Suddenly he seemed to recollect himself and dropping into a chair he buried his passion-distorted face in his arms and so awaited the coming of Constance.
He had not long to wait; soon his listening ear caught the gentle opening and closing of the door, and then he felt a light hand upon his arm, and a sweet pitying voice said: "Poor Frank, poor boy, don't let this overcome you so."
One hand reached up and clasped the soft hand that rested on his arm, but he did not lift his head, as he said brokenly:
"Tell me the worst, Constance."
"Why, Frank! the worst is told."
"But," his hand tightened its clasp, "you know more than she has told me."
"No, Frank, nothing more."
He lifted his pale face again.
She started and flushed.
"What letter, Frank?"
"You know," his eyes scanning her face hungrily. "Her letter. The one I brought you two days ago. What was it?"
She drew away her hand.
"It was a note of farewell, Frank. Nothing more."
"Then she told you?" he gasped,—caught his lips between his teeth, and waited for her to finish the sentence.
"She told me nothing, Frank. Oh, I wish she had."
He sprang up, overturning his chair in his hasty excitement.
"Nothing!" he cried "she told you nothing?"
"Absolutely nothing. The letter was an enigma. How strangely you act, Frank. I can't understand you."
Slowly the life color returned to his cheeks and lips, as he answered, or stammered:
"Pardon me, Constance. I thought—I feared—I hoped there might be some explanation. I thought she must have given you some reason for so horrible a step. Are you sure there is no hint, no clue to help us?"
"Frank, listen: Sybil's note explained nothing. It only implored me not to think harshly of her, when I should know what she had done, and bade me farewell. I could not comprehend its meaning until the news reached me that she had fled."
"And you can not guess why she did this thing?"
He turned away, putting his hand up before his face, and uttering a groan. Then he moved toward one of the French windows, pushed it open, and leaned out.
"I feel as if I were going mad," he muttered. "Constance, pardon me; I must have the air. I must be alone to think, and to face this—this disgrace that has come upon us."
And he stepped through the open window, and reeled rather than walked down the steps, and out among the trees.
Constance watched him until the shrubbery hid him from view, and then, with a quick, nervous glance about the room, and out at the windows, she went to the door which shut our tramp detective from view, but not from hearing.
"Come out," she whispered, hurriedly. "Now is your time to escape."
He came out, shaking himself like a water dog.
"Ugh!" he exclaimed. "I have been in one position too long."
"I am sorry," began Constance.
"Not for me," he interrupted. "Like most listeners, I heard what I did not bargain for; but—I have not heard too much. Miss Wardour, don't reproach yourself, or Fate; that little extra hearing was a godsend. And now, let me out, quickly, before some one else claims your time."
She looked cautiously out into the hall, then closed the door again.
"I wish I could know your opinion regarding this business—all of it," she said, wistfully. "I begin to feel helpless, like a rudderless mariner."
"It's a hard knot," he said, going toward the door; "a very hard knot. But we will untie it, Miss Wardour, and then you will understand all these things. Now tell me, where is your detective going next?"
"I do not know."
"You must find out," imperatively.
"I think I can."
"And come to me in the garden."
"Very well," looking out once more. "Your way is clear, sir; go straight to the kitchen entrance."
He passed out, and went his way, swiftly, quietly, and unobserved; and Constance returned to Mr. Belknap, and the completion of her jewel list.
"The combat deepens," mused the tramp detective, as he paced slowly down the garden walk. "The plot, thickens. I come for a catfish,—I may catch a whale. Oh, what a knot; what a beautiful, delightful, horribly hard knot; and how my fingers itch to begin at it. But soft—easy; there is more to be tied in. Let us pay out the rope, and wait."
Miss Wardour and the private detective had just completed their work of transferring to paper a minute description of the Wardour diamonds, when the door opened quietly, and Francis Lamotte, pale, heavy-eyed, but quite composed, appeared before them.
"Have you finished your work?" he asked wearily. "If so, may I intrude?"
"Come, by all means," replied Constance, gently. "You are not intruding, Frank."
"Thank you." He came forward, and sank listlessly into a chair. "Constance, who brought you this news about—Sybil?"
Constance glanced toward the detective, and Francis, interpreting the look, hastened to say:
"It is known to Mr. Belknap, I presume—this shameful business. There is no use of secrecy, where all the world is already agape. My sister, you tell me, has eloped with a low brute. I am numbed with the horror of it. But I must hear it all; every word, every particular. Who brought you the news, Constance?"
"Doctor Heath," replied the girl, icily.
The interjection came through shut teeth, and just for a moment the dark shadow flitted across his features; then he said, with quiet composure:
"Heath? ah, yes; and he gave you all the particulars,—all that he had gathered?"
"Doctor Heath told me all that he had learned," she replied, still coldly.
Frank Lamotte arose slowly, wearily.
"I must see Heath," he said, taking up his hat. "It is small wonder that you speak so frostily to the brother of a girl who has disgraced herself, Constance. However, I realize my fall; henceforth, I know my place."
The detective arose and moved uneasily to the window.
"I am sorry to hear this absurdity, Frank," said Constance, with some severity. "You know my position always in these matters; only yourself can injure yourself in my eyes; and I am sorry to hear you speak thus of Sybil. I have yet to be convinced that in some manner, she is not more a victim than disloyal. I have not condemned her; why should you, her brother?"
A hot flush came over the young man's face, and his eyes glowed with a strange light. He shifted his position uneasily; then, abruptly, he turned to the detective.
"If under the circumstances, and having seen my mood, you care to accept my hospitality, it is still extended, sir," he said, somewhat awkwardly; "will you accompany me to town, and afterwards lunch with me?"
"I will accompany you to the town," replied the detective, coming back from the window; "but I fear I must decline your hospitality for to-day; another time, perhaps."
Francis bowed stiffly, then turned to Constance.
"Constance, good bye," he said, mournfully, and holding out his hand. "I will not displease you again; I will keep at a safe distance."
"You will displease me by doing that," she replied, kindly, at the same time extending her hand. "I mean by staying away; I want you to come often, and to bring me any news that may come from Sybil. Remember, I intend to be her champion, and you must be mine."
"Then I may come as a bringer of news?" he asked.
"You may come as usual," she retorted, a trifle sharply, "and come especially when there is news."
"Thank you;" he bowed over her hand, then turned to the private detective.
"Good morning, Miss Wardour," said that individual, coming forward; "it is probable that I shall not see you again, as I will leave for the city this evening, but you will hear from me as the case progresses, or it is possible that I may find it expedient to pay this place another visit."
"In which case, you will of course present yourself," smiled Constance. "May I ask where you intend to pass your time until you leave for the city, sir?"
"I can hardly say; about the town, as it may happen."
"Ah! Pardon the question; I was thinking of the business in hand; you can hardly hope to find anything new in the village."
"One can never tell, Miss Wardour. If I do learn anything new, you shall hear from me. Present my adieus to Mrs. Aliston, and once more good day."
Constance watched the two as they walked away together, the handsome lithe form of the younger man in such marked contrast with the shambling gait of the detective. Only for a moment, however, then she went swiftly through the halls, out at a rear entrance, and down the path toward the rear gardens.
Here she found the tramp detective busy, or pretending to busy himself with a small pruning knife.
"If you want to follow him, you must make haste," she said, breathlessly; "he is walking townward with Mr. Lamotte; intends to loiter about the town and take some evening train."
"Pray don't appear so much excited," said the tramp detective, dropping his pruning knife, and picking it up again with great deliberation. "There is a man coming up from the river, he must be getting pretty near us. No, don't look now."
"Dear me!" began Constance.
"Listen," he went on, without regarding her ejaculation. "I am going to leave here in two minutes; you can say that you have discharged me. I may not see you again for months. I may return at any time. I may as well warn you here, not to confide anything to Mr. Belknap; at another time you will learn why. Another thing, it is just possible that you may need my services at some future time. I was about to give you an address that will reach me at any time, but we may be observed by that fellow who is coming. I will send you by mail a card containing the address. Pray call upon me if you need my aid. I hope Belknap will find your robbers, but you were wise not to tell him that you had saved your diamonds. Keep your counsel on that subject always, Miss Wardour, it will save you trouble. And now you had better move on. I intend to follow and overtake your two departing guests."
He turned carelessly away as he spoke, and Constance, after a pretense of examining the shrubbery, faced about and walked a few paces down the path, then lifting her eyes carelessly, they fell upon the intruder. Uttering a low ejaculation of surprise, she hastened toward him.
"Evan! why Evan!" she cried, anxiously. "You look ghostly, and you must be in trouble."
"Or I would not be here," said Evan Lamotte, bitterly. "Evan, the ne'er-do-well, does not seek his friends when the sun shines. Eh, Conny? Don't go in," laying one hand upon her arm, as she was about to turn toward the house, "I—I came to talk with you."
"But you will come in, Evan?"
"No, I should fall out with your old cat—I beg pardon, Con., I mean your old aunt, directly."
