With a quick, graceful movement, the stranger removed the shrouding veil; and Madeline gazed wonderingly on the loveliest face she had ever seen or dreamed of. It was a pure, pale face, lighted by lustrous dark eyes, crowned by waving masses of dark silky hair; exquisitely molded features, upon which there rested an expression of mingled weariness and resignation, the look of
"A soul whose experience Has paralyzed bliss."
One could imagine such a woman lifting to her lips the full goblet of life's sparkling elixir, and putting it away with her own hand, lest its intoxicating richness should shut from her senses the fragrance of Spring violets, and dim her vision of the world beyond.
They formed a decided contrast, these two, standing face to face.
One, with the calm that comes only when storm clouds have swept athwart life's sky, leaving behind marks of their desolating progress, but leaving, too, calm after tempest; after restlessness, repose.
The other, stretching out her hand like a pleased child to woo the purple lightning from the distance, buoyant with bright hopes, with nothing on brow or lip to indicate how that proud head would bear itself after it had been bowed before the passing storm.
"Pardon me," said the lady, in a sweet contralto. "I think I am not mistaken; this is the young lady who arrived last evening, and is registered,"—she looked full in the girl's eyes—"as Miss Weir?"
Madeline's eyes drooped before that searching gaze, but she answered, simply: "Yes."
"You are naturally much astonished to see me here, and my errand is a delicate one. Since I have seen you, however, I have lost every doubt I may have entertained as to the propriety of my visit. Will you trust me so far as to answer a few simple questions?"
The words of the stranger had put to flight the first idea formed in her mind, namely, that this visit was a mistake. It was intended for her, and now, who had instigated it? She looked up into the face of her visitor and said, with her characteristic frankness of speech:
"Who sent you to me?"
The abruptness of the question caused the stranger to smile.
"One who is the soul of honor and the friend of all womankind," she said, with a soft light in her eyes.
Madeline's eyes still searched her face. "And his name is that," she said, putting the card of Clarence Vaughan upon the table between them.
"Yes; and this reminds me, I have not yet introduced myself. Here is my card."
She placed in the hand of Madeline a delicate bit of cardboard bearing the name, "Olive Girard."
Silence fell between them for a moment, and then Olive Girard spoke.
"Won't you ask me to be seated, and hear what I wish to say, Miss Weir?"
She hesitated over the name, and Madeline, perceiving it, said:
"You think Weir is not my name?"
"Frankly, I do," smiled Mrs. Girard; "but just now the name matters little. Pardon me, but I am more interested in your face than your name. I came here because it seemed my duty, and to oblige a friend; now I wish to serve you for your own sake, to be your friend, if you will let me."
Still Madeline's brain kept thinking, thinking; and she put her questions rather as commentaries on her own thoughts than as her share in a conversation.
"Why did Mr. Vaughan send you to me?"
They had seated themselves, at a sign from Madeline, and Mrs. Girard drew her chair nearer to the girl as she answered:
"Because he feared for you."
"Because he feared for me!" Madeline's face flushed hotly; "feared what?"
"He feared," said Olive Girard, turning her face full upon her questioner, "what I feel assured is the truth, having seen you—simply that you do not know aright the man in whose company you came to this place."
Madeline turned her eyes upon her guest and the blood went slowly out of her face, but she made no reply, and Mrs. Girard continued:
"I will ask you once more, before I proceed further, do you object to answering a few questions? Of course I am willing to be likewise interrogated," she added, smiling.
Over the girl's face a look was creeping that Aunt Hagar, seeing, could readily have interpreted. She nodded her head, and said briefly: "Go on."
"First, then," said her interrogator, "are you entirely without friends in this city? Except, of course," she added, quickly, "your escort of last night."
"Yes." Madeline's countenance never altered, and she kept her eyes fully fixed on her companion's face.
"Are—are you without parents or guardian?"
"As I thought; and now, pardon the seeming impertinence of this question, did you come here as the companion of the man who was your escort, or did mere accident put you under his charge?"
"The 'accident' that put me in the charge of Mr. Davlin was—myself," said the girl, in a full, clear voice. "And he is my only guardian, and will be."
Olive Girard pushed back her chair, and rising, came and stood before her, with outstretched hand and pleading, compassionate eyes.
"Just as I feared," she sighed; "the very worst. My poor child, do you know the character and occupation of this man?"
Madeline sprang to her feet, and putting one nervous little hand upon the back of the chair she had occupied, moved back a pace, and said, in a low, set tone:
"If you have come to say aught against Lucian Davlin, you will find no listener here. I am satisfied with him, and trust him fully. When I desire to know more of his 'character and occupation,' I can learn it from his own lips. What warrant had that man," pointing to Clarence Vaughan's card, "for dogging me here, and then sending you to attempt to poison my mind against my best friend? I tell you, I will not listen!"
A bright spot burned on either cheek, and the little hand resting on the chair back clinched itself tighter.
Olive Girard drew a step nearer the now angry girl, and searched her face with grave eyes.
"If I said you were standing on the verge of a horrible precipice, that your life and soul were in danger, would you listen then?" she asked, sternly.
"No," said Madeline, doggedly, drawing farther away as she spoke; "not unless I saw the danger with my own eyes. And in that case I should not need your warning," she added, dryly.
"And when your own eyes see the danger, it will be too late to avert it," said Olive, bitterly. "I know your feeling at this moment, and I know the heartache sure to follow your rashness. What are you, and what do you hope or expect to be, to the man you call Lucian Davlin?" She spoke his name as if it left the taste of poison in her mouth.
The girl's head dropped until it rested on the hands clasped upon the chair before her; cold fingers seemed clutched upon her heart. Across her memory came trooping all his love words of the past, and among them,—she remembered it now for the first time,—among them all, the word wife had never once been uttered. In that moment, a thought new and terrible possessed her soul; a new and baleful light seemed shining upon the pictures of the past, imparting to each a shameful, terrible meaning. She uttered a low moan like that of some wounded animal, and suddenly uplifting her head, turned upon Olive Girard a face in which passion and a vague terror were strangely mingled.
"What are you saying? What are you daring to say to me!" she ejaculated, in tones half angry, half terror-stricken, wholly pitiful. "What horrible thing are you trying to torture me with?"
She would have spoken in indignation, but the new thought in her heart frightened the wrath from her voice. She dared not say "I am to be his wife," with these forebodings whispering darkly within her.
She turned away from the one who had conjured up these spectres, and throwing herself upon a couch, buried her face in the cushions, and remained in this attitude while Olive answered her and for long moments after; moments that seemed hours to both.
Olive's eyes were full of pity, and her tone was very gentle. Her woman's quick instinct assured her that words of comfort were of no avail in this first moment of bitter awakening. She knew that it were better to say all that she deemed it her duty to say, now, while her hearer was passive; and stepping nearer the couch, she said:
"Dr. Vaughan, who saw you in the company of a man so well known to him that to see a young girl in his society he knew could mean no good, came to me this morning with a brief account of your meeting of last night. He is too good a physiognomist not to have discovered, readily, that you were not such a woman as could receive no contamination from such as Lucian Davlin. He feared for you, believing you to be another victim of his treachery. Your coming to this hotel assured him that you were safe for the time, at least; and this being a subject so delicate that he, a stranger, feared to approach you with it, he desired me to come to you, and, in case his fears were well founded, to save you if I could. My poor, poor child! you have cast yourself upon the protection of a professional gambler; a man whose name has been associated for years with that of a notorious and handsome adventuress. If he has any fear or regard for anything, it is for her; and your very life would be worth little could she know you as her rival. Judge if such a man can have intentions that are honorable, where a young, lovely and unsophisticated girl like yourself is concerned."
She paused here, but Madeline never stirred.
"Come with me," continued Olive, drawing a step nearer the motionless girl; "accept me as your protector, for the present, at least. Believe me, I know what you are suffering now, and near at hand you will find that which will aid you to forget this man."
Madeline slowly raised herself to a sitting posture and turned towards the speaker a face colorless as if dead, but with never a trace of a tear. Her eyes were unnaturally bright, and her lips were compressed, as if she had made, and was strong to keep, some dark resolve.
"What is it that I am to find?" she said, in a low, intense tone.
"A girl, young as you, and once as beautiful," replied Olive, sadly, "who is dying of a broken heart, and her destroyer is Lucian Davlin."
Madeline gazed at her absently for a moment. "I suppose I had ought to hate you," she said, wearily; "you have made my life very black. Lucian Davlin will soon be here,—will you please go?"
"Surely you are going with me?" said Olive, in amaze.
"You doubt me? Oh, I have not made you feel your danger! You think I am an impostor!"
"No," said the girl, in the same quiet tone; "something here," putting her hand upon her bosom, "tells me that you are sincere. My own heart has abandoned me; it will not let me doubt you, much as I wish to. I cannot thank you for making my heart ache,—please go."
Still with that air of unnatural calm, she arose and walked to the window.
Of the two, Olive Girard was by far the more agitated. "Tell me," she said, in eager entreaty; "oh, tell me, you are not going with him?"
Madeline turned sharply around. "I shall not add myself to the list of his victims," she said, briefly.
And then the two gazed at each other in silence for a moment.
"This is madness," said Olive, at length. "What rash thing do you meditate? I will not leave you to face this man alone; I dare not do it."
Madeline came from the window and stood directly before her. "I am not the weak child you think me. You can do nothing but harm by remaining here. I will meet Lucian Davlin, and part with him in my own way," she said, between her teeth.
Olive saw, in the set face, and stern eye, that she was indeed dealing with a character stubborn as death, and devoid of all fear. She dreaded to leave her thus, but felt assured that she could do nothing else.
"Will you come to me afterward?" she asked. "You have no friends here, you tell me, and you need a friend now. Promise me this and I will go."
"Thank you," said the girl, wearily; "at least I promise to go to no one else; good-by."
Turning away, she resumed her position at the window, and never looked once at Olive after that.
"I will write my address on this card," said Olive. She did so; then turning on the girl a look full of pitying tenderness, said: "I need not tell you to be brave; I should rather bid you be cautious. Remember, your life is worth more than the love and loss of such a man. Put this behind you, and come to me soon, believing that you are not friendless."
