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The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Sword Of Damocles, by Anna Katharine Green

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Title: The Sword Of Damocles
A Story of New York Life

Author: Anna Katharine Green

Release Date: July 31, 2010 [eBook #33301]
[Most recently updated: September 22, 2023]

Language: English

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The Sword Of Damocles | Project Gutenberg (1)

BY ANNA KATHARINE GREEN

AUTHOR OF “THE LEAVENWORTH CASE,” “A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE,” ETC.

NEW YORK
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
27 & 29 West 23D Street

1881

Copyright, 1881, by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

TO
MY FATHER
I DEDICATE THIS BOOK
AS EXPRESSING SOME OF THE PRINCIPLES OF
JUSTICE AND MERCY WHICH,
BY PRECEPT AND EXAMPLE, HE HAS
INSTILLED INTO MY
BREAST
FROM EARLY CHILDHOOD.

New York, April, 1881.

“When all else fails love saves”

CONTENTS.

BOOK I. TWO MEN.

I.—A Wanderer
II.—A Discussion
III.—A Mysterious Summons
IV.—Searchings
V.—The Rubicon
VI.—A Hand Clasp
VII.—Mrs. Sylvester
VIII.—Shadows of the Past
IX.—Paula
X.—The Barred Door
XI.—Miss Stuyvesant
XII.—Miss Belinda Makes Conditions
XIII.—The End of My Lady’s Picture

BOOK II. LIFE AND DEATH.

XIV.—Miss Belinda has a Question to Decide
XV.—An Adventure—or Something More
XVI.—The Sword of Damocles
XVII.—Grave and Gay
XVIII.—In the Night Watches
XIX.—A Day at the Bank
XX.—The Dregs in the Cup
XXI.—Departure
XXII.—Hopgood

BOOK III. THE JAPHA MYSTERY.

XXIII.—The Poem
XXIV.—The Japha Mansion
XXV.—Jacqueline
XXVI.—A Man’s Justice and a Woman’s Mercy
XXVII.—The Lone Watcher
XXVIII.—Sunshine on the Hills
XXIX.—Mist in the Valley

BOOK IV. FROM A. TO Z.

XXX.—Miss Belinda Presents Mr. Sylvester with a Christmas Gift
XXXI.—A Question
XXXII.—Full Tide
XXXIII.—Two Letters
XXXIV.—Paula Makes her Choice
XXXV.—The Falling of the Sword
XXXVI.—Morning
XXXVII.—The Opinion of a Certain Noted Detective
XXXVIII.—Bluebeard’s Chamber
XXXIX.—From A. to Z
XL.—Half-past Seven

BOOK V. WOMAN’S LOVE.

XLI.—The Work of an Hour
XLII.—Paula Relates a Story She has Heard
XLIII.—Determination
XLIV.—In Mr. Stuyvesant’s Parlors
XLV.—“The Hour of Six is Sacred!”
XLVI.—The Man Cummins

Damocles, one of the courtiers of Dionysius, was perpetuallyextolling with rapture that tyrant’s treasures, grandeur, thenumber of his troops, the extent of his dominions, themagnificence of his palaces, and the universal abundance of allgood things and enjoyments in his possession; always repeating,that never man was happier than Dionysius. “Since you are ofthat opinion,” said the tyrant to him one day, “will you tasteand make proof of my felicity in person?” The offer wasaccepted with joy; Damocles was placed upon a golden couch,covered with carpets richly embroidered. The side-boards wereloaded with vessels of gold and silver. The most beautifulslaves in the most splendid habits stood around, ready to servehim at the slightest signal. The most exquisite essences andperfumes had not been spared. The table was spread withproportionate magnificence. Damocles was all joy, and lookedupon himself as the happiest man in the world; whenunfortunately casting up his eyes, he beheld over his head thepoint of a sword, which hung from the roof only by a singlehorse-hair.

Rollin.

THE SWORD OF DAMOCLES.

BOOK I.

TWO MEN.

I.

A WANDERER.

“There’s no such word.”—BULWER.

A wind was blowing through the city. Not a gentle and balmy zephyr,stirring the locks on gentle ladies’ foreheads and rustling the curtainsin elegant boudoirs, but a chill and bitter gale that rushed with aswoop through narrow alleys and forsaken courtyards, biting the cheeksof the few solitary wanderers that still lingered abroad in the darkenedstreets.

In front of a cathedral that reared its lofty steeple in the midst ofthe squalid houses and worse than squalid saloons of one of thedreariest portions of the East Side, stood the form of a woman. She hadpaused in her rush down the narrow street to listen to the music,perhaps, or to catch a glimpse of the light that now and then burst fromthe widely swinging doors as they opened and shut upon some tardyworshipper.

She was tall and fearful looking; her face, when the light struck it,was seared and desperate; gloom and desolation were written on all thelines of her rigid but wasted form, and when she shuddered under thegale, it was with that force and abandon to which passion lends its aid,and in which the soul proclaims its doom.

Suddenly the doors before her swung wide and the preacher’s voice washeard: “Love God and you will love your fellow-men. Love your fellow-menand you best show your love to God.”

She heard, started, and the charm was broken. “Love!” she echoed with ahorrible laugh; “there is no love in heaven or on earth!”

And she swept by, and the winds followed and the darkness swallowed herup like a gulf.

II.

A DISCUSSION.

“Young men think old men fools, and old men know young men tobe so.”—Ray’s Proverbs.

“And you are actually in earnest?”

“I am.”

The first speaker, a fine-looking gentleman of some forty years of age,drummed with his fingers on the table before him and eyed the face ofthe young man who had repeated this assent so emphatically, with acertain close scrutiny indicative of surprise.

“It is an unlooked-for move for you to make,” he remarked at length.“Your success as a pianist has been so decided, I confess I do notunderstand why you should desire to abandon a profession that in fiveyears’ time has procured you both competence and a very enviablereputation—for the doubtful prospects of Wall Street, too!” he addedwith a deep and thoughtful frown that gave still further impressivenessto his strongly marked features.

The young man with a sweep of his eye over the luxurious apartment inwhich they sat, shrugged his shoulders with that fine and nonchalantgrace which was one of his chief characteristics.

“With such a pilot as yourself, I ought to be able to steer clear of theshoals,” said he, a frank smile illumining a face that was ratherinteresting than handsome.

The elder gentleman did not return the smile. Instead of that heremained gazing at the ample coal-fire that burned in the grate beforehim with a look that to the young musician was simply inexplicable. “Yousee the ship in haven,” he murmured at last; “but do not consider whatstorms it has weathered or what perils escaped. It is a voyage I wouldencourage no son of mine to undertake.”

“Yet you are not the man to shrink from danger or to hesitate in acourse you had marked out for yourself, because of the struggle itinvolved or the difficulties it presented!” the young man exclaimedalmost involuntarily as his glance lingered with a certain sort offascination on the powerful brow and steady if somewhat melancholy eyeof his companion.

“No; but danger and difficulty should not be sought, only subdued whenencountered. If you were driven into this path, I should say, ‘God pityyou!’ and hold you out my hand to steady you along its precipices andabove its sudden quicksands. But you are not driven to it. Yourprofession offers you the means of an ample livelihood while your goodheart and fair talents insure you ultimate and honorable success, bothin the social and artistic world. For a man of twenty-five suchprospects are not common and he must be difficult to please not to besatisfied with them.”

“Yes,” said the other rising with a fitful movement but instantlysitting again; “I have nothing to complain of as the world goes,only—Sir,” he exclaimed with a sudden determination that lent a forceto his features they had hitherto lacked, “you speak of being driveninto a certain course; what do you mean by that?”

“I mean,” returned the other; “forced by circ*mstances to enter a lineof business to which many others, if not all others are preferable.”

“You speak strongly, speculation evidently has none of your sympathy,notwithstanding the favorable results which have accrued to you from it.But excuse me, by circ*mstances you mean poverty, I suppose, and thelack of every other opening to wealth and position. You would notconsider the desire to make a large fortune in a short space of time acirc*mstance of a sufficiently determining nature to reconcile you to myentering Wall Street speculation?”

The elder gentleman rose, not as the other had done with a restlessimpulse quickly subsiding at the first excuse, but forcibly and with afeverish impatience that to appearance was somewhat out of proportion tothe occasion. “A large fortune in a short space of time!” he reiterated,pausing where he had risen with an eagle glance at his companion and aringing tone in his voice that bespoke a deep but hitherto suppressedagitation. “It is the alluring inscription above the pitfall into whichmany a noble youth has fallen; the battle-cry to a struggle that has ledmany a strong man the way of ruin; the guide-post to a life whosefeverish days and sleepless nights offer but poor compensation for thesudden splendors and as sudden reverses attached to it. I had rather youhad accounted for this sudden freak of yours by the strongest aspirationafter power than by this cry of the merely mercenary man who in hisdesire to enjoy wealth, prefers to win it by a stroke of luck ratherthan conquer it by a life of endeavor.” He stopped. “I am aware thatthis tirade against the ladder by which I myself have risen so rapidly,must strike you as in ill-taste. But Bertram, I am interested in yourwelfare and am willing to incur some slight charge of inconsistency inorder to insure it,” and here he turned upon his companion with thatexpression of extreme gentleness which lent such a peculiar charm to hiscountenance and explained perhaps the almost unlimited power he heldover the hearts and minds of those who came within the circle of hisinfluence.

“You are very good, sir,” murmured his young friend, who to explainmatters at once was in reality the nephew of this Wall Street magnate,though from the fact of his having taken another name on entering themusical profession, was not generally known as such. “No one, not evenmy father himself, could have been more considerate and kind; but I donot think you understand me, or rather I should say I do not think Ihave made myself perfectly intelligible to you. It is not for the sakeof wealth itself or the eclat attending its possession that I desire animmediate fortune, but that by means of it I may attain another objectdearer than wealth, and more precious than my career.”

The elder gentleman turned quickly, evidently much surprised, and cast asudden inquiring glance at his nephew, who blushed with a modestingenuousness pleasing to see in one so well accustomed to the criticalgaze of his fellow-men.

“Yes,” said he, as if in answer to that look, “I am in love.”

A deep silence for a moment pervaded the apartment, a sombre silencealmost startling to young Mandeville, who had expected some audibleexpression to follow this announcement if only the good-natured “Pooh!pooh!” of the matured man of the world in the presence of ardentyouthful enthusiasm. What could it mean? Looking up he encountered hisuncle’s eye fixed upon him with the last expression he could haveanticipated seeing there, namely that of actual and unmistakable alarm.

“You are displeased,” Mandeville exclaimed. “You have thought me proofa*gainst such a passion, or perhaps you do not believe in the passionitself!” Then with a sudden remembrance of the notable if somewhatindolent loveliness of his uncle’s wife, blushed again at his unusualwant of tact, while his eye with an involuntary impulse sought the largepanel at their right where, in the full bloom of her first youth, thelady of the house smiled upon all beholders.

“I do not believe in that passion influencing a man’s career,” his unclereplied with no apparent attention to the other’s embarrassment. “Awoman needs be possessed of uncommon excellences to justify a man inleaving a path where success is certain, for one where it is not onlydoubtful but if attained must bring many a regret and heart-ache in itstrain. Beauty is not sufficient,” he went on with sterner and sternersignificance, “though it were of an angelic order. There must be worth.”And here his mind’s eye if not that of his bodily sense, certainlyfollowed the glance of his companion.

“I believe there is worth,” the young man replied; “certainly, it is nother beauty that charms me. I do not even know if she is beautiful,” hecontinued.

“And you believe you love!” the elder exclaimed after another shortpause.

There was so much of bitterness in the tone in which this was uttered,that Mandeville forgot its incredulity. “I think I must,” returned hewith a certain masculine naïveté not out of keeping with his generalstyle of face and manner, “else I should not be here. Three weeks ago Iwas satisfied with my profession, if not enthusiastic over it; to-day Iask nothing but to be allowed to enter upon some business that in threeyears’ time at least will place me where I can be the fit mate of anywoman in this land, that is not worth her millions.”

“The woman for whom you have conceived this violent attachment is, then,above you in social position?”

“Yes, sir, or so considered, which amounts to the same thing, as far asI am concerned.”

“Bertram, I have lived longer than you and have seen much of both socialand domestic life, and I tell you no woman is worth such a sacrifice onthe part of a man as you propose. No woman of to-day, I should say; ourmothers were different. The very fact that this young lady of whom youspeak, obliges you to change your whole course of life in order toobtain her, ought to be sufficient to prove to you—” He stoppedsuddenly, arrested by the young man’s lifted hand. “She does not obligeyou, then?”

“Not on her own account, sir. This lily,” lifting a vase of blossoms athis elbow, “could not be more innocent of the necessities that governthe social circle it adorns, than the pure, single-minded girl to whom Ihave dedicated what is best and noblest in my manhood. It is herfather—”

“Ah, her father!”

“Yes, sir,” the young man pursued, more and more astonished at theother’s tone. “He is a man who has a right to expect both wealth andposition in a son-in-law. But I see I shall have to tell you my story,sir. It is an uncommon one and I never meant that it should pass mylips, but if by its relation I can win your sympathy for a pure andnoble passion, I shall consider the sacred seal of secrecy broken in agood cause. But,” said he, seeing his uncle cast a short and uneasyglance at the door, “perhaps I am interrupting you. You expect someone!”

“No,” said his uncle, “my wife is at church; I am ready to listen.”

The young man gave a hurried sigh, cast one look at his companion’simmovable face, as if to assure himself that the narrative wasnecessary, then leaned back and in a steady business-like tone thatsoftened, however, as he proceeded, began to relate as follows:

III.

A MYSTERIOUS SUMMONS.

“Without unspotted, innocent within,
She feared no danger, for she knew no sin.”—Dryden.

It was after a matinée performance at —— Hall some two weeks ago thatI stopped to light a cigar in the small corridor leading to the backentrance. I was in a dissatisfied frame of mind. Something in the musicI had been playing or the manner in which it had been received hadtouched unwonted chords in my own nature. I felt alone. I rememberasking myself as I stood there, what it all amounted to? Who of all theapplauding crowd would watch at my bedside through a long and harassingsickness, or lend their sympathy as they now yielded their praise, ifinstead of carrying off the honors of the day I had failed to do justiceto my reputation. I was just smiling over the only exception I couldmake to this sweeping assertion, that of the pale-eyed youth you havesometimes observed dogging my steps, when Briggs came up to me.

“There is a woman here, sir, who insists on seeing you; she has beenwaiting through half the last piece. Shall I tell her you are comingout?”

“A woman!” exclaimed I, somewhat surprised, for my visitors are not aptto be of the gentler sex.

“Yes sir, an old one. She seems very anxious to speak to you. I couldnot get rid of her no how.”

I hurried forward to the muffled figure which he pointed out coweringagainst the wall by the door. “Well, my good woman, what do you want?” Iasked, bending towards her in the hopes of catching a glimpse of theface she held partly concealed from me.

“Are you Mr. Mandeville?” she inquired in a tone shaken as much byagitation as age.

I bowed.

“The one who plays upon the piano?”

“The very same,” I declared.

“You are not deceiving me,” she went on, looking up with a markedanxiety plainly visible through her veil. “I haven’t seen you play andcouldn’t contradict you, but—”

“Here!” said I calling to Briggs with a kindly look at the old woman,“help me on with my coat, will you?”

The “Certainly, Mr. Mandeville,” with which he complied seemed toreassure her, and as soon as the coat was on and he was gone, shegrasped me by the arm and drew my ear down to her mouth.

“If you are Mr. Mandeville, I have a message for you. This letter,”slipping one into my hand, “is from a young lady, sir. She bade me giveit to you myself. She is young and pretty,” she pursued as she saw memake a movement of distaste, “and a lady. We depend upon your honor,sir.”

I acknowledge that my first impulse was to fling her back the note andleave the building; I was in no mood for trifling, my next to burst intoa laugh and politely hand her to the door, my last and best, to open thepoor little note and see for myself whether the writer was a lady ornot. Proceeding to the door, for it was already twilight in the dimpassage way, I tore open the envelope which was dainty enough and tookout a sheet of closely written paper. A certain qualm of conscienceassailed me as I saw the delicate chirography it disclosed and I wastempted to thrust it back and return it unread to the old woman nowtrembling in the corner. But curiosity overcame my scruples, and hastilyunfolding the sheet I read these lines:

“I do not know if what I do is right; I am sure aunty would notsay it was; but aunty never thinks anything is right but goingto church and reading the papers to papa. I am just a littlegirl who has heard you play, and who would think the world wastoo beautiful, if she could hear you say to her just once, someof the kind things you must speak every day to the persons whoknow you. I do not expect very much—you must have a great manyfriends, and you would not care for me—but the least littlelook, if it were all my own, would make me so happy and soproud I should not envy anybody in the world, unless it wassome of those dear friends who see you always.

“I do not come and hear you play often, for aunty thinks musicfrivolous, but I am always hearing you no matter where I am,and it makes me feel as if I were far away from everybody, in abeautiful land all sunshine and flowers. But nurse says I mustnot write so much or you will not read it, so I will stop here.But if you would come it would make some one happier thaneven your beautiful music could do.”

That was all; there was neither name nor date. A child’s epistle,written with a woman’s circ*mspection. With mingled sensations of doubtand curiosity I turned back to the old woman who stood awaiting me witheager anxiety.

“Was this written by a child or woman?” I asked, meeting her eye with asmuch sternness as I could assume.

“Don’t ask me—don’t ask me anything. I have promised to bring you if Icould, but I cannot answer any questions.”

I stepped back with an incredulous laugh. Here was evidently anadventure. “You will at least tell me where the young miss lives,” saidI, “before I undertake to fulfil her request.”

She shook her head. “I have a carriage at the door, sir,” said she. “Allyou have got to do is to get into it with me and we shall soon be at thehouse.”

I looked from her face to the letter in my hand, and knew not what tothink. The spirit of simplicity and ingenuousness that marked the latterwas scarcely in keeping with this air of mystery. The woman observing myhesitation moved towards the door.

“Will you come, sir?” she inquired. “You will not regret it. Just amoment’s talk with a pretty young girl—surely—”

“Hush,” said I, hearing a hasty step behind me. And sure enough justthen my intimate friend Selby came along and grasping me by the armbegan dragging me towards the door. “You are my property,” said he.“I’ve promised, on my word of honor as a gentleman and a musician, tobring you to the Handel Club this afternoon. I was afraid you hadescaped me, but—” Here he caught sight of the small black figurehalting in the door-way, and paused.

“Who’s this?” said he.

I hesitated. For one instant the scale of my whole future destiny hungtrembling in the balance, then the demon of curiosity got the better ofmy judgment, and with the rather unworthy consideration that I might aswell enjoy my youth while I could, I released myself from my friend’sdetaining hand and replied, “Some one with whom I have very particularbusiness. I cannot go to the Handel Club to-day,” and darting outwithout further delay, I rejoined the old woman on the sidewalk.

Without a word she drew me towards a carriage I now observed standing bythe curbstone a few feet to the left. As I got in I remember pausing amoment to glance at the man on the box, but it was too dark for me toperceive anything but the fact that he was dressed in livery. More andmore astonished I leaned back in my seat and endeavored to openconversation with my mysterious companion. But it did not work. Withoutbeing actually rude, she parried my questions in such a way that by theend of five minutes I found myself as far from any knowledge of the realsituation of the case as when I started. I therefore desisted from anyfurther attempts and turned to look out, when I made a discovery thatfor the first time awoke some vague feelings of alarm within my breast.This was, that the window was not covered by a curtain as I supposed,but by closed blinds which when I tried to raise them resisted all myefforts to do so.

“It is very close here,” I muttered, in some sort of excuse for thisdisplay of uneasiness. “Cannot you give us a little air?” But mycompanion remained silent, and I felt ashamed to press the matter thoughI took advantage of the darkness to remove to a safer place a roll ofmoney which I had about me.

Yet I was far from being really anxious, and did not once meditatebacking out of an adventure that was at once so piquant and romantic.For by this time I became conscious from the sounds about me that we hadleft the side street for one of the avenues and were then proceedingrapidly up town. Listening, I heard the roll of omnibuses and the jingleof car-bells, which informed me that we were in Broadway, no otheravenue in the city being traversed by both these methods of conveyance.But after awhile the jingle ceased and presently the livelier sounds ofconstant commotion inseparable from a business thoroughfare, and weentered what I took to be Madison Avenue at Twenty-third Street.

Instantly I made up mind to notice every turn of the carriage, that Imight fix to some degree the locality towards which we were tending. Butit turned but once and that after a distance of steady travelling thatquite overthrew any calculation I was able to make at that time of theprobable number of streets we had passed since entering the avenue.Having turned, it went but about half a block to the left when itstopped. “I shall see where I am when I get out,” thought I; but in thisI was mistaken.

First we had stopped in the middle of a block of houses built, as far asI could judge, all after one model. Next the fact of the front doorbeing open, though I saw no one in the hall, somewhat disconcerted me,and I hurried across the sidewalk and up the stoop in a species of mazehardly to be expected from one of my naturally careless disposition. Thenext moment the door closed behind me and I found myself in awell-lighted hall whose quiet richness betokened it as belonging to aprivate dwelling of no mean pretensions to elegance.

This was the first surprise I received.

“Follow me,” said the old woman, hurrying me down the hall and into asmall room at the end. “The young lady will be here in a moment,” andwithout lifting her veil or affording me the least glimpse of herfeatures, she retired, leaving me to face the situation before me asbest I might.

It was anything but a pleasant one as it appeared to me at that moment,and for an instant I seriously thought of retracing my steps and leavinga domicile into which I had been introduced in such a mysterious manner.Then the quiet aspect of the room, which though sparsely furnished witha piano and chairs was still of an order rarely seen out of gentlemen’shouses, struck my imagination and reawakened my curiosity, and nervingmyself to meet whatever interview might be accorded me, I waited. It wasonly five minutes by the small clock ticking on the mantel-piece, but itseemed an hour before I heard a timid step at the door, and saw it swingslowly open, disclosing—well, I did not stop to inquire whether it wasa child or a woman. I merely saw the shrinking modest form, the eagerblushing face, and bowed almost to the ground in a sudden reverence forthe sublime innocence revealed to me. Yes, it did not take a second lookto read that tender countenance to its last guileless page. Had she beena woman of twenty-five I could not have mistaken her expression of puredelight and timid interest, but she was only sixteen, as I afterwardslearned, and younger in experience than in age.

Closing the door behind her, she stood for a moment without speaking,then with a deepening of the blush which was only a child’sembarrassment in the presence of a stranger, looked up and murmured myname with a word or so of grateful acknowledgment that would have calledforth a smile on my lips if I had not been startled by the sudden changethat passed over her features when she met my eyes. Was it that I showedmy surprise too plainly, or did my admiration manifest itself in mygaze? an admiration great as it was humble, and which was already of anature such as I had never before given to girl or woman. Whatever itwas, she no sooner met my look than she paused, trembled, and startedback with a confused murmur, through which I plainly heard her whisperin a low distressed tone, “Oh, what have I done!”

“Called a good friend to your side,” said I in the frank, brotherly wayI thought most likely to reassure her. “Do not be alarmed, I am only toohappy to meet one who evidently enjoys music so well.”

But the hidden chord of womanhood had been struck in the child’s soul,and she could not recover herself. For an instant I thought she wouldturn and flee, and struck as I was with remorse at my reckless invasionof this uncontaminated temple, I could not but admire the spiritedpicture she presented as, with form half turned and face bent back, shestood hesitating on the point of flight.

I did not try to stop her. “She shall follow her own impulse,” said I tomyself, but I felt a vague relief that was deeper than I imagined, whenshe suddenly relinquished her strained attitude, and advancing a step orso began to murmur:

“I did not know—I did not realize I was doing what was so very wrong.Young ladies do not ask gentlemen to come and see them, no matter howmuch they desire to make their acquaintance. I see it now; I did notbefore. Will you—can you forgive me?”

I smiled; I could not help it. I could have taken her to my heart andsoothed her as I would a child, but the pallor of womanhood, which hadreplaced the blush of the child, awed me and made my own words comehesitatingly.

“Forgive you? You must forgive me! It was as wrong for me,” I went onwith a wild idea of not mincing matters with this pure soul, “to obeyyour innocent request, as it was for you to make it. I am a man of theworld and know its convenances; you are very young.”

“I am sixteen,” she murmured.

The abrupt little confession, implying as it did her determination notto accept any palliation of her conduct which it did not deserve,touched me strangely. “But very young for that,” I exclaimed.

“So aunty says, but no one can ever say it any more,” she answered. Thenwith a sudden gush, “We shall never see each other again, and you mustforget the motherless girl who has met you in a way for which she mustblush through life. It is no excuse,” she pursued hurriedly, “that nursethought it was all right. She always approves of everything I do or wantto do, especially if it is anything aunt would be likely to forbid. Ihave been spoiled by nurse.”

“Was nurse the woman who came for me?” I asked.

She nodded her head with a quick little motion inexpressibly charming.“Yes, that was nurse. She said she would do it all, I need only writethe note. She meant to give me a pleasure, but she did wrong.”

“Yes,” thought I, “how wrong you little know or realize.” But I onlysaid, “You must be guided by some one with more knowledge of the worldafter this. Not,” I made haste to add, struck by the misery in her childeyes, “that any harm has been done. You could not have appealed to thefriendship of any one who would hold you in greater respect than I.Whether we meet again or not, my memory of you shall be sweet andsacred, I promise you that.”

But she threw out her hand with a quick gesture. “No, do not rememberme. My only happiness will lie in the thought you have forgotten.” Andthe last remnants of the child soul vanished in that hurried utterance.“You must go now,” she continued more calmly. “The carriage that broughtyou is at the door; I must ask you to take it back to your home.”

“But,” I exclaimed with a wild and unbearable sense of sudden loss asshe laid her hand on the knob of the door, “are we to part like this?Will you not at least trust me with your name before I go?”

Her hand dropped from the knob as if it had been hot steel, and sheturned towards me with a slow yearning motion that whatever it betokenedset my heart beating violently. “You do not know it, then?” sheinquired.

“I know nothing but what this little note contains,” I replied, drawingher letter from my pocket.

“Oh, that letter! I must have it,” she murmured; then, as I steppedtowards her, drew back and pointing to the table said, “Lay it there,please.”

I did so, whereupon something like a smile crossed her lips and Ithought she was going to reward me with her name, but she only said, “Ithank you; now you know nothing;” and almost before I realized it shehad opened the door and stepped into the hall.

As I made haste to follow her, the sound of a low, “He is a gentleman,he will ask no questions,” struck my ear, and looking up, I saw her justleaving the side of the old nurse who stood evidently awaiting me halfdown the hall. Bowing with formal ceremony, I passed her by andproceeded to the front door. As I did so I caught one glimpse of herface. It had escaped from all restraint and the expression of the eyeswas overpowering. I subdued a wild impulse to leap back to her side, andstepped at once over the threshold. The nurse joined me, and together wewent down the stoop to the street.

“May I inquire where you wish to be taken?” she asked.

I told her, and she gave the order to the coachman, together with a fewwords I did not hear; then stepping back she waited for me to get in.There was no help for it. I gave one quick look behind me, saw the frontdoor close, realized how impossible it would ever be for me to recognizethe house again, and placed my foot on the carriage step. Suddenly abright idea struck me, and hastily dropping my cane I stepped back topick it up. As I did so I pulled out a bit of crayon I chanced to havein my pocket, and as I stooped, chalked a small cross on the curbstonedirectly in front of the house, after which I recovered my cane, utteredsome murmured word of apology, jumped into the carriage and was about toshut the door, when the old nurse stepped in after me and quietly closedit herself. By the pang that shot through my breast as the carriagewheels left the house, I knew that for the first time in my life, Iloved.

IV.

SEARCHINGS.

“Patience, and shuffle the cards.”—Cervantes.

If I had expected anything from the presence in the carriage of thewoman who had arranged this interview, I was doomed to disappointment.Reticent before, she was absolutely silent now, sitting at my side likea grim statue or a frozen image of watchfulness, ready to awake and stopme if I offered to open the door or make any other move indicative of adetermination to know where I was, or in what direction I was going.That her young mistress in the momentary conversation they had heldbefore our departure had succeeded in giving her some idea of the shamewith which she had felt herself overwhelmed and her present naturaldesire for secrecy, I do not doubt, but I think now, as I thought then,that the unusual precautions taken both at that time and before, to keepme in ignorance of the young lady’s identity, were due to the elderlywoman’s own consciousness of the peril she had invoked in yielding tothe wishes of her young and thoughtless mistress; a theory which, iftrue, argues more for the mind than the conscience of this mysteriouswoman. However, it is with facts we have to deal, and you will be moreinterested in learning what I did, than what I thought during that shortride in perfect darkness.

The mark which I had left on the curbstone behind me sufficiently showedthe nature of my resolve, and when we made the first turn at the end ofthe block I leaned back in my seat and laying my finger on my wrist,began to count the pulsations of my blood. It was the only device thatsuggested itself, by which I might afterward gather some approximatenotion of the distance we travelled in a straight course down town. Ihad just arrived at the number seven hundred and sixty-two, and wasinwardly congratulating myself upon this new method of reckoningdistance, when the wheels gave a lurch and we passed over a car track.Instantly all my fine calculations fell to the ground. We were not inMadison Avenue, as I supposed; could not be, since no track crosses thatavenue below Fifty-ninth Street, and we were proceeding on as we couldnot have done had we gained the terminus of the avenue at Twenty-thirdStreet. Could it be that the carriage had not been turned around while Iwas in the house, and that we had come back by way of Fifth Avenue? Icould not remember—in fact, the more I tried to think which way thehorses’ heads were directed when we went into the house, the more I wasconfused. But presently I considered that wherever we were, we certainlyhad not passed over the narrow strip of smooth pavement in front of theWorth monument, and therefore could not have reached Twenty-third Streetby way of Fifth Avenue. We must be up town, and that track we crossedmust have been at Fifty-ninth Street. And soon, as if to assure me ofthis, we took a turn, quickly followed at a block’s length by another,after which I had no difficulty in recognizing the smooth pavement ofthe entrance to the Park or the roll down Fifth Avenue afterwards. “Theyhave thought to confuse me by an extra mile or so of travel,” thought I,with some complacency, “but the streets of New York are too simply laidout to lend themselves to any such easy mode of mystification.” Yet Ihave thought since then how, with a smarter man on the box, the affairmight have been conducted so as to have baffled the oldest citizen inany attempt at calculation.

When we stopped in front of the Albemarle I quietly thanked the womanwho had conducted me, and stepped to the ground. Instantly the door shutbehind me, the carriage drove off, and I was left standing there like aman suddenly awakened from a dream.

Entering my hotel, I ordered supper, thinking that the very practicaloccupation of eating would serve to divert my mind into its ordinarychannels. But the dream, if dream it was, had made too vivid animpression to be shaken off so easily. It followed me to the hall in theevening and mingled with every chord I struck.

I could scarcely sleep that night for thinking of the sweet child’s facethat had blossomed into a woman’s before my eyes, and what a woman! Withthe first hint of daylight I rose, and as soon as it was in any degreesuitable to be out, hired a cab and proceeded to the corner ofFifty-ninth Street and Madison Avenue, where, according to mycalculations of the evening before, we had crossed the car track whichhad first interrupted me in that very original method of computingdistance of which I have already spoken, a method by the way, which youmust acknowledge is an improvement on the boy’s plan of finding his wayback from the woods by means of the bread-crumbs he had scattered behindhim, forgetting that the birds would eat up his crumbs and leave himwithout a clew. Bidding the driver proceed at the ordinary jog trot downthe avenue, I laid my finger on my wrist, and counted each throb of mypulse till I had reached the magical number seven hundred and sixty-two.Then putting my head out of the window, I bade him stop. We were in themiddle of a block, but that did not disconcert me. I had not expected togain more than an approximate idea of the spot where we had first turnedinto the avenue, it being impossible to regulate the horses’ pace so asto tally with that taken by the span of the night before, even if thepulsations in my wrist were to be absolutely relied upon. Noting thestreets between which we had paused, I bade the driver to turn down oneand come back by the other, occupying myself in the meanwhile, insearching the curbstone for the small mark I had left in front of herdoor the night before. But though we drove slowly and I searchedcarefully, not a trace did I perceive of that tell-tale sign, andforsaking those two streets, I ordered my obedient Jehu to try the twooutlying ones below and above. He did so, and I again consulted thecurbstone, but with no better success. No mark or remnants of a mark wasto be found anywhere. Nor, though we travelled through three or fourother streets in the same way, did we come upon any clew liable toassist me in my search. Clean discouraged and somewhat out of temperwith myself for my pusillanimity of the evening before in not havingbraved the anger of my companion by opening the carriage door at thefirst corner and leaping out, I commanded to be taken back to the hotel,where for a whole miserable day I racked my brain with devices foracquiring the knowledge I so much desired. The result was futile, as youmay imagine; nor will I stop to recount the various expedients to whichI afterwards resorted in my vain attempt to solve the mystery of thisyoung girl’s identity.

Enough that they all failed, even the very promising one of searchingthe various photographic establishments of the city, for the valuableclew which her picture would give me. And so a week passed.

“It is time this mad infatuation was at an end,” said I to myself onemorning as I sat down to write a letter. “There is no hope of my everseeing her again, and I am but frittering away the best emotions of mylife in thus indulging in a dream that is not the prelude to a reality.”But in spite of the wise determination thus made, I soon found mythoughts recurring to their old channel, and seized with suddenimpatience at my evident weakness, took up the letter I had been writingand was about to read it, when to my great amazement I perceived thatinstead of inditing the usual words of a business communication, I hadbeen engaged in scribbling a certain number up and down the page andeven across the bottom where my signature should have been.

“Am I a fool?” I exclaimed, and was about to tear the sheet in two, whenglancing again at the number, which was a simple thirty-six, I askedmyself where I had got those especial figures. Instantly there arosebefore my mind’s eye the vision of a brown-stone front with itsvestibule and door. It was, then, the number of a house; but what house?a chateau en Espagne or a bona fide New York dwelling, which forsome reason had unconsciously impressed itself upon my memory? I couldnot answer. There on the page was the number thirty-six, and equallyplain in my mind was the look of the brown-stone front to which thatnumber belonged—and that was all.

But it was enough to awaken within me the spirit of inquiry. The fewhouses thus numbered in that quarter of the city where I had latelybeen, were not so hard to find but that a morning given to the businessought to satisfy me whether the vision in my mind had its basis inreality. Taking a cab, I rode up town and into that region of streets Ihad traversed so carefully a week before. For I was assured that if theimpression had been made by an actual dwelling it had been done at thattime. Following the same course I then took, I consulted the appearanceof the various houses to which that number was assigned. The first wasbuilt of brick; that was not it. The next one had pillars to thevestibule; and that was not it. The third, to use an Irish bull, was nohouse at all, but a stable, while the fourth was an elegant structure ofmuch more pretension than the plain and simple front I had in my mind ormemory. I was about to utter a curse upon my folly and go home, when Iremembered there was yet a street or two taken in my zig-zag course ofthe week before, which I had not yet tested. “Might as well bethorough,” I muttered, and bade my driver proceed down —— Street.

What was there in its aspect that dimly excited me at the first glance?A dim remembrance, a certain ghostly assurance that we had reached theright spot? As we neared the number I sought, I could not suppress anexclamation of surprise. For there before me to its last detail, stoodthe house which involuntarily presented itself to my mind, when my eyefirst fell upon that mysterious number scribbled at the foot of the pageI was writing.

It was, then, no chimera of an overwrought brain, this vision of ahouse-front which had been haunting me, but a distinct remembrance of anactual dwelling seen by me in my former journey through this street. Butwhy this house-front above all others; what was there in it to make suchan impression? Looking at it I could not determine, but after we hadpassed, something, I cannot tell what, brought back another remembrance,trivial in itself, but yet a link in the chain that was destined sooneror later to lead me out of the maze into which I had stumbled. It wasmerely this; that as I rode along the streets on that memorable morning,searching for that mark on the curbstone from which I hoped so much, Ihad come upon a spot where the pavement had been freshly washed. Withthat unconscious action of the brain with which we are familiar, Ilooked at the sidewalk a moment, running even then with the water thathad been cast upon it, and then gave a quick glance at the house. Thatglance, account for it as you will, took in the picture before it as thecamera catches the impression of a likeness, and though in anotherinstant I had forgotten the whole occurrence, it needed but a certaintrain of thought or perhaps a certain state of emotion to revive itagain.

A noble cause for such an act of unconscious cerebration you will say, afreshly washed pavement: Le jeu ne faut pas la chandelle. And so Ithought too, or would have thought if I had not been so interested inthe pursuit in which I was engaged, and if the idea had not suggesteditself that water and a broom might obliterate chalk-marks fromcurbstones, and that the imps that preside over our mental forces wouldnot indulge in such a trick at my expense unless the play was worththe candle. At all events, from the moment I made this discovery, Ifixed my faith on that house as the one which held the object of mysearch, and though I contented myself with merely noting the number ofthe street as we left it, I none the less determined to pursue myinvestigations, till I had learned beyond the possibility of a doubtwhether my conjectures were not true.

A perseverance worthy of a better cause you will say, but you are nolonger twenty-five and under the influence of your first passion. I ownI was astonished at myself and frequently paused in the pursuit I hadundertaken, to ask if I were the same person who but a fortnight beforelaughed at the story of a man who had gone mad over the body of anunknown woman he had saved from a wreck only to find her dead in hisarms.

The first thing I did was to ascertain the name of the gentlemanoccupying the house I have specified. It was that of one of ourwealthiest and most respectable bankers, a name as well known in thecity—as your own for instance. This was somewhat disconcerting, butwith a dogged resolution somewhat foreign to my natural disposition, Ipersevered in my investigations, and learning in the next breath thatthe gentleman alluded to was a widower with an only child, a youngdaughter of about sixteen or so, recovered my assurance, though not myequanimity. Seeking out my friend Farrar, who as you know is a walkinggazette of New York society, I broached the subject of Mr.—excuse meif I do not mention his name; allow me to say, Preston’s domesticaffairs, and learned that Miss Preston, “A naive little piece for sogreat an heiress,” I remember Farrar called her, had left town within aday or two for a visit to some friends in Baltimore. “I happen to know,”said he with that careless sweep of his hand at which you have so oftenlaughed, “because my friend Miss Forsyth met her at the depot. She wasintending to be gone—two weeks, I think she said. Do you know her?”

That last question sprung upon me unawares, and I am afraid I blushed.“No,” I returned, “I have not that honor but an acquaintance of minehas—well—has met her and—”

“I see, I see,” broke in Farrar with his most disagreeable smile. Thenwith a short laugh, meant to act as a warning, I suppose, added as hewalked off, “I hope your friend is in fair circ*mstances and notconnected with the fine arts. Music is Mr. Preston’s detestation, whileMiss Preston though too young to be much sought after yet, will in twoyears’ time have the pick of the city at her command.”

“So!” thought I to myself; “my little innocent charmer is an embryoaristocrat, eh? Well then, I was a greater fool than I imagined.” And Iwalked out of the hotel where I had met Farrar, with the very sensibleconclusion to drop a subject that promised nothing but disappointment.

But the fates were against me, or the good angels perhaps, and at thenext comer I met an old acquaintance, the very opposite of Farrar incharacter, who with a long love story of his own fired, my imaginationto such an extent that in spite of myself I turned down —— Street, andwas proceeding to pass her house, when suddenly the thought struck me,“How do I know that this unapproachable daughter of one of our mostprominent citizens is one and the same person with my dainty littlecharmer? Widowers with young daughters are not so rare in this greatcity that I need consider the question as decided, because by a halfsuperstitious freak of my own I have settled upon this house as the oneI was in the other night. My inamorata may be the offspring of amusician for all I know.” And inflamed at the thought of thispossibility—I remembered the piano, you see—I gave to the winds all myfine resolutions and only asked how I could determine for once and all,whether I had ever crossed the threshold of the house before me. Somemen would have run up the stoop, rung the bell and asked to see Mr.Preston on some pretended business he could easily conjure up to suitthe occasion, but my face is too well known for me to risk any suchattempt, besides I was too anxious to win the confidence of the younggirl to shock her awakened sense of propriety by seeming to seek herwhere she did not wish to be found. And yet I must enter that house andsee for myself if it was the one that held her on that memorableevening.

Pondering the question, I looked back at the door so obstinately closedagainst my curiosity, when to my satisfaction and delight it suddenlyopened and a man stepped out, whom I instantly recognized as a businessagent for one of the largest piano-forte manufactories in the city. “Theheavens smile upon my enterprise,” thought I, and waited for the man tocome up with me. He was not only a friend of mine but largely indebtedto me in various ways, so that I knew I had only to urge a request forit to be immediately granted, and that, too, without any questions orgossip.

You will not be interested in anything but the result, which wassomewhat out of the usual course, and may therefore shock you. But youmust remember that I am telling you of matters which young men usuallykeep to themselves, and that whatever I did, was accomplished in aspirit of respect only a shade less constraining in its power than thelove that was at once my impelling force, and my constant embarrassment.

To come, then, to the point, a piano was to be set up in that house onthat very day, Mr. Preston having yielded to the solicitations of hisdaughter for a new instrument. My friend was to be engaged in thetransfer, and at my solicitation for leave to assist in the operation,gave his consent in perfect confidence as to my possessing good andsufficient reasons for such a remarkable request, and appointed the hourat which I was to meet him at the ware-rooms.

Behold me, then, at half-past two that afternoon, assisting with my ownhands in carrying a piano up the stoop of that house which, four hoursbefore, I had regarded as unapproachable. Dressed in a workman’s blouseand with my hair well roughened under a rude cap that effectuallydisguised me, I advanced with but little fear of detection. And yet nosooner had I entered the house and seen at a glance that the aspect ofthe hall coincided with my rather vague remembrance of that throughwhich I had been ushered a week before, than I was struck by a suddensense of my situation, and experiencing that uncomfortable consciousnessof self-betrayal, which a blush always gives a man, stumbled forwardunder my heavy burden, feeling as if a thousand eyes were fixed upon meand my cherished secret, instead of the two sharp but totallyunsuspicious orbs of the elderly matron that surveyed us from the top ofthe banisters. “Be careful there, you’ll knock a hole through that glassdoor!” though a natural cry under the circ*mstances, struck on my earswith the force and mysterious power of a secret warning, and when aftera moment of blind advance I suddenly lifted my eyes and found myself inthe little room, which like a silhouette on a white ground, stood out inmy memory in distinct detail as the spot where I had first heard my ownheart beat, I own that I felt my hands slipping from my burden, and inanother moment had disgraced my character of a workman if I had notcaught the sudden ring of a well known voice in the hall, as nurseanswered from above some question propounded by the elderly lady withthe piercing eyes. As it was, I recovered myself and went through myduties as promptly and deftly as if my heart did not throb with memoriesthat each passing hour and event only served to hallow to myimagination.

At length the piano was duly set up and we turned to leave. Will youthink I am too trivial in my details if I tell you that I lingeredbehind the rest and for an instant let my hand with all itspossibilities for calling out a soul from that dead instrument, lie amoment on the keys over which her dainty fingers were so soon totraverse?

V.

THE RUBICON.

“I’ll stake my life upon her faith.”—Othello.

Once convinced of the identity of my sweet young friend with the MissPreston at whose feet a two year hence, the wealth and aristocracy ofNew York would be kneeling, I drew back from further effort as havingreceived a damper to my presumptuous hopes that would soon effectuallystifle them. Everything I heard about the family—and it seemed as ifsuddenly each chance acquaintance that I met had something to say aboutMr. Preston either as a banker or a man, only served to confirm me inthis view. “He is a money worshipper,” said one. “The bluest of bluePresbyterians,” declared another. “The enemy of presumption and anythingthat looks like an overweening confidence in one’s own worth orcapabilities,” remarked a third. “A man who would beggar himself to savethe honor of a corporation with which he was concerned,” observed afourth “but who would not invite to his table the most influential manconnected with it if that man was unable to trace his family back to theold Dutch settlers to which Mr. Preston’s own ancestors belonged.”

This latter statement I have no doubt was exaggerated for I myself haveseen him at dinners where half the gentlemen who lifted the wine glasswere self-made in every sense of the term. But it showed the bent of hismind and it was a bent that left me entirely out of the sweep of hisacquaintanceship much less that of his exquisite daughter, the pride ofhis soul if not the jewel of his heart.

But when will a man who has seen or who flatters himself that he hasseen in the eyes of the woman he admires, the least spark of that firewhich is consuming his own soul, pause at an obstacle which after allhas its basis simply in circ*mstances of position or will. By the timethe two weeks of her expected absence had expired, I had settled it inmy own mind that I would see her again and if I found the passingcaprice of a child was likely to blossom into the steady regard of awoman, risk all in the attempt to win by honorable endeavor andpersistence this bud of loveliness for my future wife.

How I finally succeeded by means of my friend Farrar in being oneevening invited to the same house as Miss Preston it is not necessary tostate. You will believe me it was done with the utmost regard for herfeelings and in a way that deceived Farrar himself, who if he is themost prying is certainly the most volatile of men. In a crowded parlor,then, in the midst of the flash of diamonds and the flutter of fans MissPreston and I again met. When I first saw her she was engaged inconversation with some young companion, and I had the pleasure ofwatching for a few minutes, unobserved, the play of her ingenuouscountenance, as she talked with her friend, or sat silently watching thebrilliant array before her. I found her like and yet unlike the visionof my dreams. More blithesome in her appearance, as was not strangeconsidering her party attire and the lustre of the chandelier underwhich she sat, there was still that indescribable something in herexpression which more than the flash of her eye or the curve of her lip,though both were lovely to me, made her face the one woman’s face in theworld for me; a charm which circ*mstances might alter, or sufferingimpair, but of which nothing save death could ever completely divest herand not death either, for it was the seal of her individuality, and thatshe would take with her into the skies.

“If I might but advance and sit down by her side without a word ofexplanation or the interference of conventionalities how happy I shouldbe,” thought I. But I knew that would not do, so I contented myself withmy secret watch over her movements, longing for and yet dreading theadvance of my hostess, with its inevitable introduction. Suddenly thepiano was touched in a distant room and not till I saw the quick changein her face, a change hard to explain, did I recognize the selection asone I was in the habit of playing. She had not forgotten at least, andthrilled by the thought and the remembrance of that surge of color whichhad swept like a flood over her cheek, I turned away, feeling as if Iwere looking on what it was for no man’s eyes to see, least of all mine.

My hostess’ voice arrested me and next moment I was bowing to the groundbefore Miss Preston.

I am not a boy; nor have I been without my experiences: life with itsvicissitudes has taught me many a lesson, subjected me to many a trial,yet in all my career have I never known a harder moment than when Iraised my eyes to meet hers after that lowly obeisance. That she wouldbe indignant I knew, that she might even misinterpret my motives andprobably withdraw without giving me an opportunity to speak, I felt tobe only too probable, but that she would betray an agitation so painfulI had not anticipated, and for an instant I felt that I had hazarded mylife’s happiness on a cast that was going against me. But the necessityof saving her from remark speedily restored me to myself, and followingthe line of conduct I had previously laid out, I addressed her with thereserve of a stranger, and neither by word, look or manner conveyed toher a suggestion that we had ever met or spoken to each other before.She seemed to appreciate my consideration and though she was as yet toomuch unused to the ways of the world to completely hide herperturbation, she gradually regained a semblance of self-possession, andere long was enabled to return short answers to my remarks, though hereyes remained studiously turned aside and never so much as ventured toraise themselves to the passing throng much less to my face, half turnedaway also.

Presently however a change passed over her. Pressing her two littlehands together, she drew back a step or two, speaking my name with acertain tone of command. Struck with apprehension, I knew not why, Ifollowed her. Instantly like one repeating a lesson she spoke.

“It is very good in you to talk to me as though we were the strangersthat people believe us. I appreciate it and thank you very much. But itis not being just true; that is I feel as if I were not being just true,and as we can never be friends, would it not be better for us not tomeet in this way any more?”

“And why,” I gently asked, with a sense of struggling for my life, “canwe never be friends?”

Her answer was a deep blush; not that timid conscious appeal of theblood that is beating too warmly for reply, but the quick flush ofindignant generosity forced to do despite to its own instincts.

“That is a question I would rather not answer,” she murmured at length.“Only it is so; or I should not speak in this way.”

“But,” I ventured, resolved to know on just what foundations myhappiness was tottering, “you will at least tell me if this harsh decreeis owing to any offence I myself may have inadvertently given. The honorof your acquaintance,” I went on, determined she should know just what ahope she was slaying, “is much too earnestly desired, for me to wilfullyhazard its loss by saying or doing aught that could be in any waydispleasing to you.”

“You have done nothing but what was generous,” said she with increasingwomanliness of manner, “unless it was taking advantage of my being here,to learn my name and gain an introduction to me after I had desired youto forget my very existence.”

I recoiled at that, the chord of my self-respect was touched. “It wasnot here I learned your name, Miss Preston. It has been known to me fortwo weeks. At the risk of losing by your displeasure what is alreadyhazarded by your prudence, I am bound to acknowledge that from the hourI left your father’s house that night, I have spared no effortcompatible with my deep respect for your feelings, to ascertain who theyoung lady was that had done me such an honor, and won from me such adeep regard. I had not intended to tell you this,” I added, “but yourtruth has awakened mine, and whatever the result may be, you must see meas I am.”

“You are very kind,” she replied governing with growing skill thetrembling of her voice. “The acquaintance of a girl of sixteen is notworth so much trouble on the part of a man like yourself.” And blushingwith the vague apprehension of her sex in the presence of a devotion sherather feels than understands, she waved her trembling little hand andpaused irresolute, seemingly anxious to terminate the interview but asyet too inexperienced to know how to manage a dismissal requiring somuch tact and judgment.

I saw, comprehended her position and hesitated. She was so young, uncle,her prospects in life were so bright; if I left her then, in a couple ofweeks she would forget me. What was I that I should throw the shadow ofmanhood’s deepest emotion across the paradise of her young untrammelledbeing. But the old Adam of selfishness has his say in my soul as well asin that of my fellow-men, and forgetting myself enough to glance at herhalf averted face, I could not remember myself sufficiently afterwardsto forego without a struggle, all hope of some day beholding that softcheek turn in confidence at my approach.

“Miss Preston,” said I, “the promise of the bud atones for its foldedleaves.” Then with a fervor I did not seek to disguise, “You say wecannot be friends; would your decision be the same if this were ourfirst meeting?”

Again that flush of outraged feeling. “I don’t know—yes I think—I fearit would.”

I strove to help her. “There is too great a difference between BertramMandeville the pianist, and the daughter of Thaddeus Preston.”

She turned and looked me gently in the eye, she did not need to speak.Regret, shame, longing flashed in her steady glance.

“Do not answer,” said I, “I understand; I am glad it is circ*mstancesthat stand in the way, and not any misconception on your part as to mymotives and deep consideration for yourself. Circ*mstances can bechanged.” And satisfied with having thus dropped into the fruitful soilof that tender breast, the seed of a future hope, I bowed with all thedeference at my command and softly withdrew.

But not to rest. With all the earnestness with which a man sets himselfto decide upon the momentous question of life or death, I gave myself upto a night of reflection, and seated in my solitary bachelor apartment,debated with myself as to the resolution at which I had dimly hinted inmy parting words to Miss Preston.

That I am a musician by nature, my success with the the public seems toindicate. That by following out the line upon which I had entered Iwould attain a certain eminence in my art, I do not doubt. But uncle,there are two kinds of artists in this world; those that work becausethe spirit is in them and they cannot be silent if they would, and thosethat speak from a conscientious desire to make apparent to others thebeauty that has awakened their own admiration. The first could not giveup his art for any cause, without the sacrifice of his soul’s life; thelatter—well the latter could and still be a man with his whole innerbeing intact. Or to speak plainer, the first has no choice, while thelatter has, if he has a will to exert it. Now you will say, and theworld at large, that I belong to the former class. I have risen in tenyears from a choir boy in Trinity Church to a position in the world ofmusic that insures me a full audience wherever and whenever I have amind to exert my skill as a pianist. Not a man of my years has a morepromising outlook in my profession, if you will pardon the seemingegotism of the remark, and yet by the ease with which I felt I couldgive it up at the first touch of a master passion, I know that I am nota prophet in my art but merely an interpreter, one who can speak wellbut who has never felt the descent of the burning tongue and hence not asinner against my own soul if I turn aside from the way I am walking.The question was, then, should I make a choice? Love, as you say, seemsat first blush too insecure a joy, if not often too trivial a one, tounsettle a man in his career and change the bent of his whole afterlife; especially a love born of surprise and fed by the romance ofdistance and mystery. Had I met her in ordinary intercourse, surroundedby her friends and without the charm cast over her by unwontedcirc*mstances, and then had felt as I did now that of all women I hadseen, she alone would ever move the deep springs of my being, it wouldbe different. But with this atmosphere of romance surrounding andhallowing her girl’s form till it seemed almost as ethereal andunearthly as that of an angel’s, was I safe in risking fame or fortunein an attempt to acquire what in the possession might prove as bare andcommon-place as a sweep of mountain heather stripped of its sunshine.Curbing every erratic beat of my heart, I summoned up her image as itbloomed in my fancy, and surveying it with cruel eyes, asked what wasreal and what the fruit of my own imagination. The gentle eye, thetrembling lip, the girlish form eloquent with the promise of comingwomanhood,—were these so rare, that beside them no other woman shouldseem to glance or smile or move? And her words! what had she said, thatany simple-minded, modest yet loving girl might not have uttered underthe circ*mstances. Surely my belief in her being the one, the best andthe dearest was a delusion, and to no delusion was I willing tosacrifice my art. But straight upon that conclusion came sweeping down aflood of counter-reasons. If not the wonder she seemed, she was at leasta wonder to me. If I had seen her under romantic circ*mstances, andunconsciously been influenced by them, the influence had remained andnothing would ever rob her form of the halo thus acquired. Whether Iever won her to my fireside or not, she must always remain the fairyfigure of my dreams, and being so, the gentle eye and tender lipacquired a value that made them what they seemed, the exponent of loveand happiness. And lastly if love well or illy founded was an uncertainjoy, and the passion for a woman a poor substitute for the naturalincentive of talent or ambition, this love had within it the beginningof something deeper than joy, and in the passion thus cheaplycharacterized, dwelt a force and living fire that notwithstanding all Ihave hitherto achieved, has ever been lacking from my dreams ofendeavor.

As you will see, the most natural question of all did not disturb me inthese cogitations: And that was, whether in making the sacrifice Iproposed, I should meet with the reward I had promised myself. Thefancies of a young girl of sixteen are not usually of a stable enoughcharacter to warrant a man in building upon them his whole futurehappiness, especially a young girl situated like Miss Preston in themidst of friends who would soon be admirers, and adulators who wouldsoon be her humble slaves. But the doubt which a serious contemplationof this risk must have presented, was of so unnerving a character, Idared not admit it. If I made the sacrifice, I must meet with myreward. I would listen to no other conclusion. Besides, something in theyoung girl herself, I cannot tell what, assured me then as it assures menow, that whatever virtues or graces she might lack, that of fidelity toa noble idea was not among them; that once convinced of the purity andvalue of the flame that had been lit in her innocent breast, nothingshort of the unworthiness of the object that had awakened it, would everserve to eliminate or extinguish it. That I was not worthy but wouldmake it the business of my life to become so, was certain; that shewould mark my endeavors and bestow upon me the sympathy they deserved, Iwas equally sure. No one would ever make such a sacrifice to her love asI was willing to do, and consequently in no one would I find a rival.

The morning light surprised me in the midst of the struggle, nor did Idecide the question that day. Mr. Preston might not be as determined inhis prejudices against musicians as my friends or even his daughter hadimagined. I resolved to see him. Taking advantage of his connection withthe —— Club, I procured an introducer in the shape of a highlyrespected person of his own class, and went one evening to theClub-rooms with the full intention of making his acquaintance ifpossible. He was already there and in conversation with some businessassociates. Procuring a seat as near him as possible, I anxiouslysurveyed his countenance. It was not a reassuring one, and studied inthis way, had the effect of dampening any hopes I may have cherished inthe outset. He soften to the sounds of sweet strains or the voice ofyouthful passion! As soon as the granite rock to the surge of theuseless billow. His very necktie spoke volumes. It was an old fashionedstock, full of the traditions of other days, while his coat, shabbierthan any I would presume to wear, betrayed in every well-worn seam thepride of the aristocrat and millionaire who in his native city andbefore the eyes of his fellow magnates does not need to carry theevidences of his respectability upon his back.

“It would be worse than folly for me to approach him on such a subject,”I mentally ejacul*ted. “If he did not stare the musician out ofcountenance he would the newly risen man.” And I came very near givingup the whole thing.

But the genius that watches over the affairs of true love was with menotwithstanding the unpropitious state of my surroundings. In a fewminutes I received my expected introduction to Mr. Preston, and I foundthat underneath the repelling austerity of his expression, was a kindlyspark for youth, and a decided sympathy for all instances of manlyendeavor if only it was in a direction he approved; further that my ownpersonality was agreeable to him and that he was disposed to regard mewith favor until by some chance and very natural allusion to myprofession by the friend standing between us, he learned that I was amusician, when a decided change came over his countenance and heexclaimed in that blunt, decisive way of his that admits of no reply:

“A jingler on the piano, eh? Pretty poor use for a man to put his brainsto, I say, or even his fingers. Sorry to hear we cannot be friends.” Andwithout waiting for a reply, took my introducer by the arm and drew hima step or so to one side. “Why didn’t you say at once he was Mandevillethe musician,” I overheard him ask in somewhat querulous tones. “Don’tyou know I consider the whole race of them an abomination. I would havemore respect for my bank clerk than I would for the greatest man of themall, were it Rubenstein himself.” Then in a lower tone but distinctlyand almost as if he meant me to hear, “My daughter has a leaning towardsthis same fol-de-rol and has lately requested my permission to make theacquaintance of some musical characters, but I soon convinced her thatmanhood under the disguise of a harlequin’s jacket could have nointerest for her; that when a human being, man or woman has sunk to be amere rattler of sweet sounds, he has reached a stage of infantiledevelopment that has little in common with the nervous energy andbusiness force of her Dutch ancestry. And my daughter stoops to make noacquaintances she cannot bid sit at her father’s table.”

“Your daughter is a child yet, I thought,” was ventured by hiscompanion.

“Miss Preston is sixteen, just the age at which my mother gave her handto my respected father sixty-seven years ago.” And with this drop ofburning lead let fall into my already agitated bosom they passed on.

He would have more respect for his bank clerk! Would his bank clerk orwhat was better, a young man with means at his command, working in abusiness capacity more in consonance with the tastes he had evinced,have a chance of winning his daughter? I began to think he might. “Theway grows clearer!” I exclaimed.

But it was not till after another interview with him ten minutes laterin the lobby that I finally made up my mind. He was standing quite alonein an obscure corner, fumbling in an awkward way with his muffler thathad caught on the button of his coat. Seeing it, I hastened forward tohis assistance and was rewarded by a kind enough nod to embolden me tosay,

“I have been introduced to you as a musician; would my acquaintance bemore acceptable to you if I told you that the pursuit of art bids fairin my case to yield to the exigencies of business? That I purposeleaving the concert-room for the banker’s office and that henceforth myonly ambition promises to be that of Wall Street?”

“It most certainly would,” exclaimed he, holding out his hand with anunmistakable gesture of satisfaction. “You have too good a countenanceto waste before a piano-top strumming to the smirks of women and theplaudits of weak-headed men. Let us see you at the desk, my lad. We arein want of trustworthy young men to take the place of us older ones.”Then politely, “Do you expect to make the change soon?”

“I do,” said I.

And the Rubicon was passed.

VI.

A HAND CLASP.

Fer.—Here’s my hand.

Mir.—And mine with my heart in it.”—Tempest.

Once arrived at a settled conclusion, I put every thought of waveringout of my mind. Deciding that with such a friend in business circles asyourself, I needed no other introducer to my new life, I set apart thisevening for a confab with you on the subject. Meanwhile it is prettygenerally known that I make no more engagements to appear through thecountry.

I have but one more incident to relate. Last Sunday in walking downFifth Avenue I met her. I did not do this inadvertently. I knew hercustom of attending Bible class and for once put myself in her way. Idid not give her time to remonstrate.

“Do not express your displeasure,” said I, “this shall never berepeated. I merely wish to say that I have concluded to leave aprofession so little appreciated by those whose esteem I most desire topossess; that I am about entering a banker’s office where it shall be myambition to rise if possible, to wealth and consequence. If Isucceed—you shall then know what my incentive has been. But till Isucceed or at least give such tokens of success as shall insure respect,silence must be my portion and patience my sole support. Only of onething rest assured, that until I inform you with my own lips that thehope which now illumines me is gone, it will continue to burn on in mybreast, shedding light upon a way that can never seem dark while thatglow rests upon it.” And bowing with the ceremonious politeness ourpositions demanded, I held out my hand. “One clasp to encourage me,” Ientreated.

It seemed as if she did not comprehend. “You are going to give up music,and for—for—”

“You?” said I. “Yes, don’t forbid me,” I implored; “it is too late.”

Like a lovely image of blushing girlhood turned by a lightning flashinto marble, she paused, pallid and breathless where she was, gazingupon me with eyes that burned deeper and deeper as the fullcomprehension of all that this implied gradually forced itself upon hermind.

“You make a chaos of my little world,” she murmured at length.

“No,” said I, “your world is untouched. If it should never be my goodfortune to enter it, you are not to grieve. You are free, Miss Preston,free as this sunshiny air we breathe; I alone am bound, and that becauseI must be whether I will or no.”

Then I saw the woman I had worshipped in this young fair girl shinefully and fairly upon me. Drawing herself up, she looked me in the faceand calmly laid her hand in mine. “I am young,” said she, “and do notknow what may be right to say to one so generous and so kind. But thismuch I can promise, that whether or not I am ever able to duly rewardyou for what you undertake, I will at least make it the study of my lifenever to prove unworthy of so much trust and devotion.”

And with the last lingering look natural to a parting for years, weseparated then and there, and the crowd came between us, and the Sundaybells rang on, and what was so vividly real to us at the moment, becamein remembrance more like the mist and shadow of a dream.

VII.

MRS. SYLVESTER.

Love is more pleasant than marriage, for the same reason thatromances are more amusing than history.—Chamfort.

“He draweth out the thread of his verbosity, finer than thestaple of his argument.”—Loves Labor Lost.

Young Mandeville having finished his story, looked at his uncle. Hefound him sitting in an attitude of extreme absorption, his right armstretched before him on the table, his face bent thoughtfully downwardsand clouded with that deep melancholy that seemed its most naturalexpression, “He has not heard me,” was the young man’s first mortifyingreflection. But catching his uncle’s eye which at that moment raiseditself, he perceived he was mistaken and that he had rather beenlistened to only too well.

“You must forgive me if I have seemed to rhapsodize,” the young manstammered. “You were so quiet I half forgot I had a listener and went onmuch as I would if I had been thinking aloud.”

His uncle smiled and throwing off the weight of his reflections whateverthey might be, arose and began pacing the floor. “I see you are pastsurgery,” quoth he, “any wisdom of mine would be only thrown away.”

Young Mandeville was hurt. He had expected some token of approval on hisuncle’s part, or at least some betrayal of sympathy. His looks expressedhis disappointment.

“You expected to convert me by this story,” continued the elder, pausingwith a certain regret before his nephew; “nothing could convert mebut—”

“What?” inquired Mandeville after waiting in vain for the other tofinish.

“Something which we will never find in the whirl of New York fashionablelife. A woman with faith to reward and soul to understand suchunqualified trust as yours.”

“But I believe Miss Preston is such a girl and will be such a woman. Herlooks, her last words prove it.”

“Nothing proves it but time and as for your belief, I have believedtoo.” Then as if fearing he had said too much, assumed his mostbusiness-like tone and observed, “But we will drop all that; you haveresolved to quit music and enter Wall Street, your object money and thesocial consideration which money secures. Now, why Wall Street?”

“Because I can think of no other means for attaining what I desire, inthe space of time I would consent to keep a young lady of Miss Preston’sposition waiting.”

“Humph! and you have money, I suppose, which you propose to risk on thehazard?”

“Some! enough to start with; a small amount to you, but sufficient if Iam fortunate.”

“And if you are not?”

The young man opened his arms with an expressive gesture, “I am donefor, that is all.”

“Bertram,” his uncle exclaimed with a change of tone, “has it everstruck you that Mr. Preston might have as strong a prejudice againstspeculation as against the musical profession?”

“No, that is, pardon me but I have sometimes thought that even in theevent of success I should have to struggle against his inheritedinstincts of caste and his natural dislike of all things new, evenwealth, but I never thought of the possibility of my arousing hisdistrust by speculating in stocks and engaging in enterprises so nearlyin accord with his own business operations.”

“Yet if I guess aright you would run greater risk of losing the supportof his countenance by following the hazardous course you propose, thanif you continued in the line of art that now engages you.”

“Do you know—”

“I know nothing, but I fear the chances, Bertram.”

“Then I am already defeated and must give up my hopes of happiness.”

A smile thin and indefinable crossed the other’s face. “No,” said he,“not necessarily.” And sitting down by his nephew’s side, he asked if hehad any objections to enter a bank. “In a good capacity,” he exclaimed.

“No indeed; it would be an opportunity surpassing my hopes. Do you knowof an opening?”

“Well,” said he, “under the circ*mstances I will let you into the secretof my own affairs. I have always had one ambition, and that was to be atthe head of a bank. I have not said much about it, but for the last fiveyears I have been working to this end, and to-day you see me thepossessor of at least three-fourths of the stock of the Madison Bank. Ithas been deteriorating for some time, consequently I was enabled to buyit low, but now that I have got it I intend to build up the concern. Iam able to throw business of an important nature in its way, and I dareprophesy that before the year is out you will see it re-established upona solid and influential footing.”

“I have no doubt of it, sir; you have the knack of success, any thingthat you touch is sure to go straight.”

“Unhappily yes, as far as business operations go. But no matter aboutthat;—” as if the other had introduced some topic incongruous to theone they were considering—“the point is this. In two weeks time I shallbe elected President of the Bank; if you will accept the position ofassistant cashier,—the best I can offer in consideration of your totalignorance of all details of the business,—it is open to you—”

“Uncle! how generous! I—”

“Hush! your duties will be nominal, the present cashier is fullycompetent; but the leisure thus afforded will offer you abundantopportunity to make yourself acquainted with all matters connected withthe banking system as well as with such capitalists as it would be wellfor you to know. So that when the occasion comes, I can raise you to thecashier’s place or make such other disposal of your talents as will bestinsure your rapid advance.”

The young man’s eyes sparkled; with a sudden impetuous movement hejumped to his feet and grasped his uncle’s hand. “I can never thank youenough; you have made me your debtor for life. Now let any one ask mewho is my father, and I will say—”

“He was Edward Sylvester’s brother. But come, come, this extremegratitude is unnecessary. You have always been a favorite with me,Bertram, and now that I have no child, you seem doubly near; it is mypleasure to do what I can for you. But—” and here he surveyed him witha wistful look, “I wish you were entering into this new line from loveof the business rather than love of a woman. I fear for you my boy. Itis an awful thing to stake one’s future upon a single chance and thatchance a woman’s faith. If she should fail you after you had compassedyour fortune, should die—well you could bear that perhaps; but if sheturned false, and married some one else, or even married you and then—”

“What?” came in silvery accents from the door, and a woman richly clad,her trailing velvets filling the air at once with an oppressive perfume,entered the room and paused before them in an attitude meant to be arch,but which from the massiveness of her figure and the scornful carriageof her head, succeeded in being simply imperious.

Mr. Sylvester rose abruptly as if unpleasantly surprised. “Ona!” heexclaimed, hastening, however, to cover his embarassment by a courteousacknowledgement of her presence and a careless remark concerning theshortness of the services that had allowed her to return from church soearly. “I did not hear you come in,” he observed.

“No, I judge not,” she returned with a side glance at Mandeville. “Butthe services were not short, on the contrary I thought I should neverhear the last amen. Mr. Turner’s voice is very agreeable,” she went on,in a rambling manner all her own, “it never interferes with yourthoughts; not that I am considered as having any,” she interjected withanother glance at their silent guest, “a woman in society with areputation for taste in all matters connected with fashionable living,has no thoughts of course; business men with only one idea in theirheads, that of making money, have more no doubt. Do you know, Edward,”she went on with sudden inconsequence, which was another trait of thisamiable lady’s conversation, “that I have quite come to a conclusion inregard to the girl Philip Longtree is going to marry; she may be pretty,but she does not know how to dress. I wish you could have seen herto-night; she had on mauve with old gold trimmings. Now with one of hercomplexion—But I forget you haven’t seen her. Bertram, I think I shallgive a German next month, will you come? Oh, Edward!” as if the thoughthad suddenly struck her, “Princess Louise is the sixth child of QueenVictoria; I asked Mr. Turner to-night. By the way, I wonder if it willbe pleasant enough to take the horses out to-morrow? Bird has beenobliging enough to get sick just in the height of the season, Mr.Mandeville. There are a thousand things I have got to do and I hatehired horses.” And with a petulant sigh she laid her prayer-book on thetable and with a glance in the mirror near by, began pulling off hergloves in the slow and graceful fashion eminently in keeping with herevery movement.

It was as if an atmosphere of worldliness had settled down upon thisroom sanctified a moment before by the utterances of a pure and noblelove. Mr. Sylvester looked uneasy, while Bertram searched in vain forsomething to say.

“I seem to have brought a blight,” she suddenly murmured in an easy tonesomewhat at variance with the glance of half veiled suspicion which shedarted from under her heavy lids, at first one and then the other of thetwo gentlemen before her. “No, I will not sit,” she added as her husbandoffered her a chair. “I am tired almost to death and would retireimmediately, but I interrupted you I believe in the utterance of somewise saying about matrimony. It is an interesting subject and I have anotion to hear what one so well qualified to speak in regard to it—”and here she made a slow, half lazy courtesy to her husband with a lookthat might mean anything from coquetry to defiance—“has to say to ayoung man like Mr. Mandeville.”

Edward Sylvester who was regarded as an autocrat among men, and whocertainly was an acknowledged leader in any company he chose to enter,bowed his head before this anomalous glance with a gesture of somethinglike submission.

“One is not called upon to repeat every inadvertent phrase he mayutter,” said he. “Bertram was consulting me upon certain topics and—”

“You answered him in your own brilliant style,” she concluded. “What didyou say?” she asked in another moment in a low unmoved tone which thefinal act of smoothing out her gloves on the table with hands delicateas white rose leaves but firm as marble, did not either hasten orretard.

“Oh if you insist,” he returned lightly, “and are willing to bear thereflection my unfortunate remark seems to cast upon the sex, I wasmerely observing to my nephew, that the man who centered all his hopesupon a woman’s faith, was liable to disappointment. Even if he succeededin marrying her there were still possibilities of his repenting anygreat sacrifice made in her behalf.”

“Indeed!” and for once the delicate cheek flushed deeper than its rouge.“And why do you say this?” she inquired, dropping her coquettish mannerand flashing upon them both, the haughty and implacable woman Bertramhad always believed her to be, notwithstanding her vagaries and fashion.

“Because I have seen much of life outside my own house,” her husbandreplied with undiminished courtesy; “and feel bound to warn any youngman of his probable fate, who thinks to find nothing but roses andfelicity beyond the gates of fashionable marriage.”

“Ah then, it was on general principles you were speaking,” she remarkedwith a soft laugh that undulated through an atmosphere suddenly growntoo heavy for easy breathing. “I did not know; wives are so little aptto be appreciated in this world, Mr. Mandeville, I was afraid he mightbe giving you some homely advice founded upon personal experience.” Andshe moved towards their guest with that strange smile of hers which somecalled dangerous but which he had always regarded as oppressive.

She saw him drop his eyes, and smiled again, but in a different way.This woman, whom no one accused of anything worse than levity, hailedevery tribute to her power, as a miser greets the glint of gold. With aturn of her large but elegant figure that in its slow swaying remindedyou of some heavy tropical flower, hanging inert, intoxicated with itsown fragrance, she dismissed at once the topic that had engaged them,and launched into one of her choicest streams of inconsequent talk. ButMandeville was in no mood to listen to trivialities, and being of asomewhat impatient nature, presently rose and excusing himself, took ahurried leave. Not so hurried however that he did not have time tomurmur to his uncle as they walked towards the door:

“You would make comparison between the girl I worship and other women infashionable life. Do not I pray; she is no more like them than a starthat shines is like a rose that blooms. My fate will not be like that ofmost men that we know, but better and higher.”

And his uncle standing there in the grand hall-way, with the freshsplendors of unlimited wealth gleaming upon him from every side, lookedafter the young man with a sigh and repeated, “Better and higher? God inhis merciful goodness grant it.”

VIII.

SHADOWS OF THE PAST.

“Memory, the warder of the brain.”—Macbeth.

It was long past midnight. The fire in the grate burned dimly, sheddingits lingering glow on the face of the master of the house as with bowedhead and folded hands he sat alone and brooding before its dying embers.

It was a lonesome sight. The very magnificence of the spacious apartmentwith its lofty walls and glittering works of art, seemed to give an airof remoteness to that solitary form, bending beneath the weight of itsreflections. From the exquisitely decorated ceiling to the turkish rugsscattered over the polished floor, all was elegant and luxurious, andwhat had splendors like these to do with thoughts that bent the browsand overshadowed the lips of man? The very lights burned deprecatingly,illuminating beauties upon which no eye gazed and for which no heartbeat. The master himself seemed to feel this, for he presently rose andput them out, after which he seated himself as before, only if possiblewith more abandon, as if with the extinguishing of the light some eyehad been shut whose gaze he had hitherto feared. And in truth my lady’simage shone fainter from its heavy panel, and the smile which had metwith unrelenting sweetness the glare of the surrounding splendor,softened in the mellow glimmer of the fire-light to an etherial halothat left you at rest.

One, two, THREE, the small clock sounded from the mantel and yet nostir took place in the sombre figure keeping watch beneath. What werethe thoughts which could thus detain from his comfortable bed a manalready tired with manifold cares? It would be hard to tell. The watersthat gush at the touch of the diviner’s rod are tumultuous in their flowand rush hither and thither with little heed to the restraining force ofrule and reason. But of the pictures that rose before his eyes in thosedying embers, there were two which stood out in startling distinctness.Let us see if we can convey the impression of them to other eyes andhearts.

First, the form of his mother. Ah grey-bearded men weighted with thecares of life and absorbed in the monotonous round of duties that to youare the be all and end all of existence, to whom morning means ajostling ride to the bank, the store or the office, and with whom nightis but the name for a worse unrest because of its unfulfilled promisesof slumber, what soul amongst you all is so callous to the holy memoriesof childhood, as not to thrill with something of the old time feeling oflove and longing as the memory of that tender face with its watchful eyeand ready smiles, comes back to you from the midst of weary years! Yourmother!

But Edward Sylvester with that black line across his life cutting pastfrom present, what makes him think of his mother to-night; and thecottage door upon the hillside where she used to stand with eager eyeslooking up and down the road as he came trudging home from school,swinging his satchel and shouting at every squirrel that started acrossthe road or peeped from the branches of the grand old maples overhead!And the garret-chamber under the roof, the scene of many a romp withElsie and Sonsie and Jack, neighbors’ children to whom the man of to-daywould be an awe and a mystery! And the little room where he slept withTom his own blue-eyed brother so soon to die of a wasting disease, butfull of warm blood then and all alive with boyish pranks. He couldalmost hear the wild clear laugh with which the mischievous fellowstarted upon its travels, the rooster whose legs he had tied a shortspace apart with one of Sonsie’s faded ribbons, a laugh that becameunrestrained when the poor creature in attempting to run down hill,rolled over and over, cutting such a figure before his late admirers,the hens, that even Elsie smiled in the midst of her gentle entreaties.And Jocko the crow, whom taming had made one of the boys! poor Jocko! isit nearly thirty years since you used to stalk in majesty through thevillage streets, with your neat raven coat closely buttoned across yourbreast and your genteel caw, caw, and condescending nod for oldacquaintances? The day seems but as yesterday when you marred the stolenpicnic up in the woods by flying off with a flock of your fellowblack-coats, nor is it easy to realize that the circle of tow-headedfellows who hailed with shouts your ignominious return after a day orso’s experience of the vaunted pleasures of freedom, are now sharpfeatured men without a smile for youth or a thought beyond the hard colddollar buried deep in their pockets.

And the church up over the hills! and the long Sunday walk at mother’sside with the sunshine glowing on the dusty road and beating on theriver flowing far beyond! The same road, the same river of Monday andTuesday but how different it looked to the boy; almost like anotherscene, as if Sunday clothes were on the world as well as upon hisrestless little limbs. How he longed for it to be Monday though he didnot say so; and what a different day Saturday would have been if onlythere was no long, sleepy Sunday to follow it.

But the mother! She did not dread that day. Her eyes used to brightenwhen the bell began to ring from the old church steeple. Her eyes! howthey mingled with every picture! They seemed to fill the night. What asparkle they had, yet how they used to soften at his few hurriedcaresses. He was always too busy for kisses; there were the snares inthe north woods to be looked after; the nest in the apple-tree to beinquired into; the skates to be ground before the river froze over; thenuts to be gathered and stored in that same old garret chamber under theeaves. But now how vividly her least look comes back to the tired man,from the glance of wistful sympathy with which she met his childishdisappointments to the flash of joy that hailed his equally childishdelights.

And another scene there is in the embers to-night; a remembrance oflater days when the mother with her love and yearning was laid low inthe grave, and manhood had learned its first lessons of passion andambition from the glance of younger eyes and the smile of riper lips.Not the picture of a woman, however; that was already present besidehim, shining from its panel with an insistence that not even the puttingout of the lights could quite quench or subdue, but of a child young,pure and beautiful, sitting by the river in the glow of a June sunshine,gazing at the hills of his boyhood’s home with a look on her face suchas he had never before seen on that of child or woman. A simple picturewith a simple villager’s daughter for its centre, but as he mused uponit to-night, the success and triumph of the last ten years faded fromhis sight like the ashes that fell at his feet, and he found himselfquestioning in vain as to what better thing he had met in all the walksof his busy life than that young child’s innocence and faith as theyshone upon him that day from her soft uplifted eyes.

