily:
"Did you ever think of going to work?"
"To work! To work!" he repeated, slowly, as if not fully comprehending her, "I don't think I quite know what you mean."
"I mean," she replied, "that if you have no money, and want some, why don't you go to work and earn it like Giles, the tailor, or Jones, the baker? It would not hurt you one bit."
"That is rich!" Archie exclaimed, sitting upright for the first time and laughing immoderately. "The best thing I have heard. Ask Lady Jane, or Uncle John, or even Anthony, how they would like to have a McPherson turn baker, or tailor, or tinker."
"You know I did not mean you to be any of these," the girl answered, a little indignantly; "but you might do something. You can go to London and be a clerk in that big store, Marshall & Snellgrove's. That would not be hard, nor spoil your hands."
"I am afraid it would, little Daze," the boy replied. "You will have to try again. It would never do for a McPherson to be in trade. We were not born to it. How would gambling suit you? Piles of money are made that way."
"Gambling!" Daisy repeated, and could Miss Betsey McPherson have seen the scorn which flashed in the eyes of Daisy Allen, she would have forgiven the Daisy McPherson whom she saw years after upon the terrace at Aberystwyth flirting with Lord Hardy.
But the Daisy of the Marine Terrace was a very different person from the young girl who, with a hand upon each hip and her head on one side, gave Archie a piece of her mind in terms neither mild nor selected.
"Gambling! I'd never speak to you again if you stooped to such a thing as to play for money. You'd better a thousand times sell butcher's meat at the corner, or cry gooseberries in the street! Suppose you are a gentleman, a McPherson, without money, must you either gamble, or sit still and let some one else take care of you? It won't hurt you to work any more than any body else, and you'll have to do something. Every body says so. Suppose you do have Stoneleigh when your father dies; there are only a few acres besides the park, and they are all run down. What are you going to do?"
"Upon my word, I did not know you had so much vim. You are a regular little spit-fire," Archie said, regarding her intently; then after a pause, he added: "What am I going to do? I am sure I don't know, unless I marry you and let you take care of me! I believe you could do it."
The hands which had been pressed on Daisy's hips met suddenly together in a quick, nervous clasp, while there came over the girl's face a look of wonder and surprise, and evident perplexity. Although Daisy was much older than her years in some things, the idea of marrying Archibald McPherson, or any one else, had never entered her mind.
Now, however, she was conscious of a new feeling, which she could not define, and after regarding him fixedly for a moment, without any apparent consciousness, she answered in a very matter of fact way:
"I believe I could take care of you—somehow!"
"I know you could; so, suppose we call it a bargain," Archie said, but before Daisy could reply Lady Jane's maid appeared coming down the broad walk.
Stopping in front of the girl and boy, and merely noticing the former by a supercilious stare, she said to the latter interrogatively:
"Mr. Archibald McPherson?"
"Present!" he answered, with a comical look at Daisy, on whom it was lost, for she was admiring the smart cap and pink ribbons of the maid, who said:
"If you are Mr. Archibald, your father wishes to see you. He said I was to fetch you directly."
Rising slowly Archie shook himself together, and started for the house, while Daisy looked after him with a new and thoughtful expression on her face.
"Archie!" she called at last. "Tell Dorothy I shall not come to help her with the dishes. I have changed my mind. I do not want the shilling."
"All right," was Archie's response, as he walked on never dreaming that he had that morning sown the first germ of the ambition which was to overshadow all Daisy Allen's future life, and bear fruit a hundred-fold.
The room in which Hugh McPherson was lying was the largest, and coolest, and best furnished in the house, for since he had been confined to his bed Dorothy had brought into it everything she thought would make it more attractive and endurable to the fastidious invalid, who, on the June morning when his son was in the garden talking to Daisy Allen, was propped upon pillows scarcely whiter than his thin, worn face, and was speaking of Archie to his brother John, who was standing before him with folded arms, and a gloomy, troubled expression on his face. Just across the room, by an open window, sat Lady Jane, pretending to rearrange a bowl of roses on the table near her, but listening intently to the conversation between the two brothers.
"I don't know what will become of Archie," the sick man said, speaking very slowly. "I shall leave him nothing but Stoneleigh, with a mortgage on it for four hundred pounds, and a little annuity which came through his mother. Strange, that from dear little Dora, who, when I married her, had nothing but her sweet voice and sweeter face, the boy should inherit all the ready money he can ever have, unless you or our sister Betsey open your hearts to him. You used to fancy the boy, and talked once of adopting him, when I had that fever at Pau, and you came to see me."
