She paused, caught her breath, and gave him a look of passionate intensity.
"I only asked for one hour face to face with a great masterful man I know, that I might say the unsaid things, dare, and live the utmost reach of my heart's desire."
Her voice wavered and hesitated. Then, with calm, laughing audacity, she said in sweet, sensuous tones:
"I love you, and you love me—loved me from the first moment you looked into my eyes! Is it not so?"
Overman rose awkwardly, pale as death, his great breast heaving with emotion, and looked again helplessly toward the door.
Kate leaped forward with a laugh, seized his hand, and felt it tremble in her grasp.
"Is it not so?" she repeated, beneath her breath.
He looked down into her shining eyes, sighed, and suddenly swept her to his heart. Her arms circled his massive neck and their lips met.
"Kiss me again," she whispered. "Again! Crush me—kill me if you like! I could die in your arms! Tell me that you love me!"
"I've loved you always," he said slowly. "But why did you do this thing? Frank is my best friend. I would have died sooner than betray him."
"Yes, I know," she cried, impetuously; "that's why I told you. I have no scruples. I am free. It is our compact. I'm done with his maudlin sentiment. I have chosen you. You are my master, my king. I am yours."
"Tragedy to me as it is," he said, with a smile, "it seems too sweet and wonderful to be true, that the most beautiful woman on this earth should love a gnarled brute like me. How is it possible?"
She smoothed his rugged face with her soft hand, drew his head down and kissed tenderly the sightless eye that had caused him so many bitter hours of anguish in life.
The strong man's body for the first time shook with sobs. And the woman soothed him as a child.
"You are my soul's mate," she cried, in a transport of tenderness. "Frank Gordon is no longer my husband. You are my beloved, my chosen one. I will never recognise him again. We will separate from this hour. I am yours and you are mine."
Overman took her hand and, still trembling, said:
"Do you know what that means?"
"Yes," she answered, eagerly. "I know you will be my lord and master, and I desire it. I am sick of sentimentalism."
"It means exactly that," he said, with emphasis. "Out of this bog of fool's dreams I will lift you forever, my own, the one priceless treasure around which I will draw the circle of life and death."
"Yes, yes, I know," she cried, in a glow of ecstatic feeling. "I desire it so. I wish you to be my master. Your service will be sweet; your savage strength will be my joy."
And while they sat planning their future life, Gordon's footstep echoed in the hall.
THE GROWL OF THE ANIMAL
When Gordon entered the library he glanced uneasily at his wife and she smiled in insolent composure.
Overman rose hastily.
"Sorry the weather was so threatening I couldn't persuade your wife to go to the Temple, Frank."
"Yes, the rain is pouring in torrents and it's getting colder," he answered, rubbing his hands before the fire.
"I'll not stay to dinner; I've an engagement at my club," the banker said, briskly.
The one eye ran from the man to the woman in embarrassment at the threatening silence. Kate walked with him to the door.
"You will return at seven o'clock," she said, in even tones.
"If you command it," he coolly answered.
"I do. We will have our parting this afternoon. He can remove to his old quarters at the hotel. I will receive you alone, and we will arrange for the divorce and our marriage."
"Promptly at seven," he said, crushing her hand in his parting grasp.
Gordon ate his dinner in obstinate quiet, now and then looking at his wife's dazzling beauty with fevered yearning in his eyes.
When she rose from the table he said:
"I wish to speak with you in the library, my dear."
"Very well, I'll be down directly," she carelessly replied.
He paced the floor for half an hour, and rang for the maid.
"Tell your mistress I am waiting," he said, abruptly.
The maid did not return, and his anger grew with each lengthening minute.
At the end of an hour, Kate appeared.
He fixed her with a look of angry amazement.
"Well, what is it?" she asked, impatiently.
"Why did you keep your maid and send no answer to me?"
"I was writing a letter. Are you a king? What is it?" she repeated, coldly.
"I wish to say something of the utmost importance both to you and to me, and to another man," he said slowly, in a voice pulsing with a storm of emotion.
The violet eyes danced and laughed in his face.
"So tragic?" she asked, mockingly.
He locked his big hands nervously behind him, stood before the fire, and a scowl settled over his face.
"Yes," he said, with quiet force. "More than you understand, I fear. I have had enough of Mark Overman in this house."
The fair face flushed with excitement. She walked quickly up to him, paused, and slowly pointed to the door.
"Very well. This is my house. You know the way to the hotel, or shall I ring for my maid to show you?"
He stared at her in a stupor, and a sense of sickening terror choked him.
"Kate, are you crazy?" he stammered.
"Never was more myself than in this moment of perfect freedom," she replied, defiantly.
His great jaws snapped in silent ferocity, and his hairy hands closed slowly like the claws of a bear. He planted his big feet apart, and the sparks flew from the gray eyes that seemed to crouch now behind his brows.
"What do you mean?" he sullenly asked.
The woman drew back with uncertainty, chilled by the tone of his voice.
"Just what I said," she answered, with returning courage. "This is my house. I am a free woman. I mean to do what I please. Permit me to repeat your own words from the ceremony of Emancipation, and lest I shock you later, announce that I love Mr. Overman—"
"Kate!" he cried, in bitter reproach.
"Yes, and he loves me. I announce to you this unity of our Eves. For months it has made us one. May I repeat your ceremony? I have memorised it perfectly. 'Human life incarnates God. Words can add nothing to the sublime fact of the union of two souls. This is the supreme sacrament of human experience. It proclaims its inherent divinity. There is no yesterday or to-day in the harmony and rhythm of two such souls. Love holds all the years that have been and are to be.'"
She paused, smiled, and went on:
"'This is a day of joy—overflowing, unsullied, serene; a day of hope, a day of faith. It is a day of courage and of cheer, and to the world it speaks a gospel of freedom and fellowship. It proclaims the dawn of a higher life for all, the sanctity and omnipotence of love. It asserts the elemental rights of man,' With joy I announce to you my approaching marriage to your friend and schoolmate, Mark Overman, a man in whose strength I glory, whom I shall delight to call my lord and master."
Trembling from head to foot, the veins on his neck and hands standing out like steel cords, Gordon said in a hoarse whisper:
"Kate, darling, this is a cruel joke! You are teasing me."
Again she laughed, sat down lazily, and threw her arms behind her head.
"I never was more serious in my life," she quietly replied.
He hesitated a moment, his eyes devouring her beauty, stepped quickly to her side, knelt and took her hand.
She snatched it roughly, pushed him from her, and cried angrily:
"Don't touch me!"
He attempted to take her hand and place his arm about her.
She sprang up, repulsing him with rage.
"It is all over between us. You are not my husband. I love another."