"Aunt Honor shut herself in her own room an hour ago, child; she has been worn out with too much excitement. We have had a detective here all the morning, not to mention Frank, who has made a wonderful discovery."
"I dare say," muttered the young fellow, dryly, "Frank will make another wonderful discovery soon. Conny," clutching at her arm again, "have you heard?"
"Have I heard what, Evan?"
"About Sybil—my sister," his voice broke, ending in a sob.
"Yes, Evan," she replied, very gently, "I have heard."
It was noticeable, the difference between her treatment of this younger brother of Sybil Lamotte and the one who had just gone.
With Francis she had preserved, even while her heart was full of sympathy and pity for his trouble, a certain dignity even in her kindness, an arm's length repellant stateliness, that galled and tormented the ardent, impulsive, and too eager young man. With Evan she was all pity, all sympathy, full of familiar sisterly kindness and patience.
Women are strange creatures; we may be as handsome as the Apollo, and they will steel their hearts against us. If we would have the confidence, the caresses, the tenderest love of a pitying woman, we must be mentally, or morally, or physically maimed, or halt, or blind.
Evan Lamotte was one of the world's unfortunates, and the pitying heart of the fair heiress had no scorn for such as he. A black sheep, so they called Evan Lamotte, not yet of age, with a slender physique, a pale, handsome face, handsome in spite of his dissipations. He seemed possessed of an evil spirit, that cried incessantly, "drink, drink, drink." Every means had been tried to win him from his dissipation; tears, entreaties, threats, bribes, were alike unavailing. In spite of himself, against himself, Evan Lamotte seemed driven downward by a relentless, unseen enemy.
"Reckless, worthless, hopeless." These were the adjectives commonly coupled with his name, and yet his sister had deemed him worth her loving; his mother had deemed him worth her tears, and Constance Wardour had deemed him worth her pitying kindness.
"Constance," he choked back the sobs that arose in his throat; "don't think that I have been drinking; when a fellow like me is grieved almost to madness, you call him maudlin, but I never cry in my cups, Con. And I have been perfectly sober since Saturday night, or if you like, yesterday morning. I drank hard all that day after they told me, Con., but not one drop since; not one. Con., tell me what have you heard?"
"About all that is known, I think, Evan. Oh! Evan, do you know, can you guess why she has done this—this terrible thing? Come down this walk, Evan; let us sit under that tree, on that bench."
She moved toward the spot indicated, he following mechanically, and seating himself beside her, in obedience to her gesture.
"Do I know the reason?" he repeated. "Do I guess it? Oh, if I could guess it; it has haunted me every moment; that strong desire to know what drove my sister to this fate? It is the question I came here to ask. Con., help me to think; she must have said something; must have given you some hint."
"Alas. But she never did."
"And you can not guess; you have no clue to help us unravel this mystery?"
Constance shook her head.
"Con., oh, Con., you don't think—you can't think that she loved that—that beast?"
"No, Evan, I can't think that."
"Then," excitedly; "you must think as I do; that there is a mystery; that there has been foul play. Con., I don't care for anything on earth, except Sybil; I must know what has driven her to this; I must help her; I can help her; I can take her from that brute."
His face was livid, and his eyes glowed with the fierce light that we have seen in the eyes of his elder brother. Constance saw the growing excitement, and sought to soothe it.
"Evan, let us not anticipate," she said, gently. "All that we can do for Sybil shall be done, but it must be with her consent. When does your father come?"
"I don't know," sullenly; "I telegraphed him Saturday; he will come to-day, no doubt. But he will come too late."
"Alas, yes; I regret so much that it was for my sake he was absent from home at such a time, and Frank, too."
"Frank? bah! What could he do? What could any one do?"
She turned, and scanned his face keenly.
"Evan, you suspect, or you know something."
"I have a thought," he replied. "I hardly dare call it a suspicion. If I could know it to be the truth," he hissed, between set, white teeth, "I should know what to do, then."
"Don't look like that, Evan; you look wicked."
"I feel wicked," he cried, fiercely. "You can never guess how wicked. When I think of that brute, that beast, that viper; of the power he must hold over her, I am mad, crazed. But he will come back, and then—then I will murder him, and set her free."
With his gleaming eyes, his clenched hands, his white, uplifted face, he looked like a beautiful evil demon. Constance shuddered as she gazed, and then her hand closed firmly upon his arm, as she said:
"Evan, listen: Do you think it would lighten Sybil's burden to hear you rave thus? Do you want to make her lot still harder to bear? Sybil loves you. Would it make her heart lighter to have you embroil yourself for her sake? You know your faults. If you let this hideous idea take place in your mind now, it will break out some day when the demon possesses you. If Sybil Lamotte returns, and hears you utter such threats, she will have an added torture to bear; she will have two curses instead of one. You can not help Sybil by committing an act that would cut you off from her forever. You have caused her heart-aches enough already. See, now, if you can not lighten her burden in some different, better way. But all this is superfluous, perhaps. I wonder if Sybil will come back, at all?"
Lower and lower sank his head, as he listened, and then something that she had said seemed to chain and hold his thoughts.
Slowly the evil light faded from his eyes, and into his face crept a strange, fixed look. Forgetful of time, or of his companion's presence, his thoughts followed this new course, his hands clenching and unclenching themselves, his teeth burying themselves from time to time in his thin under lip. So long he sat thus, that Constance herself, from watching and wondering at his strange mood, wandered off into a sad reverie, the subject of which she could hardly have told, it was such a vague mixture of Sybil's sorrows and her own unrest.
After a time he stirred as if arousing himself with difficulty from a nightmare; and Constance, recalled to herself, in turn, looked up to encounter his gaze, and to be astonished at the new, purposeful self-restraint upon his face, and the inscrutable intentness of his eye.
"Con.," he said slowly, even his voice seeming to have gained a new strange undertone, "Con., you are an angel. You have set me on my feet."
"On your feet, Evan?"
"Yes, on my feet, mentally at least. I don't suppose any one could set me permanently on my physical, corporeal pins. Beg pardon for the slang, Conny, I don't forget how you and Sybil used to lecture me for that, and my other vices. Poor sis, she had given up the drink talks latterly, given me over as hopeless, and so I am. Con., I have made a new resolve."
Constance smiled faintly.
"Oh, you smile. You think I am going to swear off again. No, Con., that's of no use, I should know myself for a liar all the time. I shall never quit liquor; I can't and I tell you," he whispered this fiercely, "they know that I can't, and they know why I can't. Oh! you need not recoil; we are not the first family that has inherited a taint; and I am the one unfortunate in whom that taint has broken forth. Let me tell you a secret; since my first potation, my mother has never once remonstrated with me; never once upbraided; my proud, high tempered mother. She knows the folly of trying to reclaim the irreclaimable. But," lowering his voice, sadly, "my mother never loved me."
She shuddered at the tone, knowing that this last statement, at least, was all too true, and, to direct his thoughts from so painful and delicate a subject, said:
"And your resolve then, Evan?"
"My resolve," his mouth settling into hard lines once more. "Oh, that! well, it is a resolve you put into my head, Con.; although I'll swear the thought was never in your mind. I have resolved to act upon your advice; to curb my heathenish temper, and to help Sybil, when the right time comes, in the right way."
She looked at him fixedly.
"Evan, are you sure this last state of your mind is not worse than the first?"
He laughed, ironically.
"How hard it is to make you believe that any good exists in me."
"Oh, not that, Evan, but you look so strange; not so wild as before, but—"
"Just as wicked."
"Well, Con., you can't expect a fellow to feel pious all in an instant; mine is a pious resolve, and the proper feeling must follow. Isn't that about how they preach it?"
"That's about how they preach it, sir. Now listen, I don't intend to stir one step, or allow you to stir, until you have explained some of your dark sayings; you are going to tell me what this new resolve is."
Evan glanced at her from under his long lashes, and seemed to hesitate. He knew that Constance, in what he had sometimes termed her "imperative mood," was a difficult element to contend with. But he was not quite prepared to divulge just the precise thoughts that were in his mind.
"Con.," he said, slowly, "do you think, if my sister came back very penitent, or very miserable, that my father would take her home?"
"I don't know, Evan."
"Well, that's another of the things that brought me to you. I was overwhelmed with misery, and my head was chaos. I was wild to wreak vengeance upon that man, and filled with dread at the thought that Sybil might come back and meet with no welcome. I believe she will come. I know that man would not miss the triumph of bringing her back among us. Now, Con., my father thinks you infallible, and you can do anything with Frank. I want you to see them, and make them take Sybil home, when she comes. Yes, and John Burrill, too, if she will have him."
"Then," he went on, breathlessly, "the world must have a reason for this marriage; for, not the greatest fool in W—— will believe that Sybil freely chose that villain. Do you pave the way for Sybil's return; I will find a reason for the marriage,—a bone to throw to the dogs. For, I tell you, Con., the true reason will never be told."
Thinking of Sybil's letter, Constance could but agree with him in this; and that letter, too, had caused her to think that Sybil had expected, or hoped, or feared, a return to W——; which, she could only guess.