She lowered her veil and, casting one more wistful glance at the silent figure by the window, went out and closed the door softly.
A STRUGGLE FOR MORE THAN LIFE.
It is a fortunate provision of Providence that calamity comes upon us, in most cases, with a force so sudden and overwhelming that it is rather seen than felt. As we realize the full torture of an ugly wound, not when the blow is struck, but after the whole system has been made to languish under its effects, so a blow struck at the heart can not make itself fully felt while the mind is still unable to picture what the future will be like now that the grief has come. We only taste our bitterest grief when the mind has shaken itself aloof from the present woe, to travel forward and question what the future can hold for us, now that our life is bereft of this treasure.
Madeline's condition, after the departure of Olive Girard, was an exponent of this truth. Fast and hard worked her thoughts, but they only encountered the ills of the present, and never glanced beyond.
She had set her lover aloft as her ideal, the embodiment of truth, honor, and manhood. He had fallen. Truth, honor, manhood, had passed out of existence for her. And she had loved him so well! She loved him even yet.
The thought brought with it a pang of terror, and as if conjured up by it, the scenes of the day previous marshalled themselves again for review. Could it be possible? Was it only yesterday that she listened to his tender love words, beneath the old tree in Oakley woods? Only yesterday that her step-father was revealed in all his vileness,—his plots, his hopes, his fears. Her mother's sad life laid bare before her; Aunt Hagar's story; her defiance of the two men at Oakley; her flight; Clarence Vaughan; the strange, great city; Olive Girard; and now—now, just a dead blank, with no outlook, no hope.
And was this all since yesterday?
What was it, she wondered, that made people mad? Not things like these; she was calm, very calm. She was calm; too calm. If something would occur to break up this icy stillness of heart, to convulse the numbed powers of feeling, and shock them back into life before it was too late.
She waited patiently for the coming of her base lover, lying upon the soft divan, with her hands folded, and wondering if she would feel much different if she were dead.
When the summons came, at last, she went quietly down to greet the man who little dreamed that his reign in her heart was at an end, and that his hold upon her life was loosening fast.
When Madeline entered the presence of Lucian Davlin, she took the initiatory step in the part she was henceforth to play. And she took it unhesitatingly, as if dissimulation was to her no new thing. Truly, necessity, emergency, is the mother of much besides "invention." Entering, she gave him her hand with free grace, and smiled up at him as he bade her good-morning.
He remarked on her pale cheeks, but praised the brightness of her eyes, and accepted her explanation that the bustle and the strangeness was unusual to her, as a natural and sufficient reason for the pallor.
"You will soon grow accustomed to that," he said, as they descended to the carriage, "and be the rosiest, fairest little woman on the boulevard, for I mean to drive half the men jealous by taking you there often."
Madeline made no reply, and they entered the carriage.
Davlin was not surprised at her silence; he was prepared for a little coyness; in fact, for some resistance, and expected to have occasion for the specious eloquence always at his command. Of course, the result would be the same,—he had no doubt of that, and so in silence they reached their destination.
Up a broad flight of stairs, and then a door. Lucian rings, and an immaculate colored servant appears, who seems as well bred as an English baronet, and who expresses no surprise at the presence of a lady there.
Up another flight of softly carpeted stairs, across a wide hall, and lo! the abode of the sybarite, the apartments of the disciple of Chance.
"Welcome to your kingdom, fair queen," says Lucian, as they enter. "This is your abiding place, for a time, at least, and I am your slave for always," and he kneels playfully before her.
Madeline turns away, and, finding it easiest to do, in her then state of mind, begins a careless tour of the rooms, making a pretense of criticism, and finding in even this slow promenade some relief from absolute quiet and silence.
She guarded her face lest it should display too much of that locked, sullen calm underneath, and replied by an occasional word and nod to his running comments upon the different articles undergoing examination. Fingering carelessly the rare ornaments upon a fine set of brackets, her eye rested upon an elegant little gold mounted pistol. She turned away quickly, and they passed to other things.
Her replies became more ready, and she began questioning gravely about this or that, listening with childlike wonder to his answers, and winning him into a pleasant bantering humor.
Finally he threw himself upon a chair, and selecting a cigar proceeded to light it.
Madeline continued to flit from picture to statuette, questioning with much apparent interest. At last, she paused again before the bracket which held the tiny toy that had for her a fascination.
"What a pretty little pistol," she said. "Is it loaded?"
"I don't know," replied he, lazily. "Bring it to me; I will see."
He was inwardly wondering at her cool acceptance of the situation; and felt inclined to congratulate himself. Seeing her look at the little weapon doubtfully, he laughed and strode to her side, taking it in his hand.
"It is not loaded," he said. "Did you ever fire a pistol?"
"No; show me how to hold it."
He placed it in her hand, and showed her how to manipulate the trigger, and to take aim.
"I should like to see it loaded," she said, at last.
"And so you shall."
He smiled, and crossing the room took from a little inlaid box a handful of cartridges. Madeline watched him attentively, as he explained to her the operation of loading. At length expressing herself satisfied, and declining his invitation to try and load it herself, she turned away.
Davlin extracted the cartridge from the pistol, and returned it to its place, saying: "You might wish to practice at aiming, and won't want it loaded."
"I shall not want such practice," she replied.
A rap at the door, and the servant announced that dinner was come.
"I ordered our dinner here, to-day," explained Lucian, "thinking it would be more cosy. You may serve it, Henry," to the servant.
Dinner was accordingly served, and Lucian found occasion to criticise, very severely, the manner of his serving man. More than once, his voice took on an intolerant tone.
Sitting opposite, Madeline saw the man, as he stood behind his master's chair, dart upon him a look of hatred. Her lips framed a smile quite new to them; and, after dessert was placed upon the table and the man dismissed, she said:
"You don't like your servant, I judge?"
"Oh, he's as good as any," replied Lucian, carelessly. "They are pretty much alike, and all need a setting back occasionally;—on general principles, you know."
"I suppose so," assented Madeline, indifferently, as if the subject had lost all interest for her.
Slowly the afternoon wore on, moments seeming hours to the despairing girl. At length Lucian, finding her little inclined to assist him in keeping up a conversation, said:
"I am selfish not to remember that you are very tired. I will leave you to solitude and repose for a little time, shall I?"
"If you wish," she replied, wearily. "I suppose I need the rest."
"Then I will look in upon some of my friends. I have almost lost the run of city doings during my absence. Meantime, ring for anything you may need, won't you?"
"I will ring;" and she looked, not at him, but at the bracket beyond.
"Then good-by, little sweetheart. It is now four; I will be with you at six."
He embraced her tenderly, and went out with that debonnair grace which she had so loved. She looked after him with a hungry, hopeless longing in her eyes.
"Oh, why does God make His foulest things the fairest?" she moaned. "Why did He put love in our hearts if it must turn our lives to ashes? Why must one be so young and yet so miserable? Oh, mother, mother, are all women wronged like us?"
Madeline arose and commenced pacing the floor restlessly, nervously. She had come here with no fixed purpose, nothing beyond the indefinite determination to defy and thwart the man who had entrapped her. She had never for a moment feared for her safety, or doubted her ability to accomplish her object.
A plan was now taking shape in her mind, and as she pondered, she extended her march, quite unthinkingly, on into the adjoining room, the door of which stood invitingly open. The first object to attract her attention was the light traveling coat which Lucian had worn on the previous day; worn when he was pleading his suit under the trees of Oakley; and in a burst of anger, as if it were a part of him she was thinking of so bitterly, she seized and hurled it from her. As it flew across the room, something fell from a pocket, almost at her feet.
She looked down at it; it was a telegram, the one, doubtless, that had called him back to the city the day before. A business matter, he had said. Into her mind flashed the words of Olive Girard, "a professional gambler." She would see what this "business" was. Stooping, she picked up the crumpled envelope, and quickly devoured its contents.
Must see you immediately. Come by first train; am waiting at your quarters.
Madeline went back to the lighter, larger room, and seating herself, looked about her. Again the words of Olive rung in her ears.
"Cora!" she ejaculated. "He obeyed her summons, and brought me with him. And she was here only last night—and where has she gone? This must be the 'notorious,' the 'handsome.' Ah, Lucian Davlin, this is well; this nerves me for the worst! I shall not falter now. This is the first link in the chain that shall yet make your life a burden."
She crossed the room and touched the bell.
"Now for the first real step," said Madeline, grimly.
The door opened and the dark face of Henry appeared, bowing on the threshold.
"Come in, Henry, and close the door," said Madeline, pleasantly. "I want you to do me a favor, if you will."
Henry came in, and stood waiting her order.
"Will you carry a note for me, Henry, and bring me back an answer? I want you to take it, because I feel as if I could trust you. You look like one who would be faithful to those who were kind to you."
"Thank you, lady; indeed I would," said the man, in grateful tones.
Madeline was quick to see the advantage to be gained by possessing the regard and confidence of this man, who must, necessarily, know so much that it was desirable to learn of the life and habits of him, between whom and herself must be waged a war to the very death.
She reasoned rapidly, and as rapidly arrived at her conclusions. The first of those was, that Lucian Davlin, by his intolerance and unkindness, had fitted a tool to her hand, and she, therefore, as a preliminary step, must propitiate and win the confidence of this same tool left by his master within her reach.
"And will you carry my letter, Henry, and return with an answer as soon as you can? You will find the person at this hour without any trouble."
"Master ordered me to attend to your wants," replied the man, in a somewhat surly tone.
She understood this somber inflection, and said: "He 'ordered' you? Yes, I see; is your master always as hard to please as to-day, Henry? He certainly was a little unkind."
"He's always the same, madame," said the man, gloomily. Her words brought vividly before his mind's eye the many instances of his master's unkindness.
"I'm sorry he is not kind to you," said the girl, hypocritically. "And I don't want you to carry this letter because he ordered you. I want you to do it to oblige me, Henry, and it will make me always your friend."
Ah, Henry, one resentful gleam from your eyes, as you stood behind the chair of your tyrant, has given to this slight girl the clue by which to sway you to her will. She was smiling upon him, and the man replied, in gratitude:
"I'll do anything for you, madame."
