"Bless my heart! young man, I thought I saw you just now riding away in a canoe."
"You see your mistake now, I suppose," returned August, trying repeatedly to smile.
"And it wasn't you, after all?"
Then August explained the situation in a few words. When he had finished the peddler tapped him gently on the shoulder and said:
"I am greatly relieved. I know that man now. He has caused all the mischief. You and he look as near alike as two peas. The clouds are rolling by and I see my way clear. It won't be long before the authorities as well as the people will be astounded with the arrest of Victoria Vane's murderer. It will astound them because they will find in the real murderer not the man they expect."
The peddler spoke so enthusiastically as to attract the notice of his listener.
"Are you on the track of the assassin?" questioned Bordine.
"Then you are a detective?"
"If I succeed, yes. You see, I am but an amateur now. Whisky and an unfaithful woman poisoned me almost to the death. I saw that offer of five thousand dollars reward, and it stimulated me to new life. That is a good deal of money, my boy, especially to one in my circumstances; and so I thought to myself, if I could only win that reward, I could tog up in good shape and enter the business world once more. I've been aiming for that, and I mean to gather it in."
"I sincerely hope you may Mr. Shanks."
* * * * *
The days passed; a fortnight was gone, and yet no news of the young engineer who had so mysteriously disappeared from his home on the night before the arrest of Mrs. Bordine.
That lady was well treated by the sheriff's family, but was not permitted to have communication with the outside world, so that she realized that she was a close prisoner all this time. The reader can easily imagine how the old lady suffered, with a dark cloud hanging over the name of her son. She, of course, firmly believed in his innocence, and would not credit the story that he had fled to escape arrest. There was a mystery about his continued absence for which she could not account, and which gave the good woman no end of trouble.
"I would trust August with my life," she more than once asserted. "He does not come because he fears arrest, but some accident has befallen him, and it may be that we shall none of us see him again, for I fear he is dead."
It was thus the old mother talked to the officers, and to Miss Alstine, who, in the kindness of her heart, visited her lover's mother.
Of course that lover was as nought to the young heiress now. She believed him to be a villain of the deepest dye, yet she could not tell her thoughts to that trusting old mother who seemed so wrapped up in her son.
"The idea that he could harm anybody," declared Mrs. Bordine to Rose, with both plump hands on the girl's shoulders. "Why, he never even so much as killed a chicken without shuddering."
"We will hope that a mistake has been made, dear Mrs. Bordine."
"And you are so kind," returned the old woman with tears in her eyes. Do you know, Miss Alstine, I want to ask your forgiveness."
"For what, dear?"
"For unkind judgment of you."
"I am sure you never have misjudged me, dear."
"Oh, yes I have."
"It was one day when August had been up to your house. He was dreadfully down in the mouth when he came back from that visit. He'd been jilted he said, by you, and I told him right for ever trying to win the heart of a rich girl. I said some very harsh things of you, Miss, things that I know now weren't true. Of course I can see now that you had some good reason for not wishing to marry a poor engineer, a reason that was above regarding his poverty. I won't ask you what it was, for if the poor boy is dead it won't make any difference, and—and—"
She broke down then completely, and fell to sobbing on the breast of the sympathetic Rose.
Ah, yes, she knew why she had refused to see the widow's son that eventful day, and it was not poverty that drove him out of her life. Rose, however, would not explain now, nor ever to Mrs. Bordine. She realized that the kindly soul had never realized the truth regarding the dual character of August.
If he never returned it was well that she should think of him always, as now, true and dutiful, a model man and son in every respect.
Officers were now more than ever on the alert. Everybody was anxious to win the magnificent reward, and it now seemed very easy of attainment, since the real murderer was known.
Would he fall finally into the hands of the law?
This was the question that Rose asked many times of herself. It would be justice, and yet it would grind her heart to know of his dying on the scaffold.
Was he guilty?
Could she doubt it, remembering the scene in the garden at the house of her lover?
One evening while Rose, unattended, was hastening along the street toward the city prison, she suddenly became aware that a man was following her. There was something in his walk and general appearance that seemed familiar, but she could not see his face, since his hat was down low, shading it completely.
She had reached the entrance to the sheriff's office, and placed her hand on the knob, when the man sprang quickly to her side and seized her arm. She uttered a startled cry and pushed open the door.
"One moment, Rose!" cried the man, hoarsely. He snatched the hat from his head and bent his face close hers.
The girl uttered a great cry.
"Great Heaven, you here, August Bordine!"
And then Rose closed the door and leaned heavily against the wall.
A NARROW ESCAPE.
Not a word passed between the two for some moments. The man glanced up and down the street uneasily, then resumed his hat and said:
"I am glad you recognize me, Rose. I have been wanting to see you for a long time."
"You have risked your life in coming," she said. "Surely you know that a large reward rests against you."
"I do, but I am willing to risk life to see the one I love—"
"Hush! Mr. Bordine," cried the girl, huskily. "I wish to hear no more of that."
"No? Then you believe the stories that are handed about that I am a murderer?"
There was a bitter tone to his voice that did not fail to have its effect.
"Don't ask me, August," she returned sadly. "I have no right to think on that subject, it is a question that rests between you and your God."
"But do you believe me guilty?"
"Are you guilty? Tell me truly," she cried, suddenly, looking up into his haggard face in a way that thrilled him to the quick.
"Will you believe me if I swear—"
"No, no, do not mar your word with an oath, August," she interrupted, quickly. "I will believe you without that."
"May Heaven bless you, Rose," he cried, in a relieved tone. "I am as innocent as you are of that murder."
"Then go. Do not be found here another minute. The evidence will convict you, and I do not wish to see you die."
She pushed him from her with a trembling hand.
"One kiss, darling."
She would have been less than human and a woman, had she refused, with her heart all seething with conflicting emotion on account of the love she bore this man, that would not down even when she knew him guilty of deception and fraud—perhaps of murder.