"You will furnish a reason, Evan? You are mystifying me."
"Never mind that. I, Evan Lamotte, worthless—black sheep—sot; I will find a reason, I tell you; one that will not be questioned, and that will spare Sybil."
"And what then?"
"Then, aided by you, Sybil can come back to us. Aided by my new strong resolve, I will receive that Burrill,—it nearly chokes me to speak his name,—just as Sybil shall dictate; and then, aided by the old man's money, we may be able to buy him off and get him out of the country."
"Why, Evan Lamotte," cried Constance, with a burst of hopefulness, "you have actually evolved a practical scheme. I begin to feel less hopeless."
"Oh, I have a brain or two left, when a firm hand, like yours, shakes me up, sets me straight, and gets me in running order. Will you help, Con.?"
"Will I help! Sybil Lamotte, if she comes back, will be warmly welcomed by me, and by all W——, if I can bring it about."
He sprang to his feet and seized her hands. "Thank you, Conny," he cried; "my heart is lightened now; I can 'bide my time,' as the novels say. Only do your part, Con."
"Trust me for that. Now come to luncheon, Evan."
He dropped her hands, and turned away abruptly.
"I wont! I can't," he said, almost gruffly. "Go in, Con., and be prepared to welcome Sybil back; and I," he added, moving away, and turning a wicked look over his shoulder, "will be prepared to welcome Burrill;" a low, ironical laugh followed these words, and Evan Lamotte leaped the low garden palings, and went back as he had come, by the river way.
"What can that strange boy mean," thought Constance, gazing after him; "he makes me nervous, and yet he was reasonable after his fashion. Poor Evan, he is indeed unfortunate; here he has been breaking his heart over Sybil, and before night he may be singing in some saloon, in a state of mad intoxication. Altogether, they are a very uncomfortable pair to entertain in one half day, Frank and Evan Lamotte."
THE END OF THE BEGINNING.
Doctor Clifford Heath sat alone in his office at half-past eleven o'clock. His horse, "all saddled and bridled," stood below in the street, awaiting him. On a small stand, near the door, lay his hat, riding whip, gloves. On the desk beside him, lay a small pyramid of letters and papers, and these he was opening, and scanning in a careless, leisurely fashion, with his chair tilted back, his heels on high, his entire person very much at ease.
Over one letter he seemed to ponder, blowing great clouds of smoke from the secret depths of a huge black Dutch pipe the while. Finally, he laid letter and pipe aside, lowered his feet, wheeled about in his chair, drew pen, ink, and paper before him on the desk, and began to write rapidly only a few lines, and the letter was done, and signed, and sealed, with grim satisfaction; then he gathered up his scattered missives, and locked them away carefully.
"I won't go back," he muttered, picking up his pipe once more. "I wouldn't go now for a kingdom; I won't be put to rout by a woman, and that is just what it would amount to. I'll see the play played out, and I'll stay in W——."
Again the smoke puffed out from the black pipe; again the heels were elevated, and, drawing some papers toward him, Dr. Heath began to absorb the latest news, looking as little like a jilted lover or a despairing swain, as possible.
Presently the office door opened to admit a tall, fair-haired, blue-eyed young man, of aristocratic bearing and handsome countenance, but looking extremely haggard and heavy eyed.
Doctor Heath turned his head lazily at the sound of the opening door, but seeing who his visitor was, he laid his pipe aside and arose with kindly alacrity.
"Come along, Ray, old fellow," he said cheerily, "why you look as if the witches had made your bed."
"It's about the way I feel, too," said the new comer, dropping wearily into the easy chair pushed toward him. "Heath, you are a good fellow, and I can't blame you for thinking me a cad. Don't stop your smoke."
"Why as to that," replied the doctor, easily, and taking a long pull at his pipe, "we are all cads, more or less, in certain emergencies, and yours was an unusually severe blow. We all have to take them in some shape or other, at one time, or another; these soft hands hit hard, but—it's the penalty we pay for being sons of Adam. Although now that I come to think of it, I can't recall that I ever insisted upon being a son of Adam."
"Why!" said Raymond Vandyck, opening his eyes in languid surprise, "you talk as if you had received one of those hard hits."
"So I have, my boy; so I have," he replied debonairly. "If I were a woman I would get out a fresh handkerchief and tell you all about it. Being a man I—smoke."
Young Vandyck sighed heavily, and picked up a newspaper, running his eye listlessly over the columns. Here was another upon whom the flight of Sybil Lamotte had fallen a heavy blow. He had loved Sybil since they were boy and girl, and lately for a few short months they had been betrothed, then Sybil had asked to be released, and in such a manner that it left him no room for remonstrance. The engagement had been broken, but the young man had not quite abandoned hope.
Now, however, hope had deserted him. Sybil was lost to him utterly, and hearing the news of her flight he had rushed into Doctor Heath's presence a temporary madman. He could not have found a wiser or more sympathetic friend and adviser, and he fully realized this fact. The doctor's patience, delicacy and discretion had screened him from the prying eyes and prating tongues of the curious ones, who were anxious to probe his wounds, and see how "Vandyck would take it," and had made him his firm friend for always.
Ever since the advent of Doctor Heath, Vandyck had been one of his warmest admirers, and this admiration had now ripened into a sincere and lasting friendship.
"You are a good fellow, Heath," said Vandyck, suddenly, throwing down his paper. "I want to tell you that I appreciate such kindness as you did me. I don't suppose you would ever go off your head like that. I shan't again."
"No, I don't think you will," responded the doctor soberly. "As for going off my head, Lord bless you, man, it's in the temperament. I might never lose my head in just that way. We're not made alike, you see. Now I should be struck with a dumb devil, and grow surly and cynical as time went on, and of all contemptible men a cynic is the worst. You will have your burst of passion, and carry a tender spot to your grave, but you can't squeeze all the sunshine out of your soul, any more than out of your Saxon face."
Vandyck laughed dismally.
"It's hard lines, however," he said. "But I'm bound to face the music. Only—I wish I could understand it."
"So do all her friends. Ray, let me give you a little advice."
"After a little, go call on Miss Wardour and talk with her about this affair. I think she knows as much as is known, and I am certain she has not lost her faith in her friend."
"Thank you, Heath; I will."
Just here the office door admitted another visitor in the form of Francis Lamotte.
He, too, looked pale and worn, but he carried his head erect, if not with some defiance. "Do, Heath. Morning, Vandyck," he mumbled, flinging himself upon a settee with scant ceremony. "You will excuse me from asking 'what's the news?'"
"I should ask what's the matter?" retorted Clifford Heath, eyeing him closely.
"Fix me up one of your potions, Heath," replied Francis, drawing a hard deep breath. "I've had another of those cursed attacks."
Dr. Heath arose and went slowly toward a cabinet, slowly unlocked it and then turned and surveyed his patient.
"Another attack," he said somewhat severely, "the second one in three days, and not a light one, if I can judge. Let me tell you, Lamotte, you must not have a third of these attacks for some time to come."
"I won't," replied Lamotte, with a nervous laugh. "This one has done me up; I feel weak as a kitten, meek as a lamb."
"Humph," this from Doctor Heath, who proceeded to drop into a druggist's glass, sundry globules of dark liquid, which he qualified with other globules from another bottle, and then half filling the glass with some pale brandy, handed it to Lamotte who drained it off eagerly.
"Physician, heal thyself," quoted Raymond Vandyck, watching the patient with some interest. "Why don't you do your own dosing, Lamotte?"
"I'm shaky," replied Lamotte, lifting an unsteady hand. "And then we are advised to have faith in our physician. I should swallow my own mixture with fear and trembling."
"And pour it down your neighbor's throat with entire satisfaction," interpolated Doctor Heath.
"Precisely, just as you pour this stuff down mine. Thanks, Heath," handing back the glass. "Now then, we are all friends here, and you two know what I wish to learn. Heath," shading his eyes with his hand as he reclined on the settee. "I came back, from a two day's tramp about the country in search of Miss Wardour's robbers, or of traces of them, this morning. Let that pass. I called at Wardour Place first of all, have just come from there in fact—and Constance tells me—"
He paused as if struggling with some emotion, and Ray Vandyck stirred uneasily, flushed slightly, and partially turned away his face. Only Clifford Heath retained his stoical calm.
"Well!" he said coolly, "Miss Wardour tells you—what?"
"That my sister has run—away."
"Oh! Well, Lamotte, I am glad you know it. It's a hard story to tell a friend."
"So thought Constance, and she would give me no particulars, she told me," letting his hand fall from before his face, "to come to you."
"And why to me?" coldly.
"She said that you knew the particulars—that you brought her the news."
"True; I did. Still it's a hard story to tell, Lamotte."
"And no one will tell it more kindly, I know. Say on, Heath; don't spare me, or mind Vandyck's presence—I don't. I know that I must hear this thing, and I know that Ray is my friend. Go on, Heath; get it over soon."