He arose, walked back to the fireplace and leaned his elbow on the mantel. A wave of agony and blind rage swept him. And then the memory of the hour he spent in such a scene with Ruth caught him by the throat. He could feel the soft touch of her tapering fingers on his big foot as she lay prostrate on the floor before him.
He turned with a shiver toward Kate, who was still gazing at him with insolent languor.
Again his eyes swept the lines of her superb form with the wild thirst for possession that means murder. Two bright red spots appeared on his cheeks.
With slow vehemence he said:
"And do you think the man lives who will dare to take you from me?"
"Dare? I will dare to turn you out of this house. I have chosen the man, and made love to him as his equal. His scruples as your friend bound him. They do not bind me. Thank yourself if this means a tragedy. You challenged the world in your strength. You proclaimed freedom in comradeship. Under the old laws of life, this man would have cut his right arm off rather than betray you. You invited him here. Has he no rights—have I no rights you must respect under such conditions?"
He ignored her question and continued to look at her in stubborn, curious silence.
"Do you know what you are saying?" he asked, brusquely.
"Certainly. Repeating to you the secrets you have taught me."
"Well, I'll teach you something more before this drama has ended, young woman," he said, with a touch of ice in his tones.
She gave an angry toss of her head and cried with sneering emphasis:
"Yes. I'll show you, if you push me to it, what a return to the freedom of nature really means. I, too, have had some illuminations in the past months."
She laughed again.
"Ah, Frank, you are a born preacher, and your threats are scarcely melodramatic; they are merely idiotic."
The gray eyes grew somber. He drew his right arm up until its muscles stood a huge twisted knot, fairly bursting through his sleeve, seized her hand roughly and held it with iron violence on his arm.
"It's worth your while to take note of that," he said, steadily disregarding her angry effort to withdraw her hand. "It's made out of threads of steel—that muscle. Few men are my equal. I am talking to you in the insolence of physical strength that proclaims me a king—a savage viking, if you like, but none the less a king."
She attempted again to free her arm from his brutal grip.
"Be still," he growled. "I feel throbbing in my veins to-day the blood of a thousand savage ancestors who made love to their women with a club and dragged them to their caves by the hair—yes, and more, the beat of impulses that surged there with wild power before man became a man."
With a sob of rage, she tore herself from his grasp.
"Oh, you brute!" she cried, stiffening her figure to its full height, her dark-red hair falling in ruffling ringlets about her ears and neck, as she rubbed her arm where his hand had left the blue finger-prints.
"I warn you," he said, his voice sinking lower and lower into a mere growl. "I am your husband. You are my wife. Whatever may have been my dreams, I'm awake now. Man once aroused is an animal with teeth and claws and Titanic impulses, huge and fateful forces that crush and kill all that comes between him and his two fierce elemental desires, hunger and love."
The splendid form of the woman shook with anger. Her eyes ablaze, her cheeks scarlet, her voice sobbing and breaking with wrath, she said:
"And did you call it that when you threw your little wife into the street for me? Is this your boasted freedom—freedom for man's desires alone?"
"I warn you," he repeated, ignoring her question. "You will bring that man into this house again at the peril of his life and yours."
"Yes, you are talking to a woman now," she hissed. "Babbler, preacher, parson, coward! Why did you not say this to him?"
"I'll say it in due time," he answered, deliberately folding his arms. "In the meantime, I will inform you, as you are in search of a master, that I am your master and the master of this house."
With a stamp of her foot, she swept from the room, throwing over her shoulder the challenge:
"We shall see!"
BULLDOG AND MASTIFF
Gordon remained in the house during the entire afternoon.
Kate called a boy and sent two messages. One of them summoned her lawyer, the same polite gentleman who had brought the wonderful message from that house a few years before.
At 6:30 Gordon went to his study. The wind had risen steadily and was blowing now a gale from the northwest, and he could feel the cut of hail mixed with the raindrops. It was fearful under foot, and he knew his crowd would be small.
His mind was in a whirl of nervous rage.
"Bah! It's this infernal storm in the air," he cried, in disgust.
A feeling of suffocation at last mastered him. He turned the service over to an assistant, left the Temple, and returned to Gramercy Park with feverish step.
Overman was in the library in earnest consultation with Kate.
They both sprang to their feet as he hurriedly entered, and he could see that Kate was trembling with excitement and dread.
The banker was cool and insolent.
Gordon walked quickly to Kate's side and spoke in icy tones of command.
"Go to your room. I have something to say to this gentleman it will not be necessary for you to hear."
She hesitated and glanced inquiringly at Overman.
"Certainly; it's best," came his low, quick answer.
The hesitation and appeal to the new master were not lost on Gordon. He squared his gigantic shoulders, and wet his lips as if to cool them.
"Very well," she said, facing Gordon. "Before I go I wish to announce to you that it will not be convenient for you to spend another night in this house. If you do not go, I will."
He bowed politely and waved her away with a graceful gesture.
"That will do. I do not care to hear any more."
Kate turned and quickly left the room.
"Won't you sit down?" Gordon said, offering Overman a chair with excessive courtesy.
"Thanks; I prefer to stand," he answered, gruffly.
The single eye was fixed on the man opposite in a steady blaze, following every step and every movement in silence.
Gordon took his place by Overman's side, thrust his big thumbs into his vest at the armpits, and looked off into space.
"It's no use, Mark, for us to mince words," he began, in even, clear tones. "I understand the situation perfectly."
"Then the solution should be easy under your code," the banker dryly remarked.
"All I ask of you now," Gordon continued, quietly, "as my best friend, is to let my wife alone. Is that a reasonable request?"
"No," was the emphatic answer. "Did I seek your wife? Yet nothing could have wrung from me the secret of my love had you not flung the challenge in my face again and again; and even then my love for you sealed my lips until she broke the spell to-day with words that cannot be unsaid."
Gordon's face and voice softened.
"Granted, Mark, I've been a fool. I know better now. I appeal to your sense of honour and our long friendship. Let this scene end it. Let us return to the old life and its standards."
The big neck straightened.
"Then go back," he flashed, in tones that cut like steel, "to the wife of your youth and the mother of your children!"
Gordon's fist clenched; he was still a moment, and when he spoke his voice was like velvet.
"It's useless to bandy epithets, or to argue, Mark. I don't reason about this thing. I only feel. My passion is very simple, very elemental. It flouts logic and reason. This woman is mine. I have paid the price, and I will kill the man who dares to take her. Do you understand?"
The banker gave a sneering laugh, and twisted the muscles of his mouth.
"Yes, I understand, and I'm not fainting with alarm. You will be a preacher and a poser to the end."
"I have appealed to your principles and your sense of honour first," Gordon repeated, in a subdued voice.
The one eye was closed with a smile.