He had been sitting the whole warm noontide at the side of her whosehalf gracious, half scornful, wholly indolent acceptance of his homage,he called love, and enervated by an atmosphere he was as yet tooinexperienced to recognize as of the world, worldly, had strolled forthto cool his fevered brow in the fresh autumn breeze that blew up fromthe river. He was a gay-hearted youth in those days, heedless ofeverything but the passing moment; nature meant little to him; and whenin the course of his ramble he came upon the form of a child sitting onthe edge of the river, he remembers wondering what she saw in a sweep ofempty water to interest her so deeply. Indeed he was about to inquirewhen she turned and he caught a glimpse of her eyes and knew at oncewithout asking. Yet in those days he was anything but quick to recognizethe presence of feeling. A face was beautiful or plain to him, noteloquent or expressive. But this child’s countenance was exceptional. Itmade you forget the cotton frock she wore, it made you forget yourself.As he gazed on it, he felt the stir of something in his breast he hadnever known before, and half dreaded to hear her speak lest the charmshould fail or the influence be lost. Yet how could he pass on and notspeak. Laying his hand on her head, he asked her what she was thinkingof as she sat there all alone looking off on the river; and the weething drew in her breath and surveyed him with all her soul in her greatblack eyes before she replied, “I do not know, I never know.” Thenlooking back she dreamily added, “It makes me want to go away, milesaway,”—and she held out her tiny arms towards the river with a longinggesture; “and it makes me want to cry.”

And he understood or thought he did and for the first time in his lifelooked upon the river that had met his gaze from childhood, with eyesthat saw its exceeding beauty. Ah it was an exquisite scene, a rarescene, mountain melting into mountain and meadow vanishing into meadow,till the flow of silver waters was lost in a horizon of azure mist. Nowonder that a child without snares to set or nuts to gather, shouldpause a moment to gaze upon it, as even he in the days gone by wouldsometimes stop on Sabbath eves to snatch a kiss from his mother’s lips.

“It is like a fairy land, is it not?” quoth the child looking up intohis face with a wistful glance. “Do you know what it is that makes mefeel so?”

He smiled and sat down by her side. Somehow he felt as if a talk withthis innocent one would restore him more than a walk on the hills. “Itis the spirit of beauty, my child, you are moved by the loveliness ofthe scene; is it a new one to you?”

“No, oh no, but I always feel the same. As if something here was hungry,don’t you know?” and she laid her little hand on her breast.

He did not know, but he smiled upon her notwithstanding, and made hertalk and talk till the gush of the sweet child spirit with its hiddenlongings and but half understood aspirations, bathed his whole being ina reviving shower, and he felt as if he had wandered into a new worldwhere the languors of the tropics were unknown, and passion, if therewas such, had the wings of an eagle instead of the siren’s voice andfascination.

Her name was Paula, she said, and before leaving he found that she was arelative of the woman he loved. This was a slight shock to him. The lilyand the cactus abloom on one stalk! How could that be? and for a momenthe felt as if the splendors of the glorious woman paled before thelustre of the innocent child. But the feeling, if it was strong enoughto be called such, soon passed. As the days swept by bringing eveningswith light and music and whispered words beneath the vine-leaves, theremembrance of the pure, sweet hour beside the river, gradually fadedtill only a vague memory of that gentle uplifted face sweet with itschildish dimples, remained to hallow now and then a passing reverie or afevered dream.

But to-night its every lineament filled his soul, vying with thememories of his mother in its vividness and power. O why had he notlearned the lesson it taught. Why had he turned his back upon the highthings of life to yield himself to a current that swept him on and onuntil the power of resistance left him and—O dwell not here wildthoughts! Pause not on the threshold of the one dark memory that blaststhe soul and sears the heart in the secret hours of night. Let the deadpast bury its dead and if one must think, let it be of the hope, whichthe remembrance of that short glimpse into a pure if infantile soul hasgiven to his long darkened spirit.

One, two, three, FOUR; and the fire is dead and the night has grownchill, but he heeds it not. He has asked himself if his life’s book isquite closed to the higher joys of existence? whether money getting andmoney holding is to absorb him body and soul forever; and with thequestion a great yearning seizes him to look upon that sweet childagain, if haply in the gleam of her pure spirit, something of the nobleand the pure that lay beneath the crust of life might be again revealedto his longing sight.

“She must be a great girl now,” murmured he to himself, “as old as ifnot older than she whom Bertram adores so passionately, but she willalways be a child to me, a sweet pure child whose innocence is myteacher and whose ignorance is my better wisdom. If anything will saveme—”

But here the shadow settled again; when it lifted, the morning ray laycool and ghostly over the hearthstone.

IX.

PAULA.

“The stars of midnight shall be dear
To her; and she shall lean her ear
In many a secret place
Where rivulets dance their wayward round,
And beauty born of murmuring sound
Shall pass into her face.”—Wordsworth.

A wintry scene. Snow-piled hills stretching beyond a frozen river. Onthe bank a solitary figure tall, dark and commanding, standing with eyesbent sadly on a long narrow mound at his feet. It is Edward Sylvesterand the mound is the grave of his mother.

It is ten years since he stood upon that spot. In all that time nomemories of his childhood’s home, no recollection of that lonely graveamong the pines, had been sufficient to allure him from the city and itsbusy round of daily cares. Indeed he had always shrunk at the very nameof the place and never of his own will alluded to it, but the reveriesof a night had awakened a longing that was not to be appeased, and inthe face of his wife’s cold look of astonishment and a secret dread inhis own heart, had left his comfortable fireside, for the scenes of hisearly life and marriage, and was now standing, in the bleak Decemberair, gazing down upon the stone that marked his mother’s grave.

But tender as were the chords that reverberated at this sight, it wasnot to revisit this tomb he had returned to Grotewell. No, that othervision, the vision of young sweet appreciative life has drawn him morestrongly than the memory of the dead. It was to search out and gazeagain upon the innocent girl, whose eloquent eyes and lofty spirit hadso deeply moved him in the past, that he had braved the chill of theConnecticut hills and incurred the displeasure of his wife.

Yet when he turned away from that simple headstone and set his facetowards the village streets it was with a sinking of the heart thatfirst revealed to him the severity of the ordeal to which he had thuswantonly subjected himself. Not that the wintry trees and snow coveredroofs appealed to him as strongly as the same trees and homes would havedone in their summer aspect. The land was bright with verdure when thatshadow fell whose gloom resting upon all the landscape, made a walk downthis quiet road even at this remote day, a matter of such pain to him.But scenes that have caught the reflection of a life’s joy or a heart’ssorrow, lose not their power of appeal, with the leaves they shake fromtheir trees, and nothing that had met the eyes of this man from the hourhe left this spot, no, not the glance of his wife as his child fell backdead in his arms, had shot such a pang to his soul as the sight of thatlong street with its array of quiet homes, stretching out before himinto the dim grey distance.

But for all that he was determined to traverse it, ay to the very end,though his steps must pass the house whose ghostly portals were fraughtwith memories dismal as death to him. On then he proceeded, walking withhis usual steady pace that only faltered or broke, as he met the shyeyes of some hurrying village maiden, speeding upon some errand down thesnowy street, or encountered some old friend of his youth who despitehis altered mien and commanding carriage, recognized in him the slimyoung bank cashier who had left them now ten long years ago to make aname and fortune in the great city.

It was noon by the time he gained the heart of the village, and schoolwas out and the children came rushing by with just the same shout andscamper with which he used to hail that hour of joyous release. How itcarried him back to the days when those four red walls towered upon himwith awful significance, as with books on his back and a half eatenapple in his pocket he crept up the walk, conscious that the bell hadrung its last shrill note a good half hour before. He felt half temptedto stop and make his way through the crowd of shouting boys and dancinggirls to that same old door again, and see for himself if the huge LATEwhich in a fit of childish revenge he had cut on its awkward panels, wasstill there to meet the eyes of tardy boys and loitering girls. But thewondering looks of the children unused to behold a figure so stately intheir simple streets deterred him and he passed thoughtfully on. Soengrossed was he by the reminiscences of Tom and Elsie which the schoolhouse had awakened, that he passed the ominous mansion which had beenhis dread, and the bank where he had worked, and the arbor by the sideof the road where he had sat out the first hours of his fatal courtship,almost without realizing their presence, and was at the end of thestreet and in full view of the humble cottage which the little Paula hadpointed out as her home on that day of their first acquaintance.

“Good heaven! and I do not even know if she is alive,” he suddenlyejacul*ted, stopping where he was and eying the lowly walls before himwith a quick realization of the possibilities of a great disappointment.“Ten years have strown many a grave on the hillside and Ona would notmention it if she lost every relative she had in this town. What a foolI have been,” thought he.

But with the stern resolution which had carried him through many adifficulty, he prepared to advance, when he was again arrested by seeingthe door of the house he was contemplating, suddenly open and a girlishfigure issue forth. Could it be Paula? With eager, almost feverishinterest he watched her approach. She was a slight young thing and cametowards him with a rapid movement almost jaunty in its freedom. If itwere Paula, he would know her by her eyes, but for some reason he hopedit was not she, not the child of his dreams.

At a yard or two in front of him she paused astonished. This grave, tallfigure with the melancholy brow, deep eyes and firmly compressed lipswas an unaccustomed sight in this primitive town. Scarcely realizingwhat she did she gave a little courtesy and was proceeding on when hestopped her with a hurried gesture.

“Is Mrs. Fairchild still living?” he asked, indicating the house she hadjust left.

“Mrs. Fairchild? O no,” she returned, surveying him out of the corner ofa very roguish pair of brown eyes, with a certain sly wonder at thesuspense in his voice. “She has been dead as long as I can remember. OldMiss Abby and her sister live there now.”

“And who are they?” he hurriedly asked; he could not bring himself tomention Paula’s name.

“Why, Miss Abby and Miss Belinda,” she returned with a puzzled air.“Miss Abby sews and Miss Belinda teaches the school. I don’t knowanything more about them, sir.”

The courteous gentleman bowed. “And they live there quite alone?”

“O no sir, Paula lives with them.”

“Ah, she does;” and the young girl looking at him could not detect theslightest change in his haughty countenance. “Paula is Mrs. Fairchild’sdaughter.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Thank you,” said he, and allowed the pretty brown-eyed miss to pass on,which she did with lingering footsteps and many a backward glance of theeye.

Halting at the door of that small cottage, Edward Sylvester reasonedwith himself.

“She may be just such another fresh-looking, round-faced,mischievous-eyed school-girl. Spiritual children do not always makeearnest-souled women. Let me beware what hopes I build on a foundationso unsubstantial.” Yet when in a moment later the door opened and aweazen-faced dapper, little woman appeared, all smiles and welcome, heowned to a sensation of dismay that sufficiently convinced him what ahold this hope of meeting with something exceptionally sweet and high,had taken upon his hitherto careless and worldly spirit.

“Mr. Sylvester I am sure! I thought Ona would remember us after a while.Come in sir, do, my sister will be home in a few moments.” And with adeprecatory flutter comical enough in a woman at least seventy odd yearsold, she led her distinguished guest into a large unused room where inspite of his remonstrances she at once proceeded to build a fire.

“It is a pleasure sir,” she said to every utterance of regret on hispart at the trouble he was causing. And though her vocabulary was thusmade to appear somewhat small, her sincerity was undoubted. “We havecounted the days, Belinda and I, since we sent the last letter. It mayseem foolish to you, sir; but Paula is growing so fast and Belinda saysis so uncommon smart for her age that we did think that it was time Onaknew just what a straight we were in. Do you want to see Paula?”

“Very much,” he returned, shocked and embarrassed at the position inwhich he found himself put by the reticence of his wife on the subjectof her relations. “They think I have come in reply to a letter,” hemused, “and I did not even know my wife had received one.”

“You will be surprised,” she exclaimed with a complacent nod as the fireblazed up brightly; “every one is surprised who sees her for the firsttime. Is my niece well?” And thus it was he learned the relation betweenhis wife of ten years and these simple inhabitants of the little cottagein Grotewell.

He replied as in duty bound, and presently by the use of a few dexterousquestions succeeded in eliciting from this simple-minded old lady, thefew facts necessary to a proper understanding of the situation. MissAbby and Miss Belinda were two maiden ladies, sisters of Mrs. Fairchildand Ona’s mother, who on the death of the former took up their abode inthe little cottage for the purpose of bringing up the orphan Paula. Theyhad succeeded in this by dint of the utmost industry, but Paula was nota common child, and Belinda, who was evidently the autocrat of thehouse, had decided that she ought to have other advantages. She hadtherefore written to Mrs. Sylvester concerning the child, in the hopesthat that lady would take enough interest in her pretty little cousin tosend her to boarding-school; but they had received no reply till now,all of which was perfectly right of course, Mrs. Sylvester beingundoubtedly occupied and Mr. Sylvester himself being better than anyletter.

“And does Paula herself know what efforts you have been making in herbehalf,” asked Mr. Sylvester upon the receipt of this information.

The little lady shook her head with vivacity. “Belinda advised me to saynothing,” she remarked. “The child is contented with her home and we didnot like to raise her expectations. You will never regret anything youmay do for her,” she went on in a hurried way with a peep now and thentowards the door as if while enjoying a momentary freedom of speech, shefeared an intrusion that would cut that pleasure short. “Paula is agrateful child and never has given us a moment of concern from the timeshe began to put pieces of patchwork together. But there is Belinda,”she suddenly exclaimed, rising with the little dip and jerk of her leftshoulder that was habitual to her whenever she was amused or excited.“Belinda,” she cried, going to the door and speaking with greatimpressiveness, “Mr. Sylvester is in the parlor.” And almost instantly atall middle aged lady entered, whose plain but powerful countenance anddignified demeanor, stamped her at once as belonging to a very differenttype of woman from her sister.

“I am very glad to see you sir,” she exclaimed in a slow determinedvoice as dissimilar as possible from the piping tones of Miss Abby. “Isnot Mrs. Sylvester with you?”

“No,” returned he, “I have come alone; my wife is not fond of travellingin winter.”

The slightest gleam shot from her bright keen eye. “Is she not well?”

“Yes quite well, but not over strong,” he rejoined quietly.

She gave him another quick look, settled some matter with herself andtaking off her bonnet, sat down by the fire. At once her sister ceasedin her hovering about the room and sitting also, became to allappearance her silent shadow.

“Paula has gone up stairs to take off her bonnet,” the younger womansaid in a straightforward manner just short of being brusque. “She is avery remarkable girl, Mr. Sylvester, a genius I suppose some would callher, a child of nature I prefer to say. Whatever there is to be learnedin this town she has learned. And in a place where nature speaks andgood books abound that is not inconsiderable. I have taken pride in hertalents I acknowledge, and have endeavored to do what I could tocultivate them to the best advantage. There is no girl in my school whocan write so original a composition, nor is there one with a truer heartor more tractable disposition.”

“You have then been her teacher as well as her friend, she owes you adouble debt of gratitude.”

A look hard to understand flashed over her homely face. “I have neverthought of debt or gratitude in connection with Paula. The only effortwhich I have ever made in her behalf which cost me anything, is this onewhich threatens me with her loss.” Then as if fearing she had said toomuch, set her firm lips still firmer and ignoring the subject of thechild, astonished him by certain questions on the leading issues of theday that at once betrayed a truly virile mind.

“She is a study,” thought he to himself, but meeting her on the groundshe had taken, replied at once and to her evident satisfaction in thedirect and simple manner that appeals the most forcibly to a strong ifsomewhat unpolished understanding, while the meek little Miss Abbyglanced from one to the other with a humble awe more indicative of herappreciation for their superiority than of her comprehension of thesubject.

But what with Miss Belinda’s secret anxiety and Mr. Sylvester’sunconscious listening for a step upon the stair, the conversation, briskas it had opened, gradually languished, and ere long with a sort ofclairvoyant understanding of her sister’s wishes, Miss Abby arose andwith her customary jerk left the room for Paula.

“The child is not timid but has an unaccountable aversion to enteringthe presence of strangers alone,” Miss Belinda explained; but Mr.Sylvester did not hear her, for at that moment the door re-opened andMiss Abby stepped in with the young girl thus heralded.

Edward Sylvester never forgot that moment, and indeed few men could havebeheld the picture of extraordinary loveliness thus revealed, without ashock of surprise equal to the delight it inspired. She was not pretty;the very word was a misnomer, she was simply one of nature’s mostexquisite and undeniable beauties. From the crown of her ebon locks tothe sole of her dainty foot, she was perfect as the most delicatecoloring and the utmost harmony of contour could make her. And not inthe conventional type either. There was an individuality in her stylethat was as fresh as it was uncommon. She was at once unique andfaultless, something that can be said of few women however beautiful oralluring.

Mr. Sylvester had not expected this, as indeed how could he, and for amoment he could only gaze with a certain swelling of the heart at theblooming loveliness that in one instant had transformed the odd littleparlor into a bower fit for the habitation of princes. But soon hisnatural self-possession returned, and rising with his most courteousbow, he greeted the blushing girl with words of simple welcome.

Instantly her eyes which had been hitherto kept bent upon the floorflashed upward to his face and a smile full of the wonder of an unlookedfor, almost unhoped for delight, swept radiantly over her lips, and hesaw with deep and sudden satisfaction that the hour which had made suchan impression upon him, had not been forgotten by her; that his voicehad recalled what his face failed to do, and that he was recognized.

“It is Mr. Sylvester, your cousin Ona’s husband,” Miss Belindainterposed in a matter-of-fact way, evidently attributing the emotion ofthe child to her astonishment at the imposing appearance of their guest.

“And it was you who married Ona!” she involuntarily murmured, blushingthe next moment at this simple utterance of her thoughts.

“Yes, dear child,” Mr. Sylvester hastened to say. “And so you rememberme?” he presently added, smiling down upon her with a sense of new lifethat for the moment made every care and anxiety shrink into thebackground.

“Yes,” she simply returned, taking the chair beside him with theunconscious grace of perfect self-forgetfulness. “It was the first timeI had found any one to listen to my childish enthusiasms; it is naturalsuch kindness should make its impression.”

“Little Paula and I met long ago,” quoth Mr. Sylvester turning to thesomewhat astonished Miss Belinda. “It was before my marriage and she wasthen—”

“Just ten years old,” finished Paula, seeing him cast her an inquiringglance.

“Very young for such a thoughtful little miss,” he exclaimed. “And havethose childish enthusiasms quite departed?” he continued, smiling uponher with gentle encouragement. “Do you no longer find a fairy-land inthe view up the river?”

She flushed, casting a timid glance at her aunt, but meeting his eyesagain seemed to forget everything and everybody in the inspiration whichhis presence afforded.

“I fear I must acknowledge that it is more a fairy-land to me thanever,” she softly replied. “Knowledge does not always bring disillusion,and though I have learned one by one the names of the towns scatteredalong those misty banks, and though I know they are no less prosaic intheir character than our own humdrum village, yet I cannot rid myself ofthe notion that those verdant slopes with their archway of clouds, hidethe portals of Paradise, and that I have only to follow the birds intheir flight up the river to find myself on the verge of a mystery, thebanks at my feet can never disclose.”

“May the gates of God’s Paradise never recede as those would do, mychild, if like the birds you attempted to pierce them.”

“Paula is a dreamer,” quoth Miss Belinda in a matter-of-fact tone, “butshe is a good girl notwithstanding and can solve a geometrical problemwith the best.”

“And sew on the machine and make a very good pie,” timidly put in MissAbby.

“That is well,” laughed Mr. Sylvester, observing that the poor child’shead had fallen forward in maidenly shame at her aunts’ elogiums as wellas at the length of the speech into which she had been betrayed. “Itshows that her eyes can see what is at hand as well as what is beyondour reach.” Then with a touch of his usual formal manner intended torestore her to herself, “Do you like study, Paula?”

In an instant her eyes flashed. “I more than like it; it feeds me.Knowledge has its vistas too,” she added with an arch look, the first hehad seen on her hitherto serious countenance. “I can never outgrow myrecognition of the portals it discloses or the fairy-land it opens up toevery inquiring eye.”

“Even geometry,” he ventured, more anxious to probe this fresh youngmind than he had ever been to sound the opinions of the most notable menof the day.

“Even geometry,” she smiled. “To be sure its portals are somewhatmethodical in shape, allowing no scope to the fancy, but from itstriangles and circles have been born the grandeurs of architecture, andupright on the threshold of its exact laws and undeviating calculations,I see an angel with a golden rod in his hand, measuring the heavens.”

“Even a stone speaks to a poet,” said Mr. Sylvester with a glance atMiss Belinda.

“But Paula is no poet,” returned that lady with strict and impartialhonesty. “She has never put a line on paper to my knowledge. Have youchild?”

“No aunt, I would as soon imprison a falling sunbeam or try to catch thebreeze that lifts my hair or kisses my cheek.”

“You see,” continued Mr. Sylvester still looking at Miss Belinda.

She answered with a doubtful shake of the head and an earnest glance atthe girl as if she perceived something in that bright young soul, thateven she had never observed before.

“Have you ever been away from home?” he now asked.

“Never, I know as little of the great world as a callow nestling. No, Ishould not say that, for the young bird has no Aunt Belinda to tell ofthe great cathedrals and the wonderful music she has heard and theglorious pictures she has seen in her visits to the city. It is almostas good as travelling one’s self to hear Aunt Belinda talk.”

It was now the turn of the mature plain woman to blush, which she didunder Mr. Sylvester’s searching eye.

“You have then been in the habit of visiting New York?”

“I have been there twice,” she returned evasively.

“Since my marriage?”

“Yes sir;” with a firm closing of her lips.

“I did not know you were there or I should have insisted upon yourremaining at my house.”

“Thank you,” said she with a quick triumphant glance at her demurelittle shadow, who looked back in amaze and was about to speak when MissBelinda proceeded. “My visits usually have been on business; I shouldnot think of troubling Mrs. Sylvester.” And then he knew that his wifehad been aware of those visits if he had not.

But he refrained from testifying to his discovery. “You speak of music,”said he, turning gently back to Paula. “Have you a taste for it? Wouldit make you happy to hear such music as your aunt tells about?”

“O yes, I can conceive nothing grander than to sit in a church whoseevery line is beauty and listen while the great organ utters its song oftriumph or echoes in the wonderful way it does, the emotions you havetried to express and could not. I would give a whole week of my life onthe hills, dear as it is, for one such hour, I think.”

Mr. Sylvester smiled. “It is a rare kind of coin to offer for such asimple pleasure, but it may meet with its acceptance, nevertheless;” andin his look and in his voice there was an appearance of affectionateinterest that completed the subjugation of the watchful Miss Belinda,who now became doubly assured that whatever neglect had been shown herby her niece was not due to that niece’s husband.

Mr. Sylvester recognized the effect he had produced and hastened tocomplete it, feeling that the good opinion of Miss Belinda would bevaluable to any man. “I have been a boy on these hills,” said he, “andknow what it is to long for what is beyond while enjoying what ispresent. You shall hear the organ my child.” And stopped, wondering tohimself over the new sweet interest he seemed to take in the prospect ofpleasures which he had supposed himself to have long ago exhausted.

“Hear the organ, I? why that means—O what does it mean?” she inquired,turning with a look of beaming hope towards her aunt.

“You must ask Mr. Sylvester,” that uncompromising lady replied, with astraightforward look at the fire.

And he with a smile told the blushing girl that according to hisreading, mortals went blindfold into fairy-land; and she understood whathe meant and was silent, whereupon he turned the conversation upon morecommon-place subjects.

For how could he tell her then of the intention that had awakened in hisbreast at the first glimpse of her grand young beauty. To make her hischild, to bequeath to her the place of the babe that had perished in hisarms three long years before—That meant to give Ona a care if not arival in his affections, and Ona shrank from care, and was not a subjectfor rivalry. And the if which this implied weighed heavily on hisheart as moment after moment flew by, and he felt again the revivingpower of an unsullied mind and an aspiring nature.

X.

THE BARRED DOOR.

“A school boy’s tale; the wonder of an hour.”—Byron.

“Did you know that your niece was gifted with rare beauty as well astalents?” asked Mr. Sylvester of Miss Belinda as a couple of hours or solater, they sat alone by the parlor fire, preparatory to his departure.

“No, that is,” she hastily corrected herself, “I knew she was verypretty of course, prettier by far than any of her mates, but I did notsuppose she was what you call a beauty, or at least would be soconsidered by a person accustomed to New York society.”

“I do not know of a woman in New York who can boast of any such claimsto transcendent loveliness. Such faces are rare outside of art, MissBelinda; was Mrs. Fairchild a handsome woman?”

“She was my sister and if I may say so, my favorite sister, but she wasno more agreeable to the eye than some others of her family,” grimlyreturned the heavy browed spinster with a compression of her lips. “Whatbeauty Paula has inherited came from her father. Her chief charm in myeyes, however, springs from her pure nature and the unselfish impulsesof her heart.”

“And in mine,” rejoined he quietly. Then with a sudden change of tone ashe realized the necessity of saying something definite to this woman inregard to his intentions toward the child, he remarked, “Her great andunusual talents and manifest disposition to learn, demand as you say,superior advantages to any she can have in a small country town likethis, fruitful as it has already been to her under your wise andfostering care and such shall she have; but just when and how I cannotsay till I have seen my wife and learned what her wishes are likely tobe in regard to the subject.”

“You are very kind, sir,” returned Miss Belinda. “I have no doubt as tothe good-will of your intentions, and the child shall be prepared atonce for a change.”

“And will the child,” he exclaimed with a smile as Paula re-enteredthe room, “be so kind as to give me her company in the walk I must nowtake to the cars?”

“Of course,” replied her aunt before the young girl could speak, “we oweyou that much attention I am sure.”

And so it was that when he came to retrace his way through the villagewith its heavy memories, he had a guardian spirit at his side thatrobbed them of their power to sadden and oppress.

“What shall I say for you to the grim, city streets when I get back?”inquired he as they hastened on over the snow covered road.

“Say to them from me? O you may give them my greeting,” she respondedhalf shyly, half confidingly. Evidently for her he was one of those rarepersons whose presence is perfect freedom and with whom she could notonly think her best but speak it also. “I should like to make theiracquaintance, but indeed they would have to do well to vie in attractionwith these white roads girded by their silver-limbed trees. The veryrush of life must seem oppressive. So many hopes, so many fears, so manyinterests jostling you at every step! Yet the thought is exhilaratingtoo; don’t you find it so?”

It was the first question she had asked him and he knew not how toreply. Her eyes were so confiding, he could not bear to shake her faithin his imagined superiority. Yet what thoughts had he ever cherished inwalking the busy streets, save those connected with his own selfishhopes and fears, plans and operations? “I have no doubt,” said he aftera moment’s pause, “that I have felt this exhilaration of which youspeak. Certainly the hurrying masses in Broadway awaken a far differentsensation in a man, than this solitary stretch of country road.”

“Yet the road has its companionships,” she murmured. “In the city onethinks most of men, but in the country, of God. Its very solitudecompels you.”

“Compels you,” he involuntarily answered. And shuddered as he said it,remembering days when he trod these very roads with anything butreverence in his heart for the Creator of the landscape before him. “Notevery one has the inner vision, my child, to see the love and wisdomback of the works, or rather most men have a vision so short it does notreach so far. Yet I think I can understand what you mean and might evenexperience your emotions if my eyes had leisure to explore this spaceand my thoughts to rise out of their usual depressing atmosphere of careand anxiety. You did not think I was a busy man, he continued,”observing her gaze of wonder. “You thought riches brought ease; if youever come to think, ‘most of men’ you will learn that the wealthy man isthe greatest worker, for his rest comes not night or day.”

She shook her head with a sudden doubt. “It is a problem,” she said,“which my knowledge of geometry does not help me to solve.”

“No,” assented he; “and one in which even your fanciful soul would failto find any poetry. But stop, Paula; isn’t this the place where I foundyou that day, and you showed me the view up the river?”

“Yes, and it was on that stone I sat; it has a milk-white cushion now;and there is where you stood, looking so tall and grand to my childisheyes! The gates are of pearl now,” she said, pointing to thesnow-covered slopes in the west. “I wish the sky had been clear to-nightand you could have seen the effect of a rosy sunset falling over thosedomes of ice and snow.”

“It would leave me less to expect when I come again,” he respondedalmost gayly. “The next time we will have the sunset, Paula.”

She smiled and they hastened on, presently finding themselves in thevillage streets. Suddenly she paused. “Small towns have their mysteriesas well as great cities,” said she; “we are not without ours, look.”

He turned, followed with a glance the direction of her pointing fingerand started in his sudden surprise. She had indicated to him the housewhose ghostly and frowning front bore written across its grim grayboards, such an inscription of painful remembrance. “It is a solitarylooking place, isn’t it?” she went on, innocent of the pain she wasinflicting. “No one lives there or ever will, I imagine. Do you see thatboard nailed across the front door?”

He forced himself to look. He did more, he fixed his eyes upon thedesolate structure before him until the aspect of its huge unpaintedwalls with their long rows of sealed-up windows and high smokelesschimneys was impressed indelibly upon his mind. The large front doorwith its weird and solemn barrier was the last thing upon which his eyerested.

“Yes,” said he, and involuntarily asked what it meant.

“We do not know exactly,” she responded. “It was nailed across there bythe men who followed Colonel Japha to the grave. Colonel Japha was theowner of the house,” she proceeded, too interested to observe the shadowwhich the utterance of that name had invoked upon his brow. “He was apeculiar man I judge, and had suffered great wrongs they say; at allevents his life was very solitary and sad, and on his deathbed he madehis neighbors promise him that they would carry out his body throughthat door and then seal it up against any further ingress or egressforever. His wishes were respected, and from that day to this no one hasever entered that door.”

“But the house!” stammered Mr. Sylvester in anything but his usual tone,“surely it has not been deserted all these years!”

“Ah,” said she, “now we come to the greatest mystery of all.” And layingher hand timidly on his arm, she drew his attention to the form of adecrepit old lady just then advancing towards them down the street “Doyou see that aged figure?” she asked. “Every evening at this hour,winter and summer, stormy weather or clear, she is seen to leave herhome up the street and come down to this forsaken dwelling, open theworm-eaten gate before you, cross the otherwise untrodden garden andenter the house by a side door which she opens with a huge key shecarries in her pocket. For just one hour by the clock she remains there,and then she is seen to issue in the falling dusk, with a countenancewhose heavy dejection is in striking contrast to the expression of hopewith which she invariably enters. Why she makes this pilgrimage and forwhat purpose she secludes herself for a stated time each day in thisotherwise deserted mansion, no man knows nor is it possible todetermine, for though she is a worthy woman and approachable enough onall other topics, on this she is absolutely mute.”

Mr. Sylvester started and surveyed the woman as she passed with ananxious gaze. “I know her,” he muttered; “she was a connection of—ofthe family, who inhabited this house.” He could not speak the name.

“Yes, so they say, and the owner of this house, though she does not livehere. Did you notice how she looked at me? She often does that, just asif she wanted to speak. But she always goes by and opens the gate as yousee her now and takes out the big key and—”

“Come away,” cried Mr. Sylvester with sudden impulse, seizing Paula bythe hand and hurrying her down the street. “She is a walking goblin; youmust have nothing to do with such uncanny folk.” And endeavoring to turnoff this irresistible display of feeling by a show of pleasantry helaughed aloud, but in a strained and unnatural way that made her eyeslift in unconscious amazement.

“You are infected by the atmosphere of unreality that pervades thespot,” said she, “I do not wonder.” And with the gentle perversity thatsometimes affects the most thoughtful amongst us, she went on talkingupon the unwelcome subject. “I know of some folks who invariably crossto the other side of the street at night, rather than go through theshadows of the two gaunt poplars which guard that house. Yet there hasbeen no murder committed there or any great crime that I know of, unlessthe disobedience of a daughter who ran away with a man her fatherdetested, could be denominated by so fearful a word.”

The set gaze with which Mr. Sylvester surveyed the landscape before himquavered a trifle and then grew hard and cold. “And so,” said he in atone meant more for himself than her, “even your innocent ears have beenassailed by the gossip about Miss Japha.”

“Gossip! I have never thought of it as gossip,” returned she, struck forthe first time by the change in his appearance. “It all happened so longago it seems more like some quaint and ancient tale than a story of oneof our neighbors. Besides, the fact that a wilful girl ran away from thehouse of her father, with the man of her choice, is not such a dreadfulone is it, though she never returned to its walls with her husband, andher father was so overwhelmed by the shock, he was never seen to smileagain.”

“No,” said he, giving her a hurried glance of relief, “I only wonderedat the tenacity of old stories to engage the popular ear. I had supposedeven the remembrance of Jacqueline Japha would have been lost in thelong silence that has followed that one disobedient act.”

“And so it might, were it not for that closely shut house with thesinister bar across its chief entrance, inviting curiosity while iteffectually precludes all investigation. With that token ever before oureyes of a dead man’s implacable animosity, who can wonder that wesometimes ponder over the fate of her who was its object.”

“And no intimations of that fate have been ever received in Grotewell.For all that is known to the contrary, Jacqueline Japha may havepreceded her father to the tomb.”

Paula bowed her head, amazed at the gloomy tone in which this emphaticassertion was made by one whose supposed ignorance she had beenendeavoring to enlighten. “You knew her history before, then,” observedshe, “I beg your pardon.”

“And it is granted,” said he with a sudden throwing off of the shadowthat had enveloped him. “You must not mind my sudden lapses into gloom.I was never a cheerful man, that is, not since I—since my early youth Ishould say. And the shadows which are short at your time of life growlong and chilly at mine. One thing can illumine them though, and that isa child’s happy smile. You are a child to me; do not deny me a smile,then, before I go.”

“Not one nor a dozen,” cried she, giving him her hands in good-bye forthey had arrived at the depot by this time and the sound of theapproaching train was heard in the distance.

“God bless you!” said he, clasping those hands with a father’s heartfelttenderness. “God bless my little Paula and make her pillow soft till wemeet again!” Then as the train came sweeping up the track, put on hisbrightest look and added, “If the fairy-godmother chances to visit youduring my departure, don’t hesitate to obey her commands, if you want tohear the famous organ peal.”

“No, no,” she cried. And with a final look and smile he stepped upon thetrain and in another moment was whirled away from that place of manymemories and a solitary hope.

XI.

MISS STUYVESANT.

“She smiled; but he could see arise
Her soul from far adown her eyes.”—Mrs. Browning.

“She is a beauty; it is only right I should forewarn you of that.”

“Dark or light?”

“Dark; that is her hair and eyes are almost oriental in their blackness,but her skin is fair, almost as dazzling as yours, Ona.”

Mrs. Sylvester threw a careless glance in the long mirror before whichshe was slowly completing her toilet, and languidly smiled. But whetherat this covert compliment to her greatest charm or at some passing fancyof her own, it would be difficult to decide. “The dark hair and eyescome from her father,” remarked she in an abstracted way while she triedthe effect of a bunch of snow-white roses at her waist with a backwardtoss of her proud blonde head. “His mother was a Greek. ‘Tell it not inGath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon,’” she exclaimed in avoice as nearly gay as her indolent nature would allow. For this lady offashion was in one of her happiest moods. Her dress, a new one, fittedher to perfection and the vision mirrored in the glass before her wasnot lacking, so far as she could see in one charm that could captivate.“Do you think she could fasten a ribbon, or arrange a bow?” she furtherinquired. “I should like to have some one about me with a knack forhelping a body in an emergency, if possible. Sarah is absolutely thedestruction of any bit of ribbon she undertakes to handle. Look at thatknot of black velvet over there for instance, wouldn’t you think a rawIrish girl just from the other side would have known better than to tieit with half the wrong side showing?”

With the habit long ago acquired of glancing wherever her ivory fingerchanced to point, the grave man of the world slowly turned his head fullof the weightiest cares and oppressed by the burden of innumerableresponsibilities, and surveyed the cluster of velvet bows thusindicated, with a mechanical knitting of the brows.

“I pay Sarah twenty-five dollars a month and that is the result,” hiswife proceeded. “Now if Paula—”

“Paula is not to come here as a waiting maid,” her husband quicklyinterposed, a suspicion of color just showing itself for a moment on hischeek.

“If Paula,” his wife went on, unheeding the interruption save by castinghim a hurried glance over the shoulder of her own reflection in theglass, “had the taste in such matters of some other members of ourfamily and could manage to lend me a helping hand now and then, why Icould almost imagine I had my younger sister back with me again, whowith her skill in making one look fit for the eyes of the world, wassuch a blessing to us in our old home.”

“I have no doubt Paula could be taught to be equally efficient,” herhusband responded, carefully restraining any further show of impatience.“She is bright, I am certain, and ribbon-tying is not such a verydifficult art, is it?”

“I don’t know about that; by the way Sarah succeeds I should say it wasabout on a par with the science of algebra or—what is that horrid studythey used to threaten to inflict me with at the academy whenever Icomplained of a headache? Oh I remember—conic sections.”

“Well, well,” laughed her husband, “she ought soon to to be an expert init then; Paula is a famous little mathematician.”

A silence followed this response; Mrs. Sylvester was fitting in herear-rings. “I suppose,” said she when the operation was completed, “thatthe snow will prevent half the people from coming to-night.” It was areception evening at the Sylvester mansion. “But so long as Mrs.Fitzgerald does not disappoint me, I do not care. What do you think ofthe setting of these diamonds?” she inquired, leaning forward to look atherself more closely, and slowly shaking her head till the rich gemssparkled like fire.

“It is good,” came in short, quick tones from the lips of her husband.

“Well, I don’t know, there might be a shade more of enamel on the edgeof that ring. I shall speak to the jeweller about it to-morrow. But whatwere we talking about?” she dreamily asked, still turning her head fromside to side before the mirror.

“We were talking about adopting your cousin in the place of our childwho is dead,” replied her husband with some severity, pausing in themiddle of the floor which he was pacing, to honor her with a steadyglance.

“O yes! Dear me! what an awkward clasp that man has given to these ringsafter all. You will have to fasten them for me.” Then as he steppedforward with studied courtesy, yawned just a trifle and remarked, “Noone could ever take the place of one’s own child of course. If Geraldinehad lived she would have been a blonde, her eyes were blue assapphires.”

He looked in his wife’s face and his hands dropped. He thought of theday when those eyes, blue as sapphires indeed, flashed burning withdeath’s own fever, from the little crib in the nursery, while with thissame cool and self-satisfied countenance, the wife and mother before himhad swept down the broad stairs to her carriage, murmuringapologetically as she gathered up her train, “O you needn’t troubleyourself to look after her, she will do very well with Sarah.”

She may have thought of it too, for the least little bit of real crimsonfound its way through the rouge on her cheek as she encountered thestern look of his eye, but she only turned a trifle more towards theglass, saying, “I forgot you do not admire the rôle of waiting maid. Iwill try and manage them myself, seeing that you have banished Sarah.”

He exerted his self-control and again for the thousandth time buriedthat ghastly memory out of sight, actually forcing himself to smile ashe gently took her hand from her ear and began deftly to fasten therebellious ornaments.

“You mistake,” said he, “love can ask any favor without hesitation. I donot object to waiting upon my own wife.”

She gave him a little look which he obligingly took as a guerdon forthis speech, and languidly held out her bracelets. As he stood claspingthem on her arms, she quietly eyed him over from head to foot. “I don’tknow of a man who has your figure,” said she with a certain tone ofpride in her voice; “it is well you married a wife who does not lookaltogether inferior beside you.” Then as he bowed with mock appreciationof the intended compliment, added with her usual inconsequence, “I daresay it would give me something to interest myself in. I don’t supposeshe has a decent thing to wear, and the fact of her being a dark beautywould lend quite a new impulse to my inventive faculty. Mrs. Walker hasa daughter with black eyes, but dear me, what a guy she does make ofher!”

With a sigh Mr. Sylvester turned to the window where he stood lookingout at the heavy flakes of snow falling with slow and fluctuatingmovement between him and the row of brown stone houses in front. Paulaconsidered as a milliner’s block upon which to try the effect ofclothes!

“Even Mrs. Fitzgerald with all her taste don’t know how to dress herchild,” proceeded his wife, with a hurried, “Be still, Cherry!” to theimportunate bird in the cage. “Now I should take as much pride indressing any one under my charge as I would myself, provided the subjectwas likely to do credit to my efforts.” And finding the birdincorrigible in his shrill singing, she moved over to the cage, whereshe stood balancing her white finger for the bird to peck at, with apretty caressing motion of her lip, the little Geraldine of the wistfulblue eyes, had never seen.

“You are welcome to do what you please in such matters,” was herhusband’s reply. He was thinking again of that same little Geraldine; afall of snow like the present always made him think of her and herinnocent query as to whether God threw down such big flakes to amuselittle children. “I give you carte blanche,” said he with suddenemphasis.

Mrs. Sylvester paused in her attentions to the bird to give him a sharplittle look which might have aroused his surprise if he had beenfortunate enough to see it. But his back was towards her, and there wasnothing in the languidly careless tone with which she responded, tocause him to turn his head. “I see that you would really like to have meentertain the child; but—”

She paused, pursing up her lips to meet the chattering bird’s caress,while her husband in his impatience drummed with his fingers on thepane.

—“I must see her before I decide upon the length of her visit,”continued she, as weary with the sport she drew back to give herself afinal look in the glass. “Will you please to hand me that shawl,Edward.”

He turned with alacrity. In his relief he could have kissed the snowyneck held so erectly before him, as he drew around it the shawl he hadhastily lifted from the chair at his side. But that would not havesuited this calm and languid beauty who disliked any too overt tributeto her charms and saved her caresses for her bird. Besides it would looklike gratitude, and gratitude would be misplaced towards a wife who hadjust indicated her acceptance of his offer to receive a relative of herown into his house.

“She might as well come at once,” was her final remark, as satisfied atlast with the lay of every ribbon she swept in finished elegance fromthe room. “Mrs. Kittredge’s reception comes off a week from Thursday,and I should like to see how a dark beauty with a fair skin would lookin that new shade of heliotrope.”

And so the battle was over and the victory won; for Mrs. Sylvester forall her seeming indifference was never known to change a decision shehad once made. As he realized the fact, as he meditated that ere longthis very room which had been the scene of so much frivolity and thewitness to so many secret heart-burnings, would reëcho to the tread ofthe pure and innocent child, whose mind had flights unknown to theslaves of fashion, and in whose heart lay impulses of goodness thatwould satisfy the long smothered cravings of his awakened nature, heexperienced a feeling of relenting towards the wife who had not chosento thwart him in this the strongest wish of his childless manhood, andcrossing to her dressing table, he dropped among its treasures a costlyring which he had been induced to purchase that day from an old friendwho had fallen into want. “She will wear it,” murmured he to himself,“for its hue will make her hand look still whiter, and when I see itsparkle I will remember this hour and be patient.” Had he known that shehad yielded to this wish out of a certain vague feeling of compunctionfor the disappointments she had frequently occasioned him and wouldoccasion him again, he might have added a tender thought to the rich andcostly gift with which he had just endowed her.

“I expect a young cousin of mine to spend the winter with me and pursueher studies,” were the first words that greeted his ears as an hour orso later he entered the parlor where his wife was entertaining what fewguests had been anxious enough for a sight of Mrs. Sylvester’s newlyfurnished drawing-room, to brave the now rapidly falling snow. “I hopethat you and she will be friends.”

Curious to see what sort of a companion his wife was thus somewhatprematurely providing for Paula, he hastily advanced towards the littlegroup from which her voice had proceeded, and found himself face to facewith a brown-haired girl whose appealing glance and somewhat infantilemouth were in striking contrast to the dignity with which she carriedher small head and managed her whole somewhat petite person.

“Miss Stuyvesant! my husband!” came in musical tones from his wife, andsomewhat surprised to hear a name that but a moment before had been theuppermost in his mind, he bowed with courtesy and then asked if he wasso happy as to speak to a daughter of Thaddeus Stuyvesant.

“If it will give you especial pleasure I will say yes,” responded thelittle miss with a smile that irradiated her whole face. “Do you know myfather?”

“There are but few bankers in the city who have not that pleasure,”replied he with an answering look of regard. “I am especially happy tomeet his daughter in my house to-night.”

There was something in his manner of saying this and in the shortinquiring glance which at every opportunity he cast upon her brightyoung face with its nameless charm of mingled appeal and reserve, thatastonished his wife.

“Miss Stuyvesant was in the carriage with Mrs. Fitzgerald,” said thatlady with a certain dignity she knew well how to assume. “I am afraid ifit had not been for that circ*mstance we should not have enjoyed thepleasure of her presence.” And with the rare tact of which she wascertainly a mistress, as far as all social matters were concerned, sheleft the aspiring magnate of Wall Street to converse with the daughterof the man whom all New York bankers were expected to know, and hastenedto join a group of ladies discussing ceramics before a huge placque ofrarest cloissone.

Mr. Sylvester followed her with his eyes; he had never seen her lookmore vivacious; had the hope of seeing a young face at their boardtouched some secret chord in her nature as well as his? Was she more ofa woman than he imagined, and would she be, though in the mostsuperficial of ways, a mother to Paula? Flushed with the thought, heturned back to the little lady at his side. She was gazing in an intentand thoughtful way at an engraving of Dubufe’s “Prodigal Son” thatadorned the wall above her head. There was something in her face thatmade him ask:

“Is that a favorite picture of yours?”

She smiled and nodded her small and delicate head.

“Yes sir, it is indeed, but I was not looking at the picture so much asat the face of that dark-haired girl that sits in the centre, with thatfar-away expression in her eyes. Do you see what I mean? She is likenone of the rest. Her form is before us, but her heart and her interestare in some distant clime or forsaken home to which the music murmuredat her side recalls her. She has a soul above her surroundings, thatgirl; and her face is indescribably pathetic to me. In the recesses ofher being she carries a memory or a regret that separates her from theworld and makes certain moments of her life almost holy.”

“You look deep,” said Mr. Sylvester, gazing down upon the little lady’sface with strongly awakened interest. “You see more perhaps than thepainter intended.”

“No, no; possibly more than the engraving expresses, but not more thanthe artist intended. I saw the original once, when as you remember itwas on exhibition here. I was a wee thing, but I never forgot thatgirl’s face. It spoke more than all the rest to me; perhaps because I somuch honor reserve in one who holds in his breast a great pain or agreat hope.”

The eye that was resting upon her, softened indescribably. “You believein great hopes,” said he.

The little figure seemed to grow tall; and her face looked almostbeautiful. “What would life be without them?” she answered.

“True,” returned Mr. Sylvester; and entering into the conversation withunusual spirit, was astonished to find how young she was and yet howthoroughly bright and self-possessed.

“Lovely girls are cropping up around me in all directions,” thought he;“I shall have to correct my judgment concerning our young ladies offashion if I encounter many more as sensible and earnest-hearted asthis.” And for some reason his brow grew so light and his tone socheerful that the ladies were attracted from all parts of the room tohear what the demure Miss Stuyvesant could have to say to the gravemaster of the house, to call forth such smiles of enjoyment upon hisusually melancholy countenance.

Take it all together, the occasion though small was one of thepleasantest of the season, and so Mrs. Sylvester announced when the lastcarriage had driven away, and she and her husband stood in thebrilliantly lighted library, surveying a new cabinet of rare and antiqueworkmanship which had been that day installed in the place of honorbeneath my lady’s picture.

“I thought you seemed to enjoy it, Ona,” her husband remarked.

“O, it was an occasion of triumph to me,” she murmured. “It is the firsttime a Stuyvesant has crossed our threshold, mon cher.”

“Ha,” he exclaimed, turning upon her a brisk displeased look. He wasproud and considered no man his superior in a social sense. “Do youacknowledge yourself a parvenue that you rejoice at the entrance of anyone special person into your doors?”

“I thought,” she replied somewhat mortified, “that you betrayed unusualpleasure yourself at her introduction.”

“That may be; I was glad to see her here, for her father is one of themost influential directors in the bank of which I shortly expect to bemade president.”

The nature of this disclosure was calculated to be especially gratifyingto her, and effectually blotted out any remembrance of the break bywhich it had been introduced. After a few hasty inquiries, followed by ascene of quite honest mutual congratulation, the gratified wife left herhusband to put out the lights himself or call Samuel as he might choose,and glided up stairs to delight the curious Sarah with the brokensoliloquies and inconsequent self-communings which formed another of herpeculiar habits.

As for her husband, he stood a few minutes where she left him,abstractedly eying the gorgeous vista that spread out before him down tothe further mirror of the elaborate drawing-room, thinking perhaps witha certain degree of pride, of the swiftness with which he had risen toopulence and the certainty with which he had conquered position in thebusiness as well as in the social world when he could speak of such aconnection with Thaddeus Stuyvesant as a project already matured. Thenwith a hasty movement and a quick sigh which nothing in his prospectsactual or apparent would seem to warrant, he proceeded to put out thelights, my lady’s picture shining with less and less importunity as theflickering jets disappeared, till all was dark save for the faintglimmer that came in from the hall, a glimmer just sufficient to showthe outlines of the various articles of furniture scattered about—andcould it be the tall figure of the master himself standing in the centreof the room with his palms pressed against his forehead in an attitudeof sorrow or despair? Yes, or whose that wild murmur, “Is it never givento man to forget!” Yet no, or who is this that calm and dignified, stepsat this moment from the threshold? It must have been a dream, aphantasy. This is the master of the house who with sedate and regularstep goes up flight after flight of the spiral staircase, and neitherpauses or looks back till he reaches the top of the house where he takesout a key from his pocket, and opening a certain door, goes in and locksit behind him. It is his secret study or retreat, a room which no one isallowed to enter, the mystery of the house to the servants and somethingmore than that to its inquisitive mistress. What he does there no manknows, but to-night if any one had been curious enough to listen, theywould have heard nothing more ominous than the monotonous scratch of apen. He was writing to Miss Belinda and the burden of his letter wasthat on a certain day he named, he was coming to take away Paula.

XII.

MISS BELINDA MAKES CONDITIONS.

“For of the soul the body form doth take,
For soul is form, and doth the body make.”—Spenser.

Miss Belinda was somewhat taken aback at the proposal of Mr. Sylvesterto receive Paula into his own house. She had not anticipated any suchresult to her efforts; the utmost she had expected was a couple of yearsor so of instruction in some state Academy. Nor did she know whether shewas altogether pleased at the turn affairs were taking. From all she hadheard, her niece Ona was, to say the least, a frivolous woman, and Paulahad a mind too noble to be subjected to the deteriorating influence of ashallow and puerile companionship. Then the child had great beauty; Mr.Sylvester who ought to be a judge in such matters had declared it so,and what might not the adulation of the thoughtless and the envy of thejealous, do towards belittling a nature as yet uncontaminated.

“We ought to think twice,” she said to Miss Abby with some bitterness,who on the contrary never having thought once was full of the mostchildish hopes concerning a result which she considered with a certainsecret complacency she would not have acknowledged for the world, hadbeen very much furthered by her own wise recommendations to Mr.Sylvester in the beginning of his visit. Yet notwithstanding her doubtsMiss Belinda allowed such preparations to be made as she considerednecessary, and even lent her hand which was deft enough in its way, tothe task of enlarging the child’s small wardrobe. As for Paula, thethought of visiting the great city with the dear friend whose image hadstood in her mind from early childhood as the impersonation of all thatwas noble, generous and protecting, was more than joyful; it was aninspiration. Not that she did not cling to the affectionate if somewhatquaint couple who had befriended her childhood and sacrificed theircomfort to her culture and happiness. But the chord that lies deeperthan gratitude had been struck, and fond as were her memories of thedear old home, the charm of that deep “My child,” with its hint offatherly affection, was more than her heart could stand; and no spot, nonot the realms of fairy-land itself, looked so attractive to her fancyas that far fireside in an unknown home where she might sit with cousinOna and alternately with her exert her wit to beguile the smile to hismelancholy lips.

When therefore upon the stated day, Mr. Sylvester made his secondappearance at the little cottage in Grotewell, it was to find Paularadiant, Miss Abby tearfully exultant and Miss Belinda—O anomaly ofhuman nature—silent and severe. Attributing this however to her verynatural regret at parting with Paula, he entered into all thearrangements for their departure on the following morning without asuspicion of the real state of her mind, nor was he undeceived until theday was nearly over and they sat down to have a few minutes of socialconversation before the early tea.

They had been speaking on some local topic involving a question of rightand wrong, and Mr. Sylvester’s ears were yet thrilling to the deepringing tones with which Paula uttered the words, “I do not see how anyman can hesitate an instant when the voice of his conscience says no. Ishould think the very sunlight would daunt him at the first step of hisfoot across the forbidden line,” when Miss Belinda suddenly spoke up andsending Paula out of the room on some trivial pretext, addressed Mr.Sylvester without reserve.

“I have something to say to you, sir, before you take from my home thechild of my care and affection.”

Could he have guessed what that something was that he should turn withsuch a flush of sudden anxiety to meet her determined gaze.

“The rules of our life here have been simple,” continued she in a toneof voice which those who knew her well recognized as belonging to heruncompromising moods. “To do our duty, love God and serve our neighbor.Paula has been brought up to reverence those rules in simplicity andhonor; what will your gay city life with its hollow devices for pleasureand its loose hold on the firm principles of life, do for this innocentsoul, Mr. Sylvester?”

“The city,” he said firmly but with a troubled undertone in his voicethat was not unnoted by the watchful woman, “is a vast caldron ofmingled good and evil. She will hear of more wrong doing, and be withinthe reach of more self-denying virtue, than if she had remained in thisvillage alone with the nature that she so much loves. The tree ofknowledge bears two kinds of fruit, Miss Belinda; would you thereforehinder the child from approaching its branches?”

“No, sir; I am not so weak as to keep a child in swaddling-clothes afterthe period of infancy is past, neither am I so reckless as to set heradrift on an unknown sea without a pilot to guide her. Your wife—” shepaused and fixed an intent look upon the flames leaping before her. “Onais my niece,” she resumed in a lower tone of voice, “and I feel entitledto speak with freedom concerning her. Is she such a guide as I wouldchoose for a young girl just entering a new sphere in life? From all Ihave heard, I should judge she was somewhat over-devoted to this worldand its fashions.”

Mr. Sylvester flushed painfully, but seeing that any softening of thetruth would be wholly ineffectual with this woman, replied in a candidtone, “Ona is the same now as she was in the days of her girlhood. Ifshe loves the world too well she is not without her excuse; from herbirth it has strewn nothing but roses in her path.”

“Humph!” came from the lips of the energetic spinster. Then with asecond stern glance at the fire, continued, “Another question, Mr.Sylvester. Does your wife consent to receive my niece into her house,for the indefinite length of time which you mention, from interest inthe girl herself or indeed from any motive I should judge worthy ofPaula? It is a leading question I know, but this is no time for nicetiesof speech.”

“Miss Belinda,” replied he, and his voice was firm though his fingersslightly trembled where they rested upon the arms of his chair, “I willtry and forget for a moment that Ona is my wife, and frankly confide toyou that any such motive on her part, as would meet with your entireapproval, must not be expected from a woman who has never fullyrecognized the solemn responsibilities of life. That she will be kind toPaula I have no doubt, that she may even learn to take an interest inher for her own sake, is also very possible, but that she will ever takeyour place towards her as guide or instructor, I neither anticipate norwould feel myself justified in leading you to.”

The look which Miss Belinda cast him was anything but reassuring. “Andyet,” said she, “you will take away my darling and give her up to aninfluence that can not be for good, or your glance would not be sotroubled or your lip so uncertain. You would set her young feet in apath where the very flowers are so thick they conceal its tendency andobscure its dangers. Mr. Sylvester you are a man who has seen life withnaked eyes, and must recognize its responsibilities; dare you take thisPaula, whom you have seen, out of the atmosphere of truth and purity inwhich she has been raised, and give her over to the enervatinginfluences of folly and fashion? Will you assume the risk and brave theconsequences?”

As though an electric shock had touched the nerve of his nature, Mr.Sylvester hastily rose and moved in a restless manner to the window. Itwas his favorite refuge in any time of sudden perplexity or doubt, andthis was surely an occasion for both.

“Miss Belinda,” he began and then paused, looking out on the hills ofhis boyhood, every one of which spoke to him at that moment with a forcethat almost sickened his heart and benumbed the faculties of his mind;“I recognize the love which leads you to speak in this way, and I bowbefore it, but—” here his tongue faltered again, that ready tonguewhose quick and persuasive eloquence on public occasions had won for himthe name of Silver-speech among his friends and admirers—“but there areothers who love your Paula also, love her with a yearning that only thechildless can feel or the disappointed appreciate. I had hoped—” herehe left the window and approached her side, “to do more for Paula thanto give her the temporal benefit of a luxurious home and suchinstruction as her extraordinary talents demand. If Ona upon seeing andknowing the child had found she could love her, I had intended to askyou to yield her to us unreservedly and forever, in short to make her mychild in place of the daughter I have lost. But now—” with a quickgesture he began pacing the floor and left the sentence unfinished.

Miss Belinda’s eyes which were of a light grey, wholly without beautybut with strange flashes of expression in them, left the fire and fellupon his face, and a tear of real feeling gathered beneath her lids.

“I had no idea,” said he, “that you cherished any such intention asthat. If I had I might have worded my apprehensions differently. Theyearning feeling of which you speak, I can easily understand, also thestrength of the determination it must take on the part of a man likeyourself, to give up a hope of this nature. Yet—” Seeing him pause inhis hurried pacing and open his lips as if to speak, she deferentiallystopped.

“Miss Belinda,” said he, in the firm and steadfast way more in keepingwith his features than his agitated manner of a moment before, “I cannotgive it up. The injury it would do me is greater than the harm, whichone of Paula’s lofty nature would be apt to acquire in any atmosphereinto which she might chance to be introduced. She is not a child, MissBelinda, though we allude to her as such. The texture of thoseprinciples which you have instilled into her breast, is of no such weakmaterial as to give way to the first petty breeze that blows. Paula’shouse will stand, while mine—”

He paused and gave way to a momentary struggle, but that over, he sethis lips firmly together and the last vestige of irresolution vanished.Sitting down by her side, he turned his face upon her, and for the firsttime she realized the power which with one exception he had alwaysexerted over the minds of others. “Miss Belinda,” said he, “I am goingto give you an evidence of my trust; I am going to leave with you theresponsibility of Paula’s future. She shall go with me, and learn, ifshe can, to love me and mine, but she shall also be under obligations toopen her heart to you on all matters that concern her life and happinessin my house, and the day you see any falling off in her pure and uprightspirit, you shall demand her return, and though it tears the heart frommy breast, I will yield her up without question or parley as I am agentleman and a Christian. Does that content you?”

“It certainly ought to, sir. No one could ask more, I am sure,” returnedthe other in a voice somewhat unsteady for her.

“It is opening my house to the gaze of a stranger,” said he, “for Idesire you to command Paula to withhold nothing that seriously affectsher; but my confidence in you is unbounded and I am sure that whateveryou may learn in this way, will be held as sacred by you as though itwere buried in a tomb.”

“It certainly will, sir.”

“As for the dearer hope which I have mentioned, time and the conditionof things must decide for us. Meanwhile I shall strive to win a father’splace in her heart, if only to build myself a refuge for the days thatare to come. You see I speak frankly, Miss Belinda; will you give mesome token that you are not altogether dissatisfied with the result ofthis conversation?”

With the straightforward if somewhat blunt action that characterized allher movements, she stretched out her hand, which he took with somethingmore than his usual high-bred courtesy. “With you at the wheel,” saidshe, “I think I may trust my darling, even to the whirl and follies ofsuch a society as I know Ona loves. A man who can so command himself,ought to be a safe guide to pioneer others.”

And the considerate gentleman bowed; but the frank smile that hailed hergenial clasp had somehow vanished, and from the sudden cloud that atthat moment swept over the roseate heavens, fell a shadow that left itsimpress on his lip long after the cloud itself had departed.

An hour or so had passed. The fire was burning brightly on thehearthstone, illumining with a steady glow the array of stuffed birds,worsted samplers and old-fashioned portraits with which the walls wereadorned, but reserving its richest glow and fullest irradiation for thebended head of Paula, who seated on a little stool in the corner of thehearth, was watching the rise and fall of the flickering flames.

She had packed her little trunk, had said good-bye to all herneighboring friends and was now sitting on the old hearthstone, musingupon the new life that was about to open before her. It was a happymusing, as the smile that vaguely dimpled her cheeks and brightened hereyes beneath their long lashes, amply testified. As Mr. Sylvesterwatched her from the opposite side of the hearth where he was sittingalone with his thoughts, he felt his heart sink with apprehension at thefervor of anticipation with which she evidently looked forward to thelife in the new home. “The young wings think to gain freedom,” thoughthe, “when they are only destined to the confinement of a gilded cage.”

He was so silent and looked so sad, Paula with a certain sort ofsensitiveness to any change in the emotional atmosphere surrounding her,which was one of her chief characteristics, hastily looked up andmeeting his eye fixed on her with that foreboding glance, softly aroseand came and sat down by his side. “You look tired,” murmured she; “thelong ride after a day of business care has been too much for you.”

It was the first word of sympathy with his often over-wearied mind andbody, that had greeted his ears for years. It made his eyes moisten.

“I have been a little overworked,” said he, “for the last two months,but I shall soon be myself again. What were you thinking of, Paula?”

“What was I thinking of?” repeated she, drawing her chair nearer to hisin her loving confidence. “I was thinking what wonders of beauty and artlay in that great kernel which you call the city. I shall see lovelyfaces and noble forms. I shall wander through halls of music, the echoof whose songs may have come to me in the sob of the river or the sighof the pines, but whose notes in all their beauty and power have neverbeen heard by me even in my dreams. I shall look on great men and touchthe garments of thoughtful women. I shall see life in its fullness as Ihave felt nature in its mightiness, and my heart will be satisfied atlast.”

Mr. Sylvester drew a deep breath and his eyes burned strangely in theglow of the fire-light. “You expect high things,” said he; “did you everconsider that the life in a great city, with its ceaseless rush andconstant rivalries, must be often strangely petty in despite of itsartistic and social advantages?”

“All life has its petty side,” said she, with a sweet arch look. “Theeagle that cleaves the thunder-cloud, must sometimes stop to plume itswings. I should be sorry to lose the small things out of existence. Evenwe in the face of that great sunset appealing to us from the west, haveto pile up the firewood on the hearth and set the table for supper.”

“But fashion, Paula,” he pursued, concealing his wonder at the maturityof mind evinced by this simple child of nature, “that inexorable powerthat rules the very souls of women who once step within the magic circleof her realm! have you never thought of her and the demands that shemakes on the time and attention even of the worshippers of the good andthe true?”

“Yes, sometimes,” she returned with a repetition of her arch littlesmile, “when I put on a certain bonnet I have, which Aunt Abby modeledover from one of my grandmother’s. Fashion is a sort of obstinatestep-dame I imagine, whom it is less trouble to obey than to oppose. Idon’t believe I shall quarrel with Fashion if she will only promise tokeep her hands off my soul.”

“But if—” with a pause, “she asks your all, what then?”

“I shall consider that I am in a country of democratic principles,” shelaughed, “and beg to be excused from acceding to the tyrannical demandsof any autocrat male or female.”

“You have been listening to Miss Belinda,” said he; “she is also opposedto all and any tyrannical measures.” Then with a grave look from whichall levity had fled, he leaned toward the young girl and gently asked,“Do you know that you are a very beautiful girl, Paula?”

She flushed, looked at him in some surprise and slowly drooped her head.“I have been told I looked like my father,” said she, “and I know thatmeans something very kind.”

“My child,” said he, with gentle insistence, “God has given you a greatand wonderful gift, a treasure-casket of whose worth you scarcelyrealize the value. I tell you this myself, first because I prize yourbeauty as something quite sacred and pure, and secondly because you aregoing where you will hear words of adulation, whose folly and bluntnesswill often offend your ears, unless you carry in your soul some talismanto counteract their effect.”

“I understand,” said she, “I know what you mean. I will remember thatthe most engaging beauty is nothing without a pure mind and a goodheart.”

“And you will remember too,” continued he, “that I blessed your innocenthead to-night, not because it is circled by the roses of a youthful andfresh loveliness, but because of the pure mind and good heart I seeshining in your eyes.” And with a fond but solemn aspect he reached outhis hand and laid it on her ebon locks.

She bowed her head upon her breast. “I will never forget,” said she, andthe fire-light fell with a softening glow on the tears that trembledfrom her eye-lashes.

XIII.

THE END OF MY LADY’S PICTURE.

“Heaven from all creatures tides the book of Fate.”—Pope.

Mrs. Sylvester was spending an evening at home. This was something sounusual for this august lady of fashion to indulge in, that she found itdifficult not to fall asleep in the huge crimson-backed chair in whichshe had chosen to ensconce herself. Not that she had desisted frommaking every effort known to mortal woman to keep herself awake and ifpossible amused till the expected travellers should arrive. She hadplayed with her bird till the spoiled pet had himself protested, duckinghis head under his wing and proceeding without ceremony to make up hislittle feather bed, as cunning Geraldine used to call the round, fluffyball into which he rolled himself at night. More than that, she hadlooked over her ornaments and taken out such articles as she thoughtcould be spared for Paula, to say nothing of playing a bar or so fromthe last operatic sensation, and laboriously cutting open the leaves ofthe new magazine. But it was all of no use, and the heavy white lidswere slowly falling, when the bell rang and Mr. Bertram Mandeville wasannounced, or rather Bertram Sylvester as he now chose to be called.

It was a godsend to her as she politely informed him upon his entrance;and though in his secret heart he felt anything but God sent—he was notof a make to appreciate his uncle’s wife at her very evident value—heconsented to remain and assist her in disposing of the evening till Mr.Sylvester should return.

“He is going to bring a pretty girl with him,” remarked she, in a toneof some interest, “a cousin of mine from Grotewell. I should like tohave you see her.”

“Thank you,” replied he, his mind roaming off at the suggestion, intothe region of a certain plain little music-room where the clock on themantel ticked to the beating of his own heart. And for ten minutes Mrs.Sylvester had the pleasure of filling the room with a stream of easytalk, in which Grotewell, dark beauties, the coming Seventh Regimentreception, the last bit of gossip from London, and the exact situationof the Madison Bank formed the principal topics.

To the one last mentioned, it having taken the form of a question, hewas forced to reply; but the simple locality having been learned, sherambled easily on, this time indulging him with a criticism upon thepersonal appearance of certain business gentlemen who visited the house,ending with the somewhat startling declaration:

“If Edward were not the fine appearing gentleman that he undoubtedly is,I should feel utterly out of place in these handsome parlors. Anythingbut to see an elegant and modern home, decorated with the costliestworks of art, and filled with bijouterie of the most exquisitedelicacy, presided over by a plain and common-place woman or abald-headed and inferior-looking man. The contrast is too vivid; worksof the highest art do not need such a startling comparison to bring outtheir beauty. Now if Edward stood in the throne-room of a palace, hewould somehow make it seem to others as a handsome set off to his ownface and figure.”

This was all very wife-like if somewhat unnecessary, and Bertram couldhave listened to it with pleasure, if she had not cast the frequent andside-long glances at the mirror, which sufficiently betrayed the factthat she included herself in this complacent conclusion; as indeed shemay have considered herself justified in doing, husband and wife beingundoubtedly of one flesh. As it was, he maintained an immovablecountenance, though he admired his uncle as much as she did, and theconversation gradually languished till the white somnolent lids of thelady again began to show certain premonitory signs of drooping, whensuddenly they were both aroused by the well known click of a latch-keyin the door, and in another moment Mr. Sylvester’s voice was heard inthe hall, saying, in tones whose cheery accents made his wife’s eyesopen in surprise—

“Welcome home, my dear.”

“They have come,” murmured Mrs. Sylvester rising with a look ofundeniable expectation. Had Paula not been a beauty she would haveremained seated.

“Yes, we have come,” was heard in hearty tones from the door-way, andMr. Sylvester with a proud look which Bertram long remembered, usheredinto their presence a young girl whose simple cloak and bonnet in nowise prevented Mrs. Sylvester from recognizing the somewhat uncommonbeauty she had been led to expect.

“Paula, this is your cousin Ona, and—Ah, Bertram, glad to see you—thisis my only nephew, Mr. Sylvester.”

The young girl, lost in the sudden glamour of numerous lights, shiningupon splendors such as she may have dreamed of over the pages ofIrving’s Alhambra, but certainly had never before seen, blushed withvery natural embarrassment, but yet managed to bestow a pretty enoughgreeting upon the elegant woman and handsome youth, while Ona after thefirst moment of almost involuntary hesitation, took in hers the twotrembling hands of her youthful cousin and actually kissed her cheek.

“I am not given to caresses as you know,” she afterwards explained in asomewhat apologetic tone to her husband; “and anything like an appealfor one on the part of a child or an inferior, I detest; but her simpleway of holding out her hand disarmed me, and then such a face demands acertain amount of homage, does it not?” And her husband in his surprise,was forced to acknowledge to himself, that as closely as he had studiedhis wife’s nature for ten years, there were certain crooks and turns init which even he had never penetrated.

“You look dazzled,” that lady exclaimed, gazing not unkindly into theyoung girl’s face; “the sudden glare of so much gas-light has bewilderedyou.”

“I do not think it is that,” returned Paula with a frank and admiringlook at the gorgeous room and the circle of pleasant faces about her.“Sudden lights I can bear, but I have come from a little cottage on thehillside and the magnificence of nature does not prepare you for thefirst sudden view of the splendors of art.”

Mrs. Sylvester smiled and cast a side glance of amusem*nt at Bertram.“You admire our new hangings I see,” remarked she with an indulgence ofthe other’s näiveté that greatly relieved her husband.

But in that instant a change had come across Paula; the simple countrymaid had assimilated herself with the surroundings, and with a suddengrace and dignity that were unstudied as they were charming, dropped hereyes from her cousin’s portrait—that for some reason seemed to shinewith more than its usual insistence—and calmly replied, “I admire allbeautiful color; it is my birthright as a Walton, to do so, I suppose.”

Mrs. Sylvester was a Walton also and therefore smiled; but her husband,who had marked with inward distrust, the sudden transformation in Paula,now stepped forward with a word or two of remark concerning hisappetite, a prosaic allusion that led to the rapid disappearance of theladies upstairs and a short but hurried conversation between the twogentlemen.

“I have brought you a sealed envelope from the office,” said Bertram,who, in accordance with his uncle’s advice, had already initiatedhimself into business by assuming the position of clerk in the office ofthe wealthy speculator.

“Ah,” returned his uncle hastily opening it. “As I expected, a meetinghas been held this day by the board of Directors of the Madison Bank, avote was cast, my proxy did his duty and I am duly elected President.Bertram, we know what that means,” smiled he, holding out his hand withan affectionate warmth greatly in advance of the emotion displayed byhim on a former occasion.

“I hope so indeed,” young Bertram responded. “An increase of fortune andhonor for you, though you seem to have both in the fullest measurealready, and a start in the new life for me to whom fortune and honormean happiness.”

A smile younger and more full of hope than any he had seen on hisuncle’s face for years, responded to this burst. “Bertram,” said he,“since our conversation of a couple of weeks ago something has occurredwhich somewhat alters the opinions I then expressed. If you havepatience equal to your energy, and a self-control that will not put toshame your unbounded trust in women, I think I can say God-speed to yourserious undertaking, with something like a good heart. Women are not allfrivolous and foolish-minded; there are some jewels of simple goodnessand faith yet left in the world.”

“Thank God for your conversion,” returned his nephew smiling, “and ifthis lovely girl whom you have just introduced to me, is the cause ofit, then thank God for her also.”

His uncle bowed with a gravity almost solemn, but the ladies returningat this moment, he refrained from further reply. After supper, to whichunusual meal Mr. Sylvester insisted upon his nephew remaining, the twogentlemen again drew apart.

“If you have decided upon buying the shares I have mentioned,” said theformer, “you had better get your money in a position to handle at once.I shall wish to present you to Mr. Stuyvesant to-morrow, and I shouldlike to be able to mention you as a future stockholder in the bank.”

“Mr. Stuyvesant!” exclaimed Bertram, ignoring the rest of the sentence.

“Yes,” returned his uncle with a smile, “Thaddeus Stuyvesant is the nextlargest stockholder to myself in the Madison Bank, and his patronage isnot an undesirable one.”

“Indeed—I was not aware—excuse me, I should be happy,” stammered theyoung man. “As for the money, it is all in Governments and is at yourcommand whenever you please.”

“That is good, I’ll notify you when I’m ready for the transfer. And nowcome,” said he, with a change from his deep business tone to the lighterone of ordinary social converse, “forget for a half hour that you havediscarded the name of Mandeville, and give us an aria or a sonata fromMendelssohn before those hands have quite lost their cunning.”

“But the ladies,” inquired the youth glancing towards the drawing-roomwhere Mrs. Sylvester was giving Paula her first lesson in ceramics.

“Ah, it is to see how the charm will act upon my shy country lassie,that I request such a favor.”

“Has she never heard Mendelssohn?”

“Not with your interpretation.”

Without further hesitation the young musician proceeded to the piano,which occupied a position opposite to my lady’s picture in thisanomalous room denominated by courtesy the library. In another instant,a chord delicate and ringing, disturbed the silence of the long vista,and one of Mendelssohn’s most exquisite songs trembled in all itsdelicious harmony through these apartments of sensuous luxury.

Mr. Sylvester had seated himself where he could see the distant figureof Paula, and leaning back in his chair, watched for the first startledresponse on her part. He was not disappointed. At the first note, hebeheld her spirited head turn in a certain wondering surprise, followedpresently by her whole quivering form, till he could perceive her face,upon which were the dawnings of a great delight, flush and pale byturns, until the climax of the melody being reached, she came slowlydown the room, stretching out her hands like a child, and breathingheavily as if her ecstacy of joy in its impotence to adequately expressitself, had caught an expression from pain.

“O Mr. Sylvester!” was all she said as she reached that gentleman’sside; but Bertram Mandeville recognized the accents of an unfathomableappreciation in that simple exclamation, and struck into a grand oldbattle-song that had always made his own heart beat with something ofthe fire of ancient chivalry under its breastplate of modern broadcloth.

“It is the voice of the thunder clouds when they marshal for battle!”exclaimed she at the conclusion. “I can hear the cry of a righteousstruggle all through the sublime harmony.”

“You are right; it is a war-song ancient as the time of battle-axes andspears,” quoth Bertram from his seat at the piano.

“I thought I detected the flashing of steel,” returned she. “O what aworld lies in those simple bits of ivory!”

“Say rather in the fingers that sweep them,” uttered Mr. Sylvester. “Youwill not hear such music often.”

“I am glad of that,” she cried simply, then in a quick conscious toneexplained, “I mean that the hearing of such music makes an era in ourlife, a starting-point for thoughts that reach away into eternity; wecould not bear such experiences often, it would confuse the spirit ifnot deaden its enjoyment. Or so it seems to me,” she added naively,glancing at her cousin who now came sweeping in from the further room,where she had been trying the effect of a change in the arrangement oftwo little pet monstrosities of Japanese ware.

“What seems to you?” that lady inquired. “O, Mr. Mandeville’s playing? Ibeg pardon, Sylvester is the name by which you now wish to be addressedI suppose. Fine, isn’t it?” she rambled on all in the same tone whileshe cautiously hid an unfortunate gape of her rosy mouth behind thefolds of her airy handkerchief. “Mr. Turner says the hiatus you havemade in the musical world by leaving the concert room for the desk, cannever be repaired,” she went on, supposedly to her nephew though she didnot look his way, being at that instant engaged in sinking into herfavorite chair.

“I am glad,” Bertram politely returned with a frank smile, “to haveenjoyed the approval of so cultivated a critic as Mr. Turner. I own itoccasions me a pang now and then,” he remarked to his uncle over hisshoulder, “to think I shall never again call up those looks ofself-forgetful delight, which I have sometimes detected on the faces ofcertain ones in my audience.”

And he relapsed without pause into a solemn anthem, the very reverse ofthe stirring tones which he had previously accorded them.

“Now we are in a temple!” whispered Paula, subduing the sudden interestand curiosity which this young man’s last words had awakened. And theawe which crept over her countenance was the fittest interpretation tothose noble sounds, which the one weary-hearted man in that room couldhave found.

“I have something to tell you, Ona,” remarked Mr. Sylvester shortlyafter this, as the music being over, they all sat down for a final chatabout the fireside. “I have received notice that the directors of theMadison Bank have this day elected me their president. I thought youmight like to know it to-night.”

“It is a very gratifying piece of news certainly. President of theMadison Bank sounds very well, does it not, Paula?”

The young girl with her soul yet ringing with the grand and solemnharmonies of Mendelssohn and Chopin, turned at this with her brightestsmile. “It certainly does and a little awe-inspiring too;” she addedwith her arch glance.

“Your congratulations are also requested for our new assistant cashier.Arise, Bertram, and greet the ladies.”

With a blush his young nephew arose to his feet.

“What! are you going into the banking business?” queried Mrs. Sylvester.“Mr. Turner will be more shocked than ever: he chooses to say thatbankers, merchants and such are the solid rock of his church, while thelighter fry such as artists, musicians, and let us hope he includes usladies, are its minarets, and steeples. Now to make a foundation out ofa steeple will quite overturn his methodical mind I fear.”

Mr. Sylvester looked genially at his wife; she was not accustomed toattempt the facetious; but Paula seemed to have the power of bringingout unexpected lights and shadows from all with whom she came incontact.

“A clergyman who rears his church on the basis of wealth must expectsome overturning now and then,” laughed he.

“If by means of it he turns a fresh side to the sun, it will do him noharm,” chimed in Paula.

Seldom had there been so much simple gaiety round that fireside; thevery atmosphere grew lighter, and the brilliance of my lady’s picturebecame less oppressive.

“We ought to have a happy winter of it,” spoke up Mr. Sylvester with aglance around him. “Life never looked more cheerful for us all, I think;what do you say, Bertram my boy.”

“It certainly looks promising for me.”

“And for me,” murmured Paula.

The complacent way with which Mrs. Sylvester smoothed out the feathersof her fan with her jewelled right hand,—she always carried a fanwinter and summer, some said for the purpose of displaying those samejewelled fingers—was sufficient answer for her.

At that moment there was a hush, when suddenly the small clock on themantel-piece struck eleven, and instantly as if awaiting the signal,there came a rush and a heavy crash which drew every one to their feet,and the brilliant portrait of my lady fell from the wall, and topplingover the cabinet beneath, slid with the various articles of bronze andchina thereon, almost to the very chair in which its handsome prototypehad been sitting.

It was a startling interruption and for an instant no one spoke, thenPaula with a look towards her cousin breathed to herself rather thansaid, “Pray God it be not an omen!” And the pale countenances of the twogentlemen standing face to face on either side of that fallen picture,showed that the shadow of the same superstition had insensibly crossedtheir own minds.

Mrs. Sylvester was the only one who remained unmoved. “Lift if up,”cried she, “and let us see if it has sustained any injury.”

Instantly Bertram and her husband sprang forward, and in a moment itsglowing surface was turned upward. Who could read the meaning of thelook that crossed her husband’s face as he perceived that the sharpspear of the bronze horseman, which had been overturned in the fall, hadpenetrated the rosy countenance of the portrait and destroyed thatimportunate smile forever.

“I suppose it is a judgment upon me for putting all the money you hadallowed me for charitable purposes, into that exquisite bit of bronze,”observed Mrs. Sylvester, stooping above the overturned horseman with anexpression of regret she had not chosen to bestow on her own ruinedpicture. “Ah he is less of a champion than I imagined; he has lost hisspear in the struggle.”