"Thank you, Henry. I was sure I could trust you. Will you get me some writing material, please?"
Henry crossed to the handsome davenport, and found it locked. But when taking this precaution, Davlin overlooked the fact that Cora's last gift—a little affair intended for the convenience of travelers, being a combined dressing case and writing desk, the dividing compartment of which contained an excellent cabinet photograph of the lady herself, so enshrined as to be the first thing to greet the eyes of whosoever should open the little receptacle—was still accessible.
Failing to open the davenport, Henry turned to this; and pressing upon the spring lock, exposed to the view of Madeline, standing near, the pictured face of Cora. Spite of his grievances, the sense of his duty was strong upon him, and he put himself between the girl and the object of her interest. Not so quickly but that she saw, and understood the movement. Stepping to his side, she put out her hand, saying:
"What an exquisite picture—Madame Cora, is it not, Henry?"
She was looking him full in the eyes, and he answered, staring in astonishment the while: "Yes, miss."
"She is very handsome," mused the girl, as if to herself: "left just before my arrival, I think?" she added, at a venture.
Again her eyes searched his face, and again he gave a surprised assent.
"Do you like her, Henry?" questioned she, intent on her purpose.
"She is just like him," he said, jerking his head grimly, while his voice took again a resentful tone. "She thinks a man who is black has no feelings."
He placed pen, ink and paper on the table as he answered, and then looked to her inquiringly.
"You may wait here while I write, if you will," she said, and took up the pen.
She had brought away from the G—— House, the two cards of her would-be friends, and she now consulted them before she asked.
"No. 52 —— street; is that far, Henry?"
"It's a five minutes' walk," he answered. "I can go and come in twenty minutes, allowing time for an answer."
"Very good," she said, abruptly, and wrote rapidly:
No. 52 —— street.
SIR—Having no other friend at hand, I take you at your word. I need your aid, to rescue me from the power of a bad man. Will you meet me, with a carriage, at the south corner of this block, in one hour, and take me to Mrs. Girard, who has offered me a shelter? You know the danger I wish to escape. Aid me "in the name of your mother."
This is what she penned, and looking up she asked: "What is the number of this place, Henry?"
"91 Empire block," he replied; "C—— street."
She added this, and then folding and enclosing, addressed it to Clarence Vaughan, M. D., etc.
"There, Henry, take it as quickly as you can; and some day I will try and reward you."
She smiled upon him as she gave him the letter. He took it, bowed low, and hurried away.
She listened until the sound of his footstep could be heard no longer. Then rising quickly, she opened the receptacle that held the portrait of the woman who, though unseen, was still an enemy. Long she gazed upon the pictured face, and when at last she closed the case, springing the lock with a sharp click, she muttered between set teeth:
"I shall know you when I see you, madame."
Crossing to the pistol bracket, she took the little weapon in her hand, and picking up one of the cartridges left by its careless owner, loaded it carefully. Having done this she placed the weapon in her pocket.
She paced to and fro, to and fro; nothing would have been harder for her than to remain quiet then. Her eyes wandered often to the tiny bronze clock on the marble above the grate.
Ten minutes; her letter was delivered, was being answered perhaps;—fifteen; how slowly the moments were going!—twenty; what if he should return, too soon? Instinctively she placed her hand upon the pocket holding the little pistol. Twenty-five minutes; what if her messenger should fail her? And that card had clearly stated "office hours three to five." Twenty-six; oh, how slow, how slow!—twenty-seven; had the clock stopped? no;—twenty-eight—nine—half an hour.
Where was Henry?
She felt a giddiness creeping over her; how close the air was. Her nerves were at their utmost tension; another strain upon the sharply strung chords would overcome her. She felt this vaguely. If she should be baffled now! She could take fresh heart, could nerve herself anew, if aid came to her, but if he should come she feared, in her now half frenzied condition, to be alone, she was so strangely nervous, so weak!
How plainly she saw it, the face of Clarence Vaughan. Oh, it was a good face! When she saw it again she could rest. She had not felt it before, but she did need rest sorely.
Thirty-five minutes,—oh, they had been hours to her; weary, weary time!
How many a sad watcher has reckoned the flying moments as creeping hours, while sitting lonely, with heavy eyes, trembling frame, and heart almost bursting with its weight of suspense—waiting.
Forty minutes—and a footstep in the passage! Her heart almost stopped beating. It was Henry.
"I had to wait, as he was busy with a patient," said he, apologetically, handing her the letter she desired.
Madeline tore open the missive with eager fingers, and read:
Miss Madeline W.:
Thank you for your faith in me. I will meet you at the place and time appointed. Do not fail me. Respectfully,
She drew a long breath of relief.
"Thank you, Henry. Now I shall leave this place; promise me that you will not tell your master where I went or how. Will you promise?"
"I will, miss," said the man, earnestly. "Is this all I can do?"
"If you would be my true friend—if I might trust you, Henry—I would ask more of you. But I should ask you to work against your master. He has wronged me cruelly, and I need a friend who can serve me as you can quite easily. I should not command you as a servant, but ask you to aid me as a true friend, for I think your heart is whiter than his."
And Henry was won. Starting forward, he exclaimed:
"He treats me as if I were a dog; and you, as if I were white and a gentleman! Let me be your servant, and I will be very faithful; tell me what I can do."
"Thank you, Henry; I will trust you. To-morrow, at noon, call at Dr. Vaughan's office and he will tell you where you can find me. Then come to me. You can serve me best by remaining with your master, at present; and I will try, after I have left this place, to reward you as you deserve."
"I will obey you, mistress," said the delighted servant. "I shall be glad to serve where I can hear a kind word. And I shall be glad to help you settle accounts with him. I will be there to-morrow, no fear for me."
She turned, and put on her wrappings with a feeling of exultation. He would come soon, smiling and triumphant, and she would not be there! He should fret and wonder, question and search, but when they met again the power should be on her side.
She turned to the waiting servant, saying: "I am ready, Henry."
He opened the door as if for a princess. Before Madeline had lifted her foot from the carpet, her eyes became riveted upon the open doorway.
There, smiling and insouciant, stood Lucian Davlin!
Madeline stood like one in a nightmare, motionless and speechless. Again, and more powerfully, came over her senses that insidious, creeping faintness; that sickening of body and soul together.
It was not the situation alone, hazardous as it certainly was, which filled her with this shuddering terror; it was the feeling that vitality had almost exhausted itself. She suddenly realized the meaning of the awful lethargy that seemed benumbing her faculties. The "last straw" was now weighing her down, and, standing mute and motionless she was putting forth all her will power to comprehend the situation, grasp and master it.
Like a dark stone image Henry stood, his hand upon the open door, his eyes fastened upon the man blocking the way.
Davlin, whose first thought had been that the open door was to welcome his approach, realized in an instant as he gazed upon Madeline, that he was about to be defied. There was no mistaking the expression of the face, so white and set. He elevated his eyebrows in an elaborate display of astonishment.
"Just in time, I should say," removing his hat with mock courtesy, and stepping across the threshold. "Not going out without an escort, my dear? Surely not. Really, I owe a debt of gratitude to my friends down town, for boring me so insufferably, else I should have missed you, I fear."
No answer; no change in the face or attitude of the girl before him.
"Close that door, sir, and take yourself off," he said, turning to Henry.
Remembering her words, "You can serve me best here," Henry bowed with unusual humility, and went out.
"I don't think she is afraid of him," he muttered, as he went down the hall; "anyhow, I won't be far away, in case she needs me."
Lucian Davlin folded his arms with insolent grace, and leaning lazily against the closed door, gazed, with his wicked half smile, upon the pale girl before him.
Thus for a few moments they faced each other, without a word. At length, she broke the silence. Advancing a step, she looked him full in the face and said, in a calm, even tone:
"Open that door, sir, and let me pass."
"Phew—w—w!" he half whistled, half ejaculated, opening wide his insolent eyes. "How she commands us; like a little empress, by Jove! Might the humblest of your adorers be permitted to ask where you were going, most regal lady?"
"Not back to the home I left for the sake of a gambler and roue," she said, bitterly.
"Oh," thought he, "she has just got her ideas awakened on this subject: believed me the soul of honor, and all that. Only a small matter this, after all."
"Don't call hard names, little woman," he said aloud. "I'm not such a very bad man, after all. By the way, I shouldn't have thought it exactly in your line, to order up my servant for examination in my absence."
"I am not indebted to your servant for my knowledge concerning you, sir. I wish to leave this place; stand aside and let me pass."
The red flush had returned to her cheeks, the dangerous sparkle to her eyes; her courage and spirits rose in response to his sneering pleasantries. Her nerves were tempered like steel. He little dreamed of the courage, strength and power she could pit against him.
He dropped one hand carelessly, and inserted it jauntily in his pocket.
"Zounds; but you look like a little tigress," he exclaimed, admiringly. "Really, rage becomes you vastly, but it's wearisome, after all, my dear. So drop high tragedy, like a sensible girl, and tell me what is the meaning of this new freak."
"I will tell you this, sir: I shall leave this place now, and I wish never to see your face again. Where I go is no concern of yours. Why I go, I leave to your own imagination."
"Bravo; what a little actress you would make! But now for a display of my histrionic talents. Leave this place, against my will, you can not; and I wish to see your face often, for many days to come. Where you go I must go, too; and why you go, is because of a prudish scruple that has no place in the world you and I will live in."
"The world you live in is not large enough for me too, Lucian Davlin. And you and I part, now and forever."
"Not so fast, little one," he answered, in his softest, most persuasive tone. "See, I am the same lover you pledged yourself to only yesterday. I adore you the same as then; I desire to make you happy just the same. You have put a deep gulf between yourself and your home; you can not go back; you would go out from here to meet a worse fate, to fall into worse hands. Come, dear, put off that frown."
He made a gesture as if to draw her to him. She sprang away, and placing herself at a distance, looked at him over a broad, low-backed chair, saying:
"Not a step nearer me, sir, and not another word of your sophistry. I will not remain here. Do you understand me? I will not!"
Lucian dragged a chair near the door, and throwing himself lazily into it, surveyed the enraged girl with a look of mingled astonishment, amusement, and annoyance.