"Principles! Sense of honour! What principles? What sense of honour? I agree that, under the old view of marriage as a divine sacrament and a great social ordinance, sacrifice of one's desires for the sake of humanity might be noble. But in this paradise into which you have thrust me, with an invitation on your own door for all the world to enter and contest your position, and with you yourself shouting from the housetop freedom and fellowship—-Sense of honour? Rubbish!"
"I can see," snapped Gordon, "that one such beast as you is enough to transform heaven into hell."
Overman slowly pulled his moustache, and a grin pushed his nose upward.
"Exactly. I am the one odd individual your scheme overlooked—a normal human being with the simplest rational instincts, a clear brain and the muscle big enough to enforce a desire."
"The muscle test is yet to come," Gordon coldly interrupted.
The banker shrugged his shoulders.
"I suppose so. And you know, Frank, the fear of man is an emotion I have never experienced."
Gordon bent quickly toward him, his face quiet and pale, and said in muffled accents:
"Well, you who have never feared man, listen. Get out of this house to-night, give up my wife, never speak to her again or cross my path, or else—" a pause—"I am going to disarm you, bend your bulldog's body across my knee by an art of which I am master, close your jaw with this fist on your throat, and break your back inch by inch. Will you go?"
Overman surveyed the questioner with scorn.
"When the woman who loves me tells me to go. This is her house!" he coolly sneered.
Again the voice opposite sank to velvet tones.
"Very well, we are face to face without disguise, beast to beast. You haven't the muscle to take her. She is mine. I gave for her the deathless love of a wife, two beautiful children, a name, a career, a character, and the life of the man who gave me being, who died with a broken heart. For her I turned my back upon the poor who looked to me for help, forgot the great city I loved, overturned God's altars, scorned heaven and dared the terrors of hell. Do you think that I will give her up? I own her, body and soul. I've paid the price."
He paused a moment, quivering with passion. "I know," he went on, "I was a fool floundering in a bog of sentiment. But you—one-eyed brute—you were never deceived about anything. You set your lecherous eye on her from the first and determined to poison her mind and take her from me."
"And I will take her," came the fierce growl from the depths of his throat, "and lift her from the mire into which you have dragged her peerless being."
The man opposite gave a quick, nervous laugh.
"Well, I, who have dreamed the salvation of the world and lost my own soul, may sink to-night, but, old boy"—he paused and laughed hysterically—"I'll pull down with me into hell as I go one Wall Street banker!"
"Talk is cheap," Overman hissed. "Make the experiment. You're keeping a lady waiting."
Gordon stepped quickly to the desk and picked up two ivory-handled daggers with keen ten-inch blades, used as paper knives, and handed one to Overman.
"These little toys," he said, playfully, "were a wedding present from my wife on our second anniversary."
"Which wife?" snarled the big, sneering mouth.
Gordon went on meditatively.
"They are the finest Italian steel—sharp medicine for friends to take and give, but it will cure our ills. I never quite understood before what you meant by the fighting instinct when I used to watch you fasten those little devilish points on your Game chickens. I know now. I feel it throb in every nerve and muscle. The impulse to kill you is so simple and so sweet, it would be a crime against nature to deny it."
Overman threw his head to one side, frowned and peered at the man before him curiously.
"Do you ever get tired of preaching? The articulation of wind is a strange mania!"
"Pardon me if I've tired you," came the answer in mellow tones. "You'll need a long rest after to-night, and you'll get it."
Gordon locked the doors, placed the blower over the flickering embers in the grate, and put his hand on the electric switch.
"I am going to put this light out for the sake of the comradeship and chivalry we once held in common. I could kill you at one blow from that blind side of your head. I'll fight you fair. That is a bow to the higher law in the preliminary ritual of nature. But down below, in these muscles, throb forces older than the soul, that link us in kinship to the tiger and the wolf"—his voice sank to a dreamy monotone. "You sneaked into my home in the dark to rob me of my own. In the dark, we will settle on the price. I paid for this treasure an immortal soul. It's worth as much to you."
He turned the switch, and then darkness and silence that could be felt and tasted—only the thrash of the storm against the blinds without.
With catlike tread they began to move around the room on the velvet carpet. They made the circuit twice, and found they were following each other. They both stopped, apparently at the same moment, wheeled, and again made the round in a circle without meeting, now and then stumbling against a piece of furniture.
Gordon suddenly stopped, held his breath, and waited for his enemy to overtake him. He could hear Overman's heavy breathing at each muffled step. When he approached so close he could feel the movement of his body in the air, he suddenly sprang on him, plunging the dagger in his body, and bore him to the floor, knocking the blower from the grate in the struggle.
Over and over on the velvet carpet, dimly lighted now from the glowing coals, they rolled, growling, snarling, cursing in low, half-articulate gasps, thrusting the steel into flesh and bone, nerve and vein and artery.
Gordon suddenly plunged his dagger with a crash in Overman's shoulder, snatched at it, and broke it smooth at the hilt.
Throwing his opponent to one side by a quick movement, he sprang to his feet, and as Overman rose, fastened his enormous hairy left hand on his throat and closed it with the clutch of a bear. His enemy writhed and plunged the steel twice to the hilt in Gordon's breast before his big right hand found the knife and wrenched it from his grasp.
Then slowly, silently, inch by inch, he bent the banker's body over his knee, driving his great fingers into his throat, until the spinal column snapped with a dull crack.
The limp form sank to the floor, and the two big hands clutched the throat until every finger left its black print as if branded red hot into the massive neck.
A quick knock, and Kate's excited voice called:
"Open this door!"
Throwing the body behind the desk in the centre of the room, he felt for the switch, turned on the light, unlocked the door, stepped back and said:
Kate quickly opened the door and rushed into the room. He locked it and put the key in his pocket without a word.
She turned on him a face blanched with speechless horror as he slowly advanced on her in silence, his eyes wide open, cold and set.
The blood was running down across his cheek in a stream from a wound in the upper edge of his high forehead.
She stood dumb with physical fear.
He came close, in laboured breath, his face still sick and white with the desire to kill.
The voice was hard and metallic with the vibrant ring of steel.
"Say your prayers, young woman," he said, slowly. "You are going on a long journey from whence no traveler has yet returned."
She staggered and caught a chair, trembling and shivering.
"Frank, dear, have you gone mad?" she gasped.
"Yes, I went mad in this house one day at the sight of your devil's beauty, and I have been mad from that hour. Now we have come to the end."
"You will not kill me?" she begged, in piteous fear. "I cannot die; I am afraid. Surely you love me; you cannot—"
He seized her wrists and she cowered with a scream. He held them in one hand and with the other swept her magnificent hair around her throat, grasped it in his iron fist, and thus choking her, thrust the shivering figure backward into the chair.
She managed to free her hands, threw her arms around his neck, and tried to smother him with kisses.
