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Madeline Payne, the Detective's Daughter
by Lawrence L. Lynch
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"When I came down here and found so soon that Edward Percy was—so utterly unworthy, we will say, because he is dead, I felt at once that you must be undeceived.

"Then a great temptation came to me, and I said to myself, 'When she becomes disenchanted, and ceases to love this man, she will learn to value the other and more noble lover; she will learn to love him!'

"All night long, before I came to undeceive you, and to warn Olive, I battled with a great temptation. And I yielded to it. Listen, Claire, while I tell you how base I was.

"When I set out for the city in the morning, I said to myself: 'Claire Keith is the soul of truth and honor. She is generous to a fault. If I let her see how much I care for Clarence Vaughan, I shall appeal to her pity and her honor, without the aid of words. She will never listen to his suit; she will try to advance my interest; she will become my ally.' See, dear, how truly I judged you.

"Well, I came. I told you of Percy's baseness, and when I saw how brave you were; how full of scorn for the dishonest man; how impossible it was for one so unworthy to drag you down, or darken your life because of his baseness; I was filled with shame and remorse. I knew then that I was unworthy your friendship, or of a good man's love.

"Standing in your presence, humiliated by your pure nobility, I repented, and I resolved to give up all thought of Clarence Vaughan. I did give him up.

"But, Claire, although I did not know it, my very penitence must have committed me, and while I was renouncing my designs, you were resolving to further them. In some manner I must have betrayed myself."

There is a moment's pause. Claire Keith's face is buried in her hands, and Madeline, bending toward her, cries out, remorsefully:

"Claire! Claire! Look up and believe me. As God hears me, that is past and dead. See how I am humbling myself, and do not doubt me."

Claire's head rears itself suddenly. She flings herself forward impetuously, and clasps her arms about her friend.

"Madeline, stop!" she cries, brokenly; "I won't hear you slander yourself. Don't I know you too well to doubt you! But I won't have a lover; I won't love any one but you."

Again the laugh comes to Madeline's lips.

"Little Miss Impulse!" she says, tenderly. "But, sister Claire, I am not done yet. I am going to put you on the penitent's stool now. Just imagine yourself in my place for a little. Do you think I could have made this confession to you if my weakness were not a thing of the past? You know I never could. I am not ashamed to confess that I did love Clarence. But I should be more than ashamed, under all the circumstances, if I could not say with truth that that love is a thing of the past. As my dearest friend, my brother, if you will, I shall always love him; but no more than that. I am not sorry that I have loved him, for I am a better woman because of it. But, I repeat it, that love is a thing of the past. Claire, do you not believe?"

They gaze into each other's eyes for a moment. Then Claire says: "I believe, Madeline."

A smile brightens the brown eyes now, and their owner says: "Then don't you see that you have made a mistake—one that, for my sake, you must rectify?"

Claire begins to look rebellious. "No, I don't," she cries, blushing scarlet. "You wicked girl, you have been getting me into a trap!"

Madeline says, very gravely:

"Claire, I want you to trust me in this, as you all have in other things. I want you to let me feel that I have not made the friends I love best, unhappy. I shall leave you soon: if I have been your friend, let me have my way in this one thing. If you don't, all the rest will have been in vain. See, my drama is ended; my enemies are punished. Now let me make my dear ones happy. Do you know, John Arthur has put a new thought in my head. 'Confound you,' he growled; it was his parting benediction, 'I might have known your father's blood ruled you. I might have looked for cunning and intrigue from that confounded Expert's Daughter.' It is true, Claire; I am the daughter of an Expert, a detective, brave and shrewd. Hagar says that I am like my father, and that I have inherited his talents. When I recall the knot we have just unravelled, the war we have just waged, I can but think that my father's chosen calling may have become mine. If the world ever grows stale, if I pine for change or excitement or absorbing occupation, I can go to my father's chief and say, 'I am the daughter of Lionel Payne, the Expert, and I have inherited a measure of my father's talents.' Do you think he will trust his knotty cases to the Expert's Daughter?"

"I think he will, if he is wise. But, Madeline, all this is folly. You will never leave us. Olive wants you; we all want you."

"And you will all have enough of me. But, Claire, do not ask me to stay now. It is better for me, better for all, that I go away. I must let old memories die out. I want to forget old scenes. I want rest. I need to school my wayward nature, to teach my heart to beat calmly, my soul to possess itself in peace. Claire, I must go."

Just here, some one taps softly. It is a servant who holds in her hands a telegram from Olive to Madeline, which runs thus:

All is well. Philip and I start for home to-night. Meet us there without fail, all of you.

