Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Cynthia Wakeham's Money
Author: Green, Anna Katharine, 1846-1935
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Cynthia Wakeham's Money" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



WORKS BY

Anna Katharine Green

    THE LEAVENWORTH CASE.
    A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE.
    THE SWORD OF DAMOCLES.
    HAND AND RING.
    THE MILL MYSTERY.
    BEHIND CLOSED DOORS.
    CYNTHIA WAKEHAM'S MONEY.
    MARKED "PERSONAL."
    MISS HURD: AN ENIGMA.
    DR. IZARD.
    THAT AFFAIR NEXT DOOR.
    LOST MAN'S LANE.
    AGATHA WEBB.
    ONE OF MY SONS.
    THE OLD STONE HOUSE.
    7 TO 12 AND X. Y. Z.
    THE DOCTOR, HIS WIFE, AND THE CLOCK.
    THE DEFENCE OF THE BRIDE, AND OTHER POEMS.
    RISIFI'S DAUGHTER. A DRAMA.
    THE HOUSE OF THE WHISPERING PINES.


    G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
    NEW YORK & LONDON



[Illustration: "'Let me have it!' cried Huckins. 'I have lived in this
hole for fifteen years, till I have almost rotted away like the place
itself!'"]



Cynthia Wakeham's Money

By

Anna Katharine Green

Author of "The Leavenworth Case," "Hand and Ring," "The Mill Mystery,"
"The Defence of the Bride," etc.



    G. P. Putnam's Sons
    New York and London
    The Knickerbocker Press



COPYRIGHT, 1892

BY

ANNA KATHARINE GREEN

Entered at Stationers' Hall, London BY G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS



Electrotyped, Printed, and Bound by The Knickerbocker Press, New York
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS



CONTENTS.


BOOK I.

A VILLAGE MYSTERY.

 CHAPTER.                                         PAGE.

       I. A WOMAN'S FACE                             1

      II. A LAWYER'S ADVENTURE                      10

     III. CONTINUATION OF A LAWYER'S ADVENTURE      27

      IV. FLINT AND STEEL                           36

       V. DIFFICULTIES                              45

      VI. YOUNG MEN'S FANCIES                       55

     VII. THE WAY OPENS                             71

    VIII. A SEARCH AND ITS RESULTS                  80

      IX. THE TWO SISTERS                           92

       X. DORIS                                     97

      XI. LOVE                                     109

     XII. HOW MUCH DID IT MEAN?                    122

    XIII. FRESH DOUBTS                             142

     XIV. IN THE NIGHT WATCHES                     150


BOOK II.

THE SECRET OF THE LABORATORY.

      XV. THE BEGINNING OF CHANGES                 158

     XVI. A STRANGE VISITOR                        169

    XVII. TWO CONVERSATIONS                        181

   XVIII. SUSPENSE                                 193

     XIX. A DISCOVERY                              205

      XX. THE DEVIL'S CAULDRON                     213

     XXI. IN THE LABORATORY                        232

    XXII. STEEL MEETS STEEL                        239

   XXIII. A GROWING HORROR                         249

    XXIV. FATHER AND CHILD                         261

     XXV. EDGAR AND FRANK                          272


BOOK III.

UNCLE AND NIECE.

    XXVI. THE WHITE POWDER                         279

   XXVII. THE HAND OF HUCKINS                      286

  XXVIII. IN EXTREMITY                             300

    XXIX. IN THE POPLAR WALK                       307

     XXX. THE FINAL TERROR                         315

    XXXI. AN EVENTFUL QUARTER OF AN HOUR           327

   XXXII. THE SPECTRE OF THE LABORATORY            332



CYNTHIA WAKEHAM'S MONEY.



BOOK I.

A VILLAGE MYSTERY.



I.

A WOMAN'S FACE.


It was verging towards seven o'clock. The train had just left Marston
station, and two young men stood on the platform surveying with very
different eyes the stretch of country landscape lying before them. Frank
Etheridge wore an eager aspect, the aspect of the bright, hopeful,
energetic lawyer which he was, and his quick searching gaze flashed
rapidly from point to point as if in one of the scattered homes within
his view he sought an answer to some problem at present agitating his
mind. He was a stranger in Marston.

His companion, Edgar Sellick, wore a quieter air, or at least one more
restrained. He was a native of the place, and was returning to it after
a short and fruitless absence in the west, to resume his career of
physician amid the scenes of his earliest associations. Both were tall,
well-made, and handsome, and, to draw at once a distinction between them
which will effectually separate their personalities, Frank Etheridge was
a man to attract the attention of men, and Edgar Sellick that of women;
the former betraying at first glance all his good qualities in the
keenness of his eye and the frankness of his smile, and the latter
hiding his best impulses under an air of cynicism so allied to
melancholy that imagination was allowed free play in his behalf. They
had attended the same college and had met on the train by chance.

"I am expecting old Jerry, with a buggy," announced Edgar, looking
indifferently down the road. The train was on time but Jerry was not,
both of which facts were to be expected. "Ah, here he comes. You will
ride to the tavern with me?"

"With pleasure," was Frank's cheerful reply; "but what will you do with
Jerry? He's a mile too large, as you see yourself, to be a third party
in a buggy ride."

"No doubt about that, but Jerry can walk; it will help to rob him of a
little of his avoirdupois. As his future physician I shall prescribe it.
I cannot have you miss the supper I have telegraphed for at Henly's."

And being a determined man, he carried this scheme through, to Jerry's
manifest but cheerfully accepted discomfort. As they were riding off,
Edgar leaned from the buggy, and Frank heard him say to his panting
follower:

"Is it known in town that I am coming to-night?" To which that panting
follower shrilly replied: "Ay, sir, and Tim Jones has lit a bond-fire
and Jack Skelton hoisted a flag, so glad they be to have you back. Old
Dudgeon was too intimate with the undertaker, sir. We hopes as you will
turn a cold shoulder to him--the undertaker, I mean."

At which Frank observed his friend give one of his peculiar smiles which
might mean so little and might mean so much, but whatever it meant had
that touch of bittersweet in it which at once hurts and attracts.

"You like your profession?" Frank abruptly asked.

Edgar turned, surveyed the other questioningly for a moment, then
remarked:

"Not as you like yours. Law seems to be a passion with you."

Frank laughed. "Why not? I have no other love, why not give all my heart
to that?"

Edgar did not answer; he was looking straight before him at the lights
in the village they were now rapidly approaching.

"How strange it is we should have met in this way," exclaimed the young
lawyer. "It is mighty fortunate for me, whatever it may be for you. You
know all the people in town, and perhaps can tell me what will shorten
my stay into hours."

"Do you call that fortunate?" interrogated the other with one of his
quiet smiles.

"Well, no, only from a business view. But you see, Edgar, it is so
short a time since I have thought of anything but business, that I have
hardly got used to the situation. I should be sorry, now I come to think
of it, to say good-by to you before I heard how you had enjoyed life
since we parted on a certain Commencement day. You look older, while
I----"

He laughed. How merry the sound, and how the growing twilight seemed to
brighten at it! Edgar looked for a moment as if he envied him that
laugh, then he said:

"You are not tripped up by petty obstacles. You have wings to your feet
and soar above small disappointments. My soles cling to the ground and
encounter there difficulty after difficulty. Hence the weariness with
which I gain anything. But your business here,--what is it? You say I
can aid you. How?"

"Oh, it is a long story which will help to enliven our evening meal. Let
us wait till then. At present I am interested in what I see before me.
Snug homes, Edgar, and an exquisite landscape."

The other, whose face for the last few minutes had been gradually
settling into sterner and sterner lines, nodded automatically but did
not look up from the horse he was driving.

"Who lives in these houses? Old friends of yours?" Frank continued.

Edgar nodded again, whipped his horse and for an instant allowed his
eyes to wander up and down the road.

"I used to know them all," he acknowledged, "but I suppose there have
been changes."

His tone had altered, his very frame had stiffened. Frank looked at him
curiously.

"You seem to be in a hurry," he remarked. "I enjoy this twilight drive,
and--haloo! this is an odd old place we are coming to. Suppose you pull
up and let me look at it."

His companion, with a strange glance and an awkward air of
dissatisfaction, did as he was bid, and Frank leaning from the buggy
gazed long and earnestly at the quaint old house and grounds which had
attracted his attention. Edgar did not follow his example but sat
unmoved, looking fixedly at the last narrow strip of orange light that
separated night from day on the distant horizon.

"I feel as if I had come upon something uncanny," murmured Frank. "Look
at that double row of poplars stretching away almost as far as we can
see? Is it not an ideal Ghost's Walk, especially in this hour of falling
shadows. I never saw anything so suggestive in a country landscape
before. Each tree looks like a spectre hob-nobbing with its neighbor.
Tell me that this is a haunted house which guards this avenue. Nothing
less weird should dominate a spot so peculiar."

"Frank, I did not know you were so fanciful," exclaimed the other,
lashing his horse with a stinging whip.

"Wait, wait! I am not fanciful, it is the place that is curious. If you
were not in a hurry for your supper you would see it too. Come, give it
a look. You may have observed it a hundred times before, but by this
light you must acknowledge that it looks like a place with a history.
Come, now, don't it?"

Edgar drew in his horse for the second time and impatiently allowed his
glance to follow in the direction indicated by his friend. What he saw
has already been partially described. But details will not be amiss
here, as the house and its surroundings were really unique, and bespoke
an antiquity of which few dwellings can now boast even in the most
historic parts of Connecticut.

The avenue of poplars which had first attracted Frank's attention had
this notable peculiarity, that it led from nowhere to nowhere. That is,
it was not, as is usual in such cases, made the means of approach to the
house, but on the contrary ran along its side from road to rear, thick,
compact, and gruesome. The house itself was of timber, and was both gray
and weather-beaten. It was one of the remnants of that old time when a
family homestead rambled in all directions under a huge roof which
accommodated itself to each new projection, like the bark to its tree.
In this case the roof sloped nearly to the ground on one side, while on
the other it beetled over a vine-clad piazza. In front of the house and
on both sides of it rose a brick wall that, including the two rows of
trees within its jealous cordon, shut off the entire premises from those
of the adjoining neighbors, and gave to the whole place an air of
desolation and remoteness which the smoke rising from its one tall
chimney did not seem to soften or relieve. Yet old as it all was, there
was no air of decay about the spot, nor was the garden neglected or the
vines left untrimmed.

"The home of a hermit," quoth Frank. "You know who lives there of
course, but if you did not I would wager that it is some old scion of
the past----"

Suddenly he stopped, suddenly his hand was laid on the horse's rein
falling somewhat slack in the grasp of his companion. A lamp had at that
instant been brought into one of the front rooms of the house he was
contemplating, and the glimpse he thus caught of the interior attracted
his eyes and even arrested the gaze of the impatient Edgar. For the
woman who held the lamp was no common one, and the face which showed
above it was one to stop any man who had an eye for the beautiful, the
inscrutable, and the tragic. As Frank noted it and marked its exquisite
lines, its faultless coloring, and that air of profound and mysterious
melancholy which made it stand out distinctly in the well-lighted space
about it, he tightened his grip on the reins he had snatched, till the
horse stood still in the road, and Edgar impatiently watching him,
perceived that the gay look had crept from his face, leaving there an
expression of indefinable yearning which at once transfigured and
ennobled it.

"What beauty! What unexpected beauty!" Frank whispered at last. "Did you
ever see its like, Edgar?"

The answer came with Edgar's most cynical smile:

"Wait till she turns her head."

And at that moment she did turn it. On the instant Frank drew in his
breath and Edgar expected to see him drop his hand from the reins and
sink back disillusionized and indifferent. But he did not. On the
contrary, his attitude betrayed a still deeper interest and longing, and
murmuring, "How sad! poor girl!" he continued to gaze till Edgar, with
one strange, almost shrinking look in the direction of the unconscious
girl now moving abstractedly across the room, tore the reins from his
hands and started the horse again towards their place of destination.

Frank, whom the sudden movement seemed to awaken as from a dream,
glanced for a moment almost angrily at his companion, then he settled
back in his seat, saying nothing till the lights of the tavern became
visible, when he roused himself and inquired:

"Who is that girl, Edgar, and how did she become so disfigured?"

"I don't know," was the short reply; "she has always been so, I believe,
at least since I remember seeing her. It looks like the scar of a wound,
but I have never heard any explanation given of it."

"Her name, Edgar?"

"Hermione Cavanagh."

"You know her?"

"Somewhat."

"Are you"--the words came with a pant, shortly, intensely, and as if
forced from him--"in love--with her?"

"No." Edgar's passion seemed for the moment to be as great as that of
the other. "How came you to think of such a thing?"

"Because--because," Frank whispered almost humbly, "you seemed so short
in your replies, and because, I might as well avow it, she seems to me
one to command the love of all men."

"Well, sirs, here I be as quick as you," shouted a voice in their rear,
and old Jerry came lumbering forward, just in time to hold their horse
as they alighted at the tavern.



II

A LAWYER'S ADVENTURE.


Supper that night did not bring to these two friends all the enjoyment
which they had evidently anticipated. In the first place it was
continually interrupted by greetings to the young physician whose
unexpected return to his native town had awakened in all classes a
decided enthusiasm. Then Frank was moody, he who was usually gaiety
itself. He wanted to talk about the beautiful and unfortunate Miss
Cavanagh, and Edgar did not, and this created embarrassment between
them, an embarrassment all the more marked that there seemed to be some
undefined reason for Edgar's reticence not to be explained by any
obvious cause. At length Frank broke out impetuously:

"If you won't tell me anything about this girl, I must look up some one
who will. Those cruel marks on her face have completed the charm of her
beauty, and not till I know something of their history and of her, will
I go to sleep to-night. So much for the impression which a woman's face
can make upon an unsusceptible man."

"Frank," observed the other, coldly, "I should say that your time might
be much better employed in relating to me the cause for your being in
Marston."

The young lawyer started, shook himself, and laughed.

"Oh, true, I had forgotten," said he, and supper being now over he got
up and began pacing the floor. "Do you know any one here by the name of
Harriet Smith?"

"No," returned the other, "but I have been away a year, and many persons
may have come into town in that time."

"But I mean an old resident," Frank explained, "a lady of years,
possibly a widow."

"I never heard of such a person," rejoined Edgar. "Are you sure there is
such a woman in town? I should be apt to know it if there were."

"I am not sure she is here now, or for that matter that she is living,
but if she is not and I learn the names and whereabouts of any heirs she
may have left behind her, I shall be satisfied with the results of my
journey. Harriet Smith! Surely you have heard of her."

"No," Edgar protested, "I have not."

"It is odd," remarked Frank, wrinkling his brows in some perplexity. "I
thought I should have no trouble in tracing her. Not that I care," he
avowed with brightening countenance. "On the contrary, I can scarcely
quarrel with a fact that promises to detain me in your company for a few
days."

"No? Then your mind has suddenly changed in that regard," Edgar dryly
insinuated.

