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Macaria
by Augusta Jane Evans Wilson
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"I shall send some books in a day or two, and, if you are troubled about anything before I see you again write me a note by Louisa. I would call to see you occasionally if you were boarding anywhere else. Good morning, Miss Irene. Do not forget that I am your brother so long as you stay in New York, or need one."

The books were not forgotten; they arrived the ensuing week, and his selection satisfied her that he perfectly understood what kind of aid she required. At the close of the next month, instead of accompanying Louisa home, Irene was suffering with severe cold, and too much indisposed to quit the house. This was a grievous disappointment, but she bore it bravely, and went on with her studies. What a dreary isolation in the midst of numbers of her own age! It was a thraldom that galled her, and more than once she implored her father's permission to return home. His replies were positive denials, and after a time she ceased to expect release, until the prescribed course should be ended. Thus another month dragged itself away. On Friday morning Louisa was absent. Irene felt anxious and distressed. Perhaps she was ill; something must have happened. As the day pupils were dismissed she started back to her own room, heart-sick because of this second disappointment. A few minutes after a servant knocked at the door and informed her that a gentleman wished to see her in the parlour.



CHAPTER VIII

A DISCOVERY

"I am so glad to see you, Mr. Young. Louisa is not sick, I hope?"

"I came for you in Louisa's place; she is not well enough to quit her room. Did you suppose that I intended leaving you here for another month?"

"I was rather afraid you had forgotten me; the prospect was gloomy ten minutes ago. It seems a long time since I was with you."

She stood close to him, looking gladly into his face, unconscious of the effect of her words.

"You sent me no note all this time; why not?"

"I was afraid of troubling you; and, besides, I would rather tell you what I want you to know."

"Miss Irene, the carriage is at the door. I am a patient man, and can wait half an hour if you have any preparation to make."

In much less time she joined him, equipped for the ride, and took her place beside him in the carriage. As they reached his father's door, and he assisted her out, she saw him look at her very searchingly.

"It is time that you had a little fresh air. You are not quite yourself. Louisa is in her room; run up to her."

She found her friend suffering with sore throat, and was startled at the appearance of her flushed cheeks. Mrs. Young sat beside her, and after most cordial greetings the latter resigned her seat and left them, enjoining upon her daughter the necessity of remaining quiet.

"Mother was almost afraid for you to come, but I teased and coaxed for permission; told her that even if I had the scarlet fever you had already had it, and would run no risk. Harvey says it is not scarlet fever at all, and he persuaded mother to let him go after you. He always has things his own way, though he brings it about so quietly that nobody would even suspect him of being self-willed. Harvey is a good friend of yours, Irene."

"I am glad to hear it; he is certainly very kind to me. But recollect you are not to talk much; let me talk to you."

The following morning found Louisa much better, and Irene and the mother spent the day in her room. Late in the afternoon the minister came in and talked to his sister for some moments, then turned to his mother.

"Mother, I am going to take this visitor of yours down to the library; Louisa has monopolized her long enough. Come, Miss Irene, you shall join them again at tea."

He led the way, and she followed very willingly. Placing her in a chair before the fire, he drew another to the rug; and seating himself, said just as if speaking to Louisa—

"What have you been doing these two months? What is it that clouds your face, my little sister?"

"Ah, sir! I am so weary of that school. You don't know what a relief it is to come here."

"It is rather natural that you should feel home-sick. It is a fierce ordeal for a child like you to be thrust so far from home."

"I am not home-sick now, I believe. I have in some degree become accustomed to the separation from my father; but I am growing so different from what I used to be; so different from what I expected. It grieves me to know that I am changing for the worse; but, somehow, I can't help it. I make good resolutions in the morning before I leave my room, and by noon I manage to break all of them. The girls try me and I lose my patience. When I am at home nothing of this kind ever troubles me."

"Miss Irene, yours is not a clinging, dependent disposition; if I have rightly understood your character, you have never been accustomed to lean upon others. After relying on yourself so long, why yield to mistrust now? With years should grow the power, the determination, to do the work you find laid out for you."

"It is precisely because I know how very poorly I have managed myself thus far that I have no confidence in my own powers for future emergencies. Either I have lived alone too long, or else not long enough; I rather think the last. If they had only suffered me to act as I wished, I should have been so much better at home. Oh, sir, I am not the girl I was eight months ago. I knew how it would be when they sent me here."

"Some portentous cloud seems lowering over your future. What is it? You ought to be a gleeful girl, full of happy hopes."

She sank farther back in her chair to escape his searching gaze and drooped her face lower.

"Yes, yes; I know I ought, but people can't always shut their eyes."

"Shut their eyes to what?"

"Various coming troubles, Mr. Young."

His lip curled slightly, and, replacing the book on the table, he said, as if speaking rather to himself than to her—

"The heart knoweth his own bitterness, and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy."

"You are not a stranger, sir."

"I see you are disposed to consider me such. I thought I was your brother. But no matter; after a time all will be well."

She looked puzzled; and, as the tea-bell summoned them, he merely added—

"I do not wonder. You are a shy child; but you will soon learn to understand me; you will come to me with all your sorrows."

During the remainder of this visit she saw him no more. Louisa recovered rapidly, and when she asked for her brother on Sabbath evening, Mrs. Young said he was to preach twice that day. Monday morning arrived, and Irene returned to school with a heavy heart fearing that she had wounded him; but a few days after, Louisa brought her a book and brief note of kind words. One Saturday morning she sat quite alone in her small room; the week had been specially painful, and, wearied in soul, the girl laid her head down on her folded arms, and thought of her home in the far South. A loud rap startled her from this painful reverie, and ere she could utter the stereotyped "come in," Louisa sprang to her side.

"I have come for you, Irene; have obtained permission from Dr. —— for you to accompany us to the Academy of Design. Put on your bonnet; Harvey is waiting in the reception room. We shall have a charming day."

"Ah, Louisa! you are all very kind to recollect me so constantly. It will give me great pleasure to go."

When they joined the minister, Irene fancied he received her coldly, and as they walked on he took no part in the conversation. The annual exhibition had just opened; the rooms were thronged with visitors, and the hushed tones swelled to a monotonous hum. Some stood in groups, expatiating eagerly on certain pictures; others occupied the seats and leisurely scanned now the paintings, now the crowd. Furnished with a catalogue, the girls moved slowly on, while Mr. Young pointed out the prominent beauties or defects of the works exhibited. They made the circuit of the room, and began a second tour, when their attention was attracted by a girl who stood in one corner, with her hands clasped behind her. She was gazing very intently on an Ecce-Homo, and, though her face was turned toward the wall, the posture bespoke most unusual interest. Irene looked at her an instant, and held her breath; she had seen only one other head which resembled that—she knew the purplish waving hair, and gliding up to her she exclaimed—

"Electra! Electra Grey!"

The orphan turned, and they were locked in a tight embrace.

"Oh, Irie! I am so glad to see you. I have been here so long, and looked for you so often, that I had almost despaired. Whenever I walk down Broadway, whenever I go out anywhere, I look at every face, peep into every bonnet, hoping to find you. Oh! I am so glad. Do come and see me soon—soon. I must go now—I promised."

"Where do you live? I will go home with you now."

"I am not going home immediately. Mr. Clifton's house is No. 85, West —— Street. Come this afternoon."

With a long, warm pressure of hands they parted, and Irene stood looking after the graceful figure till it glided out of sight.

"In the name of wonder, who is that? You two have been the 'observed of all observers,'" ejaculated the impulsive Louisa.

"That is my old schoolmate and friend of whom I once spoke to you. I had no idea that she was in New York. She is a poor orphan."

"Are you ready to return home? This episode has evidently driven pictures out of your head for to-day," said Mr. Young, who had endeavoured to screen her from observation.

"Yes, quite ready to go, though I have enjoyed the morning very much indeed, thanks to your kindness."

Soon after they reached home, Louisa was called into the parlour to see a young friend, and as Mrs. Young was absent, Irene found it rather lonely upstairs. She thought of a new volume of travels which she had noticed on the hall-table as they entered, and started down to get it. About half-way of the flight of steps she caught her foot in the carpeting, where one of the rods chanced to be loose, and despite her efforts to grasp the railing fell to the floor of the hall, crushing one arm under her. The library-door was thrown open instantly, and the minister came out. She lay motionless, and he bent over her.

"Irene! where are you hurt? Speak to me."

He raised her in his arms and placed her on the sofa in the sitting-room. The motion produced great pain, and she groaned and shut her eyes. A crystal vase containing some exquisite perfume stood on his mother's work-table, and, pouring a portion of its contents in his palm, he bathed her forehead. Acute suffering distorted her features, and his face grew pallid as her own while he watched her. Taking her hand, he repeated—

"Irene, my darling! tell me how you are hurt?"

She looked at him, and said with some difficulty—

"My ankle pains me very much, and I believe my arm is broken. I can't move it."

"Thank God you are not killed."

He kissed her, then turned away and despatched a servant for a physician. He summoned Louisa, and inquired fruitlessly for his mother; no one knew whither she had gone; it would not do to wait for her. He stood by the sofa and prepared the necessary bandages, while his sister could only cry over and caress the sufferer. When the physician came the white dimpled arm was bared; and he discovered that the bone was broken. The setting was extremely painful, but she lay with closed eyes and firmly compressed lips, uttering no sound, giving no token of the torture, save in the wrinkling of her forehead. They bound the arm tightly, and then the doctor said the ankle was badly strained and swollen, but there was, luckily, no fracture. He gave minute directions to the minister and withdrew, praising the patient's remarkable fortitude. Louisa would talk, and her brother sent her off to prepare a room for her friend.

"I think I had better go back to the Institution, Mr. Young. It will be a long time before I can walk again, and I wish you would have me carried back. Dr. —— will be uneasy, and will prefer my returning, as father left me in his charge." She tried to rise, but sank back on the pillow.

"Hush! hush! You will stay where you are, little cripple; I am only thankful you happened to be here."