Raymond Vandyck arose and walked to the window, standing with his back toward them while Doctor Heath, in a plain, straightforward, kindly manner, told the story of Sybil's flight, just as he had told it to Constance Wardour.
For a long time after the story was done, Lamotte lay with his face buried in his arms, silent and motionless, while young Vandyck stood like a graven image at his post by the window.
Finally, Lamotte brought himself to a sitting posture, and, with the look and tone of a man utterly crushed, said:
"Thank you, Heath. You have done me a kindness. This is the most terrible, most unheard of thing. My poor sister must be mad. She has not been herself, now that I remember, for some weeks. Something has been preying upon her spirits. There has been—by heavens! Ray, Ray Vandyck, can you guess at the cause of this madness?"
Raymond Vandyck wheeled suddenly, and came close to his interlocutor, the hot, angry blood surging to his face.
"There was plenty of 'method in this madness,'" he sneered. "As to the cause, it may not be so hard to discover as you seem to imagine." And, before they could recover from their astonishment, he was out and away, banging the door fiercely as he went.
For a moment the lurid light gleamed in Frank Lamotte's eye, and it seemed that another "attack" was about to seize him, but he calmed himself with a mighty effort, and turning toward Doctor Heath, said, plaintively:
"Has all the world run mad, Heath? What the devil does that fellow mean?"
"I know no more than you, Lamotte," said the doctor, upon whose face sat a look of genuine surprise. "I don't think he quite knows himself. He has been sadly worked up by this affair."
"Humph! I suppose so. Well, for Sybil's sake, I forgive him, this once; but—I hope he will outgrow these hallucinations."
"Doubtless he will," replied the doctor, somewhat drily. "I say, Lamotte, you had better run down to my house, and turn in for a couple of hours; you look done up,—and you can't stand much more of this sort of thing. I must go now, to see old Mrs. Grady, over at the mills."
"Then I will just stretch myself here, Heath," replied Lamotte. "I don't feel equal to a start out just now; and, look here, old fellow," turning a shade paler, as he spoke, "deal gently with a fallen rival after this—disgrace. Of course, I quit the field; but—don't ride over me too hard."
The doctor drew on his riding gloves with grave precision, put his hat on his head, and took up his riding whip; then he turned toward Lamotte.
"I suppose you refer to Miss Wardour?" he said blandly.
"Then rest easy. I do not pretend in that quarter. Miss Wardour is yours for all me; and—you are not such a fool as to think that she will let your sister's affair alter her feelings for you—if she cares for you?"
Lamotte sprang up, staring with surprise.
"Why, but—Heath, you owned yourself my rival!"
"And—upon my word, I believe you were ahead of the field."
"True again; but—I have withdrawn." And Doctor Heath went out, closed the door deliberately, and ran lightly down the stairs. He found Ray Vandyck loitering on the pavement.
"I knew you would be down presently," said Vandyck, anxiously; "I want to say, Heath, don't notice what I said to that cad. He maddened me; above all, don't think that one word I uttered was intended to reflect upon her."
"He has withdrawn," muttered Francis Lamotte, settling himself back as comfortably as possible, and clasping his hands behind his head.
"And he means what he says; something has happened in my absence; I can't understand it, but it's so much the better for me."
THE BEGINNING OF THE END.
Saturday, Sunday, Monday, three days; three nights. The events chronicled in the foregoing chapters, crowded themselves into the space of three days.
But these were exceptional days; life does not move on thus, especially in the usually staid and well regulated town of W——. Men and women are not qualified to run a long, high pressure race. Action, and then—reaction. Reaction from every emotion, every sorrow, every joy. God help us.
We weep for days, but not for years. We suffer, but here and there comes a respite from our pain. We live in a delirium of joy for a brief space, and vegetate in dullness, in apathy, in hardness of heart, in indifference, or in despair, according to our various natures, for the rest of our natural lives. So let it be, it is the lot common to all.
"No man can hide from it, but it will find him out, Nor run from it, but it overtaketh him."
After the robbery, after the flight, after the coming and departure of the two detectives, dullness settled down upon our friends in W——.
It is needless to chronicle the effect of the news of their daughter's flight, upon Mr. and Mrs. Lamotte.
That is a thing we can all understand; we can picture it for ourselves.
Mrs. Lamotte shut herself up in her chamber, and refused to be comforted by family or friends. Mr. Lamotte, bitterly grieved, terribly shocked, did all that a father could do, which was in effect, nothing.
One day, the mail brought them a copy of the marriage certificate of Sybil Lamotte and John Burrill; but that was all. Where the fugitives had gone, could not be discovered.
Francis Lamotte went about as usual; with a little more of haughtiness, a little more reserve, and just a tinge of melancholy in his manner. He took Constance at her word, and came and went very much as of old, but was so watchful over himself, so subdued, and as she thought, improved in manner, that she declared confidentially to her aunt that he had become "really quite a comfortable person to have in one's parlor." She ceased snubbing him altogether, and received him with the frank graciousness that used to charm Doctor Heath; assuring herself, often, that "trouble was improving poor Frank."
Evan Lamotte was Evan Lamotte still. Now drunk, now sober; a little more furious and ready to quarrel than usual, when in his cups; a little more taciturn and inclined to solitude in his sober moments.
Doctor Heath went about among his patients, wearing his usual cheery smile, speaking the usual comforting word, smoking, philosophizing, rallying his friends, satirizing his enemies, genial, independent, inscrutable as ever. He never called at Wardour Place, of course. He never sought an opportunity for meeting or seeing Constance, and he never avoided her; altogether, his conduct, from a romantic standpoint, was very reprehensible.
And Constance; perhaps of them all, these three days had effected the greatest change in her, as any chain of startling or strange events must, in a measure, change the current of thought and feeling in a life that has hitherto floated under a roseate cloud, on a sea without a ripple. She had been rocked by storm waves; had seen a bark shipwrecked close beside her; had even encountered mutiny in her own craft; when the lull came, and she drifted quietly, she found herself forever face to face with the facts that sorrow and trouble were abroad in the land, that crime existed outside of the newspapers; that heartache and self dissatisfaction were possibilities, and that even a queen absolute might come under the shadow of each and all. Not that Constance had never been aware of all these things, but we never can realize what we have never experienced.
We look sadly sympathetic, and murmur "poor things," when we see some mourner weeping over a dead loved one, but we never comprehend the sorrow until we bury our own dead.
Constance had loved Sybil Lamotte as a sister; she thought and sorrowed not a little over the strange freak Fate had played with her friend's life, and she wondered often if Doctor Heath had really lost all regard for her; she knew, as what woman does not, that a warm regard had once existed; and she assured herself that whether he had or not, was a matter of no consequence to her. "She had not the slightest interest in Doctor Heath," so she told Mrs. Aliston, and, like him, she never sought nor avoided a meeting.
It is singular, however, that a man who possessed for her "not the slightest interest" should so often present himself to her thoughts, and certain it is that at this period of our story her mind had a most provoking habit of running away from a variety of subjects straight to Clifford Heath, M. D. But women at best are strange creatures, and subject to singular phenomena.
Mrs. Aliston just here experienced some dissatisfaction; Clifford Heath was with her a favorite; Francis Lamotte was her pet hatred. To see the favorite made conspicuous by his absence, and have his name, like that of a disinherited daughter, tabooed from the family converse, while the obnoxious Francis, because of his provokingly good behavior, made rapid strides into the good graces of the queen of the castle, would have exasperated most good, maneuvering old ladies, but Mrs. Aliston maneuvered principally for her own comfort, so she sighed a little, regretted the present state of affairs in a resigned and becoming manner, ceased to mention the name of Doctor Heath, and condescended to receive Francis graciously, after that young man had made a special call, during which he saw only Mrs. Aliston, and apologized amply and most humbly for his unceremonious ejectment of that lady in favor of Constance, on the day when the former undertook, "as gently as possible," to break to him the news of his sister's flight.
To make an apology gracefully is in itself, an art; and this art Francis Lamotte was skilled in; indeed but for a certain physical weakness, he would have been an ornament to the diplomatic service. Alas, that there must always be a "but" in the way of our moral completeness, our physical perfection and our life's success.
Days and weeks passed on, and the household of Wardour remained in utmost quiet; that at Mapleton, shrouded in gloom and sorrowful seclusion. Mrs. Lamotte saw no one. Mr. Lamotte went out only to look after his business interests.
When the copy of Sybil's marriage certificate came, Frank, like a loyal knight, came to Constance with the news, told it with a sad countenance and in few words, and went away soon and sorrowfully.
One day, not long after, Mrs. Aliston returned from the town where she had spent four long hours in calling upon the wives of the Episcopalian, the Unitarian and the Presbyterian ministers, for Mrs. Aliston was a liberal soul, and hurled herself into Constance's favorite sitting room, in a state of unusual excitement.
"Well, Con.," she panted, pulling hard the while at her squeezed on gloves, "I've found it out;" and she dropped into the easiest chair, and pulled and panted afresh.
Constance looked up from a rather uninteresting "Novel with a Moral," and asked, as indifferently as possible:
"What have you found out, auntie?"