Frank blushed. "I think not," was his laughing reply. "But let me tell
my story. It may interest you in a pursuit that I begin to see is likely
to possess difficulties." And lighting a cigar, he sat down with his
friend by the open window. "I do not suppose you know much about
Brooklyn, or, if you do, that you are acquainted with that portion of it
which is called Flatbush. I will therefore explain that this outlying
village is a very old one, antedating the Revolution. Though within a
short car-drive from the great city, it has not yet given up its life to
it, but preserves in its one main street at least, a certain
individuality which still connects it with the past. My office, as you
know, is in New York, but I have several clients in Brooklyn and one or
two in Flatbush, so I was not at all surprised, though considerably put
out, when one evening, just as I was about to start for the theatre, a
telegram was handed me by the janitor, enjoining me to come without
delay to Flatbush prepared to draw up the will of one, Cynthia Wakeham,
lying, as the sender of the telegram declared, at the point of death.
Though I knew neither this name, nor that of the man who signed it,
which was Hiram Huckins, and had no particular desire to change the
place of my destination at that hour, I had really no good reason for
declining the business thus offered me. So making a virtue of necessity,
I gave up the theatre and started instead for Flatbush, which, from the
house where I lodge in upper New York, is a good hour and a half's ride
even by the way of the bridge and the elevated roads. It was therefore
well on towards ten o'clock before I arrived in the shaded street which
in the daylight and in the full brightness of a summer's sun I had
usually found so attractive, but which at night and under the
circumstances which had brought me there looked both sombre and
forbidding. However I had not come upon an errand of pleasure, so I did
not spend much time in contemplating my surroundings, but beckoning to
the conductor of the street-car on which I was riding, I asked him if he
knew Mrs. Wakeham's house, and when he nodded, asked him to set me down
before it. I thought he gave me a queer look, but as his attention was
at that moment diverted, I could not be sure of it, and before he came
my way again the car had stopped and he was motioning to me to alight.

"'That is the house,' said he, pointing to two huge gate-posts
glimmering whitely in the light of a street-lamp opposite, and I was on
the sidewalk and in front of the two posts before I remembered that a
man on the rear platform of the car had muttered as I stepped by him: 'A
visitor for Widow Wakeham, eh; she _must_ be sick, then!'

"The house stood back a short distance from the street, and as I
entered the gate, which by the way looked as if it would tumble down if
I touched it, I could see nothing but a gray mass with one twinkling
light in it. But as I drew nearer I became aware that it was not a
well-kept and hospitable mansion towards which I was tending, however
imposing might be its size and general structure. If only from the
tangled growth of the shrubbery about me and the long dank stalks of the
weeds that lay as if undisturbed by mortal feet upon the walk, I could
gather that whatever fortune Mrs. Wakeham might have to leave she had
not expended much in the keeping of her home. But it was upon reaching
the house I experienced the greatest surprise. There were walls before
me, no doubt, and a huge portico, but the latter was hanging as it were
by faith to supports so dilapidated that even the darkness of that late
hour could not hide their ruin or the impending fall of the whole
structure. So old, so uncared-for, and so utterly out of keeping with
the errand upon which I had come looked the whole place that I
instinctively drew back, assured that the conductor had made some
mistake in directing me thither. But no sooner had I turned my back upon
the house, than a window was thrown up over my head and I heard the
strangely eager voice of a man say:

"'This is the place, sir. Wait, and I will open the door for you.'

"I did as he bade me, though not without some reluctance. The voice,
for all its tone of anxiety, sounded at once false and harsh, and I
instinctively associated with it a harsh and false face. The house, too,
did not improve in appearance upon approach. The steps shook under my
tread, and I could not but notice by the faint light sifting through the
bushes from the lamp on the other side of the way, that the balustrades
had been pulled from their places, leaving only gaping holes to mark
where they had once been. The door was intact, but in running my hand
over it I discovered that the mouldings had been stripped from its face,
and that the knocker, hanging as it did by one nail, was ready to fall
at the first provocation. If Cynthia Wakeham lived here, it would be
interesting to know the extent of her wealth. As there seemed to be some
delay in the opening of the door, I had time to note that the grounds
(all of these houses have grounds about them) were of some extent, but,
as I have said, in a manifest condition of overgrowth and neglect. As I
mused upon the contrast they must afford in the bright daylight to the
wide and well-kept lawns of the more ambitious owners on either side, a
footstep sounded on the loose boards which had evidently been flung down
at one side of the house as a sort of protection to the foot from the
darkness and mud of the neglected path, and a woman's form swung dimly
into view, laden with a great pile of what looked to me like brushwood.
As she passed she seemed to become conscious of my presence, and,
looking up, she let the huge bundle slip slowly from her shoulders till
it lay in the darkness at her feet.

"'Are you,' she whispered, coming close to the foot of the steps, 'going
in there?'

"'Yes,' I returned, struck by the mingled surprise and incredulity in
her tone.

"She stood still a minute, then came up a step.

"'Are you a minister?' she asked.

"'No,' I laughed; 'why?'

"She seemed to reason with herself before saying: 'No one ever goes into
that house; I thought perhaps you did not know. They won't have any one.
Would you mind telling me,' she went on, in a hungry whisper almost
thrilling to hear, coming as it did through the silence and darkness of
the night, 'what you find in the house? I will be at the gate, sir,
and----'

"She paused, probably awed by the force of my exclamation, and picking
up her bundle of wet boughs, slunk away, but not without turning more
than once before she reached the gate. Scarcely had she disappeared into
the street when a window went up in a neighboring house. At the same
moment, some one, I could not tell whether it was a man or a woman, came
up the path as far as the first trees and there paused, while a shrill
voice called out:

"'They never unlocks that door; visitors ain't wanted.'

"Evidently, if I were not admitted soon I should have the whole
neighborhood about me.

"I lifted the knocker, but it came off in my hand. Angry at the
mischance, and perhaps a little moved by the excitement of my position,
I raised the broken piece of iron and gave a thundering knock on the
rotten panels before me. Instantly the door opened, creaking ominously
as it did so, and a man stood in the gap with a wretched old kerosene
lamp in his hand. The apologetic leer on his evil countenance did not
for a moment deceive me.

"'I beg your pardon,' he hurriedly exclaimed, and his voice showed he
was a man of education, notwithstanding his forlorn and wretched
appearance, 'but the old woman had a turn just as you came, and I could
not leave her.'

"I looked at him, and instinct told me to quit the spot and not enter a
house so vilely guarded. For the man was not only uncouth to the last
degree in dress and aspect, but sinister in expression and servilely
eager in bearing.

"'Won't you come in?' he urged. 'The old woman is past talking, but she
can make signs; perhaps an hour from now she will not be able to do even
that.'

"'Do you allude to the woman who wishes to make her will?' I asked.

"'Yes,' he answered, greedily, 'Cynthia Wakeham, my sister.' And he
gently pushed the door in a way that forced me to enter or show myself a
coward.

"I took heart and went in. What poverty I beheld before me in the light
of that solitary smoking lamp! If the exterior of the house bore the
marks of devastation, what shall I say of the barren halls and denuded
rooms which now opened before me? Not a chair greeted my eyes, though a
toppling stool here and there showed that people sat in this place. Nor
did I see a table, though somewhere in some remote region beyond the
staircase I heard the clatter of plates, as if eating were also known in
this home of almost ostentatious penury. Staircase I say, but I should
have said steps, for the balustrades were missing here just as they had
been missing without, and not even a rail remained to speak of old-time
comfort and prosperity.

"'I am very poor,' humbly remarked the man, answering my look of
perplexity. 'It is my sister who has the money.' And moving towards the
stairs, he motioned me to ascend.

"Even then I recoiled, not knowing what to make of this adventure; but
hearing a hollow groan from above, uttered in tones unmistakably
feminine, I remembered my errand and went up, followed so closely by the
man, that his breath, mingled with the smell of that vile lamp, seemed
to pant on my shoulder. I shall never smell kerosene again without
recalling the sensations of that moment.

"Arriving at the top of the stair, up which my distorted shadow had gone
before me, I saw an open door and went in. A woman was lying in one
corner on a hard and uncomfortable bed, a woman whose eyes drew me to
her side before a word had been spoken.

"She was old and in the last gasp of some fatal disease. But it was not
this which impressed me most. It was the searching look with which she
greeted me,--a piteous, hunted look, like that of some wild animal
driven to bay and turning upon her conqueror for some signs of relenting
or pity. It made the haggard face eloquent; it assured me without a word
that some great wrong had been done or was about to be done, and that I
must show myself at once her friend if I would gain her confidence.

"Advancing to her side, I spoke to her kindly, asking if she were
Cynthia Wakeham, and if she desired the services of a lawyer.

"She at once nodded painfully but unmistakably, and, lifting her hand,
pointed to her lips and shook her head.

"'She means that she cannot speak', explained the man, in a pant, over
my shoulder.

"Moving a step aside in my disgust, I said to her, not to him:

"'But you can hear?'

"Her intelligent eye responded before her head could add its painful
acquiescence.

"'And you have property to leave?'

"'This house', answered the man.

"My eyes wandered mechanically to the empty cupboards about me from
which the doors had been wrenched and, as I now saw from the looks of
the fireplace, burned.

"'The ground--the ground is worth something,' quoth the man.

"'The avidity with which he spoke satisfied me at least upon one
point--_he_ was the expectant heir.

"'Your name?' I asked, turning sharply upon him.

"'Hiram Huckins.'

"It was the name attached to the telegram.

"'And you are the brother of this woman?'

"'Yes, yes.'

"I had addressed him, but I looked at her. She answered my look with a
steadfast gaze, but there was no dissent in it, and I considered that
point settled.

"'She is a married woman, then?'

"'A widow; husband died long years ago.'

"'Any children?'

"'No.' And I saw in her face that he spoke the truth.

"'But you and she have brothers or sisters? You are not her only
relative?'

"'I am the only one who has stuck by her,' he sullenly answered. 'We did
have a sister, but she is gone; fled from home years ago; lost in the
great world; dead, perhaps. _She_ don't care for her; ask her.'

"I did ask her, but the haggard face said nothing. The eyes burned, but
they had a waiting look.

"'To whom do you want to leave your property?' I inquired of her
pointedly.

"Had she glanced at the man, had her face even changed, or so much as a
tremor shook her rigid form, I might have hesitated. But the quiet way
in which she lifted her hand and pointed with one finger in his
direction while she looked straight at me, convinced me that whatever
was wrong, her mind was made up as to the disposal of her property. So
taking out my papers, I sat down on the rude bench drawn up beside the
bed and began to write.

"The man stood behind me with the lamp. He was so eager and bent over
me so closely that the smell of the lamp and his nearness were more than
I could bear.

"'Set down the lamp,' I cried. 'Get a table--something--don't lean over
me like that.'

"But there was nothing, actually nothing for him to put the lamp on, and
I was forced to subdue my disgust and get used as best I could to his
presence and to his great shadow looming on the wall behind us. But I
could not get used to her eyes hurrying me, and my hand trembled as I
wrote.

"'Have you any name but Cynthia?' I inquired, looking up.

"She painfully shook her head.

"'You had better tell me what her husband's name was,' I suggested to
the brother.

"'John Lapham Wakeham,' was the quick reply.

"I wrote down both names. Then I said, looking intently at the dying
widow:

"'As you cannot speak, you must make signs. Shake your hand when you
wish to say no, and move it up and down when you wish to say yes. Do you
understand?'

"She signalled somewhat impatiently that she did, and then, lifting her
hand with a tremulous movement, pointed anxiously towards a large Dutch
clock, which was the sole object of adornment in the room.

"'She urges you to hurry,' whispered the man. 'Make it short, make it
short. The doctor I called in this morning said she might die any
minute.'

"As from her appearance I judged this to be only too possible, I hastily
wrote a few words more, and then asked:

"'Is this property all that you have to leave?'

"I had looked at her, though I knew it would be the man who would
answer.

"'Yes, yes, this house,' he cried. 'Put it strong; this house and all
there is in it.'

"I thought of its barren rooms and empty cupboards, and a strange fancy
seized me. Going straight to the woman, I leaned over her and said:

"'Is it your desire to leave all that you possess to this brother? Real
property and personal, this house, and also everything it contains?'

"She did not answer, even by a sign, but pointed again to the clock.

"'She means that you are to go right on,' he cried. 'And indeed you
must,' he pursued, eagerly. 'She won't be able to sign her name if you
wait much longer.'

"I felt the truth of this, and yet I hesitated.

"'Where are the witnesses?' I asked. 'She must have two witnesses to her
signature.'

"'Won't I do for one?' he inquired.

"'No,' I returned; 'the one benefited by a will is disqualified from
witnessing it.'

"He looked confounded for a moment. Then he stepped to the door and
shouted, 'Briggs! Briggs!'

"As if in answer there came a clatter as of falling dishes, and as
proof of the slavery which this woman had evidently been under to his
avarice, she gave a start, dying as she was, and turned upon him with a
frightened gaze, as if she expected from him an ebullition of wrath.

"'Briggs, is there a light in Mr. Thompson's house?'

"'Yes,' answered a gruff voice from the foot of the stairs.

"'Go then, and ask him or the first person you see there, if he will
come in here for a minute. Be very polite and don't swear, or I won't
pay you the money I promised you. Say that Mrs. Wakeham is dying, and
that the lawyer is drawing up her will. Get James Sotherby to come too,
and if he won't do it, somebody else who is respectable. Everything must
be very legal, sir,' he explained, turning to me, 'very legal.'

"Not knowing what to think of this man, but seeing only one thing to
do, I nodded, and asked the woman whom I should name as executor. She at
once indicated her brother, and as I wrote in his name and concluded the
will, she watched me with an intentness that made my nerves creep,
though I am usually anything but susceptible to such influences. When
the document was ready I rose and stood at her side in some doubt of the
whole transaction. Was it her will I had expressed in the paper I held
before me, or his? Had she been constrained by his influence to do what
she was doing, or was her mind free to act and but obeying its natural
instincts? I determined to make one effort at finding out. Turning
towards the man, I said firmly:

"'Before Mrs. Wakeham signs this will she must know exactly what it
contains. I can read it to her, but I prefer her to read the paper for
herself. Get her glasses, then, if she needs them, and bring them here
at once, or I throw up this business and take the document away with me
out of the house.'

"'But she has no glasses,' he protested; 'they were broken long ago.'

"'Get them,' I cried; 'or get yours,--she shall not sign that document
till you do.'

"But he stood hesitating, loth, as I now believe, to leave us together,
though that was exactly what I desired, which she, seeing, feverishly
clutched my sleeve, and, with a force of which I should not have thought
her capable, made wild gestures to the effect that I should not delay
any longer, but read it to her myself.

"Seeing by this, as I thought, that her own feelings were,
notwithstanding my doubts, really engaged in the same direction as his,
I desisted from my efforts to separate the two, if it were only for a
moment, and read the will aloud. It ran thus:

    "The last will and testament of Cynthia Wakeham, widow of John
    Lapham Wakeham, of Flatbush, Kings County, New York.

    "First: I direct all my just debts and funeral expenses to be
    paid.

    "Second: I give, devise, and bequeath to my brother, Hiram
    Huckins, all the property, real and personal, which I own, or to
    which I may be entitled, at the time of my death, and I appoint
    him the sole executor of this my last will and testament.

    "Witness my hand this fifth day of June, in the year eighteen
    hundred and eighty-eight.

    "Signed, published, and declared by the      }
    Testatrix to be her last will and testament, }
    in our presence who, at her request and      }
    in her presence and in the presence of       }
    each other, have subscribed our names        }
    hereto as witnesses, on this 5th day of      }
    June, 1888.                                  }

"'Is that the expression of your wishes?' I asked, when I had finished.

"She nodded, and reached out her hand for the pen.

"'You must wait,' said I, 'for the witnesses.'

"But even as I spoke their approach was heard, and Huckins was forced to
go to the door with the lamp, for the hall was pitch dark and the stairs
dangerous. As he turned his back upon us, I thought Mrs. Wakeham moved
and opened her lips, but I may have been mistaken, for his black and
ominous shadow lay over her face, and I could discern but little of its
expression.