Here Lady Jane's long neck arched itself more proudly, and John felt how intently she was awaiting his reply.
"Yes, Hugh," he said, "I like the boy. He is bright and intelligent; and I did think of adopting him once, but that was before Neil came. Now I have a son, which makes a difference. I cannot take Archie, or do very much for him either. You know I have very little money of my own, and I have no right to spend Lady Jane's."
Here the willowy figure near the window bent very low over the roses, as if satisfied with the turn matters were taking, as John went on:
"As his uncle and guardian, I will see to him, of course, and will write to our sister, asking her to do something for him. Perhaps she will invite him to come to her in America, and if so, what are your wishes? Shall I let him go?"
The invalid hesitated a moment, while his common sense fought with the old hereditary pride of blood and birth, which would keep one in the rank to which it had pleased God to call him, even if he starved there. The latter gained the victory, and Hugh replied:
I would rather Archie should not go to America if there is any other way. Betsey is very peculiar in her ideas, and would as soon apprentice him to a shoemaker as anything else. In the last letter I received from her, she advised me to put him to some trade, and to break stone myself on the highway, rather than do nothing. No, Archie must not go to America, he may marry well, if you and Lady Jane look after him; and you will, John. You will have a care for my boy when I am gone, and, oh, never, never let him go near the gaming-table. That has been my ruin. Keep him from that, whatever you do."
"Why not require a promise from him to that effect? He is a truthful boy; he will keep his word," John said, and Hugh replied:
"Yes, yes, that's it; strange I never thought of it before. I will send for him at once. Call Anthony to fetch him; and, oh, John, I owe Anthony fifty pounds; money borrowed at different times from his hard earnings. You will see that he is paid?"
"Yes," John answered, promptly; for Anthony, who had been at Stoneleigh since he was a boy, and had been so much to him, was his favorite, and should not suffer.
He would pay Anthony; but when his brother mentioned other debts owing to the trades-people in Bangor, and Beaumaris, and even Carnarvon, he objected, on the ground that he was not able, but said he would lay the matter before his sister Betsey, who was far richer than himself.
It was at this point that Archie appeared in the door, and after greeting his Uncle John and the Lady Jane with the grace and courtesy so natural to him, he went to his father's bedside, where he stopped suddenly, struck with an expression on the pinched, white face, which earlier in the morning had not been there.
"Father," he cried, while a great fear took possession of him, "what is it? Are you worse?"
"Yes, my son, weaker—that is all—and going from you very fast—before the day is over, perhaps—and I want to talk to you, Archie, and to tell you I have nothing to leave you but Stoneleigh, and that is mortgaged; nothing but the small annuity on your life from your mother's little fortune, which came too late to do her any good. Oh, Dora! who bore with me so patiently, and loved me through all—shall I find her, I wonder? She was so good, and I am so bad! And, Archie, my ruin has been the gaming-table, which you must avoid as you would the plague. Death and eternal ruin sit there side by side. Shun it, Archie, and promise me, as you hope for heaven, never to play for money—never!"
"But what shall I do?" Archie asked, remembering that he had intended to try his fortune at Monte Carlo, where he had heard such large sums were sometimes made. "What shall I do?"
"I don't know, my boy," the father replied. "There will be some way provided. Your Uncle John will look after you as your guardian, and your aunt in America will help. But promise, and I shall die happier."
And so, with no especial thought about it, except that his father wished it, Archie McPherson pledged himself never to play for money under any circumstances, and the father knew the boy would keep the pledge, and felt that his last hours of life ware easier; for those hours were his last, and when the sun went down the master of Stoneleigh lay dead in the room where he had blessed his son and commended him to the care of his brother and Anthony, feeling, certain that the latter would be truer to the trust than the former, in whom selfishness was the predominant trait.
It was a very quiet, unpretentious funeral; for John McPherson, who knew the expense of it would fall on himself, would have no unnecessary display, and the third day after his death Hugh McPherson was laid to rest by the side of the Dora he had often neglected, but always loved.
As soon as the funeral was over, John returned to London with Lady Jane, having first given Archie a great deal of good advice, to the effect, that he must do the best he could with what he had, and never spend a shilling unnecessarily, or forget that he was a McPherson.