Constance laid down her book, and her tone underwent a change.
"If it's any thing more than gossip, auntie, tell me quick."
"Oh, it isn't gossip; at least they all say it's true. And as for gossip, Con., I tell you, you have done something toward stopping that."
Con. laughed like one who is conscious of her power.
"Yes, indeed," rattled on Mrs. Aliston. "Mrs. Wooster says, and if she is a Unitarian she is certainly a very good and truthful woman, that she has heard from various ones that you have openly declared against the handling of poor Sybil's name among the people who have called themselves her friends, and accepted so often her mother's hospitality. And she said—these are her very words, Con.—'I was delighted, dear Mrs. Aliston, for we all know that these gossip lovers, every one of them, will deny themselves the luxury of tearing Sybil to pieces, knowing that she has a champion in Miss Wardour.' So much for influence, Con."
"Bah!" retorted Con., wise in her generation. "So much for money, and how do I know that I have not lost my prestige along with my diamonds. Auntie, you have lost the thread of your discourse; you always do."
"So you always tell me," laughed the elderly chatterbox. "Well, Con., they say that Sybil has sacrificed herself."
"Do they?" said Con., sarcastically; "the wise heads. I hope that conclusion has not exhausted their keen intellects, whoever 'they' may be. As if the sacrifice were not patent on the face of the thing."
"Con. you talk like a—a stump orator."
"Do I? Well, I'm glad of it; it would not be so bad to be a 'stump orator,' or any other sort of male animal, for the older I grow the more I incline to the belief that women are fools. But go on, auntie; I believe I get 'riled' every time I hear Sybil's name. What else do 'they' say?"
"You don't deserve to be told, you are so impatient; but I will tell you this once. I was about to add that it seems to be an accepted fact that Sybil sacrificed herself to save Evan from some sort of exposure and disgrace. And they say that some of those rough men in a saloon threw the thing in Evan's teeth, and that he replied in his odd way:
"'Yes, she did it for my sake, and now the first man of you that mentions my sister's name in my hearing will go under.' You know they are afraid of Evan in his rages."
Constance opened her mouth impulsively, but she choked back the words that rushed forward for utterance, and closing her lips tightly, sat staring straight before her, a strange expression creeping into her face.
She seemed to hear anew Evan's words: "Do your part, I will do mine. I, Evan Lamotte, worthless, black sheep, sot; I will find a reason that will not be questioned, and that will spare Sybil."
And he had found a reason. The black sheep was offered up a sacrifice. Evan Lamotte had flung away his last rag of respectability for his sister's sake. Henceforth he would appear in the eyes of the people doubly blackened, doubly degraded, the destroyer of his sister's happiness, the blight upon her life, and yet, he was innocent of this; he was a martyr; he the ne'er-do-well, the inebriate.
Constance was strangely moved by this self-sacrifice, coming from one who was so morally weak; if it had been Frank, but here her lip curled contemptuously; instinctively she knew that such self-sacrifice was not in Frank's nature, any more than was such self-abandonment to weakness. Constance began to wonder if Frank and his parents knew the truth. If they had permitted the weakest shoulders to bear the burden; or, if Evan had deceived them too, and then she murmured, almost in the language of the tramp detective:
"It's a thing for time to unravel. It's a play just begun. It's a hard, hard knot."
And, then and there, she took Sybil and Evan to her generous heart of hearts, and mentally resolved to be their champion and friend to the uttermost, while she would judge their parents and their brother according as these dealt by the unfortunates.
It was many days before she saw Evan, for, although in true woman fashion, she longed to scold him first for so sacrificing himself, and praise him after for his generous true heartedness, she knew that he would only be distressed by such an interview, and would obey a summons from her reluctantly if at all.
But one day, just as she was driving her ponies out through the gates of Wardour Place, she saw a horseman riding furiously up the road, and a nearer view revealed Frank Lamotte's fine horse and mounted by Evan.
His eyes were flaming with excitement, and there was a burning spot of red on either cheek as he reined up his horse beside her, and Constance saw at a glance that, again, he was perfectly sober.
"Conny," he cried breathlessly, "it has come."
"What has come, Evan?"
"The day we hoped for; we have heard from Sybil."
"A letter! Oh Evan, tell me all about it."
"I can't, there is no time; only, Con., it's your turn now. It's your time to strike for Sybil. They are holding council over the letter, and can't decide, whether the old gentleman shall go at once and see Sybil; whether they shall bring her back and swallow the Burrill; for, it seems he must be swallowed, and what society will think about it, are the questions that they are agitating. Mother says, that Sybil must and shall come back; father says he will go and see her; and Frank—" he broke off abruptly and bent down to look at his saddle girth.
"And Frank; what does he say, Evan?"
"Frank is a fool," snapped Evan irrelevantly. "What he says is no matter; only, Conny, now is your time, if you will only have faith in what I say. You are out with your ponies; drive straight to Mapleton, and don't mention me. You will be admitted to mother. Father is there, and Frank; give them the least chance, and they will tell you about Sybil, and then you can manage the rest. Tell them to bring her back, even with that beastly incumbrance. They will listen to you; they won't to me. If you fail me here, then—"
"Then your sacrifice goes for nothing. Oh, Evan, did you think I would not understand that? You have wronged yourself for Sybil's sake. But you shall have a tithe of your reward. And, dear boy, you should not have done this thing; we might have found another way."
"Nonsense, Conny! It was the only way. And what is my life worth, or my reputation, either? It can't hurt a poor devil like me. Con., will you go?"
"I will go straight to Mapleton, Evan. You shall see that I have faith in you. I will do just as you direct, and all will go well."
"Then I'm off. I stole Frank's horse. I must get him back to avoid a row. Thank you, Conny; you are a true friend."
"Good-bye, Evan. Come to me with all the news, or when you want help."
"I won't forget," wheeling his horse about; then, in a choking voice, "God bless you, Conny," and a moment later, he was away down the road, galloping in a cloud of dust.
Constance followed in his wake, keeping her ponies at a sober pace.
"I wonder how he found out these things. Poor boy!" she murmured, half aloud, "he is not one at their family councils; of that I am sure. His father has lost all patience with him; and yet, he knows all that is going on. I wonder how."
If Evan Lamotte had heard this query, and had chosen to answer it, he would have said: "I watch and I listen."
Miss Wardour, being Miss Wardour, was apt to succeed in most things, and it is fair to suppose that her visit to Mapleton, in the character of intercessor for the erring Sybil, was not a fruitless one. Certainly, it was not barren of results.
On the day following the call from Constance, Mrs. Lamotte came forth from her seclusion; her carriage bore her out from the gates of Mapleton, and straight to Wardour Place. Here she took up the heiress and Mrs. Aliston, and the three drove ostentatiously through the streets of W——, bowing smilingly here and there, as calm, serene, and elegant a trio, to all outward seeming, as ever passed before admiring eyes on velvet cushions.
This act informed W—— that Mrs. Lamotte was once more visible, and "at home," and when a day or two later, Constance and her aunt, in splendid array, drove again into W——, calling here and there, and dropping upon each hearthstone a bit of manna for family digestion, the result was what they intended it should be.
"Have you heard the news?" asks Mrs. Hopkins, fashionable busybody, running in for an informal call on Mrs. O'Meara, who is warm-hearted and sensible, and who listens to the babblings of Mrs. Hopkins, with a patience and benignity worthy of a Spartan mother.
"No! Well, I am dying to tell it, then. Sybil Lamotte is coming back—actually coming back—and that man with her; and—won't it be queer? We shall have him in society, of course, for I am told, from the best of sources, that the Lamottes will accept him as Sybil's choice, and make the best of him."
"But we need not accept him, my dear," comments the Spartan mother, whose lawyer husband is rich and independent, and does not count fees. "As for Sybil, she was always a favorite with us; we shall be glad to have her back."
"Yes, that's very well for you and Mr. O'Meara, who are very exclusive, and go out little, but we poor society people will have to submit to the powers that be. Constance Wardour, the Lamottes, the Vandycks, have led us as they would, and queer as it may seem, the Lamottes are backed up in this business of forcing John Burrill upon us, by Constance, on one hand, and the Vandycks, mother and son, on the other."
"And Mrs. Aliston?"
"Mrs. Aliston, of course. When did she ever oppose Constance? It's making a great furore, I can tell you; but no one is going to step forward and openly oppose Constance and the Vandycks. I for one am Sybil's staunch friend, and—well, as Constance says, 'let us take it for granted that this bear of Sybil's has some good qualities, or he would never have won her,' and then, too, it's so romantic, about Evan you know, and how Sybil, in some way, saved him from something, by marrying this man. I never could get the right end, or any end of that story, nor have I found any one who knows the plain facts. Well, Mrs. O'Meara, I must go; I have seven more calls to make, and I really have talked too long."
"She'll take him up fast enough," mused Mrs. O'Meara, in solitude. "That's the way of society; they can't oppose wealth and prestige, even when prestige and wealth command them to fellowship with a grizzly bear; rather they will whitewash their bear, and call him a thing of beauty, and laugh in their silken sleeves to see him dance."