"'Is there anything you want?' I asked her, rising and going to the
bedside.

"But Huckins was alert to all my movements, if he had stepped for a
moment away.

"'Give her water,' he cried, wheeling sharply about. And pointing to a
broken glass standing on the floor at her side, he watched me while I
handed it to her.

"'She mus'n't give out now,' he pursued, with one eye on us and the
other on the persons coming upstairs.

"'She will not,' I returned, seeing her face brighten at the sound of
approaching steps.

"'It's Miss Thompson and Mr. Dickey,' now spoke up the gruff voice of
Briggs from the foot of the steps. 'No other folks was up, so I brought
them along.'

"The young woman, who at this instant appeared in the doorway, blushed
and cast a shy look over her shoulder at the fresh-faced man who
followed her.

"'It's all right, Minnie,' immediately interposed that genial personage,
with a cheerful smile; 'every one knows we are keeping company and mean
to be married as soon as the times improve.'

"'Yes, every one knows,' she sighed, and stepped briskly into the room,
her intelligent face and kindly expression diffusing a cheer about her
such as the dismal spot had doubtless lacked for years.

"I heard afterward that this interesting couple had been waiting for
the times to improve, for the last fifteen years."



III.

CONTINUATION OF A LAWYER'S ADVENTURE.


"The two witnesses had scarcely entered the room before the dying woman
stretched out her hand again for the pen. As I handed it to her and
placed the document before her on my portfolio, I asked:

"'Do you declare this paper to be your last will and testament and do
you request these persons to witness it?'

"She bowed a quick acquiescence, and put the pen at the place I pointed
out to her.

"'Shall I support your hand?' I pursued, fearful she would not have the
strength to complete the task.

"But she shook her head and wrote her name in hastily, with a feverish
energy that astonished me. Expecting to see her drop back exhausted if
not lifeless as the pen left the paper, I drew the document away and
bent to support her. But she did not need my assistance. Indeed she
looked stronger than before, and what was still more astonishing, seemed
even more anxious and burningly eager.

"'Is she holding up till the witnesses have affixed their signatures?'
I inwardly queried. And intent upon relieving her, I hastily explained
to them the requirements of the case, and did not myself breathe easily
till I saw their two names below hers. Then I felt that she could rest;
but to my surprise but one sigh of relief rose in that room, and that
was from the cringing, cruel-eyed inheritor, who, at the first
intimation that the document was duly signed and attested, sprang from
his corner with such a smile that the place seemed to grow hideous, and
I drew involuntarily back.

"'Let me have it,' were his first words. 'I have lived in this hole, and
for fifteen years made myself a slave to her whims, till I have almost
rotted away like the place itself. And now I want my reward. Let me have
the will.'

"His hand was on the paper and in my surprise I had almost yielded it up
to him, when another hand seized it, and the dying, gasping woman,
mumbling and mouthing, pointed for the third time to the clock and then
to one corner of the paper, trying to make me understand something I
entirely failed to comprehend.

"'What is it?' I asked. 'What do you want? Is not the will to your
liking?'

"'Yes, yes,' her frenzied nods seemed to say, and yet she continued
pointing to the clock and then to the paper while the angry man before
her stared and muttered in a mixture of perplexity and alarm which added
no little to the excitement of the harrowing scene.

"'Let me see if I can tell what she wants,' suddenly observed the young
woman who had signed the paper as a witness. And bringing her sweet
womanly face around where the rolling eye of the woman could see her,
she asked with friendly interest in her tone, 'Do you wish the time of
day written on the will?'

"Oh, the relief that swept over that poor woman's tortured countenance!
She nodded and looked up at me so confidingly that in despite of the
oddity of the request I rapidly penned after the date, the words 'at
half-past ten o'clock P.M.,' and caused the witnesses to note the
addition.

"This seemed to satisfy her, and she sank back with a sign that I was to
yield to her brother's demand and give him the paper he coveted, and
when I hesitated, started up again with such a frenzied appeal in her
face that in the terror of seeing her die before our eyes, I yielded it
to his outstretched hand, expecting at the most to see him put it in his
pocket.

"But no, the moment he felt it in his grasp, he set down the lamp, and,
without a look in her direction or a word of thanks to me or the two
neighbors who had come to his assistance, started rapidly from the room.
Disturbed and doubting my own wisdom in thus yielding to an impulse of
humanity which may be called weakness by such strong-minded men as
yourself, I turned to follow him, but the woman's trembling hand again
stopped me; and convinced at last that I was alarming myself
unnecessarily and that she had had as much pleasure in making him her
heir as he in being made so, I turned to pay her my adieux, when the
expression of her face, changed now from what it had been to one of hope
and trembling delight, made me pause again in wonder, and almost
prepared me for the low and thrilling whisper which now broke from her
lips in distinct tones.

"'Is he gone?'

"'Then you can speak,' burst from the young woman.

"The widow gave her an eloquent look.

"'I have not spoken,' said she, 'for two days; I have been saving my
strength. Hark!' she suddenly whispered. 'He has no light, he will pitch
over the landing. No, no, he has gone by it in safety, he has
reached----' she paused and listened intently, trembling as she did
so--'Will he go into _that_ room?--Run! follow! see if he has dared--but
no, he has gone down to the kitchen,' came in quick glad relief from her
lips as a distant door shut softly at the back end of the house. 'He is
leaving the house and will never come back. I am released forever from
his watchfulness; I am free! Now, sir, draw up another will, quick; let
these two kind friends wait and see me sign it, and God will bless you
for your kindness and my eyes will close in peace upon this cruel
world.'

"Aghast but realizing in a moment that she had but lent herself to her
brother's wishes in order to rid herself of a surveillance which had
possibly had an almost mesmeric influence upon her, I opened my
portfolio again, saying:

"'You declare yourself then to have been unduly influenced by your
brother in making the will you have just signed in the presence of these
two witnesses?'

"To which she replied with every evidence of a clear mind----

"'I do; I do. I could not move, I could not breathe, I could not think
except as he willed it. When he was near, and he was always near, I had
to do just as he wished--perhaps because I was afraid of him, perhaps
because he had the stronger will of the two, I do not know; I cannot
explain it, but he ruled me and has done so all my life till this hour.
Now he has left me, left me to die, as he thinks, unfriended and alone,
but I am strong yet, stronger than he knows, and before I turn my face
to the wall, I will tear my property from his unholy grasp and give it
where I have always wanted it to go--to my poor, lost, unfortunate
sister.'

"'Ah,' thought I, 'I see, I see'; and satisfied at last that I was no
longer being made the minister of an unscrupulous avarice, I hastily
drew up a second will, only pausing to ask the name of her sister and
the place of her residence.

"'Her name is Harriet Smith,' was the quick reply, 'and she lived when
last I heard of her in Marston, a little village in Connecticut. She may
be dead now, it is so long since I received any news of her,--Hiram
would never let me write to her,--but she may have had children, and if
so, they are just as welcome as she is to the little I have to give.'

"'Her children's names?' I asked.

"'I don't know, I don't know anything about her. But you will find out
everything necessary when I am gone; and if she is living, or has
children, you will see that they are reinstated in the home of their
ancestors. For,' she now added eagerly, 'they must come here to live,
and build up this old house again and make it respectable once more or
they cannot have my money. I want you to put that in my will; for when I
have seen these old walls toppling, the doors wrenched off, and its
lintels demolished for firewood, for _firewood_, sir, I have kept my
patience alive and my hope up by saying, Never mind; some day Harriet's
children will make this all right again. The old house which their kind
grandfather was good enough to give me for my own, shall not fall to the
ground without one effort on my part to save it. And this is how I will
accomplish it. This house is for Harriet or Harriet's children if they
will come here and live in it one year, but if they will not do this,
let it go to my brother, for I shall have no more interest in it. You
heed me, lawyer?'

"I nodded and wrote on busily, thinking, perhaps, that if Harriet or
Harriet's children did not have some money of their own to fix up this
old place, they would scarcely care to accept their forlorn inheritance.
Meantime the two witnesses who had lingered at the woman's whispered
entreaty exchanged glances, and now and then a word expressive of the
interest they were taking in this unusual affair.

"'Who is to be the executor of _this_ will?' I inquired.

"'You,' she cried. Then, as I started in surprise, she added: 'I know
nobody but you. Put yourself in as executor, and oh, sir, when it is all
in your hands, find my lost relatives, I beseech you, and bring them
here, and take them into my mother's room at the end of the hall, and
tell them it is all theirs, and that they must make it their room and
fix it up and lay a new floor--you remember, a new floor--and----' Her
words rambled off incoherently, but her eyes remained fixed and eager.

"I wrote in my name as executor.

"When the document was finished, I placed it before her and asked the
young lady who had been acting as my lamp-bearer to read it aloud. This
she did; the second will reading thus:

    "The last will and testament of Cynthia Wakeham, widow of John
    Lapham Wakeham, of Flatbush, Kings County, New York.

    "First: I direct all my just debts and funeral expenses to be
    paid.

    "Second: I give, devise, and bequeath all my property to my
    sister, Harriet Smith, if living at my death, and, if not
    living, then to her children living at my death, in equal
    shares, upon condition, nevertheless, that the legatee or
    legatees who take under this will shall forthwith take up their
    residence in the house I now occupy in Flatbush, and continue to
    reside therein for at least one year thence next ensuing. If
    neither my said sister nor any of her descendants be living at
    my death, or if so living, the legatee who takes hereunder shall
    fail to comply with the above conditions, then all of said
    property shall go to my brother, Hiram Huckins.

    "Third: I appoint Frank Etheridge, of New York City, sole
    executor of this my last will and testament, thereby revoking
    all other wills by me made, especially that which was executed
    on this date at half-past ten o'clock.

    "Witness my hand this fifth day of June, in the year eighteen
    hundred and eighty-eight.

    "Signed, published, and declared     }
    by the testatrix to be her last will }
    and testament, in our presence, who, }
    at her request and in her presence   }
    and in the presence of each other,   }
    have subscribed our names hereto as  }
    witnesses, on this 5th day of June,  }
    1888, at five minutes to eleven P.M. }

"This was satisfactory to the dying widow, and her strength kept up till
she signed it and saw it duly attested; but when that was done, and the
document safely stowed away in my pocket, she suddenly collapsed and
sank back in a dying state upon her pillow.

"'What are we going to do?' now cried Miss Thompson, with looks of
great compassion at the poor woman thus bereft, at the hour of death, of
the natural care of relatives and friends. 'We cannot leave her here
alone. Has she no doctor--no nurse?'

"'Doctors cost money,' murmured the almost speechless sufferer. And
whether the smile which tortured her poor lips as she said these words
was one of bitterness at the neglect she had suffered, or of
satisfaction at the thought she had succeeded in saving this expense, I
have never been able to decide.

"As I stooped to raise her now fallen head a quick, loud sound came to
our ears from the back of the house, as of boards being ripped up from
the floor by a reckless and determined hand. Instantly the woman's face
assumed a ghastly look, and, tossing up her arms, she cried:

"'He has found the box!--the box! Stop him! Do not let him carry it
away! It is----' She fell back, and I thought all was over; but in
another instant she had raised herself almost to a sitting position, and
was pointing straight at the clock. 'There! there! look! the clock!' And
without a sigh or another movement she sank back on the pillow, dead."



IV.

FLINT AND STEEL.


"Greatly startled, I drew back from the bed which but a moment before
had been the scene of such mingled emotions.

"'All is over here,' said I, and turned to follow the man whom with her
latest breath she had bidden me to stop from leaving the house.

"As I could not take the lamp and leave my companions in darkness, I
stepped out into a dark hall; but before I had taken a half dozen steps
I heard a cautious foot descending the back stairs, and realizing that
it would be both foolish and unsafe for me to endeavor to follow him
through the unlighted rooms and possibly intricate passages of this
upper hall, I bounded down the front stairs, and feeling my way from
door to door, at last emerged into a room where there was a lamp
burning.

"I had found the kitchen, and in it were Huckins and the man Briggs.
Huckins had his hand on the latch of the outside door, and from his look
and the bundle he carried, I judged that if I had been a minute later he
would have been in full flight from the house.

"'Put out the light!' he shouted to Briggs.

"But I stepped forward, and the man did not dare obey him, and Huckins
himself looked cowed and dropped his hand from the door-knob.

"'Where are you going?' I asked, moving rapidly to his side.

"'Isn't she dead?' was his only answer, given with a mixture of mockery
and triumph difficult to describe.

"'Yes,' I assented, 'she is dead; but that does not justify you in
flying the house.'

"'And who says I am flying?' he protested. 'Cannot I go out on an errand
without being told I am running away?'

"'An errand,' I repeated, 'two minutes after your sister has breathed
her last! Don't talk to me of errands. Your appearance is that of
flight, and that bundle in your arms looks like the cause of it.'

"His eye, burning with a passion very natural under the circumstances,
flashed over me with a look of disdain.

"'And what do you know of my appearance, and what is it to you if I
carry or do not carry a bundle out of this house? Am I not master of
everything here?'

"'No,' I cried boldly; then, thinking it might perhaps be wiser not to
undeceive him as to his position till I had fully sounded his purposes,
I added somewhat nonchalantly: 'that is, you are not master enough to
take anything away that belonged to your sister. If you can prove to me
that there is nothing in that bundle save what is yours and was yours
before your sister died, well and good, you may go away with it and
leave your poor dead sister to be cared for in her own house by
strangers. But while I have the least suspicion that property of any
nature belonging to this estate is hidden away under that roll of old
clothes, you stop here if I have to appeal first to the strength of my
arms and then to that of the law.'

"'But,' he quavered, 'it is mine--_mine_. I am but carrying away my own.
Did you not draw up the will yourself? Don't you know she gave
everything to me?'

"'What I know has nothing to do with it,' I retorted. 'Did you think
because you saw a will drawn up in your favor that therefore you had
immediate right to what she left, and could run away with her effects
before her body was cold? A will has to be proven, my good man, before
an heir has any right to touch what it leaves. If you do not know this,
why did you try to slink away like a thief, instead of walking out of
the front door like a proprietor? Your manner convicts you, man; so down
with the bundle, or I shall have to give you in charge of the constable
as a thief.'

"'You----!' he began, but stopped. Either his fears were touched or his
cunning awakened, for after surveying me for a moment with mingled doubt
and hatred, he suddenly altered his manner, till it became almost
cringing, and muttering consolingly to himself, 'After all it is only a
delay; everything will soon be mine,' he laid the bundle on the one
board of the broken table beside us, adding with hypocritical meekness:
'It was only some little keepsakes of my sister, not enough to make such
a fuss about.'

"'I will see to these _keepsakes_,' said I, and was about to raise the
bundle, when he sprang upon me.

"'You----you----!' he cried. 'What right have you to touch them or to
look at them? Because you drew up the will, does that make you an
authority here? I don't believe it, and I won't see you put on the airs
of it. I will go for the constable myself. I am not afraid of the law. I
will see who is master in this house where I have lived in wretched
slavery for years, and of which I shall be soon the owner.'

"'Very well,' said I, 'let us go find the constable.'

"The calmness with which I uttered this seemed at once to abash and
infuriate him.