He bent and imprinted a kiss upon her cold cheek, held her hand a moment in a hot clasp, then turned to go.
A step sounded near.
Someone was approaching.
"Go! while it is yet time," urged the maiden in a thrilling whisper.
But he seemed unable to move just then.
"My mother; how does she bear up?"
"She is used well?"
"Very well, indeed."
"I am glad for her sake. Tell her nothing of this visit, it will do no good, and I wish her to remain in ignorance of my whereabouts."
The sound of a step died away, and the spot occupied by man and maid seemed safe from observation for the present.
"It shall be as you wish."
"Bless you, Rose. Tell me again that you believe me guiltless."
"I have once said so, August, but go now, and never set foot in this dangerous neighborhood again."
"Will you permit me to speak of that scene in the garden where you so misjudged me?"
"No," with an impatient gesture. "I wish to destroy that picture. Don't force me to think of it."
"But I can explain."
Again came the sound of approaching steps. This time two men were seen approaching from either direction.
"Go before you are discovered!" cried out the girl huskily.
He dropped her hand and started to move away, evidently realizing his danger.
Rose crept swiftly into the building and watched the moving form of her lover through the window.
She heard the cry, and saw a police baton uplifted over the head of the man who had just left her side.
White as death the girl gazed.
Would there be trouble?
She saw a hand laid on the one of her lover, then two men were engaged in a desperate struggle.
Presently there came a bright flash and sharp report. Rose was petrified with horror as she gazed.
The policeman sank in a heap to the walk, while a voice outside shouted:
Then the man who had encountered the police officer darted swiftly from the vicinity.
A timid man bent over the fallen officer.
The Sheriff heard the startling cry from without and rushed into the front room, passing Rose, who crowded in the shadows, without noticing her. He gained the walk and soon stood over the fallen officer.
"I heard a shot," cried the sheriff, in an excited tone. "Who did it? Is the man dead?"
"I don't know answered the other," who seemed to be an ordinary pedestrian. "I saw a man talking with a woman there, at your door. He walked away and met the officer, then came a scuffle and a shot."
"Exactly," muttered the sheriff, laying his hand on the man's arm. "You will consider yourself my prisoner."
"But I haven't done a thing."
"We'll see about that."
At this moment the policeman moved and assumed a sitting posture.
"No, the man's right," he said in a labored tone.
"The fellow ran when he fired. I—I reckon he's done for me."
"Who was it?"
"The man we wanted—Bordine!"
"Is it possible?" "It seems to me it would be wise to alarm the police and have them on the lookout for the villain," said the citizen.
Just then a hack was passing which was hailed, and the wounded officer placed inside with the citizen, who promised to set the city force on the lookout.
"You might question the girl, Mr. Sheriff," said the citizen.
"Yes, but I may not be able to find her now."
"She entered your house I am sure."
Then the hack whirled away.
The sheriff hastened into the house just as Rose, pale and agitated, rose from a crouching posture at the window.
"Was the policeman killed?"
This was her question, given in an agitated voice.
"Not killed, but he may die."
"Just Heaven, why did he do it?"
The country officer regarded the beautiful speaker keenly.
"So it was you who met this man, this outlaw, outside, Miss Alstine?"
She made no reply, but stood with clasped hands gazing into vacancy, the very picture of woe and despair.
"Miss Alstine, I demand an explanation," uttered the sheriff, sternly, at the same time taking her arm and shaking her sharply.
"Sir, I—I cannot explain."
"We'll see about that. Who was the man you were talking with ten minutes ago, in front of this building?"
"A gentleman." "His name."
"I cannot give it."
"You will not, you mean."
She was silent.
He shook her slender frame furiously.
"Girl, you cannot deceive me; the man you countenanced so unblushingly was August Bordine, the murderer!"
He hissed his words out hotly, and seemed ready to crush her with his wrath.
"Please take your hand from my shoulder, sir," said Rose, in a tone so calm and chilling as to surprise the over-zealous official.
He did not obey.
She transfixed him with her eyes and said:
"Mr. Sheriff, you have no right to insult a lady as you are doing, and I shall see that you are reported."
He dropped his hand and stepped backward quickly. The look in her beautiful eyes startled him. He owed his official station to the people, and he seemed of a sudden to realize that this girl was a representative of one of the wealthiest families in Grandon. She was not on the same footing as the poor widow, who had been held in confinement for weeks without the privilege of bail.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Alstine," he said, quickly. "I see that I was going a little too far, but my excuse is that I am anxious to leave no stone unturned to effect the capture of that low villain, Bordine. It may be that he will have another murder to answer for after to-night."
Rose shuddered at the thought.
The gulf between her and August Bordine was widening to the shores of eternity, and even beyond.
"I have no wish to deny that the man who met me to-night was Bordine. The meeting was wholly unexpected on my part, and I was compelled to listen to him."
"Exactly. Well, it is more than likely that the scoundrel will be in the hands of the law before midnight."
Then the sheriff turned away.
Quite unstrung, Rose left the building without attempting to see Mrs. Bordine that night.
A STARTLING WARNING.
The remainder of that night and for several days thereafter the city was wild with excitement over the story of the sudden disappearance of the man for whom five thousand dollars reward was offered.
The policeman was not mortally hurt, but the wound he had received was destined to lay him up for a long time.
A thorough search of the city failed to discover the assassin. His bold return had evidently been to see his betrothed, and it was surmised by many that Rose Alstine could tell, if she would, the exact whereabouts of the murderer.
Ransom Vane went to see her on the subject, but gained no satisfaction. Rose solemnly assured him that she had no more knowledge of her lover's whereabouts than he.
"I do not care to talk on a subject so painful," concluded the girl.