It was quite true, that bombshell of Mrs. Hopkins'—Sybil Lamotte was coming back. Mr. Lamotte went somewhere, nobody could name just the place, and returned, having done, nobody knew precisely what; and as the result of that journey, so said W——, Sybil and John Burrill were coming soon, to breast the waves of public opinion, and take up their abode in Mapleton.
When this fact became well established, tongues wagged briskly; some were sorry; some were glad; some eager for the advent of the ill assorted pair.
The sorriest one of all was unhappy Ray Vandyck, who realized how hard a task would devolve upon him; and the gladdest of the glad was poor Evan, who celebrated his rejoicing with one of the wildest and most protracted of all his sprees.
Constance had won Sybil's battle. In accordance with the hint given by Dr. Heath, Raymond Vandyck had called at Wardour Place, and the result of that call was patent to the eyes of all W——. Ray, the rejected, had gone over to the support of his lost love and taken his mother with him.
At last they came, after the nine days' talk had subsided, after W—— had become accustomed to the idea, quietly, unostentatiously. Before their arrival had become known, they were established at Mapleton.
Everybody admitted that they displayed good taste and judgment in the manner of their home coming, but when, except in the case of this horrible choice of Sybil's, did not the Lamottes display good taste. People said "The Lamottes," without so much as recognizing the existence of poor Evan.
Meantime the days were numbering themselves. It was June when Sybil Lamotte fled away with her Bear. It is September before they return; during these three months Constance has heard from Detective Belknap. He is always afar off, always on the track of her robbers, and she reads his reports, honors his drafts for "expense money," and troubles her head no more about the "Wardour robbery" or the "Wardour diamonds."
Of Detective Bathurst there came never a word or sign, either to the heiress or to Doctor Heath.
But it is time to introduce our Bear.
JOHN BURRILL, ARISTOCRAT.
Mapleton stands high on an eminence, which may have arisen expressly to hold, and to exhibit, the splendid edifice erected thereon by Mr. Jasper Lamotte. It is the only hill within sight on that side of the river, and renders Mapleton a most conspicuous as well as most beautiful abiding place.
In front of the dwelling and its grounds flows the river, broad and glittering in the sunshine, on this day of which I write. In the rear stretches a grove, large enough to be termed "the grove" by the people of W——; and dense enough for Robin Hood and his merry men to find comfort in, for Jasper Lamotte has chosen to let it remain en naturale, since it first came into his possession.
To reach Mapleton from Wardour Place one must drive directly to the center of W——, turn eastward, then cross a handsome new iron bridge, and go southward a short distance, coming finally to the broad curve which sweeps up to the mansion, and away from the river, along which the road winds.
In the old days, when Sybil Lamotte and Constance Wardour found excellent reasons for meeting and chatting together, at least once in every twenty-four hours, this fair river was a source of alternate pleasure and annoyance to them. Of pleasure, when the days were fair, and Sybil and Frank could pull their boat up stream, and land at the grassy slope in the rear of Wardour Place, where, often, they found Constance and a gay party awaiting them. Or, when Constance could drift down stream with scarcely the stroke of an oar necessary, until she came opposite "the hill," as Mapleton was often called. Of annoyance, when winds blew cold and rough, and the waters of the river turned black and angry, and surged high between its banks. Then the two young ladies voted the iron bridge "the coldest place possible," and wished that no dark, wintry river flowed between them.
The river is very calm to-day, however; it is flowing gently, murmuring softly, and gleaming silver and blue, beneath a soft September sun. Away down, where the factories stand, and the great wheels turn, it loses its blue and silver, flowing under that ever moving, never lifting curtain of smoke, that darkens and dims the skies themselves, and gives to the sun's face the look of a disreputable celestial tramp.
It's always gray, "down at the factories," and why not? What need have the toilers there for sunlight? They have work and sleep.
There is nothing gray or dreary about Mapleton, as we enter there and survey the inmates who, just now, are loitering about the lunch table. Nothing gray, if we except a few silver threads in the hair of Mrs. Lamotte; nothing dreary, unless it may be a look which, now and then, and only for an instant, creeps into the eyes of Mrs. John Burrill.
They sit about the lunch table,—all but Sybil. She has arisen, and reseated herself in a great easy chair, which seems to swallow up her slight form, and renders her quite invisible to all at the table, save Evan, who, from time to time, glances furtively across at her.
There may be dissension in this family, but they look the embodiment of high-bred ease and serene contentment.
Jasper Lamotte turns his paper, sips his light wine, speaks suavely, and looks as placid as the sky overhead.
Mrs. Lamotte speaks slow and seldom; smiles when she does speak; and looks as if nothing ever ruffled the placidity of her mind, or the even tenor of her pleasant existence. She looks all this, sitting directly opposite John Burrill, her reluctantly accepted son-in-law, for what Mrs. Lamotte cannot overcome, she ignores, and her proud calm is the result of a long and bitter schooling.
Sybil looks paler than is usual for her, but no other expression than one of calmness and ennui can be detected on that lovely, inscrutable face; and the dusky eyes keep well veiled, and tell no secrets.
Evan Lamotte is sober, and good humored, for his sister's sake; and Frank is simply lazy.
But John Burrill! there is no contentment equal to his; seated in the easiest of chairs, before a table laden with viands upon which he has just gorged himself, he contemplates his legs and his surroundings with extreme satisfaction; his legs first, because, being stretched directly before him, they come first under his eye; and he is delighted with their size, and shape; they are a fine pair, such as would do credit to a bull fighter, or a "champion pedestrian," and with the quality and cut of the pantaloons that adorn them. It has not always been his good fortune to sit at a rich man's table, and to wear fashionable clothing; and John Burrill appreciates his "marcies." He has feasted his stomach, and John Burrill's stomach comes in for a large share of his consideration; and now he is feasting his senses: this richly appointed room is his room; this splendid stately lady, how he delights to call her "mother," varied occasionally by "mother-in-law;" how he glories in the possession of a pair of aristocratic brothers-in-law; and how he swells with pride, when he steps into the carriage, and, sitting beside "the rich Mr. Lamotte," is driven through W—— and to the factories; and last, and best of all, there is his wife, a beauty, a belle, an heiress, possessing a score of lovers, yet won by him.
Only one thing troubles John Burrill, he does not quite understand Sybil; he has "got the hang," so he thinks of the other members of the family, but sometimes Sybil's wordless glance operates upon him like a cold shower bath, and Mr. Burrill, like all the "gutter born," rather fears a shower bath.
Coarse in sense and sentiment, plebeian in body and soul; whatever else Sybil Lamotte's husband may be, let our story develop.
Quitting his place now, he crosses the room, and, taking up a position where his eyes can gloat upon Sybil's face, he rests one elbow upon a mantel, and so, in a comfortable after-dinner attitude, continues his pleasant meditations. Sybil stirs uneasily, but notices his proximity in no other way. Presently her eyes shoot straight past him, and she says to Evan who has also risen, and stands stretching himself, lazily, with his face to the window, and his back toward the assembly:
"Evan, just hand me that book on the mantel. No, not that one," as he lays his ready hand on the book nearest him, "the other."
"Oh!" ejaculates Evan, at the same moment laying hand upon a volume directly underneath John Burrill's elbow. "Hoist up your arrum, Burrill. 'My lady's up, and wants her wollum.'"
John Burrill's face reddens slowly. He is an Englishman, and sometimes his H's and A's play him sorry tricks, although he has labored hard to Americanize himself, and likes to think that he has succeeded.
"D—n it!" broke out the man, suddenly losing his after dinner calm. "You might have asked me for the book, Sybil; it was near enough."
Sybil received the book from Evan's hand, opened it, turned a page or two, and then lifting her eyes to his face, replied in a voice, low, clear, and cutting as the north wind:
"Evan is my slave, Mr. Burrill, you—are my lord and master." Indescribable contempt shone upon him for a moment from her splendid eyes; then she lowered them, and became, apparently, wholly absorbed in her book.
John Burrill muttered something very low, and probably very ugly, and dropped back into his former attitude; and the others, never by word or glance, noticed this little passage at arms. Only Evan returned to the window, and standing there with hands in pockets, glowered down upon the frost-touched rose trees and clustered geraniums, savagely, and long.
Presently, Evan turns from the window, which commands a view of the drive.
"Constance is coming," he says, addressing Sybil.
She starts up, looking anxious and disturbed; Constance has visited her, and she has driven over once to see Constance; but it has so happened that John Burrill has always been absent; and Sybil has a shuddering horror of this meeting that must be.
The announcement seems to galvanize them all into life. Mr. Lamotte looks up with a gleam of latent anticipation in his eyes; Frank smiles his pleasure; and John Burrill steals a deprecatory glance at a mirror, smoothes a wrinkle out of his waistcoat, and outsmiles Frank. Here is another triumph; he is about to be introduced to the richest girl in the country; to meet her on an equal footing, in the character of husband to her dearest friend.