He smoothed the folds of her hair from her temples, and for the first time played with the curls he had so often before been tempted to touch. She looked so slight, so childish, with her head nestled against the pillow, that he forgot she was almost sixteen, forgot everything but the beauty of her pale face, and bent over her with an expression of the tenderest love. She was suffering too much to notice his countenance, and only felt that he was very kind and gentle. Mrs. Young came in very soon, and heard with the deepest solicitude of what had occurred. Irene again requested to be taken to the school, fearing that she would cause too much trouble during her long confinement to the house. But Mrs. Young stopped her arguments with kisses, and would listen to no such arrangements; she would trust to no one but herself to nurse "the bruised Southern lily." Having seen that all was in readiness, she insisted on carrying her guest to the room adjoining Louisa's, and opening into her own. Mr. Young had gone to Boston the day before, and, turning to her son, she said—

"Harvey, as your father is away, you must take Irene upstairs; I am not strong enough. Be careful that you do not hurt her."

She led the way, and, bending down, he whispered—

"My little sister, put this uninjured arm around my neck, there—now I shall carry you as easily as if you were in a cradle."

He held her firmly, and as he bore her up the steps the white face lay on his bosom, and the golden hair floated against his cheek. If she had looked at him then, she would have seen more than he intended that anyone should know: for, young and free from vanity though she was, it was impossible to mistake the expression of the eyes riveted upon her. Mrs. Young wrote immediately to Mr. Huntingdon, and explained the circumstances which had made his daughter her guest for some weeks at least, assuring him that he need indulge no apprehension whatever on her account, as she would nurse her as tenderly as a mother could. Stupefied by the opiate, Irene took little notice of what passed, except when roused by the pain consequent upon dressing the ankle. Louisa went to school as usual, but her mother rarely left their guest; and after Mr. Young's return he treated her with all the affectionate consideration of a parent. Several days after the occurrence of the accident Irene turned toward the minister, who stood talking to his mother.

"Your constant kindness emboldens me to ask a favour of you, which I think you will scarcely deny me. I am very anxious to see the friend whom I so unexpectedly met at the Academy of Design. Here is a card containing her address; will you spare me the time to bring her here to-day? I shall be very much obliged to you."

"Very well. I will go after her as soon as I have fulfilled a previous engagement. What is her name?"

"Electra Grey. Did you notice her face?"

"Yes; but why do you ask?"

"Because I think she resembles your mother."

"She resembles far more an old portrait hanging in my room. I remarked it as soon as I saw her."

He seemed lost in thought, and immediately after left the room. An hour later, Irene's listening ear detected the opening and closing of the hall door.

"There is Electra on the steps; I hear her voice. Will you please open the door?"

Mrs. Young laid down her work and rose to comply, but Harvey ushered the stranger in and then retired.

The lady of the house looked at the new-comer, and a startled expression came instantly into her countenance. She made a step forward and paused irresolute.

"Mrs. Young, allow me to introduce my friend, Miss Electra Grey." Electra bowed, and Mrs. Young exclaimed—

"Grey! Grey! Electra Grey; and so like Robert? Oh! it must be so. Child, who are you? Where are your parents?"

She approached and put her hand on the girl's shoulders, while a hopeful light kindled in her eyes.

"I am an orphan, madam, from the South. My father died before my birth, my mother immediately after."

"Was your father's name Robert? Where was he from?"

"His name was Enoch R. Gray. I don't know what his middle name was. He came originally from Pennsylvania, I believe."

"Oh! I knew that I could not be mistaken! My brother's child! Robert's child!"

She threw her arms around the astonished girl, and strained her to her heart.

"There must be some mistake, madam. I never heard that I had relatives in New York."

"Oh! child! call me aunt! I am your father's sister. We called him by his middle name, Robert, and for eighteen years have heard nothing of him. Sit down here, and let me tell you the circumstances. Your father was the youngest of three children, and in his youth gave us great distress by his wildness; he ran away from college and went to sea. After an absence of three years he returned, almost a wreck of his former self. My mother had died during his long voyage to the South Sea Islands, and father, who believed him to have been the remote cause of her death (for her health failed soon after he left), upbraided him most harshly and unwisely. His reproaches drove poor Robert to desperation, and without giving us any clue, he left home as suddenly as before. Whither he went we never knew. Father was so incensed that he entirely disinherited him; but at his death, when the estate was divided, my brother William and I decided that we would take only what we considered our proportion, and we set apart one-third for Robert. We advertised for several years, and could hear nothing of him; and at the end of the fifth year, William divided that remaining third. Oh, my dear child! I am so glad to find you out. But where have you been all this time? Where did Robert die?"

She held the orphan's hand, and made no attempt to conceal the tears that rolled over her cheeks. Electra gave her a detailed account of her life from the time when she was taken to her uncle, Mr. Aubrey, at the age of four months, till the death of her aunt and her removal to New York.

"And Robert's child has been in want, while we knew not of her existence! Oh, Electra! you shall have no more sorrow that we can shield you from. I loved your father very devotedly, and I shall love his orphan quite as dearly. Come to me, let me be your mother. Let me repair the wrong of bygone years."

She folded her arms around the graceful young form and sobbed aloud, while Irene found it difficult to repress her own tears of sympathy and joy that her friend had found such relatives. Of the three, Electra was calmest. Though glad to meet with her father's family, she knew better than they that this circumstance could make little alteration in her life, and therefore, when Mrs. Young had left the room to acquaint her husband and son with the discovery she had made, Electra sat down beside her friend's sofa just as she would have done two hours before.

"I am so glad for your sake that you are to come and live here. Until you know them all as well as I do, you cannot properly appreciate your good fortune," said Irene, raising herself on her elbow.

"Yes, I am very glad to meet my aunt," returned Electra, evasively, and then she added earnestly—

"I don't know that I ought to talk about things that should have been buried before you were born. But you probably know something of what happened. We found out after you left why you were so suddenly sent off to boarding-school; and you can have no idea how much my poor aunt was distressed at the thought of having caused your banishment. Irene, your father hated her, and of course you know it; but do you know why?"

"No; I never could imagine any adequate cause."

"Well, I can tell you. Before Aunt Amy's marriage your father loved her, and to please her parents she accepted him. She was miserable, because she was very much attached to my uncle, and asked Mr. Huntingdon to release her from the engagement. He declined, and finding that her parents sided with him she left home and married against their wishes. They adopted a distant relative and never gave her a cent. Your father never forgave her. He had great influence with the governor, and she went to him and entreated him to aid her in procuring a pardon for her husband. He repulsed her cruelly, and used his influence against my uncle. She afterwards saw a letter which he wrote to the governor, urging him to withhold a pardon. Now you have the key to his hatred; now you understand why he wrote you nothing concerning us. Not even Aunt Amy's coffin could shut in his hate. Irene, I must go home now, for they will wonder what has become of me. I will see you again soon."

She was detained by her aunt, and presented to the remainder of the family, and it was arranged that Mr. and Mrs. Young should visit her the ensuing day. While they talked over the tea-table of the newly-found, Harvey went slowly upstairs and knocked at Irene's door. Louisa was chattering delightedly about her cousin, and, sending her down to her tea, he took her seat beside the sofa. Irene lay with her fingers over her eyes, and he said gently—

"You see that I am wiser than you, Irene. I knew that it would do you no good to have company. Next time be advised."

"It was not Electra that harmed me."

"Then you admit that you have been harmed?"

"No; I am low-spirited to-night; I believe that is all."

He opened the Rambler, of which she was particularly fond, and began to read. For a while she listened, and in her interest forgot her forebodings, but after a time her long silky lashes swept her cheeks, and she slept. The minister laid down the volume and watched the pure girlish face; noted all its witching loveliness, and thought of the homage which it would win her in coming years. He knew as he sat watching her slumber that he loved her above everything on earth; that she wielded a power none had ever possessed before—that his heart was indissolubly linked with hers. He had wrestled with this infatuation, had stationed himself on the platform of common sense, and railed at and ridiculed this piece of folly. His clear, cool reason gave solemn verdict against the fiercely-throbbing heart, but not one pulsation had been restrained. As he sat looking down at her, a mighty barrier rose between them. His future had long been determined—duty called him to the rude huts of the far West; thither pointed the finger of destiny, and thither, at all hazards, he would go. He thought that he had habituated himself to sacrifices, but the spirit of self-abnegation was scarcely equal to this trial. Reason taught him that the tenderly-nurtured child of Southern climes would never suit him for a companion in the pioneer life which he had marked out. He folded his arms tightly over his chest, and resolved to go promptly.

The gaslight flashed on Irene's hair as it hung over the side of the sofa; he stooped, and pressed his lips to the floating curls, and went down to the library, smiling grimly at his own folly. Without delay he wrote two letters, and was dating a third, when his mother came in. Placing a chair for her, he laid down his pen.

"I am glad to see you, mother; I want to have a talk with you."

"About what, Harvey?"—an anxious look settled on her face.

"About my leaving you, and going West. I have decided to start next week."

"Oh, my son! how can you bring such grief upon me? Surely there is work enough for you to do here, without your tearing yourself from us."

"Yes, mother, work enough, but hands enough also, without mine. These are the sunny slopes of the vineyard, and labourers crowd to till them; but there are cold, shadowy, barren nooks and corners, that equally demand cultivation. There the lines have fallen to me, and there I go to my work. I have delayed my departure too long already."

"Oh, Harvey! have you fully determined on this step?"

"Yes, my dear mother, fully determined to go."

"It is very hard for me to give up my only son. I can't say that I will reconcile myself to this separation; but you are old enough to decide your own future; and I suppose I ought not to urge you. For months I have opposed your resolution; now I will not longer remonstrate. Oh, Harvey! it makes my heart ache to part with you. If you were married I should be better satisfied; but to think of you in your loneliness!" She laid her head on his shoulder, and wept.