"Frank, dear, I'll love you. Surely you will not kill me. Have pity for all that I have been to you in the past—"
"Hush," he said softly, putting his big hand over her full lips. "Why such childish terror? Love has its moments of sublime cruelty. This impulse to kill is only the awful desire for utter possession, the climax of love. I'll go with you. Neither life nor death shall take you from me."
With a tremulous moan, she sank into a swoon in his arms.
He loosed the hair from her throat, paused, and looked tenderly at the still white face.
Then he sighed, groaned and kissed her.
"No, no, no, no; not that!" he cried, beneath his breath. "How beautiful she is! I brought her to this. Yes, I was the master of her heart and life. I could have made her anything, angel or devil. I have made her what she is—One last kiss"—he bent and gently touched her lips—"and this the end."
With tenderness he laid her on the lounge, loosed her corsage, smoothed gently the tangled hair from her white face, closed the door, and went to his room.
He bathed the blood from his forehead and bound it with a piece of plaster. His head began to swim. A sharp pang shot through his breast, and he felt he was suffocating.
He began to shiver with the instinctive desire to escape, threw some things into a bag he usually carried, stopped and scowled with uncertainty.
"What's the use? What is there to live for?"
Yet the big muscular hands kept on at their task.
An hour later he struggled and staggered up the hill through the black, roaring storm and rang Ruth's doorbell.
THE CLOUD'S SILVER LINING
Ruth had spent the Sunday in a desperate struggle with the Governor. Long and tenderly he had pleaded for a pledge that would bind her. He had been sure of the note of hesitation and uncertainty in her voice when she left Albany on the day of his inauguration.
He finally left her with the firm avowal:
"I am going to win, Ruth. You might as well make up your mind to it."
She smiled and said "Good-night."
When she went upstairs a low sob came from the nursery and she tipped into the room.
For the past year Lucy would often sit for an hour at a time in reverie, and then lift her little face to her mother with the question:
"Where is Papa?"
Since their return from the railway accident she had never asked again. She only sat now and looked into her mother's face with dumb pain.
Ruth soothed her to sleep, and was standing by her window trying to look out into the storm, which was lashing great sheets of wet snow against the glass.
The bell in the kitchen rang feebly.
She listened. Some one was fumbling at the front door, but the roar of the wind drowned the noise.
The bell rang loud and clear. She sprang to the stairs and went down with quick, nervous step. She fastened the chain-latch, opened the door an inch, and the dim light of the hall flashed on Gordon's haggard, blood-stained face.
She flung the door open, drew him quickly within, slammed and bolted it.
Throwing her arms around his dripping form, she drew him down and kissed his cold lips.
"Frank, my darling, what is it?" she cried, in breathless amazement.
"You must help me, Ruth, dear," he gasped. "We had a fight. I have killed Overman. If you can hide me for a few days, I can escape. I don't deserve it—but I know that you love me—"
"Yes, yes," she sobbed, kissing his hand, "through life and death, through evil report and good report!"
She put him to bed, washed and dressed his wounds. One of them, an ugly hole over his left lung, kept spouting bruised blood as he breathed. The dark eyes grew dim as she watched it.
"Oh! Frank, I must have a doctor," she said, tremulously.
"No, Ruth; I can sleep now. I'll be better in the morning. A doctor will know me."
"But I have one I can trust," she replied, pressing his hand.
He shook his head, closing his eyes.
"You can't stand up against the wind and sleet. It's awful. You can't walk a block. Don't try it."
She watched his mouth twitch with pain.
"I will try it," she answered, firmly. "Lucy will watch with you till I get back."
When Ruth called and told her, the little hands clasped, a cry burst from her heart, and she kissed her mother impulsively.
While his daughter sat by the bedside gently stroking his big blue-veined hand, Gordon dozed in sleep and Ruth crept out into the wild night on her mission of love.
She was half an hour going and coming four blocks. Three times the wind threw her on the freezing pavements. When she climbed up her own steps her clothing was shrouded in an inch of snow and ice, her cheeks were red and swollen, and her hands were bleeding, but a smile played about her lips. The doctor was coming.
He assured her that the wounds were not fatal, and left instructions for dressing them. A few days of rest and all danger would be past.
Through the night, while the wind howled and moaned and roared, the mother and daughter sat by the bedside and smiled into each other's faces.
The meaning of the tragedy had not yet dawned on Ruth. She only knew that her beloved had come, that she was soothing and ministering to him, and her heart was singing its song of triumphant love. The long night of the soul was over. The morning had come. The storm without was on another planet.
As they watched he began to talk in fevered half-dream, half-delirium words, phrases and broken sentences that revealed the inner yearnings and conflicts of his soul.
"Silly fool," he muttered. "Beauty-marvelous—Ruth-dear dark eyes-I-love-her."
As day approached, Ruth began to dread its message. Already she could see the officers at the door.
When day broke she tried to look out of the window, and could only see across the street. The park and the city below were blotted out. The whole world seemed one white, swirling, howling smother of snow. The wind came in long gusts of shrieking fury. She could count its pulse-beats in the lulls which were growing shorter. And, child of the sea that she was, she knew that the advancing cyclone had not reached its climax. She breathed a prayer of relief. They could not find him to-day.
The cook did not come. Not a milk-wagon or bread-cart echoed through the street. Not a call of newsboy, whistle of postman, or cry of a schoolboy. The house-girl had not come. Ruth descended to the kitchen, made a fire, and cooked breakfasts. With her own hands she was serving her Love, and her heart was singing.
At ten o'clock, she looked out of her window, and the snow was piled to the second story of the houses opposite, which were receiving the full fury of the blast.
The wind was visible. It blew in white, roaring sheets of snow, howling, whistling, screaming, shrieking. Tin roofs, signs, battered chimney-tops, blinds, awnings, brackets, flagpoles, sheet-iron eaves and every odd and end began to crash and rain in the streets and bury themselves in the drifts.
The woman's heart rode on the wings of the storm. Her beloved was hiding safe beneath its white feathers. She wondered if any one else in all the world were singing for joy with its wild music.
For three hours of the morning, struggling men had braved the storm and fought to reach their places of business. Shouts, curses, calls, laughter, the screams of boys, at first; and then defeat, silence and the roar of the wind.
Street-cars were piled on their sides, and the tracks jammed with debris and mountains of snow.
At eleven o'clock, from Manhattan there was no Jersey or Brooklyn. The ferries were still. The great dead Bridge hung swaying in the dark sky, a white festoon of ice and snow, like a jeweled garland swung from heaven to soften the terrible beauty of a frozen world. The waters below were lashed into a white smother of spray. The air cut like a knife with the sand blown from the flying waves of the distant beaches.
Policemen crouched and shivered in barred doorways. The storm had caged every thief, burglar and murderer, as it had sheathed the claws of every bear and wolf on the distant mountain-side.