"However painful, you may be compelled to talk," retorted the young man in a tone of exceeding vexation. "I cannot consider it just for a woman to screen her lover, when he has several murdered victims to answer for."
"Your insinuations are wholly unjust, Mr. Vane."
"I hope they are. That a girl should defend a lover, even when he has stained his hands with blood, seems incredible."
"It would seem incredible if such a thing occurred. I have no lover and consequently cannot come under your condemnation."
"Do you deny that August Bordine is your lover?"
"Certainly I do."
"Then I have been misinformed."
"Doubtless you have. Busybodies are ready to make any assertions, however false," said Rose calmly.
There certainly was nothing to be gained here, so the eager young man took his departure.
In the meantime where was August Bordine?
Safe under the care of the eccentric Hiram Shanks, and not once had he ventured into Grandon. He followed implicitly the instructions of the peddler, who evinced intelligence beyond his appearance.
When the young man learned that his mother was under arrest, he insisted on visiting her at once, although he was yet ill in bed, for the fever clung to him for many days, and weakened his strong frame so that he had scarcely more strength than a child.
It was at a farm-house that the sick engineer had found shelter, and in order to effectually disguise him the indefatigable Shanks had shaved his beard, and cut his hair close, over which he fitted a wig of wool, and stained his face and arms.
Thus young Bordine represented a sick mulatto to perfection. The farmer and his wife were in the secret, but being feed heavily by Shanks, they refused to betray the young man.
Officers had been at the house on several occasions, but the sick farm hand excited no suspicions, since he in no way resembled the photographs of the fugitive from justice.
Of course the reader will understand that the man who personated Bordine in his interview with Rose Alstine was the young man's double, who yet hovered in the city, and moved about among the people in many disguises. On the night in question he had boldly thrown off his disguise for the purpose of appealing to Rose as the fugitive, hoping to excite her sympathy.
It proved a dear game, and come near landing him in prison. He did not scruple at shooting the officer who assailed him. Once he could get his fingers on the Alstine bank account, he would be able to defy the world.
It was a bold and heartless scheme he was working, and hardly promised success. While the real Bordine was a fugitive from justice, the schemer felt that he had nothing to fear from him; but how long was this to be?
The young engineer might be captured at any time, when it would be impossible for him to deceive Rose longer. It was this fear that troubled Barkswell more than aught else.
He thought sometimes of the grave in the cellar of the lone shanty in the woods, and remembered the pair of gleaming eyes that peered down upon him from above. He was in disguise then, however, and even were that murder discovered, it could not be laid at his door.
On the night in question, Barkswell, after shooting the policeman from his path, darted swiftly down the street a few rods, then turned into a dark alley.
Here he resumed the disguise he had discarded, in order to meet Rose.
Passing out at the other end of the alley, he met several members of the police force who were looking for him.
"I seed a feller makin' tracks toward the river," said the seeming countryman in answer to a query from a blue-coat.
"He's going to one of the low dives down near the dock," declared the sergeant of police, and then he quickly hastened on his way.
The man for whom all this excitement was occasioned pursued his way leisurely to the suburbs of the city, and entered a small house that stood some rods back from the street.
It was not the cottage that he had occupied at the time Rose Alstine mistook it for the Bordine residence. Soon after that untoward event, the scheming Barkswell had changed his residence to a less respectable neighborhood, against the protest of his wife, who was constantly urging him to lead a better life.
All this time Barkswell was exceedingly anxious that Iris should leave him for a better world, where she would be less troublesome.
He entered her presence to-night not in the best of humor.
Iris was reclining in a rocker, looking very pale and ill. She had been suffering of late even more than usual, and to-night a deathly sickness seemed stealing through her veins, rendering her weak and helpless.
You ire looking very pale, Iris. What is the trouble?"
"I am feeling very miserable, Andrew."
"You are always talking that way, my dear."
"But I feel that this is something different. I—I am fearful that I shan't live long."
"Nonsense," with a cheery laugh he knew so well how to assume when the occasion demanded.
His cheerfulness was contagious, and she smiled faintly.
"If you would only reform—"
"Not a word on that threadbare question, Iris," he interrupted quickly. "I am tired of it, and you know it. I've something here that'll be good for your nerves."
He drew a bottle from his pocket and poured a few drops into a glass that stood near. Then, mixing with water, he offered it to his wife.
She drank it without a word.
"You will soon feel better, dear," he assured her in the kindest tone imaginable.
"Oh, dear, I hope so."
She closed her eyes, and was soon in a profound sleep. Barkswell sat watching her, the thin face and hollow eyes, and muttered to himself:
"She suffers, poor girl, but I will be merciful. She shall not suffer long."
Then he came to his feet and began pacing the room with measured tread in front of his calmly sleeping wife.
There were many contending emotions in the breast of Andrew Barkswell as he paced the floor in front of his sleeping wife.
If he ever possessed a spark of human sympathy, the past few weeks of his life in Grandon had obliterated the feeling.
One more life stood between him and his goal; that life was even now on the verge of the unknown.
"I might throttle her," he muttered in a half audible tone, as his glittering eyes peered into the quiet face of the slumberer. "No one would be the wiser, and then I would be free to pursue my wooing of the heiress."
He moved a step nearer the sleeping woman. His fingers twitched and turned about, as though itching diabolical work. His breath came hot and hard above the false gray beard that adorned his chin.
He lifted his hands, made a forward movement, as if to carry into execution the dastard work his heart had conjured up. One step, and he came to a sudden pause.
A strange sound greeted his ears and held his steps. The sound seemed to proceed from the window.
Glancing toward it, the would-be homicide saw on the pane, written in letters of blood:
"Murderer, beware! The hounds of justice are on your trail, and will strike when you least expect it!"
Slowly the words faded out, yet Andrew Barkswell stood there, riveted to the floor, staring as though petrified into a marble image.