OLIVE.

They read it together, and then Claire burst into tears—tears of joy and thankfulness.

"Philip is free once more! Oh, Madeline, Madeline; and it was you who saved him; it was you!"

Madeline pushes the message into her hand, saying: "If I have done such wonderful things, why do you refuse to obey me? Go, now, and take this good news to Clarence Vaughan. And mind you, don't come back, for I am going to tell Mrs. Ralston."

Half laughing, half crying, Claire is compelled to go down to the library alone. Clarence Vaughan is there, pacing thoughtfully up and down.

Claire enters softly, the paper ostentatiously displayed in her hand. But he looks straight at the blushing, bashful, tear-stained face. Her eyes, half glad, half shy, wholly tell-tale, fall before his own. And the lover who has waited in patience for his opportunity, seizes it now and makes it a moment of victory.

"I have brought you good news, Dr. Vaughan."

He comes straight toward her, and imprisons both little hands, together with the "news" they contain.

"You have brought me yourself, then, and I have been lying in wait for this opportunity. Claire, shall you ever run away from me again?"

It is useless to rebel. His voice tells her that he knows too much, and that he will not be evaded any more.

She gives him one glimpse of her face, and then she is clasped in his strong, loving arms, and from this safe haven, after a time, she tells her good news, struggling prettily to free herself from the loving imprisonment.

"Philip is free, and is coming home."

"Of course; why not, darling? There is no accusation against him now."

"Madeline is going away with Mrs. Ralston. Don't you think she is too bad? Can't we make her stay?"

A look of regretful sadness rests for a moment upon his countenance. Then he says, very tenderly:

"My little darling, Madeline has earned the right to her own perfect liberty. After the fierce schooling through which she has passed, believe me, there is nothing left for us to teach her. She has grown beyond us. Let her have her will, for she knows best what will give her the rest, the forgetfulness, the absorbing interest in other things, that her strong nature needs. Madeline has much to unlearn, much to forget; and she knows this. She is growing to understand her strong, brave self, to value her strength. She will never be an idler, never sink into the ranks of the commonplace. If, after a time, she finds for herself a worthy love, she will be the tenderest, the truest of wives. But she is sufficient unto herself. She has beauty, genius, force, a strong will, a splendid intellect. We shall watch her course from afar, and I am much mistaken if we do not, some day, hear great things of our Madeline."

Claire draws herself gently from the restraining arm, and turns her blue eyes upon him.



"Madeline will never marry," she says softly, sadly. "You are right; she is above us, beyond us. God has made her sufficient unto herself."

* * * * *

It is dawn, gray dawn.

Madeline Payne rises from a long untroubled sleep, and flings wide her shutters.

What is this that she sees?

All below her an unbroken mantle of white; all about and above, the waving of snowy plumes, and floating, misty-white loveliness.

The world is clothed in a new garment; the foot-prints of her enemies are hidden, are blotted from the face of the earth. The pathway to the cemetery where they lately bore Edward Percy, is obliterated, too. The grave of the erring man is covered with heaven's whitest, purest mantle of charity and forgetfulness.

Above, below, all about her, is silence and whiteness and peace.

She sinks to her knees, and leaning out, absorbs into herself the restfulness, the peace, the white, pure glory, of the dawn.

"It is a token," she murmurs, softly. "It is God's benediction on my new day, on my new life. It is the beginning of rest. There is nothing old in this fresh, white world. Let the snow mantle rest thus upon my past life. Ah, how rich I am! How rich in friends; how strong in that I have been able to do some good, to make my beloved happy. Never let me repine at my fate. I am rich, and strong, and free. This new, white, beautiful world is mine, when I wish to wander. My friends are mine, when I wish to rest, and find a home."

Ah, 'tis good to know—

"God's greatness shines around our incompleteness; Round our restlessness, His rest."

Up from the east shoots an arrow of gold, and a bar of roseate light. Higher yet, and the world is aglow with mystic, glittering loveliness. Diamonds sparkling everywhere; snow plumes waving; the earth's white unbroken mantle gleaming and sparkling, and stretching away to meet the golden glow at the horizon's edge.

Kneeling there, with her white hands clasped upon the window ledge, the glory of the morning falls over her like a benediction; lighting up the golden hair; pouring its radiance into the solemn brown eyes; kissing the pure pale cheeks; breathing peace, and rest, and hope into the long-tried, but conquering heart of THE EXPERT'S DAUGHTER.

THE END.



* * * * *



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THE END

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