"He alternately cringed and ruffled himself, shuffling from one foot to
the other till I could scarcely conceal the disgust with which he
inspired me. At last he blurted forth with forced bravado:

"'Have I any rights, or haven't I any rights! You think because I don't
know the law, that you can make a fool of me, but you can't. I may have
lived like a dog, and I may not have a good coat to my back, but I am
the man to whom this property has been given, as no one knows better
than yourself; and if I chose to lift my foot and kick you out of that
door for calling me a thief, who would blame me?--answer me that.'

"'No one,' said I, with a serenity equal to his fury, 'if this property
is indeed to be yours, and if I know it as you say.'

"Struck by the suggestion implied in these words, as by a blow in the
face for which he was wholly unprepared, he recoiled for a moment,
looking at me with mingled doubt and amazement.

"'And do you mean to deny to my face, within an hour of the fact, and
with the very witnesses to it still in the house, what you yourself
wrote in this paper I now flaunt in your face? If so, _you_ are the
fool, and I the cunning one, as you will yet see, Mr. Lawyer.'

"I met his look with great calmness.

"'The hour you speak of contained many minutes, Mr. Huckins; and it
takes only a few for a woman to change her mind, and to record that
change.'

"'Her mind?' The stare of terror and dismay in his eyes was contradicted
by the laugh on his lips. 'What mind had she after I left her? She
couldn't even speak. You cannot frighten me.'

"'Mr. Huckins,' I now said, beckoning to the two witnesses whom our
loud talking had guided to the spot where we were, 'I have thought best
to tell you what some men might have thought it more expedient perhaps
to conceal. Mrs. Wakeham, who evidently felt herself unduly influenced
by you in the making of that will you hold in your hand, immediately
upon your withdrawal testified her desire to make another, and as I had
no interest in the case save the desire to fulfil her real wishes, I at
once complied with her request, and formally drew up a second will more
in consonance with her evident desires.'

"'It is a lie, a lie; you are deceiving me!' shrieked the unhappy man,
taken wholly by surprise. 'She couldn't utter a word; her tongue was
paralyzed; how could you know her wishes?'

"'Mrs. Wakeham had some of the cunning of her brother,' I observed. 'She
knew when to play dumb and when to speak. She talked very well when
released from the influence of your presence.'

"Overwhelmed, he cast one glance at the two witnesses, who by this time
had stepped to my side, and reading confirmation in the severity of
their looks, he fell slowly back against the table where he stood
leaning heavily, with his head fallen on his breast.

"'Who has she given the house to?' he asked at last faintly, almost
humbly.

"'That I have no right to tell you,' I answered. 'When the will is
offered for probate you will know; that is all the comfort I can give
you.'

"'She has left nothing to me, that much I see,' he bitterly exclaimed;
and his head, lifted with momentary passion, fell again. 'Ten years gone
to the dogs,' he murmured; 'ten years, and not a cent in reward! It is
enough to make a man mad.' Suddenly he started forward in irrepressible
passion. 'You talk about influence,' he cried, 'my influence; what
influence did _you_ have upon her? Some, or she would never have dared
to contradict her dying words in that way. But I'll have it out with you
in the courts. I'll never submit to being robbed in this way.'

"'You do not know that you are robbed,' said I, 'wait till you hear the
will.'

"'The will? This is her will!' he shrieked, waving before him the paper
that he held; 'I will not believe in any other; I will not acknowledge
any other.'

"'You may have to,' now spoke up Mr. Dickey in strong and hearty tones;
'and if I might advise you as a neighbor, I would say that the stiller
you keep now the better it probably will be for you in the future. You
have not earned a good enough reputation among us for disinterestedness
to bluster in this way about your rights.'

"'I don't want any talk from you,' was Huckins' quick reply, but these
words from one who had the ears of the community in which he lived had
nevertheless produced their effect; for his manner changed and it was
with quite a softened air that he finally put up the paper in his pocket
and said: 'I beg pardon if I have talked too loud and passionately. But
the property was given to me and it shall not be taken away if any fight
on my part can keep it. So let me see you all go, for I presume you do
not intend to take up your abode in this house just yet.'

"'No,' I retorted with some significance, 'though it might be worth our
while. It may contain more keepsakes; I presume there are one or two
boards yet that have not been ripped up from the floors.' Then ashamed
of what was perhaps an unnecessary taunt, I hastened to add: 'My reason
for telling you of the existence of a second will is that you might no
longer make the one you hold an excuse for rifling these premises and
abstracting their contents. Nothing here is yours--yet; and till you
inherit, if ever you do inherit, any attempt to hide or carry away one
article which is not manifestly your own, will be regarded by the law as
a theft and will be punished as such. But,' I went on, seeking to still
further mitigate language calculated to arouse any man's rage, whether
he was a villain or not, 'you have too much sense, and doubtless too
much honesty to carry out such intentions now you know that you have
lost whatever rights you considered yourself to possess, so I will say
no more about it but at once make my proposition, which is that we give
this box into the charge of Mr. Dickey, who will stand surety for it
till your sister can be found. If you agree to this----'

"'But I won't agree,' broke in Huckins, furiously. 'Do you think I am a
fool? The box is mine, I say, and----'

"'Or perhaps,' I calmly interrupted, 'you would prefer the constable to
come and take both it and the house in charge. This would better please
me. Shall I send for the constable?'

"'No, no,----you! Do you want to make a prison-bird of me at once?'

"'I do not want to,' said I, 'but the circumstances force me to it. A
house which has given up one treasure may give up another, and for this
other I am accountable. Now as I cannot stay here myself to watch over
the place, it necessarily follows that I must provide some one who can.
And as an honest man you ought to desire this also. If you felt as I
would under the circumstances, you would ask for the company of some
disinterested person till our rival claims as executors had been duly
settled and the right heir determined upon.'

"'But the constable? I don't want any constable.'

"'And you don't want Mr. Dickey?'

"'He's better than the constable.'

"'Very well; Mr. Dickey, will you stay?'

"'Yes, I'll stay; that's right, isn't it, Susan?'

"Miss Thompson who had been looking somewhat uneasy, brightened up as he
spoke and answered cheerfully:

"'Yes, that's right. But who will see me home?'

"'Can you ask?' I inquired.

"She smiled and the matter was settled.

"In the hall I had the chance to whisper to Mr. Dickey:

"'Keep a sharp lookout on the fellow. I do not trust him, and he may be
up to tricks. I will notify the constable of the situation and if you
want help throw up a window and whistle. The man may make another
attempt to rob the premises.'

"'That is so,' was the whispered reply. 'But he will have to play sharp
to get ahead of me.'"



V.

DIFFICULTIES.


"During the short walk that ensued we talked much of the dead widow and
her sinister brother.

"'They belong to an old family,' observed Miss Thompson, 'and I have
heard my mother tell how she has danced in their house at many a ball in
the olden times. But ever since my day the place has borne evidences of
decay, though it is only in the last five years it has looked as if it
would fall to pieces. Which of them do you think was the real miser, he
or she? Neither of them have had anything to do with their neighbors for
ten years at least.'

"'Do not you know?' I asked.

"'No,' said she, 'and yet I have always lived in full view of their
house. You see there were years in which no one lived there. Mr.
Wakeham, who married this woman about the time father married mother,
was a great invalid, and it was not till his death that the widow came
back here to live. The father, who was a stern old man, I have heard
mother tell, gave his property to her because she was the only one of
his children who had not displeased him, but when she was a widow this
brother came back to live with her, or on her, we have never been able
to determine which. I think from what I have seen to-night it must have
been on her, but she was very close too, or why did she live like a
hermit when she could have had the friendship of the best?'

"'Perhaps because her brother overruled her; he has evidently had an eye
on this property for a long time.'

"'Yes, but they have not even had the comforts. For three years at least
no one has seen a butcher's cart stop at their door. How they have lived
none of us know; yet there was no lack of money or their neighbors would
have felt it their duty to look after them. Mrs. Wakeham has owned very
valuable stocks, and as for her dividends, we know by what the
postmaster says that they came regularly.'

"'This is very interesting,' said I. 'I thought that fellow's eyes
showed a great deal of greed for the little he was likely to inherit. Is
there no one who is fully acquainted with their affairs, or have they
lived so long out of the pale of society that they possess no friends?'

"'I do not know of any one who has ever been honored with their
confidence,' quoth the young lady. 'They have shown so plainly that they
did not desire attention that gradually we have all ceased to go to
their doors.'

"'And did not sickness make any difference? Did no one go near them
when it was learned how ill this poor woman was?'

"'We did not know she was ill till this morning. We had missed her face
at the window, but no doctor had been called, and no medicine bought, so
we never thought her to be in any danger. When we did find it out we
were afraid to invade premises which had been so long shut against us;
at least I was; others did go, but they were received so coldly they did
not remain; it is hard to stand up against the sullen displeasure of a
man like Mr. Huckins.'

"'And do you mean to say that this man and his sister have lived there
alone and unvisited for years?'

"'They wished it, Mr. Etheridge. They courted loneliness and rejected
friendship. Only one person, Mr. H----, the minister, has persisted in
keeping up his old habit of calling once a year, but I have heard him
say that he always dreaded the visit, first, because they made him see
so plainly that they resented the intrusion, and, secondly, because each
year showed him barer floors and greater evidences of poverty or
determined avarice. What he will say now, when he hears about the two
wills and the brother trying to run away with his sister's savings,
before her body was cold, I do not know. There will be some indignation
felt in town you may be sure, and considerable excitement. I hope you
will come back to-morrow to help me answer questions.'

"'I shall come back as soon as I have been to Marston.'

"'So you are going to hunt up the heirs? I pray you may be successful.'

"'Do you know them? Have you ever heard anything about them?' I asked.

"'Oh, no. It must be forty years since Harriet Huckins ran away from
home. To many it will be a revelation that such a person lives.'

"'And we do not even know that she does,' said I.

"'True, true, she may be dead, and then that hateful brother will have
the whole. I hope he won't. I hope she is alive and will come here and
make amends for the disgrace which that unsightly building has put upon
the street.'

"'I hope so too,' said I, feeling my old disgust of Huckins renewed at
this mention of him.

"We were now at her gate, so bidding her good-by, I turned away through
the midnight streets, determined to find the constable. As I went
hurrying along in the direction of his home, Miss Thompson's question
repeated itself in my own mind. Had Mrs. Wakeham been the sufferer and
victim which her appearance, yes and her words to me, had betokened? Or
was her brother sincere in his passion and true in his complaints that
he had been subject to her whims and had led the life of a dog in order
to please her. With the remembrance of their two faces before me, I felt
inclined to believe her words rather than his, and yet her last cry had
contained something in its tone beside anxiety for the rights of an
almost unknown heir; there had been anger in it,--the anger of one whose
secret has been surprised and who feels himself personally robbed of
something dearer than life.

"However, at this time I could not stop to weigh these possibilities or
decide this question. Whatever was true as regarded the balance of right
between these two, there was no doubt as to the fact that this man was
not to be trusted under temptation. I therefore made what haste I could,
and being fortunate enough to find the constable still up, succeeded in
interesting him in the matter and obtaining his promise to have the
house put under proper surveillance. This done, I took the car for
Fulton Ferry, and was so fortunate as to reach home at or near two
o'clock in the morning. This was last night, and to-day you see me here.
You disappoint me by saying that you know no one by the name of Harriet
Smith."

"Yet," exclaimed Edgar, rousing himself from his attitude of listening,
"I know all the old inhabitants. Harriet Smith," he continued in a
musing tone, "Harriet--What is there in the name that stirs up some
faint recollection? Did I once know a person by that name after all?"

"Nothing more likely."

"But there the thing stops. I cannot get any farther," mused Edgar. "The
name is not entirely new to me. I have some vague memory in connection
with it, but what memory I cannot tell. Let me see if Jerry can help
us." And going to the door, he called "Jerry! Jerry!"

The response came slowly; heavy bodies do not soon overcome their
inertia. But after the lapse of a few minutes a shuffling footstep was
heard. Then the sound of heavy breathing, something between a snore and
a snort, and the huge form of the good-natured driver came slowly into
view, till it paused and stood in the door opening, which it very nearly
filled.

"Did you call, sirs?" asked he, with a rude attempt at a bow.

"Yes," responded Edgar, "I wanted to know if you remembered a woman by
the name of Harriet Smith once living about here."

"Har-ri-et Smith," was the long-drawn-out reply; "Har-ri-et Smith! I
knows lots of Harriets, and as for Smiths, they be as plenty as
squirrels in nut time; but Har-ri-et Smith--I wouldn't like to say I
didn't, and I wouldn't like to say I did."

"She is an old woman now, if she is still living," suggested Frank. "Or
she may have moved away."

"Yes, sir, yes, of course"; and they perceived another slow Harriet
begin to form itself upon his lips.

Seeing that he knew nothing of the person mentioned, Edgar motioned him
away, but Frank, with a lawyer's belief in using all means at his
command, stopped him as he was heavily turning his back and said:

"I have good news for a woman by that name. If you can find her, and she
turns out to be a sister of Cynthia Wakeham, of Flatbush, New York,
there will be something good for you too. Do you want to try for it?"

"Do I?" and the grin which appeared on Jerry's face seemed to light up
the room. "I'm not quick," he hastily acknowledged, as if in fear that
Frank would observe this fault and make use of it against him; "that is,
I'm not spry on my feet, but that leaves me all the more time for
gossip, and gossip is what'll do _this_ business, isn't it, Dr.
Sellick?" Edgar nodding, Jerry laughed, and Frank, seeing he had got an
interested assistant at last, gave him such instructions as he thought
he needed, and dismissed him to his work.

When he was gone, the friends looked for an instant at each other, and
then Frank rose.

"I am going out," said he. "If you have friends to see or business to
look after, don't think you must come with me. I always take a walk
before retiring."

"Very well," replied Edgar, with unusual cheeriness. "Then if you will
excuse me I'll not accompany you. Going to walk for pleasure? You'd
better take the road north; the walk in that direction is the best in
town."

"All right," returned Frank; "I'll not be gone more than an hour. See
you again in the morning if not to-night." And with a careless nod he
disappeared, leaving Edgar sitting alone in the room.

On the walk in front of the house he paused.

"To the north," he repeated, looking up and down the street, with a
curious shake of the head; "good advice, no doubt, and one that I will
follow some time, but not to-night. The attractions in an opposite
direction are too great." And with an odd smile, which was at once full
of manly confidence and dreamy anticipation, he turned his face
southward and strode away through the warm and perfumed darkness of the
summer night.

He took the road by which he had come from the depot, and passing
rapidly by the few shops that clustered about the hotel, entered at once
upon the street whose picturesque appearance had attracted his attention
earlier in the evening.

What is he seeking? Exercise--the exhilaration of motion--the
refreshment of change? If so, why does he look behind and before him
with an almost guilty air as he advances towards a dimly lighted house,
guarded by the dense branches of a double row of poplars? Is it here the
attraction lies which has drawn him from the hotel and the companionship
of his friend? Yes, for he stops as he reaches it and gazes first along
the dim shadowy vista made by those clustered trunks and upright boughs,
and then up the side and across the front of the silent house itself,
while an expression of strange wistfulness softens the eager brightness
of his face, and his smile becomes one of mingled pride and tenderness,
for which the peaceful scene, with all its picturesque features, can
scarcely account.

Can it be that his imagination has been roused and his affections
stirred by the instantaneous vision of an almost unknown woman? that
this swelling of the heart and this sudden turning of his whole nature
towards what is sweetest, holiest, and most endearing in life means that
his hitherto free spirit has met its mate, and that here in the lonely
darkness, before a strange portal and in the midst of new and untried
scenes, he has found the fate that comes once to every man, making him a
changed being for ever after?