The snow was piled over the tops of the doors of the City Hall and Court House. There was no Mayor, no court, no jury.
The Stock Exchange was closed, the Custom House and Sub-Treasury silent, and every school without teacher or scholar. Every depot was placarded, and not a wheel was moving. Not a newspaper found its way to a home, or a single piece of mail arrived in New York, or was sent from it, or delivered within its gates. Every telegraph and telephone office was silent and the fire department was paralysed.
The elevated trains crawled and slipped and stalled and fought on their steel trestles till ten o'clock, and the last wheel stopped and froze.
At three o'clock a Staten Island ferry-boat ventured her nose out of her slip. The wind snapped off both flag-staffs and smokestack, hurled them into space, caught her in its mighty claws, dragged her helpless across the bay and flung her on the Staten Island shore.
Wherever men could gather they talked in low, helpless and bewildered tones.
The storm signal, set by the Weather Bureau, was torn to shreds and the wind-gage hurled into the sky as it registered eighty-two miles an hour.
On the mountains of Colorado and over the plains of Dakota it had begun, a fine, misty rain sweeping eastward, throwing out its soft skirmish-line of breezes, drawn by the summons of the Storm King far out on the waste of the sea. And then the king had blown his frozen breath on the earth and the mighty city had been blotted from the map and its tumult stilled in soft white death.
Ruth drew Gordon to the window against which the sparrows crouched and shivered, that he might watch the storm's wild pranks.
"After all," the wounded man cried, "it has been conquered, the rushing, tumultuous city! Beyond the rim of man's map of the world broods in silence the One to whom its noise is the rustle of a leaf and this wind but a sigh of His breath! What can endure?"
His eyes rested on the smiling, lovelit face of Ruth, and he forgot the storm in the deeper wonder of a pure woman's love.
A LACE HANDKERCHIEF
The next morning the lulls between the gusts of wind grew longer and the wind-waves shorter. The snow ceased to fall and the shadows on the clouds began to brighten with the glow of the sun behind them.
The city stirred and shook off its white robe of death. The woman looked at the wounded man with a stifled moan.
"It's no use, Ruth," he said, feebly. "I can't escape. I've got to face it."
"What will they do to you, Frank?" she asked, in misery.
"I don't know," he answered, brokenly. "I killed him in the heat of passion in a fight. But I'll be tried for murder."
The officers came and read the warrant of arrest. The dark, tense figure, erect, with defiant face wreathed in midnight hair, stood by his bedside and held his hand.
Her great eyes glowed and gleamed as though a young lioness stood guard over a wounded cub.
Behind the bars in murderers' row the weeks and months were dragging slowly to the day of trial. The rush and roar and fever of the city were now a memory as he sat in brooding silence.
The press was hostile, and reporters worked daily with an army of detectives to find every scrap of evidence against him, and as the day fixed for his arraignment drew near, story after story appeared in the more sensational journals, written with the clearest purpose of influencing the mind of every possible juryman.
Ruth's heart sank with anguish as she read these stories, but they stirred her to more vigorous action. She read every newspaper carefully and followed every clue of reporter and detective to anticipate its influence.
Not a day passed but that she carried to the man behind the bars a message of courage and cheer.
Gordon would sit and watch for that one face whose light was hope until it became the only reality in a universe of silence and darkness. His whole life seemed to focus now on the little face with its dimpled chin and shy, tremulous lips smiling into his cell.
The soft contralto voice, even when it sank to the lowest notes of melancholy, was full of tenderness and caressing feeling. As he touched her tapering fingers on the steel bars and watched the red blood mount until her delicate ears shone like transparent shells in the dark mass of her hair, visions of their life together would rise until the past few years seemed the memory of a delirium.
He studied her with increasing fascination. The illuminating power of restraint had developed new forces in his sensitive mind. How marvelous she seemed, walking toward his cell with gentle yet triumphant footfall, her face aglow with tenderness and love, and how his soul leaped those bars and embraced her!
Many friends on whom he had counted had failed. She had never failed. Her resources were endless, her energy infinite. She would have fought all earth combined without a tremor. And yet those who came in contact with her felt a gentleness that touched with the softness of a caress.
The day before the trial her face glowed with hope.
"Frank, our lawyers are sure we will win!" she cried, with joy. "Barringer has determined to rest the case on the charge of wilful murder. And if he does the jury will acquit you. There is only one shadow of uncertainty."
The dark eyes clouded and a gleam of fire flashed from their depths.
"I know," he said, sorrowfully.
"We can't find whether that woman is going on the witness stand against you. I've tried in vain to get one word from her lips."
She brushed a tear from her eyes with a lace handkerchief. The man saw it was the mate to the one she had given him stained with her blood the day he had deserted her.
When, she turned to go, he felt for the cot behind him as though blind, fell on his face and burst into sobs.
A LIFETIME IN A DAY
The court-room was crowded to suffocation. The corridors were jammed, the pavements, park and street outside a solid mass of humanity.
The prison van plowed its way through the throng. Gordon stepped out, with handcuffs jingling on his wrists, and straightened his giant figure between the two officers who led him.
A cheer suddenly burst from the crowd and echoed through the court-room.
There was no mistaking that cry. He had heard it before. He knew. He had killed a banker. They were glad of it and proud of him. In muttered curses and cheers they said so. He was the champion of a class, and the murder of an enemy had made him a hero. No matter the right or wrong. Down with every banker—what did they care!
Ruth met him in the anteroom, followed him into the prisoner's dock and took her place by his side.
The bill of indictment was read.
"The People against Frank Gordon."
With terrible memories the title rang through his soul. The people, for whom he had fought, for whom he had suffered, worked and dreamed, had put him on trial for his life. What a strange fate! The faces grew dim, and a sense of illimitable and awful ruin crushed him.
A soft hand stole gently into his, and its warmth cleared his brain.
He looked around the room and, to his surprise, saw dozens of people he had helped in his ministry of the Pilgrim Church. Just in front of him sat a woman who, under the inspiration of his preaching, had given her fortune to found an orphanage for homeless girls, and was spending her life in happy service as its presiding genius.
She nodded and smiled, and her eyes filled with tears.
There was a stir in the group of lawyers behind him, and the old woman who had kissed him the day Ruth was watching pushed to his side, seized his hand, choked, and could say nothing. She had come all the way from Virginia to cheer him.
Ludlow, his faithful deacon, he saw, and near him sat Van Meter. The little black eyes were solemn and the mouth drawn with sorrow. Over against the wall, jammed in the crowd, he saw Jerry Edwards, who was still telling the story of his life with reverent wonder and love. He clasped both hands together, shook them over the heads of the crowd, and smiled.
A feeling of awe came over him as he thought of the eternity of man's deeds, going on and on forever, whatever might be his own fate.