"Really, this is rather hard on a fellow's patience, my lady. Not a step nearer the door, my dear; and no more defiance, if you please. You perceive I temper my tragedy with a little politeness," he added, parenthetically. "I will not permit you to leave me; do you hear me? I will not!"
His tone of aggressive mockery was maddening to the desperate girl. It lent her a fresh, last impulse of wild, defiant energy. There was not the shadow of a fear in her mind or heart now. The rush of outraged feeling took full possession of her, and, for a second, deprived her of all power of speech or action. In another instant she stood before him, her eyes blazing with wrath, and in her hand, steadfast and surely aimed, a tiny pistol—his pistol, that he had taught her to load and aim not two short hours before!
He was not a coward, this man; and rage at being thus baffled and placed at a disadvantage by his own weapon, drove all the mockery from his face.
He gave a sudden bound.
There was a flash, a sharp report, and Lucian Davlin reeled for a moment, his right arm hanging helpless and bleeding. Only for a moment, for as the girl sprang past him, he wheeled about, seized her with his strong left arm, and holding her close to him in a vice-like clutch, hissed, while the ghastly paleness caused by the flowing blood overspread his face:
"Little demon! I will kill you before I will lose you now! You—shall—not—esca—"
A deathly faintness overcame him, and he fell heavily; still clasping the girl, now senseless like himself.
Hearing the pistol shot, and almost simultaneously a heavy fall, Henry hurried through the long passage and threw open the door. One glance sufficed, and then he rushed down the stairs in frantic haste.
Meantime, Clarence Vaughan, punctual to the time appointed, had driven rapidly to the spot designated by Madeline. He was about to alight from the carriage, when he drew back suddenly, and sat in the shadow as a man passed up the street.
It was Lucian Davlin, and he entered the building bearing the number Madeline had given in her note.
Instantly Vaughan comprehended the situation. She had sent for aid in this man's absence, and his return might frustrate her plans. Pondering upon the best course to pursue, he descended from the carriage, and paced the length of the block. Turning in his promenade, his ear was greeted by a pistol shot. Could it come from that building? It sounded from there certainly. It was now five minutes past the time appointed; could it be there was foul play? He paused at the foot of the stairs, irresolute.
Suddenly there was a rush of feet, and Henry came flying down, the whites of his eyes looking as if they would never resume their natural proportions. Clarence intercepted the man as he essayed to pass, evidently without having seen him.
"Oh, sir!—Oh, doctor, come right up stairs, quick, sir," he exclaimed.
"Was that shot from here, my man?" inquired Doctor Vaughan, as he followed up the stairs.
"Yes, sir," hurrying on.
"Any people in the building besides your master and the lady?"
"No, sir; not at this time. This way, sir."
He threw open the door and stepped back. Entering the room, this is what Clarence Vaughan saw:
Lying upon the floor in a pool of blood, the splendid form of Lucian Davlin, one arm dripping the red life fluid, the other clasping close the form of a beautiful girl. His eyes were closed and his face pallid as the dead. The eyes of the girl were staring wide and set, her face expressing unutterable fear and horror, every muscle rigid as if in a struggle still. One hand was clenched, and thrown out as if to ward off that death-like grasp, while the other clutched a pistol, still warm and smelling of powder.
It was the work of a moment to stop the flow of blood, and restore the wounded man to consciousness. But first he had removed the insensible girl from Davlin's grasp, laid her upon a bed in the inner room and, removing the fatal weapon from her hand, instructed Henry how to apply the remedies a skilful surgeon has always about him, especially in the city.
At the first sure symptoms of slowly returning life, Doctor Vaughan summoned Henry to look after his master, whom he left, with rather unprofessional alacrity, to attend to the fair patient in whose welfare he felt so much interest. As he bent over the still unconscious girl, his face was shadowed with troubled thought. She was in no common faint, and feeling fully assured what the result would be, he almost feared to see the first fluttering return of life.
At last a shudder agitated her form, and looking up with just a gleam of recognition, she passed into another swoon, thence to another. Through long weary hours she only opened her eyes to close them, blinded with the vision of unutterable woe; and so the long night wore away.
Dr. Vaughan had given brief, stern orders, in accordance with which Lucian Davlin had entrusted his wound to another surgeon for dressing, and then, still in obedience to orders, had swallowed a soothing potion and betaken himself to other apartments.
Henry had summoned a trusty nurse well known to Clarence Vaughan, to assist him at the bedside of Madeline.
In the gray of morning, pallid and interesting, with his arm in a sling, Lucian reappeared in the sick room. Evidently he had not employed all of the intervening time in slumber, for his course of action seemed to have been fully matured.
"She won't be able to leave here for many days, I should fancy?" he half inquired in a low tone, sinking languidly into a sleepy-hollow, commanding a view of the face of the patient, and the back of the physician.
"Not alive," was the brief but significant answer.
"Not alive! Great heavens, doctor, don't tell me that my miserable accident will cost the little girl her life!"
"Ah! your accident: how was that?" bending over Madeline.
"Why, you see," explained Davlin, "She picked up the pistol, and not being acquainted with the use of fire-arms, desired to investigate under my instructions. Having loaded it, explaining the process by illustration, she, being timid, begged me to put it up. Laughing at her fear, I was about to obey, when moving around carelessly, my hand came in contact with that chair, setting the thing off. The sight of my bleeding arm frightened her so that I saw she was about to faint. As I caught her I myself lost consciousness, and we fell together. But how will she come out, doctor? tell me that; poor little girl!"
"She will come out from this trance soon, to die almost immediately, or to pass through a fever stage that may result fatally later. Her bodily condition is one of unusual prostration from fatigue; and evidently, she has been sustaining some undue excitement for a considerable time."
"Been traveling, and pretty well tired with the journey. That, I suppose, taken with this pistol affair—but tell me, doctor, what she will need, so that I may attend to it immediately."
"If she is living at noon," said Dr. Vaughan, reflectively, "it will be out of the question to remove her from here, without risking her life for weeks to come. If she comes out of this, and you will leave her in my hands, I will, with the aid of this good woman," nodding toward the nurse, "undertake to pull her through. It will be necessary that she have perfect quiet, and sees no face that might in any manner excite her, during her illness and convalescence."
Davlin mused for a few moments before making answer. He did not care to excite remark by calling in unnecessary attendants. Dr. Vaughan he knew by reputation as a skilful physician. As well trust him as another, he thought, and it was no part of his plan to let this girl die if skill could save her.
In answer to his natural inquiry as to how the doctor was so speedily on the spot when needed, Henry had truthfully replied that he knew the medical man by sight, and that, fortunately, he was passing when he ran down to the street for assistance. Davlin was further convinced that he, Henry, knew nothing save that the young lady rang for him to show her out, and he, according to orders, had obeyed.
"Well, sir," Davlin said, at last, "I shall leave the lady and the premises entirely in your hands, as soon as the crisis has passed. Then, as my presence might not prove beneficial, while I carry this arm in a sling, at least, I will run down into the country for a few days. My man, here, is entirely at your disposal. Don't spare any pains to pull her through safely, doctor. I will look in again at noon."
He rose and went softly out of the room, the doctor having answered him only by a nod of assent.
"Zounds, how weak I feel," he ejaculated. "I hope the girl won't die. Anyhow, I have no notion of figuring at a death-bed scene. So I'll just keep myself out of the way until the thing is decided. Then, I'll run down and let Cora coddle me up a bit. I can explain my wounded arm as the result of a little affair at the card-table."
Noon came, and slowly, slowly, stern Death relaxed his grasp upon the miserable girl, for Death, like man, finds no satisfaction in claiming willing victims. Slowly the life fluttered back to her heart; and because Death had yielded her up, and to retain it would be to lose her life, reason forsook her.
Under the watchful care of the skilled nurse, and the ministrations of the young physician, she now lay tossing in the delirium of fever.
Nothing worse to fear, for days at least, reported the doctor. So the afternoon train bore Lucian Davlin away from the city and his victim, to seek repose and diversion in the society of his comrade, Cora.
"She will come out of this now, I think," he muttered. "Then—Oh! I'll tame your proud spirit yet, my lady! I would not give you up now for half a million."
And he meant it.
THREADS OF THE FABRIC.
What had become of Madeline Payne?
The question went the round of the village, as such questions do. The servants of Oakley fed upon it. They held secret conferences in the kitchen, and grew loud and argumentative when they knew John Arthur was safely out of hearing. They bore themselves with an air of subdued, unobservant melancholy in his presence, and waxed important, mysterious and unsatisfactory, when in converse with the towns folk—as was quite right and proper, for were they not, in the eyes of mystery hunters, objects of curiosity secondary only to their master himself?
The somber-faced old housekeeper gave utterance to a doleful croak or two, and a more doleful prophecy. But after a summons from John Arthur, and a brief interview with him in the closely shut sacredness of his especial den, not even the social intercourse of the kitchen and the inspiration that the prolonged absence of the master always lent to things below stairs, could beguile from her anything beyond the terse statement that "she didn't meddle with her master's affairs," and she "s'posed Miss Madeline knew where she was."
The housemaid, who read novels and was rather fond of Miss Payne, grieved for a very little while, but found in this "visitation of providence," as John Arthur piously termed it, food for romance weaving on her own responsibility. She entertained Peter, the groom, coachman and general factotum, with divers suggestions and suppositions, each more soul harrowing than the last, making of poor Madeline a lay figure upon which she fitted all the catastrophes that had ever befallen her yellow-covered "heroinesses."
The villagers talked. It was all they could do, and their tongues were very busy for a time until, in fact, a fresher sensation arrived. Nurse Hagar was viewed and interviewed; but beyond sincere expression of grief at her disappearance, and the unvarying statement that she had not even the slightest conjecture as to the fate of the lost girl, nothing could be gained from her.
Hagar was somewhat given to rather bluntly spoken opinions of folk who happened to run counter to her notions in regard to prying, or, in fact, her notions on any subject. In the present emergency she became a veritable social hedgehog, and was soon left to solitude and her own devices.