The month is June and the air is full of the scent of roses. He can see
their fairy forms shining from amid the vines clambering over the walls
and porches before him. They suggest all that is richest and spiciest
and most exquisite in nature, as does her face as he remembered it. What
if a thorn has rent a petal here and there, in the luxurious flowers
before him, are they not roses still? So to him her face is all the
lovelier for the blemish which might speak to others of imperfection,
but which to him is only a call for profounder tenderness and more
ardent devotion. And if in her nature there lies a fault also, is not a
man's first love potent enough to overlook even that? He begins to think
so, and allows his glances to roam from window to window of the nearly
darkened house, as if half expecting her sweet and melancholy head to
look forth in quest of the stars--or him.

The living rooms are mainly on the side that overlooks the garden, and
scarcely understanding by what impulse he is swayed, he passes around
the wall to a second gate, which he perceives opening at right angles to
the poplar walk. Here he pauses a moment, looking up at the window which
for some reason he has determined to be hers, and while he stands there,
the moonlight shows the figure of another man coming from the highway
and making towards the self-same spot. But before this second person
reaches Frank he pauses, falters, and finally withdraws. Who is it? The
shadow is on his face and we cannot see, but one thing is apparent,
Frank Etheridge is not the only man who worships at this especial shrine
to-night.



VI.

YOUNG MEN'S FANCIES.


The next morning at about nine o'clock Frank burst impetuously into
Edgar's presence. They had not met for a good-night the evening before
and they had taken breakfast separately.

"Edgar, what is this I hear about Hermione Cavanagh? Is it true she
lives alone in that house with her sister, and that they neither of them
ever go out, not even for a half-hour's stroll in the streets?"

Edgar, flushed at the other's excitement, turned and busied himself a
moment with his books and papers before replying.

"Frank, you have been among the gossips."

"And what if I have! You would tell me nothing, and I knew there was a
tragedy in her face; I saw it at the first glance."

"Is it a tragedy, this not going out?"

"It is the result of a tragedy; must be. They say nothing and nobody
could draw from her beyond the boundary of that brick wall we rode by so
carelessly. And she so young, so beautiful!"

"Frank, you exaggerate," was all the answer he received.

Frank bit his lip; the phrase he had used had been a trifle strong for
the occasion. But in another moment he was ready to continue the
conversation.

"Perhaps I do speak of an experiment that has never been tried; but you
know what I mean. She has received some shock which has terrified her
and made her afraid of the streets, and no one can subdue this fear or
induce her to step through her own gate. Is not that sad and interesting
enough to move a man who recognizes her beauty?"

"It is certainly very sad," quoth the other, "if it is quite true, which
I doubt."

"Go talk to your neighbors then; they have not been absent like yourself
for a good long year."

"I am not interested enough," the other began.

"But you ought to be," interpolated Frank. "As a physician you ought to
recognize the peculiarities of such a prejudice. Why, if I had such a
case----"

"But the case is not mine. I am not and never have been Miss Cavanagh's
physician."

"Well, well, her friend then."

"Who told you I was her friend?"

"I don't remember; I understood from some one that you used to visit
her."

"My neighbors, as you call them, have good memories."

"_Did_ you use to visit her?"

"Frank, Frank, subdue your curiosity. If I did, I do not now. The old
gentleman is dead, and it was he upon whom I was accustomed to call when
I went to their house."

"The old gentleman?"

"Miss Cavanagh's father."

"And you called upon him?"

"Sometimes."

"Edgar, how short you are."

"Frank, how impatient you are."

"But I have reason."

"How's that?"

"I want to hear about her, and you mock me with the most evasive
replies."

Edgar turned towards his friend; the flush had departed from his
features, but his manner certainly was not natural. Yet he did not look
unkindly at the ardent young lawyer. On the contrary, there was a gleam
of compassion in his eye, as he remarked, with more emphasis than he had
before used:

"I am sorry if I seem to be evading any question you choose to put. But
the truth is you seem to know more about the young lady than I do
myself. I did not know that she was the victim of any such caprice."

"Yet it has lasted a year."

"A year?"

"Just the time you have been away."

"Just----" Edgar paused in the repetition. Evidently his attention had
been caught at last. But he soon recovered himself. "A strange
coincidence," he laughed. "Happily it is nothing more."

Frank surveyed his friend very seriously.

"I shall believe you," said he.

"You may," was the candid rejoinder. And the young physician did not
flinch, though Etheridge continued to look at him steadily and with
undoubted intention. "And now what luck with Jerry?" he suddenly
inquired, with a cheerful change of tone.

"None; I shall leave town at ten."

"Is there no Harriet Smith here?"

"Not if I can believe him."

"And has been none in the last twenty years?"

"Not that he can find out."

"Then your quest here is at an end?"

"No, it has taken another turn, that is all."

"You mean----"

"That I shall come back here to-morrow. I must be sure that what Jerry
says is true. Besides---- But why mince the matter? I--I have become
interested in that girl, Edgar, and want to know her--hear her speak.
Cannot you help me to make her acquaintance? If you used to go to the
house---- Why do you frown? Do you not like Miss Cavanagh? "

Edgar hastily smoothed his forehead.

"Frank, I have never thought very much about her. She was young when I
visited her father, and then that scar----"

"Never mind," cried Frank. He felt as if a wound in his own breast had
been touched.

Edgar was astonished. He was not accustomed to display his own feelings,
and did not know what to make of a man who did. But he did not finish
his sentence.

"If she does not go out," he observed instead, "she may be equally
unwilling to receive visitors."

"Oh, no," the other eagerly broke in; "people visit there just the same.
Only they say she never likes to hear anything about her peculiarity.
She wishes it accepted without words."

It was now Edgar's turn to ask a question.

"You say she lives there alone? You mean with servants, doubtless?"

"Oh, yes, she has a servant. But I did not say she lived there alone; I
said she and her sister."

Edgar was silent.

"Her sister does not go out, either, they say."

"No? What does it all mean?"

"That is what _I_ want to know."

"Not go out? Emma!"

"Do you remember _Emma_?"

"Yes, she is younger than Hermione."

"And what kind of a girl is _she_?"

"Don't ask me, Frank. I have no talent for describing beautiful women."

"She is beautiful, then?"

"If her sister is, yes."

"You mean _she_ has no scar." It was softly said, almost reverently.

"No, she has no scar."

Frank shook his head.

"The scar appeals to me, Edgar."

Edgar smiled, but it was not naturally. The constraint in his manner had
increased rather than diminished, and he seemed anxious to start upon
the round of calls he had purposed to make.

"You must excuse me," said he, "I shall have to be off. You are coming
back to-morrow?"

"If business does not detain me."

"You will find me in my new office by that time. I have rented the small
brown house you must have noticed on the main street. Come there, and if
you do not mind bachelor housekeeping, stay with me while you remain in
town. I shall have a good cook, you may be sure, and as for a room, the
north chamber has already been set apart for you."

Frank's face softened and he grasped the doctor's hand.

"That's good of you; it looks as if you expected me to need it."

"Have you not a Harriet Smith to find?"

Frank shrugged his shoulders. "I see that you understand lawyers."

Frank rode down to the depot with Jerry. As he passed Miss Cavanagh's
house he was startled to perceive a youthful figure bending over the
flower-beds on the inner side of the wall. "She is not so pretty by
daylight," was his first thought. But at that moment she raised her
head, and with a warm thrill he recognized the fact that it was not
Hermione, but the sister he was looking at.

It gave him something to think of, for this sister was not without her
attractions, though they were less brilliant and also less marred than
those of the sad and stately Hermione.

When he arrived at his office his first inquiry was if anything had been
heard from Flatbush, and upon being told to the contrary he immediately
started for that place. He found the house a scene of some tumult.
Notwithstanding the fact that the poor woman still lay unburied, the
parlors and lower hall were filled with people, who stared at the walls
and rapped with wary but eager knuckles on the various lintels and
casements. Whispers of a treasure having been found beneath the boards
of the flooring had reached the ear of the public, and the greatest
curiosity had been raised in the breasts of those who up to this day had
looked upon the house as a worm-eaten structure fit only for the shelter
of dogs.

Mr. Dickey was in a room above, and to him Frank immediately hastened.

"Well," said he, "what news?"

"Ah," cried the jovial witness, coming forward, "glad to see you. Have
you found the heirs?"

"Not yet," rejoined Frank. "Have you had any trouble? I thought I saw a
police-officer below."

"Yes, we had to have some one with authority here. Even Huckins agreed
to that; he is afraid the house will be run away with, I think. Did you
see what a crowd has assembled in the parlors? We let them in so that
Huckins won't seem to be the sole object of suspicion; but he really is,
you know. He gave me plenty to do that night."

"He did, did he?"

"Yes; you had scarcely gone before he began his tactics. First he led
me very politely to a room where there was a bed; then he brought me a
bottle of the vilest rum you ever drank; and then he sat down to be
affable. While he talked I was at ease, but when he finally got up and
said he would try to get a snatch of sleep I grew suspicious, and
stopped drinking the rum and set myself to listening. He went directly
to a room not far from me and shut himself in. He had no light, but in a
few minutes I heard him strike a match, and then another and another.
'He is searching under the boards for more treasure,' thought I, and
creeping into the next room I was fortunate enough to come upon a closet
so old and with such big cracks in its partition that I was enabled to
look through them into the place where he was. The sight that met my eye
was startling. He was, as I conjectured, peering under the boards, which
he had ripped up early in the evening; and as he had only the light of a
match to aid him, I would catch quick glimpses of his eager, peering
face and then lose the sight of it in sudden darkness till the gleam of
another match came to show it up again. He crouched upon the floor and
crept along the whole length of the board, thrusting in his arm to right
and left, while the sweat oozed on his forehead and fell in large drops
into the long, narrow hollow beneath him. At last he seemed to grow wild
with repeated disappointments, and, starting up, stood looking about him
at the four surrounding walls, as if demanding them to give up their
secrets. Then the match went out, and I heard him stamp his foot with
rage before proceeding to put back the boards and shift them into place.
Then there came silence, during which I crept on tiptoe to the place I
had left, judging that he would soon leave his room and return to see if
I had been watching him.

"The box was on the bed, and throwing myself beside it, I grasped it
with one arm and hid my face with the other, and as I lay there I soon
became conscious of his presence, and I knew he was looking from me to
the box, and weighing the question as to whether I was sleeping sound
enough for him to risk a blow. But I did not stir, though I almost
expected a sudden crash on my head, and in another moment he crept away,
awed possibly by my superior strength, for I am a much bigger man than
he, as you must see. When I thought him gone I dropped my arm and looked
up. The room was in total darkness. Bounding to my feet I followed him
through the halls and came upon him in the room of death. He had the
lamp in his hand, and he was standing over his sister with an awful look
on his face.

"'Where have you hidden it?' he hissed to the senseless form before him.
'That box is not all you had. Where are the bonds and the stocks, and
the money I helped you to save?'

"He was so absorbed he did not see me. He stooped by the bed and ran his
hand along under the mattresses; then he lifted the pillows and looked
under the bed. Then he rose and trod gingerly over the floor, as if to
see if any of the boards were loose, and peered into the empty closet,
and felt with wary hand up and down the mantel sides. At last his eyes
fell on the clock, and he was about to lift his hand to it when I said:

"'The clock is all right; you needn't set it; see, it just agrees with
my watch!'

"What a face he turned to me! I tell you it is no fun to meet such eyes
in an empty house at one o'clock at night; and if you hadn't told me the
police would be within call I should have been sick enough of my job, I
can tell you. As it was, I drew back a foot or two and hugged the box a
little more tightly, while he, with a coward's bravado, stepped after me
and whispered below his breath:

"'You are making yourself too much at home here. If I want to stop the
clock, now that my sister is dead, what is that to you? You have no
respect for a house in mourning, and I am free to tell you so.'

"To this tirade I naturally made no answer, and he turned again to the
clock. But just as I was asking myself whether I should stop him or let
him go on with his peerings and pokings, the bell rang loudly below. It
was a welcome interruption to me, but it made him very angry. However,
he went down and welcomed, as decently as he knew how, a woman who had
been sent to his assistance by Miss Thompson, evidently thinking that it
was time he made some effort to regain my good opinion by avoiding all
further cause for suspicion.

"At all events, he gave me no more trouble that night, nor since, though
the way he haunts the door of that room and the looks he casts inside at
the clock are enough to make one's blood run cold. Do you think there
are any papers hidden there?"

"I have no doubt of it," returned Frank. "Do you remember that the old
woman's last words were, 'The clock! the clock!' As soon as I can appeal
to the Surrogate I shall have that piece of furniture examined."

"I shall be mortally interested in knowing what you find there,"
commented Mr. Dickey. "If the property comes to much, won't Miss
Thompson and I get something out of it for our trouble?"

"No doubt," said Frank.

"Then we will get married," said he, and looked so beaming, that Frank
shook him cordially by the hand.

"But where is Huckins?" the lawyer now inquired. "I didn't see him down
below."

"He is chewing his nails in the kitchen. He is like a dog with a bone;
you cannot get him to leave the house for a moment."

"I must see him," said Frank, and went down the back stairs to the place
where he had held his previous interview with this angry and
disappointed man.

At first sight of the young lawyer Huckins flushed deeply, but he soon
grew pale and obsequious, as if he had held bitter communing with
himself through the last thirty-six hours, and had resolved to restrain
his temper for the future in the presence of the man who understood him.
But he could not help a covert sneer from creeping into his voice.

"Have you found the heirs?" he asked, bowing with ill-mannered grace,
and pushing forward the only chair there was in the room.

"I shall find them when I need them," rejoined Frank. "Fortunes, however
small, do not usually go begging."

"Then you have not found them?" the other declared, a hard glitter of
triumph shining in his sinister eye.

"I have not brought them with me," acknowledged the lawyer, warily.

"Perhaps, then, you won't," suggested Huckins, while he seemed to grow
instantly at least two inches in stature. "If they are not in Marston
where are they? Dead! And that leaves me the undisputed heir to all my
sister's savings."

"I do not believe them dead," protested Frank.

"Why?" Huckins half smiled, half snarled.

"Some token of the fact would have come to you. You are not in a strange
land or in unknown parts; you are living in the old homestead where this
lost sister of yours was reared. You would have heard if she had died,
at least so it strikes an unprejudiced mind."

"Then let it strike yours to the contrary," snapped out his angry
companion. "When she went away it was in anger and with the curse of her
father ringing in her ears. Do you see that porch?" And Huckins pointed
through the cracked windows to a decayed pair of steps leading from the
side of the house. "It was there she ran down on her way out. I see her
now, though forty years have passed, and I, a little fellow of six,
neither understood nor appreciated what was happening. My father stood
in the window above, and he cried out: 'Don't come back! You have chosen
your way, now go in it. Let me never see you nor hear from you again.'
And we never did, never! And now you tell me we would have heard if she
had died. You don't know the heart of folks if you say that. Harriet cut
herself adrift that day, and she knew it."

"Yet you were acquainted with the fact that she went to Marston."

The indignant light in the brother's eye settled into a look of cunning.

"Oh," he acknowledged carelessly, "we heard so at the time, when
everything was fresh. But we heard nothing more, nothing."

"Nothing?" Frank repeated. "Not that she had married and had had
children?"

"No," was the dogged reply. "My sister up there," and Huckins jerked his
hand towards the room where poor Mrs. Wakeham lay, "surmised things, but
she didn't know anything for certain. If she had she might have sent for
these folks long ago. She had time enough in the last ten years we have
been living in this hole together."