He looked curiously at Barringer, the young Assistant District Attorney, who was conducting the case against him. In the dark-brown eyes, keen and piercing, there was deadly hostility. He had become famous as a relentless public prosecutor. He came of a long line of great lawyers of the old South, and the breath of a court-room was born in his nostrils. Gordon was chilled by the cold, clear ring of his penetrating voice.
While the jury was being impaneled, Ruth sat by Gordon, eagerly trying to see the invisible secrets of every juror's soul who faced the man she loved.
The court ruled that Socialists were disqualified to sit on the case.
When the twelve men were selected she scanned their faces with searching gaze for the signs of life or death. Their names all seemed strange. She could make nothing out of them.
The opening address of Barringer choked her with fear. In cold-blooded words he told the jury of the certainty of the guilt of the prisoner. His manner was earnest, dignified and terrible in its persuasive assurance.
For days his awful closing sentence rang like a death knell in her ears.
Four days of the week were consumed by the witnesses for the prosecution. On Friday morning Ruth and her lawyers were elated over the unimportant character of the testimony.
Suddenly Barringer looked at the prisoner, frowned, and said:
"Call Kate Ransom Gordon to the witness stand."
The prisoner went white and lowered his eyes.
There was a stir at the side door. With quick, firm step the magnificent figure crossed the room, with every eye save one riveted on her beautiful face.
She took her seat, and in cool, clear tones told her story.
The prisoner looked up once, and she met his gaze with a glance of fierce resentment.
She gave the long history of his suspicions of Overman, of their quarrels about him, of his jealousy and his threat to kill him. With minute detail she explained the events of the fatal Sunday, described his entrapping Overman in the library unarmed, and of his murder in the dark. She told how she had rushed to the door and found no light within, and how he had enticed her into the room and attempted to choke her to death.
Finally she explained to the jury that the wounds Gordon had received were not from Overman in a fight, but that he had tried to kill her and commit suicide and had failed.
For five hours she sat in the witness chair and coolly swore his life away, baffling with keenest wit at every turn the shrewd lawyer who baited, harassed and cross-questioned her with merciless vigour.
When she declared that Gordon's wounds were self-inflicted, he stared at her in dazed wonder and gasped to Ruth:
"Merciful God, is she deliberately lying, or does she believe it?"
Ruth did not answer, but slipped her warm little hand in his and pressed it. His fingers were like icicles.
Gordon seemed to sink into a stupor and take no further note of what was going on in the room.
He turned around, placed his arm on the chair, and fixed his eyes on Ruth, looking, looking! As he felt her hot hand trying to warm the chill of death in his own, he followed every movement of a muscle of her face with hypnotic intensity.
When they led him back to the prison van his shoulders drooped with mortal weariness. He had lived a lifetime in a day, and his hair had turned gray.
Gordon seemed to take no further interest in the trial. He only sat day after day and watched Ruth. Now and then a faint flush tinged the prison pallor of his cheeks as from some thought passing in his memory.
Barringer's speech to the jury was one of fierce and terrible eloquence. Every art of persuasion, every trick of oratory, every force of personality he used with pitiless power. In ridicule, sarcasm, invective, pathos and logic, his voice rose and fell, pulsed and quivered, or rang with the peal of a trumpet. He held the jury in the hollow of his hand for four hours, while Ruth stared at him with her heart in her throat, every word cutting her flesh like a knife or smashing the tissues of her brain with the force of a bludgeon.
The jury retired.
Through the dreary hours of the afternoon Ruth sat in the anteroom by Gordon's side waiting for the verdict. Minutes lengthened into hours, and hours into days and years, until time and eternity were one, and she lived a life of despair or hope within the second between the ticks of the clock on the wall.
She tried to say a word of cheer to Gordon, and choked. The little chin drooped, showing the white teeth, and she sat in dumb misery like a sick child.
The man looked at her tenderly and said:
"You must be calm, Ruth, dear. Death is a physical incident that no longer interests me, except as it affects you. You are the one miracle of life and death to me."
She pressed his hand and could not answer.
At five o'clock the jury returned for instructions, and she listened with agony to their awful questions.
At six o'clock there was a hurried stir in the court-room. The crowd surged into its doors and packed every inch of space.
The jury were filing in with their verdict.
The judge solemnly took his seat, and the clerk summoned Gordon to stand up.
The giant figure rose with dignity and his steel-gray eyes pierced the jury.
The foreman's lips moved:
"Guilty of murder in the first degree!"
A long breath, a stir, a murmur, and then a broken sob from a woman's heart. Her arms were around his neck, her head on his breast, and her swollen lips in low, piteous tones cried:
Two weeks later the judge pronounced the sentence of death. Again the dark figure was by the prisoner's side, alert, erect, every faculty of mind and body at its highest tension, her cheeks aflame with defiance, her eyes gleaming with hidden fire.
She was sure the Court of Appeals would grant a new trial. She bade her beloved good-by at the gates of Sing Sing, and the door of the Chamber of Death closed upon him.
Day and night she worked with tireless energy. She systematically laid siege to the editors and owners of the papers in New York, and at last won every hostile critic by her patience, her beauty of character, and the infinite pathos of her love.
The moment sentence of death was pronounced on Gordon, Kate sued for a divorce from him as a convicted felon, and it was granted.
The little dark woman became the toast of every hardened newspaper reporter who came in contact with her. The newsboys learned to recognise her from her pictures, and as she went in and out of the court-rooms and the lawyers' offices they would watch and wait for her, doff their dirty caps, smile, hand her a flower, and cry:
"She's de queen!"
When Ruth saw the notice of Kate's divorce, she asked her lawyers to arrange at once for her to remarry Gordon at Sing Sing.
The senior counsel shook his head.
"You must not dare, madam," he gravely said. "If we should not get a new trial, or fail on the second trial, the Governor at Albany is our only hope."
A wave of sickening terror swept Ruth's soul. She recalled King's strange reserve of the past months. His letters were kind and sympathetic, but there was something hidden between their lines that chilled her.
"We must not lose!" she answered, bitterly.
"I don't think we will," the lawyer hastened to assure her. "But we must reserve every weapon."
The Court of Appeals decided in Gordon's favour and ordered a new trial.
As the day approached, Ruth's nervousness increased. His chances were better, but she could hear the awful words of Kate Ransom swearing away his life. Their echoes rang in her soul until she could no longer endure it.
She was at Gramercy Park at last.
When Kate swept proudly and coldly into the room, and extended her hand, she held it in her grasp timidly and nervously.
"I've come to beg you," she said, piteously, "not to say he made those wounds in his own breast. They fought a duel as men have often done. You were in a swoon. You thought he did it himself because he told you he was going to die with you. He did not hurt you. He only laid you tenderly on the lounge, smoothed your hair, kissed and left you. Surely you have brought me enough sorrow. Have pity on me!"