Paula glanced at her cousin in surprise. Was this pleasantry only a veilassumed by this courtly lady to hide her very natural regret over themore serious accident? Even her husband turned toward her with a certainpuzzled inquiry in his troubled countenance. But her expression ofunconcern was too natural; evidently the destruction of the picture hadawakened but small regret in her volatile mind.

“She is less vain than I thought,” was the inward comment of Paula.

Ah simple child of the woods and streams, it is the extent of her vanitynot the lack of it, that has produced this effect. She has begun torealize that ten years have elapsed since this picture was painted, andthat people are beginning to say as they examine it, “Mrs. Sylvester hasnot yet lost her complexion, I see.”

A break necessarily followed this disturbance, and before long Bertramtook his leave, not without a cordial pressure from his uncle’s hand anda look of kindly interest from the stranger lassie, upon whosesympathetic and imaginative mind the hints let fall as to his formerprofession, had produced a deep impression. With his departure Mrs.Sylvester’s weariness returned, and ere long she led the way to herapartments up stairs. As Paula was hastening to follow Mr. Sylvesterstopped her.

“You will not allow this unfortunate occurrence,” he said, with a slightgesture towards the picture now standing with its face against the wall,“to mar your first sleep under my roof, will you Paula, my child?”

“No, not if you say that you think Cousin Ona will not be likely toconnect it with my appearance here.”

“I do not think she will; she is not superstitious and besides does notseem to greatly regret the misfortune.”

“Then I will forget it all and only remember the music.”

“It was all you anticipated?”

“It was more.”

“Sometime I will tell you about the player and the sweet young girl heloves.”

“Does he—” she paused, blushing; love was a subject upon which she hadnever yet spoken to any one.

“Yes he does,” Mr. Sylvester returned smiling.

“I thought there was a meaning in the music I did not quite understand.Good night, uncle,”—he had requested her to address him thus though hewas in truth her cousin, “and many, many thanks.”

But he stopped her again. “You think you will be happy in these rooms,”said he; “you love splendor.”

She was not yet sufficiently acquainted with his voice to detect theregret underlying its kindly tone, and answered without suspicion. “Idid not know it before, but I fear that I do. It dazzled at first, butnow it seems as if I had reached a home towards which I had always beenjourneying. I shall dream away hours of joy before each little ornamentthat adorns your parlors. The very tiles that surround the fireplacewill demand a week of attention at least.”

She ended with a smile, but unlike formerly he did not seem to catch theinfection. “I had rather you had cared less,” said he, but instantlyregretted the seeming reproach, for her eyes filled with tears and thetones of her voice trembled as she replied,

“Do you think the beauty I have seen has made me forget the kindnessthat has brought me here? I love fine and noble objects, glory of colorand harmony of shape, but more than all these do I love a generous soulwithout a blot on its purity, or a flaw in its integrity.”

She had meant to utter something that would show her appreciation of hisgoodness and the universal esteem in which he was held, but was quiteunprepared for the start that he gave and the unmistakable deepening ofthe shadow on his sombre face. But before she could express her regretat the offence, whatever it was, he had recovered himself, and it waswith a fatherly tenderness that he laid his hand upon hers while hesaid, “Such a soul may yours ever continue, my child,” and then stoodwatching her as she glided up the stairs, her charming face showingevery now and then as she leaned on her winding way to the top, tobestow upon him the tender little smile she had already learned was hissolace and delight.

It was the beginning of happier days for him.

BOOK II.

LIFE AND DEATH.

XIV.

MISS BELINDA HAS A QUESTION TO DECIDE.

“I pray you in your letters,

Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice.”—Othello.

Miss Belinda sitting before her bedroom fire on a certain windy night inJanuary, presented a picture of the most profound thought. A year hadelapsed since, with heavy heart and moistened eye, she had biddengood-bye to the child of her care, and beheld her drift away with hernew friend into a strange and untried life. And now a letter had comefrom that friend, in which with the truest appreciation for the feelingsof herself and sister, he requested their final permission to adoptPaula as his own child and the future occupant of his house and heart.

Yes, after a year of increased comfort, Mrs. Sylvester, who would neverhave consented to receive as her own any child demanding care orattention, had decided it was quite a different matter to give place andposition to a lovely girl already grown, whose beauty was sufficientlypronounced to do credit to the family while at the same time it was of acharacter to heighten by contrast her own very manifest attractions. Sothe letter, destined to create such a disturbance in the stern andpowerful mind of Miss Belinda, had been written and dispatched.

And indeed it was matter for the gravest reflection. To accede to thisimportant request was to yield up all control over the dear young girlwhose affection had constituted the brightness of this somewhatdisappointed life, while to refuse an offer made with such evident loveand anxiety, was to bring a pang of regret to a heart she hesitated towound. The question of advantage which might have swayed others in theirdecision, did not in the least affect Miss Belinda. Now that Paula hadseen the world and gained an insight into certain studies beyond thereach of her own attainments, any wishes in which she might haveindulged on that score were satisfied, and mere wealth with itsconcomitant of luxuriant living, she regarded with distrust, and ratherin the light of a stumbling-block to the great and grand end of allexistence.

Suddenly with that energy which characterized all her movements, sherose from her seat, and first casting a look of somewhat cautiousinquiry at the recumbent figure of her sister, asleep in the heavy oldfashioned bed that occupied one corner of the room, she proceeded to abureau drawer and took out a small box which she unlocked on the table.It was full of letters; those same honest epistles, which, as empoweredby Mr. Sylvester, she had requested Paula to send her from week to week.Some of them were a year old, but she read them all carefully through,while the clock ticked on the shelf and the wind soughed in the chimney.Certain passages she marked, and when she had finished the pile, shetook up the letters again and re-read those passages. They werenecessarily desultory in their character, but they all had, in her mindat least, a bearing upon the question on hand, and as such, I give themto my readers.

“O aunty, I have made a friend, a sweet girl friend who I have reason tohope will henceforth be to me as my other eye and hand. Her name isStuyvesant—a name by the way that always calls up a certain complacentsmile on Cousin Ona’s countenance—and she is the daughter of one of thedirectors of Mr. Sylvester’s bank. I met her in a rather curious way.For some reason Ona had expressed a wish for me to ride horseback. Sheis rather too large for the exercise herself, but thought it lookedwell, she said, to see a lady and groom ride from the front of thehouse; moreover it would keep me in color by establishing my health. SoMr. Sylvester who denies her nothing, promised us horses and the groom,and as a preparation for acquitting myself with credit, has sent me toone of the finest riding academies in the city. It was here I met MissStuyvesant. She is a small interesting-looking girl whose chief beautylies in her expression which is certainly very charming. I was consciousof a calm and satisfied feeling the moment I saw her. Her eyes which areraised with a certain appeal to your face, are blue, while her lips thatbreak into smiles only at rare moments, are rosy and delicately curved.In her riding-habit she looks like a child, but when dressed for thestreet she surprises you with the reserved and womanly air with whichshe carries her proud head. Altogether she is a sweet study to me,alluring me with her glance yet awing me by her dainty ladyhood, aladyhood too unconscious to be affected and yet so completely a part ofher whole delicate being, that you could as soon dissociate the bloomfrom the rose, as the air of highborn reserve, from this sweet scion ofone of New York’s oldest families.

“I was mounting my horse when our eyes first met, and I never shallforget her look of delighted surprise. Did she recognize in me thefriend I now hope to become? Later we were introduced by Mr. Sylvesterwho had been so kind as to accompany me that day. The way in which hesaid to her, ‘This is Paula,’ proved that I was no new topic ofconversation between them, and indeed she afterwards explained to methat she had been forewarned of my arrival during an afternoon call athis house. There was in this first interview none of the unnecessarygush which you have so often reprobated as childish; indeed MissStuyvesant is not a person with whom one would presume to be familiar,nor was it till we had met several times that any acknowledgement wasmade of the mutual interest with which we found ourselves inspired.Cousin Ona to whom I had naturally spoken of the little lady, wished meto cultivate her acquaintance more assiduously, but I knew that if I hadexcited in her the same interest she had awakened in me, this would notbe necessary; our friendship would grow of itself and blossom withoutany hot-house forcing. And so it did. One day she came to theriding-school with her eyes like stars and her cheeks like the oleandersin your sitting-room. Her brightness was so contagious, I stepped up toher. But she greeted me with almost formal reserve, and mounting herhorse, proceeded to engage in her usual exercise. I was not hurt; Irecognized the presence of some thought or feeling which made a barrieraround her sensitive nature, and duly respected it. Mounting my ownhorse, I rode around the ring which is the somewhat limited field of mypresent equestrian efforts, and waited. For I knew from the looks whichshe cast me every now and then, that the flower of our friendship wasoutgrowing its sheath and would soon burst into the bud of perfectunderstanding. At the end of the lesson we approached each other. I donot know how it was done, but we walked home together, or rather Iaccompanied her to the stoop of her house, and before we parted we hadexchanged those words which give emphasis to a sentiment long cherishedbut now for the first time avowed. Miss Stuyvesant and I are friends,and I feel as though a new stream of enjoyment had opened in my breast.

“The fact that I still call her by this formal title instead of her verypretty name of Cicely, proves the nature of the respect she inspireseven in the breasts of her girlish associates.”

“Why is it that I frequently hesitate as I go up the stairs and lookabout me with a vague feeling of apprehension? The bronze figure ofLuxury that adorns the landing, wears no semblance of terror to thewildest imagination, and yet I often find myself seized by aninexplicable shudder as I hurry past it; and once I actually lookedbehind me with the same sensation as if some one had plucked me by thesleeve.

“It is a folly; for recording which, I make my excuses.”

“Cousin Ona has decided that I must never wear colors. ‘Soft grays, mydear, dead blacks and opaque whites are all that you need to bring outthe fine contrast of your hair and complexion; the least hint of blue orpink would destroy it.’ So she says and so I must believe, for who elsehas made such a study of the all important subject of dress. Behold me,then, arrayed for my first reception in a colorless robe of rich silk towhich Ona after long consideration allowed me to add some ornaments ofplain gold with which Mr. Sylvester has kindly presented me. But I thinkmore of the people I am going to meet than of anything else, though Ienjoy the home-feeling which a pretty dress gives me, as well as aviolet does its bright blue coat.”

“I have heard a great preacher! What shall I say? At first it seems asif nothing could express my joy and satisfaction. The sapling that isshaken to its root by the winds of heaven, keeps silence I imagine. ButO Aunty, if my smallness makes me quake, it also makes me feel. Whatgates of thought have been opened to me! What shining tracks of inquirypointed out! I feel as if I had been shown a path where angels walked.Can it be that such words have been uttered every week of my life and Iin ignorance of them? It is like the revelation of the ocean tounaccustomed eyes. Henceforth small things must seem like pebble stonesabove which stretch innumerable heavenly vistas. It is not so much thatnew things have been revealed to me as that old things have been madestrangely eloquent. The voice of a daisy on the hill side, the breath ofthunder in the mountain gorges, the blossoming of a child’s smile underits mother’s eye, the fact that golden portals are opened in every lifefor the coming and going of the messengers of God, all have been madereal to me, real as the voice of the Saviour to his disciples as theywalked in the fields or started back awe-stricken from the stupendousvision of the cross. It is a solemn thing to see one’s humble thoughtscaught by the imagination of a great mind and carried on and up intoregions you never realized existed.

“I was so burdened with joy that I could not forbear asking Mr.Sylvester if he did not feel as if the whole face of the world hadchanged since we entered those holy doors. He did not respond with theglad ‘Yes’ for which I hoped, and though his smile was very kind, Icould not help wondering what it was that sometimes fell between us likea veil.”

“O Aunty, how my heart does yearn towards Mr. Sylvester at times! As Isee him sitting with clouded brow in the midst of so much that ought tocharm and enliven him, I ask myself if the advantages of wealthcompensate for all this care and anxiety. But I notice he is much morecheerful now than when I first came. Ona says he is in danger of losingthe air of melancholy reserve which made him look so distinguished, butI think we can spare a little of such doubtful distinguishment for thesake of the smiles with which he now and then indulges us.”

“I feel as if a hand had gripped my throat. Cousin Ona spoke to Mr.Sylvester this morning in a way that made my very heart stand still. Andyet it was only a simple, ‘Follow your own judgment, Mr. Sylvester.’ Buthow she said it! Do these languid women carry venom in their tongues? Ihad always thought she was of too easy a disposition to feel anger ordisplay it; but the spring of a serpent is all the deadlier for his longsilent basking in the sun. O pardon me for making such a frightfulallusion. But if you had seen her and heard Mr. Sylvester’s sigh as heturned and left the room!”

“Mr. Bertram Sylvester has awakened my deepest interest. His uncle hastold me his story, which alone of all the things I have heard in thishouse, I do not feel at liberty to repeat, and it has aroused in mestrange thoughts and very peculiar emotions. He is devoted to some onewe do not know, and the idea surrounds him in my eyes with a sort ofhalo that you would perhaps call fanciful, but which I am neverthelessbound to reverence. He does not know that I am acquainted with hisstory. I wish he did and would let me speak the words that rise to mylips whenever I see him or hear him play.”

“There are moments when I long to flee back to Grotewell. It is whenCousin Ona comes in from shopping with a dozen packages to be opened andcommented upon, or when Mrs. Fitzgerald has been here or some other ofher ultra-fashionable acquaintances. The atmosphere of the house forhours after either of the above occurrences is too heavy for breathing.I have to go away and clear my brain by a brisk walk or a look intoKnœdler’s or Schaus’.”

“The panel where Cousin Ona’s picture used to hang, has been filled byone of Meissonier’s most interesting studies; and though I never thoughtMr. Sylvester particularly fond of the French style of art, he seemsvery well satisfied with the result. I cannot understand how Cousin Onacan regard the misfortune to her portrait so calmly. I think it wouldbreak my heart to see a husband look with complacency on any picture, nomatter how exquisite, that took the place of my own, especially if likeher’s, it was painted in my bridal days. I sometimes wonder if thosedays are as sacred to the memory of husband and wife as I have alwaysimagined them to be.”

“Why does Cousin Ona never speak of Grotewell, and why, if by chance Imention the name, does she drop her eyes and a shadow cross thecountenance of Mr. Sylvester?”

“There is a word Mr. Sylvester uses in the most curious way; it isfuss. He calls everything a fuss that while insignificant in size orcharacter has power either to irritate or please. A fly is a fuss; so isa dimple in a girl’s cheek or a figure that goes wrong in accounts. Ihave even heard him call a child, ‘That dear little fuss.’ Bertramunconsciously imitates his uncle in this peculiar mannerism and is oftenheard alluding to this or that as a fuss of fusses. Indeed they saythis use of the word is a peculiarity of the Sylvester family.”

“I think from the way Mr. Sylvester spoke yesterday, that he must haveexperienced some dreadful trouble in his life. We were walking in thewards of a hospital—that is, Miss Stuyvesant, Mr. Sylvester andmyself—when some one near us gave utterance to the trite expression, ‘Oit will heal, but the scar will always remain.’ ‘That is a commonsaying,’ remarked Mr. Sylvester, ‘but how true a one no one realizes buthe who carries the scar.’”

“It may be imagination or simply the effect of increased appreciation onmy part, but it does seem as if Miss Stuyvesant grew lovelier and morecompanionable each time that I meet her. She makes me think of a templein which a holy lamp is burning. Her very silences are eloquent, and yetshe is never distraite but always cheerful and frequently thebrightest of the company. But it is a brightness without glitter, agentle lustre that delights you but never astonishes. I meet many sweetgirls in the so-called heartless circles of society, but none like her.She is my white lily on which a moonbeam rests.”

“This house contains a mystery, as Ona is pleased to designate the roomat the top of the house to which Mr. Sylvester withdraws when he desiresto be alone. And indeed it is a sort of Bluebeard’s chamber, in that hekeeps it rigidly under lock and key, allowing no one to enter it, noteven his wife. The servants declare that no one but himself has evercrossed its threshold, but I can scarcely believe that. Ona has not, butthere must surely be some trusty person to whom he allots the care ofits furniture. Am I only proving myself to be a true member of my sexwhen I allow that I cannot hinder my own curiosity from hovering about aspot so religiously guarded? Yet what should we see if its doors werethrown open? A study surrounded with books it displeases him to seemisplaced, or a luxurious apartment fitted with every appointmentnecessary to rest and comfort him when he comes home tired frombusiness.”

“I never saw Mr. Sylvester angry till to-day. By some inadvertence hewent down town without locking the door of his private room, and thoughhe returned immediately upon missing the key from his pocket, he wasbarely in time to prevent Cousin Ona from invading the spot he hasalways kept so sacred from intrusion. I was not present and of coursedid not hear what was said, but I caught a glimpse of his face as heleft the house, and found it quite sufficient to assure me of hisdissatisfaction. As for Ona, she declares he pulled her back as if shehad been daring the plague. ‘I do not expect to find five beautifulwives hanging up there by their necks,’ concluded she with a forcedlaugh, ‘but I shall yet see the interior of that room, if only toestablish my prerogative as the mistress of this house.’

“I do not now feel as if I wished to see it.”

“There is one thing that strikes me as peculiar in Miss Stuyvesant, andthat is, that as much pleasure as she seems to take in my society whenwe meet, she never comes to see me in Mr. Sylvester’s house. For a longtime I wondered over this but said nothing, but one day upon receiving asecond invitation to visit her, I mentioned the fact as delicately as Icould, and was quite distressed to observe how seriously she took therebuke, if rebuke it could be called. ‘I cannot explain myself,’ shemurmured in some embarrassment; ‘but Mr. Sylvester’s house is closedagainst me. You must not ask me to seek you there or expect me to domyself the pleasure of attending Mrs. Sylvester’s receptions. I cannot.Is that enough for me to say to my dearest friend?’ I hardly knew whatto reply, but finally ventured to inquire if she was restrained by anyfact that would make it undignified in me to seek her society and enjoythe pleasures she is continually offering me. And she answered with sucha cheerful negative I was quite reassured. And so the matter is settled.Our friendship is to be emancipated from the bonds of etiquette and I amto enjoy her company whenever I can. To-morrow we are going to take ourfirst ride in the park. The horses have been bought, and much to CousinOna’s satisfaction, the groom has been hired.”

“I was told something the other day, of a nature so unpleasant that Ishould not think of repeating it, if you had not expressly commanded meto confide to you everything that for any reason produced an effect uponme in my new home. My informant was Sarah, the somewhat gossiping womanwhom Ona has about her as seamstress and maid. She said—and she hadspoken before I could prevent her—that the way Mrs. Sylvester took onabout her mourning at the time of little Geraldine’s death was enough towear out the patience of Job. She even went so far as to tell thedressmaker that if she could not have her dress made to suit her shewould not put on mourning at all! Aunty, can you wonder that Mr.Sylvester looks so bitterly sombre whenever mention is made of hischild? He loved it, and its own mother could worry over the fit of adress while his bereaved heart was breaking! I confess I can never feelthe same indulgence towards what I considered the idiosyncrasies of afashionable beauty again. Her smooth white skin makes me tremble; it hasnever flushed with delight over the innocent smiles of her firstborn.”

“Mr. Sylvester is very polite to Cousin Ona and seems to yield to herwishes in everything. But if I were she I think my heart would breakover that very politeness. But then she is one who demands formalityeven from the persons of her household. I have never seen him stoop fora kiss or beheld her even so much as lay her hand on his shoulder. But Ihave observed him wait on her at moments when he was pale from wearinessand she flushed with long twilight reclinings before her sleepy boudoirfire.”

“There are times when I would not exchange my present opportunities forany others which might be afforded me. General —— dined here to-day,and what a vision of a great struggle was raised up before me by his fewsimple words in regard to Gettysburg. I did not know which to admiremost, the military bearing and vivid conversation of the great soldier,or the ease and dignity with which Mr. Sylvester met his remarks andanswered each glowing sentence. General —— spoke a few words to me.How gentle these lion-like men can be when they stoop their tall headsto address little children or young women!”

“What a noble-hearted man Mr. Sylvester is! Mr. Turner in speaking ofhim the other night, declared there is no one in his congregation who ina quiet way does so much for the poor. ‘He is especially interested inyoung men,’ said he, ‘and will leave his own affairs at any time to aidor advise them.’ I knew Mr. Sylvester was kind, but Mr. Turner’senthusiasm was uncommon. He evidently admires Mr. Sylvester as much asevery one else loves him. And he is not alone in this. Almost every dayI hear some remark made of a nature complimentary to my benefactor’scharacter or ability. Even Mr. Stuyvesant who so seldom appears tonotice us girls, once interrupted a conversation between Cicely andmyself to inquire if Mr. Sylvester was quite well. ‘I thought he lookedpale to-day,’ remarked he, in his dry but not unkindly way, and thenadded, ‘He must not get sick; he is too valuable to us.’ This was agreat deal for Mr. Stuyvesant to say, and it caused a visiblegratification to Mr. Sylvester when I related it to him in the evening.‘I had rather satisfy that man than any other I know,’ declared he. ‘Heis of the stern old-fashioned sort, and it is an honor to any one tomerit his approval. I did not tell him that I had also heard Mr.Stuyvesant observe in a conversation with some business friend of his,that Edward Sylvester was the only speculator he knew in whom he feltimplicit confidence. Somehow it always gives me an uncomfortable feelingto hear Mr. Sylvester alluded to as a speculator. Besides since he hasentered the Bank, he has I am told, entirely restricted himself to whatare called legitimate operations.’”

“Mr. Sylvester came home with a dreadful look on his face to-day. Wewere standing in the hall at the time the door opened, and he went by uswithout a nod, almost as if he did not see us. Even Ona was startled andstood gazing after him with an anxiety such as I had never observed inher before, while I was conscious of that sick feeling I have sometimesexperienced when he came upon me suddenly from his small room above, orpaused in the midst of the gayest talk, to ask me some question that waswholly irrelevant and most frequently sad.

“‘He has met with some heavy loss,’ murmured his wife, glancing down thehandsome parlors with a look such as a mother might bestow upon the faceof a sick child. But I was sure she had not sounded his trouble, and inmy impetuosity was about to fly to his side when we saw him pause beforethe image of Luxury that stands on the stair, look at it for a momentwith a strange intentness, then suddenly and with a gesture ofirrepressible passion, lift his arm as if he would fell it from itsplace. The action was so startling, Ona clutched my sleeve in terror,but he passed on and in another moment we heard him shut the door of hisroom.

“Would he be down to dinner? that was the next question. Ona thoughtnot; I did not dare to think. Nevertheless it was a great relief to mewhen I saw him enter the dining-room with that set immovable look hesometimes wears when Ona begins one of her long and rambling streams offashionable gossip. ‘It is nothing,’ flashed from his wife’s eyes tomine, and she lapsed at once into her most graceful self, but shenevertheless hastened her meal and I was quite prepared to observe herfollow him, as with the polite excuse of weariness, he left the tablebefore desert. I could not hear what she asked him, but his answer camedistinctly to my ears from the midst of the library to which they hadwithdrawn. ‘It is nothing in which you have an interest, Ona. Thankheaven you do not always know the price with which the splendors you solove are bought.’ And she did not cry out, ‘O never pay such a price forany joy of mine! Sooner than cost you so dear I would live on crusts anddwell in a garret.’ No, she kept silence, and when in a few minuteslater I joined her in the library, it was to find on her usually placidlips, a thin cool smile that struck like ice to my heart, and made itimpossible for me to speak.

“But the hardest trial of the day was to hear Mr. Sylvester come in ateleven o’clock—he went out again immediately after dinner—and go upstairs without giving me my usual good-night. It was such a grief to meI could not keep still, but hurried to the foot of the stairs in thehopes he would yet remember me and come back. But instead of that, he nosooner saw me than he threw out his hand almost as if he would push meback, and hastened on up the whole winding flight till he reached therefuge of that mysterious room of his at the top of the house.

“I could not go back to Ona after that—she had been to make a callsomewhere with a young gentleman friend of hers;—yes on this very nighthad been to make a call—but I took advantage of the late hour to retireto my own room where for a long time I lay awake listening for hisdescending step and seeing, as in a vision, the startling picture of hislifted arm raised against the unconscious piece of bronze on the stair.Henceforth that statue will possess for me a still more dreadfulsignificance.”

“It is the twenty-fifth of February. Why should I feel as if I must besure of the exact date before I slept?”

The next extract followed close on this and was the last which MissBelinda read.

“Mr. Sylvester seems to have recovered from his late anxiety. He doesnot shrink from me any more with that half bitter, half sad expressionthat has so long troubled and bewildered me, but draws me to his sideand sits listening to my talk until I feel as if I were really of somecomfort to this great and able man. Ona does not notice the change; sheis all absorbed in preparing for the visit to Washington, which Mr.Sylvester has promised her.”

Miss Belinda calmly folded up the letters and locked them again in thelittle mahogany box, after which she covered up the embers and quietlywent to bed. But next morning a letter was despatched to Mr. Sylvesterwhich ran thus:

Dear Mr. Sylvester:

“For the present at least you may keep Paula with you. But I amnot ready to say that I think it would be for her best good tobe received and acknowledged as your daughter—yet. Hoping youwill appreciate the motives that actuate this decision,

“I remain, respectfully yours,

Belinda Ann Walton.”

XV.

AN ADVENTURE—OR SOMETHING MORE.

“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven.”—Wordsworth.

Oph.—What means this, my lord?

Ham.—Marry, this is the miching mallecho; it meansmischief.”—Hamlet.

A ride in the Central Park is an every-day matter to most people. Itsignifies an indolent bowling over a smooth road all alive with theglitter of passing equipages, waving ribbons and fluttering plumes, andbrightened now and then by the sight of a well known face amid thegeneral rush of old and young, plain and handsome, sad and gaycountenances that flash by you in one long and brilliant procession.

But to Paula and her friend Miss Stuyvesant starting out in the earlyfreshness of a fair April morning, it meant new life, reawakening joy,the sparkle of young leaves just loosed from the bonds of winter, thesweetness and promise of spring airs, and all the budding glory of a newyear with its summer of countless roses and its autumn of incalculableglories. Not the twitter of a bird was lost to them, not the smile of anopening flower, not the welcome of a waving branch. Youth, joy, andinnocence lived in their hearts and showed them nothing in the mirror ofnature that was not equally young, joyous and innocent. Then they werealone, or sufficiently so. The stray wanderers whom they met sittingunder the flowering trees, were equally with themselves lovers of natureor they would not be seated in converse with it at this early hour;while the laugh of little children startled from their play by theprance of their high-stepping horses, was only another expression of thesweet but unexpressed delight that breathed in all the radiantatmosphere.

“We are two birds who have escaped thralldom and are taking our firstflight into our natural ether,” cried Miss Stuyvesant gaily.

“We are two pioneers lit by the spirit of adventure, who have left thecosy hearth of wintry-fires to explore the domains of the frost king,and lo, we have come upon a Paradise of bloom and color!” responded theringing voice of Paula.

“I feel as if I could mount that little white cloud we see over there,”continued Cicely with a quick lively wave of her whip. “I wonder howDandy would enjoy an empyrean journey?”

“From the haughty bend of his neck I should say he was quite satisfiedwith his present condition. But perhaps his chief pride is due to themistress he carries.”

“Are you attempting to vie with Mr. Williams, Paula?”

Mr. Williams was the meek-eyed, fair complexioned gentleman, whosepredilection for compliment was just then a subject of talk infashionable circles.

“Only so far as my admiration goes of the most charming lady I see thismorning. But who is this?”

Miss Stuyvesant looked up. “Ah, that is some one with whom there is verylittle danger of your falling in love.”

Paula blushed. The gentleman approaching them upon horseback wasconspicuous for long side whiskers of a decidedly auburn tinge.

“His name is—” But she had not time to finish, for the gentleman with aglance of astonished delight at Paula, bowed to the speaker with aliveliness and grace that demanded some recognition.

Instantly he drew rein. “Do I behold Miss Stuyvesant among the nymphs!”cried he, in those ringing pleasant tones that at once predispose youtowards their possessor.

“If you allude to my friend Miss Fairchild, you certainly do, Mr.Ensign,” the wicked little lady rejoined with a waiving of her usualceremony that astonished Paula.

Mr. Ensign bestowed upon them his most courtly bow, but the flush thatmounted to his brow—making his face one red, as certain of his friendswere malicious enough to observe on similar occasions—indicated that hehad been taken a little more at his word than perhaps suited even one ofhis easy and proverbially careless temperament. “Miss Fairchild willunderstand that I am not a Harvey Williams—at least before anintroduction,” said he with something like seriousness.

But at this allusion to the gentleman whose name had been upon theirlips but a moment before, both ladies laughed outright.

“I have just been accused of attempting the rôle of that gentlemanmyself,” exclaimed Paula. “If the fresh morning air will persist inpainting such roses on ladies’ cheeks,” continued she, with a lovinglook at her pretty companion “what can one be expected to do?”

“Admire,” quoth the red bannered cavalier with a glance, however, at thebeautiful speaker instead of the demure little Cicely at her side.

Miss Stuyvesant perceived this look and a curious smile disturbed thecorners of her rosy lips. “What a fortunate man to be able to do theright thing at the right time,” laughed she, gaily touching up her horsethat was beginning to show symptoms of restlessness.

“If Miss Stuyvesant will put that in the future tense and then assure usshe has been among the prophets, I should be singularly obliged,” saidhe with a touch of his hat and a smiling look at Paula that was at oncemanly and gentle, careless and yet respectful.

“Ah, life is too bright for prophesies this morning. The moment isenough.”

“Is it Miss Fairchild?” queried Mr. Ensign looking back over hisshoulder.

She turned just a bit of her cheek towards him. “What Miss Stuyvesantdeclares to be true, that am I bound to believe,” said she, and with theleast little ripple of a laugh, rode on.

“It is a pity you have such a dislike for whiskers,” Cicely presentlyremarked with an air of great gravity.

Paula gave a start and cast a glance of reproach at her companion. “Idid not notice his whiskers after the first word or two,” said she,fixing her eyes on a turn of the road before them. “Such cheerfulness isinfectious. I was merry before, but now I feel as if I had been bathedin sunshine.”

Cicely’s eyes flashed wide with surprise and her face grew serious inearnest. “Mr. Ensign is a delightful companion,” observed she; “a roomis always brighter for his entrance; and with all that, he is the onlyyoung man I know, who having come into a large fortune, feels any of theresponsibilities of his position. The sunshine is the result of a goodheart and pure living, and that is what makes it infectious, I suppose.”

“Let us canter,” said Paula. And so the glad young things swept on, lifebreaking in bubbles around them and rippling away into unfathomablewells of feeling in one of their pure hearts at least. Suddenly a handseemed to swoop from heaven and dash them both back in dismay. They hadreached one of those places where the foot path crosses the equestrianand they had run over and thrown down a little child.

“O heaven!” cried Paula leaping from her horse, “I had rather beenkilled myself.” The groom rode up and she bent anxiously over the child.

It was a boy of some seven or eight years, whose misfortune—he waslame, as the little crutch fallen at his side sufficiently denoted—madeappear much younger. He had been struck on his arm and was moaning withpain, but did not seem to be otherwise hurt. “Are you alone?” criedPaula, lifting his head on her arm and glancing hurriedly about.

The little fellow raised his heavy lids and for a moment stared into herface with eyes so deeply blue and beautiful they almost startled her,then with an effort pointed down the path, saying,

“Dad’s over there in the long tunnel talking to some one. Tell him I gothurt. I want Dad.”

She gently lifted him to his feet and led him out of the road into theapparently deserted path where she made him sit down. “I am going tofind his father,” said Paula to Cicely, “I will be back in a moment.”

“But wait; you shall not go alone,” authoritatively exclaimed thatlittle damsel, leaping in her turn to the ground. “Where does he say hisfather is?”

“In the tunnel, by which I suppose he means that long passage under thebridge over there.”

Holding up the skirts of their riding-habits in their trembling righthands, they hurried forward. Suddenly they both paused. A woman hadcrossed their path; a woman whom to look at but once was to rememberwith ghastly shrinking for a lifetime. She was wrapped in a long andragged cloak, and her eyes, startling in their blackness, were fixedupon the pain-drawn countenance of the poor little hurt boy behind them,with a gleam whose feverish hatred and deep malignant enjoyment of hisvery evident sufferings, was like a revelation from the lowest pit tothe two innocent-minded girls hastening forward on their errand ofmercy.

“Is he much hurt?” gasped the woman in an ineffectual effort to concealthe evil nature of her interest. “Do you think he will die?” with ashrill lingering emphasis on the last word as if she longed to roll itlike a sweet morsel under her tongue.

“Who are you?” asked Cicely, shrinking to one side with dilated eyesfixed on the woman’s hardened countenance and the white, too white handwith which she had pointed as she spoke of the child.

“Are you his mother?” queried Paula, paling at the thought but keepingher ground with an air of unconscious authority.

“His mother!” shrieked the woman, hugging herself in her long cloak andlaughing with fiendish sarcasm: “I look like his mother, don’t I? Hiseyes—did you notice his eyes? they are just like mine, aren’t they? andhis body, poor weazen little thing, looks as if it had drawn sustenancefrom mine, don’t it? His mother! O heaven!”

Nothing like the suppressed force of this invocation seething as it waswith the worst passions of a depraved human nature, had ever startledthose ears before. Clasping Cicely by the hand, she called out to thegroom behind them, “Guard that child as you would your life!” and thenflashing upon the wretched creature before her with all the force of heraroused nature, she exclaimed, “If you are not his mother, move asideand let us pass, we are in search of assistance.”

For an instant the woman stood awe-struck before this vision of maidenlybeauty and indignation, then she laughed and cried out with shrillemphasis:

“When next you look like that, go to your mirror, and when you see theimage it reflects, say to yourself, ‘So once looked the woman who defiedme in the Park!’”

With a quick shudder and a feeling as if the noisome cloak of thisdegraded being had somehow been dropped upon her own fair and spotlessshoulders, Paula clasped the hand of Cicely more tightly in her own, andrushed with her down the steps that led into the underground passagetowards which they had been directed.

There were but two persons in it when they entered. A short thickset manand another man of a slighter and more gentlemanly build. They wereengaged in talking, and the latter was bringing down his right hand uponthe palm of his left with a gesture almost foreign in its expressiveenergy.

“I tell you,” declared he, with a voice that while low, reverberatedthrough the hollow vault above him with strange intensity, “I tell youI’ve got my grip on a certain rich man in this city, and if you willonly wait, you shall see strange things. I don’t know his name and Idon’t know his face, but I do know what he has done, and a thousanddollars down couldn’t buy the knowledge of me.”

“But if you don’t know his name and don’t know his face, how in the nameof all that’s mischievous are you going to know your man?”

“Leave that to me! If I once meet him and hear him talk, one more richman goes down and one more poor devil goes up, or I’ve not the wit thatstarvation usually teaches.”

The nature of these sentences together with the various manifestationsof interest with which they were received, had for a moment deterred thetwo girls in their hurried advance, but now they put away every thoughtsave that of the poor little creature awaiting his Dad, and lifting upher voice, Paula said,

“Are either of you the father of a little lame lad—”

Instantly and before she could conclude, the taller of the two, who hadalso been the chief speaker in the above conversation, turned, and shesaw his hand begrimed though it was with dirt and dark with many adisgraceful trick, go to his heart in a gesture too natural to beanything but involuntary.

“Is he hurt?” gasped he, but in how different a tone from that of thewoman who had used the same words a few minutes before. Then seeing thatthe persons who addressed him were ladies and one of them at least avery beautiful one, took off his hat with an easy action, that togetherwith what they had heard, proved him to be one of that most dangerousclass among us, a gentleman who has gone thoroughly and irretrievably tothe bad.

“I am afraid he is, sir,” said Paula. “He was attempting to cross theroad, and a horse advancing hurriedly, struck him.” She had not courageto say her horse in face of the white and trembling dismay that seizedhim at these words.

“Where is he?” cried he. “Where’s my poor boy?” And he bounded up thesteps, his hat still in his hand, his long unkempt locks flying, and hiswhole form expressive of the utmost alarm.

“Down by the carriage road,” called out Paula, finding it impossible forthem to keep up with such haste.

“But is he much injured?” cried a smooth voice at their side.

They turned; it was the short thickset man who had been the other’scompanion in the conversation above recorded.

“We trust not,” answered Cicely; “his arm received the blow, and hesuffers very much, but we hope it is not serious;” and they hurried on.

They found the father seated on the grass holding the little fellow inhis arms. The look on his once handsome but now thoroughly corrupt anddissipated face, made their hearts melt within them. However wicked hemight be—and that sly treacherous eye, that false impudent lip, thatsettling of the whole face into the mould which Vice applies to all hervotaries, left no doubt of his complete depravity—he dearly loved hischild, and love, no matter how it is expressed, or in what garb itappears, is a sacred and beautiful thing, and ennobles for the timebeing any creature who displays it.

“’Twas a hard knock up, Dad,” came from the white lips of the child ashe felt his father’s trembling hand feel up and down his arm, “but Iguess the ‘little fellar’ can stand it.” “Little feller” was evidentlythe name by which his father was accustomed to address him.

“There are no bones broken,” said the father. “To be lame and maimed toowould be—”

He did not finish, for a delicately gloved hand was here laid on hissleeve, and a gentle voice whispered, “Money cannot pay for an injurylike that, but please accept this;” and Paula thrust a purse into hishand.

He clutched it eagerly, but at her next request that he should tell herwhere he lived that they might inquire after the boy, he shook his headwith a return of his old emphasis.

“The haunts of bats and jackals are not for ladies.” Then as he caughtsight of her pitiful face bending in farewell over the little urchin,some remembrance perhaps of the days when he had a right to stoop to theear of beautiful women and walk unrebuked at their side, returned to himfrom the past, and respectfully lowering his voice, he asked her name.

She gave it and he seemed to lay it away in his mind; then as the ladiesturned to remount their horses, rose and began carrying the littlefellow off. As he vanished in the turn of the path that led towards themain entrance, they perceived a tall dark figure arise from a seat inthe distance and stand looking after him, with a leer on its face and amalicious hugging of itself in a long black cloak, that proclaimed herto be the same ominous being who had before so grievously startled them.

XVI.

THE SWORD OF DAMOCLES.

“And my imaginations are as foul
As Vulcan’s smithy.”—Hamlet.

“Why, all the souls that were, were forfeit once;

And He that might the vantage best have took
Found out the remedy.”—Measure for Measure.

Mrs. Sylvester reclining on the palest of blue couches, in the slantingsunlight of an April afternoon, is a study for a painter. Not that suchinspiring loveliness breathed from her person, conspicuous as it was forits rich and indolent grace, but because in every attitude of her largeand well formed limbs, in every raise of the thick white lids from eyeswhose natural brightness was obscured by the mist of aimless fancies,she presented such an embodiment of luxurious ease, one might almostimagine they were gazing upon the favorite Sultana of some easterncourt, or, to be for once poetical as the subject demands, a full blownEgyptian lotos floating in hushed enjoyment on the placid waters of itsnative stream. Indeed for all the blonde character of her beauty, therewas certainly something oriental about the physique of this favoredchild of fortune. Had the tint of her skin been richened to a magnoliabloom instead of reminding you of that description accorded to thecomplexion of one of Napoleon’s sisters, that it looked like white satinseen through pink glass, she would have passed in any Eastern market,for a rare specimen of Circassian beauty.

But Mr. Sylvester coming home fatigued and harassed, cared little forCircassian beauties or Oriental odalisques. It was a welcome that hedesired, and such refreshment as a quick eye and ready hand can bestowwhen guided by a tender and loving heart; or so thought the watchfulPaula as she glided from her room at the sound of his step in the hall,and met him coming weary and disheartened from the side of Ona’s couch.The sight of her revived him at once.

“Well, little one, what have you been doing to-day?”

Instantly a shade fell over her countenance. “I hardly know how to tellyou. It has been a day of great experiences to me. I am literally shakenwith them. I have been wanting to talk to Ona about what I have seen andheard, but thought I had best wait till you came home, for I could notrepeat the story twice.”

“What! you look pale. Nothing has happened to frighten you I hope,”exclaimed he, leading her back to Ona’s side, who stirred a little, andpresently deigned to take an upright position.

“I do not know if it is fear or horror,” cried Paula, shuddering; “Ihave seen a fearful woman—But first I ought to tell you that I took aride with Miss Stuyvesant in the Park this morning—”

“Yes, and persisted in going for that lady on horseback instead ofsending the groom after her, and all starting from the front of ourhouse,” murmured Mrs. Sylvester with lazy chagrin.

Paula smiled, but otherwise took no notice of this standing topic ofdisagreement.

“It was a beautiful day,” she proceeded, “and we enjoyed it very much,but we were so unfortunate as to run over a little boy, at that placewhere the equestrian road crosses the foot path; a lame child, Mr.Sylvester, who could not get out of our way; poor too, with a raggedjacket on which seemed to make it all the worse.”

Ona gave a shrug with her white shoulders, that seemed to question this.“Did you injure him very much?” queried she, with a show of interest;not sufficient however to impair her curiosity as to the cut of one ofher nails.

“I cannot say; his little arm was struck, and when I went to pick himup, he lay back in my lap and moaned till I thought my heart wouldbreak. But that was not the worst that happened. As we went hurrying upthe walk to find the child’s father, we were met by a woman wrapped in ablack cloak whose long and greasy folds seemed like the symbol of herown untold depravity. Her glance as she encountered the child writhingin pain at my feet, made my heart stand still. It was more thanmalignant, it was actually fiendish. ‘Is he hurt?’ she asked, and itseemed as if she gloated over the question; she evidently longed to hearthat he was, longed to be told that he would die; and when I inquired ifshe was his mother, she broke into a string of laughter, that seemed todarken the daylight. ‘His mother! O yes, we look alike, don’t we!’ sheexclaimed, pointing with a mocking gesture frightful to see, first athis eyes which were very blue and beautiful, and then at her own whichwere dark as evil thoughts could make them. I never saw anything sodreadful. Malignancy! and towards a little lame child! what could bemore horrible!”

Mr. Sylvester and his wife exchanged looks, then the former asked, “Didshe follow you, Paula?”

“No; after telling me that I—But I cannot repeat what she said,”exclaimed the young girl with a quick shudder. “Since I came home,” shemusingly continued, “I have looked and looked at my face in the glass,but I cannot believe that what she declared is true. There is nosimilarity between us, could never have been any: I will not have itthat she ever saw in all the days of her life such a picture as that inher glass.” And with a sudden gesture Paula started up and pointed toherself as she stood reflected in one of the tall mirrors with whichOna’s boudoir abounded.

“And did she dare to make any comparison between you and her owndegraded self?” exclaimed Mr. Sylvester, with a glance at the exquisitevision of pure girlhood thus doubly presented to his notice.

“Yes, what I am, she was once, or so she said. And it may be true. Ihave never suffered sorrow or experienced wrong, and cannot measuretheir power to carve the human face with such lines as I beheld on thatwoman’s countenance to-day. But do not let us talk of her any more. Sheleft us at last, and we found the child’s father. Mr. Sylvester,” shesuddenly asked, “are there to be found in this city, men occupyinghonorable positions and as such highly esteemed, who like Damocles ofold, may be said to sit under the constant terror of a falling sword inthe shape of some possible disclosure, that if made, would ruin theirposition before the world forever?”

Mr. Sylvester started as if he had been shot. “Paula!” cried he, andinstantly was silent again. He did not look at his wife, but if he had,he would have perceived that even her fair skin was capable of blanchingto a yet more startling whiteness, and that her sleepy eyes could flashopen with something like expression in their lazy depths.

“I mean,” dreamily continued Paula, absorbed in her own remembrance,“that if what we overheard said by the father of that child to-day istrue, some one of our prominent men, whose life is not all it appears,is standing on the verge of possible exposure and shame; that a hound ison his track in the form of a starving man; and that sooner or later hewill have to pay the price of an unprincipled creature’s silence, orfall into public discredit like some others of whom we have latelyread.” Then as silence filled the room, she added, “It makes me trembleto think that a man of means and seeming honor should be placed in sucha position, but worse still that we may know such a one and be ignorantof his misery and his shame.”

“It is getting time for me to dress,” murmured Ona, sinking back on herpillow and speaking in her most languid tone of voice. “Could you nothasten your story a little Paula?”

But Mr. Sylvester with a hurried glance at the closing eyes of his wife,requested on the contrary that she would explain herself moredefinitely. “Ona will pardon the delay,” said he, with a set, strainedpoliteness that called up the least little quiver of suppressed sarcasmabout the rosy infantile lips that he evidently did not consider itworth his while to notice.

“But that is all,” said Paula. However she repeated as nearly as shecould just what the boy’s father had said. At the conclusion Mr.Sylvester rose.

“What kind of a looking man was he?” said that gentleman as he crossedto the window.

“Well, as nearly as I can describe, he was tall, dark and seedy, with ashock of black hair and a pair of black whiskers that floated on thewind as he walked. He was evidently of the order of decayed gentleman,and his manner of talking, especially in the profuse use he made of hisarms and hands, was decidedly foreign. Yet his speech was pure andwithout accent.”

Mr. Sylvester’s face as he asked the next question was comparativelycheerful. “Was the other man with whom he was talking, as dark andforeign as himself?”

“O no, he was round and jovial, a little too insinuating perhaps, in hisway of speaking to ladies, but otherwise a a well enough appearing man.”

Mr. Sylvester bowed and looked at his watch. (Why do gentlemen alwaysconsult their watches even in the face of the clock?) “Ona, you areright,” said he, “it is time you were dressing for dinner.” Andconcluding with a word or two of sympathy as to the peculiar nature ofPaula’s adventures as he called them, he hastened from the room andproceeded to his little refuge above.

“He has not asked me what became of the child,” thought Paula, with acertain pang of surprise. “I expected him to say, ‘Shall we not try andsee the little fellow, Paula?’ if only to allow me to explain that thechild’s father would not tell me where they lived. But the later affairhas evidently put the child out of his head. And indeed it is onlynatural that a business man should be more interested in such a fact asI have related, than in the sprained arm of a wretched creature’s‘little feller.’” And she turned to assist Ona, who had arisen from hercouch and was now absorbed in the intricacies of an uncommonly elaboratetoilet.

“Those men did not mention any names?” suddenly queried that lady,looking with an expression of careful anxiety, at the twist of her backhair, in the small hand-mirror she held over her shoulder.

“No,” said Paula, dropping a red rose into the blonde locks she was socarefully arranging. “He expressly said he did not know the name of theperson to whom he alluded. It was a strange conversation for me tooverhear, was it not?” she remarked, happy to have interested her cousinin anything out of the domains of fashion.

“I don’t know—certainly—of course—” returned Mrs. Sylvester with someincoherence. “Do you think red looks as well with this black as thelavender would do?” she rambled on in her lightest tone, pulling out abox of feathers.

Paula gave her a little wistful glance of disappointment and decided infavor of the lavender.

“I am bound to look well to-night if I never do so again,” said Ona.They were all going to a public reception at which a foreign lord wasexpected to be present. “How fortunate I am to have a perfect littlehairdresser in my own family, without being obliged to send for somegossipy, fussy old Madame with her stories of how such and such a onelooked when dressed for the Grand Duke’s ball, or how Mrs. So and Soalways gave her more than her price because she rolled up puffs soexquisitely.” And stopping to aid the deft girl in substituting thelavender feather for the red rose in her hair—she forgot to ask anymore questions.

“Ona,” remarked her husband, coming into the room on his way down todinner—Mrs. Sylvester never dined when she was going to any grandentertainment; it made her look flushed she said—“I am not in the habitof troubling you about your family matters, but have you heard from yourfather of late?”

Mrs. Sylvester turned from her jewel-casket and calmly surveyed hisface. It was fixed and formal, the face he turned to his servants andsometimes—to his wife. “No,” said she, with a light little gesture asthough she were speaking of the most trivial matter. “In one respect atleast, papa is like an angel, his visits are few and far between.”

Mr. Sylvester’s eye-brows drew heavily together. For a man with a smileof strange sweetness, he could sometimes look very forbidding. “Whenwas he here last?” he inquired in a tone more commanding than he knew.

She did not appear to resent it. “Let me see,” mused she. “When was it Ilost my diamond ear-ring? O I remember, it was on the eve of New Year’sday a year ago; I recollect because I had to wear pearls with my garnetbrocade,” she pettishly sighed. “And papa came the next week, after youhad given me the money for a new pair. I have reason to remember that,for not a dollar did he leave me.”

“Ona!” exclaimed her husband, shrinking back in uncontrollable surprise,while his eyes flashed inquiringly to her ears in which two noblediamonds were brilliantly shining.

“O,” she cried, just raising one snowy hand to those sparklingornaments, while a faint blush, the existence of which he had sometimesdoubted, swept over her careless face. “I was enabled to procure them intime; but for a whole two months I had to go without diamonds.” She didnot say that she had bartered her wedding jewels to make up the sum sheneeded, but he may have understood that without being told.

“And that is the last time you have seen him?” He held her eyes withhis, she could not look away.

“The very last, sir; strange to say.”

His glance shifted from her face and he turned with a bow towards thedoor.

“May I ask,” she slowly inquired as he moved across the floor, “what isthe reason of this sudden interest in poor papa?”

“Certainly,” said he, pausing and looking back, not without some emotionof pity in his glance. “I am sometimes struck with a sense of the duty Iowe you, in helping you to bear the burden of certain secretresponsibilities which I fear may sometimes prove too heavy for you.”

She gave a little rippling laugh that only sounded hollow to the imagelistening in the glass. “You choose strange times in which to bestruck,” said she, holding up two dresses for his inspection, with alift of her brows evidently meant as an inquiry as to which he thoughtthe most becoming.

“Conscience is the chooser, not I,” declared he, for once allowinghimself to ignore the weighty question of dress thus propounded.

His wife gave a little toss of her head and he left the room.

“I should like Edward very much,” murmured she in a burst of confidenceto her own reflection in the glass, “if only he would not bother himselfso much about that same disagreeable conscience.”

“You look unhappy,” said Mr. Sylvester to Paula as they came from thedining-room. “Have the adventures of the day made such an impressionupon you that you will not be able to enjoy the evening’s festivities?”

She lifted her face and the quick smile came.

“I do not like to see your brow so clouded,” continued he, smoothing hisown to meet her searching eye. “Smiles should sit on the lips of youth,or else why are they so rosy.”

“Would you have me smile in face of my first glimpse of wickedness,”asked she, but in a gentle tone that robbed her words of half theirreproach. “You must remember that I have had but little experience withthe world. I have lived all my life in a town of wholesome virtues, andwhile here I have been kept from contact with anything low or base. Ihave never known vice, and now all in a moment I feel as if I have beenbathed in it.”

He took her by the hand and drew her gently towards him. “Does yourwhole being recoil so from evil, my Paula? What will you do in thiswicked world? What will you say to the sinner when you meet him—as youmust?”

“I don’t know; it’s a problem I have never been brought to consider. Ifeel as if launched on a dismal sea for which I have neither chart norcompass. Life was so joyous to me this morning—” a flush swept over hercheek but he did not notice it—“I held, or seemed to hold, a cup ofwhite wine in my hand, but suddenly as I looked at it, it turned blackand—”

Ah, the outreach, the dismal breaking away of thought into theunfathomable, that lies in the pause of an and!

“And do you refuse to drink a cup across which has fallen a shadow,”murmured Mr. Sylvester, his eyes fixed on her face, “the inevitableshadow of that great mass of human frailty and woe which has beenaccumulating from the foundation of the world?”

“No, no, I cannot, and retain my humanity. If there is such evil in theworld, its pressure must drive it across the path of innocence.”

“And you accept the cup?”

“I must; but oh, my vanished beliefs! This morning the wine of my lifewas pure and white, now it is black and befouled. What will make itclean again?”

With a sigh Mr. Sylvester dropped her hand and turned towards themantle-piece. It was April as I have said, and there was no fire in thegrate, but he posed his foot on the fender and looked sadly down at theempty hearthstone.

“Paula,” said he after a space of pregnant silence, “it had to come. Theveil of the temple must be rent in every life. Evil is too near us allfor us to tread long upon the flowers without starting up the addersthat hide beneath them. You had to have your first look into the cellsof darkness, and perhaps it is best you had it here and now. The deepsare for men’s eyes as well as the starry heavens.”

“Yes, yes.”

“There are some persons,” he went on slowly, “you know them, who treadthe ways of life with their eyelids closed to everything but the stripof velvet lawn on which they choose to walk. Earth’s sighs anddeep-drawn groans are nothing to them. The world may swing on in its wayto perdition; so long as their pathway feels soft, they neither heed norcare. But you do not desire to be one of these, Paula! With your greatsoul and your strong heart, you would not ask to sit in a flowery maze,while the rest of the world went sliding on and down into wells ofdestruction, you might have made pools of healing by the touch of yourwomanly sympathy.”

“No, no.”

“I cannot tell you, I dare not tell you,” he went on in a strangepleading voice that tore at the very roots of her heart, and rung in hermemory forever, “what evil underlies the whole strata of life! At homeand abroad, on our hearthstones and within our offices, the mockingdevil sits. You can scarcely walk a block, my little one, withoutencountering a man or brushing against the dress of a woman across whosesoul the black shadow lies heavier than any words of his or hers couldtell. What the man you saw to-day, said of one unhappy being in thiscity, is true, God help us all, of many. Dark spots are easier acquiredthan blotted out, my Paula. In business as in society, one needs tocarry the white shield of a noble purpose or a self-forgetting love, toescape the dripping of the deadly upas tree that branches above allhumanity. I have walked its ways, my darling, and I know of what Ispeak. Your white robe is spotless but—”

“O there is where the pain comes in,” she cried; “there, just there, iswhere the dagger strikes. She says she was once like me. O, could anytemptation, any suffering, any wrong or misfortune that might befall me,ever bring me to where she is! If it could—”

“Paula!” This time his voice came authoritatively. “You are making toomuch of a frenzied woman’s impulsive exclamation. To her darkened anddespairing eyes any young woman of a similar style of beauty would havecalled forth the same remark. It was a sign that she was not entirelygiven up to evil, that she could remember her youth. Instead of feelingcontaminated by her words, you ought to feel, that unconsciously toyourself, your fresh young countenance with its innocent eyes did anangel’s work to-day. They made her recall what she was in the days ofher own innocence; and who can tell what may follow such arecollection.”

“O Mr. Sylvester,” said she, “you fill me with shame. If I could thinkthat—”

“You can, nothing appeals to the heart of crime like the glance ofperfect innocence. If evil walks the world, God’s ministers walk italso, and none can tell in what glance of the eye or what touch of thehand, that ministry will speak.”

It was her turn now to take his hand in hers. “O how good, howthoughtful you are; you have comforted me and you have taught me. Ithank you very much.”

With a look she did not perceive, he drew his hand away. “I am glad Ihave helped you, Paula; there is but one thing more to say, and this Iwould emphasize with every saddened look you have ever met in all yourlife. Great sins make great sufferers. Side by side came the twodreadful powers of vice and retribution into the world, and side by sidewill they keep till they sink at last into the awful deeps of thebottomless pit. When you turn your back on a man who has committed acrime, one more door shuts in his darkened spirit.”

The tears were falling from Paula’s eyes now. He looked at them withstrange wistfulness and involuntarily his hand rose to her head,smoothing her locks with fatherly touches. “Do not think,” said he,“that I would lessen by a hair’s breadth your hatred of evil. I can moreeasily bear to see the shadow upon your cup of joy than upon the bannerof truth you carry. These eyes must lose none of their inner light inglancing compassionately on your fellow-men. Only remember that divinityitself has stooped to rescue, and let the thought make your contact withweary, wicked-hearted humanity a little less trying and a little morehopeful to you. And now, my dear, that is enough of serious talk forto-day. We are bound for a reception, you know, and it is time we weredressing. Do you want me to tell you a secret?” asked he in a lightmysterious tone, as he saw her eyes still filling.

She glanced up with sudden interest.

“I know it is treason,” resumed he, “I am fully aware of the gravenature of my offence; but Paula I hate all public receptions, and shallonly be able to enjoy myself to-night just so much as I see that you aredoing so. Life has its dark portals and its bright ones. This is onethat you must enter with your most brilliant smiles.”

“And they shall not be lacking,” said she. “When a treasure-box ofthought is given us, we do not open it and scatter its contents abroad,but lay it away where the heart keeps its secrets, to be opened in thehush of night when we are alone with our own souls and God.”

He smiled and she moved towards the door. “None the less do we carrywith us wherever we go, the remembrance of our hidden treasure,” shesmilingly added, looking back upon him from the stair.

And again as upon the first night of her entrance into the house, did hestand below and watch her as she softly went up, her lovely faceflashing one moment against the dark background of the luxurious bronze,towering from the platform behind, then glowing with faint and fainterlustre, as the distance widened between them and she vanished in theregions above.

She did not see the toss of his arm with which he threw off the burdenthat rested upon his soul.

XVII.

GRAVE AND GAY.

“No scandal about Queen Elizabeth I hope.”—Sheridan.

“Stands Scotland where it did?”—Macbeth.

“Who is that talking with Miss Stuyvesant?” asked Mr. Sylvester,approaching his wife during one of the lulls that will fall at timesupon vast assemblies.

Mrs. Sylvester followed the direction of his glance and immediatelyresponded, “O that is Mr. Ensign, one of the best partis of theseason. He evidently knows where to pay his court.”

“I inquired because he has just requested me to honor him with a formalintroduction to Paula.”

“Indeed! then oblige him by all means; it would be a great match forher. To say nothing of his wealth, he is haut ton, and his redwhiskers will not look badly beside Paula’s dark hair.”

Mr. Sylvester frowned, then sighed, but in a few minutes Paula observedhim approaching with Mr. Ensign. At once her hitherto pale cheekflushed, but the young gentleman did not seem to object to that, andafter the formal introduction which he had sought was over, he exclaimedin his own bright ringing tones,

“The fates have surely forgotten their usual rôle of unpropitiousness. Idid not dare hope to meet you here to-night, Miss Fairchild. Was theride all that your fancy painted?”

“O,” said she, speaking very low and glancing around, “do not allude toit here. We had an adventure shortly after you parted from us.”

“An adventure! and no cavalier at your side! If I could but have known!Was it so serious?” he inquired in a moment, seeing her look grave.

“Ask Miss Stuyvesant;” said she. “I cannot talk about it any moreto-night. Besides the music carries off one’s thoughts. It is like ajoyous breeze that whirls away the thistle-down whether it will or no.”

He gave her a short quick look grave enough in its way, but respondedwith his usual graceful humor, “The thistle-down is too vicious a spriteto be beguiled away so easily. If I were to give my opinion on thesubject, I should say there was method in its madness. If you have beenbrought up in the country, as I suspect from your remark, you must knowthat the white floating ball is not as harmless as it would lead you toimagine. It is a meddlesome nobody, that’s what it is, and like somecountry gossips I know, launches forth from a pure love of mischief toestablish his prickers in his neighbor’s field.”

His! I thought it must be feminine at least to fulfill the conditionsyou mention. A male gossip, O fie! I shall never have patience with athistle-ball after this.”

“Well,” laughed he, “I did start with the intention of making itfeminine, but I caught a glimpse of your eyes and lost my courage. I didwhat I could,” added he with a mirthful glance.

“So do the thistles,” cried she. Then while both voices joined in amerry laugh, she continued, “But where have we strayed? For a moment itseemed as if we were on the hills at Grotewell; I could almost see theblue sky.”

“And I,” said he, with his eyes on her face.

“I am sure the brooks bubbled.”

“I distinctly heard a bird singing.”

“It was a whippowill.”

“But my name is Clarence?”

And here both being young and without a care in the world, they laughedagain. And the crowded perfumed room seemed to freshen as with a whiffof mountain air.

“You love the country, Miss Fairchild?”

“Yes;” and her smile was the reflection of the summer-lands that arosebefore her at the word. “With the right side of my heart do I love thespot where nature speaks and man is dumb.”

“And with the left?”

“I love the place where great men congregate to face their destiny andcontrol it.”

“The latter is the deeper love,” said he.

She nodded her head and then said, “I need both to make me happy.Sometimes as I walk these city streets, I feel as if my very longing toescape to the heart of the hills, would carry me there. I remember whenI was a child, I was one day running through a meadow, when suddenly awhole flock of birds flew up from the grass and surrounded my head. Iwas not sure but what I should be caught up and carried away by theforce of their flight; and when they rose to mid heaven, something in mybreast seemed to follow them. So it is often with me here, only that itis the rush of my thoughts that threatens such a Hegira. Yet if I wereto be transported to my native hills, I know I should long to be backagain.”

“The mountain lassie has wandered into the courts of the king. Theperfume of palaces is not easily forgotten.”

Her eye turned towards Mr. Sylvester standing near them upright andfirm, talking to a group of attentive gentlemen every one of whomboasted a name of more than local celebrity. “Without a royal heart togovern, there would be no palace;” said she, and blushed under a suddensense of the possible interpretation he might give to her words, tillthe rose in her hand looked pallid.

But he had followed her glance and understood her better than shethought. “And Mr. Sylvester has such a heart, so a hundred good fellowshave told me. You are fortunate to see the city from the loop-hole ofsuch a home as his.”

“It is more than a loop-hole,” said she.

“Of that I shall never be satisfied till I see it?”

And being content with the look he received, he took her on his arm andled her into the midst of the dancers.

Meanwhile in a certain corner not far off, two gentlemen were talking.

“Sylvester shows off well to-night.”

“He always does. With such a figure as that, a man needs but to enter aroom to make himself felt. But then he’s a good talker too. Ever heardhim speak?”

“No.”

“Fine voice, true snap, right ring. Great favorite at elections. Thefact is, Sylvester is a remarkable man.”

“Hum, ha, so I should judge.”

“And so fortunate! He has never been known to run foul in a greatoperation. Put your money in his hand and whew!—your fortune is as goodas made.”

The other, a rich man, connected heavily with the mining business inColorado, smiled with that bland overflow of the whole countenance whichis sometimes seen in large men of great self-importance.

“It’s a pity he’s gone out of Wall Street,” continued his companion.“The younger fry feel now something like a flock of sheep that has lostit* bell-wether.”

“They straggle—eh?” returned his portly friend with an increase of hissmile that was not altogether pleasant. “So Sylvester has left WallStreet?”

“He closed his last enterprise two weeks before accepting the Presidencyof the Madison Bank. Stuyvesant is down on speculation, and well—Itlooks better you know; the Madison Bank is an old institution, andSylvester is ambitious. There’ll be no reckless handling of fundsthere.”

“No!” What was there in that no that made the other look up? “I’m notacquainted with Sylvester myself. Has he much family?”

“A wife—there she is, that handsome woman talking with Ditman,—and adaughter, niece or somebody who just now is setting all our youngscapegraces by the ears. You can see her if you just crane your neck alittle.”

“Humph, ha, very pretty, very pretty. How much do you suppose Mrs.Sylvester is worth as she stands, diamonds you know, and all that?”

“Well I should say some where near ten thousand; that sprig in her haircost a clean five.”

“So, so. They live in a handsome house I suppose?”

“A regular palace, corner of Fifth Avenue and ——”

“All his?”

“Nobody’s else I reckon.”

“Sports horses and carriage I suppose?”

“Of course.”

“Yacht, opera box?”

“No reason why he shouldn’t.”

“What is his salary?”

“A nominal sum, five or ten thousand perhaps.”

“Owns good share of the bank’s stock I presume?”

“Enough to control it.”

“Below par though?”

“A trifle, going up, however.”

“And don’t speculate?”

The way this man drawled his words was excessively disagreeable.

“Not that any one knows of. He’s made his fortune and now asks only toenjoy it.”

The man from the West strutted back and looked at his companionknowingly. “What do you think of my judgment, Stadler?”

“None better this side of the Pacific.”

“Pretty good at spying out cracks, eh?”

“I wouldn’t like to undertake the puttying up that would deceive you.”

“Humph! Well then, mark this. In two months from to-day you will see Mr.Sylvester rent his house and go south for his health, or the pretty oneover there will marry one of the scapegraces you mention, who will lendthe man who don’t engage in any further ventures, more than one or twohundred thousand dollars.”

“Ha, you know something.”

“I own mines in Colorado and I have my points.”

“And Mr. Sylvester?”

“Will find them too sharp for him.”

And having made his joke, he yielded to the other’s apparentrestlessness, and they sauntered off.

They did not observe a pale, demure, little lady that sat near themabstractedly nodding her dainty head to the remarks of a pale-whiskeredyouth at her side, nor notice the emotion with which she suddenly roseat their departure and dismissed her chattering companion on someimpromptu errand. It was only one of the ordinary group of dancers, apretty, plainly dressed girl, but her name was Stuyvesant.

Rising with a decision that gave a very attractive color to her cheeks,she hastily looked around. A trio of young gentlemen started towards herbut she gave them no encouragement; her eye had detected Mr. Sylvester’stall figure a few feet off and it was to him she desired to speak. Butat her first movement in his direction, her glance encountered anotherface, and like a stream that melts into a rushing torrent, her purposeseemed to vanish, leaving her quivering with a new emotion of so vivid acharacter she involuntarily looked about her for a refuge.

But in another instant her eyes had again sought the countenance thathad so moved her, and finding it bent upon her own, faltered a littleand unconsciously allowed the lilies she was carrying to drop from herhand. Before she realized her loss, the face before her had vanished,and with it something of her hesitation and alarm.

With a hasty action she drew near Mr. Sylvester. “Will you lend me yourarm for a minute?” she asked, with her usual appealing look rendereddoubly forcible by the experience of a moment before.

“Miss Stuyvesant! I am happy to see you.”

Never had his face looked more cheerful she thought, never had his smilestruck her more pleasantly.

“A little talk with a little girl will not hinder you too much, willit?” she queried, glancing at the group of gentlemen that had shrunkback at her approach.

“Do you call that hindrance which relieves one from listening toquotations of bank stock at an evening reception?”

She shook her head with a confused movement, and led him up before astand of flowering exotics.

“I want to tell you something,” she said eagerly but with a markedtimidity also, the tall form beside her looked so imposing for all itsencouraging bend. “I beg your pardon if I am doing wrong, but paparegards you with such esteem and—Mr. Sylvester do you know a man by thename of Stadler?”

Astonished at such a question from lips so young and dainty, he turnedand surveyed her for a moment with quick surprise. Something in heraspect struck him. He answered at once and without circumlocution. “Yes,if you refer to that spry keen-faced man, just entering thesupper-room.”

“Do you know his companion?” she proceeded; “the portly, highlypompous-looking gentleman with the gold eye-glasses? Look quickly.”

“No.” There was an uneasiness in his tone however that struck herpainfully.

“He is a stranger in town; has not the honor of your acquaintance hesays, but from the questions he asked, I judge he has a great interestin your affairs. He spoke of being connected with mines in Colorado. Iwas sitting behind a curtain and overheard what was said.”

Mr. Sylvester turned pale and regarded her attentively. “Might I be sobold,” he inquired after a moment, “as to ask you what that was?”

“Yes, sir, certainly, but it is even harder for me to repeat than it wasfor me to hear. He inquired about your domestic concerns, your home andyour income,” she murmured blushing; “and then said, in what I thoughtwas a somewhat exulting tone, that in two months or so we should see yougo South for your health or—Is not that enough for me to tell you, Mr.Sylvester?”

He gave her a short stare, opened his lips as if to speak, then turnedabruptly aside and began picking mechanically at the blossoms beforehim.

“I, of course, do not know what men mean when they talk of possessingpoints. But the leer and side glance which accompanies such talk, have auniversal language we all understand, and I felt that I must warn you ofthat man’s malice if only because papa regards you so highly.”

He shrank as if touched on a sore place, but bowed and answered thewistful appeal of her glance with a shadow of his usual smile, then heturned, and looking towards the door through which the two men haddisappeared, made a movement as if he would follow. But rememberinghimself, escorted her to a seat, saying as he did so:

“You are very kind, Miss Stuyvesant; please say nothing of this toPaula.”

She bowed and a flitting smile crossed her upturned countenance. “I amnot much of a gossip, Mr. Sylvester, or I should have been tempted tohave carried my information to my father instead of to you.”

He understood the implied promise in this remark and gave the hand onhis arm a quick pressure, before relinquishing her to the care of thepale-complexioned youth who by this time had returned to her side.

In another moment Paula came up on the arm of a black-whiskeredgentleman all shirt front and eye-glasses. “O Cicely,” she cried, (shecalled Miss Stuyvesant, Cicely now) “is it not a delightful evening?”

“Are you enjoying yourself so much?” inquired that somewhat agitatedlittle lady, with a glance at the countenance of her friend’s attendant.

“I fear it would scarcely seem consistent in me now to say no,” returnedthe radiant girl, with a laughing glance towards the same gentleman.

But when they were alone, the gentleman having departed on some of theinnumerable errands with which ladies seem to delight in afflictingtheir attendant cavaliers at balls or receptions, she atoned for thatglance by remarking,

“I do not find the average partner that falls to one’s lot in suchreceptions all that fancy paints.” And then finding she had repeated aphrase of Mr. Ensign’s, blushed, though no one stood near her butCicely.

“Fancy’s brush would need to be dipped in but two colors to present toour eye the mass of them,” was Cicely’s laughing reply. “A streak ofblack for the coat, and a daub of white for the shirt front. Voilatout.

“With perhaps a dash of red in some cases,” murmured a voice over theirshoulders.

They turned with hurried blushes. “Ah, Mr. Ensign,” quoth Cicely inunabashed gaiety, “we reserve red for the exceptions. We did not intendto include our acknowledged friends in our somewhat sweeping assertion.”

“Ah, I see, the black streak and the white daub are a symbol of,‘Er—Miss Stuyvesant—very warm this evening! Have an ice, do. Ialways have an ice after dancing; so refreshing, you know.’”

The manner in which he imitated the usual languid drawl of certain ofthe young scapegraces heretofore mentioned, was irresistible. Paulaforgot her confusion in her mirth.

“You are blessed with a capacity for playing both rôles, I perceive,”cried Cicely with unusual abandon. “Well, it is convenient, there isnothing like scope.”

“Unless it is hope,” whispered Mr. Ensign so low that only Paula couldhear.

“But I warn you,” continued Cicely, with a sweet soft laugh that seemedto carry her heart far out into the passing throng, “that we have nofondness for the model beau of the period. A dish of milk makes a verygood supper but it looks decidedly pale on the dinner table.”

“Yes,” said Paula, eying the various young men that filed up and downbefore them, some pale, some dark, some handsome, some plain, but allsmiling and dapper, if not debonair, “some men could be endured if onlythey were not men.”

Mr. Ensign gave her a quick look, and while he laughed at the paradox,straightened himself like one who could be a man if the occasion called.She saw the action and blushed.

But their conversation was soon interrupted. Mr. Sylvester was seenreturning from the supper-room, looking decidedly anxious, and whilePaula was ignorant of what had transpired to annoy him, her ready spiritcaught the alarm, and she was about to rush up to him and address him,when one of the waiters approached, and murmuring a few words she didnot hear, handed him a card upon which she descried nothing but a simplecircle. Instantly a change crossed his already agitated countenance, andadvancing to the ladies with a word or two that while seeminglycheerful, struck Paula as somewhat forced, excused himself with theinformation that a business friend had been so inconsiderate as toimportune him for an interview in the hall. And with just a nod towardsMr. Ensign, who had drawn back at his advance, left them and disappearedin the crowd about the door.

“I do not like these interruptions from business friends in a time ofpleasure,” cried Paula, looking after him with anxious eyes. “Did younotice how agitated he seemed, Cicely? And half an hour ago he was thepicture of calm enjoyment.”

“Business is beyond our comprehension, Paula,” returned her friendevasively. “It is something like a neuralgic twinge, it takes a man whenhe least expects it. Have you told Mr. Ensign of our adventure?”

“No, but I informed Mr. Sylvester, and he said such good, true words tome, Cicely. I can never forget them.”

“And I told papa; but he only frowned and made some observation aboutthe degeneracy of the times, and the number of scamps thrown to the topby the modern methods of acquiring instantaneous fortunes.”

“Your papa is sometimes hard, is he not, Cicely?”

With a flush Miss Stuyvesant allowed her eye to rest for a moment on thecrowd shifting before her. “He was dug from a quarry of granite, Paula.He is both hard and substantial; capable of being hewn but not of beingmoulded. Of such stuff are formed monuments of enduring beauty andsolidity. You must do papa justice.”

“I do, but I sometimes have a feeling as if the granite column wouldfall and crush me, Cicely.”

“You, Paula?”

Before she could again reply, Mr. Sylvester returned. His face was stillpale, but it had acquired an expression of rigidity even more alarmingto Paula than its previous aspect of forced merriment. Lifting her bythe hand, he drew her apart.

“I shall have to leave you somewhat abruptly,” said he. “An importantmatter demands my instant attention. Bertram is somewhere here, and willsee that you and Ona arrive home in safety. You won’t allow yourenjoyment to be clouded by my hasty departure, will you?”

“Not if it will make you anxious. But I would rather go home with younow. I am sure Cousin Ona would be willing.”

“But I am not going home at present,” said he; and she ventured upon nofurther remonstrance.

But her enjoyment was clouded; the sight of suffering or anxiety on thatface was more than she could bear; and ere long she said good-night toCicely, and accepting the arm of Mr. Ensign, who was never very far fromher side, proceeded to search for her cousin.

She found her standing in the midst of an admiring throng to whom herdiamonds, if not her smiles, were an object of undoubted interest. Shewas in the full tide of one of her longest and most widely ramblingspeeches, and to Paula, with that stir of anxiety at her breast, was animage of self-satisfied complacency from which she was fain to drop hereyes.

“Mrs. Sylvester shares the honors with her husband,” remarked Mr. Ensignas they drew near.

“But not the trials, or the pain, or the care?” was Paula’s inwardcomment.

Mrs. Sylvester was not easily wooed away from a circle in which shefound herself creating such an impression, but at length she yielded toPaula’s importunities, and consented to accept young Mr. Sylvester’sattendance to their home. The next thing was to find Bertram. Mr. Ensignengaged to do this. Leaving Paula with her cousin, who may or may nothave been pleased at this sudden addition to her circle, he sought forthe young man who as Mr. Mandeville was not unknown to any of thefashionable men and women of the day. It was no easy task, nor did hefind him readily, but at last he came upon him leaning out of a windowand gazing at a white lily which he held in his hand. Without preamble,Mr. Ensign made known his errand, and Bertram at once prepared toaccompany him back to the ladies.

“By Jove! I didn’t know the fellow was so handsome!” thought the former,and frowned he hardly knew why. Bertram was not handsome, but thenClarence Ensign was plain, which Bertram certainly was not.

It was to Mr. Ensign’s face however that Paula’s eyes turned as the twocame up, and he with the ready vivacity of his natural temperamentobserved it, and took courage.

“I shall soon wish to measure that loop-hole of which I have spoken,”said he.

And the soft look in her large dark eye as she responded, “It is alwaysopen to friends,” filled up the measure of his cup of happiness; a cupwhich unlike hers, had not been darkened that day by the falling ofearth’s most dismal shadows.

XVIII.

IN THE NIGHT WATCHES.

“Shall I not take mine ease in mine inn?”—Hen. iv.

“What doth gravity out of his bed at midnight?”—Hen. iv.

“It has been the most delightful evening I have ever passed,” said Mrs.Sylvester, as she threw aside her rich white mantle in her ampleboudoir. “Sarah, two loops on that dolman to-morrow; do you hear? Ithought my arms would freeze. Such an elegant gentleman as the Count deFrassac is! He absolutely went wild over you, Paula, but notunderstanding a word of English—O there, if that horrid little wretchdidn’t drop his spoon on my dress after all! He swore it never touched athread of it, but just look at that spot, right in the middle of apleating too. Paula, your opinion in regard to the lavendar was correct.I heard Mrs. Forsyth Jones whisper behind my back that lavendar alwaysmade blondes look fade. Of course I needed no further evidence toconvince me that I had entirely succeeded in eclipsing her pale-faceddaughter. Her daughter!” and the lazy gurgle echoed softly through theroom, “As if every white-haired girl in the city considered herselfentitled to be called a blonde!” She stopped to listen, examiningherself in the glass near by. “I thought I heard Edward. It was veryprovoking in him to leave us in the cavalier manner in which he did. Iwas just going to introduce him to the count, not that he would haveesteemed it much of an honor, Edward I mean, but when one has agood-looking husband—Sarah, that curtain over there hangs crooked, pullit straight this instant. Did you try the oysters, Paula? They wereperfection, I shall have to dismiss Lorenzo without ceremony and procureme a cook that can make an oyster fricassee. By the way did younotice—” and so on and on for five minutes additional. Presently sheburst forth with—“I do believe I know what it is to be thoroughlysatisfied at last. The consideration which one receives as the wife ofthe president of the Madison bank is certainly very gratifying. If I hadknown I would feel such a change in the social atmosphere, I would haveadvocated Edward’s dropping speculation long ago. Beauty and wealth mayhelp one up the social ladder, but only a settled position such as hehas now obtained, can carry you safely over the top. I feel at last asif we had reached the pinnacle of my ambition and had seen the ladder bywhich we mounted thrown down behind us. If I get my costume from Worthin time, I shall give a German next month.”

Paula from her stand at the door—for some minutes she had beenendeavoring to escape to her room—surveyed her cousin in wonder. Shehad never seen her look as she did at that moment. Any one who speaksfrom the heart, acquires a certain eloquence, and Ona for once wasspeaking from her heart. The unwonted emotion made her cheeks burn, andeven her diamonds, ten thousand dollars worth as we have heard declared,were less brilliant than her eyes. Paula left her station on thedoor-sill and glided rapidly back to her side. “O Ona,” said she, “ifyou would only look like that when—” she paused, what right had she toventure upon giving lessons to her benefactor.

“When what?” inquired the other, subsiding at once into her naturallylanguid manner. Then with a total forgetfulness of the momentarycuriosity that had prompted the question, held out her head to theattendant Sarah, with a command to be relieved of her ornaments. Paulasighed and hastened to her room. She could not bring herself to mentionher anxiety in regard to the still absent master of the house, to thislazily-smiling thoroughly satisfied woman.

But none the less did she herself sit up in the moonlight, listeningwith bended head for the sound of his step on the walk beneath. Shecould not sleep while he was absent; and yet the thoughts that disturbedher and kept her from her virgin pillow could not have been entirely forhim, or why those wandering smiles that ever and anon passed flittingover her cheek, awakening the dimples that slumbered there, until shelooked more like a dreamy picture of delight than a wakeful vision ofapprehension. Not entirely for him—yet when somewhere towards threeo’clock, she heard the long delayed step upon the stoop, she started upwith eager eyes and a nervous gesture that sufficiently betrayed howintense was her interest in her benefactor’s welfare and happiness. “Ifhe goes to Ona’s room it is all right,” thought she; “but if he keeps onupstairs, I shall know that something is wrong and that he needs acomforter.”