"But," Etheridge now ventured, determined not to be outmatched in
cunning, "you say she was penurious, too penurious to live comfortably
or to let you do so."

Huckins shrugged his shoulders and for a moment looked balked; then he
cried: "The closest women have their whims. If she had known any such
folks to have been living as you have named, she would have sent for
them."

"If you had let her," suggested Frank.

Huckins turned upon him and his eye flashed. But he very soon cringed
again and attempted a sickly smile, which completed the disgust the
young lawyer felt for him.

"If I had let her," he repeated; "I, who pined for companionship or
anything which would have put a good meal into my mouth! You do not know
me, sir; you are prejudiced against me because I want my earnings, and a
little comfort in my old age."

"If I am prejudiced against you, it is yourself who has made me so,"
returned the other. "Your conduct has not been of a nature to win my
regard, since I have had the honor of your acquaintance."

"And what has yours been, worming, as you have, into my sister's
confidence----"

But here Frank hushed him. "We will drop this," said he. "You know me,
and I think I know you. I came to give you one last chance to play the
man by helping me to find your relatives. I see you have no intention of
doing so, so I will now proceed to find them without you."

"If they exist," he put in.

"Certainly, if they exist. If they do not----"

"What then?"

"I must have proofs to that effect. I must know that your sister left no
heirs but yourself."

"That will take time," he grumbled. "I shall be kept weeks out of my
rights."

"The Surrogate will see that you do not suffer."

He shuddered and looked like a fox driven into his hole.

"It is shameful, shameful!" he cried. "It is nothing but a conspiracy
to rob me of my own. I suppose I shall not be allowed to live in my own
house." And his eyes wandered greedily over the rafters above him.

"Are you sure that it is yours?"

"Yes, yes, damn you!" But the word had been hasty, and he immediately
caught Frank's sleeve and cringed in contrition. "I beg your pardon," he
cried, "perhaps we had better not talk any longer, for I have been too
tried for patience. They will not even leave me alone in my grief," he
whined, pointing towards the rooms full, as I have said, of jostling
neighbors and gossips.

"It will be quiet enough after the funeral," Frank assured him.

"Oh! oh! the funeral!" he groaned.

"Is it going to be too extravagant?" Frank insinuated artfully.

Huckins gave the lawyer a look, dropped his eyes and mournfully shook
his head.

"The poor woman would not have liked it," he muttered; "but one must be
decent towards one's own blood."



VII.

THE WAY OPENS.


Frank succeeded in having Mr. Dickey appointed as Custodian of the
property, then he went back to Marston.

"Good-evening, Doctor; what a nest of roses you have here for a
bachelor," was his jovial cry, as he entered the quaint little house, in
which Sellick had now established himself. "I declare, when you told me
I should always find a room here, I did not realize what a temptation
you were offering me. And in sight----" He paused, changing color as he
drew back from the window to which he had stepped,----"of the hills," he
somewhat awkwardly added.

Edgar, who had watched the movements of his friend from under half
lowered lids, smiled dryly.

"_Of the hills_," he repeated. Then with a short laugh, added, "I knew
that you liked that especial view."

Frank's eye, which was still on a certain distant chimney, lighted up
wonderfully as he turned genially towards his friend.

"I did not know you were such a good fellow," he laughed. "I hope you
have found yourself made welcome here."

"Oh, yes, welcome enough."

"Any patients yet?"

"All of Dudgeon's, I fear. I have been doing little else but warning one
man after another: 'Now, no words against any former practitioner. If
you want help from me, tell me your symptoms, but don't talk about any
other doctor's mistakes, for I have not time to hear it.'"

"Poor old Dudgeon!" cried Frank. Then, shortly: "I'm a poor one to hide
my impatience. Have you seen either of _them_ yet?"

"Either--of--them?"

"The girls, the two sweet whimsical girls. You know whom I mean, Edgar."

"You only spoke of one when you were here before, Frank."

"And I only think of one. But I saw the other on my way to the depot,
and that made me speak of the two. Have you seen them?"

"No," answered the other, with unnecessary dryness; "I think you told me
they did not go out."

"But you have feet, man, and you can go to them, and I trusted that you
would, if only to prepare the way for me; for I mean to visit them, as
you have every reason to believe, and I should have liked an
introducer."

"Frank," asked the other, quietly, but with a certain marked
earnestness, "has it gone as deep as that? Are you really serious in
your intention of making the acquaintance of Miss Cavanagh?"

"Serious? Have you for a minute thought me otherwise?"

"You are not serious in most things."

"In business I am, and in----"

"Love?" the other smiled.

"Yes, if you can call it love, yet."

"We will not call it anything," said the other. "You want to see her,
that is all. I wonder at your decision, but can say nothing against it.
Happily, you have seen her defect."

"It is not a defect to me."

"Not if it is in her nature as well?"

"Her nature?"

"A woman who for any reason cuts herself off from her species, as she is
said to do, cannot be without her faults. Such idiosyncrasies do not
grow out of the charity we are bid to have for our fellow-creatures."

"But she may have suffered. I can readily believe she has suffered from
that same want of charity in others. There is nothing like a personal
defect to make one sensitive. Think of the averted looks she must have
met from many thoughtless persons; and she almost a beauty!"

"Yes, that _almost_ is tragic."

"It can excuse much."

Edgar shook his head. "Think what you are doing, Frank, that's all. _I_
should hesitate in making the acquaintance of one who for _any_ reason
has shut herself away from the world."

"Is not her whim shared by her sister?"

"They say so."

"Then there are two whose acquaintance you would hesitate to make?"

"Certainly, if I had any ulterior purpose beyond that of mere
acquaintanceship."

"Her sister has no scar?"

Edgar, weary, perhaps, of the conversation, did not answer.

"Why should she shut herself up?" mused Frank, too interested in the
subject to note the other's silence.

"Women are mysteries," quoth Edgar, shortly.

"But this is more than a mystery," cried Frank. "Whim will not account
for it. There must be something in the history of these two girls which
the world does not know."

"That is not the fault of the world," retorted Edgar, in his usual vein
of sarcasm.

But Frank was reckless. "The world is right to be interested," he
avowed. "It would take a very cold heart not to be moved with curiosity
by such a fact as two girls secluding themselves in their own house,
without any manifest reason. Are _you_ not moved by it, Edgar? Are you,
indeed, as indifferent as you seem?"

"I should like to know why they do this, of course, but I shall not busy
myself to find out. I have much else to do."

"Well, I have not. It is the one thing in life for me; so look out for
some great piece of audacity on my part, for speak to her I will, and
that, too, before I leave the town."

"I do not see how you will manage that, Frank."

"You forget I am a lawyer."

Yet for all the assurance manifested by this speech, it was some time
before Frank could see his way clearly to what he desired. A dozen plans
were made and dismissed as futile before he finally determined to seek
the assistance of a fellow-lawyer whose name he had seen in the window
of the one brick building in the principal street. "Through him,"
thought he, "I may light upon some business which will enable me to
request with propriety an interview with Miss Cavanagh." Yet his heart
failed him as he went up the steps of Mr. Hamilton's office, and if that
gentleman, upon presenting himself, had been a young man, Frank would
certainly have made some excuse for his intrusion, and retired. But he
was old and white-haired and benignant, and so Frank was lured into
introducing himself as a young lawyer from New York, engaged in finding
the whereabouts of one Harriet Smith, a former resident of Marston.

Mr. Hamilton, who could not fail to be impressed by Etheridge's sterling
appearance, met him with cordiality.

"I have heard of you," said he, "but I fear your errand here is bound
to be fruitless. No Harriet Smith, so far as I know, ever came to reside
in this town. And I was born and bred in this street. Have you actual
knowledge that one by that name ever lived here, and can you give me the
date?"

The answers Frank made were profuse but hurried; he had not expected to
gain news of Harriet Smith; he had only used the topic as a means of
introducing conversation. But when he came to the point in which he was
more nearly interested, he found his courage fail him. He could not
speak the name of Miss Cavanagh, even in the most casual fashion, and so
the interview ended without any further result than the making on his
part of a pleasant acquaintance. Subdued by his failure, Frank quitted
the office, and walked slowly down the street. If he had not boasted of
his intentions to Edgar, he would have left the town without further
effort; but now his pride was involved, and he made that an excuse to
his love. Should he proceed boldly to her house, use the knocker, and
ask to see Miss Cavanagh? Yes, he might do that, but afterwards? With
what words should he greet her, or win that confidence which the
situation so peculiarly demanded? He was not an acknowledged friend, or
the friend of an acknowledged friend, unless Edgar---- But no, Edgar was
not their friend; it would be folly to speak his name to them. What
then? Must he give up his hopes till time had paved the way to their
realization? He feared it must be so, yet he recoiled from the delay. In
this mood he re-entered Edgar's office.

A woman in hat and cloak met him.

"Are you the stranger lawyer that has come to town?" she asked.

He bowed, wondering if he was about to hear news of Harriet Smith.

"Then this note is for you," she declared, handing him a little
three-cornered billet.

His heart gave a great leap, and he turned towards the window as he
opened the note. Who could be writing letters to him of such dainty
appearance as this? Not she, of course, and yet---- He tore open the
sheet, and read these words:

    "If not asking too great a favor, may I request that you will
    call at my house, in your capacity of lawyer.

    "As I do not leave my own home, you will pardon this informal
    method of requesting your services. The lawyer here cannot do my
    work.

        "Yours respectfully,
            "HERMIONE CAVANAGH."

He was too much struck with amazement and delight to answer the
messenger at once. When he did so, his voice was very business-like.

"Will Miss Cavanagh be at liberty this morning?" he asked. "I shall be
obliged to return to the city after dinner."

"She told me to say that any time would be convenient to her," was the
answer.

"Then say to her that I will be at her door in half an hour."

The woman nodded, and turned.

"She lives on the road to the depot, where the two rows of poplars are,"
she suddenly declared, as she paused at the door.

"I know," he began, and blushed, for the woman had given him a quick
glance of surprise. "I noticed the poplars," he explained.

She smiled as she passed out, and that made him crimson still more.

"Do I wear my heart on my sleeve?" he murmured to himself, in secret
vexation. "If so, I must wrap it about with a decent cloak of reserve
before I go into the presence of one who has such power to move it." And
he was glad Edgar was not at home to mark his excitement.

The half hour wore away, and he stood on the rose-embowered porch. Would
she come to the door herself, or would it be the sad-eyed sister he
should see first? It mattered little. It was Hermione who had sent for
him, and it was with Hermione he should talk. Was it his heart that was
beating so loudly? He had scarcely answered the question, when the door
opened, and the woman who had served as a messenger from Miss Cavanagh
stood before him.

"Ah!" said she, "come in." And in another moment he was in the enchanted
house.

A door stood open at his left, and into the room thus disclosed he was
ceremoniously ushered.

"Miss Cavanagh will be down in a moment," said the woman, as she slowly
walked away, with more than one lingering backward look.

He did not note this look, for his eyes were on the quaint old furniture
and shadowy recesses of the staid best room, in which he stood an uneasy
guest. For somehow he had imagined he would see the woman of his dreams
in a place of cheer and sunshine; at a window, perhaps, where the roses
looked in, or at least in a spot enlivened by some evidences of womanly
handiwork and taste. But here all was stiff as at a funeral. The high
black mantel-shelf was without clock or vase, and the only attempt at
ornament to be seen within the four grim walls was an uncouth wreath,
made of shells, on a background of dismal black, which hung between the
windows. It was enough to rob any moment of its romance. And yet, if she
should look fair here, what might he not expect of her beauty in more
harmonious surroundings.

As he was adjusting his ideas to this thought, there came the sound of
a step on the stair, and the next moment Hermione Cavanagh entered his
presence.



VIII.

A SEARCH AND ITS RESULTS.


Hermione Cavanagh, without the scar, would have been one of the
handsomest of women. She was of the grand type, with height and a
nobility of presence to which the extreme loveliness of her perfect
features lent a harmonizing grace. Of a dazzling complexion, the hair
which lay above her straight fine brows shone ebon-like in its lustre,
while her eyes, strangely and softly blue, filled the gazer at first
with surprise and then with delight as the varying emotions of her quick
mind deepened them into a more perfect consonance with her hair, or
softened them into something like the dewy freshness of heaven-born
flowers. Her mouth was mobile, but the passions it expressed were not of
the gentlest, whatever might be the language of her eyes, and so it was
that her face was in a way a contradiction of itself, which made it a
fascinating study to one who cared to watch it, or possessed sufficient
understanding to read its subtle language. She was oddly dressed in a
black, straight garment, eminently in keeping with the room; but there
was taste displayed in the arrangement of her hair, and nothing could
make her face anything but a revelation of beauty, unless it was the
scar, and that Frank Etheridge did not see.

"Are you--" she began and paused, looking at him with such surprise that
he felt his cheeks flush--"the lawyer who was in town a few days ago on
some pressing inquiry?"

"I am," returned Frank, making her the low bow her embarrassment seemed
to demand.

"Then you must excuse me," said she; "I thought you were an elderly man,
like our own Mr. Hamilton. I should not have sent for you if----"

"If you had known I had no more experience," he suggested, with a smile,
seeing her pause in some embarrassment.

She bowed; yet he knew that was not the way she would have ended the
sentence if she had spoken her thought.

"Then I am to understand," said he, with a gentleness born of his great
wish to be of service to her, "that you would prefer that I should send
you an older adviser. I can do it, Miss Cavanagh."

"Thank you," she said, and stood hesitating, the slight flush on her
cheek showing that she was engaged in some secret struggle. "I will tell
you my difficulty," she pursued at last, raising her eyes with a frank
look to his face. "Will you be seated?"

Charmed with the graciousness of her manner when once relieved from
embarrassment, he waited for her to sit and then took a chair himself.

"It is a wearisome affair," she declared, "but one which a New York
lawyer can solve without much trouble." And with the clearness of a
highly cultivated mind, she gave him the facts of a case in which she
and her sister had become involved through the negligence of her man of
business.

"Can you help me?" she asked.

"Very easily," he replied. "You have but to go to New York and swear to
these facts before a magistrate, and the matter will be settled without
difficulty."

"But I cannot go to New York."

"No? Not on a matter of this importance?"

"On no matter. I do not travel, Mr. Etheridge."

The pride and finality with which this was uttered, gave him his first
glimpse of the hard streak which there was undoubtedly in her character.
Though he longed to press the question he judged that he had better not,
so suggested carelessly:

"Your sister, then?"

But she met this suggestion, as he had expected her to, with equal
calmness and pride.

"My sister does not travel either."

He looked the astonishment he did not feel and remarked gravely:

"I fear, then, that the matter cannot be so easily adjusted." And he
began to point out the difficulties in the way, to all of which she
listened with a slightly absent air, as if the affair was in reality of
no great importance to her.

Suddenly she waved her hand with a quick gesture.

"You can do as you please," said she. "If you can save us from loss, do
so; if not, let the matter go; I shall not allow it to worry me
further." Then she looked up at him with a total change of expression,
and for the first time the hint of a smile softened the almost severe
outline of her mouth. "You are searching, I hear, for a woman named
Harriet Smith; have you found her, sir?"

Delighted at this evidence on her part of a wish to indulge in general
conversation, he answered with alacrity:

"Not yet. She was not, as it seems, a well-known inhabitant of this town
as I had been led to believe. I even begin to fear she never has lived
here at all. The name is a new one to you, I presume."