With this one exclamation Barkswell sprang forward and gazed out into the night. He thought he saw a form moving away in the gloom. He threw up the sash and called after the form, but no answer came back, and then he dropped the sash, waking his wife.
"Delusion!" he muttered under his breath; and yet he trembled and was very pale.
THE PLOTTER'S VICTORY.
Rose Alstine did not visit the widow in her prison home for some days after her encounter with the counterfeit August Bordine. In fact, she was quite ill for a time, and kept her room, refusing to see any one, not excepting her cousin Janet.
"What a tormented little fool," declared the old maid. "If a man had used me as this one has Cousin Rose, do you think I'd take on, and make myself miserable over his villainy? No, I wouldn't—"
"But you'd go for another man at once," put in Sallie, the maid, who had overheard the remark of Miss Williams.
"Faugh! I'd keep clear of the vampires, I tell you," snorted the old maid, with a toss of her diminutive head.
"It seems you've been doing that pretty thoroughly in the past, Miss Williams," retorted Sallie, with a malicious little laugh.
"What do you mean by that?" demanded Miss Williams, tartly.
"Oh, don't fly mad, Miss, I was only speaking from a historical point of view. Judging from the past, it seems to me you wouldn't be apt to have more than a dozen beaux dangling after you after they'd used you mean as you say—"
"Girl, I'll have you discharged."
"You can't do that," retorted Sallie, defiantly.
"I'll show you, huzzy!" and the old maid flounced from the room.
"I'd like to see the likes of her turning me off," muttered the maid. "I don't think Miss Rose'll pay any attention to that vinegar-cruet."
And in this opinion the maid was not far wrong. Rose did not permit her cousin to interfere in the least with the internal relations of the household.
In the evening, while Rose was in the parlor for the first time in several days, a visitor was announced, a gentleman.
"Who is it, Sallie?"
"What does he want?"
But at this moment the visitor took the liberty to make himself known in person, a tall, slender man, with gray beard, neatly dressed, and evidently of the upper class.
Rose greeted the stranger politely and offered a chair.
Of course the maid, seeing that she was no longer needed, passed out and closed the door.
"To what do I owe the honor of this visit, sir?" questioned Rose.
"I could not stay away longer. I have been burning to see you and have it out," said the man in a trembling voice; then, with a quick movement he removed a wig and revealed a young and pleasant face.
He stood before her with outstretched hands and pleading eyes. It was hard for her to resist that look, yet she viewed him coldly, and refused to look in his face.
"Don't scorn me until you hear my plea, Rose," he said in a passionate outcry, that thrilled a chord in her heart.
"Oh, sir, why did you come? Are you not aware that you risk your life?"
"I would risk Heaven for you, my darling. I know how much I risk in coming here, but I must have this horrible unrest settled for all time. See, on my bended knees I swear to you, Rose, I am innocent of the murder of that poor girl. It is a great mistake all round, and I mean to give myself up and stand trial.
"I have been a coward without your love, Rose. You cannot imagine how your scorn has weakened me, and the whole affair has been one round of ghastly mistakes. I am here to-night to tell you the truth. You have constantly denied me audience, and so to-night I resolved to see you or die in the attempt. As an excuse I plead only my deep love, and my innocence, which I believe I shall be able to prove. I hear that you have been kind to my mother in prison, and to-day I learn that she was permitted to return to her lonely home through your interference in her behalf.
"For this I thank you, and if a life-time of devotion can repay you it shall be yours—"
"Cease, sir," Rose interrupted at the first opportunity. "I am willing to believe you innocent of that awful crime at Ridgewood, but there are other crimes as wicked as murder—"
"I know," he cried, rising and clasping his hands, while he bent a pleading, wistful look into her face. "You refer to that scene in the garden." "I do," coldly.
"You have never permitted me to explain that."
"It is not susceptible of explanation."
"I must take counsel of my senses, Mr. Bordine," persisted Rose, trampling fiercely on her own heart. "I know that that woman was your wife. I heard enough to convince me of this. Your perfidy ought to make me hate you."
"And you do hate me, Rose?"
"Thank Heaven for that."
"Leave me now, Mr. Bordine."
"Mr. Bordine!" he cried bitterly. "It is August no longer. You would drive me from you without permitting me to explain. You are unjust, Rose."
"Never. Would to Heaven I could be!"
What did she mean?
A sudden, wild hope entered the heart of the schemer. He was making even better progress than he had anticipated.
"You will, you must hear my explanation of that scene in the garden," persisted he. "If you can scorn and cast me aside after you know the truth then I am willing to go."
Rose sank to a seat.
She had been standing, up to this moment, but now she felt strangely weak and unsteady. He, however, refused to be seated until, as he said, he made his peace with her.
Their interview had a witness suspected by neither.
Miss Williams, piqued at the attentions her cousin received, resolved to play the eavesdropper, and so she crouched in the hall at the parlor door and listened to every word that fell from the lips of the gentleman visitor.
Although Miss Williams was not the brightest female in the world, she was far removed from a fool, and soon she learned enough to convince her that the outlaw, August Bordine, was in the parlor.
This discovery was one which agitated the old maid not a little.
She remembered the immensity of the reward offered for this man, and realized that if she could win a portion of it, it would be of wonderful help to her as a matter of pin-money, and it might influence some man to take pity on her single state and propose.
When the old maid had revolved these thoughts in her brain sufficiently, she rose to her feet and donning hat and shawl hastened from the house.
"You imagined that that poor woman you heard addressing me as husband that day was my wife," proceeded Barkswell, after a moment of silence, "but that was where the trouble came in and the mistake rose."