Whatever were Hagar's opinions on the subject, she kept them discreetly locked within her own breast. She had received, at their last interview, a revelation of the depth and force of character which lay dormant in the nature of Madeline; and she believed, even when she grieved most, that the girl would return, and that when she came she would make her advent felt.
John Arthur went to the city "to put the matter in the hands of the detectives," he said. But as he most fervently hoped and wished that he had seen the last of his "stumbling—block," and believed that of her own will she would not return, it is hardly to be supposed that the Secret Service was severely taxed.
Be this as it may, the Summer days passed and he heard nothing of Madeline.
* * * * *
Meantime, the neat little hotel that rejoiced in the name of the Bellair House, displayed on a fresh page of its register the signature of Lucian Davlin once more, and underneath it that of Mrs. C. Torrance.
Mrs. C. Torrance was a blonde young widow, dressed in weeds of most elegant quality and latest style, with just the faintest hint of an approaching season of half mourning.
Mrs. Torrance had now been an inmate of Bellair House some days, and she certainly had no reason to complain that her present outlook was not all that could be desired. Already she had met the object of her little masquerade, and it was charming to see the alacrity with which John Arthur placed himself in the snare set for him by these plotters, and how gracefully he submitted as the cords tightened around him.
Over and over again Davlin thanked his lucky star for having so ordered his goings that, on his previous visit, he had never been brought into immediate contact with John Arthur. Over and again he congratulated himself that his meetings with Madeline had been kept their own secret, for he knew nothing of the watchful, jealous eyes of old Hagar.
On a fine summer morning, or rather "forenoon," for Mrs. Torrance was a luxurious widow, and her "brother," Mr. Davlin, not at all enamored of early rising,—on a fine forenoon, then, the pair sat in the little hotel parlor, partaking of breakfast. They relished it, too, if one might judge from the occasional pretty little ejaculations, expressive of enjoyment and appreciation, that fell from the lips of the widow.
"More cream, monsieur? Oh, but this fruit is delicious! And I believe there is a grand difference in the qualities of city and country cream."
"The difference in the favor of the country living, eh? I say, Co., don't you think your appetite is rather better than is exactly expected, or in order, for a widow in the second stage of her grief?"
Things were moving just now as Mr. Davlin approved, and he felt inclined to be jocular.
Cora laughed merrily. Then holding up a pretty, berry-stained hand, she said, with mock solemnity, "That is the last, my greatly shocked brother. But didn't you inform Mr. Arthur that we should accept of his kind offer to survey the woods and grounds of Oakley in his company, and isn't this the day, and almost the hour?"
"So it is; I had forgotten."
It was not long before the pair were equipped, and sauntering slowly in the direction of the Oakley estate.
Their morning's enterprise was more than rewarded, and the cause of the widow was in a fair way to victory, when, after having politely refused to lunch with Mr. Arthur on that day, and gracefully promised to dine at Oakley on the next day but one, they bade adieu to that flattered and fascinated gentleman, and left him at the entrance of his grounds.
Then they sauntered slowly back, keeping to the wooded path. Arriving at the fallen tree, the scene of so many interviews between Madeline and Lucian, Cora seated herself on the mossy trunk and announced her determination to rest.
Accordingly her escort threw himself upon the soft grass, and betook himself to his inevitable cigar, while he closed his eyes and allowed the vision of Madeline to occupy the place now usurped by Cora. Very absorbing the vision must have been, for he gave an almost nervous start as Cora's voice broke the stillness:
"Lucian, did you ever see this runaway daughter of Mr. Arthur's?"
Lucian started unmistakably now. Then he employed himself in pulling up tufts of the soft grass, pretending not to have heard.
"Eh, Co., what is it?" affecting a yawn.
"I ask, did you ever see this Madeline Payne, who ran away recently?"
"I? Oh, no. Old fellow always kept her shut up too close, I fancy. They say she was pretty, and you are the first pretty woman I have seen in these parts, Co."
"Well, then, I'm sorry you didn't," quoth Cora, "for from motives of delicacy I really don't care to inquire of others, and I have just curiosity enough to wish to know how she looked."
"Sorry I can't enlighten you, Co. Get it all out of the old fellow after the joyful event."
"Umph! Well, that business prospers, mon brave. We shall win, I think, as usual."
"Yes; and never easier, Co."
"Well, I don't anticipate much trouble in landing our fish. But come along, Lucian, this romantic dell might make you forget luncheon; it can't have that effect on me."
Cora gathered her draperies about her, and prepared to quit the little grove, her companion following half reluctantly.
Hours that seemed days; days that seemed years; weeks that seemed centuries; yet they all passed, and Madeline Payne scarce knew, when they were actually gone, that they were not all a dream.
Life, after that first yielding of heart and brain, had been a delirium; then a conscious torture of mind and body; next a burden almost too great to bear; and then a dreamy lethargy. Heaven be praised for such moods; they are saviors of life and reason in crises such as this through which the stricken girl was passing.
Madness had wrought upon her, and her ravings had revealed some otherwise dark places and blanks in her story to her guardian and nurses. Pain had tortured her. Death wrestled with her, and then, because he could inspire her with no fear of him, because she mocked at his terrors and wooed him, fled away.
In his place came Life, to whom she gave no welcoming smile. But Life stayed, for Life is as regardless of our wishes as is Death.
Forms had hovered about her; kindly voices, sweet voices, had murmured at her bedside. At times, an angel had held the cooling draught to her thirsty lips. At last these dream-creatures resolved themselves into realities:
Doctor Vaughan, who had ministered to her with the solicitude of a brother, the gentleness of a woman, and the goodness of an angel.
Olive Girard who, leaving all other cares, was ever at her bedside, and who came to that place at a sacrifice of feeling, after a wrestling with pride, bringing a bitterness of memory, and a patient courage of heart, that the girl could not then realize.
Henry, too, black of skin, warm of heart; who waited in the outer court, and seemed to allow himself full and free respiration only when the girl was pronounced out of danger.
Out of danger! What a misapplication of words!
From the scene of conflict, at the last flutter of Death's gloomy mantle, comes the man of medicine; watch in hand, boots a tiptoe, face grave but triumphant. His voice bids a subdued farewell to the somberness proper to a probable death-bed, coming up just a note higher in the scale of solemnities, as it announces to the eager, trembling, waiting ones,
"The danger is past!"
Death, the calm, the restful, the never weary; Death, the friend of long suffering, and world weariness and despair; Death, the rescuer, the sometime comforter—has gone away with empty arms and reluctant tread, and—Life, flushed, triumphant, seizes his rescued subject and flings her out into the sea of human lives, perchance to alight upon some tiny green islet or, likelier yet, to buffet about among black waters, or encounter winds and storms, upheld only by a half-wrecked raft or floated by a scarce-supporting spar.
And she is out of danger!
Hedged around about by sorrow, assailed by temptation, overshadowed by sin. And, "the danger is over!"
Buffeted by the waves of adversity; longing for things out of reach; running after ignis fatui with eager outstretched hands, and careless, hurrying feet, among pitfalls and snares. And, out of danger!
Open your eyes, Madeline Payne; lift up your voice in thanksgiving; you have come back to the world. Back where the sun shines and the dew falls; where the flowers are shedding their perfume and song birds are making glad music; where men make merry and women smile; where gold shapes itself into palaces and fame wreathes crowns for fair and noble brows; where beauty crowns valor and valor kisses the lips of beauty. And where the rivers sparkle in the sunlight, and, sometimes, yield up from their embrace cold, dripping, dead things, that yet bear the semblance of your kind—all that is left of beings that were once like you!
Out of danger!
Where want, and poverty, and—God help us!—vice, hide their heads in dim alleys and under smoky garret roofs. Where beaten mothers and starving children dare hardly aspire to the pure air and sunlight, the whole world for them being enshrined in a crust of bread. Where thieves mount upwards on ladders beaten from pilfered gold, and command cities and sway nations. Where wantonness laughs and thrives in gilded cages, and starves and dies in mouldy cellars.
Out of danger!
Madeline, the place that was almost yours, in the land of the unknowable, is given to another. The waters of death have cast you back upon the shores of the living. You are "out of danger!"
What was to become of Madeline, now that they had brought her back to life? This was a question which occurred to the two who so kindly interested themselves in the fate of the unknown and headstrong girl.
While they planned a little, as was only natural, yet they knew from what they had seen of their charge that, decide for her how they would, only so far as that decision corresponded with her own inclinations would she abide by it. So they left Madeline's future for Madeline to decide, and found occupation for their kindliness in ministering to her needs of the present.
Once during her illness, and just as the light of reason had returned to the lovely hazel eyes, Lucian Davlin came. But he found the door of the sick chamber closely shut and closely guarded. The slightest shock to her nerves would be fatal now,—they told him. And he, having done the proper thing, as he termed it, and not being in any way fond of the sight of pain and pallor, yielded with a graceful simulation of reluctance. Having been assured that with careful nursing, there was nothing to fear, he deposited a check on his bankers in the hands of her attendants, and went away contentedly, smiling under his mustache at the novelty of being turned away from his own door.
He went back to Bellair, to Cora, and to the web they were weaving, little dreaming whose hands would take up the thread and continue and complete what they had thus begun.
And now the day has come for Madeline to leave the shelter that she hates. Pale and weak, she sits in the great easy chair that had served as a barrier between herself and her enemy, and converses with Olive Girard while they await the arrival of Clarence Vaughan, who is to take them from the place so distasteful to all three.
It has been settled that, for the present, Madeline will be the guest of Olive. What will come after health and strength are fully restored, they have not discussed much. Olive Girard and Doctor Vaughan had agreed that all thoughts of the future must bring a grief and care with them, and the mind of the invalid was in no condition for painful thought and study. So Olive has been careful to avoid all topics that might bring her troubles too vividly to mind.
But partly to divert Madeline's mind from her own woes, partly to enable the unfortunate girl to feel less a stranger among them, she has talked to her of Doctor Vaughan, of her sister, and at last of herself.
And Madeline has listened to her description of merry, lovely Claire Keith, and wondered what she could have in common with this buoyant, care-free girl, who was evidently her sister's idol. Yet she found herself thinking often of Olive's beautiful sister. Once, in the brief absence of Olive, she had said to Doctor Vaughan:
"Mrs. Girard has told me of her sister; is she very lovely? And do you know her well?"