Sybil rises and goes to the window; her pale face flushing. There is a rolling of wheels, a sound of swift, firm footsteps without, and then the door opens, and Constance is announced.
She follows her name in her usual free, at home fashion, and in a moment is kissing Sybil, shaking hands with Mrs. Lamotte, exchanging smiling salutations with Mr. Lamotte, and gay badinage with Francis. And then, while Sybil still hesitates, Evan comes to the rescue.
With a face of preternatural gravity, he advances, seizes the arm of John Burrill, drags him toward Constance, and says, with elaborate politeness:
"Constance, allow me to present my new brother-in-law, Mr. Burrill. Brother-in-law, this is Miss Wardour, of Wardour Place."
In spite of themselves, they smile; all except Sybil. John Burrill feels that somehow, he is made ridiculous; that another man in his place would not have been thus introduced. But the eyes of the heiress are upon his face, her daintily gloved hand is proffered him, and she lies in her softest contralto, and unblushingly:
"I am happy to know you, Mr. Burrill."
Somehow, they all breathe freer after that pretty falsehood. John Burrill regains his composure, and relapses into his former state of comfortable gloating. Another face is added to the circle of high-bred people around him. He does not talk much, for he is not yet quite at his ease when in conversation with them. As they talk, he thinks what a fine nest this is which he has gained for himself; what a lovely woman is his wife; and how splendidly handsome is Miss Wardour. He thinks how, by and by, he will boast to some of his choice spirits, of his friendship for Miss Wardour, and of the value in which she holds his esteem. He thinks how good is the Lamotte cook, and how, presently, he will sample the Lamotte wines, and smoke a splendid segar; and then he pricks up his ears and listens, for the conversation has drifted away from the commonplace, and Miss Wardour is saying:
"It really is a forlorn hope, I fear, Mr. Lamotte. I don't know what to reply to Mr. Belknap, but I think he is wasting his time, and I my money; and, if you will communicate with him, as he failed to name his address in his note to me, we will close up the case."
"And say farewell to your diamonds?"
"I have performed that ceremony some time since. I really am worn out with the subject. At some other time I may resume the search."
"You are getting discouraged."
"Call it that, if you like."
"Excuse me, if I pursue so wearisome a subject, Constance; but—does not Mr. Belknap hint at a new clue in this note of his? You must know he has written me also."
"He hints, and very vaguely."
"Well, I am anxious to look into this matter a little further. As a special favor to me will you retain the services of Mr. Belknap a little longer?"
"As you make such a point of it, yes, Mr. Lamotte; but—do you really hope to find anything new, at this late day?"
"I really do, my child, but can not put my ideas in shape, as yet. I think we shall have Mr. Belknap among us soon."
"Well, don't let him persecute me, that's all," stipulated Constance. "I have lost my faith in detectives."
"All this talk reminds me, Constance," interrupted Sybil, "mamma has had her diamonds reset for me, and they are really beautiful; besides which, papa and Mr. Burrill have added to the collection, so that in the absence of yours, I may set myself up as diamond queen. Come to my room and be dazzled."
"And leave us under a cloud," chimed in Frank. "Burrill, come, let's adjourn to the billiard room, and have a segar;" and intent upon keeping his brother-in-law in order during the time Constance should be under the roof, he slapped him cordially on his brawny shoulder, and they went out in most amiable and brotherly fashion, and entered the billiard room, where Frank permitted Burrill to cheat at the game, and eventually win it, much to the delight of that personage.
When they had left the morning room, Evan Lamotte, too, sauntered out and down the hall, and, hearing their voices in amiable dialogue, interspersed by the click of the billiard balls, he muttered:
"Ah, Constance, you are a witch indeed! you have made my magnificent brother adopt my role for once; so long as you are here we may depend upon Frank to keep our bull out of the china shop. So, as one good turn deserves another, I will just give your mare a turn and look in at 'Old Forty Rods;' I'm safe to go off duty for the day."
And ten minutes later the reckless youth was galloping Frank's blooded mare along the highway en route for the saloon known to the initiated as "Old Forty Rods."
Left alone together, Mr. Jasper Lamotte and his wife gazed at each other in silence for a moment, and then he said:
"Do you think it safe to leave them alone together too long?"
"Who, Frank and——"
"Pshaw, no; the girls."
"It is quite safe; nevertheless I will go up to them," and Mrs. Lamotte arose and went slowly up the stairs, and softly past the door where Sybil and Constance sat together, straight to her own room, which she entered, closed and locked the door carefully, and allowing the look of haughty calm to die out of her face, she threw herself into a dressing chair, and pressed two feverish hands against a face that was sad and bitter and full of weariness.
Left to his own devices, Jasper Lamotte seated himself at a desk and dashed off a few hurried lines, which he directed to
"Mr. Jerry Belknap, "No. —, Room 7, Blank St., "N. Y."
Constance followed her friend up to the room where they had so often passed long hours together, wondering idly at Sybil's composure and seeming resignation, and shudderingly recalling the blank devouring stare of the man who was her husband.
It was the first time since Sybil's return that they had been alone together, and Constance half dreaded the interview, as well as wondered not a little that the opportunity was of Sybil's own making; hitherto she seemed anxious to avoid a tete-a-tete.
Sybil moved straight on in advance of her friend, and never turned her head nor spoke, until the door of her boudoir had shut them in; then she turned and faced her companion, uttering as she did so a low mirthless laugh.
"Well!" she asked abruptly, "how do you like him?"
Constance bent a searching gaze upon her friend, and read her state of mind with a woman's keen intuition. The tensely strung nerves, the dread of this interview, the determination to have it over, and to bear her part bravely; a proud and stubborn nature, battling with despair, and unspeakable heartache. She understood it all, and her own heart bled for her friend. But, being a wise little woman, she held her pity in reserve, and replied, as if the question concerned a new dancing master:
"I don't like him at all, child; let's talk about something more interesting," and she threw herself down upon a fauteuil, and tossed off her hat; just as she had tossed it aside a hundred times, in that same pretty room. The simple action, brought a thrill of tenderness, and sad recollection, to the heart of Sybil. She seated herself beside her friend, and her face lost a shade of its bitterness.
"It's like a shadow of the old days, Con.," she said sadly, "and the substance I can never have any more. But, you must let me talk, I feel as if I must talk, and you will let me say what I will, and ask me nothing. Con., you saw that—that creature down stairs? You saw him, but you did not hear him."
She shuddered, and paused for an instant; but Constance did not speak, and so she continued:
"I had made up my mind never to speak of him to you, but the very thing I had dreaded has happened; you have met, and, in the generosity of your soul, for my sake, you have extended to him your hand; have openly accepted his acquaintance. Oh, Con.! I could have struck him dead before he touched your hand. He! Ah, there is a limit to my forbearance; he has forced himself into my life to blight it; he has forced himself into my family to be an added curse. But he shall not force himself upon my friends. Con., treat him with the disdain he deserves, else, he will force his way into your very drawing room. Never, never, never, extend to him the courtesies due to an equal. He is not an equal, he is not a man at all; he is a fat, sleek, leering, ruminating animal, at his best; he is a wolf, a vampire, a devil, at other times; ignorant, vain, avaricious, gross. Rather than see him force himself upon you, as he has forced himself upon us here, I will myself sever our friendship, I will never see, never speak with you again. John Burrill shall find a limit, which even his brute force cannot pass." She was growing more and more excited and a bright spot burned on each cheek.
Constance was startled, but fully understanding the necessity for perfect coolness, now that Sybil's composure had almost given way, she never attempted to interrupt the words that were but the overflow of long pent up feelings; but sat quietly stroking one of Sybil's slender hands, and becoming more amazed and mystified as she listened.
"Sometimes I find myself wondering at the tenacity of my life," went on Sybil, more hurriedly and with increasing excitement. "Sometimes I feel my strength leaving me, and think the battle is almost over; but somehow it is renewed, and I find myself growing strong instead of weak. For months I lived with my inevitable fate constantly before my eyes. I knew that there was no escape; that what has transpired, must happen. I have suffered tortures, passed nights without sleep, and days without food. I have grown a little paler, a little thinner, and a great deal wickeder, and that is all. I am strong, as strong as in the beginning, and yet, what am I but a galvanized corpse? I am dead to all that is worth living for. My one wish is to be free, and yet, Con., do you know I have never once been tempted to self-destruction."
Constance Wardour sprang impetuously to her feet, and paced the length of the boudoir again and again in perfect silence. The terrible weight of torment that was crushing Sybil's heart, and maddening her brain, seemed to rest, too, upon her, and weigh down her spirits; she was tortured with the sight of Sybil's misery, and the thought of her own helplessness. Could nothing be done? Struggling for an appearance of composure, she paced to and fro, and at last, having mastered her feelings, and arranged her thoughts, she resumed her seat beside Sybil, whose eyes had followed her movements with curiosity.