"Do you deny—"
"It is not necessary. That woman was my sister, but she has been out of her mind for years. Four years ago I placed her in an asylum near Rochester for treatment, and this spring she left the place, declared cured by the doctors. Of course I was overjoyed at this, and hastened to remove her to my home in this city, where I have resided for more than two years, as you know. Mother wished to keep the fact of her having a daughter secret until we were sure that the terrible malady would not return. It did return, and so we have kept my poor sister very close for some time. She has strange hallucinations, and imagines that I am her husband, and that she is ill-treated. It was a love affair that turned her brain, and I suppose this has much to do with her present hallucination."
In measured tones he uttered this information, and it did not seem possible that the man was uttering a deliberate lie.
Rose moved uneasily in her seat.
His dark eyes, full of an intense love-light, were fixed on her face.
He saw that his falsehood was having its effect.
"You no doubt wonder why you haven't heard of this sooner. You must remember that I have failed to gain an audience with you since that hour."
"August, are you speaking the truth?"
Her face was ghastly white, and her full bosom rose and fell with the violence of her inward emotions.
"If you doubt, I am ready to swear it," he cried, sinking to her feet once more, bowing his head as a subject might to his sovereign.
"No, no," she cried suddenly. "Rise up, August. Heaven help me and you if this is a deception. I can do no other way than to believe."
He uttered a glad cry and pressed her hands to his lips, covering it with kisses.
She sat like one in a dream, unresisting, feeling a portion of bliss, yet filled with a vague alarm that was far from pleasant.
"And now I shall not fear to brave the world, and proclaim and prove my innocence," he cried boldly, coming to his feet.
She regarded him with a faint, fluttering heart, the faintest impress of a smile on her beautiful face.
Was it possible that happiness was in store for her in the near future? Even while these thoughts filtered through her brain he spoke again.
"Poor Iris, she will no longer suffer."
"Yes; she died to-night."
"That is terrible."
"And yet it is best so. Insanity is far worse than death; at any rate it seems so to me," he said solemnly and slow. "And now, dear Rose, I have but one request to make. If we could only be married before this trial I should feel doubly strong to face the world."
She opened her lips to reply, but the words were drowned in their inseption by the crash of feet in the hall.
Swiftly the man sprang across the carpet and turned the key in the lock, just as a hand shook the door, and a loud voice demanded admittance.
A DEMON'S DEED.
"My presence here has been discovered," he whispered hoarsely. "What shall we do?"
He had seemingly forgotten his determination to face the world and fight for his life as a man should.
Under the excitement of the occasion Rose thought only of saving her lover from the hands of rude men, who looked upon him as a wild beast justly their prey.
"Open the door, or I will break it down!" thundered a voice without.
"This way, quick!" cried Rose.
She led the way from another room that led from the parlor. Raising a window at the side of the house she bade her lover pass through.
He obeyed, and dropped safely to the ground. He had been far-seeing enough to readjust his wig, and a moment later an elderly gentleman walked from the rear of the house and gained the street without molestation.
Then Miss Alstine walked back to the door, turned the key and admitted two men wearing the police uniform.
"Quick! Don't let the villain escape!"
"What does this mean?" demanded Rose, quickly.
"Where is the man you had in here?"
"Do you deny that a man was in this room?"
"There seems to be two at present," retorted Rose, with provoking coolness.
"Will you answer my question, girl?"
"Please ask it, and I will see."
"Where is the man who was with you a short time since?"
"I cannot tell you."
"That's what I said."
"Will not, you mean."
"No, I cannot," asserted Rose.
"Be careful, girl, or it may become my duty to place you under arrest."
"I would not have you neglect your duty," retorted Rose.
"Do you still refuse to reveal the whereabouts of August Bordine?"
"I certainly refuse to tell what I do not know. He is not here—"
"But he has been here?"
"When did he go?"
"Not long since."
"Don't waste words with her," said the speaker's companion. "Let's search the house."
"I fear it's too late now."
Nevertheless the two men went through the dwelling, even invading the sanctity of Rose Alstine's bedchamber. Nothing was found, however. The fugitive from justice had made good his escape.
And thus pretty Rose Alstine had assisted in a criminal act without realizing it.
The police debated about arresting the girl, but in the end concluded not to do so. They were a chagrined lot, however, who returned to the station.
In the meantime Andrew Barkswell, safely disguised, hurried to the house in the suburbs where he had left his wife alone, and, as he believed, dying.
He was therefore surprised to find her still breathing, as he entered the room where she lay on a low couch, with the room in shadow.
"How are you feeling, Iris?"
He paused an instant at her bedside and gazed down into the sunken face.
"I—I feel bad, very bad."
"Curse it, I wish you were dead!" He did not utter the words aloud, however. Instead he drew a chair to the side of the bed and smoothed the dark hair from her white brow, and pretended to feel the deepest sympathy for her sufferings.
"You remained away a long time, Andrew," murmured the thin lips of the sick wife.
"Did you miss me, dear?"
"Very much. Promise you will remain with me until the—the last, Andrew."
"I won't leave again until you are better," he said, with a peculiar gleam of the eye.
"Then you will stay always."
"I shall never be better, Andrew."
"You always say that, but I know that I am in my last sickness, and—and I want to have a solemn talk with you, Andrew, the last I will have to say to you on earth."
He fidgeted uneasily in his chair, but could not well refuse to listen.
But there was no heart in the word. He wished she would hasten her demise. In fact had he thought she was yet alive he would not have so soon returned to the house. It was her dead body he came to see, not a breathing woman, whose claim on him was still paramount to all others.
"Andrew, where is Perry, my brother?"
Her mind seemed to be wandering somewhat.
"How should I know, dear?"
"True, he is such an unsteady body. I have worried about him of late. It has been many days since I have seen him."
The man who sat there in the shadows was silent. So long as she did not talk to him he was content. Her constant upbraiding in the past, although richly merited, was certainly unpleasant to the last degree. He hoped she might die without thinking of him or his misdeeds again.
He was not to escape thus easily, however.