He did not stop at Ona’s room; and struck with alarm, Paula opened wideher door and was about to step out to meet him, when she caught a sightof his face, and started back. Here was no anxiety, that she couldpalliate! The very fact that he did not observe her slight form standingbefore him in the brilliant moonlight, proved that a woman’s look ortouch was not what he was in search of; and shrinking sensitively to oneside, she sat down on the edge of her dainty bed, dropping her cheekinto her hand with a weary troubled gesture from which all the delighthad fled and only the apprehension remained. Suddenly she startedalertly up; he was coming down again, this time with a gliding muffledtread. Sliding past her door, he descended to the floor below. She couldhear the one weak stair in the heavy staircase creak, and—What! he haspassed Ona’s room, passed the bronze figure of Luxury on the platformbeneath, is on his way to the front door, has opened it, shut it softlybehind him and gone out again into the blank midnight streets. What didit mean? For a moment she thought she would run down and awaken Ona, butan involuntary remembrance of how those lazy eyes would open, starepeevishly and then shut again, stopped her on the threshold of her door;and sitting down again upon the side of her bed, she waited, this timewith opened eyes eagerly staring before her, and quivering form thatstarted at each and every sound that disturbed the silence of the greatechoing house. At six o’clock she again rose; he had just re-entered andthis time he stopped at Ona’s room.

XIX.

A DAY AT THE BANK.

“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.”—Hamlet.

There are days when the whole world seems to smile upon one withoutstint or reservation. Bertram Sylvester wending his way to the bank onthe morning following the reception, was a cheerful sight to behold.Youth, health, hope spake in every lineament of his face and brightenedevery glance of his wide-awake eye. His new life was pleasant to him.Bach, Beethoven and Chopin were scarcely regretted now by the ambitiousassistant cashier of the Madison Bank, with a friend in each of itsdirectors and a something more than that in the popular presidenthimself. Besides he had developed a talent for the business and was inthe confidence of the cashier, a somewhat sickly man who more than oncehad found himself compelled to rely upon the rapidly maturing judgmentof his young associate, in matters oftentimes of the utmost importance.The manner in which Bertram found himself able to respond to thesevarious calls, convinced him that he had been correct in his opinion ofhis own nature, when he informed his uncle that music was his pleasurerather than his necessity.

Entering the building by way of Pearl Street, he was about to open thedoor leading into the bank proper, when he heard a little piping voiceat his side, and turning, confronted the janitor’s baby daughter. Shewas a sweet and interesting child, and with his usual good natureBertram at once stopped to give her a kiss.

“I likes you,” prattled she as he put her down again after lifting herup high over his head, “but I likes de oder one best.”

“I hope the other one duly appreciates your preference,” laughed he, andwas again on the point of entering the bank when he felt or thought hefelt a hand laid on his arm. It was the janitor himself this time, aworthy man, greatly trusted in the bank, but possessed of such anextraordinary peculiarity in the way of a pair of protruding eyes, thathis appearance was always attended by a shock.

“Well, Hopgood, what is it?” cried Bertram, in his cheery tone.

The janitor drew back and mercifully shifted his gaze from the youngman’s face. “Nothing sir; did I stop you? Beg pardon,” he continued,half stammering, “I’m dreadful awkward sometimes.” And with a nod hesidled off towards his little one whom he confusedly took up in hisarms.

Now Bertram was sure the man had touched him and that, too, with a veryeager hand, but being late that morning and consequently in somewhat ofa hurry, he did not stop to pursue the matter. Hastening into the Bank,he assisted the teller in opening the safe, that being his especialduty, and was taking out such papers as he himself required, when he wassurprised to catch another sight of those same extraordinary organs ofwhich I have just spoken, peering upon him from the door by which he hadpreviously entered. They vanished as soon as he encountered them, butmore than once during the morning he perceived them looking upon himfrom various quarters of the bank, till he felt himself growingseriously annoyed, and sending for the man, asked him what he meant bythis unusual surveillance. The janitor seemed troubled, flushedpainfully and fixed his eyes in manifest anxiety on the cashier who,engaged in some search of his own, was just handling over the tin boxesthat lined the vault before them. Not till he had seen him shove themback into their place and leave the spot, did he venture upon his reply.“I’m sure, sir, I’m very sorry if I have annoyed you, but do you thinkMr. Sylvester will be down at the usual hour?”

“I know of no reason why he should not,” returned Bertram.

“I have something to say to him when he comes in,” stammered the man,evidently taken aback by Bertram’s look of surprise. “Will you be kindenough to ring the bell the first moment he seems to be at leisure? Idon’t know as it is a matter of any importance but—” He stopped,evidently putting a curb upon himself. “Can I rely on you, sir?”

“Yes, certainly, I will tell my uncle when he comes in that you want tospeak to him. He will doubtless send for you at once.”

The man looked embarrassed. “Excuse me, sir, but that’s just what I’drather you wouldn’t do. Mr. Sylvester is always very busy and he mightthink I wished to annoy him about some matters of my own, sir, as indeedI have not been above doing at odd times. If you would ring when hecomes in, that is all I ask.”

Bertram thought this a strange request, but seeing the man so anxious,gave the required promise, and the janitor hurried off. “Curious!”muttered Bertram. “Can anything be wrong?” And he glanced about him withsome curiosity as he went to his desk. But every one was at his post asusual and the countenances of all were equally undisturbed.

It was a busy morning and in the rush of various matters Bertram forgotthe entire occurrence. But it was presently recalled to him by hearingsome one remark, “Mr. Sylvester is late to-day,” and looking up fromsome papers he was considering, he found it was a full hour after thetime at which his uncle was in the habit of appearing. Just then hecaught still another sight of the protruding eyes of Hopgood staring inupon him from the half-opened door at the end of the bank.

“The fellow’s getting impatient,” thought he, and experienced a vaguefeeling of uneasiness.

Another half hour passed. “What can have detained Mr. Sylvester?” criedMr. Wheelock the cashier, hastily approaching Bertram.

“There is to be an important meeting of the Directors to-day, and someof the gentlemen are already coming in. Mr. Sylvester is not accustomedto keep us waiting.”

“I don’t know, I am sure,” returned Bertram, remembering with anaccession of uneasiness, the abruptness with which his uncle had leftthe entertainment the evening before.

“Shall I telegraph to the house?”

“No, that is not necessary. Besides Folger says he passed him onBroadway this morning.”

“Going down street with a valise in his hand,” that gentlemen quietlyput in. Folger was the teller. “He was looking very pale and didn’t seeme when I nodded.”

“What time was that?” asked Bertram.

“About twelve; when I went out to lunch.”

A quick gasp sounded at their side, followed by a hurried cough.Turning, Bertram encountered for the fifth time the eyes of Hopgood. Hehad entered unperceived by the small door that separated the innerinclosure from the outer, and was now standing very close to them, eyingwith side-long looks the safe at their back, the faces of the gentlemanspeaking, yes, and even the countenances of the clerks, as they bentbusily over their books.

“Did you ring, sir?” asked he, catching Bertram’s look of displeasure.

“No.”

The man seemed to feel the rebuke implied in this short response, andambled softly away. But in another moment he was stopped by Bertram.

“What is the matter with you to-day, Hopgood? Can you have anything ofreal importance on your mind; anything connected with my uncle?”

The janitor started, and looked almost frightened. “Be careful what yousay,” whispered he; then with a keen look at Mr. Wheelock just then onthe point of entering the directors’ room, he was turning to escape bythe little door just mentioned, when it opened and Mr. Stuyvesant camein. With a look almost of terror the janitor recoiled, throwing himselfas it were between the latter and the door of the safe; but recoveringhimself, surveyed the keen quiet visage of the veteran banker with arolling of his great eyes absolutely painful to behold. Mr. Stuyvesant,who was somewhat absorbed in thought, did not appear to notice theagitation he had caused, and with just a hurried nod followed Mr.Wheelock into the Directors’ room. Instantly the janitor drew himself upwith an air of relief, and shortly glancing at the clock which lacked afew minutes yet of the time fixed for the meeting, slided hastily awayfrom Bertram’s detaining hand, and disappeared in the crowd without. Inanother moment Bertram saw him standing at the outer door, lookinganxiously up and down the street.

“Something is wrong,” murmured Bertram. “What?” And for a moment hefelt half tempted to return Mr. Stuyvesant’s friendly bow with a fewwords expressive of his uneasiness, but the emphasis with which Hopgoodhad murmured the words, “Be careful what you say,” unconsciouslydeterred him, and concealing his nervousness as best he might, heentered the Directors’ office.

It was now time for the meeting to open, and the gentlemen were allseated around the low green baize table that occupied the centre of theroom. Impatience was written on all their countenances. Mr. Stuyvesantespecially was looking at the heavy gold watch in his hand, with a frownon his deeply wrinkled brow that did not add to its expression ofbenevolence. The empty seat at the head of the table stared upon Bertramuncompromisingly.

“My wife gives a reception to-day,” ventured one gentleman to hisneighbor.

“And I have an engagement at five that won’t bear postponement.”

“Sylvester has always been on hand before.”

“We can’t proceed without him,” was the reply.

Mr. Wheelock looked thoughtful.

With a nod of his head towards such gentlemen as met his eye, Bertramhastened to a little cupboard devoted to the use of himself and uncle.Opening it, he looked within, took down a coat he saw hanging beforehim, and unconsciously uttered an exclamation. It was a dress-coat suchas had been worn by Mr. Sylvester the evening before.

“What does this mean! My uncle has been here!” were the words thatsprang to his lips; but he subdued his impulse to speak, and hastilyhanging up the coat, relocked the door. Proceeding at once to the outerroom, he asked two or three of the clerks if they were sure Mr.Sylvester had not been in during the day. But they all returned anunequivocal “no,” and that too with a certain stare of surprise that atonce convinced him he was betraying his agitation too plainly.

“I will telegraph whether Wheelock considers it necessary or not,”thought he, and was moving to summon a messenger boy when he caughtsight of Hopgood slowly making his way in from the street. He was verypale and walked with his eyes fixed on the ground, ominously shaking hisgreat head in a way that bespoke an inner struggle of no ordinarynature. Bertram at once sauntered out to meet him.

“Hopgood,” said he, “your evident anxiety is infectious. What hashappened to make my uncle’s detention a matter of such apparent import?If you do not wish to confide in me, his nephew almost his son, speak toMr. Wheelock or to one of the directors, but don’t keep anything toyourself which concerns his welfare or—What are you looking at?”

The man was gazing as if fascinated at the keys in Bertram’s hand.

“Nothing sir, nothing. You must not detain me; I have nothing to say. Iwill wait ten minutes,” he muttered to himself, glancing again at theclock. Suddenly he saw the various directors come filing out of theinner room, and darted for the second time from Bertram’s detaininghand.

“I hope nothing has happened to Mr. Sylvester,” exclaimed one gentlemanto another as they filed by.

“If he were given to a loose ends’ sort of business it would be anotherthing.”

“He looked exceedingly well at the reception last night,” exclaimedanother; “but in these days—”

Suddenly there was a hush. A telegraph boy had just entered the door andwas asking for Mr. Bertram Sylvester.

“Here I am,” said Bertram, hastily taking the envelope presented him.Slightly turning his back, he opened it. Instantly his face grew whiteas chalk.

“Gentlemen,” said he, “you will have to excuse my uncle to-day; a greatmisfortune has occurred to him.” Then with a slow and horror-strickenmovement, he looked about him and exclaimed, “Mrs. Sylvester is dead.”

A confused murmur at once arose, followed by a hurried rush; but of allthe faces that flocked out of the bank, none wore such a look of blankand helpless astonishment as that of Hopgood the janitor, as withbulging eyes and nervously working hands, he slowly wended his way tothe foot of the stairs and there sat down gazing into vacancy.

XX.

THE DREGS IN THE CUP.

“O eloquent, just and mightie death! whom none could advise,thou hast persuaded; what none hath dared, thou hast done; andwhom all the world hath flattered, thou only hast cast out ofthe world and despised: thou hast drawn together all the farrestretched greatnesses; all the pride, crueltie and ambition ofman and covered it all over with these two narrow words, Hicjacet.”—Sir Walter Raleigh.

Bertram’s hurried ring at his uncle’s door was answered by Samuel thebutler.

“What is this I hear?” cried the young man, entering with considerableagitation, “Mrs. Sylvester dead?”

“Yes sir,” returned the old and trusty servant, with something like asob in his voice. “She went out riding this morning behind a pair ofborrowed horses—and being unused to Michael’s way of driving, they ranaway and she was thrown from the carriage and instantly killed.”

“And Miss Fairchild?”

“She didn’t go with her. Mrs. Sylvester was alone.”

“Horrible, horrible! Where is my uncle, can I see him?”

“I don’t know, sir,” the man returned with a strange look of anxiety.“Mr. Sylvester is feeling very bad, sir. He has shut himself up in hisroom and none of his servants dare disturb him, sir.”

“I should, however, like him to know I am here. In what room shall Ifind him?”

“In the little one, sir, at the top of the house. It has a curious lockon the door; you will know it by that.”

“Very well. Please be in the hall when I come down; I may want to giveyou some orders.”

The old servant bowed and Bertram hastened with hushed steps to ascendthe stairs. At the first platform he paused. What is there in a house ofdeath, of sudden death especially, that draws a veil of spectralunreality over each familiar object! Behind that door now inexorablyclosed before him, lay without doubt the shrouded form of her who but afew short hours before, had dazzled the eyes of men and made envious thehearts of women with her imposing beauty! No such quiet then reignedover the spot filled by her presence. As the vision of a dream returns,he saw her again in all her splendor. Never a brow in all the great hallshone more brightly beneath its sparkling diamonds; never a lip in thewhole vast throng curled with more self-complacent pride, or melted intoa more alluring smile, than that of her who now lay here, a marble imagebeneath the eye of day. It was as if a flowery field had split beneaththe dancing foot of some laughing siren. One moment your gaze is uponthe swaying voluptuous form, the half-shut beguiling eye, the whiteout-reaching arms upon whose satin surface a thousand loves seemperching; the next you stare horror-stricken upon the closing jaws of anawful pit, with the flash of something bright in your eyes, and thesense of a hideous noiseless rush in which earth and heaven appear tojoin, sink and be swallowed! Bertram felt his heart grow sick. Movingon, he passed the bronze image of Luxury lying half asleep on its bed ofcrumpled roses. Hideous mockery! What has luxury to do with death? Shewho was luxury itself has vanished from these halls. Shall the mutebronze go on smiling over its wine cup while she who was its prototypeis carried by without a smile on the lips once so vermeil with pride andtropical languors!

Arrived at the top of the house, Bertram knocked at the door with thestrange lock, and uttering his own name, asked if there was anything hecould do here or elsewhere to show his sympathy and desire to be of usein this great and sudden bereavement. There was no immediate reply andhe began to fear he would be obliged to retire without seeing his uncle,when the door was slowly opened and Mr. Sylvester came out. InstantlyBertram understood the anxiety of the servant. Not only did Mr.Sylvester’s countenance exhibit the usual traces of grief and horrorincident to a sudden and awful calamity, but there were visible upon itthe tokens of another and still more unfathomable emotion, a wild andparalyzed look that altered the very contour of his features, and madehis face almost like that of a stranger.

“Uncle, what is it?” sprang involuntarily to his lips. But Mr. Sylvesterbetraying by a sudden backward movement an instinctive desire to escapescrutiny, he bethought himself, and with hasty utterance offered somewords of consolation that sounded strangely hollow and superficial inthat dim and silent corridor. “Is there nothing I can do for you?” hefinally asked.

“Everything is being done,” exclaimed his uncle in a strained andaltered voice; “Robert is here.” And a silence fell over the hall, thatBertram dared not break.

“I have help for everything but—” He did not say what, it seemed as ifsomething rose up in his throat that choked him.

“Bertram,” said he at last in a more natural tone, “come with me.”

He led him into an adjoining room and shut the door. It was a room fromwhich the sunshine had not been excluded and it seemed as if they couldboth breathe more easily.

“Sit down,” said his uncle, pointing to a chair. The young man did so,but Mr. Sylvester remained standing. Then without preamble, “Have youseen her?”

There was no grief in the question, only a quiet respect. Death clothesthe most volatile with a garment of awe. Bertram slowly shook his head.“No,” said he, “I came at once up stairs.”

“There is no mark on her white body, save the least little discoloreddent here,” continued his uncle, pointing calmly to his temple. “She hadone moment of fear while the horses ran, and then—” He gave a quickshudder and advancing towards Bertram, laid his hand on his nephew’sshoulder in such a way as to prevent him from turning his head.“Bertram,” said he, “I have no son. If I were to call upon you toperform a son’s work for me; to obey and ask no questions, would youcomply?”

“Can you ask?” sprang from the young man’s lips; “you know that you haveonly to command for me to be proud to obey. Anything you can requirewill find me ready.”

The hand on his shoulder weighed heavier. “It seems a strange time totalk about business, Bertram, but necessity knows no law. There is amatter in which you can afford me great assistance if you will undertaketo do immediately what I ask.”

“Can you doubt—”

“Hush, it is this. On this paper you will find a name; below it a numberof addresses. They are all of places down town and some of them not veryreputable I fear. What I desire is for you to seek out the man whosename you here see, going to these very places after him, beginning withthe first, and continuing down the list until you find him. When youcome upon him, he will ask you for a card. Give him one on which youwill scrawl before his eyes, a circle, so. It is a token which he shouldinstantly understand. If he does, address him with freedom and tell himthat your employer—you need make use of no names—re-demands the papersmade over to him this morning. If he manifests surprise or is seen tohesitate, tell him your orders are imperative. If he declares ruin willfollow, inform him that you are not to be frightened by words; that youremployer is as fully aware of the position of affairs as he. Whatever hesays, bring the papers.”

Bertram nodded his head and endeavored to rise, but his uncle’s handrested upon him too heavily.

“He is a small man; you need have no dread of him physically. The sooneryou find him and acquit yourself of your task, the better I shall bepleased.” And then the hand lifted.

On his way down stairs Bertram encountered Paula. She was standing inthe hall and accosted him with a very trembling tone in her voice. Allher questions were in regard to Mr. Sylvester.

“Have you seen him?” she asked. “Does he speak—say anything? No one hasheard him utter a word since he came in from down town and saw her lyingthere.”

“Yes, certainly; he spoke to me; he has been giving me some commissionsto perform. I am on my way now to attend to them.”

She drew a deep breath. “O!” she cried, “would that he had a son, adaughter, a child, some one!”

This exclamation following what had taken place above struck Bertramforcibly. “He has a son in me, Paula. Love as well as duty binds me tohim. All that a child could do will I perform with pleasure. You cantrust me for that.”

She threw him a glance of searching inquiry. “His need is greater thanit seems,” whispered she. “He was deeply troubled before this terribleaccident occurred. I am afraid the arrow is poisoned that has made thisdreadful wound. I cannot explain myself,” she went on hurriedly, “but ifyou indeed regard him as a father, be ready with any comfort, any help,that affection can bestow, or his necessities require. Let me feel thathe has near him some stay that will not yield to pressure.”

There was so much passion in this appeal that Bertram involuntarilybowed his head. “He has two friends,” said he, “and here is my hand thatI will never forsake him.”

“I do not need to offer mine,” she returned, “He is great and goodenough to do without my assistance.” But nevertheless she gave her handto Bertram and with a glow of her lip and eye that made her beauty,supreme at all times, something almost supernatural in its character.

“I dared not tell him,” she whispered to herself as the front doorclosed with the dull slow thud proper to a house of mourning. “I darenot tell any one, but—”

What lay beyond that but?

When Mr. Sylvester came in at six o’clock in the morning, Paula hadrisen from the bed on which she had been sitting, but not to makepreparation for rest, for she could not rest. The vague shadow of somesurrounding evil or threatened catastrophe was upon her, and though sheforced herself to change her dress for a warmer and more suitable one,she did not otherwise break her vigil, though the necessity for itseemed to be at an end. It was a midwinter morning and the sun had notyet risen, so being chilly as well as restless, she began to pace thefloor, stopping now and then to glance out of the window, in the hopesof detecting some signs of awakening day in the blank and solemn east.Suddenly as she was thus consulting the horizon, a light flashed up frombelow, and looking down upon the face of the extension that ran along atright angles to her window, she perceived that the shades were up inMrs. Sylvester’s boudoir. They had doubtless been left so the eveningbefore, and Mr. Sylvester upon turning up the gas had failed to observethe fact. Instantly she felt her heart stand still, for the house beingwide and the extension narrow, all that went on in that boudoir, or atleast in that portion of it which Mr. Sylvester at present occupied, waseasily observable from the window at which she stood; and that somethingwas going on of a serious and important nature, was sufficiently evidentfrom the expression of Mr. Sylvester’s countenance. He was standing withhis face bent towards some one seated out of sight, his wifeundoubtedly, though what could have called her from her dreams—and wasbusily engaged in talking. The subject whatever it was, absorbed himcompletely. If Paula had allowed herself the thought, she would havedescribed him as pleading and that with no ordinary vehemence. Butsuddenly while she gazed half fascinated and but little realizing whatshe was doing, he started back and a fierce change swept over his face,a certain incredulity, that presently gave way to a glance of horror andrepugnance, which the quick action of his out-thrown palm sufficientlyemphasized. He was pushing something from him, but what? A suggestion ora remembrance? It was impossible to determine.

The countenance of Mrs. Sylvester who that moment appeared in sightsailing across the floor in her azure wrapper, offered but littleassistance in the way of explanation. Immovable under mostcirc*mstances, it was simply at this juncture a trifle more calm andcold than usual, presenting to Paula’s mind the thought of a white andicy barrier, against which the most glowing of arrows must fall chilledand powerless.

“O for a woman’s soul to inform that breast if but for a moment!” criedPaula, lost in the passion of this scene, while so little understandingits import. When as if in mockery to this invocation, the haughty formupon which she was gazing started rigidly erect, while the lip acquireda scorn and the eye a menace that betrayed the serpent ever in hidingunder this white rose.

Paula could look no longer. This last revelation had awakened her to thefact that she was gazing upon a scene sacred to the husband and wifeengaged in it. With a sense of shame she rushed to the bed and threwherself upon it, but the vision of what she had beheld would not leaveher so easily. Like letters of fire upon a black ground, the panorama oflooks and gestures to which she had just been witness, floated beforeher mind’s eye, awakening a train of thought so intense that she did notknow which was worse, to be there in the awful dawn dreaming over thisepisode of the night, or to rise and face again the reality. Thefascination which all forbidden sights insensibly exert over the mindsof the best of us, finally prevailed, and she slowly crept to the windowto catch a parting glimpse of Mr. Sylvester’s tall form hurrying blindlyfrom the boudoir followed by his wife’s cold glance. The next minute theexposed condition of the room seemed to catch that lady’s attention, andwith an anxious look into the dull gray morn, Mrs. Sylvester drew downthe shades, and the episode was over.

Or so Paula thought; but when she was returning up stairs after hersolitary breakfast—Mrs. Sylvester was too tired and Mr. Sylvester toomuch engaged to eat, as the attentive Samuel informed her—the door ofOna’s room swung ajar, and she distinctly heard her give utterance tothe following exclamation:

“What! give up this elegant home, my horses and carriage, the friends Ihave had such difficulty in obtaining, and the position which I was bornto adorn? I had rather die!” And Paula feeling as if she had receivedthe key to the enigma of the last night’s unaccountable manifestations,was about to rush away to her own apartment, when the door swayed openagain and she heard his voice respond with hard and bitter emphasis,

“And it might be better that you should. But since you will probablylive, let it be according to your mind. I have not the courage—”

There the door swung to.

An hour from that Mr. Sylvester left the house with a small valise inhis hand, and Mrs. Sylvester dressed in her showiest costume, enteredher carriage for an early shopping excursion.

And so when Paula whispered to herself, “I did not dare to tell him; Idid not dare to tell any one, but—” she thought of those terriblewords, “Die? It might be better, perhaps, that you should!” and thenremembered the ghastly look of immeasurable horror with which a fewhours later, he staggered away from that awful burden, whose rigid lineswould never again melt into mocking curves, and to whom the morning’swide soaring hopes, high reaching ambitions and boundless luxuries werenow no more than the shadows of a vanished world; life, love, longing,with all their demands, having dwindled to a noisome rest between fourclose planks, with darkness for its present portion and beyond—what?

XXI.

DEPARTURE.

“Forever and forever, farewell Cassius.
If we do meet again, why we shall smile;
If not, why then, this parting was well made.”—Julius Cæsar.

Samuel had received his orders to admit Mr. Bertram Sylvester to hisuncle’s room, at whatever hour of the day or night he chose to make hisappearance. But evening wore away and finally the night, before hiswell-known face was seen at the door. Proceeding at once to theapartment occupied by Mr. Sylvester, he anxiously knocked. The door wasopened immediately.

“Ah, Bertram, I have been expecting you all night.” And from the haggardappearance of both men, it was evident that neither of them had slept.

“I have sat down but twice since I left you, and then only inconveyances. I have been obliged to go to Brooklyn, to—”

“But you have found him?”

“Yes, I found him.”

His uncle glanced inquiringly at his hands; they were empty.

“I shall have to sit down,” said Bertram; his brow was very gloomy, hiswords came hesitatingly. “I had rather have knocked my head against thewall, than have disappointed you,” he murmured after a moment’s pause.“But when I did find him, it was too late.”

“Too late!” The tone in which this simple phrase was uttered wasindescribable. Bertram slowly nodded his head.

“He had already disposed of all the papers, and favorably,” he said.

“But—”

“And not only that,” pursued Bertram. “He had issued orders bytelegraph, that it was impossible to countermand. It was at the FortySecond Street depôt I found him at last. He was just on the point ofstarting for the west.”

“And has he gone?”

“Yes sir.”

Mr. Sylvester walked slowly to the window. It was raining drearilywithout, but he did not notice the falling drops or raise his eyes tothe leaden skies.

“Did you meet any one?” he asked at length. “Any one that you know, Imean, or who knows you?”

“No one but Mr. Stuyvesant.”

“Mr. Stuyvesant!”

“Yes sir,” returned Bertram, dropping his eyes before his uncle’sastonished glance. “I was coming out of a house in Broad Street when hepassed by and saw me, or at least I believed he saw me. There is nomistaking him, sir, for any one else; besides it is a custom of his I amtold, to saunter through the down town streets after the warehouses areall closed for the night. He enjoys the quiet I suppose, finds food forreflection in the sleeping aspect of our great city.” There was gloom inBertram’s tone; his uncle looked at him curiously.

“What house was it from which you were coming when he passed you?”

“A building where Tueller and Co. do business, shady operators in paper,as you know.”

“And you believed he recognized you?”

“I cannot be sure, sir. It was dark, but I thought I saw him look at meand give a slight start.”

Ah, how desolate sounds the drip, drip of a ceaseless rain, whenconversation languishes and the ear has time to listen!

“I will explain to Mr. Stuyvesant when I see him, that you were insearch of a man with whom I had pressing business,” observed Mr.Sylvester at last.

“No,” murmured Bertram with effort, “it might emphasize the occurrencein his mind; let the matter drop where it is.”

There was another silence, during which the drip of the rain on thewindow-ledge struck on the young man’s ears like the premonitory thud offalling earth upon a coffin-lid. At length his uncle turned and advancedrapidly towards him.

“Bertram,” said he, “you have done me a favor for which I thank you.What you have learned in the course of its accomplishment I cannot tell.Enough perhaps to make you understand why I warned you from thedangerous path of speculation, and set your feet in a way that ifadhered to with steadfast purpose, ought to lead you at last to a safeand honorable prosperity. Now—No, Bertram,” he bitterly interruptedhimself as the other opened his lips, “I am in need of no especialcommiseration, my affairs seem bound to prosper whether I will ornot—now I have one more commission to give you. Miss Fairchild—” hisvoice quavered and he leaned heavily on the chair near which he wasstanding. “Have you seen her, Bertram? Is the poor child quiteprostrated? Has this frightful occurrence made her ill, or does she bearup with fortitude under the shock of this sudden calamity?”

“She is not ill, but her suffering is undoubted. If you could see herand say a few words to relieve her anxiety in regard to yourself, Ithink it would greatly comfort her. Her main thought seems to be foryou, sir.”

Mr. Sylvester frowned, raised his hand with a repelling gesture, andhastily opened his lips. Bertram thought he was about to utter somepassionate phrase. But instead of that he merely remarked, “I am sorry Icannot see her, but it is quite impossible. You must stand between meand this poor child, Bertram. Tell her I send her my love; tell her thatI am quite well; anything to solace her and make these dark days lessdreary. If she wants a friend with her, let a messenger be sent forwhomever she desires. I place no restrictions upon anything you chooseto do for her comfort or happiness, but let me be spared the sight ofany other face than yours until this is all over. After the funeral—itnay sound ungracious, but I am far from feeling so—I shall wish to beleft alone for awhile. If she can be made to understand this—”

“I think her instincts, sir, have already led her to divine your wishes.If I am not mistaken, she is even now making preparations to return toher relatives.”

Mr. Sylvester gave a start. “What, so soon!” he murmured, and thesadness of his tone smote Bertram to the heart. But in another moment herecovered himself and shortly exclaimed, “Well! well! that is as itshould be. You will watch over her Bertram, and see that she is kindlycared for. It would be a grief to me to have her go away with any morethan the necessary regret at losing one who was always kind to her.”

“I will look after her as after a sister,” returned Bertram. “She shallmiss no attention which I can supply.”

With a look Mr. Sylvester expressed his thanks. Then while Bertram againattempted to speak, he gave him a cordial pressure of the hand, andwithdrew once more to his favorite spot.

And the rain beat, beat, and it sounded more and more like the droppingsof earth upon a nailed down coffin-lid.

The funeral was a large one. The largest some said that had ever beenseen in that quarter of the city. If Mrs. Sylvester’s position had notbeen what it was, the sudden and awful nature of her death, would havebeen sufficient to draw together a large crowd. Among those who thusendeavored to show their respect was Miss Stuyvesant.

“I could not join you here in your pleasures,” she whispered to Paula inthe short interview they had upstairs, preparatory to the services, “butI cannot keep away in the dark hours!” And from her look and the claspof her hand, Paula gained fresh courage to endure the slow pressure ofanxiety and grief with which she was secretly burdened.

Moreover she had the pleasure of introducing her beloved friend to Mr.Bertram Sylvester, a pleasure which she had long promised herselfwhenever the opportunity should arrive, as Miss Stuyvesant was somewhatof an enthusiast as regards music. She did not notice particularly then,but she remembered afterwards, with what a blushing cheek and beautifulglance the dainty young girl received his bow, and responded to his fewrespectful words of pleasure at meeting the daughter of a man whom hehad learned to regard with so much respect.

Mr. Sylvester was in a room by himself. The few glimpses obtained of himby his friends, convinced them all, that this trouble touched him moredeeply than those who knew his wife intimately could have supposed. Yethe was calm, and already wore that fixed look of rigidity which washenceforth to distinguish the expression of his fine and noble features.

In the ride to Greenwood he spoke little. Paula who sat in the carriagewith him did not receive a word, though now and then his eye wanderedtowards her with an expression that drove the blood to her heart, andmade the whole day one awful memory of incomprehensible agony and dimbut terrible forebodings. The ways of the human soul, in its crises ofgrief or remorse were so new to her. She had passed her life besiderippling streams and in peaceful meadows, and now all at once, withshadow on shadow, the dark pictures of life settled down before her, andshe could not walk without stumbling upon jagged rocks, deep yawningchasms and caves of impenetrable gloom.

The sight of the grave appalled her. To lay in such a bed as that, thefair and delicate head that had often found the downy pillows of itsazure couch too hard for its languid pressure. To hide in such a dismal,deep, dark gap, a form so white and but a little while before, soimposing in its splendor and so commanding in its requirements. Thethought of heaven brought no comfort. The beauty they had known layhere; soulless, inert, rigid and responseless, but here. It was giftedwith no wings with which to rise. It owned no attachment to higherspheres. Death had scattered the leaves of this white rose, but from allthe boundless mirror of the outspread heavens, no recovered semblance ofits perfected beauty, looked forth to solace Paula or assuage the miseryof her glance into this gloomy pit. Ah, Ona, the social ladder reacheshigh, but it does not scale the regions where your poor soul could findcomfort now.

Bertram saw the white look on Paula’s face and silently offered his arm.But there are moments when no mortal help can aid us; instants when thesoul stands as solitary in the universe, as the ship-wrecked mariner ona narrow strip of rock in a boundless sea. Life may touch, but eternityenfolds us; we are single before God and as such must stand or fall.

Upon their return to the house, Mr. Sylvester withdrew with a fewintimate friends to his room, and Paula, lonely beyond expression, wentto her own empty apartment to finish packing her trunks and answer suchnotes as had arrived during her absence. For attention from outsiderswas only too obtrusive. Many whom she had never met save in the mostformal intercourse, flooded her now with expressions of condolence,which if they had not been all upon one pattern and that the mostconventional, might have afforded her some relief. Two or three of thenotes were precious to her and these she stowed safely away, onecontained a deliberate offer of marriage from a wealthy oldstock-broker; this she as deliberately burned after she had written aproper refusal. “He thinks I have no home,” she murmured.

And had she? As she paced through the silent halls and elaboratelyfurnished rooms on her way to her solitary dinner, she asked herself ifany place would ever seem like home after this. Not that she wasinfatuated by its elegance. The lofty walls might dwindle, the gorgeousfurniture grow dim, the works of beauty disappear, the whole toweringstructure contract to the dimensions of a simple cottage or what wasworse, a seedy down-town house, if only the something would remain, thesomething that made return to Grotewell seem like the bending back of atowering stalk to the ground from which it had taken its root. “If?” shecried—and stopped there, her heart swelling she knew not why. Thenagain, “I thought I had found a father!” Then after a longer pause, awild uncontrollable; “Bless! bless! bless!” which seemed to re-echo inthe room long after her lingering step had left it.

“Will he let me go without a word?”

It was early morning and the time had come for Paula’s departure. Shewas standing on the threshold of her room, her hands clasped, her eyesroving up and down the empty halls. “Will he let me go without a word?”

“O Miss Paula, what do you think?” cried Sarah, creeping slowly towardsher from the spectral recesses of a dim corner. “Jane says Mr. Sylvesterwas up all last night too. She heard him go down stairs about midnightand he went through all the rooms like a gliding spectre and into herroom too!” she fearfully whispered; “and what he did there no one knows,but when he came out he locked the door, and this morning the cook heardhim give orders to Samuel to have the trunks that were ready in Mrs.Sylvester’s room taken away. O Miss, do you think he can be going togive all those beautiful things to you?”

Paula recoiled in horror. “Sarah!” said she, and could say no more. Thevision of that tall form gliding through the desolate house at midnight,bending over the soulless finery of his dead wife, perhaps stowing itaway in boxes, came with too powerful a suggestion to her mind.

“Shure, I thought you would be pleased,” murmured the girl anddisappeared again into one of the dim recesses.

“Will he let me go without a word?”

“Miss Paula, Mr. Bertram Sylvester is waiting at the door in acarriage,” came in low respectful tones to her ears, and Samuel’s facefull of regret appeared at the top of the stairs.

“I am coming,” murmured the sad-hearted girl, and with a sob which shecould not control, she took her last look of the pretty pink chamber inwhich she had dreamed so many dreams of youthful delight, and perhaps ofyouthful sorrow also, and slowly descended the stairs. Suddenly as shewas passing a door on the second floor, she heard a low deep cry.

“Paula!”

She stopped and her hand went to her heart, the reaction was so sudden.“Yes,” she murmured, standing still with great heart-beats of joy, orwas it pain?

The door slowly opened. “Did you think I could let you go without ablessing, my Paula, my little one!” came in those deep heart-tones whichalways made her tears start. And Mr. Sylvester stepped out of theshadows beyond and stood in the shadows at her side.

“I did not know,” she murmured. “I am so young, so feeble, such a motein this great atmosphere of anguish. I longed to see you, to saygood-bye, to thank you, but—” tears stopped her words; this was aparting that rent her leader heart.

Mr. Sylvester watched her and his deep chest rose spasmodically.“Paula,” said he, and there was a depth in his tone even she had neverheard before, “are these tears for me?”

With a strong effort she controlled herself, looked up and faintlysmiled. “I am an orphan,” she gently murmured; “you have been kind andtender to me beyond words; I have let myself love you as a father.”

A spasm crossed his features, the hand he had lifted to lay upon herhead fell at his side, he surveyed her with eyes whose despairingfondness told her that her love had been more than met by this desolatechildless man. But he did not reply as seemed natural, “Be to me then asa child. I can offer you no mother to guide or watch over you, but oneparent is better than none. Henceforth you shall be known as mydaughter.” Instead of that he shook his head mournfully, yearningly butirrevocably, and said, “To be your father would have been a dearposition to occupy. I have sometimes hoped that I might be so blessed asto call it mine, but that is all past now. Your father I can never be.But I can bless you,” he murmured brokenly, “not as I did that day inyour aunt’s little cottage, but silently and from afar as God alwaysmeant you should be blessed by me. Good-bye, Paula.”

Then all the deeps in her great nature broke up. She did not weep, butshe looked at him with her large dark eyes and the cry in them smote hisheart. With a struggle that blanched his face, he kept his arms at hisside, but his lips worked in agony, and he slowly murmured, “If after atime your heart loves me like this, and you are willing to bear shadowas well as sunshine with me, come back with your aunt and sit at myhearthstone, not as my child but as a dear and honored guest. I will tryand be worthy—” He paused, “Will you come, Paula?”

“Yes, yes.”

“Not soon, not now,” he murmured, “God will show you when.”

And with nothing but a look, without having touched her or so much asbrushed her garments with his, he retired again into his room.

XXII.

HOPGOOD.

“Give it an understanding but no tongue.”—Hamlet.

Hopgood was a man who could keep a secret, but who made so much ado inthe process that he reminded one of the placard found posted upsomewhere out west which reads, “A treasure of gold concealed here;don’t dig!” Or so his wife used to say, and she ought to know, for shehad lived with him five years, three of which he had spent in thedetective service.

“If he would only trust the wife of his bosom with whatever he’s got onhis mind, instead of ambling around the building with his eyes rollingabout like peas in a caldron of boiling water, one might manage to takesome comfort in life, and not hurt anybody either. For two days now,ever since the wife of Mr. Sylvester died and Mr. Sylvester has beenaway from the bank, he’s acted just like a lunatic. Not that that hasanything to do with his gettin up of nights and roamin down five pair ofstairs to see if the watchman is up to his duty, or with his askin adozen times a day if I remembers how Mr. Sylvester found him and me,well nigh starvin in Broad Street, and gave him the good word which gothim into this place? O no! O no, of course not! But something has, andwhile he persists in shutting out from his breast the woman he swore tolove, honor, and cherish, that woman is not bound to bear the trials oflife with patience. Every time he jumps out of his chair at the sound ofMr. Sylvester’s name, and some one is always mentionin’ it, I plumps medown on mine with an expression of my views regarding a kitchen stovethat does all its drawin’ when the oven’s empty.”

So spake Mrs. Hopgood to her special crony and constant visitor, Mrs.Kirkshaw of Water Street, pursing up a mouth that might have beengood-natured if she had ever given it an opportunity. But Mrs. Kirkshawwho passed for a gossip with her neighbors, was a philosopher in theretirement of the domestic circle and did not believe in the blow forblow system.

“La!” quoth she, with a smoothing out of her apron suggestive of heremployment as laundress, “show a dog that you want his bone and you’llnever get it. Husbands is like that very stove you’ve been a slanderinof. Rattle on coal when the fire’s low and you put it out entirely; butbe a bit patient and drop it on piece by piece, coaxing-like, and you’llhave a hot stove afore you know it.”

Which suggestion struck Mrs. Hopgood like a revelation, and for a dayand night she resorted to the coaxing system; the result of which was tosend Mr. Hopgood out of the room to sit on the stairs in mortal terror,lest his good nature should get the better of his discretion. His littledaughter, Constantia Maria—so named and so called from twograndmothers, equally exacting in their claims and equally impecuniousas regards their resources—was his sole solace in this long vigil. Herpretty innocent prattle scarcely disturbed his meditation, while itsoothed his nerves, and with no one by but this unsuspecting child, hecould roll his great eyes to his heart’s content without fear of herdescrying anything in them, but the love with which her own little heartabounded.

On the morning after the funeral, however, Constantia Maria was restoredto his wife’s arms on the plea that she did not seem quite well, andHopgood went out and sat alone. In a few minutes, however, he returned,and ambling restlessly up and down the room, stopped before hispersistently smiling wife and said somewhat tremulously:

“If Mr. Sylvester takes a notion to come up and see Constantia Mariato-day, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to finish your ironing orwhatever else it is you may have to do. I’ve noticed he seems a littleshy with the child when you are around.”

“Shy with the child when I am around! well I do declare!” exclaimed she,forgetting her late rôle in her somewhat natural indignation. “And whathave I ever done to frighten Mr. Sylvester? Nothing but putting on of aclean apron, when he comes in and a dustin’ of the best chair for hisuse. It’s a trick of yours to get a chance of speakin’ to him alone, andI’ll not put up with it. As if it wasn’t bad enough to have a kettlewith the nozzle dangling, without living with a man who has a secret hewon’t share with his own wife and the mother of his innocent babe.”

With a start the worthy man stared at her till he grew red in the face,probably with the effort of keeping his eyes steady for so long a time.“Who told you I had a secret?” said he.

“Who told me?” and then she laughed, though in a somewhat hystericalway, and sat down in the middle of the floor and shook and shook again.“Hear the man!” she cried. And she told him the story of the placard outwest and then asked him, “if he thought she didn’t remember how he usedto act when he was a chasin’ up of a thief in the days when he was onthe police force.”

“But,” he cried, quite as pale now as he had been florid the momentbefore, “I’m not in the police force now and you are acting quite sillyand I’ve no patience with you.” And he was making for the door,presumably to sit upon the stairs, when with a late repentance sheseized him by the arm and said:

“La now,” an expression she had caught from Mrs. Kirkshaw, “I didn’tmean nothin’ by my talk. Come back, John; Constantia Maria is not well,and if Mr. Sylvester comes up to see her, I’ll just slip out and leaveyou alone.”

And upon that he told her she was a good wife and that if he had anysecret from her it was only because he was a poor man. “Honesty andprudence are all the treasures I possess to keep us three from starving.Shall I part with either of them just to satisfy your curiosity?” andbeing a good woman at heart, she said “no,” though she secretlyconcluded that prudence in his case involved trust in one’s wife first,and disbelief in the rest of the world afterward; and took her futureresolutions accordingly.

“Well, Hopgood, you look anxious; do you want to speak to me?”

The janitor eyed the changed and melancholy face of his patron, with anexpression in which real sympathy for his trouble, struggled with therespectful awe which Mr. Sylvester’s presence was calculated to inspire.

“If you please,” said he, speaking very low, for more or less of thebank employees were moving busily to and fro, “Constantia Maria is notwell and she has been asking all day for the dear man, as she insistsupon calling you, sir, with many apologies for the freedom.”

Mr. Sylvester smiled with a faint far-away look in his dark eye thatmade Hopgood stare uneasily out of the window. “Sick! why then I must goup and see her,” he returned in a matter-of-fact way that proved hisvisits in that direction were of no uncommon occurrence. “A moment moreand I shall be at liberty.”

Hopgood bowed and renewed his stare out of the window, with an intensityhappily spared from serious consequences to the passers-by, by themerciful celerity with which Mr. Sylvester procured his overcoat, putsuch papers in his pocket as he required, and joined him.

“Constantia Maria, here is Mr. Sylvester come to see you.”

It was a pleasure to observe how the little thing brightened in hermother’s arms, where but a moment before she had lain quite pale andstill, and slipping to the ground rushed up to meet the embrace of thisstern and melancholy-faced man. “I am so glad you have come,” she criedover and over again; and her little arms went round his neck, and hersoft cheek nestled against his, with a content that made the mother’seyes sparkle with pleasure, as obedient to her promise, she quietly leftthe room.

And Mr. Sylvester? If any one had seen the abandon with which he yieldedto her caresses and returned them, he would have understood why thischild should have loved him with such extraordinary affection. He kissedher forehead, he kissed her cheek, and seemed never weary of smoothingdown her bright and silky curls. She reminded him of Geraldine. She hadthe same blue eyes and caressing ways. From the day he had come upon hisold friend Hopgood in a condition of necessity almost of want, thisblue-eyed baby had held its small sceptre over his lonely heart, andunbeknown to the rest of the world, had solaced many a spare fiveminutes with her innocent prattle. The Hopgoods understood the cause ofhis predilection and were silent. It was the one thing Mrs. Hopgoodnever alluded to in her gossips with Mrs. Kirkshaw. But to-day theattentions of Mr. Sylvester to the little one seemed to make the janitorrestless. He walked up and down the narrow room uneasily surveying thepair out of the corner of his great glassy eyes, till even Mr. Sylvesternoticed his unusual manner and put the child down, observing with asigh, “You think she is not well enough for any excitement?”

“No sir, it is not that,” returned the other uneasily, with a hasty lookaround him. “The fact is, I have something to say to you, sir, about—adiscovery—I made the other day.” His words came very slowly, and helooked down with great embarrassment.

Mr. Sylvester frowned slightly, and drew himself up to the full heightof his very imposing figure. “A discovery,” repeated he, “when?”

“The day you paid that early visit to the bank, sir, the day Mrs.Sylvester died.”

The frown on Mr. Sylvester’s brow grew deeper. “The day—” he began, andstopped.

“Excuse me, sir,” exclaimed Hopgood with a burst. “I ought not to havementioned it, but you asked me when, and I—”

“What was this discovery?” inquired his superior, imperatively.

“Nothing much,” murmured the other now all in a cold sweat. “But I feltas if I ought to tell you. You have been my benefactor, sir, I can neverforget what you have done for me and mine. If I saw death or bereavementbetween me and any favor I could do for you, sir, I would not hesitateto risk them. I am no talker, sir, but I am true and I am grateful.” Hestopped, choked, and his eyes rolled frightfully. Mr. Sylvester lookedat him, grew a trifle pale, and put the little child away that wasnestling up against his knee.

“You have not told me what you have discovered,” said he.

“Well, sir, only this.” And he took from his pocket a small roll ofpaper which he unfolded and held out in his hand. It contained a goldtooth-pick somewhat bent and distorted.

A flush dark and ominous crept over Mr. Sylvester’s cheek. He glancedsternly at the trembling janitor, and uttered a short, “Well?”

“I found it on the floor of the bank just after you went out the othermorning,” the other pursued well-nigh inaudibly. “It was lying near thesafe. As it was not there when you went in, I took it for granted it wasyours. Am I right, sir?”

The anxious tone in which this last question was uttered, the studiedway in which the janitor kept his eyes upon the floor could not havebeen unnoticed by Mr. Sylvester, but he simply said,

“I have lost mine, that may very possibly be it.”

The janitor held it towards him; his eyes did not leave the floor. “Theresponsibility of my position here is sometimes felt by me to be veryheavy,” muttered the man in a low, unmodulated tone. It was his duty inthose days previous to the Manhattan Bank robbery, to open the vault inthe morning, procure the books that were needed, and lay them about onthe various desks in readiness for the clerks upon their arrival. He hadalso the charge of the boxes of the various customers of the bank whochose to entrust their valuables to its safe keeping; which boxes werekept, together with the books, in that portion of the vault to which hehad access. “I should regret my comfortable situation here, but if itwas necessary, I would go without a murmur, trusting that God would takecare of my poor little lamb.”

“Hopgood, what do you mean?” asked Mr. Sylvester somewhat sternly. “Whotalks about dismissing you?”

“No one,” responded the other, turning aside to attend to some trivialmatter. “But if ever you think a younger or a fresher man would bepreferable in my place, do not hesitate to make the change your ownnecessities or that of the Bank may seem to require.”

Mr. Sylvester’s eye which was fixed upon the janitor’s face, slowlydarkened.

“There is something underlying all this,” said he, “what is it?”

At once and as if he had taken his resolution, the janitor turned. “Ibeg your pardon,” said he, “I ought to have told you in the first place.When I opened the vaults as usual on the morning of which I speak, Ifound the boxes displaced; that was nothing if you had been to them,sir; but what did alarm me and make me feel as if I had held my positiontoo long was to find that one of them was unlocked.”

Mr. Sylvester fell back a step.

“It was Mr. Stuyvesant’s box, sir, and I remember distinctly seeing himlock it the previous afternoon before putting it back on the shelf.”

The arms which Mr. Sylvester had crossed upon his breast tightenedspasmodically. “And it has been in that condition ever since?” asked he.

The janitor shook his head. “No,” said he, taking his little girl up inhis arms, possibly to hide his countenance. “As you did not come downagain on that day, I took the liberty of locking it with a key of my ownwhen I went to put away the books and shut the vault for the night.” Andhe quietly buried his face in his baby’s floating curls, who feeling hischeek against her own put up her hand and stroked it lovingly, crying inher caressing infantile tones,

“Poor papa! poor tired papa.”

Mr. Sylvester’s stern brow contracted painfully. The look with which hiseye sought the sky without, would have made Paula’s young heart ache.Taking the child from her father’s clasp, he laid her on the bed. Whenhe again confronted the janitor his face was like a mask.

“Hopgood,” said he, “you are an honest man and a faithful one; Iappreciate your worth and have had confidence in your judgment. Whomhave you told of this occurrence beside myself?”

“No one, sir.”

“Another question; if Mr. Stuyvesant had required his box that day andhad found it in the condition you describe, what would you have repliedto his inquiries?”

The janitor colored to the roots of his hair in an agony of shame Mr.Sylvester may or may not have appreciated, but replied with thestraightforward earnestness of a man driven to bay, “I should have beenobliged to tell him the truth sir; that whereas I had no personalknowledge of any one but myself, having been to the vaults since theevening before, I was called upon early that morning to open the outsidedoor to you, sir, and that you came into the bank,” (he did not saylooking very pale, agitated and unnatural, but he could not helpremembering it) “and finding no one on duty but myself,—the watchmanhaving gone up stairs to take his usual cup of coffee before going homefor the day—you sent me out of the room on an errand, which delayed mesome little time, and that when I came back I found you gone, and everything as I had left it except that small pick lying on the floor.”

The last words were nearly inaudible but they must have been heard byMr. Sylvester, for immediately upon their utterance, the hand whichunconsciously had kept its hold upon the tooth-pick, opened and with anuncontrollable gesture flung the miserable tell-tale into the stove nearby.

“Hopgood,” said the stately gentleman, coming nearer and holding himwith his eyes till the poor man turned pale and cold as a stone, “hasMr. Stuyvesant had occasion to open his box since you locked it?”

“Yes sir, he called for it yesterday afternoon.”

“And who gave it to him?”

“I sir.”

“Did he appear to miss anything from it?”

“No, sir.”

“Do you believe, Hopgood, that there was anything missing from it?”

The janitor shrank like a man subjected to the torture. He fixed hisglance on Mr. Sylvester’s face and his own gradually lightened.

“No sir!” said he at last, with a gasp that made the little one lift hercurly head from her pillow and shake it with a slow and wistful motionstrange to see in a child of only two years.

The proud man bowed, not with the severity however that might have beenexpected; indeed his manner was strangely shadowed, and though his lipbetrayed no uneasiness and his eye neither faltered or fell, there was avague expression of awe upon his countenance, which it would take morethan the simple understanding of the worthy but not over subtle manbefore him, to detect much less to comprehend.

“You may be sure that Mr. Stuyvesant will never complain of any onehaving tampered with his effects while you are the guardian of thevaults,” exclaimed Mr. Sylvester in clear ringing tones. “As for his boxbeing open, it is right that I should explain that it was the result ofa mistake. I had occasion to go to a box of my own in a hurry thatmorning, and misled by the darkness and my own nervousness perhaps, tookup his instead of my own. Not till I had opened it—with the tooth-pick,Hopgood, for I had been to a reception and did not have my keys withme—did I notice my mistake. I had intended to explain the matter to Mr.Stuyvesant, but you know what happened that day, and since then I havethought nothing of it.”

The janitor’s face cleared to its natural expression. “You are verykind, sir, to explain yourself to me,” said he; “it was not necessary.”But his lightened face spoke volumes. “I have been on the police forceand I know how to hold my tongue when it is my duty, but it is very hardwork when the duty is on the other side. Have you any commands for me?”

Mr. Sylvester shook his head, and his eye roamed over the humblefurniture and scanty comforts of this poor man’s domicile. Hopgoodthought he might be going to offer him some gift or guerdon, and in alow distressed tone spoke up:

“I shall not try to ask your pardon, sir, for anything I have said.Honesty that is afraid to show itself, is no honesty for me. I could notmeet your eye, knowing that I was aware of any circ*mstance of which yousupposed me ignorant. What I know, you must know, as long as I remain inthe position you were once kind enough to procure for me. And now thatis all I believe, sir.”

Mr. Sylvester dropped his eyes from the bare walls over which they hadbeen restlessly wandering, and fixed them for a passing moment on thecountenance of the man before him. Then with a grave action he liftedhis hat from his head, and bowed with the deference he might have shownto one of his proudest colleagues, and without another look or word,quietly left the room.

Hopgood in his surprise stared after him somewhat awe-struck. But whenthe door had quite closed, he caught up his child almost passionately inhis arms, and crushing her against his breast, asked, while his eyeroamed round the humble room that in its warmth and comfort was a palaceto him, “Will he take the first opportunity to have me dismissed, orwill his heart forgive the expression of my momentary doubts, for thesake of this poor wee one that he so tenderly fancies?”

The question did not answer itself, and indeed it was one to which timealone could reply.

BOOK III.

THE JAPHA MYSTERY.

XXIII.

THE POEM.

“I’ve shot my arrow o’er the house
And hurt my brother.”—Hamlet.

When Miss Belinda first saw Paula, she did not, like her sister, remarkupon the elegance of her appearance, the growth of her beauty, or theevidences of increased refinement in the expression of her countenanceand the carriage of her form, but with her usual penetration notedsimply, the sadness in her eye and the tremulous motion of her lip.

“You had then become fond of your cousin?” queried she withcharacteristic bluntness.

Paula not understanding the motive of this remark, questioned her with alook.

“Young faces do not grow pale or bright eyes become troubled without acause. Grief for your cousin might explain it, but if you have sufferedfrom no grief—”

“My cousin was very kind to me,” hurriedly interrupted Paula. “Her deathwas very sudden and very heart-rending.”

“So it was;” returned Miss Belinda, “and I expected to see you look wornand sad but not restless and feverish. You have a living grief, Paula,what is it?”

The young girl started and looked down. For the first time in her lifeshe wished to avoid that penetrating glance. “If I have, I cannot talkof it,” she murmured. “I have experienced so much this past week; mycoming away was so unexpected, that I hardly understand my own feelings,or realize just what it is that troubles me most. All that I know is,that I am very tired and so sad, it seems as if the sun would nevershine again.”

“There is then something you have not written me?” inquired theinexorable Miss Belinda.

“The experiences of this last week could never be written,—or told,”returned Paula with a droop of her head. “Upon some things our betterwisdom places a stone which only the angels can roll away. The futurelies all open before us; do not let us disturb the past.”

And Miss Belinda was forced to be content lest she should seem to beover anxious.

Not so the various neighbors and friends to whom the lengthened sojournof one of their number in an atmosphere of such wealth and splendor,possessed something of the charm of a forbidden romance. For monthsPaula was obliged to endure questions, that it required all herself-control to answer with calmness and propriety. But at length themost insatiable gossip amongst them was satisfied; Paula’s figure was nolonger a novelty in their streets; curiosity languished and the younggirl was allowed to rest.

And now could those who loved her, discern that with the lapse of timeand the daily breathings of her native air, the sad white look had fadedfrom her face, leaving it a marvel of freshness and positive, ifsomewhat spiritualized, beauty. The print of deeper thoughts and holieryearnings was there, but no sign of blighted hopes or uncomprehendedpassions. A passing wind had blown the froth from off the cup, but hadnot disturbed the sparkle of the wine. She had looked in the face ofgrief, but had not as yet been clasped in her relentless arms. Only twothings could vitally disturb her; a letter from Cicely, or a suddenmeeting in the village streets with that elderly lady who haunted theJapha mansion. The former because it recalled a life around which herfancies still played with dangerous persistency, and the latter becauseit aroused vain and inexplicable conjectures as to that person’s strangeand lingering look in her direction. Otherwise she was happy; finding inthis simple village-life a meaning and a purpose which her short butpassionate outlook on a broader field, had taught her, perhaps, both todetect and comprehend. She no longer walked solitary with nature. Thewoods, the mountains with all their varying panoply of exuberantverdure, had acquired a human significance. At her side went thememories of beloved faces, the thoughts of trusted friends. From theclouds looked forth a living eye, and in the sound of rustling leaf andsinging streamlet, spake the voices of human longing and human joy.

Her aunts had explained their position to Paula and she had responded byexpressing her determination to be a teacher. But they would not hear ofthat at present, and while she waited their pleasure in the matter, shedid what she could to assist them in their simple home-life and dailyduties, lending her beauty to tasks that would have made the eyes ofsome of her quondam admirers open with surprise, if only they could havefollowed the action of her hands, after having once caught a glimpse ofthe face that brightened above them. And so the summer months went byand September came.

There was to be an entertainment in the village and Paula was to assist.The idea had come from her aunt and was not to be rejected. In one ofthe strange incomprehensible moods which sometimes came upon her at thistime, she had written a poem, and nothing would do but that she mastread it before the assembled company of neighbors and friends, that wereto be gathered at the Squire’s house on this gala evening. She did notwish to do it. The sacred sense of possession passes when we uncover ourtreasure to another’s eyes, giving way to a lower feeling not to becourted by one of Paula’s sensitive nature. Besides she would ratherhave poured this first outburst of secret enthusiasm into other earsthan these; but she had given her word and the ordeal must be submittedto. There are many who remember how she looked on that night. She hadarrayed herself for the occasion, in the prettiest of her dresses, andmindful of Ona’s injunction, did not mar the effect of its soft anduniform gray with any hint of extraneous color. The result was that theysaw only her beauty; and what beauty! A very old man, an early settlerin the village, who had tottered out to enjoy a last glimpse of lifebefore turning his aged face to the wall, said it made the thought ofheaven a little more real. “I can go home and think how the angelslook,” said he in his simple, half-childish way. And no one contradictedhim, for there was a still light on her face that was less of earth thanheaven, though why it should rest there to-night she least of all couldhave told, for her poem had to do with earth and its deepest passionsand its wildest unrest. It was a clarion blast, not a dreaming rhapsody,that lay coiled up in the paper she held in her hand.

My readers must pardon me if I give them Paula’s poem, for without itthey would not understand its effect and consequent result. It wascalled, “The Defence of the Bride,” and was of the old ballad order. Asshe rose to read, many of the younger ones in the audience begancautiously to move to one side, but at the first words, young as well asold paused and listened where they stood, for her voice was round andfull, and the memory of clashing spears and whirling battle-axes thatinformed the war-song which she had heard Bertram play, was with her, togive color to her tones and fire to her glance.

THE DEFENCE OF THE BRIDE.

He was coming from the altar when the tocsin rang alarm,
With his fair young wife beside him, lovely in her bridal charm;
But he was not one to palter with a duty, or to slight
The trumpet-call of honor for his vantage or delight.

Turning from the bride beside him to his stern and martial train,
From their midst he summoned to him the brothers of Germain;
At the word they stepped before him, nine strong warriors brave and true,
From the youngest to the eldest, Enguerrand to mighty Hugh.

“Sons of Germain, to your keeping do I yield my bride to-day.
Guard her well as you do love me; guard her well and holily.
Dearer than mine own soul to me, you will hold her as your life,
’Gainst the guile of seeming friendship and the force of open strife.”

“We will guard her,” cried they firmly; and with just another glance
On the yearning and despairing in his young wife’s countenance,
Gallant Beaufort strode before them down the aisle and through the door,
And a shadow came and lingered where the sunlight stood before.

Eight long months the young wife waited, watching from her bridal room
For the coming of her husband up the valley forest’s gloom.
Eight long months the sons of Germain paced the ramparts and the wall,
With their hands upon their halberds ready for the battle-call.

Then there came a sound of trumpets pealing up the vale below,
And a dozen floating banners lit the forest with their glow,
And the bride arose like morning when it feels the sunlight nigh,
And her smile was like a rainbow flashing from a misty sky.

But the eldest son of Germain lifting voice from off the wall,
Cried aloud, “It is a stranger’s and not Sir Beaufort’s call;
Have you ne’er a slighted lover or a kinsman with a heart
Base enough to seek his vengeance at the sharp end of the dart?”

“There is Sassard of the Mountains,” answered she without guile,
“While I wedded at the chancel, he stood mocking in the aisle;
And my maidens say he swore there that for all my plighted vow,
They would see me in his castle yet upon Morency’s brow.”

“It is Sassard and no other then,” her noble guardian cried;
“There is craft in yonder summons,” and he rung his sword beside.
“To the walls, ye sons of Germain! and as each would hold his life
From the bitter shame of falsehood, let us hold our master’s wife.”

“Can you hold her, can you shield her from the breezes that await?”
Cried the stinging voice of Sassard from his stand beside the gate.
“If you have the power to shield her from the sunlight and the wind,
You may shield her from stern Sassard when his falchion is untwined.”

“We can hold her, we can shield her,” leaped like fire from off the wall,
And young Enguerrand the valiant, sprang out before them all.
“And if breezes bring dishonor, we will guard her from their breath,
Though we yield her to the keeping of the sacred arms of Death.”

And with force that never faltered, did they guard her all that day,
Though the strength of triple armies seemed to battle in the fray,
The old castle’s rugged ramparts holding firm against the foe,
As a goodly dyke resisteth the whelming billow’s flow.

But next morning as the sunlight rose in splendor over all,
Hugh the mighty, sank heart-wounded in his station on the wall,
At the noon the valiant Raoul of the merry eye and heart,
Gave his beauty and his jestings to the foeman’s jealous dart.

Gallant Maurice next sank faltering with a death wound ‘neath his hair,
But still fighting on till Sassard pressed across him up the stair.
Generous Clement followed after, crying as his spirit passed,
“Sons of Germain to the rescue, and be loyal to the last!”

Gentle Jaspar, lordly Clarence, Sessamine the doughty brand,
Even Henri who had yielded ne’er before to mortal hand;
One by one they fall and perish, while the vaunting foemen pour
Through the breach and up the courtway to the very turret’s door.

Enguerrand and Stephen only now were left of all that nine,
To protect the single stairway from the traitor’s fell design;
But with might as ’twere of thirty, did they wield the axe and brand,
Striving in their desperation the fierce onslaught to withstand.

But what man of power so godlike he can stay the billow’s wrack,
Or with single-handed weapon hold an hundred foemen back!
As the sun turned sadly westward, with a wild despairing cry,
Stephen bowed his noble forehead and sank down on earth to die.

“Ah ha!” then cried cruel Sassard with his foot upon the stair,
“Have I come to thee, my boaster?” and he whirled his sword in air.
“Thou who pratest of thy power to protect her to the death,
What think’st thou now of Sassard and the wind’s aspiring breath?”

“What I think let this same show you,” answered fiery Enguerrand,
And he poised his lofty battle-ax with sure and steady hand;
“Now as Heaven loveth justice, may this deathly weapon fall
On the murderer of my brothers and th’ undoer of us all.”

With one mighty whirl he sent it; flashing from his hand it came,
Like the lightning from the heavens in a whirl of awful flame,
And betwixt the brows of Sassard and his two false eyeballs passed,
And the murderer sank before it, like a tree before the blast.

“Now ye minions of a traitor if you look for vengeance, come!”
And his voice was like a trumpet when it clangs a victor home.
But a cry from far below him rose like thunder upward, “Nay!
Let them turn and meet the husband if they hunger for the fray.”

O the yell that sprang to heaven as that voice swept up the stair,
And the slaughter dire that followed in another moment there!
From the least unto the greatest, from the henchman to the lord,
Not a man on all that stairway lived to sheath again his sword.

At the top that flame-bound forehead, at the base that blade of fire—
’Twas the meeting of two tempests in their potency and ire.
Ere the moon could falter inward with its pity and its woe,
Beaufort saw the path before him unencumbered of the foe.

Saw his pathway unencumbered and strode up and o’er the floor,
Even to the very threshold of his lovely lady’s door,
And already in his fancy did he see the golden beam
Of her locks upon his shoulder and her sweet eyes’ happy gleam:

When behold a form upstarting from the shadows at his side.
That with naked sword uplifted barred the passage to his bride;
It was Enguerrand the dauntless, but with staring eyes and hair
Blowing wild about a forehead pale as snow in moonlit glare.

“Ah my master, we have held her, we have guarded her,” he said,
“Not a shadow of dishonor has so much as touched her head.
Twenty wretches lie below there with the brothers of Germain,
Twenty foemen of her honor that I, Enguerrand, have slain.

“But one other foe remaineth, one remaineth yet,” he cried,
“Which it fits this hand to punish ere you cross unto your bride.
It is I, Enguerrand!” shrieked he; “and as I have slain the rest,
So I smite this foeman also!”—and his sword plunged through his breast.

O the horror of that moment! “Art thou mad my Enguerrand?”
Cried his master, striving wildly to withdraw the fatal brand.
But the stern youth smiling sadly, started back from his embrace,
While a flash like summer lightning, flickered direful on his face.

“Yes, a traitor worse than Sassard;” and he pointed down the stair,
“For my heart has dared to love her whom my hand defended there.
While the others fought for honor, I by passion was made strong,
Set your heel upon my bosom for my soul has done you wrong.

“But,” and here he swayed and faltered till his knee sank on the floor,
Yet in falling turned his forehead ever toward that silent door;
“But your warrior hand my master, may take mine without a stain,
For my hand has e’er been loyal, and your enemy is slain.”

A short silence followed the last word, then a burst of applausetestified to the appreciation of her audience, and Paula crept away tohide her blushing cheeks in the comparative darkness of a littlevine-covered balcony that jutted out from the ante-room. What were herthoughts as she leaned there! In the subsidence of any greatemotion—and Paula had felt every word she uttered—there is more orless of shock and tumult. She did not think, she only felt. Suddenly ahand was laid on her arm and a low voice whispered in her ear,

“Did you write that poem yourself?”

Turning, she encountered the shadowy form of a woman leaning close ather side and appearing in the dim light that shone on her from the lampsbeyond, an eager image of expectancy.

“Yes,” returned Paula, “why do you ask?”

The woman, whoever she was, did not answer. “And you believe in suchdevotion as that!” she murmured. “You can understand a man, aye, or awoman either, risking happiness and fame, life and death, for the sakeof a trust! Such things are not folly to you! You could see a heartspill itself drop by drop through a longer vigil than the eight monthswatching on the ramparts, and not sneer at a fidelity that could notfalter because it had given its word? Speak; you write of faithfulnesswith a pen of fire, is your heart faithful too?”

There was something in these words, spoken as they were in a tone ofsuppressed passion, that startled and aroused Paula. Leaning forward,she endeavored to see the face of the woman who thus forcibly addressedher, but the light was too dim. The outline of a brow covered by someclose headgear was all she could detect.

“You speak earnestly,” said Paula, “but that is what I like. Fidelity toa cause, or fidelity to a trust, demands the sympathy and admiration ofall honest and generous hearts. If I am ever called upon to maintaineither, I hope that my enthusiasm will not have all been expended inwords.”

“You please me,” murmured the woman, “you please me; will you come andsee me and let me tell you a story to mate the poem you have given usto-night?”

The trembling eagerness of her tone it would be impossible to describe.Paula was thrilled by it. “If you will tell me who you are,” said Paula,“I certainly will try and come. I should be glad to hear anything youhave to relate to me.”

“I thought every one knew who I was,” returned the woman; and drawingPaula back into the ante-room, she turned her face upon her. “Any onewill tell you where Margery Hamlin lives,” said she. “Do not disappointme, and do not keep me waiting long.” And with a nod and a deep strangesmile that made her aged face almost youthful, she entered the crowd anddisappeared from Paula’s sight.

It was the woman whose nightly visits to the deserted home of the Japhashad once been the talk and was still the unsolved mystery of the town.

XXIV.

THE JAPHA MANSION.

“Ah what a warning for a thoughtless man,
Could field or grove, could any spot on earth
Show to his eye an image of the pangs
Which it has witnessed; render back an echo
Of the sad steps by which it hath been trod.—Wordsworth.

Unexplained actions if long continued, lose after awhile their interestif not their mystery. The aged lady who now for many years had been seenat every night-fall to leave her home, traverse the village streets,enter the Japha mansion, remain there an hour and then re-issue withtremulous steps and bowed head, had become so common a sight to thevillage eye, that even the children forgot to ask what her errand was,or why she held her head so hopefully when she entered, or looked sodespondent when she came forth.

But to Paula, for reasons already mentioned, this secret and persistentvigil in a forsaken and mysterious dwelling, was fraught with asignificance which had never lost its power either to excite hercuriosity or to arouse her imagination. Many a time had she gone homefrom some late encounter with the aged lady, to brood by the hour uponthe expression of that restless eye which in its wanderings never failedto turn upon her own youthful face and linger there in the manner I havealready noted. She thought of it by night, she thought of it by day. Shefelt herself drawn to that woman’s suffering heart as by invisiblecords. To understand the feelings of this desolate being, she had evenstudied the face of that old house, until she knew it under its everyaspect. Often in shutting her eyes at night, she would perceive as in amirror a vision of its long gray front, barred door and sealed windowsshining in the moon, save where the deep impenetrable shadows of its twoguardian poplars lay black and dismal upon its ghostly surface. Againshe would behold it as it reared itself dark and dripping in a blindingstorm, its walls plastered with leaves from the immovable poplars, andits neglected garden lying sodden and forlorn under the flail of theceaseless storm. Then its early morning face would strike her fancy. Theslow looming of its chimney-tops against a brightening sky; the gradualcoming out of its forsaken windows and solemn looking doors from themystery of darkness into the no less mystery of day; the hint ofroselight on its barren boards; the gleam of sunshine on its untroddenthreshold; a sunshine as pure and sweet as if a bride stood there in herbeauty, waiting for admission into the deserted halls beyond. All andeverything that could tend to invest the house and its constant visitorwith an atmosphere of awe and interest, had occurred to this young girlin her daily reveries and nightly dreams. It was therefore with a thrilldeep as her expectation and vivid as her sympathy, that she recognizedin her eager interlocutor and proposed confident, the woman about whoselife and actions rested for her such a veil of impenetrable mystery. Thethought moved her, excited her, and made the rest of the evening passlike a dream. She was anxious for the next day to come, that she mightseek this Mrs. Hamlin in her home, and hear from her lips the tale ofdevotion that should mate her own simple but enthusiastic poem.

When the next day did come, it rained, rained bitterly, persistent andwith a steady drive from the north east, that made her going outimpossible. The day following she was indisposed, and upon thesucceeding afternoon, she was engaged in duties that precluded allthought of visiting. The next day was Sunday, and Monday had its owndemands which she could not slight. It was therefore well nigh a weekfrom the night of the entertainment, before the opportunity offered forwhich she was so anxious. Her curiosity and expectation had thus time togrow, and it was with a determination to allow nothing to stand in herway, that she set out from home in a flood of mild September sunshine,to visit Mrs. Hamlin. But alas, for resolutions made in a countryvillage prior to the opening of a church fair! She had scarcely gone adozen steps before she was accosted by one of the managers, a woman whoneither observes your haste, nor pays any attention to your possiblepreoccupation. Do what she could, she found it impossible to escape fromthis persistent individual until she had satisfied her upon matterswhich it took a full half hour to discuss, and when at last shesucceeded in doing so, it was only to fall into the hands of an ageddeacon of the church, whose protecting friendship it were a sin towound, while his garrulous tongue made it no ordinary trial of patienceto stand and listen. In short the best part of the afternoon was gonebefore she found herself at the door of Mrs. Hamlin’s house. But she wasnot to be deterred by further hesitation from the pursuit of her object.Rapping smartly on the door, she listened. No stir came from within.Again she rapped and again she listened. No response came to assure herthat her summons had been heard. Surprised at this, for she had beentold Mrs. Hamlin was always at home during the afternoon, she glanced upat the church clock in plain view from the doorstep, and blushed toobserve that it was six o’clock, the hour at which this mysterious womanalways left her house, to accomplish her vigil at the Japha mansion.

“What have I done?” thought Paula, and felt a strange thrill as sherealized that even at that moment, the woman with the eager but restlesseyes, was shut within the precincts of that deserted dwelling, engagedin prayer, perhaps wet with tears, who knows? The secret of what she didin that long and quiet twilight hour had never been revealed. Leavingthe little brown house behind, Paula found herself insensibly taking theroad to the Japha mansion. If she could not enter it and share the watchof the devoted woman who had promised her her confidence, she could atleast observe if the windows were open or the blinds raised. To be sureshe ought to be at home, but Miss Belinda was indulgent and did notquestion her comings and goings too closely. An irresistible force drewher down the street, and she did not hesitate to follow the lead of herimpulse. No one accosted her now, it was the tea hour in most of thesehouses and the streets were comparatively deserted. The only house whosechimneys lacked the rising smoke, was the one towards which herfootsteps were tending. She could descry it from afar. Its gaunt wallsfrom which the paint had long ago faded, stared uncompromisingly uponher in the autumn sunshine. There was no welcome in its close shutterswith their broken slats from which hung tangled strips of old rags—theremnants of some boy’s kite. The stiff and solemn poplars rose grim andforbidding at the gate once swung wide to the fashion and gallantry ofproud ladies and stalwart gentlemen, but now pushed aside solely by thehand of a tremulous old woman, or the irreverent palm of some daringschool-boy. From the tangled garden looked forth neither flower norblossoming shrub. Beauty and grace could not thrive in this wildernessof decay. A dandelion would have felt itself out of place beneath theeye of that ghostly door, with the sinister plank nailed across it, likethe separating line between light and darkness, right and wrong, lifeand death. What loneliness! what a monument of buried passions outlivingdeath itself!

Paula paused as she reached the gate; but remembering that Mrs. Hamlinwas accustomed to enter the house by a side door, hurried around thecorner and carefully surveyed the windows from that quarter. One of theshutters was open, allowing the flame of the setting sun to gild thepanes like gold. She did not know then nor has she been able to explainsince, what it was that came over her at the sight, but almost beforeshe realized it, she had returned to the gate, opened it, threaded theovergrown garden, reached the door which she had so frequently beheldthe aged woman enter and knocked.

Instantly she was seized with a consciousness of what she had done, andfrightened at her temerity, meditated an immediate escape. Drawing thefolds of her mantle about her form and face, she prepared to fly, whenshe remembered the look of entreaty with which this woman had said onthat night of their conversation, “Do not disappoint me! Do not keep melong in suspense!” and moved by a fresh impulse, turned and inflictedanother resounding knock on the door.

The result was unlooked-for and surprising. To the sound from within ofa quick passionate cry, there came a hurried movement, followed by adeep silence, then another hasty stir succeeded by a longer silence,then a rush which seemed to bring all things with it, and the dooropened and Mrs. Hamlin appeared before her with a countenance so pallidwith expectancy, that Paula instinctively felt that in some unconsciousway, she had loosened the bonds of an uncontrollable emotion, and wasdrawing back, when the woman with a quick look in her shrouded face,exultantly caught her hand in hers, and drawing her over the threshold,gasped out in a delirium of incomprehensible joy:

“I knew you would come! I knew that God would not let you forget!Fifteen years have I waited, Jacqueline! fifteen long, tedious,suffering years! But they all seem like nothing now! You have come, youhave come, and all that I ask, is that God will not let me die till Irealize my joy!”

The emotion with which she uttered these strange words was sooverpowering, and her body seemed so weak to stand the strain, thatPaula instinctively put forth her hand to sustain her. The actionloosened her cloak. Instantly the eyes that had been fixed upon her withsuch delirious rapture grew blank with dismay, a frightful shudder ranthrough the woman’s aged frame; she tore at the cloak that stillenveloped the young girl’s shoulders, and pulling it off, took one viewof the fresh and beautiful countenance before her, and without utteringa word, fell back in a deep and deadly swoon upon the floor.

“O what have I done?” cried Paula, flinging herself down beside thatpale and rigid figure; but instantly remembering herself she leaped toher feet and looked about for some means to resuscitate the sufferer.There was a goblet of water on a table near by. Seizing it, she bathedthe face and hands of the woman before her, moaning aloud in her griefand dismay, “Have I killed her! O what is this mystery that brings sucha doom of anguish to this poor heart?”

But from those pallid lips came no response, and feeling greatlyalarmed, Paula was about to rush from the house for assistance, when shefelt a tremulous pull upon her skirt, and turning, saw that the glassyeyes had opened at last and were now gazing upon her with mute buteloquent appeal.

She instantly returned. “O I am so sorry,” she murmured, sinking againupon her knees beside the suffering woman. “I did not know, could notrealize that my presence here would affect you so deeply. Forgive me andtell me what I can do to make you forget my presumption.”

The woman shook her head, her lips moved and she struggled vainly torise. Paula immediately lent her the aid of her strong young hand and ina few minutes, Mrs. Hamlin was on her feet. “O God!” were her firstwords as she sank into the chair which Paula hastily drew forward, “thatI should taste the joy and she be still unsaved!”

Seeing her so absorbed, Paula ventured to glance around her. She foundherself in a large square room sparsely but comfortably furnished in astyle that bespake it as the former sitting-room of the dead and buriedJaphas. From the walls above hung a few ancient pictures. A largehair-cloth sofa of a heavy antique shape, confronted the eye from oneside of the room, an equally ancient book-case from the other. Thecarpet was faded and so were the curtains, but they had once been of anattractive hue and pattern. Conspicuous in the midst stood a large tablewith a well-trimmed lamp upon it, and close against it an easy chairwith an upright back. This last as well as everything else in the room,was in a condition of neatness that would have surprised Paula if shehad not been acquainted with the love and devotion of this woman, who inher daily visits to this house, probably took every pains to keep thingsfreshened and in order.

Satisfied with her survey, she again directed her attention to Mrs.Hamlin, and started to find that person’s eyes fixed upon her own withan expression of deep, demanding interest.

“You are looking at the shadows of things that were,” exclaimed the oldlady in thrilling tones. “It is a fearful thought to be shut up with theghost of a vanished past, is it not? That chair by your side has notbeen sat in since Colonel Japha rose from it twelve years ago to totterto the bed where he breathed his last. It is waiting, everything iswaiting. I thought the end had come to-night, that the vigil was over,the watch finished, but God in his wisdom says, ‘No,’ and I must wait alittle longer. Alas in a little while longer the end will be hereindeed!”

The despondency with which she uttered these last words showed where herthoughts were tending, and to comfort her, Paula drew up a chair and satdown by her side. “You were going to tell me the story of a great loveand a great devotion. Cannot you do so now?”