"She is very fair, and sweet, and good. You will love her when you know her, and I think you will be friends."
She had not needed this; the tell-tale eye was sufficient to reveal the fact that it was not, as she had at first supposed, Olive Girard, but the younger sister, whom Clarence Vaughan loved.
"I might have known," she murmured to herself. "Olive Girard has the face of one whose love dream has passed away and lost itself in sorrow; and he looks, full of strength and hope, straight into the future."
As they sat together waiting, there was still that same contrast, which you felt rather than saw, between these two. They might have posed as the models of Resignation and Unrest.
The look of patient waiting was five years old upon the face of Olive Girard. Five years ago she had been so happy—a bride, beautiful and beloved. Beautiful she was still—with the beauty of shadow; beloved too, but how sadly! Philip Girard had been convicted of a great crime, and for five long years had worn a felon's garb, and borne the anguish of one set apart from all the world.
The hand that had darkened the life of Olive Girard, and the hand that had turned the young days of the girl Madeline into a burden, was one and the same.
Afterwards Madeline listened to the pathetic history of Olive's sorrow.
Sitting in that great lounging chair, Madeline looked very fair, very childlike. Sadly sweet were her large, deep eyes, and her hair, shorn while the fever raged, clustered in soft tiny rings about her slender, snowy neck and blue-veined temples. She had not been permitted to talk much during her convalescence, and Olive had as yet gleaned only a general outline of her story.
"Mrs. Girard," said the girl, resting her pale cheek in the palm of a thin, tiny hand, "you once said something to me about—about some one who had been wronged by—" Something sadder than tears choked her utterance.
As Olive turned her grave clear eyes away from the window, and fixed them in expectation upon her; Madeline's own eyes fell. She sat before her benefactress with downcast lids, and the hateful name unuttered.
"I know," said Olive, after a brief silence; "I referred to a girl now lying in the hospital. She is very young, and has been cruelly wronged by him. She is poor, as you may judge, and earned her living in the ballet at the theater. She was thrown from a carriage which had been furnished her by him, to carry her home from some rendezvous—of course the driver took care of himself and his horses. The poor girl was picked up and carried to the hospital. She was without friends and almost penniless. She sent to him—for him; he returned no answer. She begged for help, for enough to enable her to obtain what was needed in her illness. Message after message was sent, and finally a reply came, brought by a messenger who had been bidden to insist upon receiving an answer. The servant said that his master had directed him to say to any messenger who called, that he was out of town."
"The wretch! He deserves death!"
Madeline's eyes blazed, and she lifted her head with some of her olden energy.
"Softly, my dear: 'Thou shalt do no murder.'"
"It is not murder to kill a human tiger!"
Olive made no answer.
"Is she still very ill, this girl?" questioned Madeline.
"She can not recover."
"Shall I see her?"
"If you wish to; do you?"
Another long pause; then Madeline glanced up at her friend, and said listlessly: "What do you intend to do with me?"
"Do with you?" smiling at her. "Make you well again, and then try and coax you to be my other sister. Don't you think I need one?"
"Life has much in store for you yet, Madeline."
"Yes;" bitterly again.
"You are so young."
"And so old."
"Madeline, you are too young for somber thoughts and repining."
"I shall not repine."
"Good! You will try to forget?"
"No; not impossible."
"I do not wish to, then."
"Wait and see."
"Madeline, you will do nothing rash? You will trust me, and confide in me?"
The girl raised her eyes slowly, in surprise. "I have not so many friends that I can afford to lose one."
"Thank you, dear; then we will let the subject drop until we are stronger. And here is the carriage, and Doctor Vaughan."
Out into the sunny Summer morning went Madeline, and soon she was established in a lovely little room which, Olive said, was hers so long as she could be persuaded to occupy it. Here the girl rested and, ministered unto by gentle hands, she felt life coming back.
* * * * *
Late in the afternoon of the day that saw Madeline depart from his elegant rooms, Mr. Davlin arrived, and found no one to deny him admittance. All the doors stood ajar, and Henry was flitting about with an air of putting things to rights. The bird had flown.
He gained from Henry the following: "I don't know, sir, where she went. A gentleman came with a carriage, and the young lady and the nurse went away with him."
Lucian was not aware what manner of nurse Madeline had had in her illness. And Henry, having purposely misled him, enjoyed his discomfiture.
"She told me to give you this, sir," said he, handing his master a little package.
Tearing off the wrapper, Lucian held in his hand the little pistol that had inflicted upon him the wounded arm. From its mouth he drew a scrap of paper, and this is what it said:
When next we meet, I shall have other weapons!
BONNIE, BEWITCHING CLAIRE.
Four months. We find Madeline standing in the late Autumn sunset, "clothed and in her right mind," strong with the strength of youth, and beautiful with even more than her olden beauty.
Fair is the prospect as seen from the grounds of Mrs. Girard's suburban villa, and so, perhaps, Claire Keith is thinking.
She is looking down the level road, and at the trees on either hand, decked in all their October magnificence of scarlet and brown and gold, half concealing coquettish villas and more stately residences.
The eyes of Madeline were turned away from the vista of villas and trees, and were gazing toward the business thoroughfare leading into the bustle of the town; gazing after the receding figure of Doctor Clarence Vaughan as he cantered away from the villa; gazing until a turn of the road hid him from her view. Then—and what did she mean by it?—she turned her face toward Claire with a questioning look in her eyes—the question came almost to her lips. But the words were repressed.
Bonnie Clair was thinking of anything but Clarence Vaughan just then. Presently she turned a bright glance upon her companion, who was gathering clusters of the fallen maple leaves, with face half averted.
"A kiss for your thoughts, beautiful blonde Madeline. I certainly think it is ten minutes since Doctor Vaughan departed and silence fell upon us."
She bent down, and taking her companion's head between two dimpled hands, pulled it back, until she could look into the solemn brown eyes.
"Come, now," coaxingly, "what were you thinking?"
Madeline extricated herself from Claire's playful grasp, and replied with a half laugh: "It must be mutual confession then, you small highwayman; how do you like my terms?"
"Only so so," flushing and laughing. "I was meditating the propriety of telling you something some day, and was thinking of that something just now, but—"
"But," mimicked Madeline, with half-hearted playfulness; "what will you give me to relieve your embarrassment, and guess?"
"You can't," emphatically.
"Can't I? We will see. My dear, I fear you have left a little corner of your heart behind you in far-away Baltimore. You didn't come to pay your annual visit to your sister, quite heart free."
Anyone wishing to gain an insight into the character of Claire Keith might have taken a long step in that direction could he have witnessed her reception of this unexpected shot. She opened her dark eyes in comic amazement, and dropping into a garden chair, exclaimed, with a look of frank inquiry:
"Now, how ever could you guess that?"
"Because," said Madeline, in a constrained voice, and with all the laughter fading from her eyes; "Because, I know the symptoms."
"I see," dropping her voice suddenly. "Oh, Madeline, how I wish you could forget that."
"Why should I forget my love dream," scornfully, "any more than you yours?"
"Oh, Madeline; but you said you had ceased to care for him; that you should never mourn his loss."
"Mourn his loss!" turning upon Claire, fiercely. "Do you think it is for him I mourn my dead; my lost happiness, my shattered dreams, my life made a bitter, burdensome thing. Mourn him? I have for Lucian Davlin but one feeling—hate!"
Madeline, as she uttered these last words, had turned upon Claire a face whose fierce intensity of expression was startling. For a moment the two gazed into each other's eyes—the one with curling lip and somber, menacing glance, the other with a startled face as if she read something new and to be feared, in the eye of her friend.
Claire had been an inmate of her sister's house for four weeks. When first she arrived, she had heard Madeline's story, at Madeline's request, from the lips of her sister Olive, and now the girls were fast friends. Generous Claire had found much to wonder at, to pity and to love, in the story and the character of the unfortunate girl. Possessing a frank, sunshiny nature, and never having known an actual grief, she could lavish sweet sympathy to one afflicted. But she could not conceive what it would be like to live on when faith had perished and hope was a mockery. She had never known, therefore never missed, a father's love and care. Indeed, he who filled the place of father and guardian, her mother's second husband, was all that a real parent could be. Claire seldom remembered that Mr. James Keith was not her father, and very few, except the family of Keith, knew that "Miss Claire Keith, daughter of the rich James Keith, of Baltimore," was in truth only a step-daughter.
Mrs. Keith, whose first husband was Richard Keith, cashier in his wealthy cousin's banking house, had buried that husband when Olive was five years old, and baby Claire scarce able to lisp his name. In a little less than two years she had married James Keith, the banker-cousin, and shortly after the marriage, James Keith had transferred his business interests to Baltimore, and there remained.
So Claire's baby brothers had never been told that she was not their "very own" sister, for of Olive they knew little, her marriage having separated them at first, and subsequently her obdurate acceptance of the consequences of that marriage.
When the law pronounced her husband a criminal, Mr. Keith had commanded Olive to abandon both husband and home, and return to his protection. This, true-hearted Olive refused to do. Her step-father, enraged at her obstinacy in clinging to a man who had been forsaken by all the world beside, bade her choose between them. Either she must let the law finish its work of breaking Philip Girard's heart by setting her free, or she must accept the consequences of remaining the wife of a criminal.
Olive chose the latter, and thenceforth remained in her own lonely home, never even once visiting the place of her childhood.
"He called my husband a criminal," she said, "and I will never cross his threshold until he has had cause to withdraw those words."
Claire, however, announced her intention of visiting her sister whenever she chose, and she succeeded, in part, in carrying out her will, for every year she passed two months or more with Olive.
What a picture the two girls now made, standing face to face.
Madeline, with her lithe grace of form, her pure pale complexion lit up by those fathomless brown eyes, and rendering more noticeable and beautiful the tiny rosy mouth, with its satellite dimples; with such wee white, blue-veined hands, and such a clear ringing, yet marvelously sweet voice. Madeline was very beautiful, and Claire, as she looked at her, wondered how any man could bear to lose such loveliness, or have the heart to betray it; as if ever pure woman could fathom the depth of a bad man's wickedness.