Kate led her to a seat and spoke with quiet decision. "I said what I believed to be the truth. I shall repeat it. I can feel his wild beast's claws on my throat now in the night sometimes and wake with a scream."
"Ah, but he was mad," she cried, through her tears. "He is tender and gentle as a child. Surely you"—she paused and caught her breath—"who have slept with your head on his dear breast know this!"
"It is useless to talk to me," she answered, with anger. "He deserves to die. And it will be a good riddance for you, and for the world. He was stirring the passions of mobs that will yet make work for hangmen."
"But he is not on trial for this," she pleaded, "You should be the last to reproach him with it. Think of all the sacrifices for you—his career, his wife and children, his father, his friends. Surely there is yet one spark of love for him in your heart?"
Kate shook her head.
"Then for my sake, I beg of you—you are a woman. You have loved. Have mercy on me! You asked me once for help—did I fail you?"
The blond face softened.
"No, you didn't. I'm sorry for you. If it were your life, I'd save it if I swore a thousand lies—but for him, the brute—I can feel him strangling me now—you have not felt his hands on your throat."
"No," said the soft contralto voice, "not on my throat; it would have been a relief to have felt them there. They were on my soul. But I love him—-"
Kate was relentless, and Ruth left, shivering with anguish and angry pride.
The new trial dragged its length to the second jury. Ruth spent and pledged the last dollar of her fortune.
Once more she heard the foreman, in tones that seemed far off in space, say the fatal word—
She stood by his side again before the judge and heard the words of death fall from his lips, this time with blanched face and cold little fingers locked in agony.
Again the gates at Sing Sing closed, and a woman turned her footsteps toward the Governor's Mansion at Albany.
BETWEEN TWO FIRES
Ruth trembled at the thought of her appeal to King. She knew his iron will, his intense love, and the certainty with which he had long regarded their coming union. His ambitions were still mounting, and daily with better assurances of success. His party had chosen another man their candidate for the Presidency, and had been overwhelmed in defeat, while he had been re-elected Governor by a larger plurality.
He received her with grave tenderness.
"Morris," she cried, pathetically, seizing his hand and holding it, "he is not guilty of murder. Everything has been against him in these trials. They were not fair. He killed that man in what men have always called a fair fight. You are a manly man. You believe in justice. You will not let them kill him!"
She could feel the strong man's hand tremble in hers, looked up into his face, and saw a tear quiver on his lashes.
"Oh! Ruth," he cried, bitterly, "why do you cling to this man? He is regarded as the most dangerous firebrand in America. I could show you hundreds of letters piled on that desk begging me in the name of law and order and all the forces of civilised society not to interfere with his sentence. Come, you know how I love you. This is horrible cruelty to me. The doors of the White House are opening. You know that what I have, am now, and ever may be, is yours. It will all be ashes without you. I offer you a deathless love, honour and glory, and you come here to tell me you prefer a convicted felon in his cell. My God, it is too much!"
The Governor leaned on his desk and shaded his face with his hands.
"How can I help it, Morris, if I love him?" she asked, piteously.
He raised his head, looked away, and softly said:
"Ruth, could you never love me?"
She was silent a moment and her lips trembled.
"If he dies, I cannot live," she gasped.
He leaned close, took her hand, and said:
"I'll order a stay of sentence for three months."
She kissed his hand, and murmured:
From the telegraph office at Albany over the wires to Sing Sing's house of death flew the message:
"Sentence stayed for three months while the Governor considers your pardon. Faith and hope eternal. RUTH."
The next express carried her to him with the copy of the Governor's order in her bosom.
The warden smiled and congratulated her. She had long before won his heart, and there was no favour within the limits of law that he had not granted to the man she loved.
Ruth looked at Gordon tenderly through the barred opening of his cell.
Her heart ached as she saw the ashen pallor of his face and the skin beginning to draw tight and slick across the protruding cheek-bones of his once magnificent face. Three years of prison had bent his shoulders and reduced his giant frame to a mere shadow of his former self. Only the eyes had grown larger and softer, and their gaze now seemed turned within. They burned with a feverish mystic beauty.
Ruth fixed on him a look of melting tenderness and asked:
"Do you not long for the open fields, the sky and sea, my dear?"
He gazed at her hungrily.
"No. Sometimes I've felt a queer homesickness in these dying muscles that thirst for the open world, but I've no time to think of mountain or lake, or hear the call of field or sea—-Ruth, I can only think of you! I have but one interest, but one desire of soul and body—that you may be happy. I would be free, not because I fear death or covet life"—his voice sank to a broken whisper—"but that I might crawl around the earth on my hands and knees and confess my shame and sorrow that I deserted you."
"Hush, hush, my love; I forgive you," she moaned.
"Yes, I know; but all time and eternity will be too short for my repentance."
The woman was sobbing bitterly.
"These prison bars," he went on with strange elation, "are nothing. The old queer instinct of asceticism within me, that made a preacher of an Epicurean and an athlete, has come back to its kingship. Its sublime authority is now supreme. I despise life, and have learned to live. There is no task so hard but that the king within demands a harder. There can be no pain so fierce and cruel but that it calls my soul to laughter. As for Death—"
His voice sank to dreamy notes.
"She who comes at last with velvet feet and the tender touch of a pure woman's hand—her face is radiant, her voice low music. She will speak the end of strife and doubt, and loose these bars. With friendly smile she will show me the path among the stars, until I find the face of God. I'll tell Him I'm a son of His who lost the way on life's great plain, and that I am sorry for all the pain I've caused to those who loved me."
Ruth felt through the bars and grasped his hand, sobbing.
"Don't, don't, don't, Frank! Stop! I cannot endure it!"
The warden turned away to hide his face.
SWIFT AND BEAUTIFUL FEET
For three months Ruth went back and forth from Sing Sing to Albany, battling with the Governor for Gordon's life and cheering the condemned man with her courage and love.
The fatal day of the execution had come, and she was to wage the last battle of her soul for the life of her love with the man who loved her.
It was a day of storm. The spring rains had been pouring in torrents for a week and the wind was now dashing against the windows blinding sheets of water.
A carriage stopped before the Governor's Mansion, and two women wrapped in long cloaks leaped quickly out. The Governor was at his desk in his office.
There was the rustle of a woman's dress at his door. He looked and sprang to his feet, trembling.
He threw one hand to his forehead as though to clear his brain, and caught a chair with the other.
Advancing swiftly toward him, he saw the white vision of Ruth Spottswood the night of the ball when he had lost her. The same dress, the same rounded throat, only the bust a little fuller, and the same beautiful bare arms with the delicate wrists and tapering fingers. The great soulful eyes, with just a gleam of young sunshine in their depths, and the same flowers on her breast. She walked with lithe, quick grace, and now she was talking in the low sweet contralto music that had echoed in his soul through the years.