The minister compressed his lips firmly an instant, then replied—

"I always told you that I should never marry. I shall be too constantly occupied to sit down and feel lonely. Now, mother, I must finish my letters, if you please, for they should go by the earliest mail."



CHAPTER IX

AN ORPHAN'S PROTECTORS

The artist stood at the window watching for his pupil's return; it was the late afternoon hour, which they were wont to spend in reading, and her absence annoyed him. As he rested carelessly against the window, his graceful form was displayed to great advantage, and the long brown hair dropped about a classical face of almost feminine beauty. The delicacy of his features was enhanced by the extreme pallor of his complexion, and it was apparent that close application to his profession had made sad inroads on a constitution never very robust. A certain listlessness of manner, a sort of lazy-grace seemed characteristic; but when his pupil came in and laid aside her bonnet, the expression of ennui vanished, and he threw himself on a sofa looking infinitely relieved. She drew near, and without hesitation acquainted him with the discovery of her relatives in New York. He listened in painful surprise, and, ere she had concluded, sprang up. "I understand! they will want to take you; will urge you to share their home of wealth. But, Electra, you won't leave me; surely you won't leave me?"

He put his hands on her shoulders, and she knew from his quick, irregular breathing that the thought of separation greatly distressed him.

"My aunt has not explicitly invited me to reside with her, though I inferred from her manner that she confidently expected me to do so. Irene also spoke of it as a settled matter."

"You will not allow me to persuade you? Oh, child! tell me at once you will never leave me."

"Mr. Clifton, we must part some day; I cannot always live here, you know. Before very long I must go out and earn my bread."

"Never! while I live. When I offered you a home, I expected it to be a permanent one. I intended to adopt you. Here, if you choose, you may work and earn a reputation; but away from me, among strangers, never. Electra, you forget, you gave yourself to me once."

She looked into his eyes, and, with a woman's quick perception, read all the truth.

In an instant her countenance changed painfully; she stooped, touched his hand with her lips, and exclaimed—

"Thank you, a thousand times, my friend, my father! for your interest in, and your unvarying, unparalleled kindness to me. All the gratitude and affection which a child could give to a parent I shall always cherish toward you. Since it annoys you, we will say no more about the future; let the years take care of themselves as they come."

"Will you promise me positively that you will not go to your aunt?"

"Yes; I have never seriously entertained the thought."

She escaped from his hands, and lighting the gas, applied herself to her books for the next hour.

If Irene found the restraint of boarding-school irksome, the separation from Russell was well-nigh intolerable to Electra. At first she had seemed plunged in lethargy; but after a time this mood gave place to restless, unceasing activity. Like one trying to flee from something painful, she rushed daily to her work, and regretted when the hours of darkness consigned her to reflection. Mrs. Clifton was quite aged, and though uniformly gentle and affectionate toward the orphan, there was no common ground of congeniality on which they could meet. To a proud, exacting nature like Electra's, Mr. Clifton's constant manifestations of love and sympathy were very soothing. Writhing under the consciousness of her cousin's indifference, she turned eagerly to receive the tokens of affection showered upon her. She knew that his happiness centred in her, and vainly fancied that she could feed her hungry heart with his adoration. But by degrees she realized that these husks would not satisfy her; and a singular sensation of mingled gratitude and impatience arose whenever he caressed her.

Mrs. Clifton was a rigid Roman Catholic, her son a free-thinker, in the broadest significance of the term, if one might judge from the selections that adorned his library shelves. But deep in his soul was the germination of a mystical creed, which gradually unfolded itself to Electra.

It was late at night when Electra retired to her room, and sat down to collect her thoughts after the unexpected occurrences of the day.

More than one discovery had been made since the sunrise, which she awoke so early to study. She had found relatives, and an opportunity of living luxuriously; but, in the midst of this beautiful bouquet of surprises, a serpent's head peered out at her. Mr. Clifton loved her; not as a teacher his pupil, not as guardian loves ward, not as parent loves child. Perhaps he had not intended that she should know it so soon, but his eyes had betrayed the secret. She saw perfectly how matters stood. This, then, had prompted him from the first, to render her assistance; he had resolved to make her his wife; nothing less would content him. She twisted her white fingers in her hair, and gazed vacantly down on the carpet, and gradually the rich crimson blood sank out of her face. She held his life in the hollow of her hand, and this she well knew; death hung over him like the sword of Damocles; she had been told that any violent agitation or grief would bring on the hemorrhage which he so much dreaded, and although he seemed stronger and better than usual, the insidious nature of his disease gave her little hope that he would ever be robust. To feign ignorance of his real feelings for her, would prove but a temporary stratagem; the time must inevitably come, before long, when he would put aside this veil, and set the truth before her. How should she meet it—how should she evade him? Accept the home which Mrs. Young would offer her, and leave him to suffer briefly, to sink swiftly into the tomb? No; her father's family had cast him most unjustly off, withholding his patrimony; and now she scorned to receive one cent of the money which his father was unwilling that he should enjoy. Beside, who loved her as well as Henry Clifton? She owed more to him than to any living being; it would be the part of an ingrate to leave him; it was cowardly to shrink from repaying the debt. But the thought of being his wife froze her blood, and heavy drops gathered on her brow as she endeavoured to reflect upon this possibility.

A feeling of unconquerable repulsion sprang up in her heart, nerving, steeling her against his affection. With a strange, instantaneous reaction she thought with loathing of his words of endearment. How could she endure them in future, yet how reject without wounding him? One, and only one path of escape presented itself—a path of measureless joy. She lifted her hands, and murmured—

"Russell! Russell! save me from this!"

When Mr. and Mrs. Young visited the studio the following day and urged the orphan's removal to their house, she gently but resolutely declined their generous offer, expressing an affectionate gratitude toward her teacher, and a determination not to leave him, at least for the present. Mrs. Young was much distressed, and adduced every argument of which she was mistress, but her niece remained firm; and finding their entreaties fruitless, Mr. Young said that he would immediately take the necessary steps to secure Robert Grey's portion of the estate to his daughter. Electra sat with her hand nestled in her aunt's, but when this matter was alluded to she rose, and said proudly—

"No, sir; let the estate remain just as it is. I will never accept one cent. My grandfather on his deathbed excluded my father from any portion of it, and since he willed it so, even so it shall be. I have no legal claim to a dollar, and I will never receive one from your generosity. It was the will of the dead that you and my Uncle William should inherit the whole, and as far as I am concerned, have it you shall. I am poor, I know; so were my parents. Poverty they bequeathed as my birthright, and even as they lived without aid from my grandfather, so will I. It is very noble and generous in you, after the expiration of nearly twenty years, to be willing to divide with the orphan of the outcast; but I will not, cannot, allow you to do so. I fully appreciate and most cordially thank you both for your goodness; but I am young and strong, and I expect to earn my living. Mr. Clifton and his mother want me to remain in his house until I finish my studies, and I gratefully accept his kind offer. Nay, aunt! don't let it trouble you so. I shall visit you very frequently."

"She has all of Robert's fierce obstinacy. I see it in her eyes, hear it ringing in the tones of her voice. Take care, child; it ruined your father," said Mrs. Young sorrowfully.

"You should remember, Electra, that an orphan girl needs a protector. Such I would fain prove myself."

As Mr. Young spoke, he took one of her hands and drew her to him. She turned quickly and laid the other on the artist's arm.

"I have one here, sir, a protector as true and kind as my own father could be."

She understood the flash of his eyes and his proud smile as he assured her relatives that he would guard her from harm and want so long as he lived, or as she remained under his care. She knew he regarded this as a tacit sealing of the old compact, and she had no inclination to undeceive him at this juncture.

Urging her to visit them as often as possible, and extending the invitation to Mr. Clifton, the Youngs withdrew, evidently much disappointed, and as the door closed behind them, Electra felt that the circle of doom was narrowing around her. Mr. Clifton approached her, but, averting her head, she lifted the damask curtain that divided the parlour from the studio, and effected her retreat, dreading to meet his glance—putting off the evil day as long as possible—trying to trample the serpent that trailed after her from that hour.



CHAPTER X

IRENE'S COUSIN

"You are better to-day, mother tells me."

"Yes, thank you, my foot is much better. You have not been up to see me for two days."

Irene sat in an easy chair by the open window, and the minister took a seat near her.

"I have not forgotten you in the interim, however."

As he spoke he laid a bouquet of choice flowers in her lap. She bent over them with eager delight, and held out one hand, saying—

"Oh, thank you. How very kind you are! These remind me of the greenhouse at home. They are the most beautiful I have seen in New York."

"Irene, you look sober to-day. Come, cheer up. I don't want to carry that grave expression away with me. I want to remember your face as I first saw it, unshadowed."

"What do you mean? Are you going to leave home?"

"Yes; to-morrow I bid farewell to New York for a long time, I am going to the West to take charge of a church."

"Oh, Mr. Young! surely you are not in earnest? You cannot intend to separate yourself from your family."

She dropped her flowers, and leaned forward.

"Yes, I have had it in contemplation for more than a year, and, recently, I have decided to remove at once."

He saw the great sorrow written in her countenance, the quick flutter of her lip, the large drops that dimmed the violet eyes and gathered on the long golden lashes, and far sweeter than the Eolian harps was the broken voice—

"What shall I do without you? Who will encourage and advise me when you go?"

She leaned her forehead on her hands, and a tear slid down and rested on her chin. The sun was setting, and the crimson light flooding the room, bathed her with glory, spreading a halo around her. He held his breath and gazed upon the drooping figure and bewitching face; and, in after years, when his dark hair had grown silvery grey, he remembered the lovely sun-lit vision that so entranced him, leaving an indelible image on heart and brain. He gently removed the hands, and holding them in his, said, in the measured, low tone so indicative of suppressed emotion—

"Irene, my friend, you attach too much importance to the aid which I might render you. You know your duty, and I feel assured will not require to be reminded of it. Henceforth our paths diverge widely. I go to a distant section of our land, there to do my Father's work; and, ere long, having completed the prescribed course, you will return to your Southern home and take the position assigned you in society. Thus, in all human probability, we shall meet no more, for——"

"Oh, sir! don't say that; you will come back to visit your family, and then I shall see you."