"Smith. Can the name of Smith ever be said to be new?" she laughed with
something like an appearance of gayety.

"But Harriet," he explained, "Harriet Smith, once Harriet Huckins."

"I never knew any Harriet Smith," she averred. "Would it have obliged
you very much if I had?"

He smiled, somewhat baffled by her manner, but charmed by her voice,
which was very rich and sweet in its tones.

"It certainly would have saved me much labor and suspense," he replied.

"Then the matter is serious?"

"Is not all law-business serious?"

"You have just proved it so," she remarked.

He could not understand her; she seemed to wish to talk and yet
hesitated with the words on her lips. After waiting for her to speak
further and waiting in vain, he changed the subject back to the one
which had at first occupied them.

"I shall be in Marston again," said he; "if you will allow me I will
then call again and tell you exactly what I can do for your interest."

"If you will be so kind," she replied, and seemed to breathe easier.

"I have one intimate friend in town," pursued Frank, as he rose to take
his departure, "Dr. Sellick. If you know him----"

Why did he pause? She had not moved and yet something, he could not say
what, had made an entire change in her attitude and expression. It was
as if a chill had passed over her, stiffening her limbs and paling her
face, yet her eyes did not fall from his face, and she tried to speak as
usual.

"Dr. Sellick?"

"Yes, he has returned to Marston after a year of absence. Have not the
gossips told you that?"

"No; that is, I have seen no one--I used to know Dr. Sellick," she
added with a vain attempt to be natural. "Is that my sister I hear?" And
she turned sharply about.

Up to this moment she had uniformly kept the uninjured side of her face
towards him, and he had noticed the fact and been profoundly touched by
her seeming sensitiveness. But he was more touched now by the emotion
which made her forget herself, for it argued badly for his hopes, and
assured him that for all Sellick's assumed indifference, there had been
some link of feeling between these two which he found himself illy
prepared to accept.

"May I not have the honor," he requested, "of an introduction to your
sister?"

"She is not coming; I was mistaken," was her sole reply, and her
beautiful face turned once more towards him, with a deepening of its
usual tragic expression which lent to it a severity which would have
appalled most men. But he loved every change in that enigmatical
countenance, there was so much character in its grave lines. So with the
consideration that was a part of his nature he made a great effort to
subdue his jealous curiosity, and saying, "Then we will reserve that
pleasure till another time," bowed like a man at his ease, and passed
quickly out of the door.

Yet his heart was heavy and his thoughts in wildest turmoil; for he
loved this woman and she had paled and showed the intensest emotion at
the mention of a man whom he had heard decry her. He might have felt
worse could he have seen the look of misery which settled upon her face
as the door closed upon him, or noted how long she sat with fixed eyes
and paling lips in that dreary old parlor where he had left her. As it
was, he felt sufficiently disturbed and for a long time hesitated
whether or not he should confront Edgar with an accusation of knowing
Miss Cavanagh better than he acknowledged. But Sellick's reserve was one
that imposed silence, and Frank dared not break through it lest he
should lose the one opportunity he now had of visiting Marston freely.
So he composed himself with the thought that he had at least gained a
footing in the house, and if the rest did not follow he had only himself
to blame. And in this spirit he again left Marston.

He found plenty of work awaiting him in his office. Foremost in
interest was an invitation to be present at the search which was to be
instituted that afternoon in the premises of the Widow Wakeham. The will
of which he had been made Executor, having been admitted to probate, it
had been considered advisable to have an inventory made of the personal
effects of the deceased, and this day had been set apart for the
purpose. To meet this appointment he hurried all the rest, and at the
hour set, he found himself before the broken gate and gardens of the
ruinous old house in Flatbush. There was a crowd already gathered there,
and as he made his appearance he was greeted by a loud murmur which
amply proved that his errand was known. At the door he was met by the
two Appraisers appointed by the Surrogate, and within he found one or
two workmen hob-nobbing with a detective from police headquarters.

The house looked barer and more desolate than ever. It was a sunshiny
day, and the windows having been opened, the pitiless rays streamed in
showing all the defects which time and misuse had created in the once
stately mansion. Not a crack in plastering or woodwork but stood forth
in bold relief that day, nor were the gaping holes in the flooring of
hall and parlor able to hide themselves any longer under the strips of
carpet with which Huckins had endeavored to conceal them.

"Shall we begin with the lower floor?" asked one of the workmen, poising
the axe he had brought with him.

The Appraisers bowed, and the work of demolition began. As the first
sound of splitting boards rang through the empty house, a quick cry as
of a creature in pain burst from the staircase without, and they saw,
crouching there with trembling hands held out in protest, the meagre
form of Huckins.

"Oh, don't! don't!" he began; but before they could answer, he had
bounded down the stairs to where they stood and was looking with eager,
staring eyes into the hole which the workmen had made.

"Have you found anything?" he asked. "It is to be all mine, you know,
and the more you find the richer I'll be. Let's see--let's see, she may
have hidden something here, there is no knowing." And falling on his
knees he thrust his long arm into the aperture before him, just as Mr.
Dickey had seen him do in a similar case on the night of the old woman's
death.

But as his interference was not desired, he was drawn quietly back, and
was simply allowed to stand there and watch while the others proceeded
in their work. This he did with an excitement which showed itself in
alternate starts and sudden breathless gasps, which, taken with the
sickly smiles with which he endeavored to hide the frowns caused by his
natural indignation, made a great impression upon Frank, who had come to
regard him as a unique specimen in nature, something between a hyena and
a fox.

As the men held up a little packet which had at last come to light very
near the fireplace, he gave a shriek and stretched out two clutching
hands.

"Let me have it!" he cried. "I know what that is; it disappeared from my
sister's desk five years ago, and I could never get her to tell where
she had put it. Let me have it, and I will open it here before you all.
Indeed I will, sirs--though it is all mine, as I have said before."

But Etheridge, quietly taking it, placed it in his pocket, and Huckins
sank back with a groan.

The next place to be examined was the room upstairs. Here the poor
woman had spent most of her time till she was seized with her last
sickness, and here the box had been found by Huckins, and here they
expected to find the rest of her treasures. But beyond a small casket of
almost worthless jewelry, nothing new was discovered, and they proceeded
at Frank's suggestion to inspect the room where she had died, and where
the clock still stood towards which she had lifted her dying hand, while
saying, "There! there!"

As they approached this place, Huckins was seen to tremble. Catching
Frank by the arm, he whispered:

"Can they be trusted? Are they honest men? She had greenbacks, piles of
greenbacks; I have caught her counting them. If they find them, will
they save them all for me?"

"They will save them all for the heir," retorted Frank, severely. "Why
do you say they are for you, when you know you will only get them in
default of other heirs being found."

"Why? why? Because I feel that they are mine. Heirs or no heirs, they
will come into my grasp yet, and you of the law cannot help it. Do I
look like a man who will die poor? No, no; but I don't want to be
cheated. I don't want these men to rob me of anything which will
rightfully be mine some day."

"You need not fret about that," said Frank. "No one will rob _you_," and
he drew disdainfully aside.

The Appraisers had now surveyed the room awful with hideous memories to
the young lawyer. Pointing to the bed, they said:

"Search that," and the search was made.

A bundle of letters came to light and were handed over to Frank.

"Why did she hide those away?" screamed Huckins. "They ain't money."

Nobody answered him.

The lintels of the windows and doors were now looked into, and the
fireplace dismantled and searched. But nothing was found in these
places, nor in the staring cupboards or beneath the loosened boards.
Finally they came to the clock.

"Oh, let me," cried Huckins, "let me be the first to stop that clock. It
has been running ever since I was a little boy. My mother used to wind
it with her own hands. I cannot bear a stranger's hand to touch it.
My--my sister would not have liked it."

But they disregarded even this appeal; and he was forced to stand in the
background and see the old piece taken down and laid at length upon the
floor with its face to the boards. There was nothing in its interior but
the works which belonged there, but the frame at its back seemed
unusually heavy, and Etheridge consequently had this taken off, when, to
the astonishment of all and to the frantic delight of Huckins, there
appeared at the very first view, snugly laid between the true and false
backing, layers of bills and piles of sealed and unsealed papers.

"A fortune! A fortune!" cried this would-be possessor of his sister's
hoarded savings. "I knew we should find it at last. I knew it wasn't all
in that box. She tried to make me think it was, and made a great secret
of where she had put it, and how it was all to be for me if I only let
it alone. But the fortune was here in this old clock I have stared at a
thousand times. Here, here, and I never knew it, never suspected it
till----"

He felt the lawyer's eyes fall on him, and became suddenly silent.

"Let's count it!" he greedily cried, at last.

But the Appraisers, maintaining their composure, motioned the almost
frenzied man aside, and summoning Frank to assist them, made out a list
of the papers, which were most of them valuable, and then proceeded to
count the loose bills. The result was to make Huckins' eyes gleam with
joy and satisfaction. As the last number left their lips, he threw up
his arms in unrestrained glee, and cried:

"I will make you all rich some day. Yes, sirs; I have not the greed of
my poor dead sister; I intend to spend what is mine, and have a good
time while I live. I don't intend any one to dance over my grave when I
am dead."

His attitude was one so suggestive of this very same expression of
delight, that more than one who saw him and heard these words shuddered
as they turned from him; but he did not care for cold shoulders now, or
for any expression of disdain or disapproval. He had seen the fortune of
his sister with his own eyes, and for that moment it was enough.



IX.

THE TWO SISTERS.


When Frank returned again to Marston he did not hesitate to tell Edgar
that "he had business relations with Miss Cavanagh." This astonished the
doctor, who was of a more conservative nature, but he did not mingle his
astonishment with any appearance of chagrin, so Frank took heart, and
began to dream that he had been mistaken in the tokens which Miss
Cavanagh had given of being moved by the news of Dr. Sellick's return.

He went to see her as soon as he had supped with his friend, and this
time he was introduced into a less formal apartment. Both sisters were
present, and in the moment which followed the younger's introduction, he
had leisure to note the similarity and dissimilarity between them, which
made them such a delightful study to an interested observer.

Emma was the name of the younger, and as she had the more ordinary and
less poetic name, so at first view she had the more ordinary and less
poetic nature. Yet as the eye lingered on her touching face, with its
unmistakable lines of sadness, the slow assurance gained upon the mind
that beneath her quiet smile and gentle self-contained air lay the same
force of will which spoke at once in the firm lip and steady gaze of the
older woman. But her will was beneficent, and her character noble, while
Hermione bore the evidences of being under a cloud, whose shadow was
darkened by something less easily understood than sorrow.

Yet Hermione, and not Emma, moved his heart, and if he acknowledged to
himself that a two-edged sword lay beneath the forced composure of her
manner, it was with the same feelings with which he acknowledged the
scar which offended all eyes but his own. They were both dressed in
white, and Emma wore a cluster of snowy pinks in her belt, but Hermione
was without ornament. The beauty of the latter was but faintly shadowed
in her younger sister's face, yet had Emma been alone she would have
stood in his mind as a sweet picture of melancholy young womanhood.

Hermione was evidently glad to see him. Fresh and dainty as this, their
living room, looked, with its delicate white curtains blowing in the
twilight breeze, there were hours, no doubt, when it seemed no more than
a prison-house to these two passionate young hearts. To-night cheer and
an emanation from the large outside world had come into it with their
young visitor, and both girls seemed sensible of it, and brightened
visibly. The talk was, of course, upon business, and while he noticed
that Hermione led the conversation, he also noticed that when Emma did
speak it was with the same clear grasp of the subject which he had
admired in the other. "Two keen minds," thought he, and became more
deeply interested than ever in the mystery of their retirement, and
evident renouncement of the world.

He had to tell them he could do nothing for them unless one or both of
them would consent to go to New York.

"The magistrate whom I saw," said he, "asked if you were well, and when
I was forced to say yes, answered that for no other reason than illness
could he excuse you from appearing before him. So if you will not comply
with his rules, I fear your cause must go, and with it whatever it
involves."

Emma, whose face showed the greater anxiety of the two, started as he
said this, and glanced eagerly at her sister. But Hermione did not
answer that glance. She was, perhaps, too much engaged in maintaining
her own self-control, for the lines deepened in her face, and she all at
once assumed that air of wild yet subdued suffering which had made him
feel at the time of his first stolen glimpse of her face that it was the
most tragic countenance he had ever beheld.

"We cannot go," came forth sharply from her lips, after a short but
painful pause. "The case must be dropped." And she rose, as if she could
not bear the weight of her thoughts, and moved slowly to the window,
where she leaned for a moment, her face turned blankly on the street
without.

Emma sighed, and her eyes fell with a strange pathos upon Frank's almost
equally troubled face.

"There is no use," her gentle looks seemed to say. "Do not urge her; it
will be only one grief the more."

But Frank was not one to heed such an appeal in sight of the noble
drooping figure and set white face of the woman upon whose happiness he
had fixed his own, though neither of these two knew it as yet. So, with
a deprecating look at Emma, he crossed to Hermione's side, and with a
slow, respectful voice exclaimed:

"Do not make me feel as if I had been the cause of loss to you. An older
man might have done better. Let me send an older man to you, then, or
pray that you reconsider a decision which will always fill me with
regret."

But Hermione, turning slowly, fixed him with her eyes, whose meaning he
was farther than ever from understanding, and saying gently, "The matter
is at end, Mr. Etheridge," came back to the seat she had vacated, and
motioned to him to return to the one he had just left. "Let as talk of
other things," said she, and forced her lips to smile.

He obeyed, and at once opened a general conversation. Both sisters
joined in it, and such was his influence and the impulse of their own
youth that gradually the depth of shadow departed from their faces and a
certain grave sort of pleasure appeared there, giving him many a thrill
of joy, and making the otherwise dismal hour one to be happily
remembered by him through many a weary day and night.

When he came to leave he asked Emma, who strangely enough had now become
the most talkative of the two, whether there was not something he could
do for her in New York or elsewhere before he came again.

She shook her head, but in another moment, Hermione having stepped
aside, she whispered:

"Make my sister smile again as she did a minute ago, and you will give
me all the happiness I seek."

The words made him joyous, and the look he bestowed upon her in return
had a promise in it which made the young girl's dreams lighter that
night, for all the new cause of anxiety which had come into her secluded
life.



X.

DORIS.


Frank Etheridge walked musingly towards town. When half-way there he
heard his name pronounced behind him in tremulous accents, and turning,
saw hastening in his wake the woman who had brought him the message
which first took him to Miss Cavanagh's house. She was panting with the
haste she had made, and evidently wished to speak to him. He of course
stopped, being only too anxious to know what the good woman had to say.
She flushed as she came near to him.

"Oh, sir," she cried with an odd mixture of eagerness and restraint, "I
have been wanting to talk to you, and if you would be so good as to let
me say what is on my mind, it would be a great satisfaction to me,
please, and make me feel a deal easier."

"I should be very glad to hear whatever you may have to tell me," was
his natural response. "Are you in trouble? Can I help you?"

"Oh, it is not that," she answered, looking about to see if any curious
persons were peering at them through the neighboring window-blinds,
"though I have my troubles, of course, as who hasn't in this hard, rough
world; it is not of myself I want to speak, but of the young ladies. You
take an interest in them, sir?"

It was naturally put, yet it made his cheek glow.

"I am their lawyer," he murmured.

"I thought so," she went on as if she had not seen the evidences of
emotion on his part, or if she had seen them had failed to interpret
them. "Mr. Hamilton is a very good man but he is not of much use, sir;
but you look different, as if you could influence them, and make them do
as other people do, and enjoy the world, and go out to church, and see
the neighbors, and be natural in short."