Bonnie, bewitching Claire! Never was contrast more perfect. A scarf, like scarlet flame, flung about her shoulders, set off the richness of her clear brunette skin, through which the crimson blood flamed in cheek and lip. Eyes, now black, now gray, changing, flashing, witching eyes: gray in quiet moments, darkening with mirth or sadness, anger or pain; hair black and silky, rippling to the rounded, supple waist in glossy waves. Not so tall as Madeline, and rounded and dimpled as a Hebe.
Bringing her will into service, Madeline banished the gloom from her face and said, with an attempt at gayety:
"I must be a terrible wet blanket when my ghost rises, Claire. But come, you have excited my curiosity; let us sit down while you tell me more of this mighty man who has pitched his tent in the wilderness of your heart, to the exclusion of others who might aspire."
They seated themselves upon a rustic bench and Claire replied:
"Don't anticipate too much, inquisitor; I have no acknowledged lover, but—" blushing charmingly, "I have every reason to think that I am loved fondly and sincerely. He is very handsome, Madeline, and—but wait, I will show you his picture."
Madeline nodded, and Claire bounded away, to return quickly bearing in her hand a finely wrought cabinet photograph, encased in velvet and gilt, a la souvenaire. Placing it in her companion's hand, she sat down with a little triumphant sigh, and gazed over Madeline's shoulder with a proud, glad look in her eyes.
"Blonde?" suggested Madeline.
"Yes," eagerly; "such lovely hair and whiskers,—perfect gold color; and fair as a woman."
"So I should judge," and she continued to gaze.
Blonde he was, certainly; hair thrown carelessly back from a brow broad and white; eyes, light, but with an expression that puzzled the gazer.
"Eyes,—what color?" she said, without taking her own off the picture.
"Blue; pale blue, but capable of such varying expression."
"Just so," dryly; "they look mild and saintly here, but I think those eyes are capable of another expression. I could fancy the brain behind such eyes to be—"
"Cruel, crafty, treacherous."
"There, there; I didn't say that he,"—tapping the picture—"possessed these qualities. His eyes are unusual ones; did you ever see his mouth?"
"What a question—through all those whiskers? no; but he has beautiful teeth."
"So have tigers. There, dear, take the picture; I am no fit judge, perhaps. Remember, I once knew a man with the face of an angel, and the heart of a fiend. Your friend is certainly handsome; let us hope he is equally good."
"He is; I know it," asserted Claire.
Then she told her companion how she had met him at the house of a friend; how he was very learned and scientific; very grave and dignified; and very devoted to herself. And how, beyond these few facts, she knew little if anything of her blonde hero, Edward Percy.
Madeline received this information in a grave silence, whose chill affected Claire as well, and after a few moments, as if by mutual consent, they arose and entered the house.
Olive Girard had been absent a week; gone on a journey, sacred to her as any Meccan pilgrimage, a visit to the place of her husband's imprisonment. Every year she made this journey, returning home in some measure comforted; for she had seen her beloved.
She came back on this evening, as the two girls were mingling their voices in gay bravura duets—by mutual consent they avoided all songs of a pathetic order, for reasons which neither would have cared to acknowledge.
The evening having passed away, Claire found herself in her chamber gazing at her lover's pictured face and thinking how good, how noble, it was, and what a little goose she had been to allow anything Madeline had said to apply to him. A sudden thought occurred to her, and going to Madeline's door, she tapped gently. The door opened, and Claire, raising a warning finger, said:
"Madeline, I forgot to tell you that Olive knows nothing of Edward Percy, and—I don't want to tell her just yet. You will not mention it?"
"Then good-night, and pleasant dreams."
"Thank you," in a grave voice; "good-night."
Claire returned to her room and penned a long letter to Edward Percy, full of sweet confidence, gayety and trustfulness. She reperused his last letter, said her prayers, or rather read them, for Claire was a staunch little church-woman, and then slept and dreamed bright dreams.
A GLEAM OF LIGHT.
A few moments after Claire's door had closed for the last time, Madeline came cautiously from her room, her slippered feet making no sound on the softly carpeted floor. Passing Claire's door, she paused before another, opened it gently, and stood in Olive Girard's bed-chamber.
Evidently she was expected, for a light was burning softly and Olive sat near it with a book in her hand, in an attitude of waiting.
Madeline seated herself at the little table as if quite accustomed to such interviews, and said in a low tone:
"I am so glad you came to-night; are you too tired for a long talk?"
"No; tell me all that has happened since I have been absent."
"Olive, I must go away; back to Bellair," said Madeline, abruptly.
"Madeline, you are mad! To Bellair? Why, he is there often now."
"He will not find me out, never fear. I must go to Bellair within the week."
Olive leaned forward and scanned the girl's face closely and long. At last, she said: "Madeline, what is it you meditate? tell me."
"Going back to Bellair; keeping an eye upon the proceedings of Mr. Arthur; finding out what game that man and woman are playing there; and baffling and punishing them all."
She had been kept informed, through Henry, into whose hands had fallen a letter in Cora's handwriting, bearing the Bellair postmark, and addressed to Lucian Davlin, who, so Henry said, "went down, on and off," and always appeared satisfied with the result of his journey.
Olive argued long against this resolution, but found it impossible to dissuade Madeline.
"It is useless," the girl said, firmly. "I should have died but for the expectation of a time when I could be avenged, and this time I must bring about. All through my convalescence I have pondered how I could best avenge my mother's wrongs, and my own. Now Providence has thrown together the two men who are my enemies; why, I do not yet know, but perhaps it is that I may make the one a weapon against the other. And now I want to ask you some questions."
"I shall touch upon a painful subject, and I will tell you why. After you went away, the story of your sorrow remained with me. So I thought the ground all over, and formed some conclusions. Do you wish to hear them?"
Olive nodded, wearily.
"You have told me," said Madeline, assuming a calm, business-like tone, "that Lucian Davlin testified against your husband at his trial. Now the wounded man, Percy, stated that he recognized the man who struck him?"
"Well, what was Davlin's testimony?"
"That he saw my husband stealing in the direction of the place where the wounded man was found, but a few moments before he was struck, wearing the same hat and hunting-jacket that the injured man testified was worn by his would-be assassin."
"Oh!" Madeline knitted her brows in thought a moment; then—"Was the coat and hat Mr. Girard's?"
"Yes; he had thrown them off in the afternoon, while the heat was intense, and had fallen asleep. When he awoke, he heard them calling him to supper. It was late in the evening when he remembered his coat and hat, and went back to look for them. He went just at the time when the man must have been struck, and his absence told against him in the evidence."
"Did he find his garments?"
"No; they were found by others, not where he had left them, but nearer the scene of the crime."
"Ah! And who was the first to discover the injured man?"
"Why, I believe it was Mr. Davlin." Olive looked more and more surprised at each question. "Why do you ask these things, Madeline?"
The girl made a gesture of impatience. "Wait," she said, "I will explain in good time." Again she considered. "Was there any ill-feeling between your husband and Davlin?"
"There was no open misunderstanding, but I know there was mutual dislike. Philip saw that Davlin was making systematic efforts to win money from the party, and had therefore persuaded one or two of his friends to give gaming little countenance. No doubt he kept money out of the man's pocket."
"And what was the standing of that man and the victim, this Percy?"
"They were much together, and Philip tells me he had sometimes fancied that Davlin held some power over Percy. Davlin had won largely from him, and the man seemed much annoyed, but paid over the money without demur."
"And now, how did your husband stand toward the injured man?"
"That is the worst part of the story. They had had high words only that very day. Philip had been acquainted with Percy at school, and he knew so much that was not in his favor, that he was unable to conceal his real opinion of the man at all times. One day high words arose, and Philip uttered a threat, which was misconstrued, after the attack upon Percy. They said he threatened his life. But Percy knew that only his honor was meant. Davlin knew this, too; must have known it, for he was aware that the two had met before they came together with the party."
"I can not see why Lucian Davlin should be your husband's enemy."
"I can understand that he hated Philip for the same reason that a thief hates the light, and Philip had balked his plans."
"True; and yet—"
"And yet?" inquiringly.
"Bad as the man is, I can see but one motive that could induce even him to swear away the liberty, almost the life, of a man who never wronged him."
"Still, he did it," said Olive, with a weary sigh.
"True; and he did it for a motive."
"And that motive—"
"Was the strongest instinct of the human race."
Olive started up with a half cry. "Madeline, in heaven's name, what do you mean!"
"That Lucian Davlin threw suspicion upon the innocent to screen the guilty," said the girl, in a low, firm tone.
"And the guilty one, then?"
"Himself. Do you think him too good for it?" sneeringly.
"No, no! oh, no! But this I had never thought of—yet it may be true."
She fell into deep thought; after a time she started up. "I must consult a detective immediately," she said.
"You must do no such thing," cried Madeline, springing to her feet; "why did not the detectives find this out before? Because they have not my reasons for hunting that man down. I found this clue, if it be one. I claim it; it is my right, and I will have it. If he is to be undone, it shall be by my hands. I swear it!"
They faced each other in silence.
Slowly Olive recalled to her countenance and voice its usual sweet calm, and then seated herself and talked long and earnestly with Madeline.
The little bronze clock on the mantel was on the stroke of two when the conference ended, and Madeline retired to her own room, but not to sleep. She sat and thought until the dawn shone in at her window.
One link was missing from the chain; no motive had been discovered for an attack on Percy by Davlin.
"But I will find it," she muttered. Then, as a new thought occurred to her, she caught her breath. "Claire's lover is named Percy; can it be the same? Why did not this occur to me sooner? Why did I not ask for his first name, and a description of him? If this man and Edward Percy should be one and the same! Pshaw! the name is not an uncommon one, and it may be only a coincidence. But your face is a bad one, Edward Percy, and I shall know it when I see it again."
The sun was not high in the heavens ere Madeline was astir, for her nature was such that strong excitement rendered rest impossible. Moving impatiently about the grounds, she saw a familiar form approaching through the shrubbery, and hastened to meet it.