The woman started, glanced hastily around, and let her eyes travel toPaula’s face where they rested with something of their old look ofsecret longing and doubt.

“You are the one who wrote the poem,” she murmured; “I remember.” Thenwith a sudden feverish impulse, leaned forward, and stroking back thewaving locks from Paula’s brow, exclaimed hurriedly, “You look like her,you have the same dark hair and wonderful eyes, more beautiful perhaps,but like her, O so like her! That is why I made such a mistake.” Sheshuddered, with a quick low sob, but instantly subdued her emotion andtaking Paula’s hand in hers continued, “You are young, my daughter;youth does not enjoy carrying burdens; can I, a stranger ask you toassist me with mine?”

“You may,” returned Paula. “If it will give you any relief I will helpyou bear it willingly.”

“You will! Has heaven then sent me the aid my failing spirits demand?Can I count on you, child? But I will ask for no promise till you haveheard my story. To no one have I ever imparted the secret of my life,but from the first moment I saw your fair young face, I felt thatthrough you would come my help, if help ever came to make my finalmoments easier and my last days less bitter.” And rising up, she ledPaula to a door which she solemnly opened. “I am glad that you arehere,” said she. “I could never have asked you to come, but since youhave braved the dead and crossed this threshold, you must see and knowthe whole. You will understand my story better.”

Taking her through a dark passage, she threw wide another door, and theparlors of the vanished Japhas opened before them. It was a ghostlyvision. A weird twilight scene of clustered shadows brooding abovearticles of musty grandeur. In spite of the self-command learned by herlate experiences, Paula recoiled, saying,

“It is too sad, too lonesome!” But the woman without heeding her,hurried her on over the worm-eaten carpet and between the time-wornchairs and heavy-browed cabinets, to the hall beyond.

“I have not been here, myself, for a year,” said Mrs. Hamlin, glancingfearfully up and down the dusky corridor. “It is not often I can bravethe memories of this spot.” And she pointed with one hand towards thedarkened door at its end, whose spacious if not stately panels gave nohint to the eye of the dread bar that crossed it like a line of doomupon the outside, and then turning, let her eye fall with still heaviersignificance upon the broad and imposing staircase that rose from thecentre of the hall to the duskier and more dismal regions above.

“A brave, old fashioned flight of steps is it not! But the scene of acurse, my child.” And unheeding Paula’s shudder, she drew her up thestairs.

“See,” continued her panting guide as they reached a square platformnear the top, from which some half dozen or more steps branched up oneither side. “They do not build like this nowadays. But Colonel Japhabelieved in nothing new, and thought more of his grand old hall andstaircase, than he did of all the rest of his house. He little dreamedof what a scene it would be the witness. But come, it is getting lateand you must see her room.”

It was near the top of the staircase and was fully as musty, faded anddismal as the rest. Yet there was an air of expectancy about it, too,that touched Paula deeply. From between the dingy hangings of the bed,looked forth a pair of downy pillows, edged with yellowed lace, andbeneath them a neatly spread counterpane carefully turned back overcomfortable-looking blankets, as one sees in a bed that only awaits itsoccupant; while on the ancient hearth, a pile of logs stood heaped andready for the kindling match.

“It is all waiting you see,” said the old lady in a trembling voice,“like everything else, just waiting.”

There was an embroidery frame in one corner of the room, from whichlooked a piece of faded and half completed work. The needle was hangingfrom it by a thread, and a skein of green worsted hung over the top,Paula glanced at it inquiringly.

“It is just as she left it! He never entered the room after she went andI would never let it be touched. It is just the same with the pianobelow. The last piece she played is still standing open on the rack. Iloved her so, and I thought then that a few months would bring her back!See, here is her bible. She never used to read it, but she prized itbecause it was her mother’s. I have placed it on the pillow where shewill see it when she comes to lay her poor tired head down to rest.” Andwith a reverent hand the aged matron drew the curtains back from theopen bed, and disclosed the little bible lying thick with dust in thecentre of the nearest pillow.

“O who was this you loved so well? And why did she leave you?” criedPaula with the tears in her eyes, at sight of this humble token.

The aged lady seized her hand and hurried her back into the room below.“I will tell you where I have waited and watched so long. Only bepatient till I light the lamp. It is getting late and any chancewanderer going by and seeing all dark, might think I had forgotten mypromise and was not here.”

XXV.

JACQUELINE.

“The cold in clime are cold in blood,
And love as scarce deserves the name,
But mine is like the lava flood
That burns in Etna’s breast of flame.”—Byron.

“There are some men that have the appearance of being devoid of familyaffection, who in reality cherish it in the deepest and most passionatedegree. Such a man was Colonel Japha. You have doubtless heard from yourcradle what the neighbors thought of this stately, old fashionedgentleman. He was too handsome in his youth, too proudly reticent in hismanhood, too self-contained and unrelenting in his age, not to be thetalk of any town that numbered him among its inhabitants. But only frommyself, a relative of the family and his housekeeper for years, can youlearn with what undeviating faith and love he clung to the few upon whomhe allowed his heart to fasten in affection. When he married Miss Carey,the world said, ‘He has chosen a beauty, because fine manners and apretty face look well behind the Japha coffee-urn!’ But we, that is,this same young wife and myself, knew that in marrying her he had takenunto himself his other half, the one sweet woman for whom his proudheart could beat and before whom his stately head could bow. When shedied, the world exclaimed, ‘He will soon fill her place!’ But I whowatched the last look that passed between them in the valley of theshadow of that death, knew that the years would come and the years wouldgo without seeing Colonel Japha marry again.

“The little babe whom she left to his care, took all the love which hehad left. From the moment it began to speak, he centered in its tinylife all the hope and all the pride of his solitary heart. And the Japhapride was nearly as great as the Japha heart. She was a pretty child;not a beauty like her mother or like you, my dear, who however so nearlyresemble her. But for all that, pretty enough to satisfy the eyes of hersecretly doting father, and her openly doting nurse and cousin. I saysecretly doting father. I do not mean by that that he regarded her withan affection which he never displayed, but that it was his way to lavishhis caresses at home and in the privacy of her little nursery. He nevermade a parade of anything but his pride. If he loved her, it was enoughfor her to know it. In the street and the houses of their friends, hewas the strict, somewhat severe father, to whom her childish eyes liftedat first with awe, but afterwards with a quiet defiance, that when Ifirst saw it, made my heart stand still with unreasoning alarm.

“She was so reserved a child and yet so deeply passionate. From thebeginning I felt that I did not understand her. I loved her; I havenever loved any mortal as I did her—and do; but I could not follow herimpulses or judge of her feelings by her looks.

“When she grew older it was still worse. She never contradicted herfather, or appeared in any open way to disobey his commands, or thwarthim in his plans. Yet she always did what she pleased, and that soquietly, he frequently did not observe that matters had taken any otherdirection, than that which he had himself ordained. ‘It is her mother’stact,’ he used to say. Alas it was something more than that; it was herfather’s will united to the unscrupulousness of some forgotten ancestor.

“But with the glamour of her eighteen years upon me, I did not recognizethis then, any more than he. I saw her through the magic glasses of myown absorbing love, and tremble as I frequently would in the still scornof her unfathomable passion, I never dreamed she could do anything thatwould seriously offend her father’s affection or mortify his pride. Thetruth is, that Jacqueline did not love us. Say what you will of theclaims of kindred, and the right of every father to his childrens’regard, Jacqueline Japha accepted the devotion that was lavished uponher, but she gave none in return. She could not, perhaps. Her father wastoo cold in public and too warm in his home-bursts of affection. I wasplain and a widow; no mate for her in age, condition or estate. Shecould neither look up to me nor lean upon me. I had been her nurse inchildhood and though a relative, was still a dependent; what was therein all that to love! If her mother had lived—But we will not dwell onpossibilities. Jacqueline had no mother and no friend that was dearenough to her, to teach her unwilling soul the great lesson ofself-control and sacrifice.

“You will say that is strange. That situated as she was, she ought tohave found friends both dear and congenial; but that would be to declarethat Jacqueline was like others of her age and class, whereas she wassingle and alone; a dark-browed girl, who allured the gaze of both menand women, but who cared but little for any one till—But wait, child. Ishall have to speak of matters that will cause your cheeks to blush. Layyour head down on my knee, for I cannot bear the sight of blushes upon acheek more innocent than hers.”

With a gentle movement she urged Paula to sit upon a little stool at herfeet, pressed the young girl’s head down upon her lap, and burying thelovely brow beneath her aged hands, went hurriedly on.

“You are young, dear, and may not know what it is to love a man.Jacqueline was young also, but from the moment she returned home to usfrom a visit she had been making in Boston, I perceived that somethinghad entered her life that was destined to make a great change in her;and when a few weeks later, young Robert Holt from Boston, came to payhis respects to her in her father’s house, I knew, or thought I did,what that something was. We were sitting in this room I remember, whenthe servant-girl came in, and announced that Mr. Holt was in the parlor.Jacqueline was lying on the sofa, and her father was in his usual chairby the table. At the name, Holt, the girl rose as if it had suddenlythundered, or the lightning had flashed. I see her now. She was dressedin white—though it was early fall she still clung to her summerdresses—her dark hair was piled high, and caught here and there withold-fashioned gold pins, a splendid red rose burned on her bosom, andanother flashed crimson as blood from her folded hands.

“‘Holt?’ repeated the Colonel without turning his head, ‘I know no suchman.’

“‘He said he wished to see Miss Jacqueline,’ simpered the servant.

“‘Oh,’ returned the Colonel indifferently. He never showed surprisebefore the servants—and went on with his book, still without turninghis head.

“I thought if he had turned it, he would scarcely sit there reading soquietly; for Jacqueline who had not stirred from her alert and uprightposition, was looking at him in a way no father, least of all a fatherwho loved his child as he did her, could have beheld without agitation.It was the glance of a tigress waiting for the sight of an inconsideratemove, in order to spring. It was wild unconstrainable joy, eying apossible check and madly defying it. I shuddered as I looked at her eye,and sickened as I perceived a huge drop of blood ooze from her whitefingers, where they unconsciously clutched a thorn, and drop dark anddisfiguring upon her virgin garments. At the indifferent exclamation ofher father, her features relaxed, and she turned haughtily towards thegirl, with a veiling of her secret delight that already bespoke thewoman of the world.

“‘Tell Mr. Holt that I will see him presently,’ said she, and was aboutto follow the girl from the room when I caught her by the sleeve.

“‘You will have to change your dress,’ said I, and I pointed to theominous blot disfiguring its otherwise spotless white.

“She started and gave me a quick glance.

“‘I have a skin like a spider’s web,” cried she. ‘I should never meddlewith roses.’ But I noticed she did not toss the blossom away.

“‘Who is this Mr. Holt?’ now asked the Colonel suddenly turning, theservant having left the room.

“‘He is a gentleman I met in Boston,’ came from his daughter’s lips, inher usual light and easy tones. ‘He is probably passing through our townon his way to Providence, where I was told he did business. His call isno more than a formality, I presume.’ And with an indifferent littlesmile and nod, she vanished from the room, that a moment before had beenfilled with the threat of her silent passion. The Colonel gave a shortsigh but returned undisturbed to his book.

“In the course of a few minutes Jacqueline came back. She had changedher dress for one as summerlike as the other, but still finer and moreelaborate. She looked elegant, imperious, but the joy had died out fromher eyes, and in its place was another expression incomprehensible tome, but fully as alarming as any that had gone before. ‘Mr. Holt findshimself obliged to remain in town over night, and would like to pay hisrespects to you,’ said she to her father.

“The Colonel immediately rose, looking very grand as he turned andsurveyed his daughter with his clear penetrating eye.’

“‘You have a lover, have you not?’ he asked, laying his hand on her bareand beautifully polished shoulder.

“An odd little smile crossed her lip. She looked at her hands on whichnever a ring shone, and coquettishly tossed her head. ‘Let the gentlemanspeak for himself,’ said she, ‘I give no man his title until he hasearned it.’

“Her father laughed. A lover was not such a dreadful thing in his eyesprovided he were worthy. And Jacqueline would not choose unworthily ofcourse—a Japha and his daughter! ‘Well then,’ said he, ‘let us see ifhe can make good his title; Holt is not a bad name and Boston is not apoor place to hail from.’ And without more ado, they hurried from theroom. But the light had all died out from her face! What did it mean?

“At tea time I met the gentleman. He had evidently made his title good.I was not only favorably impressed with him but actually struck. Of allthe high-bred, clear-eyed, polished and kindly gentlemen who had satabout the board since I first came into the family in Mrs. Japha’slifetime, here was surely the finest, the handsomest and the best; andsurprised in more ways than one, I was giving full play to my relief andexhilaration, when I caught sight of Jacqueline’s eye, and felt againthe cold shudders of secret doubt and apprehension. Smile upon him asshe would, coquet with him as she did, the flame and the glory that drewher like an inspiration to her feet when his name was announced, hadfled, and left not a shadow behind. Had he failed in his expressions ofdevotion? Was he hard or cold or severe, under all that pleasant andcharming manner? Had the hot soul of our motherless child rushed uponice, and in the shock of the dreadful chill, fallen inert? No, his looksbespake no coldness; they dwelt upon Jacqueline’s lovely but inscrutableface, with honest fervor and boundless regard. He evidently loved hermost passionately, but she—if it had not been for that first moment ofunconscious betrayal, I should have decided that she cared for him nomore than she did for the few others who had adored her, in the shortspace of her incomprehensible life.

“The mystery was not cleared up when she came to me that night with ashort, ‘How do you like my lover, Margery?’ I was forty years hersenior, but she always called me Margery.

“‘I think he is the finest, most agreeable man I ever met,’ said I. ‘Ishe your lover, Jacqueline? Are you going to marry him?’

“She turned about from the vase which she was denuding of its flowers,and gave me one of her sphinx-like looks. ‘You must ask papa,’ said she.‘He holds the destinies of the Japhas in his hand, does he not?’

“‘Does he?’ I involuntarily whispered to myself; following the steadypoise of her head and the assured movements of her graceful form, with aglance of doubt, but loving her all the same, O loving her all and everthe same!

“‘Your father is not the man to cross you when the object of youraffections is as worthy as this gentleman. He loved your mother toofondly.’

“‘He did?’ She had turned quick as a flash and was looking me straightin the eyes.

“‘I never saw such union!’ I exclaimed, vaguely remembering that hermother’s name had always seemed to have power to move her. ‘There was noparade of it before the world; but here at their own fireside, it washeart to heart and soul to soul. It was not love it was assimilation.’

“The young girl rose upon me like a flame; her very eyes seemed to dartfire; her lips looked like living coals; she was almost appalling in herterrible beauty and superhuman passion. ‘Not love!’ she exclaimed, herevery word falling like a burning spark, ‘not love but assimilation! Yetdo you suppose if I told my father that my soul had found its mate; myheart its other half; that this, this nature,’ here she struck herbreast as she would a stone, ‘had at last found its master; that thewayward spirit of which you have sometimes been afraid, was become apart of another’s life, another’s soul, another’s hope, do you supposehe would listen? Hush!’ she cried, seeing me about to speak. ‘You talkof love, what do you know of it, what does he know of it, who saw hisyoung wife die, yet himself consented to live? Is love a sitting by thefire with hand locked in hand while the winter winds rage and thedroning kettle sings? Love is a going through the fire, a braving of thewinter winds, a scattering of the soul in sparks that the night and thetempest lick up without putting out the germ of the eternal flame.Love!’ she half laughed; ‘O, it takes a soul that has never squanderedits treasure upon every passing beggar, to know how to love! Do you seethat star?’ It was night as I have said and we were standing near anopen window. ‘It has lost its moorings and is falling; when it descriesthe ocean it will plunge into it; so with some natures, they soar highand keep their orbit well, till an invisible hand turns them from theircourse and they fall, to be swallowed up, aye swallowed up, lost andburied in the great sea that has awaited them so long.’

“‘And you love—like this—’ I murmured, quailing before the power ofher passion.

“‘Would it not be strange if I did not,’ she asked in an altered voice.‘You say he is everything noble, handsome and attractive.’

“Yes, yes,’ I murmured, ‘but—’

“She did not wait to hear what lay behind that but. Picking up herflowers, she hastily crossed the room. ‘Did my young mother shriek fromjoy, when my father’s horses ran away with them along that deadlyprecipice at the side of the Southmore road? To lie for a few maddeningmoments on the breast of the man you love, earth reeling beneath you,heaven swimming above you, and then with a cry of bliss to fall heart toheart, down the hideous gap of some awful gulf, and be dashed intoeternity with the cry still on your lips, that is what I call love andthat is what I—’

“She paused, turned upon me the whole splendor of her face, seemed torealize to what an extent her impetuosity had lifted the veil with whichshe usually shrouded her bitterly suppressed nature, and calming herselfwith a sudden quick movement, gave me a short mocking courtesy and leftthe room.

“Do you wonder that for half the night I sat up brooding and alive tothe faintest sounds!

“Next day Mr. Holt called again, and a couple of weeks after—longenough to enable Colonel Japha to make whatever inquiries he chose as tohis claims as a gentleman of means and position—sent a formal entreatyfor Jacqueline’s hand. I had never seen Colonel Japha more moved. Hisadmiration for the young man was hearty and sincere. From a worldlypoint of view, as well as from all higher standpoints, the match was oneof which he could be proud; and yet to speak the word that wouldseparate from him the only creature that he loved, was hard as thecutting off an arm or the plucking out of an eye. ‘Do you think sheloves him?’ asked he of me with a rare condescension of which he was notoften guilty. ‘You are a woman and ought to understand her better thanI. Do you think she loves him?’

“After the words I had heard her speak, what could I reply but, ‘Yes,sir; she is of a reserved nature and controls her feelings in hispresence, but she loves him for all that, with the intensest fervor andpassion.’

“He repeated again, ‘You are a woman and you ought to know.’ And thencalled his daughter to him.

“I cannot tell what passed between them, but the upshot of it was, thatthe Colonel despatched an answer to the effect that the father’s consentwould not be lacking, provided the daughter’s could be obtained. Ilearned this from Jacqueline herself who brought me the letter to post.

“‘You see then, that your father understands,’ said I.

“Her rich red lip curled mockingly, but she did not reply.

“Naturally Mr. Holt answered to this communication in person. Jacquelinereceived him with a fitful coquetry that evidently puzzled him, for allthe distinguishing charm which it added to a beauty apt to be tooreserved and statue-like. She however took his ring which blazed on herfinger like a drop of ice on congealed snow. ‘I am engaged,’ shemurmured as she passed by my door, ‘and to a Holt!’ The words rang longin my ears; why?

“She desired no congratulations; she permitted nothing to be said abouther engagement, among the neighbors. She had even taken off her ringwhich I found lying loose in one of her bureau drawers. And no one daredto remonstrate, not even her father, punctillious as he was in allmatters of social etiquette. The fact is, Jacqueline was not the samegirl she had been before she gave her promise to Mr. Holt. From themoment he bade her good-bye, with the remark that he was going away toget a golden cage for his bride, she began to reveal a change. The coldreserve gave way to feverish expectancy. She trod these rooms as ifthere were burning steels in the floors, she looked from the windows asif they were prison bars; night and day she gazed from them yet shenever went out. The letters she received from him were barely read andtossed aside; it was his coming for which she hungered. Her fathernoticed her restless and eager gaze, and frequently sighed. I felt herstrange removed manner and secretly wept. ‘If he does not amply returnthis passion,’ thought I, ‘my darling will find her life a hell!’

“But he did return it; of that I felt sure. It was my only comfort.

“Suddenly one day the restlessness vanished. Her beauty burst like aflame from smoke; she trod like a spirit that hears invisible airs. Iwatched her with amazement till she said ‘Mr. Holt comes to-night,’ thenI thought all was explained and went smiling about my work. She camedown in the afternoon clad as I had never seen her before. She wore oneof her Boston dresses and she looked superb in it. From the crown of herhead to the sole of her foot, she dazzled like a moving picture; but shelacked one adornment; there was no ring on her finger. ‘Jacqueline!’cried I, ‘you have forgotten something.’ And I pointed towards her hand.

“She glanced at it, blushed a trifle as I thought, and pulled it out ofher pocket. ‘I have it,’ said she, ‘but it is too large,’ and she thrustit carelessly back.

“At three o’clock the train came in. Then I saw her eye flash and herlip burn. In a few minutes later two gentlemen appeared at the gate.

“‘Mr. Holt and his brother!’ were the words I heard whispered throughthe house. But I did not need that announcement to understand Jacquelineat last.”

XXVI.

A MAN’S JUSTICE AND A WOMAN’S MERCY.

“Fair is foul and foul is fair.”—Macbeth.

“Have you ever seen a man whose instantaneous effect upon you waselectrical; in whose expression, carriage, or manner, there wasconcealed a charm that attracted and interested you, apart from hisactual worth and beauty? Such a one was Mr. Roger Holt, the gentleman Inow discerned entering the gate with Jacqueline’s lover. It was not thathe was handsome. He could not for one moment bear any comparison withhis brother in substantial attraction, and yet when they were both inthe room, you looked at him in preference to the other, and was vexedwith yourself for doing so. He seemed to be the younger as he wascertainly the smaller; yet he took the lead, even in coming up the walk.Why had he not taken it in the deeper and more important matter? Was itbecause he did not love her?

“I was not present when Jacqueline greeted her guests and presented Mr.Roger Holt to her father. But later in the day I spent a half hour withthem and saw enough to be able to satisfy myself as to the falsity of mylast supposition. Never had I seen on a human countenance the evidencesof a wilder passion than that which informed his features, as he sat inthe further window of the parlor, presumably engaged in admiring theautumn landscape, but really occupied in casting short side-long glancesat Jacqueline, who sat listening with a superb nonchalence, but with arestless gleam in her wandering eye, to the genial talk between heracknowledged lover and the Colonel. I half feared he would rise from hisseat, and flinging himself before her, demand then and there anexplanation of her engagement.

“But beyond the impatience of those short burning glances, he controlledhimself well, and it was Jacqueline who moved at last.

“I saw the purpose growing in her eyes long before she stirred. The facewhich had been a mystery to me from her cradle, was in the presence ofthis man, like an open page which all might read. Its letters wereflame, but that did not make them any less clear. I felt her swayingtowards him, before an eyelash trembled or a quiver shook her tall form.

He may have understood her purpose also, for his eye wandered towardsthe open piano. She rose like a queen.

“‘Mr. Roger Holt is a singer,’ said she in passing her father, ‘I amgoing to ask him to give us one of the old ballads you profess to likeso much.’

“The conversation at once ceased. The Colonel who made no secret of hisfondness for music, turned at once towards the stranger, with anexpression of great courtesy. Instantly that gentleman rose, and meetingthe request of his hostess with a profound bow, proceeded at once to thepiano. ‘He will not leave it till he has spoken to her,’ thought I. Nordid he, for that very moment as they stood turning her music over, Iperceived his lips move in a hurried question, to which she as brieflyresponded, whereupon he caught up a sheet of music from the pile, andflinging back his head with a victorious smile, began to sing.

“Had I known what lay behind his words, I would have braved everythingrather than have allowed him to utter a note in that room which had oncerung with the carols of Jacqueline’s mother. But what could I guess ofthe possible evil underlying the natural ebullition of unrestrainedpassion that from some cause of pride or pique, had met with a strangeinexplicable check. So I sat still, shuddering perhaps, but quiet in mycorner; while the haunting tones of his strange and thrilling voice,rose and fell in the most uncanny of Scottish love songs. Nor did I domore than wonder with all my agitated soul, when at the conclusionJacqueline came back, and pausing beside the man to whom she had givenher troth, looked down in his beaming face and smiled with that overflowof delight, which she dared not bestow upon his brother.

“Another little incident of that hour remains engraven upon my memory.She had been showing to the gentlemen a rare plant that stood in thefront parlor window, and was dilating upon its marvels, when Mr. RobertHolt, her accepted lover, took in his clasp the small white handwandering so invitingly among the leaves of the huge palm, and glancingat the finger which should have worn his ring, looked inquiringly intoher face.

“‘O,’ said she, interrupting her little speech to draw away her hand,‘you miss your diamond? I have it, sir. It lies very safe in my pocket;it is a beautiful gem, but your ring does not fit me.’

“The way she said those words and the air with which she tossed back herhead, must have made one heart in that room beat joyously, but it didnot reassure me or subdue my secret apprehension.

“‘Not fit!’ her lover responded; and begged her to allow him to try iton and see, but she shook her head with wilful coquetry, and turning tothe piano, commenced singing a gay little song that was like silverbells, shaken by a sudden and mighty tempest.

“Even the Colonel felt the change in his daughter, though he neverguessed the cause, and came and went during the evening that followed,with certain odd sighs that made my heart ache with strange forebodings.Only her lover was unconscious, or if he felt the new and wayward forceand fire in her manner, attributed it to his own presence andunspeakable devotion. Mr. Roger Holt, on the contrary, thoroughlyunderstood it. Though he was strangely calm, as calm now as he hadpreviously been alert and fiery, he never lost a gleam of her eye in hisdirection, or a turn of her form towards the chair where he sat. But thesmile with which he contemplated her was not pleasant to me. It wasinformed with self-consciousness, and a certain hard triumph, that madeit almost sinister. ‘She has given her hand to the true man,’ I mused,‘wherever her heart may be. But had she given it?’ I began to doubt as Ibegan to muse. With that uncontrollable will of hers, she was capable ofanything; did she intend to break with Robert, now that she had seenRoger? I detected no signs of it beyond the evident delight they took ineach other’s presence. They were guilty of no further conversation of asecret or intimate character, and when with the striking of the clock atten, Mr. Robert Holt rose to leave, his brother followed without anydemur, even preceding him in his departure and limiting his farewell toa short brotherly pressure of Jacqueline’s fair hand.

“But much may be conveyed in a pressure, or so I began to think as Iheard the low laugh that rippled from Jacqueline’s lips as she turned togo up to her room; and if I had been her mother—

“But that is not what you want to hear. Enough that I did not followher, that I did not even acquaint Colonel Japha with my fears, thatindeed I did nothing but lie awake, praying and asking what I ought todo. There had been so little said; there had been so little done. Aword, a sentence between them, the interchange of a couple of songs,and—What else that I could communicate to another?

“A week, two weeks passed, and her look of wilful happiness did not fly.She was flooded with notes from her accepted lover, whose handwriting Ihad learned by this time to distinguish, but not one, so far as I couldlearn, from any other source; yet her feet tripped lightly through thehouse, and her form had a rich grace in its every movement, that bespokea mind settled in some deep joy or quiet determination. I felt theimpenetrability of a secretly cherished hope, whenever I looked at her.If I had not known to the contrary, I should have said that herprospective marriage had become to her a dream of unfathomable delight.Whence then came this rapture? Through what communication was born thissecret hope? I could not guess, I could only watch and wait.

“Meanwhile some random guesses at the truth had been made by theneighbors. Jacqueline had a lover. That lover was a gentleman; but theColonel was critical; he had refused his consent and the young peoplehad parted. Such was the talk, begotten perhaps by the persistency withwhich Jacqueline remained in the house, and the almost severe look withwhich Colonel Japha trod the streets of his native village, which hesoon felt would lose all their charm in the departure of his only child.I scarcely ventured out more than Jacqueline; for I have but littlecontrol over my feelings and did not know what I would do, if any oneshould closely press me with questions.

“The unexpected discovery that our pretty young servant girl was in thehabit of stealing into Jacqueline’s room late at night, was the firstthing that startled me into asking whether or not my supposition wastrue, that Jacqueline received no messages from Mr. Robert Holt. Andscarcely had I become certain that a clandestine correspondence wasbeing carried on between them through the medium of this girl, then theclimax came, and knowledge on my part and secrecy on hers availed nolonger.

“It was a day in October. The stoves had been put up in the house, andseeing Jacqueline roaming about the halls, in a renewed fit of thatstrange restlessness which had affected her the day before Mr. RogerHolt’s visit, I went into her room to light a fire, and make everythinglook cheerful before dusk. I found the atmosphere warm, and going to thestove, discovered that a fire had been already kindled there, but hadgone out for want of fuel. I at once commenced to rake away the ashes,in order to make preparations for a new one, when I came upon severalscraps of half burned paper.

“Jacqueline had been burning letters. Do you blame me for picking outthose scraps and hastening with them to another room, when I tell youthey were written in a marked and characteristic hand that bore littleor no resemblance to that of her accepted lover, and that the wordswhich flashed first upon my eye were those ominous ones of my wife!

“They were three in number, and while more or less discolored andirregular, were still legible. Think child with what a thrill of horrorand sharp motherly anguish, I read such words as ‘Love you! I wouldpress you in my arms if you were plague-stricken! The least turn of yourhead makes my blood cringe, as if a flame had touched me. I would followyou on my knees, if you led me round the world. Let me see Robert takeyour hand again and I will—’

“‘Forget you! Do we forget the dagger that has struck us? I am anotherman since—’

“‘I will have you if Robert goes mad and your father kills me. That I amburdened with a wife, is nothing. What is a wife that I do not—’ ‘Youshall be my true wife, my—’

“‘To-night then, be ready; I will wait for you at the gate. A littleresolution on your part, and then—’

“I could read no further. The living, burning truth had forced itselfupon me, that Jacqueline, our darling, our pride, the soul of our life,stood tottering upon the brink of a gulf horrible as the mouth of hell.For I never doubted for an instant what her answer would be to thisentreaty. In all her past life, God pity us, there had been no tokens ofthat immovable hold on virtue, that would save her in such an extremityas this. Nevertheless, to make all sure, I flew back to her room, andtearing open bureau drawers and closet doors, discovered that herprettiest things had been sent away. She was going, then, and on thatvery night! and her father did not even know she was untrue to herbetrothed lover. The horror of the situation was too much for me; Ifaltered as I left her room, her dainty, maidenly room, and actuallycrouched against the wall like a guilty thing, as I heard the sound ofher voice singing some maddening strain in the parlors below. Whatshould I do? Appeal to her, or warn her father of the frightful peril inwhich his honor and happiness stood? Alas, any appeal to her would beuseless. In the glare of this awful revelation I had come to a fullcomprehension of her nature. But her father was a man; he could commandas well as entreat, could even force obedience if all other methodsfailed. To him, then, must I go; but I had rather have gone to the rack.He was so proud a man! Had owned to such undeviating trust in hisdaughter’s honor, as a Japha and his child! The blow would kill him; ordaze him so, he might better have been killed. My knees shook under me,as I traversed the hall to his little study over the parlor, and when Icame to the door, I rather fell against it than knocked, so great was myown anguish, and so deep my terror of his. He was a ready man and hecame to the door at once, but upon seeing me, drew back as if his eyehad fallen upon a phantom.

“‘Hush!’ said I, scarcely knowing what I uttered; and going in, I closedthe door and latched it firmly behind me. ‘I have come,’ said I in avoice that made him start, ‘to ask you to save your daughter. She is indeadly peril; she—’ a strain of her song came in at that moment fromthe staircase. She was ascending to her room. He looked at me in a doubtof my sanity.

“‘Not physical peril,’ I stammered, ‘but moral. She loves madly,unreasonably, and with a headlong passion that laughs at every obstacle,a man whom neither you nor heaven can look upon with aught butexecration. She—’

“‘Mrs. Hamlin!’—How well I remember his cool, calm voice, so deliberatein his impressive moments, so deliberate now, when perhaps she wasdonning hat and shawl for her elopement—‘You are laboring under a greatmistake. Instead of execrating Mr. Holt, I admire him most profoundly.Since the time has come for me to give up my daughter, I know of no oneto whom I would rather surrender her.’

“‘But Mr. Holt is not the man,’ I cried, half wild in my fear anddesperation. ‘Do you remember the gentleman who came with him on hislast visit? He called him his brother, and he is I believe, but—’

“The way he turned his grand white forehead towards me at that, madeevery fibre in my being quiver. ‘Jacqueline does not love him!’exclaimed he. How sharp his voice, how changed his eye! I shrank back,trembling as I bowed my head, thinking of the word yet to be said.

“‘But he won’t compare—’ he went on with a severe intonation. ‘Besidesher honor is engaged. You are dealing in fancies, Mrs. Hamlin.’

“I tore out of my breast the scraps of paper which had enlightened me sohorribly, and held them towards him; then bethought myself, and drewback. ‘I have proof,’ said I; ‘but first I must tell you that Jacquelineis not as good a girl as you have thought her. She is not her mother’schild in the qualities of love and honor. She is destined to bring agreat woe upon your head. In her passion for this man, she has forgottenyour trust in her, the incorruptibility of your name, the honor of yourhouse. Be strong, sir, for God is about to smite you in your tenderestspot.

“Ah, with what pride he towered upon me! this white-haired, statelygentleman before whom I had hitherto held my breath in admiring awe;towered upon me though his face was ghostly pale and his hand trembledlike an aspen as he held it out!

“‘Give me the papers you hold there,’ cried he. ‘Either you are gonemad, or else—Who wrote these lines?’ he demanded, glancing down uponthe hard, firm scrawl that blackened the bits of paper I had given him.

“‘Mr. Roger Holt,’ I returned unhesitatingly. ‘I found those bits inJacqueline’s stove. Her clothes have been sent away, sir,’ I continuedas I saw his face grow fixed above the scraps he consulted. ‘Twilight iscoming on and—Mr. Roger Holt is a married man!’

“‘What!’

“I never saw such a look flash from a human face as that which dartedfrom his at that terrible moment. I thought he would have fallen, but heonly dropped the papers out of his hand. ‘Heaven forgive us!’ murmuredI, calmed by a sight of his misery, into some semblance of ofself-control, ‘but we have never understood Jacqueline. She is not to beled, sir, by principles or duty. She loves this man, and love with heris a stormy wind, capable of sweeping her into any abyss of contumely orsuffering. If you would save her, kill her love; the death of her loverwould only transform her into a demon.’

“He looked at me as if I had told him the world had come to an end. ‘MyJacqueline!’ he murmured in a low, incredulous voice of the tenderestyearning. ‘My Jacqueline!’

“‘Oh!’ I shrieked, torn by my anguish for him and the terror of herescaping while we were yet talking, ‘God knows I had rather have diedthan contaminate her by such words as I have uttered. She is dear to meas my soul; dearer to me than my life. I have a mother’s feeling forher, sir. If to fling myself headlong from that window, would delay herfeet from going down the stairs to meet her guilty lover, I would gladlydo it. It is her danger makes me speak. O sir, realize that danger andhasten before she has taken the irrevocable step.’

“He started like a man pricked by a sudden dart. ‘She is going—youbelieve she is going to meet him?’

“‘I do,’ said I.

“He gave me a terrible look and started for the door. I hurriedly pickedup the scraps that had fallen to the floor, and rushed around by aninner passage-way to my own little room, hiding my head and waiting asfor the crash of a falling avalanche. Suddenly a cry rose in the hall.

“There are some sounds that lift you unconsciously to your feet. Dashingout of my room, I detected the face of the servant-girl whom I havebefore mentioned, looking out of her door some distance down thecorridor. Hastening towards her, I uttered some words about her being abusy-body, and thrusting her inside her room, locked the door upon her.Then I hastened with what speed I might to the front of the house, andcoming out upon the grand staircase, met a sight that shook me to thevery soul. You have been up the stairs; you know how they branch off toleft and right from the platform near the top. The left branch led inthose days to Colonel Japha’s room, the right to the apartments occupiedby Jacqueline and myself. Coming upon them, then, as I did from my sideof the house, I found myself in full view of the opposite approach, andthere on the topmost step I beheld Colonel Japha, standing in anattitude of awful denunciation, while half way down the staircase, Ibeheld the figure of Jacqueline, hindered in her gliding course towardsthe front door by the terrible, ‘Stop!’ whose echo had reached me in myroom and caused me to rush quaking and horrified to this spot. I leanedback sick and horror-stricken against the wall. There was no mercy inhis voice: he had awakened to a full realization of the situation andthe pride of the Japhas had made him steel.

“‘You are my child!’ he was saying. ‘I have loved you and do still; butproceed one step farther towards the man that awaits you at the gate,and the door that opens upon you, shuts never to open again!’

“‘Colonel!’ I exclaimed, starting forward; but he heard me no more thanhe would a fly buzzing or a bird singing.

“‘I desire it to shut; I have no wish to come back!’ issued from the setwhite lips of the girl beneath us. ‘There is no such charm for me inthis humdrum house, that I should wish to exchange life with the man Iadore, for its droning, spiritless existence!’ And she lifted her footto proceed.

“‘Jacqueline!’ I shrieked, leaning forward in my turn, and holding herby my anguish, as I never believed she could be held by anything,‘Think, child, think what you do! It is not life you are going to butdeath. A man who can take a young girl from her father’s house, from herlover’s arms, from her mother’s grave, from the shrine of all that ispure and holy, to dash her into a pit of all that is corrupt, loathsomeand deadly, is not one with whom you can live. You say you adore him:can one adore falsehood, selfishness and depravity? Does hypocrisy winlove? Can the embraces of a serpent bring peace? Jacqueline, Jacqueline,you are yet pure; come back to our love and our hearts, before we diehere in our shame at the head of the stairs, where your mother wascarried out to her grave!’

“She trembled. I saw the hand that clutched the banister loosen itsgrip; she cast one quick look behind her, and her eyes flashed upon herfather’s face; it was set like a flint.

“‘If you come back,’ cried he, leaning towards her, but not advancing astep from where he stood, ‘you must come back of your own free will. Iwill hold no creature prisoner in my house. I must trust you implicitly,or not at all. Speak then, which shall it be?’ And he raised his handabove his head, with a supreme and awful gesture, ‘a father’s blessingor a father’s curse?’

“‘A father’s curse, then! since you command me to choose,’ rang out fromher lips in a burst of uncontrollable passion. ‘I want no blessing thatseparates me from him!’ And she pointed towards the door with a lookthat, defiant as it was, spoke of a terrible love before which all ourwarnings and entreaties were but as empty air.

“‘Curses then upon your head, slayer of a family’s honor, a father’slove, and a mother’s memory! Curses upon you, at home and abroad! in thejoy of your first passion and in the agony of your last despair! May youlive to look upon that door as the gateway to heaven, and find it shut!May your children, if you are cursed with them, turn in your face, asyou are turning now in mine! May the lightning of heaven be your candle,and the blackness of death your daily food and your nightly drink!’ Andwith a look in which all the terrors he invoked, seemed to crashdownward from his reeling brain upon her shrinking terror-crouched head,he gave one mighty gasp and fell back stricken to the floor.

“‘God!’ burst from her lips, and she rushed downwards to the door like acreature hunted to its quarry. I saw her white face gleam marble-like inthe fading light that came in from the chinks about the door. I saw hertrembling hand fumbling with the knob, and rousing from my stupor,called down to her with all the force of a breaking heart,

“‘Jacqueline, beware!’

“She turned once more. There was something in my voice she could notwithstand. ‘I do not hope to keep you,’ cried I, ‘but before you go,hear this. In the days to come, when the face that now beams upon youwith such longing, shall have learned to turn from you in weariness, ifnot distaste, when hunger, cold, contumely and disease shall haveblasted that fair brow and seared those soft cheeks, know, that althougha father can curse, a woman who loves like a mother can forgive.’ Thefather cries, ‘Once go out of that door and it shuts upon you never toopen!’ ‘Once come to that door, say I,’ pointing in the direction ofthe house’s other entrance, ‘and if I live and if I move, it shall opento you, were you as defiled and wretched and forsaken as Magdalen.Remember! Each day at this hour will I watch for you, kneeling upon itsthreshold. In sickness or in health, in joy or in sorrow, in cold or inheat. The hour of six is sacred. Some one of them shall see you fallingweeping on my breast!’

“She gave me a quick stare out of her wide black eyes, then a mockingsmile curled her lips, and murmuring a short, ‘You rave!’ opened thedoor, and rushed out into the falling dusk. With a resounding clang likethe noise of a stone rolled upon an open grave, the great door swung to,and I was left alone in that desolated house with my stricken master.

XXVII.

THE LONE WATCHER.

“Hark! to the hurried question of Despair,
Where is my child?—and Echo answers—Where?”—Byron.

“Colonel Japha recovered from his shock, but was never the same managain. All that was genial, affectionate and confiding in his nature,had been turned as by a lightning’s stroke, to all that was hard, bitterand suspicious. He would not allow the name of Jacqueline to be spokenin his presence; he would listen to no allusion made to those days whenshe was the care and perplexity, but also the light and pleasure of thehouse. Men are not like women, my child; when they turn, it is at anangle, the whole direction of their nature changes.

“Perhaps the news that presently came to us from Boston may have hadsomething to do with this. It was surely dreadful enough; Jacqueline’sperfidy had slain her lover. Mr. Robert Holt, the cultured, noble,high-souled gentleman, had been found lying dead on the floor of hisroom, a few days after the events I have just related, with a lady’sdiamond ring in his hand and the remnants of a hastily burned letter inthe grate before him. He had burst a blood-vessel, and had expiredinstantly.

“This sudden and tragic ending of a man of energy and will, was also thereason, perhaps, why Grotewell never arrived at the truth ofJacqueline’s history. Boston was a long way from here in those days, andthe story of her lover’s death was not generally known, while the factof her elopement was. Consequently she was supposed to have fled withthe man who had been seen to visit her most frequently; a report whichneither the Colonel nor myself had the courage to deny.

“My child, you have a brow like snow, and a cheek like roses; you knowlittle of life’s sorrows and little of life’s sins. To you the skies areblue, the woods vernal, the air balmy; the sad looks upon men’s andwomen’s faces, tell but shallow tales of the ceaseless grinding of griefin their pent up souls. But you are gentle, and you have an imaginationthat goes beyond your experience; perhaps if you pause and think, youcan understand what a tale could be told of the weeks and months andyears that now followed, without hint or whisper of the fate of her whohad gone out from amongst us with the brand of her father’s curse uponher brow. At first we hoped, yes, he hoped,—I could see it in hiseyes when there came a sudden ring at the bell,—that some sign of herpenitence, or some proof of her existence, would come to relieve thetorture of our fears, if not the shame of our memories. But the doorthat closed upon her on that fatal eve, had shut without an echo. Whilewe vainly waited, time had ample leisure to carve the furrows of age aswell as of suffering on the Colonel’s once smooth brow, and to change mydaily vigil into a custom of despair, rather than of hope. Time had alsoleisure to rob us of much of our worldly goods and to make our continuedliving in this grand old house, an act that involved constant care andthe closest economy. That we were enabled to preserve appearances to theday that beheld the Colonel laid low by the final stroke of his dreaddisease, was only due to the secret charity of a certain gentleman, who,declaring he was indebted to us, secretly supplied me with means ofsupport.

“But of all this you care little.

“You had rather hear about the evening watch with its hopeful assurance,‘Yet another day and she will be here,’ to be followed so soon by thedespairing acknowledgement, ‘Yet another day and she has not come!’ orof those dark hours when the Colonel lay blank and white upon hispillow, with his eyes fixed on the door which would never open to thebeating of a daughter’s heart, while the gray shadow of an awfulresolution deepened upon his immovable face. What that resolution was Icould not know, but I feared it, when I saw what a sternness it gave tohis eye, what a fixedness to his set and implacable lip; and when in thewaning light of a certain December afternoon, the circle of neighborsabout his bed gave way to the stiff and forbidding form of Mr. Phelps, Ifelt a thrill of mortal apprehension and only waited to hear the short,‘It shall be done,’ of the lawyer to some slowly whispered command ofthe colonel, to rise from my far off corner and stand ready to accostMr. Phelps as he came from the bedside of the dying man.

“‘What is it?’ I asked, rushing up to him as he issued forth into thehall, and seizing him by the arm, with a woman’s unreasoningimpetuosity. ‘I have nursed his daughter on my knee; tell me, then, whatit is he has ordered you to do in this final moment?’

“Mr. Phelps for all his ungainly bearing, is not a hard-hearted man, asyou know, and he doubtless saw the depth of the misery that made meforget myself. Giving me a look that was not without its touch ofsarcasm, he replied, ‘The colonel has made me promise, to see that aplank is nailed across the front door of this house, after his body hasbeen carried out to burial.’

“A board across the front door! His anger then was implacable. Thewithering curse that had rung in my ears for ten years, was to outlivehis death! With a horrified groan, I pressed my hands over my eyes andrushed back. My first glimpse of the Colonel’s face showed me that theend was at hand, but that fact only made more imperative my consumingdesire to see that curse removed, even though it were done with hisfinal breath. Drawing near his bedside, I leaned down, and waiting tillhis eye wandered to my face, asked him if there was nothing he wishedamended before his strength failed. He understood me. We had not sat forso long, face to face across the chasm of a hideous memory, withoutknowing something of the workings of each other’s mind. Glancing up athis wife’s portrait which ever faced him as he lay upon his pillow, hismouth grew severe and he essayed to shake his head. I at once pointed tothe portrait.

“‘What will you say to her when she meets you on the borders of heaven?’I demanded with the courage of despair.’ She will ask, ‘Where is mychild?’ And what will you reply?’

“The fingers that lay upon the coverlid moved spasmodically; he eyed mewith a steady deepening stare, awful to meet, fearful to remember. Iwent on steadily; ‘She has gone out of this house with your curse; tellme that if she comes back, she may be greeted with your forgiveness.’Still that awful stare which changed not. ‘I have watched and waited forher every day since her departure,’ I whispered, ‘and shall watch andwait for her, every day until I die. Shall a stranger’s love be greaterthan a father’s?’ This time his lips twitched and the grey shadowshifted, but it did not rise. ‘I had sworn to do it,’ I went on. ‘Whenyou lay there at the top of the stairs, smitten down by your firstshock, I told her, come sickness, come health, I should keep a dailyvigil at that door of the house which your severity had not closed uponher; and I have kept my word till now and shall keep it to the end. Whatwill you do for this miserable child of whose being you are the author?’

“With indescribable anxiety I paused and watched him, for his lips weremoving. ‘Do for her?’ he repeated.

“How awful is the voice of the dying! I shivered as I listened, but drewnear and nearer, that I might lose no word that came from his stonylips.

“‘She will not come,’ gasped he, with an effort that raised him up inbed, and deepened that horrible stare, ‘but—’

“Who shall say what he might have uttered if Death’s hand had delayed asingle instant, but the inexorable shadow fell, and he never finishedthe sentence.

“My child, these are frightful things for you to hear. God knows I wouldnot assail your pure ears with a tale like this, if it were not for thehelp and sympathy I hope to gain from you. Sin is a hideous thing; thegulf it opens is wide and deep; well may it be said to swallow those whotrust themselves above its flower-hung brink. But we who are human, owesomething to humanity. Love stops not because of the gulf; love followsthe sinner with wilder and more heart-breaking longing, the deeper anddeeper he sinks into the illimitable darkness. Ten years have passedsince we laid the Colonel away in the burying-place of all the Japhas,and dutiful to his last request, nailed up the front door of hisspeedily to be forsaken mansion. In all that time my watch has remainedunbroken in this house, which by will he had left to me, but which Isecretly hold in trust for her. The hour of six has found me at my post,sometimes elate with hope, sometimes depressed with repeateddisappointments, but whether hopeful or sad, always trustful that thegreat God who Himself so loved all sinners, that He gave the life of HisSon to rescue them, would ultimately grant me the desire of my heart.But the decrepitude of age is coming upon me, and each morning I leavemy bed, with growing fear lest my infirmities will increase until theyfinally overcome my resolution. Child, if this should happen, if lyingin my bed I should some day hear that she had come back, and failing tofind the lamp burning and the welcome ready, had gone away again—Butthe thought is madness. I cannot bear it. A sinner, lost, degraded,suffering, starving, perhaps, is wandering this way. She is hardened andold in guilt; she has drunk the cup of life’s passions and found themcorrupting poison; all that was lovely and pure and good has withdrawnfrom her; she stands alone, shut off by her sin, like a wild thing in acircle of flame. What shall touch this soul? The preacher’s voice has nocharm for her; good men’s advice is but empty air. God’s love must bemirrored in human love, to strike an eye so unused to looking up. Whereshall she find such love? It is all that can rescue her; love as greatas her sin, as boundless as her degradation, as persistent as hersuffering. Child—”

“I know what you are going to say,” suddenly exclaimed Paula, rising upand confronting Mrs. Hamlin with a steady high look of determination.“In the day of your weakness or illness you want some one to unlock thedoor and light the lamp. You have found her!”

XXVIII.

SUNSHINE ON THE HILLS.

“If I speak to thee in Friendship’s name,
Thou think’st I speak too coldly;
If I mention Love’s devoted flame,
Thou say’st I speak too boldly.”—Moore.

The story told by Mrs. Hamlin had a great effect upon Paula, not only onaccount of its own interest and the promise it had elicited from her,but because of the remembrances it revived of Mr. Sylvester and her lifein New York. Any vision of evil or suffering, any experience that rousedthe affections or awakened the sensibilities, could not fail to recallto her mind the forcible figure of Mr. Sylvester as he stood that day byhis own hearthstone, talking of the temptations that assail humanity;and any reminiscence of him must necessarily bring with it much thatcharmed and aroused. For a week, then, she felt the effect of a greatunsettlement. Her village home appeared a prison; she longed to run,soar—anything to escape; the horizon was full of beckoning hands. Abrooding melancholy settled upon her reveries; the prospect of a lifespent in the narrow circle to which she had endeavored to re-accustomherself, became unendurable.

Thus it is with us. We slide in a groove and seem happy, when suddenly abook we read, a story we hear, an experience we encounter, shakes us outof our content, and makes continuance in the old course a violation ofthe most demanding instincts of our nature.

In the full tide of this unrest, Paula went out for a solitary walk onthe hills. Nature can soothe if she cannot satisfy. Then the day itselfwas one to make the soul glad and the heart rejoice. As the young girltrod the meadows, she wondered that she could be sad. Earth and air wereso full of splendor. Nature seemed to be in league with the angels oflight. September stood upon the earth like a goddess of might and glory.Every tint of green that variegated the mountain-side, wooed the eyewith suggestions of unfathomable beauty. A bough of scarlet flame lithere and there amid the verdure, served to illuminate the woods as forthe passage of a king; and not Solomon in all his glory ever wore anaspect more sumptuous than the flowers that flecked the meadow andfringed the hardy roadside with imperial purple. A wind was blowing, akeen but kindly breeze, laden with sweetness and alert to awaken Æolianairs from the boughs of whistling beech and alder. Even the low fieldgrasses seemed to partake in the general cheer, and nodded to each otherwith a witching and irresistible abandon. Had a poet been at her side,or any one capable of divining the hidden things of nature, what acommentary to all their united thoughts she would have found in thedelicious tremble of the laughing leaves, in the restless music of therunaway brooks, in the lowly crickets with their single song, in thecloud-haunting birds with their trailing melodies, and in all the rolland rumble of earth’s commingled noises. Alluring as was the book ofnature, she could not read it alone. She felt the lack of a loving handto turn the page. “Is it that I am lonely!” she murmured.

The thought deepened her trouble. Coming down from the hillside, sheentered a skirting of woods that ran along by the river. Here she hadalways found peace and some of her richest treasures of thought. Throughthis opaline archway she had walked with her fancies, like SaintCatherine with her lily. It was sacred to all that was sweet and deepand pure within her. “Lonely!” she whispered; “I will not be lonely. Tosome God gives years of happy companionship; to others but a day. Shallone complain because it has fallen to his portion to have the lessershare? I will remember my one day and be glad.”

“My one day!” She caught herself at the utterance and literally startedat the suggestion it offered. There was but one person whom she had seenbut for a day. Could she have been thinking of him?

With a flush deep as the autumn leaves she carried, she was hurrying on,when suddenly in the opening before her, a shadow fell, and a mellowvoice exclaimed in her ear,

“Do I meet Miss Fairchild in her native woods?”

It was Clarence Ensign.

The surprise was very great and it took her a moment to steady herself.She had felt so assured that she should never see him or any other ofher New York friends again. Had not Cicely written that he had goneWest, soon after her own departure from New York. With a deepening ofhis voice Mr. Ensign repeated the question.

At once the day seemed to acquire all it had hitherto lacked. Lookingup, she met his eye fixed admiringly upon her, and all that was merry,lightsome and gay within her, leaped at once to the surface. Ignoringhis question with smiling abandon, she exclaimed,

“What shall be done to the man who delights in surprises and startlestimid maidens without a cause?”

“He shall be held in captivity by the hand of his denouncer, until hehas sued for pardon and obtained her generous forgiveness,” returned he,holding out his palm.

She barely touched it with her own. “I see that your repentance issincere, so your pardon shall be speedy,” laughed she.

“Your discrimination is at fault, I never felt more impenitent in mylife. I am a hardened wretch, Miss Fairchild, a hardened wretch! But youdo not ask me from what corner of the earth I have come. You take me toomuch for granted; like the chirrup of a squirrel, let me say, or thewhistle of a bullfinch. But perhaps you think I inhabit these woods?”

“No; but a day like this is so full of miracles, why should we beastonished at one more! I suppose you came on the train, but should notbe surprised to hear you started, like Pluto, from the earth. Anythingseems possible in such a sunshine.”

“You are right, and I have sprung from the earth. I have been buriedfive mortal months in a law-suit out west, or else I should have beenhere before. I hope my delay has made me none the less welcome.”

He was holding back a branch as he spoke, and his eyes were on a levelwith hers. She felt caught as in a net, and struggled vainly to keepdown her color. “No,” said she, “welcome is a guest’s due, whether hecome early or late. I should be sorry to be lacking in the duties of ahostess, though my drawing-room is somewhat more spacious than cosy,”she continued, looking around on the fields into which they had emerged,“and my facilities for bespeaking you welcome greater than my power tomake you comfortable.”

“Comfort is a satisfaction of the mind, rather than of the body. I amnot uncomfortable, Miss Fairchild.” Then as he stooped to relieve herof half her burden of trailing leaves and flowers, he exclaimed in amatter-of-fact tone, “Your aunt is a notable woman, Miss Fairchild, Iadmire her greatly.”

“What!” said she, “you have been to the cottage? You have seen AuntBelinda?”

“Of course,” laughed he, “or how should I be here? You have been sentfor, Miss Fairchild, and I am the humble bearer of your aunt’s commands.But I forget, the practical has nothing to do with such a day. I amsupposed to have sprung from the ground, and to know by instinct, justin what nook you were hiding from the sunlight. Very well. I acknowledgethat instinct is sometimes capable of going a great way.”

But this time her ready answer was lacking. She was wondering what heraunt would think of this sudden appearance of a stranger whose name shehad never so much as mentioned.

“It is a pleasant rest to stand and look at a view like that, after asummer of musty labor,” said he, gazing up the river with a trulyappreciative eye. “I do not wonder you carry the charm of the wild woodsin your laugh and glance, if you have been brought up in the sight ofsuch a view as that.”

“It has been my meat and drink from childhood,” said she, and wonderedwhy she wanted to say no more upon her favorite theme.

“Yet you tell me you love the city?”

“Too much to ever again be happy here.”

It was a slip for which her cheek burned and her lids fell, the momentafter. She had been thinking of Mr. Sylvester, and unconsciously spakeas she might have done, if he had been at her side, instead of thisgenial-hearted young man. With a woman’s instinctive desire to retrieveherself, she hurriedly continued, “Life is so full and large and deep ina great town, if you are only happy enough to meet those who are itsblood and brain and sinew. One misses the rush of the great wheel oftime in a spot like this. The world moves, but we do not feel it; it islike the quiet sweep of the stars over our heads. But in the city, days,weeks and months make themselves felt. The universe jars under the feetof hurrying masses. The story of the world is being written on pavement,corridor, and dome, so that he who runs may read. One realizes he isalive; the unit is part of the multiple. To those who are tired, Godgives the rest of the everlasting hills, but to those who are eager, heholds out the city with its innumerable opportunities and incentives.And I am eager,” she said. “The flower blooms on the mountain, and itsperfume is sweet, but the chariot sings as it rushes, and the noise ofits wheels is music in my ears.”

She paused, turned her face to the breeze, and seemed to forget she wasnot alone. Clarence Ensign eyed her with astonishment; he had neverheard her speak like this; the earnest side of her great nature hadnever been turned towards him before, and he felt himself shrink intoinsignificance in its presence. What was he that he should pluck a starfrom the heavens, to buckle on his breast! Wealth and position were amatch for beauty great as hers, and a kind heart current coin all theworld over, for a gentle disposition and a loving nature; but forthis—He turned away and in his abstraction switched his foot with hiscane.

“Then it was in New York that I met Cicely,” exclaimed Paula.

He shook off his broodings, turned with a manful gesture, and met hersweet unfathomable eye, so brilliant with enthusiasm a moment ago, butat this instant so softly deep and tender.

“And the friendship of Miss Stuyvesant is a precious thing to you?” saidhe.

“Few things are more so,” was her reply.

He bit his lip and his brow grew lighter. After all, great soulsfrequently cling to those of lesser calibre, provided they are true andunflawed. He would not be discouraged. But his tone when he spoke hadacquired a reverence that did not lessen its music. “You are, then, oneof the few women who believe in friendship?”

“As I believe in heaven.”

Looking at her, he took off his hat. Her eye stole to his seriouscountenance. “Miss Stuyvesant is to be envied,” said he.

“Are friends so rare?”

“Such friends are,” said he.

She gave him a bright little look. “Had you been with Miss Stuyvesant,and she had expressed herself as I have done, you would have said, ‘MissFairchild is to be envied,’ and you would have been nearer the truththan now. Cicely’s friendship is to mine what an unbroken mirror is to alittle racing brook. It reflects but one image, while mine—” She couldnot go on. How could she explain to this stranger that Cicely’s heartwas undivided in its regard, while hers owned allegiance to more thanher bosom friend.

“If I were with Miss Stuyvesant now,” he declared, too absorbed in hisown ideas to notice the break in hers, “I should still say in face ofthis friendship, ‘Miss Stuyvesant is to be envied.’ I have no mind formore than one thought to-day,” exclaimed he, with a look that made hertremble.

There are some men who never know in what field to stay the current oftheir impetuosity: Clarence Ensign did. He said no more than this of allthat was seething in his mind and heart. He felt that he must provehimself a man, before he exercised a man’s privilege. Besides, histemperament was mercurial, and never remained long under the bondage ofa severe thought, or an impressive tone of mind. He worshipped thelofty, but it was with tabor and cymbal and high-sounding lute. A climbover the stile at the foot of the hill was enough to restore him tohimself. It was therefore with merry eyes and laughing lips that theyapproached the house and entered Miss Belinda’s presence.

There are some persons whose prerogative it is to carry sunshine withthem wherever they go. Clarence Ensign was one of these. Without aneffort, without any display of incongruous hilarity, he always succeededby the mere joyousness of his own nature, in calling forth all that wasbright and enjoyable in others. When therefore they stepped into thequaint old-fashioned parlor, all prepared to receive them, Paula was notsurprised to perceive it brighten, and her aunts’ faces grow cheerfuland smiling. Who could meet Clarence Ensign’s laughing eye and notsmile? What did astonish her, however, was the sight of an elegantbasket of hot-house lowers perched on a table in the centre of the room.It made her pause, and cast looks of inquiry at the demure countenanceof Miss Abby, and the quietly satisfied expression of her morethoughtful aunt.

“A remembrance from the city!” said Mr. Ensign gracefully. “I thought itmight help to recall some happy hours to you.”

With a swelling of the heart which she could not understand, she leanedover the ample cluster of roses and heliotrope. She felt as though shecould embrace them; they were more than flowers, they were the visibleemblem of all she had missed, and for which she had longed these manymonths.

“I seem to receive the whole in the part,” said she.

He may or may not have understood her, but he saw she was gratified, andthat was sufficient. The afternoon flew by on wings of light. MissBelinda, who was not accustomed to holidays, but who thoroughlyappreciated them when they came, entered into the conversation withzest; while Miss Abby’s unconscious expressions of pleasure were toonaïve not to add to, rather than detract from the general enjoyment.The twilight, with its good-bye, came all too soon.

“I have a request to make before I go,” said Mr. Ensign. He was standingalone with Paula in the embrasure of the window, a few moments beforehis departure. “When we see a flower nodding on a ledge above our heads,we long for it; I have heard you talk of friendship, and a great desirehas seized me. Miss Fairchild will you be my friend?”

She gave him a startled glance that, however, soon settled into a mellowradiant look of sympathy and pleasure.

“That is asking for something which if I hesitate to accord, it isbecause the word, ‘friend,’ carries with it so much,” said she, with asweet seriousness that disarmed her words of any latent sting they mightotherwise have contained.

“I know it,” he replied, “and I am very bold to ask it upon so slight anacquaintance; but life is short and real treasure is so scarce. You willnot deny me, Miss Fairchild?” Then seeing her look down, hastilycontinued, “I have acquaintances by the score—friends who stylethemselves thus, by the dozen, but no friend. I want one; I want youfor that one. Will you be it? I shall be jealous though, I warn you,” hewent on, with a cropping out of his mirthful nature; “I shall not bepleased to observe the circle widened indefinitely. I shall want my ownplace and no one else in my place.”

“No one else can fill the place once given to a friend. Each one has hisown niche.”

“And I am to have mine?” His look was firm, his eye steadfast.

“Yes,” she breathed.

With a proud stooping of his head, he took her hand and kissed it. Theaction became him; he was tall and well made, and gallantry induced byfeeling, sat well upon him. In spite of herself, she thought of old-timestories of the Norse chivalry; he stood so radiant and bent so low.

“I shall prize my friend at her queenly value,” said he; and withoutmore ado, uttered his farewell and took his departure.

“Paula!”

The young girl started from a reverie which had held her for a long timeenchained at that fast darkening window, and hastily looking up,perceived her Aunt Belinda standing before her, with her eye fixed uponher face, with a kind but searching glance.

“Yes, aunt.”

“You have not told me who this Mr. Ensign is. In all the letters youwrote me you did not mention his name, I think.”

“No, aunt. The fact is, I did not meet him until a few days before Ileft, and then only for an evening, you might say.”

“Indeed! that one evening seems to have made its impression. Tell mesomething about him, Paula.”

“His own countenance speaks for him better than I can, aunt. He is goodand he is kind; an honest young man, who need fear the eye of no one. Heis wealthy, I am informed, and the son of highly respected parents. Hewas first presented to me by Miss Stuyvesant, whose friend he is,afterwards by Mr. Sylvester. His coming here was a surprise to me.”

Miss Belinda’s firm mouth, which had expanded at this dutiful response,twitched with a certain amused expression over this last announcement.Eying her niece with unrelenting inquiry, she pursued, “You have notbeen happy for the last few weeks, Paula. Our life seems narrow to you;you long to fly away to larger fields and more expansive skies.”

With a guilty droop of her head, Paula stole her hand into that of heraunt’s.

“I do not wonder,” continued Miss Belinda, still watching the flushingcheek and slightly troubled mouth of the lovely girl before her. “I oncebreathed other air myself, and know well what charms lie beyond thesemountains. In giving you up for awhile, I gave you up forever, I fear.”

“No, no,” whispered the young girl, “I am always yours wherever I go.Not that I am going away,” she hastily murmured.

Her aunt smiled and gently stroked her niece’s hand. “When the timecomes, I shall bid you God speed, Paula. I am no ogress to tie my dove’swings to her nest. Love and the home it provides are the natural lot ofwomen. None feel it more than those who have missed both.”

“Aunt!” Paula was shocked and perplexed. A breaking wave full of doubtsand possibilities, seemed to dash over her at this suggestion.

“Young men of judgment and principle do not come so many miles to see ayouthful maiden, without a purpose,” continued her aunt inexorably. “Youknow that, do you not, Paula?”

“Yes; but the purpose may differ in different cases,” returned the younggirl hurriedly. “I would not like to believe that Mr. Ensign came herewith the one you give him credit for—not yet. You trouble me, aunt,”pursued she, glancing tremulously about. “It is like opening a greatdoor flooded with sunshine, upon eyes scarcely strong enough to bear theglimmer sifting through its cracks. I feel humiliated and—” She did notfinish, perhaps her thought itself was incomplete.

“If a light comes sifting through the cracks, I am satisfied,” said heraunt in a lighter tone than common. And she kissed her niece, and wentsmiling out of the room, murmuring to herself,

“I have been over-fearful; everything is coming right.”

There are moments when life’s great mystery overpowers us; when theriddle of the soul flaunts itself before us unexplained, and we can dono more than stand and take the rush of the tide that comes sweepingdown upon us. Paula was not the girl she was before she went to NewYork. Love was no longer a dreamy possibility, a hazy blending of theunknown and the fancied; its tale had been too often breathed in herear, its reality made too often apparent to her eye. But love to whichshe could listen, was as new and fresh and strange, as a world intowhich her foot had never ventured. That her aunt should point to acertain masculine form, no matter how attractive or interesting, andsay, “Love and home are the lot of women,” made her blood rush back onher heart, like a stream from which a dam has been ruthlessly wrenchedaway. It was too wild, too sudden; a friend’s name was so much easier tospeak, or to contemplate. She did not know what to do with her ownheart, made to speak thus before its time; its beatings choked her;everything choked her; this was a worse imprisonment than the other.Looking round, her eye fell upon the flowers. Ah, was not their languageexpressive enough, without this new suggestion? They seemed to losesomething in this very gain. She liked them less she thought, and yether feet drew near, and near, and nearer, to where they stood, exhalingtheir very souls out in delicious perfume. “I am too young!” came fromPaula’s lips. “I will not think of it!” quickly followed. Yet the smilewith which she bent over the fragrant blossoms, had an ethereal beautyin it, which was not all unmixed with the

“Light that never was on land or sea,
The consecration and the poet’s dream.”

“He has asked to be my friend,” murmured she, as she slowly turned away.“It is enough; it must be enough.” But the blossom she had stolen fromthe midst of the fragrant collection, seemed to whisper a merry nay, asit nodded against her hand, and afterwards gushed out its sweet life onher pure young breast.

XXIX.

MIST IN THE VALLEY.

“The true beginning of our end.”—Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Mr. Ensign was not slow in developing his ideas of friendship. Though hedid not venture upon repeating his visit too soon, scarcely a weekpassed without bringing to Paula a letter or some other testimonial ofhis increasing devotion. The blindest eye could not fail to remarkwhither he was tending. Even Paula was forced to acknowledge to herselfthat she was on the verge of a flowery incline, that sooner or laterwould bring her up breathless against the dread alternative of a decidedyes or no. Friendship is a wide portal, and sometimes admits love; hadit served her traitorously in this?

Her aunt who watched her with secret but lynx-eyed scrutiny, saw noreason to alter the first judgment of that mysterious, “It is all comingright,” with which she viewed the first symptoms of Paula’s girlishappreciation of her lover. If eyes and lips could speak, Paula washappy. The mournful shadows which of late had flitted with more or lesspersistency over her face, had vanished in a living smile, which if notdeep, was cloudlessly radiant; and her voice when not used in speech,was rippling away in song, as glad as a finch’s on the mountain side.

Miss Belinda was therefore very much astonished when one day Paula burstinto her presence, and flinging herself down on her knees, threw herarms about her waist, crying,

“Take me away, dear aunt, I cannot, dare not stay here another day.”

“Paula, what do you mean?” exclaimed Miss Belinda, holding her back andendeavoring to look into her face. But the young girl gently resisted.

“I have just had a letter from Cicely,” she returned in a low andmuffled voice. “She has seen Mr. Sylvester, and says he looks both wanand ill. He told her, too, that he was lonely, and I know what thatmeans; he wants his child. The time has come for me to go back. He saidit would, and that I would know when it came. Take me, aunt, take me toMr. Sylvester.”

Miss Belinda, to whom self-control was one of the cardinal virtues,leaned back in her chair and contemplated the eager, tear-stained facethat was now raised to hers, with silent scrutiny. “Paula,” said she atlast, “is that your only reason for desiring to return to New York?”

A flush, delicate as it was fleeting, swept over the dew of Paula’scheek. She rose to her feet and met her aunt’s eye, with a look ofgentle dignity. “No,” said she, “I wish to test myself. Birds that areprisoned will caress any hand that offers them freedom. I wish to see ifthe lure holds good when my wings are in mid-heaven.”

There was a dreamy cadence to her voice as she uttered that last phrase,that startled her aunt. “Paula,” exclaimed she, “Paula, don’t you knowyour own heart?”

“Who does?” returned Paula; then in a sudden rush of emotion threwherself once more at her aunt’s side, saying, “It is in order to knowit, that I ask you to take me away.”

And Miss Belinda, as she smoothed back her darling’s locks, was obligedto acknowledge to herself, that time has a way of opening, in the streamof life, unforeseen channels to whose current we perforce must yield, orelse hopelessly strand upon the shoals.

BOOK IV.

FROM A. TO Z.

XXX.

MISS BELINDA PRESENTS MR. SYLVESTER WITH A CHRISTMAS GIFT.

“For, O; for, O the hobby horse is forgot.”—Hamlet.

It was a clear winter evening. Mr. Sylvester sat in his library, musingbefore a bright coal fire, whose superabundant heat and blaze seemed tomake the loneliness of the great empty room more apparent. He had justsaid to himself that it was Christmas eve, and that he, of all men inthe world, had the least reason to realize it, when the door-bell rang.He was expecting Bertram, whose advancement to the position of cashierin place of Mr. Wheelock, now thoroughly broken down in health, had thatday been fully determined upon in a late meeting of the Board ofDirectors. He therefore did not disturb himself. It was consequently astartling surprise, when a deep, pleasant voice uttered from thethreshold of the door, “I have brought you a Christmas present;” andlooking up, he saw Miss Belinda standing before him, with Paula at herside.

“My child!” was his involuntary exclamation, and before the young girlknew it, she was folded against his breast with a passionate fervor thatmore than words, convinced her of the depth of the sacrifice which hadheld them separate for so long. “My darling! my little Paula!”

She felt her heart stand still. Gently disengaging herself, she lookedin his face. She found it thin and wan, but lit by such a pleasure shecould not keep back her smile. “You are glad, then, of your littleChristmas present?” said she.

He smiled and shook his head; he had no words with which to express ajoy like this.

Miss Belinda meanwhile stood with a set expression on her face, that, toone who did not know her, would immediately have proclaimed her to be anogress of the very worst type. Not a glance did she give to the unusualsplendor about her, not a wavering of her eye betokened that she was inany way conscious that she had just stepped from the threshold of a veryhumble cottage, into a home little short of a palace in size and thesplendor of its appointments. All her attention was concentrated on thetwo faces before her.

“The ride on the cars has made Paula feverish,” cried she, in sharpclear tones that rang with unexpected brusqueness through the curtainedalcoves of that lordly apartment.

They both started at this sudden introduction of the prosaic into thehush of their happy meeting, but remembering themselves, drew MissBelinda forward to the fire and made her welcome in this house of manymemories.

It was a strange moment to Paula when she first turned to go up thosestairs, down which she had come in such grief eight months or more ago.She found herself lingering on its well-remembered steps, and the firstsight of the rich bronze image at the top, struck her with a sense ofthe old-time pleasure, that was not unlinked with the old-time dread.But the aspect of her little room calmed her. It was just as she hadleft it; not an article had been changed. “It is as if I had gone outone door and come in another,” she whispered. All the months that hadintervened seemed to float away. She felt this even more when upon againdescending, she found Bertram in the library. His frank and interestingface had always been pleasant to her, but in the joy of her return itshone upon her with almost the attraction of a brother’s. “I am at homeagain,” she kept whispering to herself, “I am at home.”

Miss Belinda was engrossed in conversation with Bertram, so that Paulawas left free to take her old place by Mr. Sylvester’s side, where shesat with such an aspect of contentment, that her beauty was halfforgotten in her happiness.

“You remembered me, then, sometimes in the little cottage in Grotewell?”asked he, after a silent contemplation of her countenance. “I was notforgotten when you left the city streets?”

She answered with a bright little shake of her head, but she wasinwardly wondering as she looked at his strong and picturesque face,with its nobly carved features and melancholy smile, if he had beenabsent from her thoughts for so much as a moment, in all these drearymonths of separation.

“I did not believe you would forget,” he gently pursued, “but I scarcelydared hope you would lighten my fireside with your face again. It issuch a dismal one, and youth is so linked to brightness.”

The flush that crossed her cheek, startled him into sudden silence. Sherecovered herself and slowly shook her head. “It is not a dismal one tome. I always feel brighter and better when I sit beside it. I havemissed your counsel,” she said; “brightness is nothing without depth.”

His eyes which had been fixed on her face, turned slowly away. He seemedto hold an instant’s communion with himself; suddenly he said, “Anddepth is worse than nothing, without it mirrors the skies. It is notfrom shadowed pools, such bright young lips should drink, but from thewaves of an inexhaustible sea, smote upon by all the winds and sunshineof heaven.”

In another moment, however, he was all cheerfulness. “You have broughtme a Christmas present,” cried he, “and we must make it a Christmasholiday indeed. Here is the beginning:” and with one of his old gravesmiles, he handed Bertram a little note which had been awaiting him onthe library table. “But Paula and Miss Belinda must have their pleasuretoo. Paula, are you too tired for a ride down town? I will show you NewYork on a Christmas eve,” continued he to Miss Walton, seeing thatPaula’s attention was absorbed by the expression of sudden and movingsurprise which had visited Bertram’s face, upon the perusal of his note.“It is a stirring sight. Nothing more cheering can be found the wideworld over, for those who have a home and children to make happy.”

“I certainly should enjoy a glimpse of holiday cheer,” assented MissBelinda. And Paula recalled to herself by the sound of her aunt’s voice,gayly re-echoed her assertion.

So Samuel was despatched for a carriage, and in a few minutes they wereall riding down Fifth Avenue, en route for Tiffany’s, Macy’s, and anyother store that might offer special attractions. It was a happycompany. As they rolled along, Paula felt her heart grow lighter andlighter, Mr. Sylvester was almost gay, while even Aunt Belindacondescended to be merry. Bertram alone was silent, but as Paula caughtshort glimpses of his face, while speeding past some illuminated corner,she felt that it was that silence which is “the perfectest herald ofjoy.”

“I shall make you get out and mix with the crowd,” said Mr. Sylvester.“I want you to feel the throb of the great heart of the city on such anight as this. It is as if all men were brothers—or fathers, I shouldsay. People that ordinarily pass each other without a sign, nod andsmile with pleasing recognition of the evening’s cheer. Grave andreverend seigniors, are not ashamed to be seen carrying packages by thedozen. Indeed, he who is most laden is considered the best fellow, andhe who is so unfortunate as to show nothing but empty arms, feels shy ifnot ashamed; a condition of mind into which I shall soon fall myself, ifwe do not presently reach our destination.”

Paula never forgot that night. As from the midst of our common-placememories, some one hour stands out distinct and strange, like a sweetforeigner in a crowd of village faces, so to Paula, this ride throughthe lighted streets, with the ensuing rush from store to store, pilotedby Bertram and Miss Belinda, and protected by Mr. Sylvester, was her oneweird glimpse into the Arabian Nights’ country. Why, she could not havetold; why, she did not stop to think. She had been to all these placesbefore, but never with such a heart as this—never, never with such anoverflowing heart as this.

“I have washed away my reproach,” cried Mr. Sylvester, coming out to thecarriage with his arms full of bundles. “Aunt Belinda is to blame forthis; she set the example, you see.” And with a merry laugh, he tossedone thing after another into Paula’s lap, reserving only one smallpackage for himself. “I scarcely know what I have bought,” said he. “Ishall be as much surprised as any one, when you come to undo thebundles. ‘A pretty thing,’ was all I waited to hear from the shopgirls.”

“There is a small printing press for one thing,” cried Paula merrily. “Isaw the man at Holton’s eye you with a certain sort of shrewd humor, andhastily do it up. You paid for it; probably thinking it one of the‘pretty things.’ We shall have to make it over to Bertram, as being theonly one amongst us who by any stretch of imagination can be said to benear enough the age of boyhood to enjoy it.”

“I do not know about that,” cried Bertram, with a ringing infectiouslaugh, “my imagination has been luring me into believing that I am notthe only boy in this crowd.”

And so they went on, toying with their new-found joy as with aplaything, and hard would it have been to tell in which of those voicesrang the deeper contentment.

The opening of the packages on the library-table afforded another seasonof merriment. Such treasures as came to light! A roll of black silk,which could only have been meant for Miss Belinda. A casket of frettedsilver, just large enough to hold Paula’s gloves; a scarf-ring, to whichno one but Bertram could lay claim; a bundle of confections, a pair ofdiamond-studded bracelets, a scarf of delicate lace, articles for thedesk, and knick-knacks for the toilet table, and last, but not least, inweight at least, the honest little printing-press.

“Oh, I never dreamed of this,” said Paula, “when we chose Christmas evefor our journey.”

“Nor would you have done right to stay away if you had,” returned Mr.Sylvester gayly.

But when the sport was all over, and Paula stood alone with Mr.Sylvester in the library, awaiting his last good-night, the deeperinfluences of this holy time made themselves felt, and it was with anair of gentle seriousness, he told her that it had been a happyChristmas eve to him.

“And to me,” returned Paula. “Bertram too, seemed very happy. Would itbe too inquisitive in me to ask what good news the little notecontained, to work such wonders?”

A smile such as was seldom seen on Mr. Sylvester’s face of late, flashedbrightly over it. “It was only a card of invitation to dinner,” said he,“but it came from Mr. Stuyvesant, and that to Bertram means a greatdeal.”

The surprise in Paula’s eyes made him smile again. “Will it be a greatshock to you, if I tell you that the name of the woman for whom Bertrammade the sacrifice of his art, was Cicely Stuyvesant?”

“Cicely? my Cicely?” Her astonishment was great, but it was also happy.“Oh, I never dreamed—ah, now I see,” she went on naively. “That is thereason she refrained from coming to this house; she was afraid ofmeeting him. But to think I should never have guessed it, and she mydearest friend! Oh, I am very happy; I admire Bertram so much, and it issuch a beautiful secret. And Mr. Stuyvesant has invited him to hishouse! I do not wonder you felt like making the evening a gala one. Mr.Stuyvesant would not do that if he were not learning to appreciateBertram.”

“No; there is method in all that Mr. Stuyvesant does. More than that, ifI am not mistaken, he has known this beautiful secret, as you call it,from the first, and would be the last to receive Bertram as a guest tohis table, if he did not mean him the best and truest encouragement.”

“I believe you are right,” said Paula. “I remember now that one day whenI was spending the afternoon with Cicely, he came into the room where Iwas, and finding me for the moment alone, sat down, and in his quaintold-fashioned manner asked me in the most abrupt way what I thought ofBertram Sylvester. I was surprised, but told him I considered him one ofthe noblest young men I knew, adding that if a fine mind, a kind heart,and a pure life were open to regard, Bertram had the right to claim theesteem of all his friends and associates. The old gentleman looked at mesomewhat curiously, but nodded his head as if pleased, and merelyremarking, ‘It is not necessary to mention we had this conversation, mydear,’ got up and proceeded slowly from the room. I thought it wassimply a not unnatural curiosity concerning a young man with whom he hadmore or less business connection; but now I perceive it had a deepersignificance.”