"That is scarcely probable; but we will not discuss it now. There is, however, a channel of communication for separated friends, and of this we must avail ourselves. I shall write to you from Western wilds, and letters from you will most pleasantly ripple the monotonous life I expect to lead."

"Can't you stay longer and talk to me?" said Irene, as he rose.

"No; I promised to address the —— Street Sabbath-school children to-night, and must look over my notes before I go."

There was no unsteadiness in his tone, no trace of emotion, as he stood up before her. Irene was deeply moved, and when she essayed to thank him, found it impossible to pronounce her words. Tears were gliding down her cheeks; he put back the hair, and taking the face softly in his palms, looked long and earnestly at its fascinating beauty. The great, glistening blue eyes gazed into his, and the silky lashes and rich scarlet lips trembled. He felt the hot blood surging like a lava-tide in his veins, and his heart rising in fierce rebellion at the stern interdict which he saw fit to lay upon it; but no token of all this came to the cool, calm surface.

"Good-bye, Irene. May God bless you, my dear little friend!"

He drew the face close to his own as though he would have kissed her, but forbore, and merely raising her hands to his lips turned and left the room. Verily, greater is "he that ruleth his own spirit than he that taketh a city." He left before breakfast the ensuing morning, bearing his secret with him, having given no intimation, by word or look, of the struggle which his resolution cost him. Once his mother had fancied that he felt more than a friendly interest in their guest, but the absolute repose of his countenance and grave serenity of his manner during the last week of his stay dispersed all her suspicions. From a luxurious home, fond friends, and the girlish face he loved better than his life, the minister went forth to his distant post, offering in sacrifice to God, upon the altar of duty, his throbbing heart and hopes of earthly happiness.

A cloud of sadness settled on the household after his departure, and scarcely less than Louisa's was Irene's silent grief. The confinement grew doubly irksome when his voice and step had passed from the threshold, and she looked forward impatiently to her release. The sprain proved more serious than she at first imagined, and the summer vacation set in before she was able to walk with ease. Mr. Huntingdon had been apprised of her long absence from school, and one day, when she was cautiously trying her strength, he arrived, without having given premonition of his visit. As he took her in his arms and marked the alteration in her thin face, the listlessness of her manner, the sorrowful gravity of her countenance, his fears were fully aroused, and, holding her to his heart, he exclaimed—

"My daughter! my beauty! I must take you out of New York."

"Yes, father, take me home; do take me home." She clasped her arms round his neck and nestled her face close to his.

"Not yet, queen. We will go to the Catskill, to Lake George, to Niagara. A few weeks' travel will invigorate you. I have written to Hugh to meet us at Montreal; he is with a gay party, and you shall have a royal time. A pretty piece of business truly, that you can't amuse yourself in any other way than by breaking half the bones in your body."

Thus the summer programme was determined without any reference to the wishes of the one most concerned, and, knowing her father's disposition, she silently acquiesced. After much persuasion, Mr. Huntingdon prevailed on Louisa's parents to allow her to accompany them. The mother consented very reluctantly, and on the appointed day the party set off for Saratoga. The change was eminently beneficial, and before they reached Canada Irene seemed perfectly restored. But her father was not satisfied. Her unwonted taciturnity annoyed and puzzled him; he knew that beneath the calm surface some strong undercurrent rolled swiftly, and he racked his brain to discover what had rendered her so reserved. Louisa's joyous, elastic spirits probably heightened the effect of her companion's gravity, and the contrast daily presented could not fail to arrest Mr. Huntingdon's attention. On arriving at Montreal the girls were left for a few moments in the parlour of the hotel, while Mr. Huntingdon went to register their names. Irene and Louisa stood by the window looking out into the street, when a happy, ringing voice exclaimed—

"Here you are, at last, Irie! I caught a glimpse of your curls as you passed the dining-room door."

She turned to meet her cousin and held out her hand.

"Does your majesty suppose I shall be satisfied with the tip of your fingers? Pshaw, Irie! I will have my kiss."

He threw his arm round her shoulder, drew down the shielding hands, and kissed her twice.

"Oh, Hugh, behave yourself! Miss Louisa Young, my cousin, Hugh Seymour."

He bowed, and shook hands with the stranger, then seized his cousin's fingers and fixed his fine eyes affectionately upon her.

"It seems an age since I saw you, Irie. Come, sit down and let me look at you; how stately you have grown, to be sure! More like a queen than ever; absolutely two inches taller since you entered boarding-school. Irie, I am so glad to see you again!" He snatched up a handful of curls and drew them across his lips, careless of what Louisa might think.

"Thank you, Hugh. I am quite as glad to see you."

"Oh, humbug! I know better. You would rather see Paragon any day, ten to one. I will kill that dog yet, and shoot Erebus, too; see if I don't! then maybe you can think of somebody else. When you are glad you show it in your eyes, and now they are as still as violets under icicles. I think you might love me a little, at least as much as a dog."

"Hush! I do love you, but I don't choose to tell it to everybody in Montreal."

Mr. Huntingdon's entrance diverted the conversation, and Irene was glad to escape to her own room.

"Your cousin seems to be very fond of you," observed Louisa, as she upbraided her hair.

"He is very impulsive and demonstrative, that is all."

"How handsome he is!"

"Do you think so, really? Take care, Louisa! I will tell him, and, by way of crushing his vanity, add 'de gustibus, etc., etc., etc.'"

"How old is he?"

"In his twentieth year."

From that time the cousins were thrown constantly together; wherever they went Hugh took charge of Irene, while Mr. Huntingdon gave his attention to Louisa. But the eagle eye was upon his daughter's movements; he watched her countenance, weighed her words, tried to probe her heart. Week after week he found nothing tangible. Hugh was gay, careless; Irene, equable, but reserved. Finally they turned their faces homeward, and in October found themselves once more in New York. Mr. Huntingdon prepared to return South and Hugh to sail for Europe, while Irene remained at the hotel until the morning of her cousin's departure.

A private parlour adjoined the room she occupied, and here he came to say farewell. She knew that he had already had a long conversation with her father, and as he threw himself on the sofa and seized one of her hands, she instinctively shrank from him.

"Irene, here is my miniature. I wanted you to ask for it, but I see that you won't do it. I know very well that you will not value it one-thousandth part as much as I do your likeness here on my watch-chain; but perhaps it will remind you of me sometimes. How I shall want to see you before I come home! You know you belong to me. Uncle gave you to me, and when I come back from Europe we will be married. We are both very young, I know; but it has been settled so long. Irie, my beauty, I wish you would love me more; you are so cold. Won't you try?"

He leaned down to kiss her, but she turned her face hastily away and answered resolutely—

"No, I can't love you other than as my cousin; I would not, if I could. I do not think it would be right, and I won't promise to try. Father has no right to give me to you, or to anybody else. I tell you now I belong to myself, and only I can give myself away. Hugh, I don't consider this settled at all. You might as well know the truth at once; I have some voice in the matter."

Mr. Huntingdon had evidently prepared him for something of this kind on her part, and, though his face flushed angrily, he took no notice of the remonstrance.

"I shall write to you frequently, and I hope that you will be punctual in replying. Irie, give me your left hand just a minute; wear this ring till I come back, to remind you that you have a cousin across the ocean."

He tried to force the flashing jewel on her slender finger, but she resisted, and rose, struggling to withdraw her hand.

"No, no, Hugh! I can't; I won't. I know very well what that ring means, and I cannot accept it. Release my hand; I tell you I won't wear it."

"Come, Hugh; you have not a moment to spare; the carriage is waiting." Mr. Huntingdon threw open the door, having heard every word that had passed. Hugh dropped the ring in his vest-pocket and rose.

"Well, Irie, I suppose I must bid you farewell. Two or three years will change you, my dearest little cousin. Good-bye; think of me now and then, and learn to love me by the time I come home."

She suffered him to take both her hands and kiss her tenderly, for her father stood there, and she could not refuse; but the touch of his lips burned her long after he was gone. She put on her bonnet, and, when her father returned from the steamer, they entered the carriage which was to convey her to the dreary, dreaded school. As they rolled along Broadway, Mr. Huntingdon coolly took her hand and placed Hugh's ring upon it, saying authoritatively—

"Hugh told me you refused to accept his parting gift, and seemed much hurt about it. There is no reason why you should not wear it, and in future I do not wish to see you without it. Remember this, my daughter."

"Father, it is wrong for me to wear it, unless I expected to——"

"I understand the whole matter perfectly. Now, Irene, let me hear no more about it. I wish you would learn that it is a child's duty to obey her parent. No more words, if you please, on the subject."

She felt that this was not the hour for resistance, and wisely forbore; but he saw rebellion written in the calm, fixed eye, and read it in the curved lines of the full upper lip. She had entreated him to take her home, and only the night before renewed her pleadings. But his refusal was positive, and now she went back to the hated school without a visible token of regret. She saw her trunks consigned to the porter, listened to a brief conversation between Dr. —— and her father, and after a hasty embrace and half-dozen words, watched the tall, soldierly form re-enter the carriage. Then she went slowly up the broad stairway to her cell-like room, and with dry eyes unpacked her clothes, locked up the ring in her jewellery-box, and prepared to resume her studies.



CHAPTER XI

ANXIETY

It was late October; a feeble flame flickered in the grate; on the rug crouched an English spaniel, creeping closer as the heat died out and the waning light of day gradually receded, leaving the room dusky, save where a slanting line of yellow quivered down from the roof and gilt the folds of black silk. At one of the windows stood Electra, half concealed by the heavy green and gold drapery, one dimpled hand clinging to the curtains, the other pressed against the panes, as she watched the forms hurrying along the street below.