On his arrival in London, John wrote to his sister in America, telling her of Hugh's death; of his poverty and his debts, and asking what she was willing to do for the boy who was left, as it were, upon the world. In due time the answer came, and was characteristic of the writer. She would pay the mortgage and the debts to the trades-people, rather than have the McPherson name disgraced, and she would take the boy and put him in a way to earn his own living at some honest and respectable occupation. If he did not choose to come, or her brother did not choose to send him on account of any foolish pride and prejudice against labor, then he might take care of him or the boy might starve for all of her. This letter John and Lady Jane read together, but did not consider for a moment. With a scornful toss of her head Lady Jane declared herself ready to give of her own means toward the maintenance of the boy, rather than to see a McPherson degraded to manual labor and thus disgrace her son Neil, the apple of her eye.
And so it was settled between them that Archie was to be kept in ignorance of his Aunt Betsey's offer, which the low taste he had inherited from his mother might possibly prompt him to accept. Meanwhile he was for the present to remain at Stoneleigh, where his living would cost a mere pittance, and where he would pursue his studies as heretofore, under the direction of a retired clergyman, who, for a nominal sum, took boys to educate. This sum, with other absolute necessaries, John undertook to pay, feeling when all the arrangements were made that he had done his duty to his brother's child, who was perfectly delighted to be left by himself at Stoneleigh, where he could do as he pleased with Anthony and Dorothy, and his teacher, too, for that matter, and where he was free to talk with and tease and at last make love to Daisy Allen, for his Uncle John paid but little attention to him beyond paying the sum he had pledged, and having him in his family at London and in Derbyshire, for a few weeks each year when it was most convenient.
Naturally he could not help falling in love with Daisy, who was the only girl he ever saw except the high-bred, milk-and-water misses whom he sometimes met in Lady Jane's drawing-room, and who, in point of beauty and grace and piquancy, could in no degree compare with the playmate of his childhood.
After the morning when Daisy kept the sun from him in the old yew-shaded garden, and he jestingly proposed to marry her, that she might take care of him, a change came over the girl, who began to develope the talent for intrigue in which she afterward became so successful. And as a preliminary step she made herself so necessary to Archie that his life without her would hardly have been endurable, and of his own accord he always shortened as much as possible, his visits to London, for he knew how bright was the face and how warm the welcome awaiting him at Stoneleigh.
And so it came about that when Daisy was sixteen and he was twenty, he offered himself to the girl, who pretended no surprise or reserve, but promptly answered yes, and then suggested that their engagement be kept a secret from every one until he came of age and could do as he pleased, for Daisy well knew the fierce opposition he would meet from his proud relatives, if once they knew that he had stooped to the daughter of a dressmaker. And so well did she manage the affair that not even Dorothy suspected the real state of affairs, until one morning, when Archie, who had been absent for two weeks on a tour through Scotland, astonished her by walking into the house with Daisy, whom he introduced as his wife and the mistress of Stoneleigh. She, too, had been to Scotland to visit some friends, and there the marriage was consummated, and Archie had some one to take care of him at last.
And when his uncle John wrote him a most angry letter denouncing him as his nephew, and cutting off his yearly allowance, which, though small, was still something to depend upon, Daisy rose to the situation and managed his annuity, and managed the household, and managed him, until enough was saved from their slender means to start on the campaign which she had planned for herself, and which she carried out so successfully.
The Continent was her chosen field of action, and Monte Carlo the point toward which she steadily set her face; until, at last, one Lovely October day, five months after her marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Archibald McPherson, of Stoneleigh, Wales, were registered at the Hotel d'Angleterre, and look possession of one of the cheapest rooms, until they could afford a better.
"It does not matter where we sleep, or where we eat, so long as we make a good appearance outside," she said to Archie, who shrank a little at first from the close, dreary room on the fifth floor, so different from his large, airy apartment at home, which though very plainly furnished, had about it an air of refinement and respectability in striking contrast to this ten by twelve hole, where Daisy made the most ravishing toilets of the simplest materials, with which to attract and ensnare any silly moth ready to singe its wings at her flame. She had settled the point that if Archie could not earn his living because he was a McPherson, she must do it for him. Five months had sufficed to show her that there was in him no capability or disposition for work, or business, or exertion of any kind. He was a great, good-natured, easy-going, indolent fellow, popular with everybody, and very fond, and very proud of, and very dependent upon her, with no grain of jealousy in his nature. So, when the English swells, of which there were many at Monte Carlo, flocked around her, attracted by her fresh young beauty and the girlish simplicity of her manners, she readily encouraged them; not because she cared particularly for their admiration, but because she meant to use them for her own purpose, and make them subservient to her interests.