“He could scarcely have found a more zealous little advocate for Bertramif he had hunted the city over. Bertram may be more obliged to you thanhe knows. He has been very patient, but the day of his happiness isapproaching.”

“And Cicely’s! I feel as if I could scarcely wait to see her with thisnew hope in her eyes. She has kept me without the door of her suspense,but she must let me across the threshold of her happiness.”

The look with which Mr. Sylvester eyed the fair girl’s radiant facedeepened. “Paula,” said be, “can you leave these new thoughts for amoment to hear a request I have to make?”

She at once turned to him with her most self-forgetful smile.

“I have been making myself a little present,” pursued he, slowly takingout of his pocket the single package he had reserved from the rest.“Open it, dear.”

With fingers that unconsciously trembled, she hastily undid the package.A little box rolled out. Taking off its cover, she took out a plain goldlocket of the style usually worn by gentlemen on their watch-chains.“Fasten it on for me,” said he.

Wondering at his tone which was almost solemn, she quietly did hisbidding. But when she essayed to lift her head upon the completion ofher task, he gently laid his hand upon her brow and so stood for amoment without a word.

“What is it?” she asked, with a sudden indrawing of her breath. “Whatmoves you so, Mr. Sylvester?”

“I have just taken a vow,” said he.

She started back agitated and trembling.

“I had reason to,” he murmured, “pray at nights when you go to bed, thatI may be able to keep it.”

“What?” sprang to her lips; but she restrained herself and only allowedher glance to speak.

“Will you do it, Paula?”

“Yes, oh yes!” Her whole heart seemed to rush out in the phrase. Shedrew back as at the opening of a door in an unexpected spot. Her eye hadsomething of fear in it and something of secret desperation too. Hewatched her with a gaze that strangely faltered.

“A woman’s prayers are a man’s best safeguard,” murmured he. “He must bea wretch who does not feel himself surrounded by a sacred halo, while heknows that pure lips are breathing his name in love and trust before thethrone of the Most High.”

“I will pray for you as for myself,” she whispered, and endeavored tomeet his eyes. But her head drooped and she did not speak as she wouldhave done a few months before; and when a few instants later they partedin their old fashion at the foot of the stairs, she did not turn to givehim the accustomed smile and nod with which she used to mount thestairs, spiral by spiral, and disappear in her little room above. Yet hedid not grieve at the change, but stood looking up the way she had gone,like a man before whom some vision of unexpected promise had opened.

XXXI.

A QUESTION.

“Think on thy sins.”—Othello.

The next morning when Mr. Sylvester came down to breakfast, he found onthe library-table an exquisite casket, similar to the one he had givenPaula the night before, but larger, and filled with flowers of the mostdelicious odor.

“For Miss Fairchild,” explained Samuel, who was at that moment passingthrough the room.

With a pang of jealous surprise, that, however, failed to betray itselfin his steadily composed countenance, Mr. Sylvester advanced to the sideof the table, and lifted up the card that hung attached to the beautifulpresent. The name he read there seemed to startle him; he moved away,and took up his paper with a dark flush on his brow, that had notdisappeared when Miss Belinda entered the room.

“Humph!” was her immediate exclamation, as her eye rested upon theconspicuous offering in the centre of the apartment. But instantlyremembering herself, advanced with a cheerful good-morning, whichhowever did not prevent her eyes from wandering with no smallsatisfaction towards this fresh evidence of Mr. Ensign’s assiduousregard.

“Paula is remembered by others than ourselves,” remarked Mr. Sylvester,probably observing her glance.

“Yes; she has a very attentive suitor in Mr. Ensign,” returned MissBelinda shortly. “A pleasant appearing young man,” she ejacul*ted nextmoment; “worthy in many respects of success, I should say.”

“Has he—do you mean to say that he has visited you in Grotewell?” askedMr. Sylvester, his eye upon the paper in his hand.

“Certainly; a few more interviews will settle it.”

The paper rustled in Mr. Sylvester’s grasp, but his voice was composedif not formal, as he observed, “She regards his attentions then withfavor?”

“She wears his flowers in her bosom, and brightens like a flower herselfwhen he is seen to approach. If allowed to go her way unhindered, I havebut little doubt as to how it will end. Mr. Ensign is not handsome, butI am told that he has every other qualification likely to make a gentlecreature like Paula happy.”

“He is a good fellow,” exclaimed Mr. Sylvester under his breath.

“And goodness is the first essential in the character of the man who isto marry Paula,” inexorably observed Miss Belinda. “An open, cheerfuldisposition, a clear conscience and a past with no dark pages in itshistory, must mark him who is to link unto his fate our pure andsensitive Paula. Is it not so, Mr. Sylvester?”

The advertisem*nts in that morning’s Tribune must have been unusuallyinteresting, judging from the difficulty which Mr. Sylvester experiencedin withdrawing his eyes from them. “The man whom Paula marries,” said heat last, “can neither be too good, too kind, or too pure. Nor shall anyother than a good, kind, and pure man possess her,” he added in a tonethat while low, effectually hushed even the slow-to-be-intimidated MissBelinda. In another moment Paula entered.

Oh, the morning freshness of some faces! Like the singing of birds in aprison, is the sound and sight of a lovely maiden coming into the grim,gray atmosphere of a winter breakfast room. Paula was exceptionallygifted with this auroral cheer which starts the day so brightly. Atsight of her face Mr. Sylvester dropped his paper, and even Miss Belindastraightened herself more energetically. “Merry Christmas,” cried hersweet young voice, and immediately the whole day seemed to grow gladwith promise and gaysome with ringing sleigh-bells. “It’s snowing, didyou know it? A world of life is in the air; the flakes dance as theycome down, like dervishes in a frenzy. It was all we lacked to make theday complete; now we have everything.”

“Yes,” said Miss Belinda, with a significant glance at the table,“everything.”

Paula followed her glance, saw the silver box with its wealth ofblossoms, and faltered back with a quick look at Mr. Sylvester’s graveand watchful countenance.

“Mr. Ensign seems to be possessed of clairvoyance,” observed MissBelinda easily. “How he could know that you were to be in town to-day, Icannot imagine.”

“I wrote him in my last letter that in all probability I should spendthe holidays with Mr. Sylvester,” explained Paula simply, but with aslow and deepening flush, that left the roses she contemplated nothingof which to boast. “I did so, because he proposed to visit Grotewell onChristmas.”

There was a short silence in the room, then Mr. Sylvester rose, andremarking with polite composure, “It is a very pretty remembrance,” ledthe way into the dining-room. Paula with a slow drooping of her headquickly followed, while Miss Belinda brought up the rear, with the lookof a successful diplomat.

A meal in the Sylvester mansion was always a formal affair, but this wasmore than formal. A vague oppression seemed to fill the air; anoppression which Miss Belinda’s stirring conversation found itimpossible to dissipate. In compliance to Mr. Sylvester’s request, shesat at the head of the table, and was the only one who seemed able toeat anything. For one thing she had never seen Ona in that post ofhonor, but Paula and Mr. Sylvester could not forget the graceful formthat once occupied that seat. The first meal above a grave, no matterhow long it has been dug, must ever seem weighted with more or lessunreality.

Besides, with Paula there was a vague unsettled feeling, as if somedelicate inner balance had been too rudely shaken. She longed to flyaway and think, and she was obliged to sit still and talk.

The end of the meal was a relief to all parties. Miss Belinda went upstairs, thoughtfully shaking her firm head; Mr. Sylvester sat down againto his paper, and Paula advanced towards the dainty gift that awaitedher inspection on the library table. But half way to it she paused. Astrange shyness had seized her. With Mr. Sylvester sitting there, shedared not approach this delicate testimonial of another’s affection. Shedid not know as she wished to. Her eyes stole in hesitation to thefloor. Suddenly Mr. Sylvester spoke:

“Why do you not look at your pretty present, Paula?”

She started, gave him a quick glance, and advanced hurriedly towards thetable; but scarcely had she reached it when she paused, turned andhastened over to his side. He was still reading, or appearing to read,but she saw his hand tremble where it grasped the sheet, though his facewith its clear cut profile, shone calm and cold against the darkbackground of the wall beyond.

“I do not care to look at it now,” said she, with a hurried interlacingof her restless fingers.

He turned towards her and a quick thrill passed over his countenance.“Sit down, Paula,” said he, “I want to talk to you.”

She obeyed as might an automaton. Was it the tone of his voice thatchilled her, or the studied aspect of his fixed and solemn countenance?He did not speak at once, but when he did, there was no faltering in hisvoice, that was lower than common, but deep, like still waters that haverun into dark channels far from the light of day.

“Paula, I want to ask you a question. What would you think of a manthat, with deliberate selfishness, went into the king’s garden, andplucking up by the roots the most beautiful flower he could find there,carried it into a dungeon to pant out its exquisite life amid chill anddarkness?”

“I should think,” replied she, after the first startled moment ofsilence, “that the man did well, if by its one breath of sweetness, theflower could comfort the heart of him who sat in the dungeon.”

The glance with which Mr. Sylvester regarded her, suddenly faltered; heturned with quickness towards the fire. “A moment’s joy is, then, excusefor a murder,” exclaimed he. “God and the angels would not agree withyou, Paula.”

There was a quivering in his tone, made all the more apparent by itsstudied self-possession of a moment before. She trembled where she sat,and opened her lips to speak, but closed them again, awed by his steadyand abstracted gaze, now fixed before him in gloomy reverie. A momentpassed. The clock ticking away on the mantel-piece seemed to echo theinevitable “Forever! never!” of Longfellow’s old song. Neither of themmoved. At length, in a low and trembling voice, Paula spoke:

“Is it murder, when the flower loves the dark of the dungeon more thanit does the light of day?”

With a subdued but passionate cry he rose hastily to his feet. “Yes,”said he, and drew back as if he could not bear the sight of her face orthe glance of her eye. “Sunshine is the breath of flowers; sweet wooinggales, their natural atmosphere. He who meddles with a treasure sochoice does it at his peril.” Then as she hurriedly rose in turn,softened his whole tone, and assuming his usual air of kindlyfatherhood, asked her in the most natural way in the world, what hecould do to make her happy that day.

“Nothing,” replied she, with a droop of her head; “I think I will go andsee Cicely.”

A short sigh escaped him. “The carriage shall be ready for you,” saidhe. “I hope your friend’s happiness will overflow into your own gentlebosom, and make the day a very pleasant one. God bless your young sweetheart, my Paula!”

Her breast heaved, her large, dark, mellow eyes flashed with one quickglance towards his face, then she drew back, and in another moment lefthis side and quietly glided from the room. His very life seemed to gowith her, yet he did not stir; but he sighed deeply when, upon turningtowards the library-table, he found that she had carried away with herthe silent testimonial of another and more fortunate man’s love anddevotion.

XXXII.

FULL TIDE.

“A skirmish of wit between them.”—Much Ado About Nothing.

Man thinks he is strong, and lays his foundations, raises his walls, anddreams of his completed turrets, without reckoning the force of thegales or the insidious inundating of the waters that may bring low themounting structure before its time. When with a firm hand, Mr. Sylvesterthrust back from his heart the one delight which of all the world couldafford, seemed to him at that moment the dearest and the best, hethought the struggle was over and the victory won. It had not evencommenced. He was made startlingly alive to this fact at the very nextinterview he had with Paula. She had just come from Miss Stuyvesant, andthe reflection of her friend’s scarcely comprehended joy was on hercountenance, together with a look he could not comprehend, but whichstirred and haunted him, until he felt forced to ask if she had seen anyother of her old friends, in the short visit she had paid.

“Yes,” said she, with a distressed blush. “Mr. Ensign was unexpectedlythere.”

It is comparatively easy to restrain your own hand from snatching at atreasure you greatly covet, but it is much more difficult to beholdanother and a lesser one grasp and carry it away before your eyes. Hesucceeded in hiding the shadow that oppressed him, but he wasconstrained to recognize the sharpness of the conflict that was about tobe waged in the recesses of his own breast. A conflict, because he knewthat a lift of his finger, or a glance of his eye would decide thematter then, while in a week, perhaps, the glamour of a young sunshinylove, would have worked its inevitable result, and the happiness thathad so unexpectedly startled upon him in his monotonous and sombre path,would have wandered forever out of his reach. How did he meet itsunexpected rush. Sternly at first, but with greater and greater waveringas the days went by, each one revealing fresh beauties of character anddeeper springs of feeling in the enchanting girl thus brought in all hervaried charm before his eyes. Why should he not be happy? If there weredark pages in his life, had they not long ago been closed and sealed,and was not the future bright with promise? A man of his years was notthrough with life. He felt at times as he gazed upon her face with itsindescribable power of awakening far-reaching thoughts and feelings incallous breasts long unused to the holy influence of either, that he hadjust begun to live; that the golden country, with its enticing vistas,lay all before him, and that the youth, which he had missed, had somehowreturned to his prime, fresh with more than its usual enthusiasm andbright with more than its wonted hopes and projects. With this gloriouswoman at his side, life would be new indeed, and if new why not pure andsweet and noble? What was there to hinder him from making the existenceof this sweet soul a walking amongst gentle duties, satisfied dreams andholy aspirations? A past remorse? Why the gates could be closed on that!A strain of innate weakness for the world’s good opinion and applause?Ah! with love in his life such a weakness must disappear; besides had henot taken a vow on her dear head, that ought to hedge him about as withangel’s wings in the hour of temptation? Men with his experience do notinvoke the protection of innocence to guard a degraded soul. Why, then,all this hesitation? A great boon was being offered to him after yearsof loneliness and immeasurable longing; was it not the will of heaven,that he should meet and enjoy this unexpected grace? He dared to stopand ask, and once daring to ask, the insidious waters found their waybeneath the foundations of his resolution, and the lofty structure hehad reared in such self-confidence, began to tremble where it stood,though as yet it betrayed no visible sign of weakness.

Meanwhile, society with its innumerable demands, had drawn the beautifulyoung girl within its controlling grasp. She must go here, she must gothere; she must lend her talents to this, her beauty to that. Before shehad decided whether she ought to remain in the city a week, two hadflown by, and in all this time Mr. Ensign had been ever at her side,brightening in her own despite, hours which might else have been sad,and surrounding her difficult path with proofs of his silent and warydevotion. A golden net seemed to be closing around her, and, though asyet, she had given no token of a special recognition of her position,Miss Belinda betrayed by the uniform complacence of her demeanor, thatshe for one regarded the matter as effectually settled.

The success which Bertram had met in his first visit at Mr.Stuyvesant’s, was not the least agitating factor in this fortnight’ssecret history. He was too much a part of the home life at Mr.Sylvester’s, not to make the lightest thrill of his frank and sensitivenature felt by all who invaded its precincts. And he was in a state ofrepressed expectancy at this time, that unconsciously created anatmosphere about him of vague but restless excitement. The hearts of allwho encountered his look of concentrated delight, must unconsciouslybeat with his. A strain sweeter than his old-time music was in hisvoice. When he played upon the piano, which was but seldom, it was as ifhe breathed out his soul before the holy images. When he walked, heseemed to tread on air. His every glance was a question as to whetherthis great joy, for which he had so long and patiently waited, was to behis? Love, living and apotheosized, appeared to blaze before them, andno one can look on love without feeling somewhere in his soul the stirof those deep waters, whose pulsing throb even in the darkness ofmidnight, proves that we are the children of God.

Cicely was uncommunicative, but her face, when Paula beheld it, was likethe glowing countenance of some sculptured saint, from which the veil isslowly being withdrawn.

Suddenly there came an evening when the force of the spell that held allthese various hearts enchained gave way. It was the night of a privateentertainment of great elegance, to be held at the house of a friend ofMiss Stuyvesant. Bertram had received formal permission from the fatherof Cicely, to act as his daughter’s escort, and the fact had transformedhim from a hopeful dreamer, into a man determined to speak and know hisfate at once. Paula was engaged to take part in the entertainment, andthe sight of her daintily-decked figure leaving the house with Mr.Ensign, was the last drop in the slowly gathering tide that was secretlyswelling in Mr. Sylvester’s breast; and it was with a sudden outrush ofhis whole determined nature that he stepped upstairs, dressed himself inevening attire, and deliberately followed them to the place where theywere going. “The wealth of the Indies is slipping from my grasp,” washis passionate exclamation, as he rode through the lighted streets. “Icannot see it go; if she can care more for me than for this sleek,merry-hearted young fellow, she shall. I know that my love is to his,what the mighty ocean is to a placid lake, and with such love one oughtto be panoplied as with resisting steel.”

A stream of light and music met him, as he went up the stoop of thehouse that held his treasure. It seemed to intoxicate him. Glow, melodyand perfume, were so many expressions of Paula. His friends, of whomthere were many present, received him with tokens of respect, notunmingled with surprise. It was the first time he had been seen inpublic since his wife’s death, and they could not but remark upon thecheerfulness of his bearing, and the almost exalted expression of hisproud and restless eye. Had Paula accompanied him, they might haveunderstood his emotion, but with the beautiful girl under the care ofone of the most eligible gentlemen in town, what could have happened toMr. Sylvester to make his once melancholy countenance blazon like a staramid this joyous and merrily-laughing throng. He did not enlighten them,but moved from group to group, searching for Paula. Suddenly the thoughtflashed upon him, “Is it only an hour or so since I smiled upon her inmy own hall, and shook my head when she asked me with a quick, pleadinglook, to come with them to this very spot?” It seemed days, since thattime. The rush of these new thoughts, the final making up of thisslowly-maturing purpose, the sudden allowing of his heart to regard heras a woman to be won, had carried the past away as by the sweep of amountain torrent. He could not believe he had ever known a moment ofhesitancy, ever looked at her as a father, ever bid her go on her wayand leave the prisoner to his fate. He must always have felt like this;such momentum could not have been gathered in an hour; she must knowthat he loved her wildly, deeply, sacredly, wholly, with the fibre ofhis mind, his body and his soul; that to call her his in life and indeath, was the one demanding passion of his existence, making the past adream, and the future—ah, he dared not question that! He must beholdher face before he could even speculate upon the realities lying behindfate’s down-drawn curtain.

Meanwhile fair faces and lovely forms flitted before him, carrying hisglance along in their train, but only because youth was a symbol ofPaula. If these fresh young girls could smile and look back upon him,with that lingering glance which his presence ever invoked, why not shewho was not only sweet, tender, and lovely, but gifted with a naturethat responded to the deep things of life, and the stern passions ofpotent humanity. Could a merry laugh lure her while he stood by? Was thesunshine the natural atmosphere of this flower, that had bloomed underhis eye so sweetly and shed out its innocent fragrance, at the approachof his solemn-pacing foot? He began to mirror before his mind’s eye thestartled look of happy wonder with which she would greet his impassionedglance, when released from whatever duties might be now pressing uponher; she wandered into these rooms, to find him awaiting her, whensuddenly there was a stir in the throng, a pleased and excited rush, andthe large curtain which he had vaguely noticed hanging at one end of theroom, uplifted and—was it Paula? this coy, brilliant, saucy-eyedFlorentine maiden, stepping out from a bower of greenery, with finger onher lip, and a backward glance of saucy defiance that seemed to peoplethe verdant walks behind her with gallant cavaliers, eager to followupon her footsteps? Yes; he could not be mistaken; there was but oneface like that in the world. It was Paula, but Paula with youth’smerriest glamour upon her, a glamour that had caught its radiant lightfrom other thoughts than those in which he had been engaged. He bowedhis head, and a shudder went through him like that which precedes thefalling knife of the executioner. Even the applause that greeted therevelation of so much loveliness and alluring charm, passed over himlike a dream. He was battling with his first recognition of thepossibility of his being too late. Suddenly her voice was heard.

She was speaking aloud to herself, this Florentine maiden who hadoutstripped her lover in the garden, but the tone was the same he hadheard beside his own hearthstone, and the archness that accompanied ithad frequently met and encouraged some cheerful expression of his own.These are the words she uttered. Listen with him to the naïve, halftender, half pettish voice, and mark with his eyes the alternate lightsand shadows that flit across her cheek as she broodingly murmurs:

He is certainly a most notable gallant. His “Good day, lady!”and his “Good even to you!” are flavored with the cream ofperfectest courtesy. But gallantry while it sits well upon aman, does not make him one, any more than a feather makes thecap it adorns. For a Tuscan he hath also a certain comeliness,but then I have ever sworn, in good faith too, that I would notmarry a Tuscan, were he the best made man in Italy. Then thereis his glance, which proclaims to all men’s understandings thathe loves me, which same seems overbold; but then his smile!

Well, for a smile it certainly does credit to his wit, but onecannot live upon smiles; though if one could, one might consentto make a trial of his—and starve belike for her pains. (Shedrops her cheek into her hand and stands musing.)

Mr. Sylvester drew a deep breath and let his eyes fall, when suddenly ahum ran through the audience about him, and looking quickly up, hebeheld Mr. Ensign dressed in full cavalier costume, standing behind themusing maiden with a half merry, half tender gleam upon his face, thatmade the thickly beating heart of his rival shrink as if clutched in aniron vise. What followed, he heard as we do the words of a sentence readto us from the judge’s seat. The cavalier spoke first and a thousanddancing colors seemed to flash in the merry banter that followed.

Martino.—She muses, and on no other than myself, as I amready to swear by that coy and tremulous glance. I will moveher to avow it. (Advances.) Fair lady, greeting! A kiss foryour sweet thoughts.

Nita. (With a start).—A kiss, Signior Martino? You mustacknowledge that were but a sorry exchange for thoughts likemine, so if it please you, I will keep my thoughts and you yourkiss; and lest it should seem ungracious in me to give nothingupon your asking, I will bestow upon you my most choice goodday, and so leave you to your meditations. (Curtseys and isabout to depart.)

Martino.—You have the true generosity, lady; you give awaywhat it costs you the dearest to part from. Nay, rumple notyour lip; it is the truth for all your pretty poutings!Convince me it is not.

Nita.—Your pardon, but that would take words, and wordswould take time, and time given to one of your persuasion wouldrefute all my arguments on the face of them. (Stillretreating.)

Martino.—Well, lady, since it is your pleasure to beconsistent, rather than happy, adieu. Had you stayed but aslong as the bee pauses on an oleander blossom, you would haveheard—

Nita.—Buzzing, signior?

Martino.—Yes, if by that word you would denominate vows ofconstancy and devotion. For I do greatly love you, and wouldtell you so.

Nita.—And for that you expect me to linger! as though vowswere new to my ears, and words of love as strange to myunderstanding as tropical birds to the eyes of a Norseman.

Martino.—If you do love me, you will linger.

Nita.—Yet if I do, (Slowly advancing) be assured it isfrom some other motive than love.

Martino.—So it be not from hate I am contented.

Nita.—To be contented with little, proves you a man of muchvirtue.

Martino.—When I have you, I am contented with much.

Nita.—That when is a wise insertion, signior; it saves youfrom shame and me from anger.—Hark! some one calls.

Martino.—None other but the wind; it is a kindly breeze, andgrieves to hear how harsh a pretty maiden can be to the loverwho adores her.

Nita.—Please your worship, I do not own a lover.

Martino.—Then mend your poverty, and accept one.

Nita.—I am no beggar to accept of alms.

Martino.—In this case, he who offers is the beggar.

Nita.—I am too young to wear a jewel of so much pretension.

Martino.—Time is a cure for youth, and marriage a happyspeeder of time.

Nita.—But youth needs no cure, and if marriage speedethtime, I’ll live a maid and die one. The days run swift enoughwithout goading, Signior Martino.

Martino.—But lady—

Nita..—Nay, your tongue will outstrip time, if you put not acurb upon it. In faith, signior, I would not seem rude, but ifin your courtesy you would consent to woo some other maidento-day, why I would strive and bear it.

Martino.—When I stoop to woo any other lady than thee, themoon shall hide its face from the earth, and shine upon it nomore.

Nita.—Your thoughts are daring in their flight to-day.

Martino.—They are in search of your love.

Nita.—Alack, your wings will fail.

Martino.—Ay, when they reach their goal.

Nita.—Dost think to reach it?

Martino.—Shall I not, lady?

Nita.—’Tis hard to believe it possible, yet who can tell?You are not so handsome, signior, that one would die for you.

Martino.—No, lady; but what goes to make other men’s facesfair, goes to make my heart great. The virtue of my manhoodrests in the fact that I love you.

Nita.—Faith! so in some others. ’Tis the common fault of thegallants, I find. If that is all—

Martino.—But I will always love you, even unto death.

Nita.—I doubt it not, so death come soon enough.

Martino. (Taps his poiniard with his hand.)—Would youhave it come now, and so prove me true to my word?

Nita. (Demurely).—I am no judge, to utter the doom thatyour presumption merits.

Martino.—Your looks speak doom, and your sweet lips hide asword keener than that of justice.

Nita.—Have you tried them, signior, that you speak soknowingly concerning them? (Retreating.) Your words,methinks, are somewhat like your kisses, all breath and nosubstance.

Martino.—Lady! sweet one! (Follows her.)

Nita.—Nay, I am gone. (Exit.)

Martino.—I were of the fools’ fold, did I fail to follow ata beck so gentle. (Exit.)

That was not all, but it was all that Mr. Sylvester heard. Hastilyretreating, he went out into the corridor and ere long found himself inthe conservatory. He felt shaken; felt that he could not face all thisunmoved. He knew he had been gazing at a play; that because thisFlorentine maiden looked at her lover with coyness, gentleness,tenderness perhaps, it did not follow that she, his Paula, loved thereal man behind this dashing cavalier. But the possibility was there,and in his present frame of mind could not be encountered without pain.He dared not stay where men’s eyes could follow him, or women’s delicateglances note the heaving of his chest. He had in the last three hoursgiven himself over so completely to hope. He realized it now though hewould not have believed it before. With man’s usual egotism he had feltthat it was only necessary for him to come to a decision, to behold allelse fall out according to his mind. He had forgotten for the nonce thepower of a youthful lover, eager to serve, ready to wait, careful topress his way at every advantage. He could have cursed himself for thefolly of his delay, as he strode up and down among the flowering shrubsin the solitude which the attractions of the play created. “Fool! fool!”he muttered between his teeth, “to halt on the threshold of Paradisetill the door closed in my face, when a step would have carried mewhere—” He grew dizzy as he contemplated. The goal looks never so fairas when just within reach of a rival’s hand.

A vigorous clapping, followed by a low gush of music, woke him at lastto the realization that the little drama had terminated. With a hastymovement he was about to return to the parlors, when he heard the lowmurmur of voices, and on looking up, saw a youthful couple advancinginto the conservatory, whom at first glance he recognized for Bertramand Miss Stuyvesant. They were absorbed in each other, and believingthemselves alone, came on without fear, presenting such a picture oflove and deep, unspeakable joy, that Mr. Sylvester paused and gazed uponthem as upon the sudden embodiment of a cherished vision of his ownimaginings. Bertram was speaking ordinary words no doubt, words suitedto the occasion and the time, but his voice was attuned to the beatingsof his long repressed heart, while the bend of his proud young head andthe glance of his yearning eye were more eloquent than speech, of theleaning of his whole nature in love and protection towards the dainty,flushing creature at his side. It was a sight to make old hearts youngand a less happy lover sick with envy. In spite of his gratification athis nephew’s success, Mr. Sylvester’s brow contracted, and it was withdifficulty he could subdue himself into the appearance of calmbenevolence necessary to pass them with propriety. Had it been Paula andMr. Ensign!

He did not know how it was that he managed to find her at last. But justas he was beginning to realize that wisdom demanded his departure fromthis scene, he suddenly came upon her sitting with her face turnedtoward the crowd and waiting—for whom? He had never seen her look sobeautiful, possibly because he had never before allowed himself to gazeupon her with a lover’s eyes. She had exchanged her piquant Romancostume for the pearl gray satin in which Ona had delighted to arrayher, and its rich substance and delicate neutral tint harmonized wellwith the amber brocade of the curtain against which she sat.

Power, passion and purity breathed in her look, and lent enchantment toher form. She was poetry’s unique jewel, and at this moment, thoughtrather than merriment sat upon her lips, and haunted her somewhattremulous smiles. He approached her as a priest to his shrine, but onceat her side, once in view of her first startled blush, stoopedpassionately, and forgetting everything but the suspense at his heart,asked with a look and tone such as he had never before bestowed uponher, if the play which he had seen that evening had been real, or onlythe baseless fabric of a dream.

She understood him and drew back with a look almost of awe, shaking herhead and replying in a startled way, “I do not know, I dare not say, Iscarcely have taken time to think.”

“Then take it,” he murmured in a voice that shook her body and soul,“for I must know, if he does not.” And without venturing anotherword, or supplying by look or gesture any explanation of his unexpectedappearance, or as equally unexpected departure, he bowed before her asif she had been a queen instead of the child he had been wont in otherdays to regard her, and speedily left her side.

But he had not taken two steps before he paused. Mr. Ensign wasapproaching.

“Mr. Sylvester! you are worse than the old woman of the tale, whodeclaring she would not, that nothing could ever induce her to—did.”

“You utter a deeper truth than you realize,” returned that gentleman,with a grave emphasis meant rather for her ears than his. “It is thecurse of mortals to overrate their strength in the face of greattemptations. I am no exception to the rule.” And with a second bow thatincluded this apparently triumphant lover within its dignified sweep, hecalmly proceeded upon his way, and in a few moments had left the house.

Mr. Ensign, who for all his careless disposition, was quick to recognizedepths in others, stared after his commanding figure until he haddisappeared, then turned and looked at Paula. Why did his heart sink,and the lights and joy and promise of the evening seem to turn dark andshrivel to nothing before his eyes!

XXXIII.

TWO LETTERS.

“I have no other but a woman’s reason,
I think him so, because I think him so.”—Two Gentlemen of Verona.

A woman who has submitted to the undivided attentions of a gentleman forany length of time, feels herself more or less bound to him, whether anyspecial words of devotion have passed between them or not, particularlyif from sensitiveness of nature, she has manifested any pleasure in hissociety. Paula therefore felt as if her wings had been caught in asnare, when Mr. Ensign upon leaving her that evening, put a small notein her hand, saying that he would do himself the pleasure of calling forhis reply the next day. She did not need to open it. She knewintuitively the manly honest words with which he would be likely tooffer his heart and life for her acceptance; yet she did open it almostas soon as she reached her room, sitting down in her outside wraps forthe purpose. She was not disappointed. Every line was earnest, ardent,and respectful. A true love and a happy cheerful home awaited herif—the stupendous meaning latent in an if!

With folded hands lying across the white page, with glance fixed on thefire always kept burning brightly in the grate, she sat querying her ownsoul and the awful future. He was such a charming companion; life hadflashed and glimmered with a thousand lights and colors since she knewhim; his very laugh made her want to sing. With him she would move insunshiny paths, open to the regard of all the world, giving andreceiving good. Life would need no veils and love no check. A placidstream would bear her on through fields of smiling verdure. Dread hopes,strange fears, uneasy doubts and vague unrests, would not disturb theheart that rested its faith upon his frank and manly bosom. A breezeblew through his life that would sweep all such evils from the path ofher who walked in trust and love by his side. In trust and love; ah!that was it. She trusted him, but did she love him? At one time she hadbeen convinced that she did, else these past few weeks would have owneda different history. He came upon her so brightly amid her gloom; filledher days with such genial thoughts, and drew the surface of her soul sounconsciously after him. It was like a zephyr sweeping over the sea;every billow that leaps to follow seems to own the power of that passingwind. But could she think so now, since she had found that the merevoice and look of another man had power to awaken depths such as shecould not name and scarcely as yet had been able to recognize? thatthough the billows might flow under the genial smile of her young lover,the tide rose only at the call of a deeper voice and a more imposingpresence?

She was a thinking spirit and recoiled from yielding too readily to anypassing impulse. Love was a sacrament in her eyes; something entirelytoo precious to be accepted in counterfeit. She must know the secret ofher inclinations, must weigh the influence that swayed her, for oncegiven over to earth’s sublimest passion, she felt that it would havepower to sweep her on to an eternity of bliss or suffering.

She therefore forced herself to probe deep into the past, and pitilesslyasked her conscience, what her emotions had been in reference to Mr.Sylvester before she positively knew that love for her as a woman hadtaken the place of his former fatherly regard. Her blushing cheek seemedto answer for her. Right or wrong, her life had never been complete awayfrom his presence. She was lonesome and unsatisfied. When Mr. Ensigncame she thought her previous unrest was explained, but the letter fromCicely describing Mr. Sylvester as sick and sorrowful, had withdrawn theveil from the delusion, and though it had settled again with Mr.Sylvester’s studied refusal to accept her devotion, was by thisevening’s betrayal utterly wrenched away and trampled into oblivion. Byevery wild throb of her heart at the sound of his voice in her ear, byevery out-reaching of her soul to enter into his every mood, by the deepsensation of rest she felt in his presence, and the uneasy longing thatabsorbed her in his absence, she knew that she loved Mr. Sylvester asshe never could his younger, blither, and perhaps nobler rival. Eachword spoken by him lay treasured in her heart of hearts. When shethought of manly beauty, his face and figure started upon her from thesurrounding shadows, making all romance possible and poetry the truestexpression of the human soul. While she lived, he must ever seem the manof men to charm the eye, affect the heart, and move the soul. Yet shehesitated. Why?

There is nothing so hard to acknowledge to ourselves as the presence ofa blemish in the character of those we love and long to revere. It waslike giving herself to the rack to drag from its hiding-place andconfront in all its hideous deformity, the doubt which, unconfessedperhaps, had of late mingled with her great reverence and admiringaffection for this not easily to be comprehended man. But in thismomentous hour she had power to do it. Conscience and self-respectdemanded that the image before which she was ready to bow with suchabandon, should be worthy her worship. She was not one who could carryofferings to a clouded shrine. She must see the glory shining frombetween the cherubim. “I must worship with my spirit as well as with mybody, and how can I do that if there is a spot on his manhood, or afalse note in his heart. If I did but know the secret of his past; whythe prisoner sits in the dungeon! He is gentle, he is kindly, he lovesgoodness and strives to lead me in the paths of purity and wisdom, andyet something that is not good or pure clings to him, which he has neverbeen able to shake loose. I perceive it in his melancholy glance; Icatch its accents in his uneven tones; it rises upon me from his mostthoughtful words, and makes his taking of a vow fearfully and warninglysignificant. Yet how much he is honored by his fellow-men, and with whatreliance they look up to him for guidance and support. If I only knewthe secrets of his heart!” thought she.

It was a trembling scale that hung balancing in that young girl’s handthat night. On one side, frankness, cheerfulness, manly worth, honestdevotion, and a home with every adjunct of peace and prosperity; on theother, love, gratitude, longing, admiration, and a dark shadowenveloping all, called doubt. The scale would not adjust itself. It toreher heart to turn from Mr. Sylvester, it troubled her conscience todismiss the thought of Mr. Ensign. The question was yet undecided whenshe rose and began putting away her ornaments for the night.

What was there on her dressing-table that made her pause with such astart, and cast that look of half beseeching inquiry at her own image inthe glass? Only another envelope with her name written upon it. But theway in which she took it in her hand, and the half guilty air with whichshe stole back with it to the fire, would have satisfied any looker-on Iimagine, that conscience or no conscience, debate or no debate, thewriter of these lines had gained a hold upon her heart, which no othercould dispute.

It was a compactly written note and ran thus:

“A man is not always responsible for what he does in moments ofgreat suspense or agitation. But if, upon reflection, he findsthat he has spoken harshly or acted unwisely, it is his duty toremedy his fault; and therefore it is that I write you thislittle note. Paula, I love you; not as I once did, with afatherly longing and a protective delight, but passionately,yearningly, and entirely, with the whole force of my somewhatdisappointed life; as a man loves for whom the world hasdissolved leaving but one creature in it, and that a woman. Ishowed you this too plainly to-night. I have no right tostartle or intimidate your sweet soul into any relation thatmight hereafter curb or dissatisfy you; if you can love mefreely, with no back-lookings to any younger lover left behind,know that naught you could bestow, can ever equal the world oflove and feeling which I long to lavish upon you from my heartof hearts. But if another has already won upon your affectionstoo much for you to give an undivided response to my appeal,then by all the purity and innocence of your nature, forget Ihave ever marred the past or disturbed the present by any wordwarmer than that of a father.

“I shall not meet you at breakfast and possibly not at dinnerto-morrow, but when evening comes I shall look for my soul’sdearer and better half, or my childless manhood’s nearest andmost cherished friend, as God pleaseth and your own heart andconscience shall decree.

Edward Sylvester.

Miss Belinda was very much surprised to be awakened early the nextmorning, by a pair of loving arms clasped yearningly about her neck.

Looking up, she descried Paula kneeling beside her bed in the faintmorning light, her cheeks burning, and her eyelids drooping; andguessing perhaps how it was, started up from her recumbent position withan energy strongly suggestive of the charger, that smells the battleafar off.

“What has happened?” she asked. “You look as if you had not slept awink.”

For reply Paula pulled aside the curtain at the head of her bed, andslipped into her hand Mr. Ensign’s letter. Miss Belinda read itconscientiously through, with many grunts of approval, and havingfinished it, laid it down with a significant nod, after which she turnedand surveyed Paula with keen but cautious scrutiny. “And you don’t knowwhat answer to give,” she asked.

“I should,” said Paula, “if—Oh aunt, you know what stands in my way! Ihave seen it in your eyes for some time. There is some one else—”

“But he has not spoken?” vigorously ejacul*ted her aunt.

Without answering, Paula put into her hand, with a slow reluctance shehad not manifested before, a second little note, and then hid her headamid the bedclothes, waiting with quickly beating heart for what heraunt might say.

She did not seem in haste to speak, but when she did, her words camewith a quick sigh that echoed very drearily in the young girl’s anxiousears. “You have been placed by this in a somewhat painful position. Isympathize with you, my child. It is very hard to give denial to abenefactor.”

Paula’s head drew nearer to her aunt’s breast, her arms crept round herneck. “But must I?” she breathed.

Miss Belinda knitted her brows with great force, and stared severely atthe wall opposite. “I am sorry there is any question about it,” shereplied.

Paula started up and looked at her with sudden determination. “Aunt,”said she, “what is your objection to Mr. Sylvester?”

Miss Belinda shook her head, and pushing the girl gently away, hurriedlyarose and began dressing with great rapidity. Not until she was entirelyprepared for breakfast did she draw Paula to her, and prepare to answerher question.

“My objection to him is, that I do not thoroughly understand him. I amafraid of the skeleton in the closet, Paula. I never feel at ease when Iam with him, much as I admire his conversation and appreciate theundoubtedly noble instincts of his heart. His brow is not open enough tosatisfy an eye which has accustomed itself to the study of humannature.”

“He has had many sorrows!” Paula faintly exclaimed, stricken by thisecho of her own doubts.

“Yes,” returned her aunt, “and sorrow bows the head and darkens the eye,but it does not make the glance wavering or its expression mysterious.”

“Some sorrows might,” urged Paula tremulously, arguing as much with herown doubts as with those of her aunt. “His have been of no ordinarynature. I have never told you, aunt, but there were circ*mstancesattending Cousin Ona’s death that made it especially harrowing. He had astormy interview with her the very morning she was killed; words passedbetween them, and he left her with a look that was almost desperate.When he next saw her, she lay lifeless and inert before him. I sometimesthink that the shadow that fell upon him at that hour will never passaway.”

“Do you know what was the subject of their disagreement?” asked MissBelinda anxiously.

“No, but I have reason to believe it had something to do with businessaffairs, as nothing else could ever arouse Cousin Ona into being at alldisagreeable.”

“I don’t like that phrase, business affairs; like charity, it coversentirely too much. Have you never had any doubts yourself about Mr.Sylvester?”

“Ah, you touch me to the quick, aunt. I may have had my doubts, but whenI look back on the past, I cannot see as they have any very substantialfoundation. Supposing, aunt, that he has been merely unfortunate, and Ishould live to find that I had discarded one whose heart was darkened bynothing but sorrow? I should never forgive myself, nor could life yieldme any recompense that would make amends for a sacrifice sounnecessary.”

“You love him, then, very dearly, Paula?”

A sudden light fell on the young girl’s face. “Hearts cannot tell theirlove,” said she, “but since I received this letter from him, it hasseemed as if my life hung balancing on the question, as to whether he isworthy of a woman’s homage. If he is not, I would give my life to havehim so. The world is only dear to me now as it holds him.”

Miss Belinda picked up Mr. Ensign’s letter with trembling fingers. “Ithought you were safe when the younger man came to woo,” said she.“Girls, as a rule, prefer what is bright to what is sombre, and Mr.Ensign is truly a very agreeable as well as worthy young man.”

“Yes, aunt, and he came very near stealing my heart as he undoubtedlydid my fancy, but a stronger hand snatched it away, and now I do notknow what to do or how to act, so as to awaken in the future no remorseor vain regrets.”

Miss Belinda opened the letters again and consulted their contents in amatter-of-fact way. “Mr. Ensign proposes to come this afternoon for hisanswer, while Mr. Sylvester defers seeing you till evening. What if Iseek Mr. Sylvester this morning and have a little conversation with him,which shall determine, for once and all, the question which so troublesus? Would you not find it easier to meet Mr. Ensign when he comes?”

“You talk to Mr. Sylvester, and upon such a topic! Oh, I could not bearthat. Pardon me, aunt, but I think I am more jealous of his feelingsthan of my own. If his secret can be learned in a half-hour’s talk, itmust be listened to by no one but myself. And I believe it can,” shemurmured reverently; “he is so tender of me he would never let me goblindfold into any path, concerning which I had once expressed anxiety.If I ask him whether there is any good reason before God or man why Ishould not give him my entire faith and homage, he will answer honestly,though it be the destruction of his hopes to do so?”

“Have you such trust as that in his uprightness as a lover, and theguardian of your happiness?”

“Have not you, aunt?”

And Miss Belinda remembering his words on the occasion of his firstproposal to adopt Paula, was forced to acknowledge that she had.

So without further preliminaries, it was agreed upon that Paula shouldrefrain from making a final decision until she had eased her heart by aninterview with Mr. Sylvester.

“Meantime, you can request Mr. Ensign to wait another day for hisanswer,” said Miss Belinda.

But Paula with a look of astonishment shook her head. “Is it you whowould counsel me to such a piece of coquetry as that?” said she. “No,dear aunt, my heart is not with Mr. Ensign, as you know, and it isimpossible for me to encourage him. If Mr. Sylvester should proveunworthy of my affection, I must bear, as best I may, the loss whichmust accrue; but till he does, let me not dishonor my womanhood byallowing hope to enter, even for a passing moment, the breast of hisrival.”

Miss Belinda blushed, and drew her niece fondly towards her. “You areright,” said she, “and my great desire for your happiness has led meinto error. Honesty is the noblest adjunct of all true love, and mustnever be sacrificed to considerations of selfish expediency. The refusalwhich you contemplate bestowing upon Mr. Ensign, must be forwarded tohim at once.”

And with a final embrace, in which Miss Belinda allowed herself to letfall some few natural tears of disappointment, she dismissed the younggirl to her task.

XXXIV.

PAULA MAKES HER CHOICE.

“Good fortune then,
To make me bless’t or cursed’st among men.”—Merchant of Venice.

It was evening in the Sylvester mansion. Mr. Sylvester who, according tohis understanding with Paula, had been absent from his home all day, hadjust come in and now stood in his library waiting for the comingfootfall that should decide whether the future held for him any promiseof joy.

He had never looked more worthy of a woman’s regard than he did thatnight. A matter that had been troubling him for some time had just beensatisfactorily disposed of, and not a shadow, so far as he knew, layupon his business outlook. This naturally brightened his cheek and lenta light to his eye. Then, hope is no mean beautifier, and this hepossessed notwithstanding the disparity of years between himself andPaula. It was not, however, of sufficiently assured a nature to preventhim from starting at every sound from above, and flushing with quite adisagreeable sense of betrayal when the door opened and Bertram enteredthe room, instead of the gentle and exquisite being he had expected.

“Uncle, I am so full of happiness, I had to stop and bestow a portion ofit upon you. Do you think any one could mistake the nature of MissStuyvesant’s feelings, who saw her last night?”

“Hardly,” was the smiling reply. “At all events I have not felt likewasting much but pleasant sympathy upon you. Your pathway to happinesslooks secure, my boy.”

His nephew gave him a wistful glance, but hid his thought whatever itwas. “I am going to see her to-night,” remarked he. “I am afraid my loveis something like a torrent that has once burst its barrier; it cannotrest until it has worked its channel and won its rightful repose.”

“That is something the way with all love,” returned his uncle. “It maybe dallied with while asleep, but once aroused, better meet a lion inhis fury or a tempest in its rush. Are you going to test your hope,to-night?”

The young man flushed. “I cannot say.” But in another moment gaylyadded, “I only know that I am prepared for any emergency.”

“Well, my boy, I wish you God-speed. If ever a man has won a right tohappiness, you are that man; and you shall enjoy it too, if any word oraction of mine can serve to advance it.”

“Thank you!” replied Bertram, and with a bright look around theapartment, prepared to take his leave. “When I come back,” he remarked,with a touch of that manly naïveté to which I have before alluded, “Ihope I shall not find you alone.”

Ignoring this wish which was re-echoed somewhat too deeply within hisown breast for light expression, Mr. Sylvester accompanied his nephew tothe front door.

“Let us see what kind of a night it is,” observed he, stepping out uponthe stoop. “It is going to rain.”

“So it is,” returned Bertram, with a quick glance overhead; “but I shallnot let such a little fuss as that deter me from fulfilling myengagement.” And bestowing a hasty nod upon his uncle, he bounded downthe step.

Instantly a man who was loitering along the walk in front of the house,stopped, as if struck by these simple words, turned, gave Bertram aquick look, and then with a sly glance back at the open door where Mr.Sylvester still stood gazing at the lowering heavens, set himselfcautiously to follow him.

Mr. Sylvester, who was too much pre-occupied to observe this suspiciousaction, remained for a moment contemplating the sky; then with anaimless glance down the avenue, during which his eye undoubtedly fellupon Bertram and the creeping shadow of a man behind him, closed thedoor and returned to the library.

The sight of another’s joy has the tendency to either unduly depress thespirits or greatly to elate them. When Paula came into the room a fewminutes later, it was to find Mr. Sylvester awaiting her with anexpression that was almost radiant. It made her duty seem doubly hard,and she came forward with the slow step of one who goes to meet or carrydoom. He saw, and instantly the light died out of his face, leaving itone blank of despair. But controlling himself, he took her cold hand inhis, and looking down upon her with a tender but veiled regard, asked inthose low and tremulous tones that exerted such an influence upon her:

“Do I see before me my affectionate and much to be cherished child, orthat still dearer object of love and worship, which it shall be thedelight of my life to render truly and deeply happy?”

“You see,” returned she, after a moment of silent emotion, “a girlwithout father or brother to advise her; who loves, or believes shedoes, a great and noble man, but who is smitten with fear also, shecannot tell why, and trembles to take a step to which no loving anddevoted friend has set the seal of his approval.”

The clasp with which Mr. Sylvester held her hand in his, tightened foran instant with irrepressible emotion, then slowly unloosed. Drawingback, he surveyed her with eyes that slowly filled with a bittercomprehension of her meaning.

“You are the only man,” continued she, with a glance of humble entreaty,“that has ever stood to me for a moment in the light of a relation. Youhave been a father to me in days gone by, and to you it thereforeseems most natural for me to appeal when a question comes up that eitherpuzzles or distresses me. Mr. Sylvester, you have offered me your loveand the refuge of your home; if you say that in your judgment thecounsel of all true friends would be for me to accept this love, then myhand is yours and with it my heart; a heart that only hesitates becauseit would fain be sure it has the smile of heaven upon its everyprompting.”

“Paula!”

The voice was so strange she looked up to see if it really was Mr.Sylvester who spoke. He had sunk back into a chair and had covered hisface with his hands. With a cry she moved towards him, but he motionedher back.

“Condemned to be my own executioner!” he muttered. “Placed on the rackand bid to turn the wheel that shall wrench my own sinews! My God, ’tishard!”

She did not hear the words, but she saw the action. Slowly the bloodleft her cheek, and her hand fell upon her swelling breast with adespairing gesture that would have smitten Miss Belinda to the heart,could she have seen it. “I have asked too much,” she whispered.

With a start Mr. Sylvester rose. “Paula,” said he, in a stern anddifferent tone, “is this fear of which you speak, the offspring of yourown instincts, or has it been engendered in your breast by the words ofanother?”

“My Aunt Belinda is in my confidence, if it is she to whom you allude,”rejoined she, meeting his glance fully and bravely. “But from no lipsbut yours could any words proceed capable of affecting my estimate ofyou as the one best qualified to make me happy.”

“Then it is my words alone that have awakened this doubt, thisapprehension?”

“I have not spoken of doubt,” said she, but her eyelids fell.

“No, thank God!” he passionately exclaimed. “And yet you feel it,” hewent on more composedly. “I have studied your face too long and closelynot to understand it.”

She put out her hands in appeal, but for once it passed unheeded.

“Paula,” said he, “you must tell me just what that doubt is; I must knowwhat is passing in your mind. You say you love me—” he paused, and atremble shook him from head to foot, but he went inexorably on—“it ismore than I had a right to expect, and God knows I am grateful for theprecious and inestimable boon, far as it is above my deserts; but whileloving me, you hesitate to give me your hand. Why? What is the name ofthe doubt that disturbs that pure breast and affects your choice? Tellme, I must know.”

“You ask me to dissect my own heart!” she cried, quivering under thetorture of his glance; “how can I? What do I know of its secret springsor the terrors that disturb its even beatings? I cannot name my fear; ithas no name, or if it has—Oh, sir!” she cried in a burst of passionatelonging, “your life has been one of sorrow and disappointment; grief hastouched you close, and you might well be the melancholy and sombre manthat all behold. I do not shrink from grief; say that the only shadowthat lies across your dungeon-door is that cast by the great andheart-rending sorrows of your life, and without question and withoutfear I enter that dungeon with you—”

The hand he raised stopped her. “Paula,” cried he, “do you believe inrepentance?”

The words struck her like a blow. Falling slowly back, she looked at himfor an instant, then her head sank on her breast.

“I know what your hatred of sin is,” continued he. “I have seen yourwhole form tremble at the thought of evil. Is your belief in theredeeming power of God as great as your recoil from the wrong that makesthat redemption necessary?”

Quickly her head raised, a light fell on her brow, and her lips moved ina vain effort to utter what her eyes unconsciously expressed.

“Paula, I would be unworthy the name of a man, if with the consciousnessof possessing a dark and evil nature, I strove by use of any hypocrisyor specious pretense at goodness, to lure to my side one soexceptionally pure, beautiful and high-minded. The ravening wolf and theinnocent lamb would be nothing to it. Neither would I for an instant beesteemed worthy of your regard, if in this hour of my wooing thereremained in my life the shadow of any latent wrong that might hereafterrise up and overwhelm you. Whatever of wrong has ever been committed byme—and it is my punishment that I must acknowledge before your pureeyes that my soul is not spotless—was done in the past, and is knownonly to my own heart and the God who I reverently trust has long agopardoned me. The shadow is that of remorse, not of fear, and the evil,one against my own soul, rather than against the life or fortunes ofother men. Paula, such sins can be forgiven if one has a mind tocomprehend the temptations that beset men in their early struggles. Ihave never forgiven myself, but—” He paused, looked at her for aninstant, his hand clenched over his heart, his whole noble form shakenby struggle, then said—“forgiveness implies no promise, Paula; youshall never link yourself to a man who has been obliged to bow his headin shame before you, but by the mercy that informs that dear glance andtrembling lip, do you think you can ever grow to forgive me?”

“Oh,” she cried, with a burst of sobs, violent as her grief and shame,“God be merciful to me, as I am merciful to those who repent of theirsins and do good and not evil all the remaining days of their life.”

“I thought you would forgive me,” murmured he, looking down upon her,as the miser eyes the gold that has slipped from his paralyzed hand.“Him whom the hard-hearted sinner and the hypocrite despise, God’sdearest lambs regard with mercy. I learned to revere God before I knewyou, Paula, but I learned to love Him in the light of your gentlenessand your trust. Rise up now and let me wipe away your tears—mydaughter.”

She sprang up as if stung. “No, no,” she cried, “not that; I cannot bearthat yet. I must think, I must know what all this means,” and she laidher hand upon her heart. “God surely does not give so much love forone’s undoing; if I were not destined to comfort a life so saddened, Hewould have bequeathed me more pity and less—” The lifted head fell, theword she would have uttered, stirred her bosom, but not her lips.

It was a trial to his strength, but his firm man’s heart did not waver.“You do comfort me,” said he; “from early morning to late night yourpresence is my healing and my help, and will always be so, whatever maybefal. A daughter can do much, my Paula.”

She took a step back towards the door, her eyes, dark with unfathomableimpulses, flashing on him through the tears that hung thickly on herlashes.

“Is it for your own sake or for mine, that you make use of that word?”said she.

He summoned up his courage, met that searching glance with all its wild,bewildering beauty, and responded, “Can you ask, Paula?”

With a lift of her head that gave an almost queenly stateliness to herform, she advanced a step, and drawing a crumpled paper from her pocket,said, “When I went to my room last night, it was to read two letters,one from yourself, and one from Mr. Ensign. This is his, and a manly andnoble letter it is too; but hearts have right to hearts, and I wasobliged to refuse his petition.” And with a reverent but inexorablehand, she dropped the letter on the burning coals of the grate at theirside, and softly turned to leave the room.

“Paula!” With a bound the stern and hitherto forcibly repressed man,leaped to her side. “My darling! my life!” and with a wild,uncontrollable impulse, he caught her for one breathless moment to hisheart; then as suddenly released her, and laying his hand in reverenceon her brow, said softly, “Now go and pray, little one; and when you arequite calm, an hour hence or a week hence whichever it may be, come andtell me my fate as God and the angels reveal it to you.” And he smiled,and she saw his smile, and went out of the room softly, as one whotreadeth upon holy ground.

Mr. Sylvester was considered by his friends and admirers as a proud man.If a vote had been cast among those who knew him best, as from whatespecial passion common to humanity he would soonest recoil, it wouldhave been unanimously pronounced shame, and his own hand would haveemphasized the judgment of his fellows. But shame which is open to thegaze of the whole world, differs from that which is sacred to the eyesof one human being, and that the one who lies nearest the heart.

As Paula’s retreating footsteps died away on the stairs, and he awoke tothe full consciousness that his secret was shared by her whose love washis life, and whose good opinion had been his incentive and his pride,his first sensation was one of unmitigated anguish, but his next,strange to say, that of a restful relief. He had cast aside the cloak hehad hugged so closely to his breast these many years, and displayed toher shrinking gaze the fox that was gnawing at his vitals; and Spartanthough he was, the dew that had filled her loving eyes was balm to him.And not only that; he had won claim to the title of true man. Herregard, if regard it remained, was no longer an airy fabric built upon aplausible seeming, but a firm structure with knowledge for itsfoundation. “I shall not live to whisper, ‘If she knew my whole life,would she love me so well?’”

His first marriage had been so wholly uncongenial and devoid ofsympathy, that his greatest longing in connection with a fresh contract,was to enjoy the full happiness of perfect union and mutual trust; andthough he could never have summoned up courage to take her into hisconfidence, unsolicited, now that it had been done he would not have itundone, no, not if by the doing he had lost her confidence andaffection.

But something told him he had not lost it. That out of the darkness andthe shock of this very discovery, a new and deeper love would spring,which having its birth in human frailty and human repentance, would gainin the actual what it lost in the ideal, bringing to his weary,suffering and yearning man’s nature, the honest help of a strong andloving sympathy, growing trust, and sweetest because wisestencouragement.

It was therefore, with a growing sense of deep unfathomable comfort, anda reverent thankfulness for the mercies of God, that he sat by the fireidly watching the rise and fall of the golden flames above thefluttering ashes of his rival’s letter, and dreaming with a hallowingsense of his unworthiness, upon the possible bliss of coming days.Happiness in its truest and most serene sense was so new to him, itaffected him like the presence of something strangely commanding. He wasawe-struck before it, and unconsciously bowed his head at itscontemplation. Only his eyes betrayed the peace that comes with allgreat joy, his eyes and perhaps the faint, almost unearthly smile thatflitted across his mouth, disturbing its firm line and making his facefor all its inevitable expression of melancholy, one that his motherwould have loved to look upon. “Paula!” came now and then in a reverent,yearning accent from between his lips, and once a low, “Thank God!”which showed that he was praying.

Suddenly he rose; a more human mood had set in, and he felt thenecessity of assuring himself that it was really he upon whom the drearypast had closed, and a future of such possible brightness opened. Hewalked about the room, surveying the rich articles within it, as thepossible belongings of the beautiful woman he adored; he stood andpictured her as coming into the door as his wife, and before he realizedwhat he was doing, had planned certain changes he would make in his hometo adapt it to the wants of her young and growing mind, when with astrange suddenness, the door upon which he was gazing flew back, andBertram Sylvester entered just as he had come from the street. He lookedso haggard, so wild, so little the picture of himself as he venturedforth a couple of hours before, that Mr. Sylvester started, andforgetting his happiness in his alarm, asked in a tone of dismay:

“What has happened? Has Miss Stuyvesant—”

Bertram’s hand went up as if his uncle had touched him upon a festeringwound. “Don’t!” gasped he, and advancing to the table, sat down andburied his face for a moment in his arms, then rose, and summoning up acertain manly dignity that became him well, met Mr. Sylvester’s eye withforced calmness, and inquired:

“Did you know there was a thief in our bank, Uncle Edward?”

XXXV.

THE FALLING OF THE SWORD.

“Foul deeds will rise,
Though all the world o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes.”—Hamlet.

Mr. Sylvester towered on his nephew with an expression such as few menhad ever seen even on his powerful and commanding face.

“What do you mean?” asked he, and his voice rang like a clarion throughthe room.

Bertram trembled and for a moment stood aghast, the ready flush bathinghis brow with burning crimson. “I mean,” stammered he, with difficultyrecovering himself, “that when Mr. Stuyvesant came to open his privatebox in the bank to-day, that he not only found its lock had beentampered with, but that money and valuables to the amount of some twelvehundred dollars were missing from among its contents.”

“What?”

The expression which had made Mr. Sylvester’s brow so terrible hadvanished, but his wonder remained.

“It is impossible,” he declared. “Our vaults are too well watched forany such thing to occur. He has made some mistake; a robbery of thatnature could not take place without detection.”

“It would seem not, and yet the fact remains. Mr. Stuyvesant himselfinformed me of it, to-night. He is not a careless man, nor reckless inhis statements. Some one has robbed the bank and it remains with us tofind out who.”

Mr. Sylvester, who had been standing all this while, sat down like a mandazed, the wild lost look on Bertram’s face daunting him with a fearfulpremonition. “There are but four men who have access to the vault wherethe boxes are kept,” said he: then quickly, “Why did Mr. Stuyvesant waittill to-night to speak to you? Why did he not notify us at once of aloss so important for us to know?”

The flush on Bertram’s brow slowly subsided, giving way to a steadypallor. “He waited to be sure,” said he. “He had a memorandum at homewhich he desired to consult; he was not ready to make any rashstatement: he is a thinking man and more considerate than many of hisfriends are apt to imagine. If the lock had not been found open he wouldhave thought with you that he had made some mistake; if he had notmissed from the box some of its contents, he would have considered thecondition of the lock the result of some oversight on his own part or ofsome mistake on the part of another, but the two facts together weredamning and could force upon him but one conclusion. Uncle,” said he,with a straightforward look into Mr. Sylvester’s countenance, “Mr.Stuyvesant knows as well as we do who are the men who have access to thevaults. As you say, the opening of a box during business hours and theabstracting from it of papers or valuables by any one who has not suchaccess, would be impossible. Only Hopgood, you and myself, and possiblyFolger, could find either time or opportunity for such a piece of work;while after business hours, the same four, minus Folger who contentshimself with knowing the combination of the inner safe, could open thevaults even in case of an emergency. Now of the four named, two areabove suspicion. I might almost say three, for Hopgood is not a man itis easy to mistrust. One alone, then, of all the men whom Mr. Stuyvesantis in the habit of meeting at the Bank, is open to a doubt. A young man,uncle, whose rising has been rapid, whose hopes have been lofty, whoselife may or may not be known to himself as pure, but which in the eyesof a matured man of the world might easily be questioned, just becauseits hopes are so lofty and its means for attaining them so limited.”

“Bertram!” sprang from Mr. Sylvester’s white lips.

But the young man raised his hand with almost a commanding gesture.“Hush,” said he, “no sympathy or surprise. Facts like these have to bemet with silent endurance, as we walk up to the mouth of the cannon wecannot evade, or bare our breast to the thrust of the bayonet gleamingbefore our eyes.—I would not have you think,” he somewhat hurriedlypursued, “that Mr. Stuyvesant insinuated anything of the kind, but hisdaughter was not present in the parlor, and—” A sigh, almost a gaspfinished the sentence.

“Bertram!” again exclaimed his uncle, this time with some authority inhis voice. “The shock of this discovery has unnerved you. You act like aman capable of being suspected. That is simply preposterous. One halfhour’s conversation with Mr. Stuyvesant on my part will convince him, ifhe needs convincing, which I do not believe, that whoever is unworthy oftrust in our bank, you are not the man.”

Bertram raised his head with a gleam of hope, but instantly dropped itagain with a despairing gesture that made his uncle frown.

“I did not know that you were inclined to be so pusillanimous,” criedMr. Sylvester; “and in presence of a foe so unsubstantial as this youhave conjured up almost out of nothing. If the bank has been robbed, itcannot be difficult to find the thief. I will order in detectivesto-morrow. We will hold a board of inquiry, and the culprit shall beunmasked; that is, if he is one of the employees of the bank, which itis very hard to believe.”

“Very, and which, if true, would make it unadvisable in us to give thealarm that any public measures taken could not fail to do.”

“The inquiry shall be private, and the detectives, men who can betrusted to keep their business secret.”

“How can any inquiry be private? Uncle, we are treading on delicateground, and have a task before us requiring great tact and discretion.If the safe had only been assaulted, or there were any evidences ofburglary to be seen! But we surely should have heard of it from some oneof the men, if anything unusual had been observed. Hopgood would havespoken at least.”

“Yes, Hopgood would have spoken.”

The tone in which this was uttered made Bertram look up. “You agree withme, then, that Hopgood is absolutely to be relied upon?”

“Absolutely.” A faint flush on Mr. Sylvester’s face lent force to thisstatement.

“He could not be beguiled or forced by another man to reveal thecombination, or to relax his watch over the vaults entrusted to hiskeeping?”

“No.”

“He is alone with the vaults where the boxes are kept for an hour or twoin the early morning!”

“Yes, and has been for three years. Hopgood is honesty itself.”

“And so are Folger and Jessup and Watson,” exclaimed Bertramemphatically.

“Yes,” his uncle admitted, with equal emphasis.

“It is a mystery,” Bertram declared; “and one I fear that will undo me.”

“Nonsense!” broke forth somewhat impatiently from Mr. Sylvester’s lips;“there is no reason at this time for any such conclusion. If there is athief in the bank he can be found; if the robbery was committed by anoutsider, he may still be discovered. If he is not, if the mystery restsforever unexplained, you have your character, Bertram, a character asspotless as that of any of your fellows, whom we regard as abovesuspicion. A man is not going to be condemned by such a judge of humannature as Mr. Stuyvesant, just because a mysterious crime has beencommitted, to which the circ*mstances of his position alone render itpossible for him to be party. You might as well say that Jessup andFolger and Watson—yes, or myself, would in that case lose hisconfidence. They are in the bank, and are constantly in the habit ofgoing to the vaults.”

“None of those gentlemen want to marry his daughter,” murmured Bertram.“It is not the director I fear, but the father. I have so little tobring her. Only my character and my devotion.”

“Well, well, pluck up courage, my boy. I have hopes yet that the wholematter can be referred to some mistake easily explainable when once itis discovered. Mistakes, even amongst the honest and the judicious, arenot so uncommon as one is apt to imagine. I, myself, have known of onewhich if providence had not interfered, might have led to doubtsseemingly as inconsistent as yours. To-morrow we will consider thequestion at length. To-night—Well, Bertram, what is it?”

The young man started and dropped his eyes, which during the last wordsof his uncle had been fixed upon his face with strange and penetratinginquiry. “Nothing,” said he, “that is, nothing more;” and rose as if toleave.

But Mr. Sylvester put out his hand and stopped him. “There issomething,” said he. “I have seen it in your face ever since you enteredthis room. What is it?”

The young man drew a deep breath and leaned back in his chair. Mr.Sylvester watched him with growing pallor. “You are right,” murmured hisnephew at last; “there is something more, and it is only justice thatyou should hear it. I have had two adventures to-night; one quite apartfrom my conversation with Mr. Stuyvesant. Heaven that watches above us,has seen fit to accumulate difficulties in my path, and this last,perhaps, is the least explainable and the hardest to encounter.”

“What do you allude to?” cried his uncle, imperatively; “I have had anevening of too much agitation to endure suspense with equanimity.Explain yourself.”

“It will not take long,” said the other; “a few words will reveal to youthe position in which I stand. Let me relate it in the form of anarrative. You know what a dark portion of the block that is in whichMr. Stuyvesant’s house is situated. A man might hide in any of the areasalong there, without being observed by you unless he made some sound toattract your attention. I was, therefore, more alarmed than surprisedwhen, shortly after leaving Mr. Stuyvesant’s dwelling, I felt a handlaid on my shoulder, and turning, beheld a dark figure at my side, of anappearance calculated to arouse any man’s apprehension. He was tall,unkempt, with profuse beard, and eyes that glared even in the darknessof his surroundings, with a feverish intensity. ‘You are Mr. Sylvester,’said he, with a look of a wild animal ready to pounce upon his prey.‘Yes,’ said I, involuntarily stepping back, ‘I am Mr. Sylvester.’ ‘Iwant to speak to you,’ exclaimed he, with a rush of words as though astream had broken loose; ‘now, at once, on business that concerns you.Will you listen?’

“I thought of the only business that seemed to concern me then, andstarting still farther back, surveyed him with surprise. ‘I don’t knowyou,’ said I; ‘what business can you have with me?’ ‘Will you step intosome place where it is warm and find out?’ he asked, shivering in histhin cloak, but not abating a jot of his eagerness. ‘Go on before me,’said I, ‘and we will see.’ He complied at once, and in this way wereached Beale’s Coffee-Room, where we went in. ‘Now,’ said I, ‘out withwhat you have to say and be quick about it. I have no time to listen tononsense and no heart to attend to it.’ His eye brightened; he did notcast a glance at the smoking victuals about him, though I knew he washungry as a dog. ‘It is no nonsense,’ said he, ‘that I have tocommunicate to you.’ And then I saw he had once been a gentleman. ‘Fortwo years and a half have I been searching for you,’ he went on, ‘inorder that I might recall to your mind a little incident. You rememberthe afternoon of February, the twenty-fifth, two years ago?’

“‘No,’ said I, in great surprise, for his whole countenance was flushedwith expectancy. ‘What was there about that day that I should rememberit?’ He smiled and bent his face nearer to mine. ‘Don’t you recollect alittle conversation you had in a small eating-house in Dey Street, witha gentleman of a high-sounding voice to whom you were obligedcontinually to say ‘hush!’’” I stared at the man, as you may believe,with some notion of his being a wandering lunatic. ‘I have never taken ameal in any eating-house in Dey Street,’ I declared, motioning to awaiter to approach us. The man observing it, turned swiftly upon me. ‘Doyou think I care for any such petty fuss as that?’ asked he,indicating the rather slightly built man I had called to my rescue,while he covertly studied my face to observe the effect of his words.

“I started. I could not help it; this use of an expression almostpeculiar to myself, assured me that the man knew me better than Isupposed. Involuntarily I waved the waiter back and turned upon the manwith an inquiring look.

“‘I thought you might consider it worth your while to listen,’ said he,smiling with the air of one who has or thinks he has a grip upon you.Then suddenly, ‘You are a rich man, are you not? a proud man and anhonored one. You hold a position of trust and are considered worthy ofit; how would you like men to know that you once committed a mean anddirty trick; that those white hands that have the handling of such largefunds at present, have in days gone by been known to dip into such fundsa little too deeply; that, in short, you, Bertram Sylvester, cashier ofthe Madison Bank, and looking forward to no one knows what future honorsand emoluments, have been in a position better suited to a felon’s cellthan the trusted agent of a great and wealthy corporation?’

“I did not collar him; I was too dumb-stricken for any such display ofindignation. I simply stared, feeling somewhat alarmed as I rememberedmy late interview with Mr. Stuyvesant, and considered the possibility ofa plot being formed against me. He smiled again at the effect he hadproduced, and drew me into a corner of the room where we sat down. ‘I amgoing to tell you a story,’ said he, ‘just to show you what a goodmemory I have. One day, a year and more ago, I sauntered into aneating-house on Dey Street. I have not always been what you see me now,though to tell you the truth, I was but little better off at the time ofwhich I speak, except that I did have a dime or so in my pocket, andcould buy a meal of victuals—if I wished.’ And his eyes roamed for thefirst time to the tables stretching out before him down the room. ‘Theproprietor was an acquaintance of mine, and finding I was sleepy as wellas hungry, let me go into a certain dark pantry, where I curled up amidall sorts of old rubbish and went to sleep. I was awakened by the soundof voices talking very earnestly. The closet in which I was hidden was atemporary affair built up of loose boards, and the talk of a couple ofmen seated against it was easy enough to be heard. Do you want to knowwhat that conversation was?’

“My curiosity was roused by this time and I said yes. If this was a plotto extort money from me, it was undeniably better for me to know uponjust what foundations it rested. I thought the man looked surprised, butwith an aplomb difficult to believe assumed, he went on to say, ‘Thevoices gave me my only means of judging of the age, character, orposition of the men conversing, but I have a quick ear, and my memory isnever at fault. From the slow, broken, nervously anxious tone of one ofthe men, I made up my mind that he was elderly, hard up, and not overscrupulous; the other voice was that of a gentleman, musical and yetpronounced, and not easily forgotten, as you see, sir. The first words Iheard aroused me and convinced me it was worth while to listen. Theywere uttered by the gentleman.’ ‘You come to me with such a dirty pieceof business! What right have you to suppose I would hearken to you foran instant!’ ‘The right,’ returned the other, ‘of knowing you have notbeen above doing dirty work in your life time.’ The partition creaked atthat, as though one of the two had started forward, but I didn’t hearany reply made to this strange accusation. ‘Do you think,’ the samevoice went on, ‘that I do not know where the five thousand dollars camefrom which you gave me for that first speculation? I knew it when I tookit, and if I hadn’t been sure the operation would turn out fortunately,you would never have been the man you are to-day. It came out of fundsentrusted to you, and was not the gift of a relative as you would havemade me believe.’ ‘Good heaven!’ exclaimed the other, after a silencethat was very expressive just then and there, ‘and you let me—’ ‘Oh wewon’t go into that,’ interrupted the less cultivated voice. ‘All youwanted was a start, to make you the successful man you have sincebecome. I never worried much about morals, and I don’t worry about themnow, only when you say you won’t do a thing likely to make my fortune,just because it is not entirely free from reproach, I say, remember whatI know about you, and don’t talk virtue to me.’

“‘I am rightly punished,’ came from the other, in a tone that proved himto be a man more ready to do a wrong thing than to face the accusationof it. ‘If I ever did what you suppose, the repentance that hasembittered all my success, and the position in which you have this dayplaced me, is surely an ample atonement.’ ‘Will you do what I request?’inquired the other, giving little heed to this expression of misery, ofwhich I on the contrary took special heed. ‘No,’ was the energeticreply; ‘because I am not spotless it is no sign that I will wade intofilth. I will give you money as I have done scores of times before, butI will lend my hand to no scheme which is likely to throw discredit onme or mine. Were you not connected to me in the way in which you are—’‘You would pursue the scheme,’ interrupted the other; ‘it is because youknow that I cannot talk, that you dare repudiate it. Well I will go toone—’ ‘You shall not,’ came in short quick tones, just such tones asyou used to me, sir, when we first entered this room. ‘You shall leavethe country before you do anything more, or say anything more, tocompromise me or yourself. I may have done wrong in my day, but that isno reason why I should suffer for it at your hands, tempter of youth,and deceiver of your own flesh and blood! You shall never bring backthose days to me again; they are buried, and have been stamped out ofsight by many an honest dealing since, and many as I trust before God,good and sterling action. I have long since begun a new life; a life ofhonor, and pure, if successful, dealing. Not only my own happiness, butthat of one who should be considered by you, depends upon my maintainingthat life to the end, unshadowed by unholy remembrances, and unharrassedby any such proffers as you have presumed to make to me here to-day. Ifyou want a few thousand dollars to leave the country, say so, but neveragain presume to offend my ears, or those of any one else we may know,with any such words as you have made use of to-day.’ And the spiritlesscreature subsided, sir, and said no more to that rich, honored, andsuccessful man who was so sensitive to even the imputation of guilt.

“But I am not spiritless and just where he dropped the affair, I took itup. ‘Here is a chance for me to turn an honest penny,’ thought I, andwith a deliberation little to be expected of me, perhaps, set myself tospot that man and make the most out of the matter I could. UnfortunatelyI lost the opportunity of seeing his face. I was too anxious to catchevery word they uttered, to quit my place of concealment till theirconversation was concluded, and then I was too late to be sure which ofthe many men leaving the building before me was the one I was after. Thewaiters were too busy to talk, and the proprietor himself had taken nonotice. Happily as I have before said, I never forget voices; moreoverone of the two speakers had made use of a phrase peculiar enough toserve as a clue to his identity. It was in answer to some parting threatof the older man, and will remind you of an expression uttered byyourself an hour or so ago. ‘Do you suppose I will let such a littlefuss as that deter me?’ It was the cue to his speech, by which Iintended to hunt out my man from amongst the rich, the trusted and theinfluential persons of this city, and when found, to hold him.’

“‘And you think you have done this?’ said I, too conscious of thepossible net about my feet to be simply angry. ‘I know it,’ said he;‘every word you have uttered since we have been here has made me moreand more certain of the fact. I could swear to your voice, and as toyour use of that tell-tale word, it was not till I thought to inquire ofa certain wide-awake fellow down town, who amongst our business men werein the habit of using that expression, and was told Mr. Sylvester of theMadison Bank, that I was enabled to track you. I know I have got my handon my man at last and—’ He looked down at his thread-bare coat andaround at the tables with their smoking dishes, and left me to draw myown conclusion.

“Uncle, there are crises in life which no former experience teaches youhow to meet. I had arrived at such a one. Perhaps you can understand mewhen I say I was well nigh appalled. Denial of what was imputed to memight be wisdom and might not. I felt the coil of a deadly serpent aboutme, and knew not whether it was best to struggle or to simply submit.The man noted the effect he had made and complacently folded his arms.He was of a nervous organization and possessed an eye like a hungrywolf, but he could wait. ‘This is a pretty story,’ said I at last, and Ireject it altogether. ‘I am an honest man and have always been so; youwill have to give up your hopes of making anything out of me.’ ‘Then youare willing,’ said he, ‘that I should repeat this story to one of thedirectors of your bank, whom I know?’

“I looked at him; he returned my gaze with a cold nonchalence moresuggestive of a deep laid purpose, than even his previous glance offeverish determination. I immediately let my eye run over his scantyclothing and loose flowing hair and beard. ‘Yes,’ said I, with as muchsarcasm as I knew how to assume, ‘if you dare risk the consequences, Ithink I may.’ He at once drew himself up. ‘You think,’ said he, ‘thatyou have a common-place adventurer to deal with; that my appearance isgoing to testify in your favor; that you have but to deny any accusationwhich such a hungry-looking, tattered wretch as I, may make, and that Ishall be ignominiously kicked out of the presence into which I haveforced myself; that in short I have been building my castle in the air.Mr. Sylvester, I am a poor devil but I am no fool. When I left DeyStreet on the twenty-fifth of February two years ago, it was with asealed paper in my pocket, in which was inscribed all that I had heardon that day. This I took to a lawyer’s office, and not being, as I havebefore said, quite as impecunious in those days as at present, succeededin getting the lawyer, whom I took care should be a most respectableman, to draw up a paper to the effect that I had entrusted him with thisstatement—of whose contents he however knew nothing—on such a day andhour, to which paper a gentleman then present, consented at myrespectful solicitation to affix his name as witness, which gentleman,strange to say, has since proved to be a director of the bank of whichyou are the present cashier, and consequently the very man of all othersbest adapted to open the paper whose seal you profess to be so willingto see broken.’

“‘His name!’ It was all that I could say. ‘Stuyvesant,’ cried the man,fixing me with his eye in which I in vain sought for some signs ofsecret doubt or unconscious wavering. I rose; the position in which Ifound myself was too overwhelming for instant decision. I needed timefor reflection, possibly advice—from you. A resolution to brave thedevil must be founded on something more solid than impulse, to hold itsown unmoved. I only stopped to utter one final word and ask one leadingquestion. ‘You are a smart man,’ said I, ‘and you are also a villain.Your smartness would give you food and drink, if you exercised it in amanner worthy of a man, but your villainy if persisted in, willeventually rob you of both, and bring you to the prison’s cell or thehangman’s gallows. As for myself, I persist in saying that I am now andalways have been an honest man, whatever you may have overheard or findyourself capable of swearing to. Yet a lie is an inconvenient thing tohave uttered against you at any time, and I may want to see you again;if I do, where shall I find you?’ He thrust his hand into his pocket anddrew out a small slip of folded paper, which he passed to me with a bowthat Chesterfield would have admired. ‘You will find it written within,’said he ‘I shall look for you any time to-morrow, up to seven o’clock.At that hour the lawyer of whom I have spoken, sends the statement whichhe has in his possession to Mr. Stuyvesant.’ I nodded my assent, and hemoved slowly towards the door. As he did so, his eyes fell upon a rollof bread lying on a counter. I at once stepped forward and bought it.Vile as he was, and deadly as was the snare he contemplated drawingabout me, I could not see that wolfish look of hunger, and not offer himsomething to ease it. He took the loaf from my hands and bit greedilyinto it but suddenly paused, and shook his head with a look likeself-reproach, and thrusting the loaf under his arm, turned towards thedoor with the quick action of one escaping. Instantly, and before he wasout of sight or hearing, I drew the attention of the proprietor to him.‘Do you see that man?’ I asked. ‘He has been attempting a system ofblackmail upon me.’ And satisfied with thus having provided a witnessable of identifying the man, in case of an emergency, I left thebuilding.

“And now you know it all,” concluded he; and the silence that followedthe utterance of those simple words, was a silence that could be felt.

“Bertram?”

The young man started from his fixed position, and his eyes slowlytraversed toward his uncle.