The black visage of Henry beamed with satisfaction as he made a hurried obeisance and placed in her hand a letter, saying:
"Master was preparing for a two days' journey when this letter came. He threw it into his desk, and bade me lock it, and bring him the key. His back was turned, and I took the letter before I locked the desk. It was a long one, and from her; I thought you might want to see it."
"Right, Henry," said the girl, quietly, as she opened the letter. "You will wait for it?"
"Yes, miss; it must not be missing when he comes."
She returned to the letter, and this is what she read:
OAKLEY, October 11.
LUCIAN, Mon Brave:
I am in a fine predicament—have made a startling discovery. Mr. A——has been sick, and the mischief is to pay; and his sickness has brought some ugly facts to light.
The old man is not the sole proprietor of the Oakley wealth. That girl who ran away so mysteriously, and has never been heard of, will inherit at his death. He can bequeath his widow nothing. Oh, to know where that girl is! If she is alive, my work is useless, my time is wasted. I think the old chap must have driven her to desperation, for he raved in his delirium of her and her words at parting. They must have been "searchers."
Well, to add to the general interest, Miss Arthur, aged fifty or so, is here. She is a juvenile old maid, who has a fortune in her own right, and so must be cultivated. She dresses like a sixteen-year-old, and talks like a fool, principally about a certain admirer, a "blonde demi-god"—her words—named Percy.
Something must be done: things must be talked over. Come down and make love to Miss Arthur. Her money is not entailed.
Bring me some Periques and a box of Alexis gloves—you know the number. Yours in disgust,
CORA MME. ARTHUR.
Madeline dropped the letter, and stood amazed. What did it mean? "Cora Mme. Arthur!"
Henry stooped for the letter, and the act recalled her to herself. She thanked him for the service he had done her; told him of her intended departure; gave him some last instructions, and dismissed him with a kind good-by.
"It is time to act," she muttered. "Good heavens! the audacity of that man and woman! She is married to my step-father, if that letter does not lie; has married him for money, and is baffled there. She hoped to become his widow, aha! The plot thickens, indeed! Goodness! what a household! That bad old man, the still viler woman, dangerous Lucian Davlin, and that funny, youthful, cross, 'conceited spinster,' Ellen Arthur, who has a lover, and his name is—heaven save us—Percy! That name will mix itself up with my fate web, and why? Percy beloved of Claire; Percy who brought Philip Girard to his doom; Percy the lover of a rich old maid, are ye one and the same? Percy! Percy! Percy! I must cultivate the Percys at any cost."
She turned and entered the house, her head bent, thinking, thinking, thinking.
A MESSAGE FROM THE DEAD.
Less than a week after the events last related, and a family group surrounds the lunch table in the newly furnished morning room of Oakley.
The fair and fascinating Mrs. Torrance had accomplished the purpose for which she came to Bellair.
Truly had she said, "There is no fool like an old fool;" for John Arthur had been an easy victim. He had lost no time with his wooing, and so, a little less than two months from the day the fair widow came to Bellair, saw her mistress of John Arthur's household.
A bridal tour was not to her taste, much to the delight of the bridegroom. So they set about refitting some of the fine old rooms of the mansion, Cora having declared that they were too gloomy to be inhabitable.
As it was to her interest to keep up the deception of frank affection, she had been, during the two months of their honey-moon, a model wife. But the discovery that John Arthur could leave her nothing save his blessing, had now been made, and Cora, who was already weary of her gray-headed dupe, had been for a few days past less careful in her dissembling.
For this reason John Arthur now sat with a moody brow, and watched her smile upon her brother with a feeling of jealous wrath.
The bride had thrown off her badge of mourning, and was very glad to bloom out once more in azure and white and rose—hues which her soul loved.
Opposite sat Miss Arthur, her sallowness carefully enameled over, her head adorned with an astonishing array of false braids and curls and frizzes, jetty in hue to match her eyes, which, so Cora informed Lucian in private, were "awfully beady."
The lady was perusing a paper, which she suddenly threw down, and said languidly, while she stirred her chocolate carefully. "Should not this be the day on which my new maid arrives?"
Miss Arthur, from perusing many novels of the Sir Walter Scott school, had acquired a very stately manner of speech, and, so she flattered herself, a very effective one.
"I don't know why Miss Arthur can want a maid; her toilets are always perfection," remarked Mr. Davlin to the general assembly.
Whereupon, Miss Arthur blushed, giggled, and disclaimed; Mrs. Arthur disappeared behind a newspaper; and Mr. Arthur emerged from the fog of thought that had enveloped him, to say brusquely:
"Miss Arthur want a maid? what's all this? A French maid in a country house—faugh!"
Miss Arthur gazed across at her brother, and said, loftily, and somewhat unmeaningly:
"It is what I have chosen to do, John." Then to Mr. Davlin, sweetly: "It is so hard to dispense with a maid when you have been accustomed to one."
"I suppose so."
"And this one comes so well recommended, you know, by Mrs. Overman and Mrs. Grosvenor. You have heard of these ladies in society, no doubt, Mr. Davlin?"
"Oh, certainly," aloud, "not," aside.
"And the name of the maid?" pursued Lucian.
"Her name," referring to the letter, "Celine Leroque—French, I presume."
"No doubt," dryly.
"Stop him, Miss Arthur," interrupted Cora, prettily; "he will certainly ask if she is handsome, if you let him open his mouth again."
Miss Arthur glanced at him suspiciously. "Not having seen her, I could not inform him," she said, coldly.
"Don't believe my sister," said Davlin, quietly, as he passed his cup. "Cora, a little more chocolate, please. Miss Arthur, I met Mrs. Grosvenor at the seaside, two years ago. Her toilets were the marvel of the day; she protested that all credit was due her maid, who was a whole 'magazine of French art.' I thought this might be the same."
"I most earnestly hope that it is," pronounced Miss Arthur.
"And I most earnestly hope it isn't," grumbled her brother, who to-day felt vicious for many reasons, and didn't much care what the occasion was, so long as it gave him an excuse for growling.
At this happy stage of affairs, the door was opened and the housemaid announced: "An old lady, who says I am to tell you that her name is Hagar, wants to see you, sir," addressing Mr. Arthur.
The master of the house started, and an angry flush settled upon his face. "Send her away. I won't see the old beldam. Send her away."
The girl bowed and was about to retire, when she was pushed from the doorway with little ceremony, and Nurse Hagar entered. Before the occupants of the room had recovered from their surprise, or found voice to address her, she had crossed the room, and paused before John Arthur. Placing a small bundle upon the table near him, she said:
"Don't think you can order me from your door, John Arthur, when I choose to enter it. I shall never come to you without good reason, and I presume you will think me a welcome messenger when you know my errand."
"Confound you," said the man, angrily, yet with an uneasy look in his eyes; "if you must chatter to me, come into the library." He arose and made a step toward the door.
"There is no need," said Hagar, with dignity; "my errand may interest others here besides yourself. I bring a message from the dead."
John Arthur turned ashen pale and trembled violently. All eyes were turned upon the speaker, however, and his agitation was unnoticed save by Hagar.
"Last night," she continued, "a carriage stopped at my door and a woman came in, bringing that bundle in her hands."
She paused and seemed struggling with her feelings.
"She said," continued Hagar, "that she was requested to come by a dying girl, else she would have written the message given to her. She belonged to a charitable society, and visited the hospital every week. She brought flowers and fruit to one of the patients—a girl who died asking her to write down what is on this card," holding out a bit of white cardboard, "and not to tell the officers of the hospital her true name. She had entered under the name of Martha Gray, and wished to be buried as such. The lady promised; the girl gave her these articles, and the lady kept her word, and brought the message. There is the bundle," in a choking voice, "and here is the card. That is all. Good-by, John Arthur; be happy, if you can. And may God's curse fall upon all who drove her to her doom!"
She gathered her shawl about her shoulders and, casting a meaning glance at Lucian Davlin, passed from the room and the house.
John Arthur sat with eyes riveted upon the card before him. After a time he turned, and placing it in Davlin's hand, signed to him to read it, and hurriedly left the room.
The hand that had first stricken the young life, placed the evidence that the end had come in the hand that had completed what the first began!
Something of this Lucian Davlin felt, hardened as he was, for he knew, without waiting for the proof, that the true name of the girl who died in the hospital was familiar to them all.
"Read!" ejaculated Cora, impatiently, "or give it to me."
Lucian's eyes had scanned the card, and tossing it across to her, he pushed back his chair and walked to the window. Cora read for the benefit of her bewildered sister-in-law:
Madeline Payne, at St. Mary's Hospital, under name of Martha Gray, died—brain fever—no friends but nurse.
On the opposite side of the card was pencilled the full address of old Hagar, and this was all. Scant information, but it was enough.
Cora pounced upon the bundle and opened it. It contained a little purse; a few trinkets, which any of the servants could identify as belonging to Madeline; the cloak she had worn the evening of her flight; and a pocket-handkerchief with her name embroidered in the corner.
Satisfaction beamed in the face Cora turned toward Lucian, and away from Miss Arthur. She was mindful of the proprieties, however, and turning her eyes back upon the lady opposite, she pressed a dainty handkerchief to her countenance, and murmured plaintively:
"How very, very shocking, and sad! Poor Mr. Arthur is quite overcome, and no wonder—that poor, sweet, young girl."
Across Lucian's averted face flitted a smile of sarcasm. How little she knew of the truth, this fair hypocrite, and how unlikely she was ever to know now. If Madeline were dead, of what avail was any effort to break from the olden thraldom—for this is what had been in the mind of the scheming man.
Cora brushed her handkerchief across her eyes and arose languidly. "I must go to Mr. Arthur, poor man," she murmured, shaking out her flounces. "He is terribly shocked, I fear."
Studiously avoiding the necessity of glancing in the direction of Mr. Davlin, she glided from the room.
And so the news fell in Madeline's home, and its inmates were affected no more than this:
With Cora a renewal of tenderness toward "Dear John," and an increased stateliness toward Miss Arthur and the servants. More deference on Miss Arthur's part towards her brother, and less on his part toward her, as the possibility of being obliged to ask a small loan faded away into the past of empty purses and closed up coffers.