"Poor Victoria! Will it ever be forgiven?"
He started at mention of that name.
Sleuth-hounds were on the track of the murderer, and it was poor satisfaction to know that his only chance of escape lay in the punishment of an innocent man, who so strongly resembled him as to complicate matters to a wonderful degree.
"Why do you mention that name?" he ventured hoarsely.
"Because, poor innocent, it was your fault, all yours. Did they find the dagger, the cold steel that did the bloody, cruel deed?"
"Don't dwell on that," he said in an agitated way. "What was it you were about to tell me for my good, dear?"
"Yes, it was to you I was to talk. You will listen, now that—that I am dying, Andrew?"
"Yes, I will listen."
"Promise me that after I am dead you will reform and lead a better life, that we may meet over there, when—when you cross the river of death."
He was anxious to have the interview over, for it was not pleasant to sit and listen to her sorrowful words.
"You promise. Alas! how many times have I heard that word from your lips, and as many times it was broken."
She sighed deeply and remained silent for some minutes.
Then he was startled by a low sob.
"Nonsense, Iris, don't cry. You're not so far gone as you imagine."
"I—I am so wicked," she murmured.
"You wicked! You're an angel, Iris, and I am ready to swear to it."
"But you do not know, you do not know," she wailed. "I have no right to lecture you on your bad deeds, no right, no right."
She threw up her arms and clung sobbing to his neck.
"There, there, never mind," he said soothingly. "Take a sip of this and you will feel better."
Disengaging her arms from his neck he drew a goblet, half full of water, toward him, and emptied the contents of a small vial into it.
"Enough to kill a giant," he muttered low, as he placed the goblet to the lips of his wife.
One swallow and then she uttered a great cry and sank back quivering.
He sprang to his feet replacing with trembling hand the goblet on the stand at the head of the bed.
"That will fix her," he muttered.
"Andrew, Andrew, what have you done?" she questioned, gaspingly.
"How do you feel?"
His eyes fairly glared at her.
"Worse—that was poison!"
He uttered a guttural laugh. Then in a fit of madness bent low and hissed:
"You are right, old woman, it was poison! It isn't the first dose you have taken, either. I meant to have you out of my way before now."
What demon possessed him to tell her this?
His manner had changed suddenly, indeed.
There was the look of a demon on his countenance. He seemed to gloat over the sufferings of his dying wife.
"Andrew, oh, Andrew!"
It was a rebuking cry, but it failed to touch the calloused heart of the being before her.
"You have tormented me continually, Iris," he said, with cool deliberation, "and now my hour of triumph has come."
He laughed hoarsely.
He seemed to enjoy the ghostly horror exhibited on the face of his devoted wife.
"Let me tell you what I have done," he proceeded, with the malice born of a devil's nature. "I get rid of you to make room for another."
"Spare me, Andrew," moaned the pallid lips of the dying woman, already foam-flecked from the effects of the inward workings of the poison last administered.
"I will not. You tormented me until life become a burden, harping on my shortcomings. You are too good for this world, Iris—just proper for an angel, and so 'tis best for you to go. I have found one who will fill your place to perfection, and make me a happy man, since she brings wealth to back her claims. I speak of Rose Alstine. She has promised to wed me as soon as you are dead—we have it all arranged!"
Heartless, wicked, woeful words.
As he came to a pause the sick woman uttered a great, gasping cry, and went into convulsions, foam and blood flecking her lips.
It was the dying agony, he believed.
She seemed beyond help; a few minutes would see her silent in death. It was well. Turning his back upon the scene he strode from the room, and from the house.
Scarcely had he departed when two persons ran up the steps, tried the door and found it yield to their touch.
"It may be too late, doctor, but I hope not."
When the two men entered the room we recognize one of them as Hiram Shanks, the peddler, although he is now neatly clad, and not so repulsive to look upon as formerly.
"Too late!" exclaimed Shanks' companion, as he bent over Mrs. Barkswell. "The woman is dead!"
FACE TO FACE.
"Dead! No, no, it must not be," cried the peddler, in an excited tone.
The doctor felt the woman's pulse.
"There is life certainly," he said, after a moment. "It is possible that she may be revived."
"A hundred dollars shall be your fee, doctor, if you revive her so she can speak again," declared Shanks in a tone of the most intense eagerness.
"I will try."
Placing a medicine case on the stand at the head of the bed, the doctor, whose gray hairs seemed to indicate long experience at least in the profession, proceeded to open and pour out a dark liquid in a spoon.
Then he forced open the jaws of the poor woman, and was gratified to see her swallow it.
A second later she breathed spasmodically and soon showed signs of life.
Shanks sat watching every movement with the most intense interest.
The physician succeeded beyond his most sanguine expectations. It was a most powerful antidote to the poison he knew had been administered by the treacherous husband.
In the course of twenty minutes the woman was able to speak again, although only in an extremely low tone.
"Can you communicate with me, Mrs. Barkswell?"
"Your husband has attempted to murder you; do you realize it?"
"I am afraid you may never be any better, and unless you tell us what you know, an innocent man may suffer for murder that I believe he committed. Do you comprehend?"
"Yes, I believe so," answered Mrs. Barkswell in a stronger voice.
The doctor administered a second dose in brandy, of the antidote, and then the sick woman seemed quite revived for the time.
"There is a plot to ruin one of the most exemplary young men in Grandon," proceeded Shanks in a low tone. "The man who has plotted his destruction is the man who left you but a few minutes since after believing that you were removed from his path forever. Surely you can have no love for that evil man."
"No, no, that is all dead now."
"Then it is needless to tell you that he is an outlaw of the deepest dye. I want you to tell me what you know of the murder at Ridgewood. He confessed to you that he robbed the house, and it may be that you know if it was his hand that used this!"
And then Shanks held up a gleaming dagger, the design of the hilt being a serpent's head.