For three weeks she had received no letter from Russell; he was remarkably punctual, and this long, unprecedented interval filled her, at first, with vague uneasiness, which grew finally into horrible foreboding. For ten days she had stood at this hour, at the same window, waiting for Mr. Clifton's return from the post-office. Ten times the words "No letter" had fallen, like the voice of doom, on her throbbing heart. On this eleventh day suspense reached its acme, and time seemed to have locked its wheels to lengthen her torture. At last an omnibus stopped, and Mr. Clifton stepped out, with a bundle of papers under his arm. Closer pressed the pallid face against the glass; firmer grew the grasp of the icy fingers on the brocatel; she had no strength to meet him. He closed the door, hung up his hat, and looked into the studio; no fire in the grate, no light in the gas-globes—everything cold and dark save the reflection on that front window.

"Electra!"

"I am here."

"No letter."

She stood motionless a moment; but the brick walls opposite, the trees, the lamp-posts spun around, like maple leaves in an autumn gale.

"My owlet! why don't you have a light and some fire?"

He stumbled toward her, and put his hand on her shoulder; but she shrank away, and, lighting the gas, rang for coal.

"There is something terrible the matter; Russell is either ill or dead. I must go to him."

Just, then the door-bell rang sharply; she supposed it was some brother-artist coming to spend an hour, and turned to go.

"Wait a minute; I want to——" He paused, for at that instant she heard a voice which, even amid the din of Shinar, would have been unmistakable to her, and breaking from him, she sprang to the threshold and met her cousin.

"Oh, Russell! I thought you had forgotten me."

"What put such a ridiculous thought into your head? My last letter must have prepared you to expect me."

"What letter? I have had none for three weeks."

"One in which I mentioned Mr. Campbell's foreign appointment, and the position of secretary which he tendered me. Electra, let me speak to Mr. Clifton."

As he advanced and greeted the artist, she heard a quick, snapping sound, and saw the beautiful Bohemian glass paper-cutter her guardian had been using lying shivered to atoms on the rug. The fluted handle was crushed in his fingers, and drops of blood oozed over the left hand. Ere she could allude to it, he thrust his hand into his pocket and desired Russell to be seated.

"This is a pleasure totally unexpected. What is the appointment of which you spoke?"

"Mr. Campbell has been appointed Minister to ——, and sails next week. I am surprised that you have not heard of it from the public journals; many of them have spoken of it, and warmly commended the selection. I accompany him in the capacity of secretary and shall, meanwhile, prosecute my studies under his direction."

The grey, glittering eyes of the artist sought those of his pupil, and for an instant hers quailed; but, rallying, she looked fully, steadfastly at him, resolved to play out the game, scorning to bare her heart to his scrutiny. She had fancied that Russell's affection had prompted this visit; now it was apparent that he came to New York to take a steamer—not to see her; to put the stormy Atlantic between them.

"New York certainly agrees with you, Electra; you have grown and improved very much since you came North. I never saw such colour in your cheeks before; I can scarcely believe that you are the same fragile child I put into the stage one year ago. This reconciles me to having given you up to Mr. Clifton; he is a better guardian than I could have been. But tell me something more about these new relatives you spoke of having found here."

Mr. Clifton left the room, and the two sat side by side for an hour talking of the gloomy past, the flitting present the uncertain future. Leaning back in his chair, with his eyes fixed on the grate Russell said gravely—

"There is now nothing to impede my successful career; obstacles are rapidly melting away; every day brings me nearer the goal I long since set before me. In two years at farthest, perhaps earlier, I shall return and begin the practice of law. Once admitted, I ask no more. Then, and not till then, I hope to save you from the necessity of labour; in the interim, Mr. Clifton will prove a noble and generous friend; and believe me, my cousin, the thought of leaving you so long is the only thing which will mar the pleasure of my European sojourn."

The words were kind enough, but the tone was indifferent, and the countenance showed her that their approaching separation disquieted him little. She thought of the sleepless nights and wretched days she had passed waiting for a letter from that tall, reserved, cold cousin, and her features relaxed in a derisive smile at the folly of her all-absorbing love. Raising his eyes accidentally he caught the smile, wondered what there was to call it forth in the plans which he had just laid before her, and, meeting his glance of surprise, she said, carelessly—

"Are you not going to see Irene before you sail?"

His cheek flushed as he rose, straightened himself, and answered—

"A strange question, truly, from one who knows me as well as you do. Call to see a girl whose father sent her from home solely to prevent her from associating with my family! Through what sort of metamorphosis do you suppose that I have passed, that every spark of self-respect has been crushed out of me?"

"Her father's tyranny and selfishness can never nullify her noble and affectionate remembrance of Aunt Amy in the hour of her need."

"And when I am able to repay her every cent we owe her, then, and not till then, I wish to see her. Things shall change: mens cujusque is est quisque; and the day will come when Mr. Huntingdon may not think it degrading for his daughter to acknowledge my acquaintance on the street."

A brief silence ensued, Russell drew on his gloves, and finally said, hesitatingly—

"Dr. Arnold told me she had suffered very much from a fall."

"Yes; for a long time she was confined to her room."

"Has she recovered entirely?"

"Entirely. She grows more beautiful day by day."

Perhaps he wished to hear more concerning her, but she would not gratify him, and, soon after, he took up his hat.

"Mr. Clifton has a spare room, Russell; why can't you stay with us while you are in New York?"

"Thank you; but Mr. Campbell will expect me at the hotel. I shall be needed, too, as he has many letters to write. I will see you to-morrow, and indeed every day while I remain in the city."

"Then pay your visits in the morning, for I want to take your portrait with my own hands. Give me a sitting as early as possible."

"Very well; look for me to-morrow. Good night."

The week that followed was one of strangely mingled sorrows and joys; in after years it served as a prominent landmark to which she looked back and dated sad changes in her heart. Irene remained ignorant of Russell's presence in the city, and at last the day dawned on which the vessel was to sail. At the breakfast table Mr. Clifton noticed the colourlessness of his pupil's face, but kindly abstained from any allusion to it. He saw that, contrary to habit, she drank a cup of coffee, and, arresting her arm as she requested his mother to give her a second, he said gently—

"My dear child, where did you suddenly find such Turkish tastes? I thought you disliked coffee?"

"I take it now as medicine. My head aches horribly."

"Then let me prescribe for you. We will go down to the steamer with Russell, and afterward take a long drive to Greenwood, if you like."

"He said he would call here at ten o'clock to bid us farewell."

"N'importe. The carriage will be ready, and we will accompany him."

At the appointed hour they repaired to the vessel, and, looking at its huge sides, Electra coveted even a deck passage; envied the meanest who hurried about, making all things ready for departure. The last bell rang; people crowded down on the planks; Russell hastened back to the carriage, and took the nerveless, gloved hand.

"I will write as early as possible. Don't be uneasy about me; no accident has ever happened on this line. I am glad I leave you with such a friend as Mr. Clifton. Good-bye, cousin; it will not be very long before we meet again."

He kissed the passive lips, shook hands with the artist, and sprang on board just as the planks were withdrawn. The vessel moved majestically on its way; friends on shore waved handkerchiefs to friends departing, and hands were kissed and hats lifted, and then the crowd slowly dispersed—for steamers sail every week, and people become accustomed to the spectacle.

"Are you ready to go now?" asked Mr. Clifton.

"Yes, ready, quite ready—for Greenwood."

She spoke in a tone which had lost its liquid music, and with a wintry smile that fled over the ashy face, lending the features no light, no warmth.

He tried to divert her mind by calling attention to various things of interest, but the utter exhaustion of her position and the monosyllabic character of her replies soon discouraged him. Both felt relieved when the carriage stopped before the studio, and as he led her up the steps, he said affectionately—

"I am afraid my prescription has not cured your head."

"No, sir; but I thank you most sincerely for the kind effort you have made to relieve me. I shall be better to-morrow. Good-bye till then."

"Stay, my child. Come into the studio, and let me read something light and pleasant to you."

"Not for the universe! The sight of a book would give me brain fever, I verily believe."

She tried unavailingly to shake off his hand.

"Why do you shrink from me, my pupil?"

"Because I am sick, weary; and you watch me so that I get restless and nervous. Do let me go! I want to sleep."

An impatient stamp emphasized the words, and, as he relaxed his clasp of her fingers, she hastened to her room, and locked the door to prevent all intrusion. Taking off her bonnet, she drew the heavy shawl closely around her shoulders and threw herself across the foot of the bed, burying her face in her hands, lest the bare walls should prove witnesses of her agony. Six hours later she lay there still with pale fingers pressed to burning, dry eyelids.



CHAPTER XII

A SACRIFICE

Once more the labours of a twelvemonth had been exhibited at the Academy of Design—some to be classed among things "that were not born to die;" others to fall into nameless graves. Mr. Clifton was represented by an exquisite OEnone, and on the same wall, in a massive oval frame, hung the first finished production of his pupil. For months after Russell's departure she sat before her easel, slowly filling up the outline sketched while his eyes watched her. Application sometimes trenches so closely upon genius as to be mistaken for it in its results, and where both are happily blended, the bud of Art expands in immortal perfection. Electra spared no toil, and so it came to pass that the faultless head of her idol excited intense and universal admiration. In the catalogue it was briefly mentioned as "No. 17—a portrait; first effort of a young female artist." Connoisseurs, who had committed themselves by extravagant praise, sneered at the announcement of the catalogue, and, after a few inquiries, blandly asserted that no tyro could have produced it; that the master had wrought out its perfection, and generously allowed the pupil to monopolize the encomiums. In vain Mr. Clifton disclaimed the merit, and asserted that he had never touched the canvas; that she had jealously refused to let him aid her. Incredulous smiles and unmistakable motions of the head were the sole results of his expostulation. Electra was indignant at the injustice meted out to her, and, as might have been expected, rebelled against the verdict. Some weeks after the close of the exhibition, the OEnone was purchased and the portrait sent home. Electra placed it on the easel once more, and stood before it in rapt contemplation. Coldness, silence, neglect, all were forgotten when she looked into the deep, beautiful eyes, and upon the broad, bold, matchless brow.