“Have you that slip of paper which the man gave you before departing?”

“Yes,” said he.

“Let me have it, if you please.”

The young man with an agitated look, plunged his hand into his pocket,drew out the small note and laid it on the table between them. Mr.Sylvester let it lie, and again there was a silence.

“If this had happened at any other time,” Bertram pursued, “one couldafford to let the man have his say; but now, just as this other mysteryhas come up—”

“I don’t believe in submitting to blackmail,” came from his uncle inshort, quick tones.

Bertram gave a start. “You then advise me to leave him alone?” asked he,with unmistakable emotion.

His uncle dropped the hand which till now he had held before his face,and hastily confronted his nephew. “You will have enough to do to attendto the other matter without bestowing any time or attention upon this.The man that robbed Mr. Stuyvesant’s box, can be found and must. It isthe one indispensable business to which I now delegate you. No amount ofmoney and no amount of diligence is to be spared. I rely on you to carrythe affair to a successful termination. Will you undertake the task?”

“Can you ask?” murmured the young man, with a shocked look at hisuncle’s changed expression.

“As to this other matter, we will let it rest for to-night. To-morrow’srevelations may be more favorable than we expect. At all events let ustry and get a little rest now; I am sure we are both in a condition toneed it.”

Bertram rose. “I am at your command,” said he, and moved to go. Suddenlyhe turned, and the two men stood face to face. “I have no wish,” pursuedhe, “to be relieved of my burden at the expense of any one else. If itis to be borne by any one, let it be carried by him who is young andstalwart enough to sustain it.” And his hand went out involuntarilytowards his uncle.

Mr. Sylvester took that hand and eyed his nephew long and earnestly.Bertram thought he was going to speak, and nerved himself to meet withfortitude whatever might be said. But the lips which Mr. Sylvester hadopened, closed firmly, and contenting himself with a mere wring of hisnephew’s hand, he allowed him to go. The slip of paper remained upon thetable unopened.

That night as Paula lay slumbering on her pillow, a sound passed throughthe house. It was like a quick irrepressible cry of desolation, and thepoor child hearing it, started, thinking her name had been called. Butwhen she listened, all was still, and believing she had dreamed, sheturned her face upon her pillow, and softly murmuring the name that wasdearest to her in all the world, fell again into a peaceful sleep.

But he whose voice had uttered that cry in the dreary emptiness of thegreat parlors below, slept not.

XXXVI.

MORNING.

“Two maidens by one fountain’s joyous brink,
And one was sad and one had cause for sadness.”

Cicely Stuyvesant waiting for her father at the foot of the stairs, onthe morning after these occurrences, was a pretty and a touchingspectacle. She had not slept very well the night before, and her browshowed signs of trouble and so did her trembling lips. She held in herhand a letter which she twirled about with very unsteady fingers. Themorning was bright, but she did not seem to observe it; the air wasfresh, but it did not seem to invigorate her. A rose-leaf of care lay onthe tremulous waters of her soul, and her sensitive nature thrilledunder it.

“Why does he not come?” she whispered, looking again at the letter’sinscription.

It was in Mr. Sylvester’s handwriting, and ought not to have occasionedher any uneasiness, but her father had intimated a wish the nightbefore, that she should not come down into the parlor if Bertram called,and—Her thoughts paused there, but she was anxious about the letter andwished her father would hasten.

Let us look at the little lady. She had been so bright and lovesomeyesterday at this time. Never a maiden in all this great city of ourshad shown a sweeter or more etherial smile. At once radiant andreserved, she flashed on the eye and trembled from the grasp like somedainty tropical creature as yet unused to our stranger clime. Her fatherhad surveyed her with satisfaction, and her lover—oh, that we were allyoung again to experience that leap of the heart with which youth meetsand recognizes the sweet perfections of the woman it adores! But a misthad obscured the radiance of her aspect, and she looks very sad as shestands in her father’s hall this morning, leaning her cheek against thebanister, and thinking of the night when three years ago, she lingeredin that very spot, and watched the form of the young musician go by herand disappear in the darkness of the night, as she then thought forever.Joy had come to her by such slow steps and after such long waiting. Hopehad burst upon her so brilliantly, and with such a speedy promise ofculmination. She thrilled as she thought how short a time ago it was,since she leaned upon Bertram’s arm and dropped her eyes before hisgaze.

The appearance of her father at length aroused her. Flushing slightly,she held the letter towards him.

“A letter for you, papa. I thought you might like to read it before youwent out.”

Mr. Stuyvesant, who for an hour or more had been frowning over hismorning paper with a steady pertinacity that left more than the usualamount of wrinkles upon his brow, started at the wistful tone of thisannouncement from his daughter’s lips, and taking the letter from herhand, stepped into the parlor to peruse it. It was, as the handwritingdeclared, from Mr. Sylvester, and ran thus:

Dear Mr. Stuyvesant:

“I have heard of your loss and am astounded. Though the Bank isnot liable for any accident to trusts of this nature, bothBertram and myself are determined to make every effortpossible, to detect and punish the man who either through ournegligence, or by means of the opportunities afforded him underour present system of management, has been able to commit thisrobbery upon your effects. We therefore request that you willmeet us at the bank this morning at as early an hour aspracticable, there to assist us in making such inquiries andinstituting such measures, as may be considered necessary tothe immediate attainment of the object desired.

“Respectfully yours,

Edward Sylvester.”

“Is it anything serious?” asked his daughter, coming into the parlor andlooking up into his face with a strange wistfulness he could not fail toremark.

Mr. Stuyvesant gave her a quick glance, shook his head with somenervousness and hastily pocketed the epistle. “Business,” mumbled he,“business.” And ignoring the sigh that escaped her lips, began to makehis preparations for going at once down town.

He was always an awkward man at such matters, and it was her habit toafford him what assistance she could. This she now did, lending her handto help him on with his overcoat, rising on tip-toe to tie his muffler,and bending her bright head to see that his galoshes were properlyfastened; her charming face with its far-away look, shining strangelysweet in the dim hall, in contrast with his severe and antiquatedcountenance.

He watched her carefully but with seeming indifference till all was doneand he stood ready to depart, then in an awkward enough way—he was notaccustomed to bestow endearments—drew her to him and kissed her on theforehead; after which he turned about and departed without a word toseason or explain this unwonted manifestation of tenderness.

A kiss was an unusual occurrence in that confiding but undemonstrativehousehold, and the little maiden trembled. “Something is wrong,” shemurmured half to herself, half to the dim vista of the lonely parlor,where but a night or so ago had stood the beloved form of him, who, burythe thought as she would, had become, if indeed he had not always been,the beginning and the ending of all her maidenly dreams: “what? what?”And her young heart swelled painfully as she realized like many a womanbefore her, that whatever might be her doubts, fears, anguish orsuspense, nothing remained for her but silence and a tedious waiting forothers to recognize her misery and speak.

Meanwhile how was it with her dearest friend and confident, Paula? Themorning, as I have already declared, was bright and exceptionallybeautiful. Sunshine filled the air and freshness invigorated the breeze.Cicely was blind to it all, but as Paula looked from her windowpreparatory to going below, a close observer might have perceived thatthe serenity of the cloudless sky was reflected in her beaming eyes,that peace brooded above her soul and ruled her tender spirit. She hadheld a long conversation with Miss Belinda, she had prayed, she hadslept and she had risen with a confirmed love in her heart for the manwho was at once the admiration of her eyes and the well-spring of herdeepest thoughts and wildest longings. “I will show him so plainly whatthe angels have told me,” whispered she, “that he will have no need toask.” And she wound her long locks into the coil that she knew he bestliked and fixed a rose at her throat, and so with a smile on her lipwent softly down stairs. O the timid eager step of maidenhood whendrawing toward the shrine of all it adores! Could those halls and loftycorridors have whispered their secret, what a story they would have toldof beating heart and tremulous glance, eager longings, and maidenlyshrinkings, as the lovely form, swaying with a thousand hopes and fears,glided from landing to landing, carrying with it love and joy and peace.And trust! As she neared the bronze image that had always awakened suchvague feelings of repugnance on her part, and found its terrors gone andits smile assuring, she realized that her breast held nothing but faithin him, who may have sinned in his youth, but who had repented in hismanhood, and now stood clear and noble in her eyes. The assurance wastoo sweet, the flood of feeling too overwhelming. With a quick glancearound her, she stopped and flung her arms about the hitherto repellantbronze, pressing her young breast against the cold metal with a fervorthat ought to have hallowed its sensuous mould forever. Then she hurrieddown.

Her first glance into the dining-room brought her a disappointment. Mr.Sylvester had already breakfasted and gone; only Aunt Belinda sat at thetable. With a slightly troubled brow, Paula advanced to her own place atthe board.

“Mr. Sylvester has urgent business on hand to-day,” quoth her aunt. “Imet him going out just as I came down.”

Her look lingered on Paula as she said this, and if it had not been forthe servants, she would doubtless have given utterance to some furtherexpression on the matter, for she had been greatly struck by Mr.Sylvester’s appearance and the sad, firm, almost lofty expression of hiseye, as it met hers in their hurried conversation.

“He is a very busy man,” returned Paula simply, and was silent, struckby some secret dread she could not have explained. Suddenly she rose;she had found an envelope beneath her plate, addressed to herself. Itwas bulky and evidently contained a key. Hastening behind the curtainsof the window, she opened it. The key was to that secret study of his atthe top of the house, which no one but himself had ever been seen toenter, and the words that enwrapped it were these:

“If I send you no word to the contrary, and if I do not comeback by seven o’clock this evening, go to the room of whichthis is the key, open my desk, and read what I have preparedfor your eyes.

“E. S.”

XXXVII.

THE OPINION OF A CERTAIN NOTED DETECTIVE.

“But still there clung
One hope, like a keen sword on starting threads uphung.”—Revolt of Islam.

“Facts are stubborn things.”—Elliott.

Meanwhile Mr. Stuyvesant hasted on his way down town and ere long madehis appearance at the bank. He found Mr. Sylvester and Bertram seated inthe directors’ room, with a portly smooth-faced man whose appearance wasat once strange and vaguely familiar.

“A detective, sir,” explained Mr. Sylvester rising with forcedcomposure; “a man upon whose judgment I have been told we may rely. Mr.Gryce, Mr. Stuyvesant.”

The latter gentleman nodded, cast a glance around the room, during whichhis eye rested for a moment on Bertram’s somewhat pale countenance, andnervously took a seat.

“A mysterious piece of business, this,” came from the detective’s lipsin an easy tone, calculated to relieve the tension of embarrassment intowhich the entrance of Mr. Stuyvesant seemed to have thrown all parties.“What were the numbers of the bonds found missing, if you please?”

Mr. Stuyvesant told him.

“You are positively assured these bonds were all in the box when youlast locked it?”

“I am.”

“When was that, sir? On what day and at what hour of the day, if youplease?”

“Tuesday, at about three o’clock, I should say.”

“The box was locked by you? There is no doubt about that fact?”

“None in the least.”

“Where were you standing at the time?”

“In front of the vault door. I had taken out the box myself as I am inthe habit of doing, and had stepped there to put it back.”

“Was any one near you then?”

“Yes. The cashier was at his desk and the teller had occasion to go tothe safe while I stood there. I do not remember seeing any one else inmy immediate vicinity.”

“Do you remember ever going to the vaults and not finding some one nearyou at the time or at least in full view of your movements?”

“No.”

“I have informed Mr. Gryce,” interposed Mr. Sylvester, with a ring inhis deep voice that made Mr. Stuyvesant start, “that our chief desire atpresent is to have his judgment upon the all important question, as towhether this theft was committed by a stranger, or one in the employ andconsequently in the confidence of the bank.”

Mr. Stuyvesant bowed, every wrinkle in his face manifesting itself withstartling distinctness as he slowly moved his eyes and fixed them on theinscrutable countenance of the detective.

“You agree then with these gentlemen,” continued the latter, who had away of seeming more interested in everything and everybody present thanthe person he was addressing, “that it would be difficult if notimpossible for any one unconnected with the bank, to approach the vaultsduring business hours and abstract anything from them withoutdetection?”

“And do these gentleman both assert that?” queried Mr. Stuyvesant, witha sharp look from uncle to nephew.

“I believe they do,” replied the detective, as both the gentlemen bowed,Bertram with an uncontrollable quiver of his lip, and Mr. Sylvester witha deepening of the lines about his mouth, which may or may not have beennoticed by this man who appeared to observe nothing.

“I should be loth to conclude that the robbery was committed by any onebut a stranger,” remarked Mr. Stuyvesant; “but if these gentlemen concurin the statement you have just made, I am bound to acknowledge that I donot myself see how the theft could have been perpetrated by an outsider.Had the box itself been missing, it would be different. I remember myold friend Mr. A—, the president of the police department, telling meof a case where a box containing securities to the amount of two hundredthousand dollars, was abstracted in full daylight from the vaults of oneof our largest banks; an act requiring such daring, the directors for along time refused to believe it possible, until a detective one dayshowed them another box of theirs which he had succeeded in abstractingin the same way.[1] But the vaults in that instance were in a lessconspicuous portion of the bank than ours, besides to approach an openvault, snatch a box from it and escape, is a much simpler matter than toremain long enough to open a box and choose from its contents suchpapers as appeared most marketable. If a regular thief could do such athing, it does not seem probable that he would. Nevertheless the mostacute judgment is often at fault in these matters, and I do not pretendto have formed an opinion.”

The detective who had listened to these words with marked attention,bowed his concurrence and asked if the bonds mentioned by Mr. Stuyvesantwere all that had been found missing from the bank. If any of the otherboxes had been opened, or if the contents of the safe itself had everbeen tampered with.

“The contents of the safe are all correct,” came in deep tones from Mr.Sylvester. “Mr. Folger, my nephew and myself went through them thismorning. As for the boxes I cannot say, many of them belong to personstravelling; some of them have been left here by trustees of estates,consequently often lie for weeks in the vaults untouched. If however anyof them have been opened, we ought to be able to see it. Would you likean examination made of their condition?”

The detective nodded.

Mr. Sylvester at once turned to Mr. Stuyvesant. “May I ask you tomention what officer of the bank you would like to have go to thevaults?”

That gentleman started, looked uneasily about, but meeting Bertram’seye, nervously dropped his own and muttered the name of Folger.

Mr. Sylvester suppressed a sigh, sent for the paying-teller, andinformed him of their wishes. He at once proceeded to the vaults. Whilehe was gone, Mr. Gryce took the opportunity to make the followingremark.

“Gentlemen,” said he, “let us understand ourselves. What you want of me,is to tell you whether this robbery has been committed by a stranger orby some one in your employ. Now to decide this question it is necessaryfor me to ask first, whether you have ever had reason to doubt thehonesty of any person connected with the bank?”

“No,” came from Mr. Sylvester with sharp and shrill distinctness. “SinceI have had the honor of conducting the affairs of this institution, Ihave made it my business to observe and note the bearing and characterof each and every man employed under me, and I believe them all to be honest.”

The glance of the detective while it did not perceptibly move from thelarge screen drawn across the room at the back of Mr. Sylvester, seemedto request the opinions of the other two gentlemen on this point.

Bertram observing it, subdued the rapid beatings of his heart and spokewith like distinctness. “I have been in the bank the same length of timeas my uncle,” said he, “and most heartily endorse his good opinion ofthe various persons in our employ.”

“And Mr. Stuyvesant?” the immovable glance seemed to say.

“Men are honest in my opinion till they are proved otherwise,” came inshort stern accents from the director’s lips.

The detective drew back in his chair as if he considered that pointdecided, and yet Bertram’s eye which had clouded at Mr. Stuyvesant’s tooabrupt assertion, did not clear again as might have been expected.

“There is one more question I desire to settle,” continued thedetective, “and that is, whether this robbery could have beenperpetrated after business hours, by some one in collusion with theperson who is here left in charge?”

“No;” again came from Mr. Sylvester, with impartial justice. “Thewatchman—who by the way has been in the bank for twelve years—couldnot help a man to find entrance to the vaults. His simple duty is towatch over the bank and give alarm in case of fire or burglary. It wouldnecessitate a knowledge of the combination by which the vault doors areopened, to do what you suggest, and that is possessed by but threepersons in the bank.”

“And those are?”

“The cashier, the janitor, and myself.”

He endeavored to speak calmly and without any betrayal of the effort itcaused him to utter those simple words, but a detective’s ear is niceand it is doubtful if he perfectly succeeded.

Mr. Gryce however limited himself to a muttered, humph! and a long andthoughtful look at a spot on the green baize of the table before whichhe sat.

“The janitor lives in the building, I suppose?”

“Yes, and is, as I am sure Mr. Stuyvesant will second me in asserting,honesty to the back-bone.”

“Janitors always are,” observed the detective; then shortly, “How longhas he been with you?”

“Three years.”

Another “humph!” and an increased interest in the ink spot.

“That is not long, considering the responsibility of his position.”

“He was on the police force before he came to us,” remarked Mr.Sylvester.

Mr. Gryce looked as if that was not much of a recommendation.

“As for the short time he has been with us,” resumed the other, “he cameinto the bank the same winter as my nephew and myself, and has found thetime sufficient to earn the respect of all who know him.”

The detective bowed, seemingly awed by the dignity with which the laststatement had been uttered; but any one who knew him well, would haveperceived that the film of uncertainty which had hitherto dimmed thebrightness of his regard was gone, as if in the other’s impressivemanner, if not in the suggestion his words had unconsciously offered,the detective had received an answer to some question which had beenpuzzling him, or laid his hand upon some clue which had till now eludedhis grasp. The inquiries which he made haste to pursue, betrayed,however, but little of the tendency of his thoughts.

“The janitor, you say, knows the combination by which the vault doorsare opened?”

“The vault doors,” emphasized Mr. Sylvester. “The safe is anothermatter; that stands inside the vault and is locked by a triplecombination which as a whole is not known to any one man in thisbuilding, not even to myself.”

“But the boxes are not kept in the safe?”

“No, they are piled up with the books in the vaults at the side of thesafe, as you can see for yourself, if you choose to join Mr. Folger.”

“Not necessary. The janitor, then, is the only man besides yourselves,who under any circ*mstances or for any reason, could get at those boxesafter business hours?”

“He is.”

“One question more. Who is the man to attend to those boxes? I mean toask, which of the men in your employ is expected to procure a box out ofthe vaults when it is called for, and put it back in its place when itsowner is through with it?”

“Hopgood usually does that business, the janitor of whom we have justbeen speaking. When he is upstairs or out of the way, any one else whomit may be convenient to call.”

“The janitor, then, has free access to the boxes at all times, night andday?”

“In one sense, yes, in another, no. Should he unlock the vaults atnight, the watchman would report upon his proceedings.”

“But there must be time between the closing and opening of the bank,when the janitor is alone with the vaults?”

“There is a space of two hours after seven in the morning, when he islikely to be the sole one in charge. The watchman goes home, and Hopgoodemploys himself in sweeping out the bank and preparing it for thebusiness of the day.”

“Are the watchman and the janitor on good terms with one another?”

“Very, I believe.”

The detective looked thoughtful. “I should like to see this Hopgood,”said he.

But just then the door opened and Mr. Folger came in, looking somewhatpale and disturbed. “We are in a difficulty,” cried he, stepping up tothe table where they sat. “I have found two of the boxes unlocked; thatbelonging to Hicks, Saltzer and Co., and another with the name ofHarrington upon it. The former has been wrenched apart, the latteropened with some sort of instrument. Would you like to see them, sir?”This to Mr. Sylvester.

With a start that gentleman rose, and as suddenly reseated himself.“Yes,” returned he, carefully avoiding his nephew’s eye; “bring themin.”

“Hicks, Saltzer and Co., is a foreign house,” remarked Mr. Stuyvesant tothe detective, “and do not send for their box once a fortnight, as Ihave heard Mr. Sylvester declare. Mr. Harrington is on an exploringexpedition and is at present in South America.” Then in lower tones,whose sternness was not unmixed with gloom, “The thief seems to haveknown what boxes to go to.”

Bertram flushed and made some passing rejoinder; Mr. Sylvester and thedetective alone remained silent.

The boxes being brought in, Mr. Gryce opened them without ceremony.Several papers met his eye in both, but as no one but the owners couldknow their rightful contents, it was of course impossible for him todetermine whether anything had been stolen from them or not.

“Send for the New York agent of Hicks, Saltzer and Co.,” came from Mr.Sylvester, in short, business-like command.

Bertram at once rose. “I will see to it,” said he. His agitation was toogreat for suppression, the expression of Mr. Stuyvesant’s eye, that inits restlessness wandered in every direction but his own, troubled himbeyond endurance. With a hasty move he left the room. The cold eye ofthe detective followed him.

“Looks bad,” came in laconic tones from the paying teller.

“I had hoped the affair begun and ended with my individual loss,”muttered Mr. Stuyvesant under his breath.

The stately president and the inscrutable detective still maintainedtheir silence.

Suddenly the latter moved. Turning towards Mr. Sylvester, he requestedhim to step with him to the window. “I want to have a look at yourseveral employees,” whispered he, as they thus withdrew. “I want to seethem without being seen by them. If you can manage to have them come inhere one by one upon some pretext or other, I can so arrange that screenunder the mantel-piece, that it shall not only hide me, but give me avery good view of their faces in the mirror overhead.”

“There will be no difficulty about summoning the men,” said Mr.Sylvester.

“And you consent to the scheme?”

“Certainly, if you think anything is to be gained by it.”

“I am sure that nothing will be lost. And sir, let the cashier bepresent if you please; and sir,” squeezing his watch chain with acomplacent air, as the other dropped his eyes, “talk to them aboutanything that you please, only let it be of a nature that willnecessitate a sentence or more in reply. I judge a man as much by hisvoice as his expression.”

Mr. Sylvester bowed, and without losing his self-command, though theshort allusion to Bertram had greatly startled him, turned back to thetable where Mr. Folger was still standing in conversation with thedirector.

“I will not detain you longer,” said he to the paying teller. “Yourdiscretion will prevent you from speaking of this matter, I trust.” Thenas the other bowed, added carelessly, “I have something to say toJessup; will you see that he steps here for a moment?”

Mr. Folger again nodded and left the room. Instantly Mr. Gryce bustledforward, and pulling the screen into the position he thought bestcalculated to answer his requirements, slid rapidly behind it. Mr.Stuyvesant looked up in surprise.

“I am going to interview the clerks for Mr. Gryce’s benefit,” exclaimedMr. Sylvester. “Will you in the meantime look over the morning paper?”

“Thank you,” returned the other, edging nervously to one side, “mynote-book will do just as well,” and sitting down at the remote end ofthe table, he took out a book from his pocket, above which he bent withvery well simulated preoccupation. Mr. Sylvester called in Bertram andthen seated himself with a hopeless and unexpectant look, which he forthe moment forgot would be reflected in the mirror before him, and socarried to the eye of the watchful detective. In another instant Jessupentered.

What was said in the short interview that followed, is unimportant. Mr.Jessup, the third teller, was one of those clear eyed, straightforwardappearing men whose countenance is its own guarantee. It was notnecessary to detain him or make him speak. The next man to come in wasWatson, and after he had gone, two or three of the clerks, and later thereceiving teller and one of the runners. All stopped long enough toinsure Mr. Gryce a good view of their faces, and from each and all didMr. Sylvester succeed in eliciting more or less conversation in responseto the questions he chose to put.

With the disappearance of the last mentioned individual, Mr. Grycepeeped from behind the screen. “A set of as honest-looking men as I wishto see!” uttered he with a frank cordiality that was scarcely reflectedin the anxious countenances about him. “No sly-boots among them; howabout the janitor, Hopgood?”

“He shall be summoned at once, if you desire it,” said Mr. Sylvester, “Ihave only delayed calling him that I might have leisure to interrogatehim with reference to his duties, and this very theft. That is if youjudge it advisable in me to tamper with the subject unassisted?”

“Your nephew can help you if necessary,” replied the imperturbabledetective. “I should like to hear what the man, Hopgood, has to say forhimself,” and he glided back into his old position.

But Mr. Sylvester had scarcely reached out his hand to ring the bell bywhich he usually summoned the janitor, when the agent of Hicks, Saltzer& Co. came in. It was an interruption that demanded instant attention.Saluting the gentleman with his usual proud reserve, he drew hisattention to the box lying upon the table.

“This is yours, I believe, sir,” said he. “It was found in our vaultsthis morning in the condition in which you now behold it, and we areanxious to know if its contents are all correct.”

“They have been handled,” returned the agent, after a careful survey ofthe various papers that filled the box, “but nothing appears to bemissing.”

Three persons at least in that room breathed more easily.

“But the truth is,” the gentleman continued, with a half smile towardsthe silent President of the bank, “there was nothing in this box thatwould have been of much use to any other parties than ourselves. Ifthere had been a bond or so here, I doubt if we should have come off sofortunately, eh? The lock has evidently been wrenched open, and that iscertainly a pretty sure sign that something is not right hereabouts.”

“Something is decidedly wrong,” came from Mr. Sylvester sternly; “butthrough whose fault we do not as yet know.” And with a few wordsexpressive of his relief at finding the other had sustained no materialloss, he allowed the agent to depart.

He had no sooner left the room than Mr. Stuyvesant rose. “Are you goingto question Hopgood now?” queried he, nervously pocketing his note-book.

“Yes sir, if you have no objections.”

The director fidgeted with his chair and finally moved towards the door.

“I think you will get along better with him alone,” said he. “He is aman who very easily gets embarrassed, and has a way of acting as if hewere afraid of me. I will just step outside while you talk to him.”

But Mr. Sylvester with a sudden dark flush on his brow, hastily stoppedhim. “I beg you will not,” said he, with a quick realization of whatHopgood might be led to say in the forthcoming interview, if he were notrestrained by the presence of the director. “Hopgood is not so afraid ofyou that he will not answer every question that is put to him withstraightforward frankness.” And he pushed up a chair, with a smile thatMr. Stuyvesant evidently found himself unable to resist. The screentrembled slightly, but none of them noticed it; Mr. Sylvester at oncerang for Hopgood.

He came in panting with his hurried descent from the fifth story, hisface flushed and his eyes rolling, but without any of the secretperturbation Bertram had observed in them on a former occasion. “Hecannot help us,” was the thought that darkened the young man’s brow ashis eyes left the janitor, and faltering towards his uncle, fell uponthe table before him.

Everything was reflected in the mirror.

“Well, Hopgood, I have a few questions to put to you this morning,” saidMr. Sylvester in a restrained, but not unkindly tone.

The worthy man bowed, bestowed a salutatory roll of his eyes on Mr.Stuyvesant, and stood deferentially waiting.

“No, he cannot help us,” was again Bertram’s thought, and again his eyesfaltered to his uncle’s face, and again fell anxiously before him.

“It has not been my habit to trouble you with inquiries about yourmanagement of matters under your charge,” continued Mr. Sylvester,stopping till the janitor’s wandering eyes settled upon his own. “Yourconduct has always been exemplary, and your attention to dutysatisfactory; but I would like to ask you to-day if you have observedanything amiss with the vaults of late? anything wrong about the boxeskept there? anything in short, that excited your suspicion or caused youto ask yourself if everything was as it should be?”

The janitor’s ruddy face grew pale, and his eye fell with startledinquiry on Mr. Harrington’s box that still occupied the centre of thetable. “No, sir,” he emphatically replied, “has anything—”

But Mr. Sylvester did not wait to be questioned. “You have attended toyour duties as promptly and conscientiously as usual; you have allowedno one to go to the vaults day or night, who had no business there? Youhave not relaxed your accustomed vigilance, or left the bank alone atany time during the hours it is under your charge?”

“No sir, not for a minute, sir; that is—” He stopped and his eyewandered towards Mr. Stuyvesant. “Never for a minute, sir,” he went on,“without I knew some one was in the bank, who was capable of lookingafter it.”

“The watchman has been at his post every night up to the usual hour?”

“Yes sir.”

“There has been no carelessness in closing the vault doors after thedeparture of the clerks?”

“No sir.”

“And no trouble,” he continued, with a shade more of dignity, possiblybecause Hopgood’s tell-tale face was beginning to show signs of anxiousconfusion, “and no trouble in opening them at the proper time eachmorning?”

“No sir.”

“One question more—”

But here Bertram was called out, and in the momentary stir occasioned byhis departure, Hopgood allowed himself to glance at the box before himmore intently than he had hitherto presumed to do. He saw it wasunlocked, and his hands began to tremble. Mr. Sylvester’s voice recalledhim to himself.

“You are a faithful man,” said that gentleman, continuing his speech ofa minute before, “and as such we are ready to acknowledge you; but themost conscientious amongst us are sometimes led into indiscretions. Nowhave you ever through carelessness or by means of any inadvertence,revealed to any one in or out of the bank, the particular combination bywhich the lock of the vault-door is at present opened?”

“No sir, indeed no; I am much too anxious, and feel my ownresponsibility entirely too much, not to preserve so important a secretwith the utmost care and jealousy.”

Mr. Sylvester’s voice, careful as he was to modulate it, showed a secretdiscouragement. “The vaults then as far as you know, are safe when oncethey are closed for the night?”

“Yes sir.” The janitor’s face expressed a slight degree of wonder, buthis voice was emphatic.

Mr. Sylvester’s eye travelled in the direction of the screen. “Verywell,” said he; and paused to reflect.

In the interim the door opened for a second time. “A gentleman to seeMr. Stuyvesant,” said a voice.

With an air of relief the director hastily rose, and before Mr.Sylvester had realized his position, left the room and closed the doorbehind him. A knell seemed to ring its note in Mr. Sylvester’s breast.The janitor, released as he supposed from all constraint, steppedhastily forward.

“That box has been found unlocked,” he cried with a wave of his handtowards the table; “some one has been to the vaults, and I—Oh, sir,” hehurriedly exclaimed, disregarding in his agitation the stern andforbidding look which Mr. Sylvester in his secret despair had made hasteto assume, “you did not want me to say anything about the time you camedown so early in the morning, and I went out and left you alone in thebank, and you went to the vaults and opened Mr. Stuyvesant’s box bymistake, with a tooth-pick as you remember?”

The mirror that looked down upon that pair, showed one very white faceat that moment, but the screen that had trembled a moment before, stoodstrangely still in the silence.

“No,” came at length from Mr. Sylvester, with a composure thatastonished himself. “I was not questioning you about matters of a yearagone. But you might have told that incident if you pleased; it was veryeasily explainable.”

“Yes sir, I know, and I beg pardon for alluding to it, but I was sotaken aback, sir, by your questions; I wanted to tell the exact truth,and I did not want to say anything that would hurt you with Mr.Stuyvesant; that is if I could help it. I hope I did right, sir,” heblundered on, conscious he was uttering words he might better have keptto himself, but too embarrassed to know how to emerge from thedifficulty into which his mingled zeal and anxiety had betrayed him. “Iwas never a good hand at answering questions, and if any thing reallyserious has happened, I shall wish you had taken me at my word anddismissed me immediately after that affair. Constantia Maria would havebeen a little worse off perhaps, but I should not be on hand to answerquestions, and—”

“Hopgood!”

The man started, eyed Mr. Sylvester’s white but powerfully controlledcountenance, seemed struck with something he saw there, and was silent.

“You make too much now, as you made too much then of a matter thathaving its sole ground in a mistake, is, as I say, easily explainable.This affair which has come up now, is not so clear. Three of the boxeshave been opened, and from one certain valuables have been taken. Canyou give me any information that will assist us in our search after theculprit?”

“No sir.” The tone was quite humble, Hopgood drew back unconsciouslytowards the door.

“As for the mistake of a year ago to which you have seen proper toallude, I shall myself take pains to inform Mr. Stuyvesant of it, sinceit has made such an impression upon you that it trammels your honestyand makes you consider it at all necessary to be anxious about it atthis time.”

And Hopgood unused to sarcasm from those lips, drew himself together,and with one more agitated look at the box on the table, sidledawkwardly from the room. Mr. Sylvester at once advanced to the screenwhich he hastily pushed aside. “Well, sir,” said he, meeting thedetective’s wavering eye and forcing him to return his look, “you havenow seen the various employees of the bank and heard most of themconverse. Is there anything more you would like to inquire into beforegiving us the opinion I requested?”

“No sir,” said the detective, coming forward, but very slowly andsomewhat hesitatingly for him. “I think I am ready to say—”

Here the door opened, and Mr. Stuyvesant returned. The detective drew abreath of relief and repeated his words with a business-like assurance.“I think I am ready to say, that from the nature of the theft and themysterious manner in which it has been perpetrated, suspicionundoubtedly points to some one connected with the bank. That is all thatyou require of me to-day?” he added, with a bow of some formality in thedirection of Mr. Sylvester.

“Yes,” was the short reply. But in an instant a change passed over thestately form of the speaker. Advancing to Mr. Gryce, he confronted himwith a countenance almost majestic in its severity, and somewhatseverely remarked, “This is a serious charge to bring against men whosecountenances you yourself have denominated as honest. Are we to believeyou have fully considered the question, and realize the importance ofwhat you say?”

“Mr. Sylvester,” replied the detective, with great self-possession andsome dignity, “a man who is brought every day of his life into positionswhere the least turning of a hair will sink a man or save him, learns toweigh his words, before he speaks even in such informal inquiries asthese.”

Mr. Sylvester bowed and turned towards Mr. Stuyvesant. “Is there anyfurther action you would like to have taken in regard to this matterto-day?” he asked, without a tremble in his voice.

With a glance at the half open box of the absent Mr. Harrington, theagitated director slowly shook his head. “We must have time to think,”said he.

Mr. Gryce at once took up his hat. “If the charge implied in my opinionstrikes you, gentlemen, as serious, you must at least acknowledge thatyour own judgment does not greatly differ from mine, or why suchunnecessary agitation in regard to a loss so petty, by a gentleman worthas we are told his millions.” And with this passing shot, to whichneither of his auditors responded, he made his final obeisance andcalmly left the room.

Mr. Sylvester and Mr. Stuyvesant slowly confronted one another.

“The man speaks the truth,” said the former. “You at least suspect someone in the bank, Mr. Stuyvesant?”

“I have no wish to,” hastily returned the other, “but facts—”

“Would facts of this nature have any weight with you against theunspotted character of a man never known by you to meditate, much lesscommit a dishonest action?”

“No; yet facts are facts, and if it is proved that some one in ouremploy has perpetrated a theft, the mind will unconsciously ask who, andremain uneasy till it is satisfied.”

“And if it never is?”

“It will always ask who, I suppose.”

Mr. Sylvester drew back. “The matter shall be pushed,” said he; “youshall be satisfied. Surveillance over each man employed in thisinstitution ought sooner or later to elicit the truth. The police shalltake it in charge.”

Mr. Stuyvesant looked uneasy. “I suppose it is only justice,” murmuredhe, “but it is a scandal I would have been glad to avoid.”

“And I, but circ*mstances admit of no other course. The innocent mustnot suffer for the guilty, even so far as an unfounded suspicion wouldlead.”

“No, no, of course not.” And the director bustled about after hisovercoat and hat.

Mr. Sylvester watched him with growing sadness. “Mr. Stuyvesant,” saidhe, as the latter stood before him ready for the street, “we have alwaysbeen on terms of friendship, and nothing but the most pleasant relationshave ever existed between us. Will you pardon me if I ask you to give meyour hand in good-day?”

The director paused, looked a trifle astonished, but held out his handnot only with cordiality but very evident affection.

“Good day,” cried he, “good-day.”

Mr. Sylvester pressed that hand, and then with a dignified bow, allowedthe director to depart. It was his last effort at composure. When thedoor closed, his head sank on his hands, and life with all its hopes andhonors, love and happiness, seemed to die within him.

He was interrupted at length by Bertram. “Well, uncle?” asked the youngman with unrestrained emotion.

“The theft has been committed by some one in this bank; so the detectivegives out, and so we are called upon to believe. Who the man is whohas caused us all this misery, neither he, nor you, nor I, nor any one,is likely to very soon determine. Meantime—”

“Well?” cried Bertram anxiously, after a moment of suspense.

“Meantime, courage!” his uncle resumed with forced cheerfulness.

But as he was leaving the bank he came up to Bertram, and laying hishand on his shoulder, quietly said:

“I want you to go immediately to my house upon leaving here. I may notbe back till midnight, and Miss Fairchild may need the comfort of yourpresence. Will you do it, Bertram?”

“Uncle! I—”

“Hush! you will comfort me best by doing what I ask. May I rely uponyou?”

“Always.”

“That is enough.”

And with just a final look, the two gentlemen parted, and the shadowwhich had rested all day upon the bank, deepened over Bertram’s headlike a pall.

It was not lifted by the sight of Hopgood stealing a few minutes latertowards the door by which his uncle had departed, his face pale, and hiseyes fixed in a stare, that bespoke some deep and moving determination.

XXXVIII.

BLUE-BEARD’S CHAMBER.

“Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings.”—Macbeth.

Clarence Ensign was not surprised at the refusal he received from Paula.He had realized from the first that the love of this beautiful womanwould be difficult to obtain, even if no rival with more powerfulinducements than his own, should chance to cross his path. She was onewho could be won to give friendship, consideration, and sympathy withoutstint; but from the very fact that she could so easily be induced togrant these, he foresaw the improbability, or at least the difficulty ofenticing her to yield more. A woman whose hand warms towards the othersex in ready friendship, is the last to succumb to the entreaties oflove. The circle of her sympathies is so large, the man must do well,who of all his sex, pierces to the sacred centre. The appearance of Mr.Sylvester on the scene, settled his fate, or so he believed; but he wastoo much in earnest to yield his hopes without another effort; so uponthe afternoon of this eventful day, he called upon Paula.

The first glimpse he obtained of her countenance, convinced him that hewas indeed too late. Not for him that anxious pallor, giving way to arosy tinge at the least sound in the streets without. Not for him thatwandering glance, burning with questions to which nothing seemed able togrant reply. The very smile with which she greeted him, was a blow; itwas so forgetful of the motive that had brought him there.

“Miss Fairchild,” he stammered, with a generous impulse to save herunnecessary pain, “you have rejected my offer and settled my doom; butlet me believe that I have not lost your regard, or that hold upon yourfriendship which it has hitherto been my pleasure to enjoy.”

She woke at once to a realization of his position. “Oh Mr. Ensign,” shemurmured, “can you doubt my regard or the truth of my friendship? It isfor me to doubt; I have caused you such pain, and as you may think, soruthlessly and with such lack of consideration. I have been peculiarlyplaced,” she blushingly proceeded. “A woman does not always know her ownheart, or if she does, sometimes hesitates to yield to its secretimpulses. I have led you astray these last few weeks, but I first wentastray myself. The real path in which I ought to tread, was only lastnight revealed to me. I can say no more, Mr. Ensign.”

“Nor is it necessary,” replied he. “You have chosen the better path, andthe better man. May life abound in joys for you, Miss Fairchild.”

She drew herself up and her hand went involuntarily to her heart. “It isnot joy I seek,” said she, “but—”

“What?” He looked at her face lit with that heavenly gleam that visitedit in rare moments of deepest emotion, and wondered.

“Joy is in seeing the one you love happy,” cried she; “earth holds nonethat is sweeter or higher.”

“Then may that be yours,” he murmured, manfully subduing the jealouspang natural under the circ*mstances. And taking the hand she held outto him, he kissed it with greater reverence and truer affection thanwhen, in the first joyous hours of their intercourse, he carried it sogallantly to his lips.

And she—oh, difference of time and feeling—did not remember as ofyore, the noble days of chivalry, though he was in this moment, so muchmore than ever the true knight and the reproachless cavalier.

For Paula’s heart was heavy. Fears too unsubstantial to be met andvanquished, had haunted her steps all day. The short note which Mr.Sylvester had written her, lay like lead upon her bosom. She longed forthe hours to fly, yet dreaded to hear the clock tick out the momentsthat possibly were destined to bring her untold suffering anddisappointment. A revelation awaiting her in Mr. Sylvester’s desk upstairs? That meant separation and farewell; for words of promise anddevotion can be spoken, and the heart that hopes, does not limit time tohours.

With Bertram’s entrance, her fears took absolute shape. Mr. Sylvesterwas not coming home to dinner. Thenceforward till seven o’clock, she satwith her hand on her heart, waiting. At the stroke of the clock, sherose, and procuring a candle from her room, went slowly up stairs.“Watch for me,” she had said to Aunt Belinda, “for I fear I shall needyour care when I come down.”

What is there about a mystery however trivial, that thrills the heartwith vague expectancy at the least lift of the concealing curtain! AsPaula paused before the door, which never to her knowledge had opened tothe passage of any other form than that of Mr. Sylvester, she wasconscious of an agitation wholly distinct from that which had hithertoafflicted her. All the past curiosity of Ona concerning this room,together with her devices for satisfying that curiosity, recurred toPaula with startling distinctness. It was as if the white hand of thatdead wife had thrust itself forth from the shadows to pull her back. Thecandle trembled in her grasp, and she unconsciously recoiled. But thenext moment the thought of Mr. Sylvester struck warmth and determinationthrough her being, and hastily thrusting the key into the lock, shepushed open the door and stepped across the threshold.

Her first movement was that of surprise. In all her dreams of thepossible appearance of this room, she had never imagined it to be likethis. Plain, rude and homely, its high walls unornamented, its flooruncovered, its furniture limited to a plain desk and two or three ratheruncomfortable-looking chairs, it struck upon her fancy with the samesense of incongruity, as might the sight of a low-eaved cottage in themidst of stately palaces and lordly pleasure-grounds. Setting down hercandle, she folded her hands to still their tremblings, and slowlylooked around her. This was the spot, then, to which he was accustomedto flee when oppressed by any care or harassed by any difficulty; thiscold, bare, uninviting apartment with its forbidding aspect unsoftenedby the tokens of a woman’s care or presence! To this room, humbler thanany in her aunt’s home in Grotewell, he had brought all his griefs, fromthe day his baby lay dead in the rooms below, to that awful hour whichsaw the wife and mother brought into his doors and laid a cold andpulseless form in the midst of his gorgeous parlors! Here he had met hisown higher impulses face to face, and wrestled with them through thewatches of the night! In this wilderness of seeming poverty, he haddreamed, perhaps, his first fond dream of her as a woman, and signedperhaps his final renunciation of her as the future companion of hislife! What did it mean? Why a spot of so much desolation in the midst ofso much that was lordly and luxurious? Her fears might give her apossible interpretation, but she would not listen to fears. Only hiswords should instruct her. Going to the desk, she opened it. A sealedenvelope addressed to herself, immediately met her eyes. Taking it outwith a slow and reverent touch, she began to read the long and closelywritten letter which it contained.

And the little candle burned on, shedding its rays over her bended headand upon the dismal walls about her, with a persistency that seemed tobring out, as in letters of fire, the hidden history of long ago, withits vanished days and its forgotten midnights.

XXXIX.

FROM A. TO Z.

“A naked human heart.”—Young.

“My Beloved Child:

“So may I call you in this the final hour of our separation, but neveragain, dear one, never again. When I said to you, just twenty-four hoursago, that my sin was buried and my future was clear, I spake as menspeak who forget the justice of God and dream only of his mercy. Anhour’s time convinced me that an evil deed once perpetrated by a man, isnever buried so that its ghost will not rise. Do as we will, repent aswe may, the shadowy phantom of a stained and unrighteous youth is neverlaid; nor is a man justified in believing it so, till death has closedhis eyes, and fame written its epitaph upon his tomb.

“Paula, I am at this hour wandering in search of the being who holds thesecret of my life and who will to-morrow blazon it before all the world.It is with no hope I seek him. God has not brought me to this pass, torelease me at last, from shame and disgrace. Suffering and the loss ofall my sad heart cherished, wait at my gates. Only one boon remains, andthat is, your sympathy and the consolation of your regard. These, thoughbestowed as friends bestow them, are very precious to me; I cannot seethem go, and that they may not, I tell you the full story of my life.

“My youth was happy—my early youth, I mean. Bertram’s father was a dearbrother to me, and my mother a watchful guardian and a tender friend. Atfifteen, I entered a bank, the small bank in Grotewell, which you oughtto remember. From the lowest position in it, I gradually worked my wayup till I occupied the cashier’s place; and was just congratulatingmyself upon my prospects, when Ona Delafield returned fromboarding-school, a young lady.

“Paula, there is a fascination, which some men who have known nothingdeeper and higher, call love. I, who in those days had cherished but fewthoughts beyond the ordinary reach of a narrow and somewhat selfishbusiness mind, imagined that the well-spring of all romance had bubbledup within me, when my eyes first fell upon this regal blonde, with hersleepy, inscrutable eyes and bewildering smile. Ulysses within sound ofthe siren’s voice, was nothing to it. He had been warned of his dangerand had only his own curiosity to combat, while I was not even aware ofmy peril, and floated within reach of this woman’s power, without makingan effort to escape. She was so subtle in her influence, Paula; socareless in the very exercise of her sovereignty. She never seemed tocommand; yet men and women obeyed her. Peculiarities which mar thematron, are often graces in a young, unmarried girl, whose thoughts area mystery, and whose emotions an untried field. I believed I had foundthe queen of all beauty and when in an unguarded hour she betrayed herfirst appreciation of my devotion, I seemed to burst into a Paradise ofdelights, where every step I took, only the more intoxicated andbewildered me. My first realization of the sensuous and earthlycharacter of my happiness came with the glimpse of your child-face onthat never-to-be-forgotten day when we met beside the river. Like a starseen above the glare of a conflagration, the pure spirit that informedyour glance, flashed on my burning soul, and for a moment I knew that inyou budded the kind of woman-nature which it befitted a man to seek;that in the hands of such a one as you would make, should he trust hishonor and bequeath his happiness. But when did a lover ever break thebonds that imprisoned his fancy, at the inspiration of a passing voice.I went back to Ona and forgot the child by the river.

“Paula, I have no time to utter regrets. This is a hard plain tale whichI have to relate; but if you love me still—if, as I have sometimesimagined, you have always loved me—think what my life had been if I hadheeded the warning which God vouchsafed me on that day, and contrast itwith what it is, and what it must be.

“I went back to Ona, then, and the hold which she had upon me from thefirst, took form and shape. As well as she could love any one, she lovedme, and though she had offers from one or two more advantageous sources,she finally decided that she would risk the future and accept me, if herfather consented to the alliance. You who are the niece of the man ofwhom I must now speak, may or may not know what that meant. I doubt ifyou do; he left Grotewell while you were a child, and any gossipconcerning him must ever fall short of the real truth. Enough, then,that it meant, if Jacob Delafield could see in my future any promises ofsuccess sufficient to warrant him in accepting me as his son-in-law, nowoman living ought to hesitate to trust me with her hand. He was theSquire of the town, and as such entitled to respect, but he was alsosomething more, as you will presently discover. His answer to my pleawas:

“‘Well, how much money have you to show?’

“Now I had none. My salary as cashier of a small country bank was notlarge, and my brother’s prolonged sickness and subsequent death,together with my own somewhat luxurious habits, had utterly exhaustedit. I told him so, but added that I had, somewhere up among the hills,an old maiden aunt who had promised me five thousand dollars at herdeath; and that as she was very ill at that time—hopelessly so, herneighbors thought—in a few weeks I should doubtless be able to satisfyhim with the sight of a sum sufficient to start us in housekeeping, ifno more.

“He nodded at this, but gave me no distinct reply. ‘Let us wait,’ saidhe.

“But youth is not inclined to wait. I considered my cause as good aswon, and began to make all my preparations accordingly. With a feverishimpatience which is no sign of true love, I watched the days go by, andwaited for, if I did not anticipate, the death which I fondly imaginedwould make all clear. At last it came, and I went again into Mr.Delafield’s presence.

“‘My aunt has just died,’ I announced, and stood waiting for the short,concise,

“‘Go ahead, then, my boy!’ which I certainly expected.

“Instead of that, he gave me a queer inexplicable smile, and merelysaid, ‘I want to see the greenbacks, my lad. No color so good as green,not even the black upon white of ‘I promise to pay.’

“I went back to my desk in the bank, chagrined. Ona had told me a fewdays before that she was tired of waiting, that the young doctor fromthe next town was very assiduous in his attentions, and as there was noquestion as to his ability to support a wife, why—she did not finishher sentence, but the toss of her head and her careless tone at parting,were enough to inflame the jealousy of a less easily aroused nature thanmine. I felt that I was in hourly danger of losing her, and all becauseI could not satisfy her father with a sight of the few thousands whichwere so soon to be mine.

“The reading of my aunt’s will, which confirmed my hopes, did notgreatly improve matters. ‘I want to see the money,’ the old gentlemanrepeated; and I was forced to wait the action of the law and thesettlement of the estate. It took longer than even he foresaw. Weekswent by and my poor little five thousand seemed as far from my controlas on the day the will was read. There was some trouble, I was not toldwhat, that made it seem improbable that I should reap the benefit of mylegacy for some time. Meanwhile Ona accepted the attentions of the youngdoctor, and my chances of winning her, dwindled rapidly day by day. Ibecame morbidly eager and insanely jealous. Instead of pursuing myadvantage—for I undoubtedly possessed one in her own secret inclinationtowards me—I stood off, and let my rival work his way into heraffections unhindered. I was too sore to interrupt his play, as I calledit, and too afraid of myself to actually confront him in her presence.But the sight of them riding together one day, was more than I couldendure even in my spirit of unresistance. ‘He shall not have her,’ Icried, and cast about in my mind how to bring my own matters into suchshape as to satisfy her father and so win her own consent to my suit. Myfirst thought was to borrow the money, but that was impracticable in atown where each man’s affairs are known to his neighbor. My next was tohurry up the settlement of the estate by appeal to my lawyer. The resultof the latter course was a letter of many promises, in the midst ofwhich a great temptation assailed me.

“Colonel Japha, of whose history you have heard more or less trueaccounts, was at that time living in the old mansion you took such painsto point out to me in that walk we took together in Grotewell. He hadsuffered a great anguish in the flight and degradation of his onlydaughter, and though the real facts connected with her departure werenot known in the village, he was so overcome with shame, and soshattered in health, he lived in the utmost seclusion, opening his doorsto but few visitors, among whom I, for some unexplained reason, was one.He used to say he liked me and saw in me the makings of a considerableman; and I, because he was Colonel Japha and a strong spirit, returnedhis appreciation, and spent many of my bitter and unhappy hours in hispresence. It was upon one of these occasions the temptation came towhich I have just alluded.

“I had been talking about his health and the advisability of his takinga journey, when he suddenly rose and said, ‘Come with me to my study.’

“I of course went. The first thing I saw upon entering was a trunklocked and strapped. ‘I am going to Europe to-morrow,’ said he, ‘to begone six months.’

“I was astonished, for in that town no one presumed to do anything ofimportance without consulting his neighbors; but I merely bowed mycongratulations, and waited for him to speak, for I saw he had somethingon his mind that he wished to say. At last it came out. He had adaughter, he said, a daughter who had disgraced him and whom he hadforbidden his house. She was not worthy of his consideration, yet hecould not help but remember her, and while he never desired to see herenter his doors, it was not his wish that she should suffer want. He hada little money which he had laid by and which he wished to put into myhands for her use, provided anything should happen to him during hisabsence. ‘She is a wanderer now,’ he cried, ‘but she may one day comeback, and then if I am dead and gone, you may give it to her.’ I was notto enter it in the bank under his name, but regard it as a personaltrust to be used only under such circ*mstances as he mentioned.

“The joy with which I listened to this proposal amounted almost toecstacy when he went to his desk and brought out five one thousanddollar bills and laid them in my hand. ‘It is not much,’ said he, ‘butit will save her from worse degradation if she chooses to avail herselfof it.’

“Not much; oh no, not much, but just the sum that would raise me out ofthe pit of despondency into which I had fallen, and give me my bride, achance in the world, and last, but not least, revenge on the rival I hadnow learned to hate. I was obliged to give the colonel a paperacknowledging the trust, but that was no hindrance. I did not mean touse the money, only to show it; and long before the colonel couldreturn, my own five thousand would be in my hands—and so, and so, andso, as the devil reasons and young infatuated ears listen.

“Colonel Japha thought I was an honest man, nor did I consider myselfotherwise at that time. It was a chance for clever action; a bit ofopportune luck that it would be madness to discard. On the day thevessel sailed which carried Colonel Japha out of the country, I went toMr. Delafield and showed him the five crisp bank notes that representedas it were by proxy, the fortune I so speedily expected to inherit. ‘Youhave wanted to see five thousand dollars in my hand,’ said I; ‘therethey are.’

“His look of amazement was peculiar and ought to have given me warning;but I was blinded by my infatuation and thought it no more than thenatural surprise incident to the occasion. ‘I have been made to wait along time for your consent to my suit,’ said I; ‘may I hope that youwill now give me leave to press my claims upon your daughter?’

“He did not answer at once, but smiled, eying meanwhile the notes in myhand with a fascinated gaze which instinctively warned me to return themto my pocket. But I no sooner made a move indicative of that resolve,than he thrust out his cold slim hand and prevented me. ‘Let me see them,’ cried he.

“There was no reason for me to refuse so simple a request to one in Mr.Delafield’s position, and though I had rather he had not asked for thenotes, I handed them over. He at once seemed to grow taller. ‘So this isyour start off in life,’ exclaimed he.

“I bowed, and he let his eyes roam for a moment to my face. ‘Many a manwould be glad of worse,’ smiled he; then suavely, ‘you shall have mydaughter, sir.’

“I must have turned white in my relief, for he threw his head back andlaughed in a low unmusical way that at any other time would haveaffected me unpleasantly. But my only thought then, was to get the moneyback and rush with my new hopes into the room from which came the lowceaseless hum of his daughter’s voice. But at the first movement of myhand towards him, he assumed a mysterious air, and closing his fingersover the notes, said:

“‘These are yours, to do what you wish with, I suppose?’

“I may have blushed, but if I did, he took no notice. ‘What I wish to dowith them,’ returned I, ‘is to shut them up in the bank for the present,at least till Ona is my wife.’

“‘Oh no, no, no, you do not,’ came in easy, almost wheedling tones fromthe man before me. ‘You want to put them where they will doublethemselves in two months.’ And before I could realize to what he wastempting me, he had me down before his desk, showing me letters,documents, etc., of a certain scheme into which if a man should put adollar to-day, it would ‘come out three and no mistake, before the yearwas out. It is a chance in a thousand,’ said he; ‘if I had half amillion I would invest it in this enterprise to-day. If you will listento me and put your money in there, you will be a rich man before tenyears have passed over your head.’

“I was dazzled. I knew enough of such matters to see that it was neithera hoax nor a chimera. He did have a good thing, and if the five thousanddollars had been my own—But I soon came to consider the questionwithout that conditional. He was so specious in his manner of puttingthe affair before me, so masterful in the way he held on to the money,he gave me no time to think. ‘Say the word,’ cried he, ‘and in twomonths I bring you back ten thousand for your five. Only two months,’ herepeated, and then slowly, ‘Ona was born for luxury.’

“Paula, you cannot realize what that temptation was. To amass wealth hadnever been my ambition before, but now everything seemed to urge it uponme. Dreams of unimagined luxury came to my mind as these words wereuttered. A vision of Ona clad in garments worthy of her beauty floatedbefore my eyes; the humble home I had hitherto pictured for myself,broadened and towered away into a palace; I beheld myself honored andaccepted as the nabob of the town. I caught a glimpse of a new paradise,and hesitated to shut down the gate upon it. ‘I will think of it,’ saidI, and went into the other room to speak to Ona.

“Ah, if some angel had met me on the threshold! If my mother’s spirit orthe thought of your dear face could have risen before me then andstopped me! Dizzy, intoxicated with love and ambition, I crossed theroom to where she sat reeling off a skein of blue silk with hands thatwere whiter than alabaster. Kneeling down by her side, I caught thosefair hands in mine.

“‘Ona,’ I cried, ‘will you marry me? Your father has given his consent,and we shall be very happy.’

“She bestowed upon me a little pout, and half mockingly, half earnestlyinquired, ‘What kind of a house are you going to put me in? I cannotlive in a cottage.’

“‘I will put you in a palace,’ I whispered, ‘if you will only say thatyou will be mine.’

“‘A palace! Oh, I don’t expect palaces; a house like the Japhas’ woulddo. Not but what I should feel at home in a palace,’ she added, liftingher lordly head and looking beautiful enough to grace a sceptre. Then,archly for her, ‘And papa has given his consent?’

“‘Yes,’ I ardently cried.

“‘Then Dr. Burton might as well go,’ she answered. ‘I will trust myfather’s judgment, and take the palace—when it comes.’

“After that, it was impossible to disappoint her.

“Paula, in stating all this, I have purposely confined myself torelating bare facts. You must see us as we were. The glamour which anunreasoning passion casts over even a dishonest act, if performed forthe sake of winning a beautiful woman, is no excuse in my own soul forthe evil to which I succumbed that day, nor shall it seem so to you.Bare, hard, stern, the fact confronts me from the past, that at thefirst call of temptation I fell; and with this blot on my character, youwill have to consider me—unhappy being that I am!

“I did not realize then, however, all that I had done. The operationentered into by Mr. Delafield prospered, and in two months I had, as hepredicted, ten thousand dollars instead of five, in my possession.Besides, I had just married Ona, and for awhile life was a dream ofdelight and luxury. But there came a day when I awoke to an insight ofthe peril I had escaped by a mere chance of the die. The money which Ihad expected from my aunt’s will, turned out to be amongst certain fundsthat had been risked in speculation by some agent during her sickness,and irrecoverably lost. The expression of her good-will was all thatever came to me of the legacy upon which I had so confidently relied.

“I was sitting with my young wife in the pretty parlor of our new home,when the letter came from my lawyer announcing this fact, and I nevercan make you understand what effect it had upon me. The very wallsseemed to shrivel up into the dimensions of a prison’s cell; the facethat only an hour before had possessed every conceivable charm for me,shone on my changed vision with the allurement, but also with theunreality of a will-o’-the-wisp. All that might have happened if theluck, instead of being in my favor, had turned against me, crushed likea thunderbolt upon my head, and I rose up and left the presence of myyoung wife, with the knowledge at my heart that I was no more nor lessthan a thief in the eyes of God, if not in that of my fellow-men; a basethief, who if he did not meet his fit punishment, was only saved from itby fortuitous circ*mstances and the ignorance of those he had been sonear despoiling.

“The bitterness of that hour never passed away. The streets in which Ihad been raised, the house which had been the scene of my temptation,Mr. Delafield’s face, and my own home, all became unendurable to me. Ifelt as if each man I met must know what I had done; and secret as thetransaction had been, it was long before I could enter the bank withouta tremor of apprehension lest I should hear from some quarter, that myservices there would no longer be required. The only comfort I receivedwas in the thought that Ona did not know at what a cost her hand hadbeen obtained. I was still under the glamour of her languid smiles andcountless graces, and was fain to believe that notwithstanding a certainunresponsiveness and coldness in her nature, her love would yet prove acompensation for the remorse that I secretly suffered.

“My distaste for Grotewell culminated. It was too small for me. Themoney I had acquired through the use of my neighbor’s funds burned in mypocket. I determined to move to New York, and with the few thousands Ipossessed, venture upon other speculations. But this time in allhonesty. Yes, I swore it before God and my own soul, that never againwould I run a risk similar to that from which I had just escaped. Iwould profit by the money I had acquired, oh yes, but henceforth all myoperations should be legitimate and honorable. My wife, who was fastdeveloping a taste for ease and splendor, seconded my plans withsomething like fervor, while Mr. Delafield actually went so far as tourge my departure. ‘You are bound to make a rich man,’ said he ‘and mustgo where great fortunes are to be secured.’ He never asked me whatbecame of the five thousand dollars I returned to Colonel Japha upon hisarrival from Europe.

“So I came to New York.

“Paula, the man who loses at the outset of a doubtful game, isfortunate. I did not lose, I won. As if in that first dishonest deed ofmine I had summoned to my side the aid of evil influences, each andevery operation into which I entered prospered. It seemed as if I couldnot make a mistake; money flowed towards me from all quarters; powerfollowed, and I found myself one of the most successful and one of themost unhappy men in New York. There are some things of which a mancannot write even to the one dear heart he most cherishes and adores.You have lived in my home, and will acquit me from saying much about herwho, with all her faults and her omissions, was ever kind to you. Butsome things I must repeat in order to make intelligible to you thechange which gradually took place within me as the years advanced.Beauty, while it wins the lover, can never of itself hold the heart of ahusband who possesses aspirations beyond that which passion supplies.Reckless, worldly and narrow-minded as I had been before the commissionof that deed which embittered my life, I had become by the very shockthat followed the realization of my wrong-doing, a hungry-hearted,eager-minded and melancholy-spirited man, asking but one boon inrecompense for my secret remorse, and that was domestic happiness andthe sympathetic affection of wife and children. Woman, according to mybelief, was born to be chiefly and above all, the consoler. What a manmissed in the outside world, he was to find treasured at home. What aman lacked in his own nature, he was to discover in the delicate andsublimated one of his wife. Beautiful dream, which my life was notdestined to see realized!

“The birth of my only child was my first great consolation. With theopening of her blue eyes upon my face, a well-spring deep as myunfathomable longing, bubbled up within my breast. Alas, that veryconsolation brought a hideous grief; the mother did not love her child;and another strand of the regard with which I still endeavored tosurround the wife of my youth, parted and floated away out of sight. Totake my little one in my arms, to feel her delicate cheek pressyearningly to mine, to behold her sweet infantile soul develop itselfbefore my eyes, and yet to realize that that soul would never know theguidance or sympathy of a mother, was to me at once rapture and anguish.I sometimes forgot to follow up a fortunate speculation, in myindulgence of these feelings. I was passionately the father as I mighthave been passionately the husband and the friend. Geraldine died; howand with what attendant circ*mstances of pain and regret, I will not,dare not state. The blow struck to the core of my being. I stood shakenbefore God. The past, with its one grim remembrance—a remembrance thatin the tide of business successes and the engrossing affection which hadof late absorbed me, had been well-nigh swamped from sight—rose beforeme like an accusing spirit. I had sinned, and I had been punished; I hadsown, and I had reaped.

“More than that, I was sinning still. My very enjoyment of the positionI had so doubtfully acquired, was unworthy of me. My very wealth was adisgrace. Had it not all been built upon another man’s means? Could thevery house I lived in be said to be my own, while a Japha existed inwant? In the eyes of the world, perhaps, yes; in my own eyes, no. Ibecame morbid on the subject. I asked myself what I could do to escapethe sense of obligation that overwhelmed me. The few sums with which Ihad been secretly enabled to provide Colonel Japha during the final daysof his ruined and impoverished life, were not sufficient. I desired towipe out the past by some large and munificent return. Had the colonelbeen living, I should have gone to him, told him my tale and offered himthe half of my fortune; but his death cut off all hopes of my rightingmyself in that way. Only his daughter remained, the poor, lost,reprobated being, whom he was willing to curse, but whom he could notbear to believe suffering. I determined that the debt due to my ownpeace of mind should be paid to her. But how? Where was I to find thiswanderer? How was I to let her know that a comfortable living awaitedher if she would only return to her friends and home? Consulting with abusiness associate, he advised me to advertise. I did so, but withoutsuccess. I next resorted to the detectives, but all without avail.Jacqueline Japha was not to be found.

“But I did not relinquish my resolve. Deliberately investing a hundredthousand dollars in Government bonds, I put them aside for her. Theywere to be no longer mine. I gave them to her and to her heirs ascompletely and irrevocably, I believed, as if I had laid them in herhand and seen her depart with them. I even inserted them as a legacy toher in my will. It was a clear and definite arrangement between me andmy own soul; and after I had made it and given orders to my lawyer inGrotewell to acquaint me if he ever received the least news ofJacqueline Japha, I slept in peace.

“Of the years that followed I have small need to speak. They were theyears that preceded your coming, my Paula, and their story is best toldby what I was when we met again, and you made me know the sweet thingsof life by entering into my home. Woman as a thoughtful, tender,elevated being had been so long unknown to me! The beauty of thefeminine soul with its faith fixed upon high ideals, was one beforewhich I had ever been ready to bow. All that I had missed in my youth,all that had failed me in my maturing manhood, seemed to flow back uponme like a river. I bathed in the sunshine of your pure spirit andimagined that the evil days were over and peace come at last.

“A rude and bitter shock awoke me. Ona’s father, who had followed us toNew York, and of whose somewhat checkered career during the past fewyears, I have purposely forborne to speak, had not been above appealingto us for assistance at such times as his frequently unfortunateinvestments left him in a state of necessity. These appeals were usuallymade to Ona, and in a quiet way; but one day he met me on the street—itwas during the second winter you spent in my home—and dragging me intoa restaurant down town, began a long tale, to the effect that he wanteda few thousands from me to put into a certain investment, which ifsomewhat shady in its character, was very promising as to its results;and gave as a reason why he applied to me for the money, that he knew Ihad not been above doing a wrongful act once, in order to compass myends, and therefore would not be liable to hesitate now.

“It was the thunderbolt of my life. My sin was not then buried. It hadbeen known to this man from the start. With an insight for which I hadnever given him credit, he had read my countenance in the days of myearly temptation, and guessed, if he did not know, where the fivethousand dollars came from with which I began my career as speculator.Worse than that, he had led me on to the act by which he now sought tohold me. Having been the secret agent in losing my aunt’s money, he knewat the time that I was cherishing empty hopes as regarded a legacy fromher, yet he let me dally with my expectations, and ensnare myself withhis daughter’s fascinations, till driven mad by disappointment andlonging, I was ready to resort to any means to gain my purpose. It was afrightful revelation to come to me in days when, if I were not athoroughly honest man, I had at least acquired a deep and ineradicabledread of dishonor. Answering him I know not how, but in a way that whileit repudiated his proposition, unfortunately acknowledged the truth ofthe suppositions upon which it was founded, I left him and went home, acrushed and disheartened man. Life which had been so long in acquiringcheerful hues, was sunk again in darkness; and for days I could not bearthe sight of your innocent face, or the sound of your pure voice, or thetokens of your tender and unsuspecting presence in my home. But soon thevery natural thought came to comfort me, that the sin I so deplored wasas much dead now, as it was before I learned the fact of this man’sknowledge of it. That having repented and put it away, I was as free toaccept your gentle offices and the regard of all true men, as ever I hadbeen; and beguiled by this plausible consideration, I turned again to myone visible source of consolation, and in the diversion it offered, letthe remembrance of this last bitter experience pass slowly from my mind.The fact that Mr. Delafield left town shortly after his interview withme, and smitten by shame perhaps, forbore to acquaint us with hiswhereabouts or afflict us with his letters, may have aided me in thisstrange forgetfulness.

“But other and sharper trials were in store; trials that were to test meas a man, and as it proved, find me lacking just where I thought I wasstrongest. Paula, that saying of the Bible, ‘Let him that thinketh hestandeth take heed lest he fall,’ might have been written over the doorof my house on that day, ten months ago, when we two stood by thehearthstone and talked of the temptations that beset humanity, and thecharity we should show to such as succumb to them. Before the day hadwaned, my own hour had come; and not all the experience of my life, notall the resolves, hopes, fears of my later years, not even theremembrance of your sweet trust and your natural recoil from evil, weresufficient to save me. The blow came so suddenly! the call for actionwas so peremptory! One moment I stood before the world, rich, powerful,honored, and beloved; the next, I saw myself threatened with a loss thatundermined my whole position, and with it the very consideration thatmade me what I was. But I must explain.

“When I entered the Madison Bank as President, I gave up in deference tothe wishes of Mr. Stuyvesant all open speculation in Wall Street. But awife and home such as I then had, are not to be supported on any pettyincome; and when shortly after your entrance into my home, theopportunity presented itself of investing in a particularly promisingsilver mine out West, I could not resist the temptation; regarding theaffair as legitimate, and the hazard, if such it were, one that I wasamply able to bear. But like most enterprises of the kind, one dollardrew another after it, and I soon found that to make available what Ihad already invested, I was obliged to add to it more and more of myavailable funds, until—to make myself as intelligible to you as Ican—it had absorbed not only all that had remained to me after mysomewhat liberal purchase of the Madison Bank stock, but all I couldraise on a pledge of the stock itself. But there was nothing in this toalarm me. I had a man at the mine devoted to my interests; and as thepresent yield was excellent, and the future of more promise still, Iwent on my way with no special anxiety. But who can trust a silver mine?At the very point where we expected the greatest result, the veinsuddenly gave out, and nothing prevented the stock from falling utterlyflat on the market, but the discretion of my agent, who kept the fact asecret, while he quietly went about getting another portion of the mineinto working order. He was fast succeeding in this, and affairs werelooking daily more promising, when suddenly an intimation received by mein a bit of conversation casually overheard at that reception weattended together, convinced me that the secret was transpiring, andthat if great care were not taken, we should be swamped before we couldget things into working trim again. Filled with this anxiety, I wasabout to leave the building, in order to telegraph to my agent, when tomy great surprise the card of that very person was brought in to me,together with a request for an immediate interview. You remember it,Paula, and how I went out to see him; but what you did not know then,and what I find some difficulty in relating now, is that his message tome was one of total ruin unless I could manage to give into his hand,for immediate use, the sum of a hundred thousand dollars.

“The facts making this demand necessary were not what you may have beenled to expect. They had little or nothing to do with the new operations,which were progressing successfully and with every promise of animmediate return, but arose entirely out of a law-suit then in the handsof a Colorado judge for decision, and which, though it involvedwell-nigh the whole interest of the mine, had never till this hour givenme the least uneasiness, my lawyers having always assured me of myultimate success. But it seems that notwithstanding all this, thedecision was to be rendered in favor of the other party. My agent, whowas a man to be trusted in these matters, averred that five days before,he had learned from most authentic sources what the decision was likelyto be. That the judge’s opinion had been seen—he did not tell me how,he dared not, nor did I presume to question, but I have since learnedthat not only had the copyist employed by the judge turned traitor, butthat my own agent had been anything but scrupulous in the use he hadmade of a willing and corruptible instrument—and that if I wanted tosave myself and the others connected with me from total and irremediableloss, I must compromise with the other parties at once, who not beingadvised of the true state of affairs, and having but little faith intheir own case, had long ago expressed their willingness to accept thesum of a hundred thousand dollars as a final settlement of thecontroversy. My agent, if none too nice in his ideas of right and wrong,was, as I have intimated, not the man to make a mistake; and when to myquestion as to how long a time he would give me to look around among myfriends and raise the required sum, he replied, ‘Ten hours and no more,’I realized my position, and the urgent necessity for immediate action.

“The remainder of the night is a dream to me. There was but one sourcefrom which I could hope in the present condition of my affairs, toprocure a hundred thousand dollars; and that was from the box where Ihad stowed away the bonds destined for the use of the Japha heirs. Toborrow was impossible, even if I had been in possession of propersecurities to give. I was considered as having relinquished speculationand dared not risk the friendship of Mr. Stuyvesant by a public betrayalof my necessity. The Japha bonds or my own fortune must go, and it onlyremained with me to determine which.

“Paula, nothing but the ingrained principle of a lifetime, the habit ofdoing the honest thing without thought or hesitation, saves a man at anhour like that. Strong as I believed myself to be in the determinationnever again to flaw my manhood by the least action unworthy of myposition as the guardian of trusts, earnest as I was in my recoil fromevil, and sincere as I may have been in my admiration of and desire forthe good, I no sooner saw myself tottering between ruin and a compromisewith conscience, than I hesitated—hesitated with you under my roof, andwith the words we had been speaking still ringing in my ears. Ona’sinfluence, for all the trials of our married life, was still too strongupon me. To think of her as deprived of the splendor which was her life,daunted my very soul. I dared not contemplate a future in which she muststand denuded of everything which made existence dear to her; yet howcould I do the evil thing I contemplated, even to save her and preservemy own position! For—and you must understand this—I regarded anyappropriation of these funds I had delegated to the use of the Japhas,as a fresh and veritable abuse of trust. They were not mine. I had giventhem away. Unknown to any one but my own soul and God, I had deeded themto a special purpose, and to risk them as I now proposed doing, was anact that carried me back to the days of my former delinquency, and madethe repentance of the last few years the merest mockery. What if I mightrecover them hereafter and restore them to their place; the chances infavor of their utter loss were also possible, and honesty deals not withchances. I suffered so, I had a momentary temptation towards suicide;but suddenly, in the midst of the struggle, came the thought thatperhaps in my estimate of Ona I had committed a gross injustice, thatwhile she loved splendor seemingly more than any woman I had ever known,she might be as far from wishing me to retain her in it at the price ofmy own self-respect, as the most honest-hearted wife in the world; andstruck by the hope, I left my agent at a hotel and hurried home throughthe early morning to her side. She Was asleep, of course, but I wakenedher. It was dark and she had a right to be fretful, but when I whisperedin her ear, ‘Get up and listen to me, for our fortune is at stake,’ sheat once rose and having risen, was her clearest, coldest, mostimplacable self. Paula, I told her my story, my whole story as I havetold it to you here. I dropped no thread, I smoothed over no offence.Torturing as it was to my pride, I laid bare my soul before her, andthen in a burst of appeal such as I hope never to be obliged to make useof again, asked her as she was a woman and a wife, to save me in thishour of my temptation.

“Paula, she refused. More than that, she expressed the bitterest scornof my mawkish conscientiousness, as she called it. That I shouldconsider myself as owing anything to the detestable wretch who was theonly representative of the Japhas, was bad enough, but that I should goon treasuring the money that would save us, was disgraceful if notworse, and betrayed a weakness of mind for which she had never given mecredit.

“‘But Ona,’ I cried, ‘if it is a weakness of mind, it is also anequivalent to my consciousness of right living. Would you have mesacrifice that?’

“‘I would have you sacrifice anything necessary to preserve us in ourposition,’ said she; and I stood aghast before an unscrupulousnessgreater than any I had hitherto been called upon to face.

“‘Ona,’ repeated I, for her look was cold, ‘do you realize what I havebeen telling you? Most wives would shudder when informed that theirhusbands had perpetrated a dishonest act in order to win them.’

“A thin strange smile heralded her reply. ‘Most wives would,’ returnedshe, ‘but most wives are ignorant. Did you suppose I did not know whatit cost you to marry me? Papa took care I should miss no knowledge thatmight be useful to me.’

“‘And you married me knowing what I had done!’ exclaimed I, withincredulous dismay.

“‘I married you, knowing you were too clever, or believing you to be tooclever, to run such a risk again.’

“I can say no more concerning that hour. With a horror for this womansuch as I had never before experienced for living creature, I rushed outof her presence, loathing the air she breathed, yet resolved to do herbidding. Can you understand a man hating a woman, yet obeying her;despising her, yet yielding? I cannot, now, but that day there seemedno alternative. Either I must kill myself or follow her wishes. I choseto do the latter, forgetting that God can kill, and that, too, whom andwhen He pleases.

“Going down to the bank, I procured the bonds from my box in the safe. Ifelt like a thief, and the manner in which it was done was unwittinglysuggestive of crime, but with that and the position in which I havesince found myself placed by this very action, I need not cumber mypresent narrative. Handing the bonds to my agent with orders to sellthem to the best advantage, I took a short walk to quiet my nerves andrealize what I had done, and then went home.

“Paula, had God in his righteous anger seen fit to strike me down thatday, it would have been no more than my due and aroused in me, perhaps,no more than a natural repentence. But when I saw her for whose sake Ihad ostensibly committed this fresh abuse of trust, lying cold and deadbefore me, the sword of the Almighty pierced me to the soul, and I fellprostrate beneath a remorse to which any regret I had hithertoexperienced, was as the playing of a child with shadows. Had I by thelosing of my right arm been able to recall my action, I would have doneit; indeed I made an effort to recover myself; had my agent followed upwith an order to return me the bonds I had given him, but it was toolate, the compromise had already been effected by telegraph and themoney was out of our hands. The deed was done and I had made myselfunworthy of your presence and your smile at the very hour when bothwould have been inestimable to me. You remember those days; remember ourfarewell. Let me believe you do not blame me now for what must haveseemed harsh and unnecessary to you then.

“There is but little more to write, but in that little is compressed thepassion, longing, hope and despair of a lifetime. When I told you as Idid a few hours ago that my sin was dead and its consequences at an end,I repeat that I fully and truly believed it. The hundred thousanddollars I had sent West, had been used to advantage, and only day beforeyesterday I was enabled to sell out my share in the mine, for a largesum that leaves me free and unembarrassed, to make the fortune of morethan one Japha, should God ever see fit to send them across my pathway.More than that, Mr. Delafield, of whose discretion I had sometimes hadmy fears, was dead, having perished of a fever some months before in SanFrancisco; and of all men living, there were none as I believed, whoknew anything to the discredit of my name. I was clear, or so I thought,in fortune and in fame; and being so, dreamed of taking to my empty andyearning arms, the loveliest and the purest of mortal women. But Godwatched over you and prevented an act whose consequences might have beenso cruel. In an hour, Paula, in an hour, I had learned that the foulthing was not dead, that a witness had picked up the words I had allowedto fall in my interview with my father-in-law in the restaurant twoyears before; an unscrupulous witness who had been on my track eversince, and who now in his eagerness for a victim, had by mistake laidhis clutch upon our Bertram. Yes, owing to the similarity of our voicesand the fact that we both make use of a certain tell-tale word, thispatient and upright nephew of mine stands at this moment under thecharge of having acknowledged in the hearing of this person, to thecommittal of an act of dishonesty in the past. A foolish charge you willsay, and one easily refuted. Alas, a fresh act of dishonesty latelyperpetrated in the bank, complicates matters. A theft has been committedon some of Mr. Stuyvesant’s effects, and that, too, under circ*mstancesthat involuntarily arouse suspicion against some one of the bankofficials; and Bertram, if not sustained in his reputation, must sufferfrom the doubts which naturally have arisen in Mr. Stuyvesant’s breast.The story which this man could tell, must of course shake the faith ofany one in the reputation of him against whom it is directed, and theman intends to repeat his story, and that, too, in the very ears of himupon whose favor Bertram depends for his life’s happiness and thewinning of the woman he adores. I adore you, Paula, but I cannot claspyou to my heart across another sin. If the detectives whom we shall callin to-morrow, cannot exonerate those connected with the bank from thetheft lately committed there—and the fact that you have been allowed toread this letter, prove they have not—I must do what I can to relieveBertram from his painful position, by taking upon myself the onus ofthat past transgression which of right belongs to my account; and thisonce done, let the result be for good or ill, any bond between you andme is cut loose forever. I have not learned to love at this late hour,to wrong the precious thing I cherish. Death as it is to me to saygood-bye to the one last gleam of heavenly light that has shot across mydarkened way, it must be done, dear heart, if only to hold myself worthyof the tender and generous love you have designed to bestow upon me.Bertram, who is all generosity, may guess but does not know, what I amabout to do. Go down to him, dear; tell him that at this very moment,perhaps, I am clearing his name before the wretch who has so ruthlesslyfastened his fang upon him; that his love and Cicely’s shall prosper, ashe has been loyal, and she trusting, all these years of effort andprobation; that I give him my blessing, and that if we do not meetagain, I delegate to him the trust of which I so poorly acquittedmyself. But before you go, stop a moment and in this room, which hasalways symbolized to my eyes the poverty which was my rightful due,kneel and pray for my soul; for if God grants me the wish of my heart,he will strike me with sudden death after I have taken upon myself thedisgrace of my past offences. Life without love can be borne, but lifewithout honor never. To come and go amongst my fellow-men with a shadowon the fame they have always believed spotless! Do not ask me to attemptit! Pray for my soul, but pray too, that I may perish in some quick andsudden way before ever your dear eyes rest upon my face again.