At sight of the weapon the woman shrank back among the pillows and seemed terrified and about to go into another fit.
"Calm yourself," uttered the peddler, lowering the weapon. "You have seen that dagger before."
"Yes! oh, yes!"
"Do you mind telling all about it? It may be the means of saving a human life, it certainly will save a young girl from the trap set for her by this man, who administered poison to rid himself of his wife."
"I will tell."
This was sufficient. The doctor administered another dose of cordial, and then, in tremulous tones, the dying wife, even then in the shadow of death, told a strange and startling story.
When she had finished, her face blanched and she sank suddenly away.
"Quick! the cordial!" cried Shanks, but it was too late. When the man lifted her head to administer the medicine the woman hung a dead weight.
"She is dead," said the doctor.
* * * * *
Mrs. Bordine was once more back at her cottage home, thanks to the kindly influence of Miss Rose Alstine.
Soon after the widow's return, Rose called at the cottage to condole with her over the death of her demented daughter, and the still absent son.
"We all have our cross to bear, Mrs. Bordine. I believe, however, that the worst is past. I believe that August will return and vindicate his innocence in the courts."
"Ah, bless you for that, Miss Rose," uttered the old lady, with tears in her old eyes. "You are an angel if there ever was one."
The two walked into the garden at the side of the house, where the air was cool and balmy.
"I saw your son last night, Mrs. Bordine."
"What! Saw August?"
The widow was all interest at once.
Rose then related the interview she had with Andrew Barkswell, laboring under the delusion that he was her lover.
"And he said he would surely come again and stand trial?"
"Dear boy, Heaven and I know that he is innocent, but it may be impossible to prove it."
"Truth will prevail."
"I hope it will."
"And that poor girl, I know how you must feel at her death, with your son absent. I've do doubt he will try and be at the funeral."
"Yes, I suppose so."
And yet Mrs. Bordine stared at Rose in a sort of dazed way that proved that she did not fully understand.
"I would not weep over poor Iris, Mrs. Bordine."
"Yes. I feel, and so does August, that the girl is better off—"
"What are you talking about? Who is Iris?"
It was Rose Alstine's turn to stare.
"I am aware that you have tried faithfully to keep the secret, Mrs. Bordine, but August told me all about it last night. He thought it was better that I should know."
The widow rubbed her eyes and still stared at the girl in complete bewilderment.
"I'm sure I never heard of Iris, and I don't know what you mean."
"I speak of your poor daughter—"
"Daughter! My daughter?"
"Goodness alive! child, I never had but one daughter, and she died in infancy. That was nigh about thirty years ago. Her name was Mary."
Rose regarded the mother with a puzzled expression.
"Then you have no crazed daughter—"
"Never. What put such an idea into your head, child?"
It was August, but Rose had no time to explain, for at that moment a shadow fell athwart the grass, and both looked up to see a man standing before them with a hat down low over his eyes.
Rose uttered a cry.
Mrs. Bordine stood staring, but when the man lifted his hat she uttered a glad cry and rushed to his arms.
It was, or seemed to be, August Bordine.
Rose waited for her turn with a wildly beating heart.
"Stand aside mother, I would speak with Rose."
The mother stepped aside then.
There was something in the man's voice that sounded unnatural. She felt chilled and rebelled. Could this be her boy, whom she loved so dearly, casting her coldly aside for another. A mother's instincts are strong, and she stared at the man with tear dimmed eyes as he took the hand of Rose and led her aside.
"I could remain away no longer," he said, in low tones. "As I told you last night, I need you to strengthen me for the ordeal that is to come. Will you do it?"
But in spite of herself just then, Rose was unable to speak. She trembled and felt cold chills passing over her body.
What did it mean?
The same influence was at work that had troubled the mother. She glanced timidly into the man's face, and then trembled visibly. How strangely old he looked, much different from the gay August of former times. Had his troubles wrought him this change?
"You do not answer, Rose," he urged complainingly, "Must I then lose your sympathy, and meet the ordeal alone?"
"No, no. I will be with you," she cried, quickly.
"As my wife?"
Again she was silent, trembling like a leaf.
"Yes," falteringly, "as your wife, August."
The words seemed to have been forced from her lips.
She regretted them as soon as uttered. Weak and faint, she leaned heavily on his arm for support.
He led her tottering to Mrs. Bordine and said:
"Mother, we ask your blessing. Rose has consented, and we are to be married at once."
"Rose consented to marry you?"
"Don't call me mother," uttered the widow, pushing him from her suddenly, "You are not my son, you are an imposter!"
How the words cut into the heart of poor Rose. She recoiled, but he grasped her hand and started to lead her away.
"Come, this is no place for us," he hissed hotly, forgetting his part in his rage and alarm.
"Aye! he is an imposter as I am here to prove!"
A clear, ringing voice uttered the words, as a young man strode from a tree near, tossed his hat to the green-sward, and confronted the startled trio.
CORNERED AT LAST.
"My son, my son!"
The next instant the old lady was clasped to the breast of August Bordine.
It was a dramatic scene.
But the drama was not yet complete.
Several men were striding through the garden, the two in advance wearing the uniform of the city police.
"August Bordine, I arrest you for the murder of Victoria Vane."
A hand fell on the impostor's shoulder and a bearded face looked into his.
There came a wild gleam to the eyes of Barkswell as he realized his situation.
He seemed equal to the occasion, however.
"A mistake, officer. Yonder stands August Bordine," and the criminal pointed toward the widow's son.
And then, with a wailing cry, poor Rose reeled and sank fainting to the arms of Mrs. Bordine.
At this moment the officer snapped a pair of handcuffs over the wrists of Barkswell, thus securing him. However, the officers seemed puzzled, and stared at August as if undecided what course to pursue.
At this moment two others appeared on the ground—Hiram Shanks, the queer peddler, and Ransom Vane.