She had not the faintest hope that he would ever cherish a tenderer feeling for her; but love is a plant of strange growth. A curious plant, truly, and one which will not bear transplanting, as many a luckless experiment has proved. To-day, as Electra looked upon her labours, the coils of Time seemed to fall away; the vista of Eternity opened before her, peopled with two forms, which on earth walked widely separate paths, and over her features stole a serene, lifted expression, as if, after painful scaling, she had risen above the cloud-region and caught the first rays of perpetual sunshine.

Mr. Clifton had watched her for some moments with lowering brow and jealous hatred of the picture. Approaching, he looked over her shoulder, and said—

"Electra, I must speak to you; hear me. You hug a phantom to your heart; Russell does not and will not love you, other than as his cousin."

The blood deserted her face, leaving a greyish pallor, but the eyes sought his steadily, and the rippling voice lost none of its rich cadence.

"Except as his cousin, I do not expect Russell to love me."

"Oh child! you deceive yourself; this is a hope that you cling to with mad tenacity."

She wrung her hand from his, and drew her figure to its utmost height.

"No; you must hear me now. I have a right to question you—the right of my long, silent, faithful love. You may deny it, but that matters little; be still, and listen. Did you suppose that I was simply a generous man when I offered to guard and aid you—when I took you to my house, placed you in my mother's care, and lavished affection upon you? If so, put away the hallucination. Consider me no longer your friend, look at me as I am, a jealous and selfishly exacting man, who stands before you to-day and tells you he loves you. Oh, Electra! From the morning when you first showed me your sketches, you have been more than my life to me. Every hope I have centred in you. I have not deceived myself; I knew that you loved Russell. When he came here, I saw that the old fascination still kept its hold upon you, but I saw, too, what you saw quite as plainly—that in Russell Aubrey's heart there is room for nothing but ambition. I knew how you suffered, and I believed it was the death-struggle of your love. But, instead, I find you, day by day, before that easel—oblivious of me, of everything but the features you cling to so insanely. Do you wonder that I hate that portrait? Do you wonder that I am growing desperate? If he loved you in return, I could bear it better; but as it is, I am tortured beyond all endurance. I have spent nearly three years in trying to gain your heart; all other aims have faded before this one absorbing love. To-day I lay it at your feet, and ask if I have not earned some reward. Oh, Electra! have you no gratitude?"

A scarlet spot burned on his pale cheeks, and the mild liquid grey eyes sparkled like stars.

He stretched out his hand, but she drew back a step.

"God forgive me! but I have no such love for you."

A ghastly smile broke over his face, and, after a moment, the snowy handkerchief he passed across his lips was stained with ruby streaks.

"I know that, and I know the reason. But, once more, I ask you to give me your hand. Electra, dearest, do not, I pray you, refuse me this. Oh, child! give me your hand, and in time you will learn to love me."

He seized her fingers, and stooped his head till the silky brown beard mingled with her raven locks.

"Mr. Clifton, to marry without love would be a grievous sin; I dare not. We would hate each other. Life would be a curse to both, and death a welcome release. Could you endure a wife who accepted your hand from gratitude and pity? Oh! such a relationship would be horrible beyond all degree. I shudder at the thought."

"But you would learn to love me."

"But you cannot take Russell's place. None can come between him and my heart."

"Electra Grey, you are unwomanly in your unsought love."

"Unwomanly! If so, made such by your unmanliness. Unwomanly! Were you more manly, I had never shocked your maudlin sentiments of propriety."

"And this is my reward for all the tenderness I have lavished on you. When I stooped to beg your hand, to be repulsed with scorn and loathing. To spend three years in faithful effort to win your heart, and reap —— contempt, hatred."

Staggering back, he sank into his arm-chair and closed his eyes a moment, then continued—

"I would not have troubled you long, Electra. It was because I knew that my life must be short at best, that I urged you to gild the brief period with the light of your love. I would not have bound you always to me; and when I asked your hand a few minutes since, I knew that death would soon sever the tie and set you free. Let this suffice to palliate my 'unmanly' pleading. I have but one request to make of you now, and, weak as it may seem, I beg of you not to deny me. You are preparing to leave my house; this I know; I see it in your face, and the thought is harrowing to me. Electra, remain under my roof while I live; let me see you every day, here, in my house. If not as my wife, stay as my friend, my pupil, my child. I little thought I could ever condescend to ask this of anyone; but the dread of separation bows me down. Oh, child, I will not claim you long."

She stood up before him with the portrait in her arms, resolved then and there to leave him for ever. But the ghastly pallor of his face, the scarlet thread oozing over his lips and saturating the handkerchief with which he strove to staunch it, told her that the request was preferred on no idle pretext. In swift review, his kindness, generosity, and unwavering affection passed before her, and the mingled accents of remorse and compassion whispered: "Pay your debt of gratitude by sacrificing your heart. If you can make him happy, you owe it to him."

Softly she took his hand, and said in a low, thrilling tone—

"Mr. Clifton, I was passionate and hasty, and said some unkind things which I would fain recall, and for which I beg your pardon, I thank you for the honour you would have conferred on me, and for the unmerited love you offered me. Unless it were in my power to return that love, it would be sinful to give you my hand; but, since you desire it so earnestly, I will promise to stay by your side, to do what I can to make you happy; to prove by my devotion that I am not insensible to all your kindness, that I am very grateful for the affection you have given me. I come and offer you this, as a poor return for all that I owe you; it is the most my conscience will permit me to tender. My friend, my master, will you accept it and forgive the pain and sorrow I have caused you?"

He felt her tears falling on his fingers, and, for a moment, neither spoke; then he drew the hands to his lips and kissed them tenderly.

"Thank you, Electra. I know it is a sacrifice on your part, but I am selfish enough to accept it. Heaven bless you, my pupil."

"In future we will not allude to this day of trial—let it be forgotten; 'let the dead past bury its dead.' I will have no resurrected phantoms. And now, sir, you must not allow this slight hemorrhage to depress you. In a few days you will be stronger, quite able to examine and find fault with my work. Shall I send a note to Dr. Le Roy, asking him to call and see you this evening?"

"He has just left me. Say nothing of the hemorrhage to mother; it would only distress her."

He released her hands, and, stooping over his pillow, she smoothed the disordered hair, and for the first time pressed her lips to his forehead.

Thus she bowed her neck to the yoke, and, with a fixed, unalterable will, entered on the long dreary ministry to which she felt that duty called.



CHAPTER XIII

WARNINGS

With the characteristic fitfulness of consumption, Mr. Clifton rallied, and, for a time, seemed almost restored; but at the approach of winter the cough increased, and dangerous symptoms returned. Several months after the rejection of his suit, to which no allusion had ever been made, Electra sat before her easel, absorbed in work, while the master slowly walked up and down the studio, wrapped in a warm plaid shawl. Occasionally he paused and looked over her shoulder, then resumed his pace, offering no comment. It was not an unusual occurrence for them to pass entire mornings together without exchanging a word, and to-day the silence had lasted more than an hour. A prolonged fit of coughing finally arrested her attention, and, glancing up, she met his sad gaze.

"This is unpropitious weather for you, Mr. Clifton."

"Yes, this winter offers a dreary prospect."

Resting her chin in her hands she raised her eyes, and said—

"Why do you not follow the doctor's advice? A winter South might restore you."

He drew near, and, leaning his folded arms on the top of the easel, looked down into her face.

"There is only one condition upon which I could consent to go; that is in your hands. Will you accompany me?"

She understood it all in an instant, saw the new form in which the trial presented itself, and her soul sickened.

"Mr. Clifton, if I were your sister, or your child, I would gladly go; but as your pupil, I cannot."

"As Electra Grey, certainly not; but as Electra Clifton you could go."

"Electra Grey will be carved on my tombstone."

"Then you decide my fate. I remain, and wait the slow approach of death."

"No, before just Heaven! I take no such responsibility, nor shall you thrust it on me. You are a man, and must decide your destiny for yourself; I am a poor girl, having no claim upon, no power over you. It is your duty to preserve the life which God gave you, in the way prescribed by your physician, and I have no voice in the matter. It is your duty to go South, and it will be both weak and wicked to remain here under existing circumstances."

"My life is centred in you; it is worthless, nay, a burden, separated from you."

"Your life should be centred in something nobler, better; in your duty, in your profession. It is suicidal to fold your hands listlessly, and look to me as you do."

"All these things have I tried, and I am weary of the hollowness, weary of life, and the world. So long as I have your face here, I care not to cross my own threshold till friendly hands bear me out to my quiet resting-place under the willows of Greenwood. Electra, my darling, think me weak if you will, but bear with me a little longer, and then this, my shadow, shall flit from your young heart, leaving not even a memory to haunt you. Be patient! I will soon pass away to another, a more peaceful, blessed sphere."

A melancholy smile lighted his fair waxen features, as waning, sickly sunshine in an autumn evening flickers over sculptured marble in a silent churchyard.

How she compassioned his great weakness, as he wiped away the moisture which, even on that cold day, glistened on his forehead.

"Oh! I beseech you to go to Cuba. Go, and get strong once more."

"Nothing will ever help me now. Sunny skies and soft breezes bring no healing for me. I want to die here, in my home, where your hands will be about me; not among strangers in Cuba or Italy."

He turned to the fire, and springing up, she left the room. The solemn silence of the house oppressed her; she put on her thickest wrappings, and took the street leading to the nearest park. A steel-grey sky, with slowly-trailing clouds, looked down on her, and the keen, chilly wind wafted a fine snow-powder in her face as she pressed against it. The trees were bare, and the sere grass grew hoary as the first snow-flakes of the season came down softly and shroud-like. The walks were deserted, save where a hurrying form crossed from street to street, homeward bound; and Electra passed slowly along, absorbed in thoughts colder than the frosting that gathered on shawl and bonnet. The face and figure of the painter glided spectrally before her at every step, and a mighty temptation followed at its heels. Why not strangle her heart? Why not marry him and bear his name, if, thereby, she could make his few remaining months of existence happy, and, by accompanying him South, prolong his life even for a few weeks? She shuddered at the suggestion, it would be such a miserable lot.