"Please, Governor," she was saying, as her hot hand held his, "save my father!"
The man's eyes were blinking, and he put one hand to his throat as though he were about to choke. He looked past the white figure of the girl and saw her mother kneeling in the corner of the room, the tears streaming down her face and her lips moving in prayer.
In quick tones he called:
She leaped to her feet and was before him in a moment, with scarlet face, dilated eyes and disheveled hair.
"You've won. I give it up."
Ruth pressed both hands to her breast and caught her breath to keep from screaming.
He pressed the button on his desk. The clerk appeared.
"Write out a full pardon for Frank Gordon, and call the warden of Sing Sing!"
Ruth dropped to her knees, crying:
"O Lord God, unto thee I give praise!"
In a moment the clerk hurried back to the Governor's side and in startling tones whispered:
"The wires are down, sir. I can't get the warden."
The Governor snatched his watch from his pocket.
"There is no train for two hours. Order me a special!"
The despatcher flashed his command for a clear track as far as the wires would work, and within fifteen minutes the great engine with its single coach dashed across the bridge and plunged down the grade toward Sing Sing, roaring, hissing, screaming its warnings above the splash and howl of the storm.
The Governor sat silent with his head resting on his hand, shading his eyes.
Ruth, still and pale, gazed out the car window, and, shivering, closed her eyes now and then over the vision of a cold dead face she feared to see at the journey's end.
They had made fifty miles in fifty minutes, and not a word had been spoken.
The Governor looked at his watch and leaned over:
"Cheer up, Ruth. We are making a mile a minute through the storm, over slippery rails. We will make it in time."
Suddenly the emergency brakes came down with a crash, every wheel was locked, and the train slid heavily on the track, hissing, grinding, swaying, the steel rails blazing with sparks.
The Governor sprang from the car. "We're blocked by a wreck, sir," the conductor said, touching his cap. "The high water has undermined the track on the river bank."
Within twenty minutes the engine in front of the wreck was secured, Ruth and Lucy were in the cab, and the engineer and fireman stood reading their orders.
"Gentlemen, I am the Governor," said a voice by their side.
They looked up.
"This is a matter of life and death. The life of a man—and the life of the little pale woman I helped into your cab. Put this engine into Sing Sing by five minutes to two o'clock and I'll give you a thousand dollars. Five hundred for each of you."
The engineer smiled.
"We'll do it for you, sir, without money. We voted for you."
The Governor pressed their hands.
Down the storm-clouded track the engine flew with throbbing heart of steel and breath of fire like a panting demon. Back and forth over the spongy rails she swayed, her mighty ribs cracking as she lurched and jumped and plunged. But the fireman in his flannel shirt, dripping with perspiration, never paused, as with steady stroke he fed her roaring mouth; and the engineer, with his hand on her pulse, leaned far out of the cab with his eyes fixed on the flying track.
The hour for the condemned man was at hand. He had asked the warden as a special favour to do his duty without delay at the appointed time.
Gordon was ready, dressed with his old fastidious distinction to the last detail of his toilet. He had spent the entire night before writing to Ruth the last chapter in a secret diary he had kept and given to the warden for her.
The warden read the death warrant with halting lips. He had been strangely drawn to this tall young giant with his premature gray hairs. Gordon's words of lyric fire to him of the mysteries of life and death had thrown a spell over his imagination. He was going to kill him now with the horrible feeling that he was his own brother.
"Come, my friend," Gordon said to him, cheerfully, "you promised me there should be no delay. I've a child's eagerness now to push the black curtains aside and see what lies beyond. I've often dreamed and wondered. In a few minutes I shall know. I hear it calling me, that unknown world of silence, beauty and mystery. Let us make haste."
But the feet of the jailer were of lead. He would stop and hold his lower lip tightly under his teeth, as though in pain.
At last they were in the dim chamber that is the vestibule of death. The cap had been drawn over his face and the leather straps buckled on his wrists legs,
The warden put his hand on the electric switch.
There was a shout and a stir without, the thump of hurrying feet, and the butt of a guard's gun thundered against the door.
The warden sprang forward.
"Stop! The Governor!" he heard faintly shouted through the deep-padded panels.
THE KISS OF THE BRIDE
For a quarter of an hour the Governor sat and talked with Lucy, waiting the arrival of Gordon and Ruth. The warden arranged that they should meet in the adjoining room alone.
No eye save God's saw their meeting. Those who waited only heard through the heavy curtains half articulate cries like the soft crooning of a mother over her babe.
When they entered the room and Lucy had clung passionately for a moment to the neck of the tall, gaunt figure, the Governor took his hand.
"I have accepted Ruth's word and yours for the truth in this case, Frank Gordon. I have grown to know that she is the soul of truth. I heard you preach once from the text, 'He saved others, himself he could not save.' I did not know then what you were talking about. I know now—"
"Oh, Morris," Ruth broke in, "we will always love you as the nearest and dearest friend on earth."
"As for you, Frank Gordon," he went on. "I could no longer hate you if I tried. In the presence of a love so pure, so divine as that which hallows your life, I uncover my head. I am on holy ground—I am in the presence of the living God."
He turned away, and Ruth broke into a sob, while the man by her side hung his head and sat down as though too weak to stand.
The Governor lifted Gordon from the seat, seized Ruth's hand and placed it in his.
"I know your heart's desire, Ruth," he said, slowly, "I have an officer of the law here to perform a marriage ceremony. Holding your first marriage a divine sacrament, you once planned a civil one in this grim prison. No matter how I learned this: it shall be so to-day."
The magistrate advanced and pronounced them husband and wife, sat down by a desk, and made out the record.
The Governor rose and handed the official pardon to Gordon.
"To you I give life."
He tore the other paper into two parts by its dotted lines, handed Ruth one half and held the other in his trembling fingers.
"This, Ruth, is your marriage certificate"—he paused—"and my death warrant. Frank Gordon, we have changed places."
Again the woman sobbed.
"You have forgotten something, Morris," she answered, wistfully.
"Yes, I know: myself."
"It is your right to kiss the bride," she said, softly, "and I wish it."
He stooped and reverently touched her forehead. And when he turned away Lucy stood before him, her soft young bosom, neck and face crimson, her eyes dancing, and the sweet little mouth quivering.
"May I kiss you, Governor?" she cried, tremblingly. "You are my hero!"
Her bare arms flashed around his neck, and her warm lips met his.
In the mansion on the hill at Albany, the Governor sat that night in his magnificent room alone until the dawn of day, holding in his hand an old battered tintype picture of a laughing girl standing beside a poor young lawyer.