AT MONTE CARLO.
Reader, have you ever been to Monte Carlo, that loveliest spot in all the world, where nature and art have done so much; where the summer rains fall so softly, and the winter sun shines so brightly, and where the blue of the autumnal sky is only equaled by the blue of the Mediterranean sea, whose waves kiss the beautiful shore and cool the perfumed air? If you have been there you do not need a description of the place, or of the mass of human beings, who daily press up the hill from the station, or, swarming from those grand hotels, hurry toward one common center, the tall Casino, whose gilded domes can he seen from afar, and whose interior, though, so beautiful to look upon, is, as Miss Betsey McPherson would express it, the very gate of hell. Perhaps, like the writer of this story, you have stood by the long tables, and watched the people seated there; the white-haired, watery-eyed old men, whose trembling hands can scarcely hold the gold they put down with such feverish eagerness; the men of middle age, whom experience has taught to play cautiously, and stop just before the tide of success turns against them; the young men, who, with the perspiration standing thickly about their pale lips, and a strange glitter in their feverish eyes as they see hundreds swept away, still play recklessly, desperately, until all is lost, and they leave the accursed spot, hopelessly ruined, sometimes seeking forgetfulness in death, with only the silent stars looking down upon them and the restless sea moaning in their ears, lost, lost! There are women too, at Monte Carlo, more, I verily believe than men; old women, who sit from the hour of noon to the hour of midnight; women, with their life's history written on their wrinkled, wicked faces; women, who laugh hysterically when all they have is lost, and then borrow of their friends to try their luck again; women, who go from table to table with their long bags upon their arms, and who only risk five or ten francs at a time, and stop when their unlucky star is in the ascendant, or they feel that curious eyes are watching them. For these habitual players at Monte Carlo are very superstitious, and it takes but little to unnerve them. There are young women there too, who play first, to see if they can win, and when by the fall of the little ball their gold piece is doubled, they try again and again, until the habit is fixed, and their faces are as well known in the saloons as those of the old men with the blear eyes, which find time between the plays to scan these young girls curiously, and calculate their price.
And among these young women, Daisy McPherson sat the morning after her arrival at Monte Carlo, with a look of sweet innocence on her face, and apparent unconsciousness of the attention she was attracting. She had been among the first who entered the salon at the hour of its opening, for she was eager for the contest. She did not expect Archie to play, for she knew he would not break the promise made to his dying father. But she was bound by no such vow, and she meant to make her fortune on the spot where gold was won so easily, and alas, so easily lost.
Rarely, if ever, had a more beautiful face been seen in that gilded den than Daisy's, as she entered the room, leaning upon the arm of her husband, and walking slowly from table to table to see how it was done before making her first venture. Not a man but turned to look at her, and when at last, with a trembling hand, she put down her five franc piece, not one but was glad when she took up two, and with a smile of triumph tried her luck again. It is said that success always attends the new beginner at Monte Carlo, and it surely attended Daisy, who played on and on, seldom losing, until, grown bold by repeated success, she staked her all, one hundred and fifty francs, and doubled it at once.
"That will do. Twelve pounds are enough for one day," she said, and depositing her gains in her leather bag, she took Archie's arm and left the room, followed by scores of admiring eyes, while many an eager question was asked as to who the lovely English girl could be.
In the ante-room outside there was a crowd of people moving in opposite directions, and the train of Daisy's blue muslin, for those were not the days of short dresses, was stepped upon and held until the gathers at the waist gave way and there was a long, ugly rent in one of the bottom flounces.
"I beg your pardon, miss, for my awkwardness, but really I could not help myself, I was so pushed by the crowd," was said in Daisy's ear in a rich Irish brogue, and turning partly round she saw a fair-haired young man, scarcely two years older than herself, with a look of genuine distress upon his aristocratic but boyish face, as he continued: "I hope I have not ruined the dress, and it is such a pretty one!"
"I am sure you could not help it, but I am awful sorry, for it is my very best gown; but then I can afford another now, for I gained twelve pounds to-day," Daisy said, gathering up her torn skirt, and thus showing to good advantage her pretty feet, and the fluted ruffles on her white petticoat.