Faster fell the snow-flakes, cresting the waves of her hair like foam, and setting her teeth firmly, as if thereby locking the door against all compassionating compunctions. Electra left the park and turned into a cross-street, on which was situated an establishment where bouquets were kept for sale. The assortment was meagre at that late hour, but she selected a tiny bunch of delicate, fragrant, hot-house blossoms, and, shielding them with her shawl, hastened home. The studio was brilliant with gas-glare and warm with the breath of anthracite, but an aspect of dreariness, silence, and sorrow predominated. On the edge of the low scroll-sculptured mantel, supported at each corner by caryatides, perched a large tame grey owl, with clipped wings folded, and wide, solemn, oracular eyes fastened on the countenance of its beloved master.

With swift, noiseless steps Electra came to the red grate, and, after a moment, drew an ottoman close to the easy chair. Perhaps its occupant slept; perchance he wandered, with closed eyes, far down among the sombre, dank crypts of memory. She laid her cool fingers on his hand, and held the bouquet before him.

"My dear sir, here are your flowers; they are not as pretty as usual, but sweet enough to atone for lack of beauty."

He fingered them caressingly, laid them against his hollow cheeks, and hid his lips among their fragrant petals, but the starry eyes were fixed on the features of the pupil.

"It is bitter weather out; did you brave it for these? Thank you, but don't expose yourself so in future. Two invalids in a house are quite enough. You are snow-crowned, little one; do you know it? The frosting gleams right, royally on that black hair of yours. Nay, child, don't brush it off; like all lovely things it fades rapidly, melts away like the dreams that flutter around a boy in the witchery of a long, still, sunny summer day."

His thin hand nestled in her shining hair, and she submitted to the touch in silence.

He regarded her with an expression of sorrowful tenderness, and his hand trembled as he placed it upon her head. "I know not what is to become of you. Oh, Electra! if you would only be warned in time."

The warmth of the room had vermilioned her cheeks, and the long black lashes failed to veil in any degree the flash of the eyes she raised to his face. Removing the hand from her head, she took it in both hers, and a cold, dauntless smile wreathed her lips.

"Be easy on my account. I am not afraid of my future. Why should I be? God built an arsenal in every soul before he launched it on the stormy sea of Time, and the key to mine is Will! What woman has done, woman may do; a glorious sisterhood of artists beckon me on; what Elizabeth Cheron, Sibylla Merian, Angelica Kauffman, Elizabeth Le Brun, Felicie Fauveau, and Rosa Bonheur have achieved, I also will accomplish, or die in the effort. These travelled no royal road to immortality, but rugged, thorny paths; and who shall stay my feet? Afar off gleams my resting-place, but ambition scourges me unflaggingly on. Do not worry about my future; I will take care of it, and of myself."

"And when, after years of toil, you win fame, even fame enough to satisfy your large expectations, what then? Whither will you look for happiness?"

"I will grapple fame to my empty heart, as women do other idols."

"It will freeze you, my dear child."

"At all events, I will risk it. Thank God! whatever other faults I confess to, there is no taint of cowardice in my soul."

She rose, and stood a moment on the rug, looking into the red network of coals, then turned to leave him, saying—

"I must go to your mother now, and presently I will bring your tea."

"You need not trouble. I can go to the dining-room to-night."

"It is no trouble; it gives me great pleasure to do something for your comfort; and I know you always enjoy your supper more when you have it here."

As she closed the door, he pressed his face against the morocco lining and groaned unconsciously, and large glittering tears, creeping from beneath the trembling lashes, hid themselves in the curling brown beard.

To see that Mrs. Clifton's supper suited her, and then to read aloud to her for half an hour from the worn family Bible, was part of the daily routine which Electra permitted nothing to interrupt. On this occasion she found the old lady seated, as usual, before the fire, her crutches leaning against the chair, and her favourite cat curled on the carpet at her feet. Most tenderly did the aged cripple love her son's protegee, and the wrinkled, sallow face lighted up with a smile of pleasure at her entrance.

"I thought it was about time for you to come to me. Sit down, dear, and touch the bell for Kate. How is Harry?"

"No stronger, I am afraid. You know this is very bad weather for him."

"Yes; when he came up to-day I thought he looked more feeble than I had ever seen him; and as I sit here and listen to his hollow cough, every sound seems a stab at my heart." She rocked herself to and fro for a moment, and added mournfully—

"Ah, child! it is so hard to see my youngest boy going down to the grave before me. The last of five, I hoped he would survive me; but consumption is a terrible thing; it took my husband first, then, in quick succession, my other children, and now Harry, my darling, my youngest, is the last prey."

Anxious to divert her mind, Electra adroitly changed the conversation, and, when she rose to say good night, some time after, had the satisfaction of knowing that the old lady had fallen asleep. In was in vain that she arranged several tempting dishes on the table beside the painter, and coaxed him to partake of them; he received but a cup of tea from her hand, and motioned the remainder away. As the servant removed the tray, he looked up at his pupil, and said—

"Please wheel the lounge nearer to the grate; I am too tired to sit up to-night."

She complied at once, shook up the pillow, and, as he laid his head upon it, she spread his heavy plaid shawl over him.

"Now, sir, what shall I read this evening?"

"'Arcana Coelestia,' if you please."

She took up the volume, and began at the place he designated; and as she read on and on, her rich flexible voice rose and fell upon the air like waves of melody. One of her hands chanced to hang over the arm of the chair, and as she sat near the lounge, thin hot fingers twined about it, drew it caressingly to the pillow, and held it tightly. Her first impulse was to withdraw it, and an expression of annoyance crossed her features; but, on second thought, she suffered her fingers to rest passively in his. Now and then, as she turned a leaf, she met his luminous eyes fastened upon her; but after a time the quick breathing attracted her attention, and, looking down, she saw that he, too, was sleeping. She closed the book and remained quiet, fearful of disturbing him; and as she studied the weary, fevered face, noting the march of disease, the sorrowful drooping of the mouth, so indicative of grievous disappointment, a new and holy tenderness awoke in her heart. It was a feeling analogous to that of a mother for a suffering child, who can be soothed only by her presence and caresses—an affection not unfrequently kindled in haughty natures by the entire dependence of a weaker one. Blended with this was a remorseful consciousness of the coldness with which she had persistently rejected, repulsed every manifestation of his devoted love; and, winding her fingers through his long hair, she vowed an atonement for the past in increased gentleness for the remainder of his waning life. As she bent over him, wearing her compassion in her face, he opened his eyes and looked at her.

"How long have I slept?"

"Nearly an hour. How do you feel since your nap?"

He made no reply, and she put her hand on his forehead. The countenance lighted, and he said slowly—

"Ah! yes, press your cool soft little palm on my brow. It seems to still the throbbing of my temples."

"It is late, Mr. Clifton, and I must leave you. William looked in, a few minutes since, to say that the fire burned in your room, but I would not wake you. I will send him to you. Good night."

She leaned down voluntarily and kissed him, and, with a quick movement, he folded her to his heart an instant, then released her, murmuring huskily—

"God bless you, Electra, and reward you for your patient endurance. Good night, my precious child."

She went to her room, all unconscious of the burst of emotion which shook the feeble frame of the painter, long after she had laid her head on her pillow in the sound slumber of healthful youth.



CHAPTER XIV

THE CLOSE OF THE VIGIL

The year that ensued proved a valuable school of patience, and taught the young artist a gentleness of tone and quietude of manner at variance with the natural impetuosity of her character. Irksome beyond degree was the discipline to which she subjected herself, but, with a fixedness of purpose that knew no wavering, she walked through the daily dreary routine, keeping her eyes upon the end that slowly but unmistakably approached. In mid-summer Mr. Clifton removed, for a few weeks, to the Catskill, and occasionally he rallied for a few hours, with a tenacity of strength almost miraculous. During the still sunny afternoons hosts of gay visitors, summer tourists, often paused in their excursions to watch the emaciated form of the painter leaning on the arm of his beautiful pupil, or reclining on a lichen-carpeted knoll while she sketched the surrounding scenery. Increased feebleness prevented Mrs. Clifton from joining in these outdoor jaunts, and early in September, when it became apparent that her mind was rapidly sinking into imbecility, they returned to the city. Memory seemed to have deserted its throne; she knew neither her son nor Electra, and the last spark of intelligence manifested itself in a semi-recognition of her favourite cat, which sprang to welcome her back as friendly hands bore her to the chamber she was to quit no more till death released the crushed spirit. A letter was found on the atelier mantel, directed to Electra in familiar characters, which she had not seen for months. Very quietly she put it in her pocket, and in the solitude of her room broke the seal; found that Russell had returned during her absence, had spent a morning in the studio looking over her work, and had gone South to establish himself in his native town. Ah! the grievous, grievous disappointment. A bitter cry rolled from her lips, and the hands wrung each other despairingly; but an hour later she stood beside the artist with unruffled brow and a serene mouth, that bore no surface-token of the sorrow gnawing at her heart. Winter came on earlier than usual, with unwonted severity; and, week after week, Electra went continually from one sufferer to another, striving to alleviate pain, and to kindle a stray beam of sunshine in the darkened mansion. Unremitted vigil set its pale, infallible signet on her face, but Mr. Clifton either could not or would not see the painful alteration in her appearance; and when Mrs. Young remonstrated with her niece upon the ruinous effects of this tedious confinement to the house, she only answered steadily: "I will nurse him so long as I have strength left to creep from one room to another."