"Sybil, listen;" she began with that clear, concise energy of manner that, in itself, inspired confidence. "If you do not wish me to make any overtures of friendship, rest assured I shall make none. I at least am not under the spell which this man seems to have thrown about you all. There, don't draw back, child, I have no more to say on this part of the subject. I may ask a few questions, however, without treading on forbidden ground. You say John Burrill is avaricious; can he not be bought off?"
Sybil shook her head.
"Not with the Wardour estate," she replied, sadly. "Not with all our fortunes united?"
"Cannot he be frightened then?"
"Frightened! You don't know what you are saying."
"Then, I can think of one other way. He is a bad man; he must have led a wicked life; can we not find something in his past, which will place him in our power? Can he not be driven into banishment, through fear of justice?"
Sybil turned her eyes full upon her friend; eyes dark with the shadow of despair, but unwavering in their sad firmness.
"If that could be done," she said, slowly. "The very day that witnessed his downfall, would bring about the catastrophe I have sacrificed myself to avert. Constance, say no more; we can do none of these things; there is no help for me on this side of the grave."
Constance looked once more at her friend; looked long and earnestly then.
"Sybil," she cried, with swift resolution. "Do you know what you are bringing upon yourself? Do you want to go mad, and so be at the mercy of John Burrill? It is what will come upon you if you don't throw off this torpor. Your eyes are as dry as if tears were not meant to relieve the overburdened heart. Let your tears flow; shake off this lethargy; battle royally for your life; it is worth more than his; do not let him put your reason to flight, and so conquer. Sybil! Sybil!"
The words ended in a sobbing cry, but Sybil only gazed dumbly, and then looked helplessly about her.
"There, there, Conny," she said at last, as if soothing a hurt child; "don't mind me. It's true my life is worth more than his, but—I can't cry, I don't feel like crying."
"Then laugh," cried Constance desperately; "laugh and defy your tormentor; harden your heart if you must, but don't let it break."
"I won't," said Sybil, with quiet emphasis. "Now come and see my diamonds, Con."
She crossed the room as she spoke, bent over a dressing case, and came back with a tray of sparkling newly set jewels.
"Bah!" she said, as she dropped the glittering things one by one into her friend's lap. "How I loved their glitter once, and how I envied you your treasure of jewels; now you have lost your treasure, and I have no more love for mine."
Constance laughed oddly, as she bent to recover her hat from the floor, where it had lain during their interview.
"Secret for secret, Sybil," she said, with forced gaiety. "I have one little secret of mine own, and I am inclined to tell it you, because I know you can appreciate it, and can keep it; and I choose to have it kept. Bend down your head, dear, walls may have ears. Listen."
Sybil bent her dark head, and Constance whispered a few short sentences that caused her to spring up erect and excited.
"Constance! you are not jesting?"
"Honestly no. I have told you the truth, plain and unvarnished."
Sybil stood as if transfixed with surprise, or some sudden inspiration.
"Why, how amazed you look, dear; after all it's an old, old trick, and easily played. Come, don't stare at me any longer; put away your diamonds and come below with me, my ponies must be dying with impatience, and I am anxious to avoid our mutual foe, for I make common cause with you, dear, and I have told you my secret, that we may be in very truth, fellow conspirators. Make my adieus to the family, and be sure and come to me just as you used; if your ogre insists upon coming, trust me to freeze him into an earnest desire to be in a warmer and more congenial place. Courage, mon ami, somehow we must win the battle."
Sybil took the diamonds from her hands and put them away, with far more care than she had displayed in bringing them forth; then she followed her friend from the room, closing and carefully locking the door behind her.
Constance observed the unusual caution, but made no comment. Only when many days after she remembered that day she wondered how she could have been so stupidly blind.
She effected her departure without being seen by Frank or Burrill, and drove homeward, revolving in her mind various plots for the confusion of the latter, and plans for awakening Sybil from the dangerous melancholy that would surely unseat her reason.
"If I could only move her to tears," she murmured, "only break that frozen calm once. How can I touch, move, melt her? It must be done." And pondering this difficult task, she drove slowly on.
"I wonder if I blundered in telling her my secret," she mused. "I know she will keep it; and yet, somehow, I fear I was too hasty. One would think it had grown too big for me to keep. But, pshaw! it's not a life and death matter, and I wanted to give a new impulse to that poor child's thoughts. But I must try and cure myself of this impulsiveness, just as if it were not 'bred in the bone,' for it was an impulse that made me whisper my secret to Sybil; and once, it has got me into serious trouble." And her brow darkened, as she thought of the feud thus raised between herself and Doctor Heath.
While she was thus pondering, Sybil Burrill had hurried back to her own room, locked herself in, and with hands clasped and working nervously, was pacing restlessly up and down, as Constance had done a little earlier.
"It's the only way," she muttered between shut teeth, "the only possible way." And then she unlocked the dressing case, took out her jewels once more, handling them with greatest care. She spread them out before her, and resting her elbows on the dressing table, and her chin in the palm of one slender hand, gazed and thought with darkening brow and compressed lips; and with now and then a shudder, and a startled glance behind and about her.
"It's the only way," she repeated. "They have left me but one weapon, and it's for my life;" and the lips set themselves in hard lines, and the dark eyes looked steely and resolute. What wild purpose was taking shape in the tortured brain of Sybil Burrill? planted there by the impulsive revelation of Constance Wardour.
While the lurid light yet shone from her eyes, there came a tap upon the door, and then Mrs. Lamotte's voice called:
"Sybil, are you there?"
Sybil gathered up the jewels once more, hastily and putting them under lock and key, admitted her mother. Mrs. Lamotte was never a demonstrative parent. She glanced anxiously at her daughter, and the look upon the pale face did not escape her eye; but she made no comment, only saying:
"I heard Constance drive away, and thought I should find you alone. Do you feel equal to a drive, Sybil?"
Sybil hesitated, and then answered: "I think so mamma, if you wish to go out."
"I have some shopping to do, and—it's best for us to go out a little. Don't you think so?"
"It's best that we keep up appearances, certainly mamma; for what else do we exist? Shall we take the honorable Mr. Burrill?"
Mrs. Lamotte shrugged her shoulders. "By no means," she replied. "Mr. Burrill, if his feelings are too much hurt, shall drive with me to-morrow. It's an honor he has been thirsting for."
"He has indeed, mamma; the creature is insatiable."
Mrs. Lamotte arose with one of her cold smiles.
"For the present let us ignore him, Sybil," she said. "Make an elaborate driving toilet, we want the admiration of W——, not its pity." And having thus uttered one article of her creed, Mrs. Lamotte swept away to prepare for the ordeal, for such that drive would be to those two proud women.
No one could have guessed it, however, when an hour later, the elegant barouche, drawn by two superb grays, rolled through the streets of W——. Two richly dressed, handsome, high-bred, smiling women; that is what W—— saw, and all it saw; and light-hearted poverty looked, and envied; little knowing the sorrow hidden underneath the silk and lace, and the misery that was masked in smiles.
Meantime John Burrill, left to his own devices, found time drag heavily. Frank had abandoned him, as soon as it became known that Constance was gone; and had abandoned himself to a fit of rage, when he became aware that his black mare was also gone. Mr. Lamotte had driven to town with his own light buggy; Sybil was gone, Evan was gone; even his stately mother-in-law was beyond the reach of his obnoxious pleasantries.
He ordered up a bottle of wine, and drank it in the spirit of an ill used man. Always, in his perfectly sober moments, John Burrill felt oppressed with a sense of the difference existing between himself and the people among whom he had chosen to cast his lot.
Not that he recognized, or admitted, his inferiority; had he not demonstrated to the world, that he, John Burrill, sometime mill worker, and overseer, was a man of parts, a self-made man.
When he had quaffed a bottle of wine, he began to feel oppressed in a different way. He was overburdened with a sense of his own genius, and in a very amiable frame of mind, altogether. In this mood, he joined the family at dinner; after which meal, a few glasses of brandy added fire to the smouldering element within him, and straightway he blazed forth: a gallant, a coxcomb. In this frame of mind, he always admired himself excessively, took stock of his burly legs and brawny shoulders, and smiled sentimentally before the mirror, at his reflected face.
There were people who called John Burrill a handsome man; and if one had a fancy for a round head, with depressions where bumps are desirable, and vice versa, and an animal sort of attractiveness of feature, consisting of a low, flat forehead, straight nose, large, full red lipped mouth, fair florid complexion, set off by a pair of dark blue eyes, that were devoid of any kindly expression, and hair, full beard, and moustache, of a reddish brown hue, coarse in quality, but plentiful in quantity, and curling closely; then we will admit that John Burrill was handsome. Why not? We can see handsome bovines at any fat cattle show.
After this elation, came the fourth stage; a mixture of liquors as the evening advanced, and then John Burrill became jealous of his rights, careful of his dignity, crafty, quarrelsome, and difficult to manage. Next he became uproarious, then maudlin; then blind, beastly drunk, and utterly regardless where he laid him down, or fell down, to finish the night, for his last stage usually dragged itself far into the small hours.