"You have the right man, gentlemen," said Shanks. "These two resemble each other strangely, and it is this resemblance that has baffled detectives, and made trouble for an honest man."
All eyes were fixed on the speaker, who adjusted the black patch on his blind eye, and spoke with the vigor of a man who knew that he was right.
"Yes," put in Ransom Vane, "there has been a great mistake. This man," pointing to Barkswell, "is the outlaw, and by confounding him with Mr. Bordine an innocent man has been deeply wronged."
"It is false—"
"Never mind putting in your lip," sneered the irrepressible peddler. "There's crimes enough against you, young man, to sink you to perdition. You are now arrested for the murder of a beautiful, innocent girl—"
"But I never harmed her, I swear it," cried the prisoner, trembling with deep excitement.
"Who did, then?"
"I don't know; but—"
"Is this yours?"
Shanks held up a gleaming dagger.
"No," with a start.
"You have seen the weapon before?"
"You placed it into Bordine's house one night, where it was found by the officers, for the purpose of fixing that awful murder upon an innocent man. Do you deny that?"
The outlaw was pallid and silent.
"It is true, and you dare not deny it. So far so good; but, gentlemen, it is a mistake to suppose that this man, guilty as he is of crimes without number, was the one who murdered Victoria Vane."
At this announcement the interest deepened on all faces, and the countenance of the prisoner brightened.
"The person who murdered Miss Vane, with this dagger, was in turn murdered by Andrew Barkswell, the prisoner here."
"Who was it?"
"Iris, your wife. She was the assassin of Victoria Vane!"
This announcement created a great sensation. Rose had revived, and clinging to the strong arm of August, was listening in amazement to the revelations of Hiram Shanks.
"I suspected it all the time," muttered the prisoner.
"You did? She found Victoria reading a letter from you, and in a fit of insane jealousy she stole upon and drove this dagger into her throat. Last night the poor woman died penitent, and made a full confession before two witnesses."
"If this is true, then we cannot detain the prisoner," said one of the officers.
"Release me at once," demanded Barkswell.
"Not so," cried Shanks. He must be held, for he is guilty of other crimes. The woman who died last night was murdered by poison administered by the hand of her husband, the man you now hold a prisoner. Dr. Wise has the proof that he will produce in good time. Furthermore, this man has another crime to answer for.
"He attempted to murder August Bordine, but failed. He did, however, assassinate his wife's brother, and buried the body in the cellar of an old shanty in the woods upon Bear Creek."
"That is false," uttered Barkswell, yet trembling and paling with fear.
"I have the proof," declared Shanks.
"My eyesight. I saw you bury your victim!"
The prisoner weakened then. His handcuffs rattled and his whole frame swayed as though he were about to fall to the ground.
"You do not deny your crime, nor the fact that besides poisoning your wife and murdering Perry Jounce, her brother, you assisted the latter, who had long been your tool, to decoy Silas Keene into a room in the rear of Billy Bowleg's saloon, where, some weeks ago, you committed another crime by hurling the detective into a well."
"My soul! This is too much!" gasped the quaking villain.
"Do you deny it?"
No answer from Barkswell, but his head was bowed upon his breast, and a helpless look filled his eyes.
"It would do you no good to deny that you and Perry Jounce murdered Detective Keene—"
"How did you learn so much?" cried out the doomed man.
"There were witnesses present—"
"There was one."
Barkswell raised his head and glared at the speaker in evident amazement.
"I deny it."
"I think I can convince you."
With the words, the peddler's hand went to his head, a few passes were made, and the man stood transformed. It was a complete metamorphosis.
On the ground lay red wig and black patch.
An exclamation fell from many lips. Andrew Barkswell uttered a great cry.
"Great heavens! it is Silas Keene, the detective!"
It was true.
August Bordine had suspected this for some time, and was consequently the least astonished of any present.
"Although you cast me into that well, I did not perish," proceeded the detective, after a moment. "The well was not deep, and there was no water in it, so that the fall only stunned me a little. I soon recovered, and managed to climb to the surface on the jagged stones. It is not necessary to detail how I made my way from the building. No one saw me, and once free, I resolved to disguise myself completely, and thus work to better advantage.
"You of course supposed me dead, and so proceeded with more boldness than you would otherwise have done. This suited me. Your resemblance to August Bordine puzzled me for a time. I did not discover the truth until I saw you both together the time that my faithful Tige prevented you from murdering Bordine in the fisherman's shanty. I dogged your steps and found where your wife lived. I mistrusted you meant to destroy her, and at one time tried to frighten you from your wicked purpose. I failed, but succeeded in capturing you at last."
The detective paused.
The criminal said nothing.
He could not; he was completely broken up, and would have sunk to the ground had not one of the stout policemen supported him with his arms.
A low sob fell on the ears of all.
The eyes of the group turned to Rose. She rested on the breast of August and was weeping bitterly.
She, too, was broken up.
When the wicked cause of all the trouble was led away to prison, and none remained in the little garden but the old mother, August, and Rose, the latter disengaged himself from his hands and said, with a quiver in her voice and a moisture in her eye:
"I feel like going away by myself and never looking you in the face again, August." "Why so, darling?"
"Because I have been such a fool."
He drew her to him, however, and kissed her tears away, while he whispered:
"The clouds have drifted away, darling, and we are destined to be happy yet."
She clung to him closely, and the widow understood and helped them. It was indeed sunshine after the storm.
* * * * *
Andrew Barkswell confessed his guilt in open court, and was sentenced to prison for life. Two years later he died. Thus ended an eventful and wicked career. Of course the reward was paid over in due time, and Silas Keene was the lion of the hour, since he had cornered a double murderer, and cleared up the mystery of Victoria Vane's sad death, who had fallen by the hand of a jealous woman.
And now adieu.