During Christmas week he grew alarmingly worse, and Dr. Le Roy counted the waning life by hours; but on New Year's eve he declared himself almost well, and insisted on being carried to the studio. The whim was humoured, and wrapped in his silken robe de chambre, he was seated in his large cushioned chair, smiling to find himself once more in the midst of his treasures. Turning back the velvet cuff from his attenuated wrist, he lifted his flushed face toward the nurse, and said eagerly: "Uncover my easel; make William draw it close to me; I have been idle long enough. Give me my palette; I want to retouch the forehead of my hero. It needs a high light."

"You are not strong enough to work. Wait till to-morrow."

"To-morrow! to-morrow! You have told me that fifty times. Wheel up the easel, I say. The spell is upon me, and work I will."

It was the "ruling passion strong in death," and Electra acquiesced, arranging the colours on the palette as he directed, and selecting the brushes he required. Resting his feet upon the cross-beam, he leaned forward and gazed earnestly upon his masterpiece, the darling design which had haunted his brain for years. "Theta" he called this piece of canvas, which was a large square painting representing, in the foreground, the death of Socrates. The details of the picture were finished with pre-Raphaelite precision and minuteness—the sweep and folds of drapery about the couch, the emptied hemlock cup—but the central figure of the Martyr lacked something, and to these last touches Mr. Clifton essayed to address himself. Slowly, feebly, the transparent hand wandered over the canvas, and Electra heard with alarm the laboured breath that came panting from his parted lips. She saw the unnatural sparkle in his sunken eyes almost die out, then leap up again, like smouldering embers swept by a sudden gust, and in the clear strong voice of other years, he repeated to himself the very words of Plato's Phaedo: "For I have heard that it is right to die with good omens. Be quiet, therefore, and bear up."

Leaning back to note the effect of his touches, a shiver ran through his frame, the brush fell from his tremulous fingers, and he lay motionless and exhausted.

Folding his hands like a helpless, tired child, he raised his eyes to hers and said brokenly—

"I bequeath it to you; finish my work. You understand me—you know what is lacking; finish my 'Theta' and tell the world I died at work upon it. Oh! for a fraction of my old strength! One hour more to complete my Socrates! Just one hour! I would ask no more."

She gave him a powerful cordial which the physician had left, and having arranged the pillows on the lounge, drew it close to the easel, and prevailed on him to lie down.

A servant was dispatched for Dr. Le Roy, but returned to say that a dangerous case detained him elsewhere.

"Mr. Clifton, would you like to have your mother brought downstairs and placed beside you for a while?"

"No; I want nobody but you. Sit down here close to me, and keep quiet."

She lowered the heavy curtains, shaded the gas-globe, and, placing a bunch of sweet violets on his pillow, sat down at his side. His favourite spaniel nestled at her feet, and occasionally threw up his head and gazed wistfully at his master. Thus two hours passed, and as she rose to administer the medicine he waved it off, saying—

"Give me no more of it. I won't be drugged in my last hours. I won't have my intellect clouded by opiates. Throw it into the fire, and let me rest."

"Oh, sir! can I do nothing for you?"

"Sit still. Do not leave me, I beg of you." He drew her back to the seat, and after a short silence said slowly—

"Electra, are you afraid of death?"

"No, sir."

"Do you know that I am dying?"

"I have seen you as ill several times before."

"You are a brave, strong-hearted child; glazed eyes and stiffened limbs will not frighten you. I have but few hours to live; put your hand in mine, and promise me that you will sit here till my soul quits its clay prison. Will you watch with me the death of the year? Are you afraid to stay with me, and see me die?"

She would not trust herself to speak, but laid her hand in his and clasped it firmly. He smiled, and added—

"Will you promise to call no one? I want no eyes but yours to watch me as I die. Let there be only you and me."

"I promise."

For some moments he lay motionless, but the intensity of his gaze made her restless, and she shaded her face.

"Electra, my darling, your martyrdom draws to a close. I have been merciless in my exactions, I know; you are worn to a shadow, and your face is sharp and haggard; but you will forgive me all, when the willows of Greenwood trail their boughs across my headstone. You have been faithful and uncomplaining; you have been to me a light, a joy, and a glory! God bless you, my pupil. In my vest-pocket is the key of my writing-desk. There you will find my will; take charge of it, and put it in Le Roy's hands as soon as possible. Give me some water."

She held the glass to his lips, and, as he sank back, a bright smile played over his face.

"Ah, child! it is such a comfort to have you here—you are so inexpressibly dear to me."

She took his thin hands in hers, and hot tears fell upon them. An intolerable weight crushed her heart, a half-defined, horrible dread, and she asked, falteringly—

"Are you willing to die? Is your soul at peace with God? Have you any fear of Eternity?"

"None, my child, none."

"Would you like to have Mr. Bailey come and pray for you?"

"I want no one now but you."

A long silence ensued, broken only by the heavily drawn breath of the sufferer. Two hours elapsed and there by the couch sat the motionless watcher, noting the indescribable but unmistakable change creeping on. The feeble, threadlike pulse fluttered irregularly, but the breathing became easy and low as a babe's, and occasionally a gentle sigh heaved the chest. She knew that the end was at hand, and a strained, frightened expression came into her large eyes as she glanced nervously round the room, and met the solemn, fascinating eyes of Munin the owl, staring at her from the low mantel. She caught her breath, and the deep silence was broken by the metallic tongue that dirged out "twelve." The last stroke of the bronze hammer echoed drearily; the old year lay stark and cold on its bier; Munin flapped his dusky wings with a long, sepulchral, blood-curdling hoot, and the dying man opened his dim, failing eyes, and fixed them for the last time on his pupil.

"Electra, my darling."

"My dear master, I am here."

She lifted his head to her bosom, nestled her fingers into his cold palm, and leaned her cheek against his brow. Pressing his face close to hers, the grey eyes closed, and a smile throned itself on the parted lips. A slight tremor shook the limbs, a soft shuddering breath swept across the watcher's face, and the "golden bowl" was shivered, the "silver cord" was loosed.

The vigil was over, the burden was lifted from her shoulders, the weary ministry here ended; and shrouding her face in her arms, the lonely woman wept bitterly.



CHAPTER XV

AT HOME AGAIN

Four years had wrought material changes in the town of W——; new streets had been opened, new buildings erected, new forms trod the side-walks, new faces looked out of shop-windows, and flashing equipages, and new shafts of granite and marble stood in the cemetery to tell of many who had been gathered to their forefathers. If important revolutions had been effected in her early home, not less decided and apparent was the change which had taken place in the heiress of Huntingdon Hill; and having been eyed, questioned, scrutinized by the best families, and laid in the social scale, it was found a difficult matter to determine her weight as accurately as seemed desirable. In common parlance, "her education was finished,"—she was regularly and unmistakably "out." Having lost her aunt two years before her return, the duties of hostess devolved upon her, and she dispensed the hospitalities of her home with an easy, though stately elegance, surprising in one so inexperienced.

It chanced that Dr. Arnold was absent for some weeks after her arrival, and no sooner had he returned than he sought his quondam protege. Entering unannounced, he paused suddenly as he caught sight of her standing before the fire, with Paragon at her feet. She lifted her head and came to meet him, holding out both hands, with a warm, bright smile.

"Oh, Dr. Arnold! I am so glad to see you once more. It was neither friendly nor hospitable to go off just as I came home, after long years of absence. I am very glad to see you."

He held her hands and gazed at her like one in a dream of mingled pain and pleasure, and when he spoke his voice was unsteady.

"You cannot possibly be as glad to see me as I am to have you back. But I can't realize that this is, indeed, you, my pet—the Irene I parted with rather more than four years ago. Oh, child! what a marvellous, what a glorious beauty you have grown to be!"

"Take care; you will spoil her, Arnold. Don't you know, you old cynic, that women can't stand such flattery as yours?" laughed Mr. Huntingdon.

"I am glad you like me, Doctor; I am glad you think I have improved; and since you think so, I am obliged to you for expressing your opinion of me so kindly. I wish I could return your compliments, but my conscience vetoes any such proceeding. You look jaded—overworked. What is the reason that you have grown so grey and haggard? We will enter into a compact to renew the old life; you shall treat me exactly as you used to do, and I shall come to you as formerly, and interrupt labours that seem too heavy. Sit down and talk to me. I want to hear your voice; it is pleasant to my ears, makes music in my heart, calls up the bygone. You have adopted a stick in my absence; I don't like the innovation; it hurts me to think that you need it. I must take care of you, I see, and persuade you to relinquish it entirely."

"Arnold, I verily believe she was more anxious to see you than everybody else in W—— except old Nellie, her nurse."

She did not contradict him, and the three sat conversing for more than an hour; then other visitors came in, and she withdrew to the parlour. The doctor had examined her closely all the while; had noted every word, action, expression; and a troubled, abstracted look came into his face when she left them.

"Huntingdon, what is it? What is it?"

"What is what? I don't understand you."

"What has so changed that child? I want to know what ails her?"

"Nothing, that I know of. You know that she was always rather singular."

"Yes, but it was a different sort of singularity. She is too still, and white, and cold, and stately. I told you it was a wretched piece of business to send a nature like hers, so different from everybody else's, off among utter strangers; to shut up that queer, free untamed thing in a boarding-school for four years, with hundreds of miles between her and the few things she loved. She required very peculiar and skilful treatment, and, instead, you put her off where she petrified! I knew it would never answer, and I told you so. You wanted to break her obstinacy, did you? She comes back marble. I tell you now I know her better than you do, though you are her father, and you may as well give up at once that chronic hallucination of 'ruling, conquering her.' She is like steel—cold, firm, brittle; she will break; snap asunder; but bend!—never! never! Huntingdon, I love that child; I have a right to love her; she has been very dear to me from her babyhood, and it would go hard with me to know that any sorrow darkened her life. Don't allow your old plans and views to influence you now. Let Irene be happy in her own way. Did you ever see a contented-looking eagle in a gilt cage? Did you ever know a leopardess kept in a paddock, and taught to forget her native jungles?"

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