“And now, as though this were to be the end, let me take my lastfarewell of you. I have loved you, Paula, loved you with my heart, mymind and my soul. You have been my angel of inspiration and the sourceof all my comfort. I kneel before you in gratitude, and I stand aboveyou in blessing. May every pang I suffer this hour, redound to you insome sweet happiness hereafter. I do not quarrel with my fate, I onlyask God to spare you from its shadow. And He will. Love will flow backupon your young life, and in regions where our eye now fails to pierce,you will taste every joy which your generous heart once thought tobestow on

Edward Sylvester.

XL.

HALF-PAST SEVEN.

“I would it were midnight, Hal, and all well.”—Henry IV.

The library was dim; Bertram, who had felt the oppressive influence ofthe great empty room, had turned down the lights, and was now engaged inpacing the floor, with restless and uneven steps, asking himself ahundred questions, and wishing with all the power of his soul, that Mr.Sylvester would return, and by his appearance cut short a suspense thatwas fast becoming unendurable.

He had just returned from his third visit to the front door, when thecurtain between him and the hall was gently raised, and Paula glided inand stood before him. She was dressed for the street, and her face wherethe light touched it, shone like marble upon which has fallen the glareof a lifted torch.

“Paula!” burst from the young man’s lips in surprise.

“Hush!” said she, her voice quavering with an emotion that put todefiance all conventionalities, “I want you to take me to the placewhere Mr. Sylvester is gone. He is in danger; I know it, I feel it. Idare not leave him any longer alone. I might be able to save him if—ifhe meditates anything that—” she did not try to say what, but drewnearer to Bertram and repeated her request. “You will take me, won’tyou?”

He eyed her with amazement, and a shudder seized his own strong frame.“No,” cried he, “I cannot take you; you do not know what you ask; but Iwill go myself if you apprehend anything serious. I remember where itis. I studied the address too closely, to readily forget it.”

“You shall not go without me,” returned Paula with steady decision. “Ifthe danger is what I fear, no one else can save him. I must go,” sheadded, with passionate importunity as she saw him still lookingdoubtful. “Darkness and peril are nothing to me in comparison with hissafety. He holds my life in his hand,” she softly whispered, “and whatwill not one do for his life!” Then quickly, “If you go without me Ishall follow with Aunt Belinda. Nothing shall keep me in the houseto-night.”

He felt the uselessness of further objection, yet he ventured to say,“The place where he has gone is one of the worst in the city; a spotwhich men hesitate to enter after dark. You don’t know what you ask inbegging me to take you there.”

“I do, I realize everything.”

With a sudden awe of the great love which he thus beheld embodied beforehim, Bertram bowed his head and moved towards the door. “I may considerit wise to obtain the guidance of a policeman through the quarter intowhich we are about to venture. Will you object to that?”

“No,” was her quick reply, “I object to nothing but delay.”

And with a last look about the room, as if some sensation of farewellwere stirring in her breast, she laid her hand on Bertram’s arm, andtogether they hurried away into the night.

BOOK V.

WOMAN’S LOVE.

XLI.

THE WORK OF AN HOUR.

“Base is the slave that pays.”—Henry V.

“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned,
Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”—Congreve.

Mr. Sylvester upon leaving the bank, had taken his usual route up town.But after an aimless walk of a few blocks, he suddenly paused, and witha quiet look about him, drew from his pocket the small slip of paperwhich Bertram had laid on his table the night before, and hurriedlyconsulted its contents. Instantly an irrepressible exclamation escapedhim, and he turned his face to the heavens with the look of one whor*cognizes the just providence of God. The name which he had just read,was that of the old lover of Jacqueline Japha, Roger Holt, and theaddress given, was 63 Baxter Street.

Twilight comes with different aspects to the broad avenues of the rich,and the narrow alleys of the poor. In the reeking slums of BaxterStreet, poetry would have had to search long for the purple glamour thatmakes day’s dying hour fair in open fields and perfumed chambers. Eventhe last dazzling gleam of the sun could awaken no sparkle from thebleared windows of the hideous tenement houses that reared their blankand disfigured walls toward the west. The chill of the night blast andthe quick dread that follows in the steps of coming darkness, were allthat could enter these regions, unless it was the stealthy shades ofvice and disease.

Mr. Sylvester standing before the darkest and most threatening of themany dark and threatening houses that cumbered the street, was a sightto draw more than one head from the neighboring windows. Had it beenearlier, he would have found himself surrounded by a dozen ragged andimportunate children; had it been later, he would have run the risk ofbeing garroted by some skulking assassin; as it was, he stood thereunmolested, eying the structure that held within its gloomy recesses theonce handsome and captivating lover of Jacqueline Japha. He was not theonly man who would have hesitated before entering there. Low andinsignificant as the building appeared—and its two stories certainlylooked dwarfish enough in comparison with the two lofty tenement housesthat pressed it upon either side—there was something in its quiet,almost uninhabited aspect that awakened a vague apprehension of lurkingdanger. A face at a window would have been a relief; even the sight of acustomer in the noisome groggery that occupied the ground floor. Fromthe dwellings about, came the hum of voices and now and then the soundof a shrill laugh or a smothered cry, but from this house came nothing,unless it was the slow ooze of a stream of half-melted snow that foundits way from under the broken-down door-way to the gutter beyond.

Stepping bravely forward, Mr. Sylvester entered the open door. A flightof bare and rickety steps met his eye. Ascending them, he found himselfin a hall which must have been poorly lighted at any time, but which atthis late hour was almost dark. It was not very encouraging, butpressing on, he stopped at a door and was about to knock, when his eyesbecoming accustomed to the darkness, he detected standing at the foot ofthe stairs leading to the story above, the tall and silent figure of awoman. It was no common apparition. Like a sentinel at his post, or aspy on the outskirts of the enemy’s camp, she stood drawn up against thewall, her whole wasted form quivering with eagerness or some othersecret passion; darkness on her brow and uncertainty on her lip. She waslistening, or waiting, or both, and that with an entire absorption thatprevented her from heeding the approach of a stranger’s step. Struck byso sinister a presence in a place so dark and desolate, Mr. Sylvesterunconsciously drew back. As he did so, the woman thrilled and looked up,but not at him. A lame child’s hesitating and uneven step was heardcrossing the floor above, and it was towards it she turned, and for itshe composed her whole form into a strange but evil calmness.

“Ah, he let you come then!” Mr. Sylvester heard her exclaim in a lowsmothered tone, whose attempted lightness did not hide the malevolentnature of her interest.

“Yes,” came back in the clear and confiding tones of childhood. “I toldhim you loved me and gave me candy-balls, and he let me come.”

A laugh quick and soon smothered, disturbed the surrounding gloom. “Youtold him I loved you! Well, that is good; I do love you; love you as Ido my own eyes that I could crush, crush, for ever having lingered onthe face of my betrayer!”

The last phrase was muttered, and did not seem to convey any impressionto the child. “Hold out your arms and catch me,” cried he; “I am goingto jump.”

She appeared to comply; for he gave a little ringing laugh that wasstartlingly clear and fresh.

“He asked me what your name was,” babbled he, as he nestled in her arms.“He is always asking what your name is; Dad forgets, Dad does; or elseit’s because he’s never seen you.”

“And what did you tell him?” she asked, ignoring the last remark with anecho of her sarcastic laugh.

“Mrs. Smith, of course.”

She threw back her head and her whole form acquired an aspect that madeMr. Sylvester shudder. “That’s good,” she cried, “Mrs. Smith by allmeans.” Then with a sudden lowering of her face to his—“Mrs. Smith isgood to you, isn’t she; lets you sit by her fire when she has any, andgives you peanuts to eat and sometimes spares you a penny!”

“Yes, yes,” the boy cried.

“Come then,” she said, “let’s go home.”

She put him down on the floor, and gave him his little crutch. Hermanner was not unkind, and yet Mr. Sylvester trembled as he saw thechild about to follow her.

“Didn’t you ever have any little boys?” the child suddenly asked.

The woman shrank as if a burning steel had been plunged against herbreast. Looking down on the frightened child, she hissed out frombetween her teeth, “Did he tell you to ask me that? Did he dare—” Shestopped and pressed her arms against her swelling heart as if she wouldsmother its very beats. “Oh no, of course he didn’t tell you; what doeshe know or care about Mrs. Smith!” Then with a quick gasp and a wildlook into the space before her, “My child dead, and her child alive andbeloved! What wonder that I hate earth and defy heaven!”

She caught the boy by the hand and drew him quickly away. “You will begood to me,” he cried, frightened by her manner yet evidently fascinatedtoo, perhaps on account of the faint sparks of kindness that alternatedwith gusts of passion he did not understand. “You won’t hurt me; you’lllet me sit by the fire and get warm?”

“Yes, yes.”

“And eat a bit of bread with butter on it?”

“Yes, yes.”

“Then I’ll go.”

She drew him down the hall. “Why do you like to have me come to yourhouse?” he prattled away.

She turned on him with a look which unfortunately Mr. Sylvester couldnot see. “Because your eyes are so blue and your skin is so white; theymake me remember her!”

“And who is her?”

She laughed and seemed to hug herself in her rage and bitterness. “Yourmother!” she cried, and in speaking it, she came upon Mr. Sylvester.

He at once put out his hand.

“I don’t know who you are,” said he, “but I do not think you had bettertake the child out to-night. From what you say, his father is evidentlyupstairs; if you will give the boy to me, I will take him back and leavehim where he belongs.”

“You will?” The slow intensity of her tone was indescribable. “Know thatI don’t bear interference from strangers.” And catching up the child,she rushed by him like a flash. “You are probably one of thosemissionaries who go stealing about unasked into respectable persons’rooms,” she called back. “If by any chance you wander into his, tell himhis child is in good hands, do you hear, in good hands!” And with afinal burst of her hideous laugh, she dashed down the stairs and wasgone.

Mr. Sylvester stood shocked and undecided. His fatherly heart urged himto search at once for the parent of this lame boy, and warn him of thepossible results of entrusting his child to a woman with so littlecommand over herself. But upon taking out his watch and finding it laterby a good half-hour than he expected, he was so struck with thenecessity of completing his errand, that he forgot everything else inhis anxiety to confront Holt. Knocking at the first door he came to, hewaited. A quick snarl and a surprised, “Come in!” announced that he hadscared up some sort of a living being, but whether man or woman he foundit impossible to tell, even after the door opened and the creature,whoever it was, rose upon him from a pile of rags scattered in onecorner.

“I want Mr. Holt; can you tell me where to find him?”

“Upstairs,” was the only reply he received, as the creature settled downagain upon its heap of tattered clothing.

Fain to be content with this, he went up another flight and openedanother door. He was more successful this time; one glance of his eyeassured him that the man he was in search of, sat before him. He hadnever seen Mr. Holt; but the regular if vitiated features of the personupon whom he now intruded, his lank but not ungraceful form, and free ifnot airy manners, were not so common among the denizens of thisunwholesome quarter, that there could be any doubt as to his being theaccomplished but degenerate individual whose once attractive air hadstolen the heart of Colonel Japha’s daughter.

He was sitting in front of a small pine table, and when Mr. Sylvester’seyes first fell upon him, was engaged in watching with a somewhatsinister smile, the final twirl of a solitary nickle which he had setspinning on the board before him. But at the sound of a step at thedoor, a lightning change passed over his countenance, and rising with aquick anticipatory “Ah!” he turned with hasty action to meet theintruder. A second exclamation and a still more hasty recoil were theresult. This was not the face or the form of him whom he had expected.

“Mr. Holt, I believe?” inquired Mr. Sylvester, advancing with his mostdignified mien.

The other bowed, but in a doubtful way that for a moment robbed him ofhis usual air of impudent self-assertion.

“Then I have business with you,” continued Mr. Sylvester, laying theman’s own card down on the table before him. “My name is Sylvester,” heproceeded, with a calmness that surprised himself; “and I am the uncleof the young man upon—whom you are at present presuming to levyblackmail.”

The assurance which for a moment had deserted the countenance of theother, returned with a flash. “His uncle!” reëchoed he, with a lowanomalous bow; “then it is from you I may expect the not unreasonablesum which I demand as the price of my attentions to your nephew’sinterest. Very good, I am not particular from what quarter it comes, sothat it does come and that before the clock has struck the hour which Ihave set as the limit of my forbearance.”

“Which is seven o’clock, I believe?”

“Which is seven o’clock.”

Mr. Sylvester folded his arms and sternly eyed the man before him. “Youstill adhere to your intention, then, of forwarding to Mr. Stuyvesant atthat hour, the sealed communication now in the hands of your lawyer?”

The smile with which the other responded was like the glint of a partlysheathed dagger. “My lawyer has already received his instructions.Nothing but an immediate countermand on my part, will prevent thecommunication of which you speak, from going to Mr. Stuyvesant at seveno’clock.”

The sigh which rose in Mr. Sylvester’s breast did not disturb the severeimmobility of his lip. “Have you ever considered the possibility,” saidhe, “of the man whom you overheard talking in the restaurant in DeyStreet two years ago, not being Mr. Bertram Sylvester of the MadisonBank?”

“No,” returned the other, with a short, sharp, and wholly undisturbedlaugh, “I do not think I ever have.”

“Will you give me credit, then, for speaking with reason, when I declareto you that the man you overheard talking in the manner you profess todescribe in your communication, was not Mr. Bertram Sylvester?”

A shrug of the shoulders, highly foreign and suggestive, was the other’sanswer. “It was Mr. Sylvester or it was the devil,” proclaimed he—“withall deference to your reason, my good sir; or why are you here?” hekeenly added.

Mr. Sylvester did not reply. With a sarcastic twitch of his lips the mantook up the nickle with which he had been amusing himself when theformer came in, and set it spinning again upon the table. “It ishalf-past six,” remarked he. “It will take me a good half hour to go tomy lawyer.”

Mr. Sylvester made a final effort. “If you could be convinced,” said he,“that you have got your grasp upon the wrong man, would you stillpersist in the course upon which you seem determined?”

With a dexterous sleight-of-hand movement, the man picked up thewhirling nickle and laid it flat on the table before him. “A fellowwhose whole fortune is represented by a coin like that”—tapping thepiece significantly—“is not as easily convinced as a man of your means,perhaps. But if I should be brought to own that I had made a mistake inmy man, I should still feel myself justified in proceeding against him,since my very accusation of him seems to be enough to arouse suchinterest on the part of his friends.”

“Wretch!” leaped to Mr. Sylvester’s lips, but he did not speak it. “Hisfriends,” declared he, “have most certainly a great interest in hisreputation and his happiness; but they never will pay any thing uponcoercion to preserve the one or to insure the other.”

“They won’t!” And for the first time Roger Holt slightly quavered.

“A man’s honor and happiness are much, and he will struggle long beforehe will consent to part from them. But a citizen of a great town likethis, owes something to his fellows, and submitting to blackmail is buta poor precedent to set. You will have to proceed as you will, Mr. Holt;neither my nephew nor myself, have any money to give you.”

The glare in the man’s eyes was like that of an aroused tiger. “Do youmean to say,” cried he, “that you will not give from your abundance, apaltry thousand dollars to save one of your blood from a suspicion thatwill never leave him, never leave him to the end of his miserabledays?”

“I mean to say that not one cent will pass from me to you in payment ofa silence, which as a gentleman, you ought to feel it incumbent upon youto preserve unasked, if only to prove to your fellow-men that you havenot entirely lost all the instincts of the caste to which you oncebelonged. Not that I look for anything so disinterested from you,” hewent on. “A man who could enter the home of a respectable gentleman, andunder cover of a brotherly regard, lure into degradation and despair,the woman who was at once its ornament and pride, cannot be expected topractice the virtues of ordinary manhood, much less those of a gentlemanand a Christian. He is a wretch, who, whatever his breeding orantecedents, is open to nothing but execration and contempt.”

With an oath and a quick backward spring, Roger Holt cried out, “Who areyou, and by what right do you come here to reproach me with a matterdead and buried, by heaven, a dozen years ago?”

“The right of one who, though a stranger, knows well what you are andwhat you have done. Colonel Japha himself is dead, but the avenger ofhis honor yet lives! Roger Holt, where is Jacqueline Japha?”

The force with which this was uttered, seemed to confound the man. For amoment he stood silent, his eye upon his guest, then a subtle changetook place in his expression; he smiled with a slow devilish meaning,and tossing his head with an airy gesture, lightly remarked:

“You must ask some more constant lover than I. A woman who was charmingten years ago—Bah! what would I be likely to know about her now!”

“Everything, when that woman is Jacqueline Japha,” cried Mr. Sylvester,advancing upon him with a look that would have shaken most men, butwhich only made the eye of this one burn more eagerly. “Though you mighteasily wish to give her the slip, she is not one to forget you. If sheis alive, you know where she is; speak then, and let the worth of onegood action make what amends it can for a long list of evil ones.”

“You really want to see the woman, then; enough to pay for it, I mean?”

“The reward which has been offered for news of the fate or whereaboutsof Jacqueline Japha, still stands good,” was Mr. Sylvester’s reply.

The excited stare with which the man received this announcement, slowlysubsided into his former subtle look.

“Well, well,” said he, “we will see.” The truth was, that he knew nomore than the other where this woman was to be found. “If I happen tocome across her in any of my wanderings, I shall know where to apply formeans to make her welcome. But that is not what at present concerns us.Your nephew is losing ground with every passing minute. In a half-hourmore his future will be decided, unless you bid me order my lawyer todelay the forwarding of that communication to Mr. Stuyvesant. In thatcase—”

“I believe I have already made it plain to you that I have no intentionsof interfering with your action in this matter,” quoth Mr. Sylvester,turning slowly toward the door. “If you are determined to send yourstatement, it must go, only—” And here he turned upon the bitterlydisappointed man with an aspect whose nobility the other was but littlecalculated to appreciate—“only when you do so, be particular to statethat the person whose story you thus forward to a director of theMadison Bank, is not Bertram Sylvester, the cashier, but EdwardSylvester, his uncle, and the bank’s president.”

And the stately head bowed and the tall form was about to withdraw, whenHolt with an excited tremble that affected even his words, advanced andseized Mr. Sylvester by the arm.

“His uncle!” cried he, “why that is what you—Great heaven!” heexclaimed, falling back with an expression not unmixed with awe, “youare the man and you have denounced yourself!” Then quickly, “Speakagain; let me hear your voice.”

And Mr. Sylvester with a sad smile, repeated in a slow and meaning tone,“It is but one little fuss more!” then as the other cringed, added adignified, “Good evening, Mr. Holt,” and passed swiftly across the roomtowards the door.

What was it that stopped him half-way, and made him look back with sucha startled glance at the man he had left behind him? A smell of smoke inthe air, the faint yet unmistakable odor of burning wood, as though thehouse were on fire, or—

Ha! the man himself has discerned it, is on his feet, is at the window,has seen what? His cry of mingled terror and dismay does not reveal. Mr.Sylvester hastens to his side.

The sight which met his eyes, did not for the moment seem sufficient toaccount for the degree of emotion expressed by the other. To be sure,the lofty tenement-house which towered above them from the other side ofthe narrow yard upon which the window looked, was oozing with smoke, butthere were no flames visible, and as yet no special manifestations ofalarm on the part of its occupants. But in an instant, even while theystood there, arose the sudden and awful cry of “Fire!” and at the samemoment they beheld the roof and casem*nts before them, swarm with pallidfaces, as men, women and children rushed to the first outlet thatoffered escape, only to shrink back in renewed terror from the deadlygulf that yawned beneath them.

It was horrible, all the more that the fire seem to be somewhere in thebasem*nt story, possibly at the foot of the stairs, for none of the poorshrieking wretches before them seemed to make any effort to escapedownwards, but rather surged up towards the top of the building, wavingtheir arms as they fled, and filling the dusk with cries that drownedthe sound of the coming engines.

The scene appeared to madden Holt. “My boy! my boy! my boy!” rose fromhis lips in an agonized shriek; then as Mr. Sylvester gave a suddenstart, cried out with indiscribable anguish, “He is there, my boy, myown little chap! A woman in that house has bewitched him, and when he isnot with me, he is always at her side. O God, curses on my head for everletting him out of my sight! Do you see him, sir? Look for him, Ibeseech you; he is lame and small; his head would barely reach to thetop of the window-sill.”

“And that was your boy!” cried Mr. Sylvester. And struck by an appealwhich in spite of his abhorrence of the man at his side, woke everyinstinct of fatherhood within him, he searched with his glance the longrow of windows before them. But before his eye had travelled half wayacross the building, he felt the man at his side quiver with suddenagony, and following the direction of his glance, saw a wan, littlecountenance looking down upon them from a window almost opposite towhere they stood.

“It is my boy!” shrieked the man, and in his madness would have leapedfrom the casem*nt, if Mr. Sylvester had not prevented him.

“You will not help him so,” cried the latter. “See, he is only a fewfeet above a bridge that appears to communicate with the roof of thenext house. If he could be let down—”

But the man had already precipitated himself towards the door of theroom in which they were. “Tell him not to jump,” he called back. “I amgoing next door and will reach him in a moment. Tell him to hold on tillI come.”

Mr. Sylvester at once raised his voice. “Don’t jump, little boy Holt. Ifthere is no one there to drop you down, wait for your father. He isgoing on the bridge and will catch you.”

The little fellow seemed to hear, for he immediately held out his arms,but if he spoke, his voice was drowned in the frightful hubbub.Meanwhile the smoke thickened around him, and a dull ominous glare brokeout from the midst of the building, against which his weazen little facelooked pallid as death.

“His father will be too late,” groaned Mr. Sylvester, feeling himselfsomehow to blame for the child’s horrible situation; then observing thatthe other occupants of the building had all disappeared towards thefront, realized that whatever fire-escapes may have been provided, weredoubtless in that direction, and raising his voice once more, called outacross the yard, “Don’t wait any longer, little fellow; follow the restto the front; you will be burned if you stay there.”

But the child did not move, only held out his arms in a way to unman thestrongest heart; and presently while Mr. Sylvester was asking himselfwhat could be done, he heard his shrill piping tones rising above thehiss of the flames, and listening, caught the words:

“I cannot get away. She is holding me, Dad. Help your little feller;help me, I’m so afraid of being burnt.” And looking closer, Mr.Sylvester discerned the outlines of a woman’s head and shoulders abovethe small white face.

A distinct and positive fear at once seized him. Leaning out, the betterto display his own face and figure, he called to that unknown woman toquit her hold and let the child go; but a discordant laugh, rising abovethe roar of the approaching flames, was his only reply. Sickened withapprehension, he drew back and himself made for the stairs in the wildidea of finding the father. But just then the mad figure of Holtappeared at the door, with frenzy in all his looks.

“I cannot push through the crowd,” cried he, “I have fought andstruggled and shrieked, but it is all of no use. My boy is burning aliveand I cannot reach him.” A lurid flame shot at that moment from thebuilding before them, as if in emphasis to his words.

“He is prisoned there by a woman,” cried Mr. Sylvester, pointing to thefigure whose distorted outlines was every moment becoming more and morevisible in the increasing glare. “See, she has him tight in her arms andis pressing him against the window-sill.”

The man with a terrible recoil, looked in the direction of his child,saw the little white face with its wild expression of conscious terror,saw the face of her who towered implacably behind it, and shriekedappalled.

“Jacqueline!” he cried, and put his hands up before his face as if hiseyes had fallen upon an avenging spirit.

“Is that Jacqueline Japha?” asked Mr. Sylvester, dragging down theother’s hands and pointing relentlessly towards the ominous figure inthe window before him.

“Yes, or her ghost,” cried the other, shuddering under a horror thatleft him little control of his reason.

“Then your boy is lost,” murmured Mr. Sylvester, with a vividremembrance of the words he had overheard. “She will never save herrival’s child, never.”

The man looked at him with dazed eyes. “She shall save him,” he cried,and stretching far out of the window by which he stood, he pointed tothe bridge and called out, “Drop him, Jacqueline, don’t let him burn. Hecan still reach the next house if he runs. Save my darling, save him.”

But the woman as if waiting for his voice, only threw back her head, andwhile a bursting flame flashed up behind her, shrieked mockingly back:

“Oh I have frightened you up at last, have I? You can see me now, canyou? You can call on Jacqueline now? The brat can make you speak, canhe? Well, well, call away, I love to hear your voice. It is music to meeven in the face of death.”

“My boy! my boy,” was all he could gasp; “save the child, Jacqueline,only save the child!”

But the harsh scornful laugh she returned, spoke little of saving. “Heis so dear,” she hissed. “I love the offspring of my rival so much! thechild that has taken the place of my own darling, dead before ever I hadseen its innocent eyes. Oh yes, yes, I will save it, save it as my ownwas saved. When I saw the puny infant in your arms the day you passed mewith her, I swore to be its friend, don’t you remember! And I am somuch of a one that I stick by him to the death, don’t you see?” Andraising him up in her arms till his whole stunted body was visible, sheturned away her brow and seemed to laugh in the face of the flames.

The father writhed below in his agony. “Forgive,” he cried, “forgive thepast and give me back my child. It’s all I have to love; it’s all I’veever loved. Be merciful, Jacqueline, be merciful!”

Her face flashed back upon him, still and white. “And what mercy haveyou ever shown to me! Fool, idiot, don’t you see I have lived for thishour! To make you feel for once; to make you suffer for once as I havesuffered. You love the boy! Roger Holt, I once loved you.”

And heedless of the rolling volume of smoke that now began to pourtowards her, heedless even of the long tongues of hungry flame that werestretched out as if feeling for her from the distance behind, she stoodimmovable, gazing down upon the casem*nt where he knelt, with anindescribable and awful smile upon her lips.

The sight was unbearable. With an instinct of despair both men drewback, when suddenly they saw the woman start, unloose her clasp and dropthe child out of her arms upon the bridge. A hissing stream of water hadfallen upon the flames, and the shock had taken her by surprise. In amoment the father was himself again.

“Get up, little feller, get up,” he cried, “or if you cannot walk, crawlalong the bridge to the next house. I see a fireman there; he will liftyou in.”

But at that moment the flames, till now held under some control, burstfrom an adjoining window, and caught at the woodwork of the bridge. Thefather yelled in dismay.

“Hurry, little feller, hurry!” he cried. “Get over towards the nexthouse before it is too late.”

But a paralysis seemed to have seized the child; he arose, then stopped,and looking wildly about, shook his head. “I cannot,” he cried, “Icannot.” And the woman laughed, and with a hug of her empty arms, seemedto throw her taunts into the space before her.

“Are you a demon?” burst from Mr. Sylvester’s lips in uncontrollablehorror. “Don’t you see you can save him if you will? Jump down, then,and carry him across, or your father’s curse will follow you to theworld beyond.”

“Yes, climb down,” cried the fireman, “you are lighter than I. Don’twaste a minute, a second.”

“It is your own child, Jacqueline, your own child!” came from Holt’swhite lips in final desperation. “I have deceived you; your baby did notdie; I wanted to get rid of you and I wanted to save him, so I lied toyou. The baby did not die; he lived, and that is he you see lyinghelpless on the bridge beneath you.”

Not the clutch of an advancing flame could have made her shrink morefearfully. “It is false,” she cried; “you are lying now; you want me tosave her child, and dare to say it is mine.”

“As God lives!” he swore, lifting his hand and turning his face to thesky.

Her whole attitude seemed to cry, “No, no,” to his assertion but slowlyas she stood there, the conviction of its truth seemed to strike her,and her hair rose on her forehead and she swayed to and fro, as if theearth were rolling under her feet. Suddenly she gave a yell, and boundedfrom the window. Catching the child in her arms, she attempted to regainthe refuge beyond, but the flames had not dallied at their work whileshe hesitated. The bridge was on fire and her retreat was cut off. Shedid not attempt to escape. Stopping in the centre of the rocking mass,she looked down as only a mother in her last agony can do, on the childshe held folded in her arms; then as the flames caught at her floatinggarments, stooped her head and printed one wild and passionate kiss uponhis brow. Another instant and they saw her head rise to the accusingheavens, then all was rush and horror, and the swaying structure fellbefore their eyes, sweeping its living freight into the courtyardbeneath their feet.

XLII.

PAULA RELATES A STORY SHE HAS HEARD.

“None are so desolate but something dear,
Dearer than self, possesses or possessed.”—Byron.

In the centre of a long low room not far from the scene of the latedisaster, a solitary lamp was burning. It had been lit in haste and castbut a feeble flame, but its light was sufficient to illuminate the sadand silent group that gathered under its rays.

On a bench by the wall, crouched the bowed and stricken form of RogerHolt, his face buried in his hands, his whole attitude expressive of theutmost grief; at his side stood Mr. Sylvester, his tall figure loomingsombrely in the dim light; and on the floor at their feet, lay the deadform of the little lame boy.

But it was not upon their faces, sad and striking as they were, that theeyes of the few men and women scattered in the open door-way, restedmost intently. It was upon her, the bruised, bleeding, half-dead mother,who kneeling above the little corpse, gazed down upon it with theimmobility of despair, moaning in utter heedlessness of her owncondition, “My baby, my baby, my own, own baby!”

The fixedness with which she eyed the child, though the blood wasstreaming from her forehead and bathing with a still deeper red herburned and blistered arms, made Mr. Sylvester’s sympathetic heart beat.Turning to the silent figure of Holt, he touched him on the arm and saidwith a gesture in her direction:

“You have not deceived the woman? That is really her own child that liesthere?”

The man beside him, started, looked up with slowly comprehending eyes,and mechanically bowed his head. “Yes,” assented he, and relapsed intohis former heavy silence.

Mr. Sylvester touched him again. “If it is hers, how came she not toknow it? How could you manage to deceive such a woman as that?”

Holt started again and muttered, “She was sick and insensible. She neversaw the baby; I sent it away, and when she came to herself, told her itwas dead. We had become tired of each other long before, and only neededthe breaking of this bond to separate us. When she saw me again, it waswith another woman at my side and an infant in my arms. The child wasweakly and looked younger than he was. She thought it her rival’s and Idid not undeceive her.” And the heavy head again fell forward, andnothing disturbed the sombre silence of the room but the low unvaryingmoan of the wretched mother, “My baby, my baby, my own, own baby!”

Mr. Sylvester moved over to her side. “Jacqueline,” said he, “the childis dead and you yourself are very much hurt. Won’t you let these goodwomen lay you on a bed, and do what they can to bind up your poorblistered arms?”

But she heard him no more than the wind’s blowing. “My baby,” shemoaned, “my own, own baby!”

He drew back with a troubled air. Grief like this he could understandbut knew not how to alleviate. He was just on the point of beckoningforward one of the many women clustered in the door-way, when there camea sound from without that made him start, and in another moment a youngman had stepped hastily into the room, followed by a girl, who no soonersaw Mr. Sylvester, than she bounded forward with a sudden cry of joy andrelief.

“Bertram! Paula! What does this mean? What are you doing here?”

A burst of sobs from the agitated girl was her sole reply.

“Such a night! such a place!” he exclaimed, throwing his arm about Paulawith a look that made her tremble through her tears. “Were you soanxious about me, little one?” he whispered. “Would not your fears letyou rest?”

“No, no; and we have had such a dreadful time since we got here. Thehouse where we expected to find you, is on fire, and we thought ofnothing else but that you had perished within it. But finally some onetold us to come here, and—” She paused horror-stricken; her eyes hadjust fallen upon the little dead child and the moaning mother.

“That is Jacqueline Japha,” whispered Mr. Sylvester. “We have found her,only to close her eyes, I fear.”

“Jacqueline Japha!” Paula’s hands unclosed from his arm.

“She was in the large tenement house that burned first; that is herchild whose loss she is mourning.”

“Jacqueline Japha!” again fell with an indescribable tone from Paula’slips. “And who is that?” she asked, turning and indicating the silentfigure by the wall.

“That is Roger Holt, the man who should have been her husband.”

“Oh, I remember him,” she cried; “and her, I remember her, and thelittle child too. But,” she suddenly exclaimed, “she told me then thatshe was not his mother.”

“And she did not know that she was; the man had deceived her.”

With a quick thrill Paula bounded forward. “Jacqueline Japha,” shecried, falling with outstretched hands beside the poor creature; “thankGod you are found at last!”

But the woman was as insensible to this cry as she had been to allothers. “My baby,” she wailed, “my baby, my own, own baby!”

Paula recoiled in dismay, and for a moment stood looking down with fearand doubt upon the fearful being before her. But in another instant aheavenly instinct seized her, and ignoring the mother, she stooped overthe child and tenderly kissed it. The woman at once woke from herstupor. “My baby!” she cried, snatching the child up in her arms with agleam of wild jealousy; “nobody shall touch it but me. I killed it andit is all mine now!” But in a moment she had dropped the child back intoits place, and was going on with the same set refrain that had stirredher lips from the first.

Paula was not to be discouraged. Laying her hand on the child’s brow,she gently smoothed back his hair, and when she saw the old gleamreturning to the woman’s countenance, said quietly, “Are you going tocarry it to Grotewell to be buried? Margery Hamlin is waiting for you,you know?”

The start which shook the woman’s haggard frame, encouraged her toproceed.

“Yes; you know she has been keeping watch, and waiting for you so long!She is quite worn out and disheartened; fifteen years is a long time tohope against hope, Jacqueline.”

The stare of the wretched creature deepened into a fierce and maddenedglare. “You don’t know what you are talking about,” cried she, and bentherself again over the child.

Paula went on as if she had not spoken. “Any one that is loved as muchas you are, Jacqueline, ought not to give way to despair; even if yourchild is dead, there is still some one left whom you can make supremelyhappy.”

“Him?” the woman’s look seemed to say, as she turned and pointed withfrightful sarcasm to the man at their back.

Paula shrank and hastily shook her head. “No, no, not him, but—Let metell you a story,” she whispered eagerly. “In a certain country-town notfar from here, there is a great empty house. It is dark, and cold, andmusty. No one ever goes there but one old lady, who every night at six,crosses its tangled garden, unlocks its great side door, enters withinits deserted precincts, and for an hour remains there, praying for onewhose return she has never ceased to hope and provide for. She iskneeling there to-night, at this very hour, Jacqueline, and the love shethus manifests is greater than that of man to woman or woman to man. Itis like that of heaven or the Christ.”

The woman before her rose to her feet. She did not speak, but she lookedlike a creature before whose eyes a sudden torch had been waved.

“Fifteen years has she done this,” Paula solemnly continues. “Shepromised, you know; and she never has forgotten her promise.”

With a cry the woman put out her hands. “Stop!” she cried, “stop! Idon’t believe it. No one loves like that; else there is a God and I—”She paused, quivered, gave one wild look about her, and then with aquick cry, something between a moan and a prayer, succumbed to the painof her injuries, and sank down insensible by the side of her dead child.

With a reverent look Paula bent over her and kissed her seared andbleeding forehead. “For Mrs. Hamlin’s sake,” she whispered, and quietlysmoothed down the tattered clothing about the poor creature’s wastedframe.

Mr. Sylvester turned quietly upon the man who had been the cause of allthis misery. “I charge myself with the care of that woman,” said he,“and with the burial of your child. It shall be placed in decent groundwith all proper religious ceremonial.”

“What, you will do this!” cried Holt, a flush of real feeling for amoment disturbing the chalk-white pallor of his cheek. “Oh sir, this isChristian charity; and I beg your pardon for all that I may havemeditated against you. It was done for the child,” he went on wildly;“to get him the bread and butter he often lacked. I didn’t care so muchfor myself. I hated to see him hungry and cold and ailing; I might haveworked, but I detest work, and—But no matter about all that; enoughthat I am done with endeavoring to extort money from you. Whatever mayhave happened in the past, you are free from my persecutions in thefuture. Henceforth you and yours can rest in peace.”

“That is well,” cried a voice over his shoulder, and Bertram with an airof relief stepped hastily forward. “You must be very tired,” remarkedhe, turning to his uncle. “If you will take charge of Paula, I will dowhat I can to see that this injured woman and the dead child areproperly cared for. I am so relieved, sir, at this result,” hewhispered, with a furtive wring of his uncle’s hand, “that I mustexpress my joy in some way.”

Mr. Sylvester smiled, but in a manner that reflected but little of theother’s satisfaction. “Thank you,” said he, “I am tired and will gladlydelegate my duties to you. I trust you to do the most you can for boththe living and the dead. That woman for all her seeming poverty is thepossessor of a large fortune;” he whispered; “let her be treated assuch.” And with a final word to Holt who had sunk back against the wallin his old attitude of silent despair, Mr. Sylvester took Paula upon hisarm, and quietly led her out of this humble but not unkind refuge.

XLIII.

DETERMINATION.

“But alas! to make me
A fixed figure for the time of scorn
To point his slow unmoving finger at!”—Othello.

“Let me but bear your love, I’ll bear your cares.”—Henry V.

“Paula!”

They had reached home and were standing in the library.

“Yes,” said she, lowering her head before his gaze with a sweet andconscious blush.

“Did you read the letter I left for you in my desk up stairs?”

She put her hand to her bosom and drew forth the closely written sheet.“Every word,” she responded, and smilingly returned it to its place.

He started and his chest heaved passionately. “You have read it,” hecried, “and yet could follow me into that den of unknown dangers at anhour like this, and with no other guide than Bertram?”

“Yes,” she answered.

He drew a deep breath and his brow lost its deepest shadow. “You do notdespise me then,” he exclaimed “My sin has not utterly blotted me out ofyour regard?”

The glance with which she replied seemed to fill the whole room with itsradiance. “I am only beginning to realize the worth of the man who hash*therto been a mystery to me,” she declared. Then as he shook his head,added with a serious air, “The question with all true hearts must everbe, not what a man has been, but what he is. He who for the sake ofshielding the innocent from shame and sorrow, would have taken uponhimself the onus of a past disgrace, is not unworthy a woman’sdevotion.”

Mr. Sylvester smiled mournfully, and stroked her hand which he had takenin his. “Poor little one,” he murmured. “I know not whether to feelproud or sorry for your trust and tender devotion. It would have been agreat and unspeakable grief to me to have lost your regard, but it mighthave been better if I had; it might have been much better for you if Ihad!”

“What, why do you say that?” she asked, with a startled gleam in hereye. “Do you think I am so eager for ease and enjoyment, that it will bea burden for me to bear the pain of those I love? A past pain, too,” sheadded, “that will grow less and less as the days go by and happinessincreases.”

He put her back with a quick hand. “Do not make it any harder for methan necessary,” he entreated, “Do you not see that however gentle maybe your judgment of my deserts, we can never marry, Paula?”

The eyes which were fixed on his, deepened passionately. “No,” shewhispered, “no; not if your remorse for the past is all that separatesus. The man who has conquered himself, has won the right to conquer theheart of a woman. I can say no more—” She timidly held out her hand.

He grasped it with a man’s impetuosity and pressed it to his heart, buthe did not retain it. “Blessings upon you, dear and noble heart!” hecried. “God will hear my prayers and make you happy—but not with me.Paula,” he passionately continued, taking her in his arms and holdingher to his breast, “it cannot be. I love you—I will not, dare not say,how much—but love is no excuse for wronging you. My remorse is not allthat separates us; possible disgrace lies before me; public exposure atall events; I would indeed be lacking in honor were I to subject you tothese.”

“But,” she stammered, drawing back to look into his face, “I thoughtthat was all over; that the man had promised silence; that you werehenceforth to be relieved from his persecutions? I am sure he said so.”

“He did, but he forgot that my fate no longer rested upon hisforbearance. The letter which records my admission of sin was in hislawyer’s hands, Paula, and has already been despatched to Mr.Stuyvesant. Say what we will, rebel against it as we will, Cicely’sfather knows by this time that the name of Sylvester is not spotless.”

The cry which she uttered in her sudden pain and loss made him stoopover her with despairing fondness. “Hush! my darling, hush!” cried he.“The trial is so heavy, I need all my strength to meet it. It breaks myheart to see you grieve. I cannot bear it. I deserve my fate, butyou—Oh you—what have you done that you should be overwhelmed in myfall!” Putting her gently away from his breast, he drew himself up andwith forced calmness said, “I have yet to inform Mr. Stuyvesant uponwhich of the Sylvesters’ should rest the shadow of his distrust.To-night he believes in Bertram’s lack of principle, but to-morrow—”

Her trembling lips echoed the word.

“He shall know that the man who confessed to having done a wrong deed inthe past, is myself, Paula.”

The head which had fallen on her breast, rose as at the call of aclarion. “And is it at the noblest moment of your life that you wouldshut me away from your side? No, no. Heaven does not send us a great andmighty love for trivial purposes. The simple country maid whom you havesometimes declared was as the bringer of good news to you, shall notfail you now.” Then slowly and with solemn assurance, “If you go to Mr.Stuyvesant’s to-morrow, and you will, for that is your duty, you shallnot go alone; Paula Fairchild accompanies you.”

XLIV.

IN MR. STUYVESANT’S PARLORS.

“Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?”—Comus.

“Unworthy?”

“Yes.”

Cicely stared at her father with wide-open and incredulous eyes. “Icannot believe it,” she murmured; “no, I cannot believe it.”

Her father drew up a chair to her side. “My daughter,” said he, withunusual tenderness, “I have hesitated to tell you this, fearing to woundyou; but my discretion will allow me to keep silence no longer. BertramSylvester is not an honest man, and the sooner you make up your mind toforget him, the better.”

“Not honest?” You would scarcely have recognized Cicely’s voice. Herfather’s hand trembled as he drew her back to his side.

“It is a hard revelation for me to make to you, after testifying myapproval of the young man. I sympathize with you, my child, but none theless I expect you to meet this disappointment bravely. A theft has beencommitted in our bank—”

“You do not accuse him of theft! Oh father, father!”

“No,” he stammered. “I do not accuse him, but facts look very stronglyagainst some one in our trust, and—”

“But that is not sufficient,” she cried, rising in spite of hisdetaining hand till she stood erect before him. “You surely would notallow any mere circ*mstantial evidence to stand against a character asunblemished as his, even if he were not the man whom your daughter—”

He would not let her continue. “I admit that I should be careful how Ibreathed suspicion against a man whose record was unimpeached,” heassented, “but Bertram Sylvester does not enjoy that position. Indeed, Ihave just received a communication which goes to show, that he onceactually acknowledged to having perpetrated an act of questionableintegrity. Now a man as young as he, who—”

“But I cannot believe it,” she moaned. “It is impossible, clearlyimpossible. How could he look me in the face with such a sin on hisconscience! He could not, simply could not. Why, father, his brow is asopen as the day, his glance clear and unwavering as the sunlight. It issome dreadful mistake. It is not Bertram of whom you are speaking!”

Her father sighed. “Of whom else should it be? Come my child, do youwant to read the communication which I received last night? Do you wantto be convinced?”

“No, no;” she cried; but quickly contradicted herself with a hurried,“Yes, yes, let me be made acquainted with what there is against him, ifonly that I may prove to you it is all a mistake.”

“There is no mistake,” he muttered, handing her a folded paper. “Thisstatement was written two years ago; I witnessed it myself, though Ilittle knew against whose honor it was directed. Read it, Cicely, andthen remember that I have lost bonds out of my box at the bank, thatcould only have been taken by some one connected with the institution.”

She took the paper in her hand, and eagerly read it through. Suddenlyshe started and looked up. “And you say that this was Bertram, thisgentleman who allowed another man to accuse him of a past dishonesty?”

“So the person declares who forwarded me this statement; and though heis a poor wretch and evidently not above making mischief, I do not knowas we have any special reason to doubt his word.”

Cicely’s eyes fell and she stood before her father with an air ofindecision. “I do not think it was Bertram,” she faltered, but said nomore.

“I would to God for your sake, it was not!” he exclaimed. “But thiscommunication together with the loss we have sustained at the bank, hasshaken my faith, Cicely. Young men are so easily led astray nowadays;especially when playing for high stakes. A man who could leave hisprofession for the sake of winning a great heiress—”

“Father!”

“I know he has made you think it was for love; but when the woman whom ayoung man fancies, is rich, love and ambition run too closely togetherto be easily disentangled. And now, my dear, I have said my say andleave you to act according to the dictates of your judgment, sure thatit will be in a direction worthy of your name and breeding.” Andstooping for a hasty kiss, he gave her a last fond look and quietly leftthe room.

And Cicely? For a moment she stood as if frozen in her place, then agreat tremble seized her, and sinking down upon a sofa, she buried herface from sight, in a chaos of feeling that left her scarcely mistressof herself. But suddenly she started up, her face flushed, her eyesgleaming, her whole delicate form quivering with an emotion more akin tohope than despair.

“I cannot doubt him,” she whispered; “it were as easy to doubt my ownsoul. He is worthy if I am worthy, true if I am true; and I will not tryto unlove him!”

But soon the reaction came again, and she was about to give full sway toher grief and shame, when the parlor door opened—she herself wassitting in the extension room—and she saw Mr. Sylvester and Paula comein. She at once rose to her feet; but she did not advance. A thousandhopes and fears held her enchained where she was; besides there wassomething in the aspect of her friends, which made her feel as though awelcome even from her, would at that moment be an intrusion.

“They have come to see father,” she thought “and—”

Ah what, Cicely?

Paula, who was too absorbed in her own feelings to glance into theextension room beyond, approached Mr. Sylvester and laid her hand uponhis arm. “Whatever comes,” said she, “truth, honor and love remain.”

And he bowed his head and seemed to kiss her hand, and Cicely observingthe action, grew pale and dropped her eyes, realizing as by alightning’s flash, both the nature of the feeling that prompted thisunusual manifestation on his part, and the possible sorrows that laybefore her dearest friend, if not before herself, should the secretsuspicions she cherished in regard to Mr. Sylvester prove true. When shehad summoned up courage to glance again in their direction, Mr.Stuyvesant had entered the parlor and was nervously welcoming hisguests.

Mr. Sylvester waited for no preamble. “I have come,” said he, in hismost even and determined tones, “to speak to you in regard to acommunication from a man by the name of Holt, which I was told was to besent to you last evening. Did you receive such a one?”

Mr. Stuyvesant flushed, grew still more nervous in his manner anduttered a short, “I did,” in a tone severer than he perhaps intended.

“It will not be too much for me, then, to conclude, that in your presentestimation my nephew stands committed to a past dishonesty?”

“It has been one of my chief sources of regret—one of them I say,”repeated Mr. Stuyvesant, “that any loss of esteem on the part of yournephew, must necessarily reflect upon the peace if not the honor of aman I hold in such high regard as yourself. I assure you I feel it quiteas a brother might, quite as a brother.”

Mr. Sylvester at once rose. “Mr. Stuyvesant,” declared he, “my nephew isas honest a man as walks this city’s streets. If you will accord me afew minutes private conversation, I think I can convince you so.”

“I should be very glad,” replied Mr. Stuyvesant, glancing towards theextension-room where he had left his daughter. “I have always liked theyoung man.” Then with a quick look in the other’s face, “You are notwell, Mr. Sylvester?”

“Thank you, I am not ill; let us say what we have to, at once, if youplease.” And with just a glance at Paula, he followed the now somewhatagitated director from the room.

Cicely who had started forward at their departure, glanced down the longparlor before her, and hastily faltered back; Paula was praying. But ina few moments her feelings overcame her timidity, and hurrying into herfriend’s presence, she threw her arms about her neck and pressed hercheek to hers. “Let us pray together,” she whispered.

Paula drew back and looked her friend in the face. “You know what allthis means?” she asked.

“I guess,” was the low reply.

Paula checked a sob and clasped Cicely to her bosom. “He loves me,” shefaltered, “and he is doing at this moment what he believes will separateus. He is a noble man, Cicely, noble as Bertram, though he once did—”She paused. “It is for him to say what, not I,” she softly concluded.

“Then Bertram is noble,” Cicely timidly put in.

“Have you ever doubted it?”

“No.”

And hiding their blushes on each other’s shoulders, the two girls satbreathlessly waiting, while the clock ticked away in the music-room andthe moments came and went that determined their fate. Suddenly they bothrose. Mr. Stuyvesant and Mr. Sylvester were descending the stairs. Mr.Sylvester came in first. Walking straight up to Paula, he took her inhis arms and kissed her on the forehead.

“My betrothed wife!” he whispered.

With a start of incredulous joy, Paula looked up. His glance was clearbut strangely solemn and peaceful.

“He has heard all I had to say,” added he; “he is a just man, but he isalso a merciful one. Like you he declares that not what a man was, butwhat he is, determines the judgment of true men concerning him.” Andtaking her on his arm, he stood waiting for Mr. Stuyvesant who now camein.

“Where is my daughter?” were that gentleman’s words, as he closed thedoor behind him.

“Here, papa.”

He held out his hand, and she sprang towards him. “Cicely,” said he, notwithout some tokens of emotion in his voice, “it is only right that Ishould inform you that we were all laboring under a mistake, in chargingMr. Bertram Sylvester with the words that were uttered in the Dey Streetcoffee-house two years ago. Mr. Sylvester has amply convinced me thathis nephew neither was, nor could have been present there at that time.It must have been some other man, of similar personality.”

“Oh thank you, thank you!” Cicely’s look seemed to say to Mr. Sylvester.“And he is quite freed from reproach?” she asked, with a smiling glanceinto her father’s face.

A hesitancy in Mr. Stuyvesant’s manner, struck with a chill upon morethan one heart in that room.

“Yes,” he admitted at last; “the mere fact that a mysterious robbery hasbeen committed upon certain effects in the bank of which he is cashier,is not sufficient to awaken distrust as to his integrity, but—”

At that moment the door-bell rung.

“Your father would say,” cried Mr. Sylvester, taking advantage of themomentary break, to come to the relief of his host, “that my nephew istoo much of a gentleman to desire to press any claim he may imaginehimself as possessing over you, while even the possibility of a shadowrests upon his name.”

“The man who stole the bonds will be found,” said Cicely.

And as if in echo to her words the parlor door opened, and a messengerfrom the bank stepped briskly up to Mr. Stuyvesant.

“A note from Mr. Folger,” said he, with a quick glance at Mr. Sylvester.

Mr. Stuyvesant took the paper handed him, read it hastily through, andlooked up with an air of some bewilderment.

“I can hardly believe it possible,” cried he, “but Hopgood hasabsconded.”

“Hopgood absconded?”

“Yes; is not that the talk at the bank?” inquired Mr. Stuyvesant,turning to the messenger.

“Yes sir. He has not been seen since yesterday afternoon when he leftbefore the bank was closed for the night. His wife says she thinks hemeant to run away, for before going, he came into the room where shewas, kissed her and then kissed the child; besides it seems that he tookwith him some of his clothes.”

“Humph! and I had as much confidence in that man—”

“As I have now,” came from Mr. Sylvester as the door closed upon themessenger. “If Hopgood has run away, it was from some generous butmistaken idea of sacrificing himself to the safety of another whom hemay possibly believe guilty.”

“No,” rejoined Mr. Stuyvesant, “for here is a note from him that refutesthat supposition. It is addressed to me and runs thus:

Dear Sir.—I beg your pardon and that of Mr. Sylvester forleaving my duties in this abrupt manner. But I have betrayed mytrust and am no longer worthy of confidence. I am a wretchedman and find it impossible to face those who have believed inmy honesty and discretion. If I can bring the money back, youshall see me again, but if not, be kind to my wife and littleone, for the sake of the three years when I served the bankfaithfully.

John Hopgood.

“I don’t understand it,” cried Mr. Sylvester, “that looks—”

“As if he knew where the money was.”

“I begin to hope,” breathed Cicely.

Her father turned and surveyed her. “This puts a new aspect on matters,”said he.

She glanced up beaming. “Oh, will you, do you say, that you think theshadow of this crime has at last found the spot upon which it canrightfully rest?”

“It would not be common sense in me to deny that it has most certainlyshifted its position.”

With a radiant look at Cicely, Paula crossed to Mr. Stuyvesant’s side,and laying her hand on his sleeve, whispered a word or two in his ear.He immediately glanced out of the window at the carriage standing beforethe door, then looked back at her and nodded with something like asmile. In another moment he stood at the front door.

“Be prepared,” cried Paula to Cicely.

It was well she spoke, for when in an instant later Mr. Stuyvesantre-entered the parlor with Bertram at his side, the rapidly changingcheek of the gentle girl showed that the surprise, even though thustempered, was almost too much for her self-possession.

Mr. Stuyvesant did not wait for the inevitable embarrassment of themoment to betray itself in words. “Mr. Sylvester,” said he, to the youngcashier, “we have just received a piece of news from the bank, thatthrows unexpected light upon the robbery we were discussing yesterday.Hopgood has absconded, and acknowledges here in writing that he hadsomething to do with the theft!”

“Hopgood, the janitor!” The exclamation was directed not to Mr.Stuyvesant but to Mr. Sylvester, towards whom Bertram turned with looksof amazement.

“Yes, it is the greatest surprise I ever received,” returned thatgentleman.

“And Mr. Sylvester,” continued Mr. Stuyvesant, with nervous rapidity anda generous attempt to speak lightly, “there is a little lady here who isso shaken by the news, that nothing short of a word of reassurance onyour part will comfort her.”

Bertram’s eye followed that of Mr. Stuyvesant, and fell upon theblushing cheek of Cicely. With a flushing of his own brow, he steppedhastily forward.

“Miss Stuyvesant!” he cried, and looking down in her face, forgoteverything else in his infinite joy and satisfaction.

“Yes,” announced the father with abrupt decision, “she is yours; youhave fairly earned her.”

Bertram bowed his head with irrepressible emotion, and for a moment thesilence of perfect peace if not of awe, reigned over the apartment; butsuddenly a low, determined “No!” was heard, and Bertram turning towardsMr. Stuyvesant, exclaimed, “You are very good, and the joy of thismoment atones for many an hour of grief and impatience; but I have notearned her yet. The fact that Hopgood admits to having had something todo with the robbery, does not sufficiently exonerate the officers of thebank from all connection with the affair, to make it safe or honorablein me to unqualifiedly accept the inestimable boon of your daughter’sregard. Till the real culprit is in custody and the mystery entirelycleared away, my impatience must continue to curb itself. I love yourdaughter too dearly to bring her anything but the purest of reputations.Am I not right, Miss Stuyvesant?”

She cast a glance at her father, and bowed her head. “You are right,”she repeated.

And Mr. Stuyvesant, with a visible lightening of his whole aspect, tookthe young man by the hand, and with as much geniality as his naturewould allow, informed him that he was at last convinced that hisdaughter had made no mistake when she expressed her trust in BertramSylvester.

And in other eyes than Cicely’s, shone the light of satisfied love andunswerving faith.

XLV.

“THE HOUR OF SIX IS SACRED.”

“Mightier far
Than strength of nerve or sinew, or the sway
Of magic potent over sun and star,
Is love, though oft to agony distrest,

And though its favorite seat be feeble woman’s breast.”—Wordsworth.

It was at the close of a winter afternoon. Paula who had returned toGrotewell for the few weeks preceding her marriage, sat musing in thewindow of her aunt’s quaint little parlor. Her eyes were on the fieldsbefore her all rosy with the departing rays of the sun, but her thoughtswere far away. They were with him she best loved—with Cicely, waitingin patience for the solution of the mystery of the stolen bonds; withBertram, eagerly, but as yet vainly, engaged in searching for thevanished janitor; and last but not least, with that poor, wretchedspecimen of humanity moaning away her life in a New York hospital;—forthe sight of the Japha house, in a walk that day, had reawakened hermost vivid remembrances of Jacqueline. All that had ever been done andsuffered by this forsaken creature, lay on her heart like a weight; andthe question which had disturbed her since her return to Grotewell,viz., whether or not she ought to acquaint Mrs. Hamlin with the factthat she had seen and spoken to the object of her love and prayers,pressed upon her mind with an insistence that required an answer. Therewas so much to be said for and against it. Mrs. Hamlin was not well, andthough still able to continue her vigil, showed signs of weakening, dayby day. It might be a comfort to her to know that another’s eyes hadrested on the haggard form for whose approach she daily watched; thatanother’s kiss had touched the scarred and pallid forehead she longed tofold against her breast; that the woman she loved and of whose fate shehad no intimation, was living and well cared for, though her shelter wasthat of a hospital, and her prospects those of the grave.

On the other hand, the awful nature of the circ*mstances which hadbrought her to her present condition, were such as to make any generousheart pause before shocking the love and trust of such a woman as Mrs.Hamlin, by a relation of the criminal act by which Jacqueline had slainher child and endangered her own existence. Better let the poor old ladygo on hoping against hope till she sinks into her grave, than destroylife and hope at once by a revelation of her darling’s recklessdepravity.

And yet if the poor creature in the hospital might be moved torepentance by some word from Mrs. Hamlin, would it not be a kindness tothe latter to allow her, though even at the risk of her life, toaccomplish the end for which she indeed professed to live?

The mind of Paula was as yet undecided, when a child from the villagepassed the window, and seeing her sitting there, handed her a smallpackage with the simple message that Mrs. Hamlin was very ill. Itcontained, as she anticipated, the great key to the Japha mansion, andunderstanding without further words, what was demanded of her, Paulaprepared to keep the promise she had long ago made to this devotedwoman. For though she knew the uselessness of the vigil proposed to her,she none the less determined to complete it. Easier to sit an hour inthat dark old house, than to explain herself to Mrs. Hamlin. Besides,the time was good for prayer, and God knows the wretched object of allthis care and anxiety, stood in need of all the petitions that might beraised for her.

Telling her aunts that she had a call to make in the village, she glidedhurriedly away, and ere she realized all to which she was committed,found herself standing in the now darkened streets, before the grim doorof that dread and mysterious mansion. Never had it looked moreforbidding; never had the two gruesome poplars cast a deeper shadow, orrustled with a more woful sound in the chill evening air. The verywindows seemed to repel her with their darkened panes, behind which shecould easily imagine the spirits of the dead, moving and peering. Achill not unlike that of terror, assailed her limbs, and it was with areally heroic action that she finally opened the gate and glided up thepath made by the daily steps of her aged friend. To thrust the big keyinto the lock required another effort, but that once accomplished, shestilled every tumultuous beating of her heart, by crying under herbreath, “She has done this for one whom she has not seen for fifteenyears; shall I then hesitate, who know the real necessity of her forwhom this hour is made sacred?”

The slow swinging open of the door was like an ushering into the abodeof ghosts, but she struck a light at once, and soon had the satisfactionof beholding the dismal room with its weird shadows, resolve into itsold and well remembered aspect. The ancient cabinet and stiff hair-clothsofa, Colonel Japha’s chair by the table, together with all the otherobjects that had attracted her attention in her former visit, confrontedher again with the same appearance of standing ready and waiting, whichhad previously so thrilled her. Only she was alone this time, and terrormingled with her awe. She scarcely dared to glance at the doors that ledto other portions of the house. In her present mood it would seem sonatural for them to swing open, and let upon her horrified gaze thestately phantom of the proud old colonel or the gentler shade ofJacqueline’s mother. The moan of the wind in the chimney was dreadful toher, and the faint rumbling sounds of mice scampering in the walls, madeher start as though a voice had spoken.

But presently the noise of a sleigh careering by the house recalled herto herself, and remembering it was but early night-fall, she sat down ina chair by the door, and prepared to keep her vigil with suitablepatience and equanimity. Suddenly she recollected the clock on themantel-piece and how she had seen Mrs. Hamlin wind it, and rising up,she followed her example, sighing unconsciously to find how many of thesixty minutes had yet to tick themselves away, “Can I endure it!” shethought, and shuddered as she pictured to herself the dim old staircasebehind those doors, and the empty rooms above, and the little Biblelying thicker than ever with dust, on the yellowed pillows ofJacqueline’s bed.

Suddenly she stood still; the noise she had just heard, was not made bythe pattering of mice along the rafters, or even the creaking of thewithered vines that clung against the walls! It was a human sound, aclicking as of the gate without, a crunching as of feet dragging slowlyover the snow. Was Mrs. Hamlin coming after all, or—she could notformulate her fear; a real and palpable danger from the outside worldhad never crossed her fancy till now. What if some stranger shouldenter, some tramp, some—a step on the porch without made her hair riseon her forehead; she clasped her hands and stood trembling, when asudden moan startled her ears, followed by the sound of a heavy fall onthe threshold, and throwing aside all hesitation, she flung herselfforward, and tearing open the door, saw—oh, angels that rejoice inheaven over one sinner that repenteth, let your voices go up in praisethis night, for Jacqueline Japha has returned to the home of herfathers!

She had fainted, and lay quite still on the threshold, but Paula, whowas all energy now, soon had her in the centre of the sitting-room, andwas applying to her such restoratives as had been provided against thisvery emergency. She was holding the poor weary head on her knee, whenthe wan eyes opened, and looking up, grew wild with a disappointmentwhich Paula was quick to appreciate.

“You are looking for Margery,” said she. “Margery will come by-and-by;she is not well to-night and I am taking her place, but when she hearsyou have returned, it will take more than sickness to keep her to herbed. I am Paula, and I love you, too, and welcome you—oh, welcome youso gladly.”

The yearning look which had crept into the woman’s bleared and fadedeyes, deepened and softened strangely.

“You are the one who told me about Margery,” said she, “and bade mebring my baby here to be buried. I remember, though I seemed to pay noheed then. Night and day through all my pain, I have remembered, and assoon as I could walk, stole away from the hospital. It has killed me,but I shall at least die in my father’s house.”

Paula stooped and kissed her. “I am going to get your bed ready,” saidshe. And without any hesitation now, she opened the door that led intothose dim inner regions that but a few minutes before had inspired herwith such dread.

She went straight to Jacqueline’s room. “It must all be according toMrs. Hamlin’s wishes,” she cried, and lit the fire on the hearth, andpulled back the curtains yet farther from the bed, and gave the benefitof her womanly touch to the various objects about her, till cheerfulnessseemed to reign in a spot once so peopled with hideous memories. Goingback to Jacqueline, she helped her to rise, and throwing her arm abouther waist, led her into the hall. But here memory, ghastly accusingmemory, stepped in, and catching the wretched woman in its grasp, shookher, body and soul, till her shrieks reverberated through that desolatehouse. But Paula with gentle persistence urged her on, and smiling uponher like an angel of peace and mercy, led her up step after step of thatdreadful staircase, till at last she saw her safely in the room of herearly girlhood.

The sight of it seemed at first to horrify but afterwards to soothe theforlorn being thus brought face to face with her own past. She movedover to the fire and held out her two cramped hands to the blaze, as ifshe saw an altar of mercy in its welcoming glow. From these she passedtottering and weak to the embroidery-frame, which she looked at for amoment with something almost like a smile; but she hurried by themirror, and scarcely glanced at a portrait of herself which hung on thewall over her head. To sink on the bed seemed to be her object, andthither Paula accompanied her. But when she came to where it stood, andsaw the clothes turned down and the pillows heaped at the head, and thelittle Bible lying open for her in the midst, she gave a great andmighty sob, and flinging herself down upon her knees, wept with abreaking up of her whole nature, in which her sins, red though they wereas crimson, seemed to feel the touch of the Divine love, and vanish awayin the oblivion He prepares for all His penitent ones.

When everything was prepared and Jacqueline was laid quiet in bed, Paulastole out and down the stairs and wended her way to Mrs. Hamlin’scottage. She found her sitting up, but far from well, and very feeble.At the first sight of Paula’s face, she started erect and seem to forgether weakness in a moment.

“What is it?” she asked; “you look as though you had been gazing on thefaces of angels. Has—has my hope come true at last? Has Jacquelinereturned? Oh, has my poor, lost, erring child come back?”

Paula drew near and gently steadied Mrs. Hamlin’s swaying form. “Yes,”she smiled; and with the calmness of one who has entered the gates ofpeace, whispered in low and reverent tones: “She lies in the bed thatyou spread for her, with the Bible held close to her breast.”

There are moments when the world about us seems to pause; when thehopes, fears and experiences of all humanity appear to sway away andleave us standing alone in the presence of our own great hope orscarcely comprehended fear. Such a moment was that which saw Paulare-enter Jacqueline’s presence with Mrs. Hamlin at her side.

Leaving the latter near the door, she went towards the bed. Why did sherecoil and glance back at Mrs. Hamlin with that startled andapprehensive look? The face of Jacqueline was changed—changed as onlyone presence could change it, though the eyes were clearer than when sheleft her a few minutes before, and the lips were not without the shadowof a smile.

“She is dying,” whispered Paula, coming back to Mrs. Hamlin; “dying, andyou have waited so long!”

But the look that met hers from that aged face, was not one of grief;and startled, she knew not why, Paula drew aside, while Mrs. Hamlincrossed the room and quietly knelt down by her darling’s side.

“Margery!”

“Jacqueline!”

The two cries rang through the room, then all was quiet again.

“You have come back!” were the next words Paula heard. “How could I everhave doubted that you would!”

“I have been driven back by awful suffering,” was the answer; andanother silence fell. Suddenly Jacqueline’s voice was heard. “Love slewme, and now love has saved me!” exclaimed she. And there came no answerto that cry, and Paula felt the shadow of a great awe settle down uponher, and moving nearer to where the aged woman knelt by her darling’sbedside, she looked in her bended face and then in the one upturned onthe pillow, and knew that of all the hearts that but an instant beforehad beat with earth’s deepest emotion in that quiet room, one alonethrobbed on to thank God and take courage.

And the fire which had been kindled to welcome the prodigal back, burnedon; and from the hollow depths of the great room below, came the soundof a clock as it struck the hour, seven!

XLVI.

THE MAN CUMMINS.

“Oh day and night, but this is wondrous strange.”—Henry V.

“Shut up in measureless content.”—Othello.

The lights were yet shining in Mr. Stuyvesant’s parlors, though theguests were gone, who but a short time before had assembled there towitness the marriage of Cicely’s dear friend, Paula.

At one end of the room stood Mr. Sylvester and Bertram, the formergazing with the eyes of a bridegroom, at the delicate white-clad figureof Paula, just leaving the apartment with Cicely.

“I have but one cause for regret,” said Mr. Sylvester as the doorclosed. “I could have wished that you and Cicely had participated in ourjoy and received the minister’s benediction at the same moment asourselves.”

“Yes,” said Bertram with a short sigh. “But it will come in time. Itcannot be but that our efforts must finally succeed. I have just had anew idea; that of putting the watchman on the hunt for Hopgood. They areold friends, and he ought to know all the other’s haunts and possiblehiding-places.”

“If Fanning could have helped us, he would have told us long ago. Heknows that Hopgood is missing and that we are ready to pay well for anyinformation concerning him.”

“But they are old cronies, and possibly Fanning is keeping quiet out ofconsideration for his friend.”

“No; I have had a talk with Fanning, and there was no mistaking his lookof surprise when told the other had run away under suspicion of beingconnected with a robbery on the bank’s effects. He knows no more ofHopgood than we do, or his wife does, or the police even. It is astrange mystery, and one to which I fear we shall never obtain the key.But don’t let me discourage you; after a suitable time Mr. Stuyvesantwill—”

He paused, for that gentleman was approaching him.

“There is a man outside who insists upon seeing me; says he knows therehas just been a wedding here, but that the matter he has to communicateis very important, and won’t bear putting off. The name on his card isCummins; I am afraid I shall have to admit him, that is, if you have noobjection?”

Mr. Sylvester and Bertram at once drew back with ready acquiescence.They had scarcely taken their stand at the other end of the apartment,when the man came in. He was of robust build, round, precise andbusiness-like. He had taken off his hat, but still wore his overcoat;his face in spite of a profusion of red whiskers and a decided pair ofgoggles, was earnest and straightforward. He walked at once up to Mr.Stuyvesant.

“Your pardon,” said he, in a quick tone. “But I hear you have beensomewhat exercised of late over the disappearance of certain bonds fromone of the boxes in the Madison Bank. I am a detective, and in thecourse of my duty have come upon a few facts that may help to explainmatters.”

Mr. Sylvester and Bertram at once started forward; this was a topic thatdemanded their attention as well as that of the master of the house.

The man cast them a quick look from behind his goggles, and seeming torecognize them, included them in his next question.

“What do you think of the watchman, Fanning?”

“Think? we don’t think,” uttered Mr. Stuyvesant sharply. “He has been inthe employ of the bank for twelve years, and we know him to be honest.”

“Yet he is the man who stole your bonds.”

“Impossible!”

“The very man.”

Mr. Sylvester stepped up to him. “Who are you, and how do you knowthis?”

“I have said my name is Cummins, and I know this, because I have wormedmyself into the man’s confidence and have got the bonds, together withhis confession, here in my pocket.” And he drew out the long lost bonds,which he handed to their owner, with a bit of paper on which wasin-scribed in the handwriting of the watchman, an acknowledgment to theeffect that he, alone and unassisted, had perpetrated the robbery whichhad raised such scandal in the bank and led to the disappearance ofHopgood.

“And the man himself?” cried Bertram, when they had all read this.“Where is he?”

“Oh, I allowed him to escape.”

Mr. Sylvester frowned.

“There is something about this I don’t understand,” said he. “How cameyou to take such an interest in this matter; and why did you let the manescape after acknowledging his crime?”

With a quick, not undignified action, Cummins stepped back. “Gentlemen,”said he, “it is allowable in a detective in the course of his duty, toresort to means for eliciting the truth, that in any other cause and forany other purpose, would be denominated as unmanly, if not mean andcontemptible. When I heard of this robbery, as I did the day after itsperpetration, my mind flew immediately to the watchman as the possibleculprit. I did not know that he had done the deed, and I did not see howhe could have possessed the means of doing it, but I had been acquaintedwith him for some time, and certain expressions which I had overheardhim use—expressions that had passed over me lightly at the time, nowrecurred to my mind with startling distinctness. ‘If a man knew thecombination of the vault door, how easily he could make himself richfrom the contents of those boxes!’ was one, I remember; and another, ‘Ihave worked in the bank for twelve years and have not so much money laidup against a rainy day, as would furnish Mr. Sylvester in cigars for amonth.’ The fact that he had no opportunity to learn the combination,was the only stumbling-block in the way of my conclusions. But thatobstacle was soon removed. In a talk with the janitor’s wife—a goodwoman, sirs, but a trifle conceited—I learned that he had once had thevery opportunity of which I speak, provided he was smart enough torecognize the fact. The way it came about was this. Hopgood, who alwaysmeant to do about the right thing, as I know, was one morning very sick,so sick that when the time came for him to go down and open the vaultsfor the day, he couldn’t stir from his bed, or at least thought hecouldn’t. Twice had the watchman rung for him, and twice had he tried toget up, only to fall back again on his pillow. At last the call becameimperative; the clerks would soon be in, and the books were not even inreadiness for them. Calling his wife to him, he asked if she thought shecould open the vault door provided she knew the combination. Shereturned a quite eager, ‘yes,’ being a naturally vain woman and moreovera little sore over the fact that her husband never entrusted her withany of his secrets. ‘Then,’ said he, ‘listen to those three numbers thatI give you; and turn the knob accordingly,’ explaining the matter in away best calculated to enlighten her as to what she had to do. Sheprofessed herself as understanding perfectly and went off in quite aflutter of satisfaction to accomplish her task. But though he did notknow it at the time, it seems that her heart failed her when she gotinto the hall, and struck with fear lest she should forget the numbersbefore she got to the foot of the stairs, she came back, and carefullywrote them down on a piece of paper, armed with which she started forthe second time to fulfil her task. The watchman was in the bank whenshe entered, and to his expressions of surprise, she answered that herhusband was ill and that she was going to open the vaults. He offered tohelp her, but she stared at him with astonishment, and waiting till hehad walked to the other end of the bank, proceeded to the vault door,and after carefully consulting the paper in her hand, was about to turnthe knob as directed, when Hopgood himself came into the room. He wastoo anxious, he said, to keep in bed, and though he trembled at everystep, came forward and accomplished the task himself. He did not see thepaper in his wife’s hand, nor notice her when she tore it up and threwthe pieces in the waste-basket near-by, but the watchman may haveobserved her, and as it afterwards proved, did; and thus becameacquainted with the combination that unlocked the outer vault doors.”

“Humph!” broke in Mr. Sylvester, “if this is true, why didn’t Hopgoodinform me of the matter when I questioned him so closely?”

“Because he had forgotten the circ*mstance. He was in a fever at thetime, and having eventually unlocked the vault himself, lost sight ofthe fact that he had previously sent his wife to do it. He went back tohis bed after the clerks came in, and did not get up again till night.He may have thought the whole occurrence part of the delirium which morethan once assailed him that day.”

“I remember his being sick,” said Bertram; “it was two or three daysbefore the robbery.”

“The very day before,” corrected the man; “but let me tell my story inmy own way. Having learned from Mrs. Hopgood of this opportunity whichhad been given to Fanning, I made up my mind to sift the matter. Beingas I have said a friend of his, I didn’t, want to peach on him unless hewas guilty. To blast an honest man’s reputation, is, I think, one of themeanest tricks of which a fellow can be guilty: but the truth I had toknow, and in order to learn it, a deep and delicate game was necessary.Gentlemen, when the police have strong suspicions against a person whosereputation is above reproach and whose conduct affords no opportunityfor impeachment, they set a springe for him. One of their numberdisguises himself, and making the acquaintance of this person,insinuates himself by slow degrees—often at the cost of months ofeffort—into his friendship and if possible into his confidence. ’Tis adetestable piece of business, but it is all that will serve in somecases, and has at least the merit of being as dangerous as it isdetestable. This plan, I undertook with Fanning. Changing my appearanceto suit the necessities of the case, I took board in the small house inBrooklyn where he puts up, and being well acquainted with his tastes,knew how to adapt myself to his liking. He was a busy man, and beingobliged by his duties to turn night into day, had not much time tobestow upon me or any one else; but heedful of this, I managed to makethe most of the spare moments that saw us together, and ere long we werevery good comrades, and further on, very good friends. The day when Ifirst ventured to suggest that honesty was all very well as long as itpaid, was a memorable one to me. In that cast of the die I was either towin or lose the game I had undertaken. I won. After a feint or two, tosee if I were in earnest, he fell into the net, and though he did notcommit himself then, it was not long before he came to me, anddeliberately requested my assistance in disposing of some bonds which hewas smart enough to acquire, but not daring enough to attempt to sell.Of course the whole story came out, and I was sympathetic enough till Igot the bonds into my hands, then—But I leave you to imagine whatfollowed. Enough that I wrung this confession from him, and that inconsideration of the doubtful game I had played upon him, let him gowhere he is by this time beyond the chance of pursuit.”

“But your duty to your superior; your oath as a member of the force?”

“My superior is here!” said the man pointing to Mr. Sylvester; “anunconscious one I own, but still my superior; and as for my being amember of the force, that was true five years ago, but not to-day.” Andbrushing off his whiskers with one hand and taking off his goggles withthe other, Hopgood, the janitor, stood before them!

It was a radiant figure that met Cicely, when she came down stairs withPaula, and a joyous group that soon surrounded the now blushing andembarrassed janitor, with questions and remarks concerning this greatand unexpected development of affairs. But the fervor with which Mr.Stuyvesant clasped Bertram’s hand, and the look with which Cicely turnedfrom her young lover to bestow a final kiss upon the departing bride,was worth all the pains and self-denial of the last few weeks—or so thejanitor thought, who with a quicker comprehension than usual, haddivined the situation and rejoiced in the result. But the most curiousthing of all was to observe how, with the taking off of his goggles,Hopgood had relapsed into his old shrinking, easily embarrassed self.The man who but a few minutes before had related in their hearing aclear and succinct narrative, now shrank if a question was put him, andstammered in quite his ancient fashion, when he answered Mr. Sylvester’sshake of the hand, by a hurried:

“I am going to see my wife now, sir. She’s a good woman, if a littleflighty, and will be the last one in the future to beg me to put moreconfidence in her. Will you tell me where she is, sir?”

Mr. Sylvester informed him; then added, “But look here, Hopgood, answerme one thing before you go. Why is it that with such talents as youpossess, you didn’t stay in the police force? You are a regular geniusin your way, and ought not to drone away your existence as a janitor.”

“Ah, sir,” replied the other, shaking his head, “a man who is onlycapable of assuming one disguise, isn’t good for much as a professionaldetective. Goggles and red whiskers will deceive one rogue, but notfifty. My eyes were my bane, sir, and ultimately cost me my place. WhileI could cover them up I was all right. It not only made a man of me,leaving me free to talk and freer to think, but disguised me so, my bestfriends couldn’t recognize me; but after awhile my goggles were too wellknown for me to be considered of much further use to the department, andI was obliged to send in my resignation. It is too bad, but I have noversatility, sir. I’m either the clumsy, stammering creature you havealways known, or else I am the man Cummins you saw here a few minutesago.”

“In either case an honest fellow,” answered Mr. Sylvester, and allowedthe janitor to depart.

One more scene, and this in the house which Paula is henceforth to makea home for herself and its once melancholy owner. They have come backfrom their wedding-journey, and are standing in their old fashion, he atthe foot, and she half way up the stairs. Suddenly she turns anddescends to his side.

“No, I will not wait,” said she. “Here, on this spot we both love sowell, and in this the first hour of our return, I will unburden my mindof what I have to say. Edward, is there nothing of all the past thatstill rests upon you like a shadow? Not one little regret you could wishtaken away?”

“No,” said he, enfolding her in his arms with a solemn smile. “The greatgift which I hold is the fruit of that past, perhaps; I cannot wish itchanged.”

“But the sense of obligation never fulfilled, would you not be happierif that were removed?”

“Perhaps,” he said, “but it cannot be now. I shall have to live withoutbeing perfectly happy.”

She lifted her face and her smile shone like a star. “Oh God is good,”she cried, “you shall not lack being perfectly happy;” and taking alittle paper out of her pocket she put it in his hand. “We found thathidden in Jacqueline Japha’s breast, when we went to lay her out forburial.”

It was only a line; but it made Mr. Sylvester’s brow flush and his voicetremble.

“Whatever I own, and I have been told that I am far from penniless, Idesire to have given to the dear and disinterested girl that first toldme of Margery Hamlin’s vigil.”

“Paula, Paula, Paula, thou art indeed my good gift! May God make meworthy of your love and of this His last and most unexpected mercy!”

And the look which crossed her face, was that sweet and unearthlyradiance which speaks of perfect peace.

[1] A fact.

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THE LOST CASKET. Translated from “La Main Coupée” of F. de Boisgobeyby S. Lee.

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The Sword Of Damocles | Project Gutenberg (2024)

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