"And they do not?"

"Never, sir; haven't you heard? They never either of them set foot
beyond the garden gate. Miss Emma enjoys the flower-beds and spends most
of her time working at them or walking up and down between the poplars,
but Miss Hermione keeps to the house and grows white and thin, studying
and reading, and making herself wise--for what? No one comes to see
them--that is, not often, sir, and when they do, they are stiff and
formal, as if the air of the house was chilly with something nobody
understood. It isn't right, and it's going against God's laws, for they
are both well and able to go about the world as others do. Why, then,
don't they do it? That is what I want to know."

"And that is what everybody wants to know," returned Frank, smiling;
"but as long as the young ladies do not care to explain themselves I do
not see how you or any one else can criticise their conduct. They must
have good reasons for their seclusion or they would never deny
themselves all the pleasures natural to youth."

"Reasons? What reasons can they have for actions so extraordinary? I
don't know of any reason on God's earth which would keep me tied to the
house, if my feet were able to travel and my eyes to see."

"Do you live with them?"

"Yes; or how could they get the necessaries of life? I do their
marketing, go for the doctor when they are sick, pay their bills, and
buy their dresses. That's why their frocks are no prettier," she
explained.

Frank felt his wonder increase.

"It is certainly a great mystery," he acknowledged. "I have heard of
elderly women showing their eccentricity in this way, but young girls!"

"And such beautiful girls! Do you not think them beautiful?" she asked.

He started and looked at the woman more closely. There was a tone in her
voice when she put this question that for the first time made him think
that she was less simple than her manner would seem to indicate.

"What is your name?" he asked her abruptly.

"Doris, sir."

"And what is it you want of me?"

"Oh, sir, I thought I told you; to talk to the young ladies and show
them how wicked it is to slight the good gifts which the Lord has
bestowed upon them. They may listen to you, sir; seeing that you are
from out of town and have the ways of the big city about you."

She was very humble now and had dropped her eyes in some confusion at
his altered manner, so that she did not see how keenly his glance rested
upon her nervous nostril, weak mouth, and obstinate chin. But she
evidently felt his sudden distrust, for her hands clutched each other in
embarrassment and she no longer spoke with the assurance with which she
had commenced the conversation.

"I like the young ladies," she now explained, "and it is for their own
good I want them to do differently."

"Have they never been talked to on the subject? Have not their friends
or relatives tried to make them break their seclusion?"

"Oh, sir, the times the minister has been to that house! And the doctor
telling them they would lose their health if they kept on in the way
they were going! But it was all waste breath; they only said they had
their reasons, and left people to draw what conclusions they would."

Frank Etheridge, who had a gentleman's instincts, and yet who was too
much of a lawyer not to avail himself of the garrulity of another on a
question he had so much at heart, stopped, and weighed the matter a
moment with himself before he put the one or two questions which her
revelations suggested. Should he dismiss the woman with a rebuke for her
forwardness, or should he humor her love for talk and learn the few
things further which he was in reality burning to hear. His love and
interest naturally gained the victory over his pride, and he allowed
himself to ask:

"How long have they kept themselves shut up? Is it a year, do you
think?"

"Oh, a full year, sir; six months at least before their father died. We
did not notice it at first, because they never said anything about it,
but at last it became very evident, and then we calculated and found
they had not stepped out of the house since the day of the great ball at
Hartford."

"The great ball!"

"Yes, sir, a grand party that every one went to. But they did not go,
though they had talked about it, and Miss Hermione had her dress ready.
And they never went out again, not even to their father's funeral. Think
of that, sir, not even to their father's funeral."

"It is very strange," said he, determined at whatever cost to ask Edgar
about that ball, and if he went to it.

"And that is not all," continued his now thoroughly reassured
companion. "They were never the same girls again after that time. Before
then Miss Hermione was the admiration and pride of the whole town,
notwithstanding that dreadful scar, while Miss Emma was the life of the
house and of every gathering she went into. But afterwards--well, you
can see for yourself what they are now; and it was just so before their
father died."

Frank longed to ask some questions about this father, but reason bade
him desist. He was already humiliating himself enough in thus discussing
the daughters with the servant who waited upon them; others must tell
him about the old gentleman.

"The house is just like a haunted house," Doris now remarked. Then as
she saw him cast her a quick look of renewed interest, she glanced
nervously down the street and asked eagerly: "Would you mind turning off
into this lane, sir, where there are not so many persons to pry and peer
at us? It is still early enough for people to see, and as everybody
knows me and everybody by this time must know you, they may wonder to
see us talking together, and I do so long to ease my whole conscience
now I am about it."

For reply, he took the road she had pointed out. When they were
comfortably out of sight from the main street, he stopped again and
said:

"What do you mean by haunted?"

"Oh, sir," she began, "not by ghosts; I don't believe in any such
nonsense as ghosts; but by memories sir, memories of something which has
happened within those four walls and which are now locked up in the
hearts of those two girls, making them live like spectres. I am not a
fanciful person myself, nor given to imaginings, but that house,
especially on nights when the wind blows, seems to be full of something
not in nature; and though I do not hear anything or see anything, I feel
strange terrors and almost expect the walls to speak or the floors to
give up their secrets, but they never do; and that is why I quake in my
bed and lie awake so many nights."

"Yet you are not fanciful, nor given to imaginings," smiled Frank.

"No, for there is ground for my secret fears. I see it in the girls'
pale looks, I hear it in the girls' restless tread as they pace hour
after hour through those lonesome rooms."

"They walk for exercise; they do not use the streets, so they make a
promenade of their own floors."

"Do people walk for exercise at night?"

"At _night_?"

"Late at night; at one, two, sometimes three, in the morning? Oh, sir,
it is uncanny, I tell you."

"They are not well; lack of change affects their nerves and they cannot
sleep, so they walk."

"Very likely, _but they do not walk together_. Sometimes it's one, and
sometimes it's the other. I know their different steps, and I never hear
them both at the same time."

Frank felt a cold shiver thrill his blood.

"I have been in the house," she resumed, after a minute's pause, "for
five years; ever since Mrs. Cavanagh died, and I cannot tell you what
its secret is. But it has one, I am certain, and I often go about the
halls and into the different rooms and ask low to myself, 'Was it here
that it happened, or was it there?' There is a little staircase on the
second floor which takes a quick turn towards a big empty room where
nobody ever sleeps, and though I have no reason for shuddering at that
place, I always do, perhaps because it is in that big room the young
ladies walk so much. Can you understand my feeling this way, and I no
more than a servant to them?"

A month ago he would have uttered a loud disclaimer, but he had changed
much in some regards, so he answered: "Yes, if you really care for
them."

The look she gave him proved that she did, beyond all doubt.

"If I did not care for them do you think I would stay in such a gloomy
house? I love them both better than anything else in the whole world,
and I would not leave them, not for all the money any one could offer
me."

She was evidently sincere, and Frank felt a vague relief.

"I am glad," said he, "that they have so good a friend in their own
house; as for your fears you will have to bear them, for I doubt if the
young ladies will ever take any one into their confidence."

"Not--not their lawyer?"

"No," said he, "not even their lawyer."

She looked disappointed and suddenly very ill at ease.

"I thought you might be masterful," she murmured, "and find out.
Perhaps you will some day, and then everything will be different. Miss
Emma is the most amiable," said she, "and would not long remain a
prisoner if Miss Hermione would consent to leave the house."

"Miss Emma is the younger?"

"Yes, yes, in everything."

"And the sadder!"

"I am not so sure about that, but she shows her feelings plainer,
perhaps because her spirits used to be so high."

Frank now felt they had talked long enough, interesting as was the topic
on which they were engaged. So turning his face towards the town, he
remarked:

"I am going back to New York to-night, but I shall probably be in
Marston again soon. Watch well over the young ladies, but do not think
of repeating this interview unless something of great importance should
occur. It would not please them if they knew you were in the habit of
talking them over to me, and it is your duty to act just as they would
wish you to."

"I know it, sir, but when it is for their good----"

"I understand; but let us not repeat it, Doris." And he bade her a kind
but significant good-by.

It was now quite dusk, and as he walked towards Dr. Sellick's office,
he remembered with some satisfaction that Edgar was usually at home
during the early evening. He wanted to talk to him about Hermione's
father, and his mood was too impatient for a long delay. He found him as
he expected, seated before his desk, and with his wonted precipitancy
dashed at once into his subject.

"Edgar, you told me once that you were acquainted with Miss Cavanagh's
father; that you were accustomed to visit him. What kind of a man was
he? A hard one?"

Edgar, taken somewhat by surprise, faltered for a moment, but only for a
moment.

"I never have attempted to criticise him," said he; "but let me see; he
was a straightforward man and a persistent one, never let go when he
once entered upon a thing. He could be severe, but I should never have
called him hard. He was like--well he was like Raynor, that professor of
ours, who understood everything about beetles and butterflies and such
small fry, and knew very little about men or their ways and tastes when
they did not coincide with his own. Mr. Cavanagh's hobby was not in the
line of natural history, but of chemistry, and that is why I visited him
so much; we used to experiment together."

"Was it his pastime or his profession? The house does not look as if it
had been the abode of a rich man."

"He was not rich, but he was well enough off to indulge his whims. I
think he inherited the few thousands, upon the income of which he
supported himself and family."

"And he could be severe?"

"Very, if he were interrupted in his work; at other times he was simply
amiable and absent-minded. He only seemed to live when he had a retort
before him."

"Of what did he die?"

"Apoplexy, I think; I was not here, so do not know the particulars."

"Was he--" Frank turned and looked squarely at his friend, as he always
did when he had a venturesome question to put--"was he fond of his
daughters?"

Edgar had probably been expecting some such turn in the conversation as
this, yet he frowned and answered quite hastily, though with evident
conscientiousness:

"I could not make out; I do not know as I ever tried to; the matter did
not interest me."

But Frank was bound to have a definite reply.

"I think you will be able to tell me if you will only give your mind to
it for a few moments. A father cannot help but show some gleam of
affection for two motherless girls."

"Oh, he was proud of them," Edgar hurriedly asserted, "and liked to have
them ready to hand him his coffee when his experiments were over; but
fond of them in the way you mean, I think not. I imagine they often
missed their mother."

"Did you know _her_?"

"No, only as a child. She died when I was a youngster."

"You do not help me much," sighed Frank.

"Help you?"

"To solve the mystery of those girls' lives."

"Oh!" was Edgar's short exclamation.

"I thought I might get at it by learning about the father, but nothing
seems to give me any clue."

Edgar rose with a restless air.

"Why not do as I do--let the matter alone?"

"Because," cried Frank, hotly, "my affections are engaged. I love
Hermione Cavanagh, and I cannot leave a matter alone that concerns her
so nearly."

"I see," quoth Edgar, and became very silent.

When Frank returned to New York it was with the resolution to win the
heart of Hermione and then ask her to tell him her secret. He was so
sure that whatever it was, it was not one which would stand in the way
of his happiness.



XI.

LOVE.


Frank's next business was to read the packet of letters which had been
found in old Mrs. Wakeham's bed. The box abstracted by Huckins had been
examined during his absence and found to contain securities, which,
together with the ready money and papers taken from the clock, amounted
to so many thousands that it had become quite a serious matter to find
the heir. Huckins still clung to the house, but he gave no trouble. He
was satisfied, he said, to abide by the second will, being convinced
that if he were patient he would yet inherit through it. His sister
Harriet was without doubt dead, and he professed great willingness to
give any aid possible in verifying the fact. But as he could adduce no
proofs nor suggest any clue to the discovery of this sister's
whereabouts if living, or of her grave if dead, his offers were
disregarded, and he was allowed to hermitize in the old house
undisturbed.

Meantime, false clues came in and false claims were raised by various
needy adventurers. To follow up these clues and sift these claims took
much of Frank Etheridge's time, and when he was not engaged upon this
active work he employed himself in reading those letters to which I have
already alluded.

They were of old date and were from various sources. But they conveyed
little that was likely to be of assistance to him. Of the twenty he
finally read, only one was signed Harriet, and while that was very
interesting to him, as giving some glimpses into the early history of
this woman, it did not give him any facts upon which either he or the
police could work. I will transcribe the letter here:

    "MY DEAR CYNTHIA:

    "You are the only one of the family to whom I dare write. I
    have displeased father too much to ever hope for his
    forgiveness, while mother will never go against his wishes, even
    if the grief of it should make me die. I am very unhappy, I can
    tell you that, more unhappy than even they could wish, but they
    must never know it, never. I have still enough pride to wish to
    keep my misery to myself, and it would be just the one thing
    that would make my burden unbearable, to have them know I
    regretted the marriage on account of which I have been turned
    away from their hearts and home forever. But I do regret it,
    Cynthia, from the bottom of my heart. He is not kind, and he is
    not a gentleman, and I made a terrible mistake, as you can see.
    But I do not think I was to blame. He seemed so devoted, and
    used to make me such beautiful speeches that I never thought to
    ask if he were a good man; and when father and mother opposed
    him so bitterly that we had to meet by stealth, he was always so
    considerate, and yet so determined, that he seemed to me like an
    angel till we were married, and then it was too late to do
    anything but accept my fate. I think he expected father to
    forgive us and take us home, and when he found these
    expectations false he became both ugly and sullen, and so my
    life is nothing but a burden to me, and I almost wish I was
    dead. But I am very strong, and so is he, and so we are likely
    to live on, pulling away at the chain that binds us, till both
    are old and gray.

    "Pretty talk for a young girl's reading, is it not? But it
    relieves me to pour out my heart to some one that loves me, and
    I know that you do. But I shall never talk like this to you
    again or ever write you another letter. You are my father's
    darling, and I want you to remain so, and if you think too much
    of me, or spend your time in writing to me, he will find it out,
    and that will help neither of us. So good-by, little Cynthia,
    and do not be angry that I put a false address at the top of the
    page, or refuse to tell you where I live, or where I am going.
    From this hour Harriet is dead to you, and nothing shall ever
    induce me to break the silence which should remain between us
    but my meeting you in another world, where all the follies of
    this will be forgotten in the love that has survived both life
    and death.

        "Your sorrowing but true sister,
            "HARRIET."

The date was forty years back, and the address was New York City--an
address which she acknowledged to be false. The letter was without
envelope.

The only other allusion to this sister found in the letters was in a
short note written by a person called Mary, and it ran thus:

    "Do you know whom I have seen? Your sister Harriet. It was in
    the depot at New Haven. She was getting off the train and I was
    getting on, but I knew her at once for all the change which ten
    years make in the most of us, and catching her by the arm, I
    cried, 'Harriet, Harriet, where are you living?' How she blushed
    and what a start she gave! but as soon as she saw who it was she
    answered readily enough, 'In Marston,' and disappeared in the
    crowd before I could say another word. Wasn't it a happy chance,
    and isn't it a relief to know she is alive and well. As for her
    looks, they were quite lively, and she wore nice clothing like
    one in very good circumstances. So you see her marriage did not
    turn out as badly as some thought."

This was of old date also, and gave no clue to the sender, save such as
was conveyed by the signature Mary. Mary what? Mr. Huckins was the only
person who was likely to know.

Frank, who had but little confidence in this man and none in his desire
to be of use in finding the legal heir, still thought it best to ask him
if there was any old friend of the family whose first name was Mary. So
he went to Flatbush one afternoon, and finding the old miser in his
house, put to him this question and waited for his reply.

It came just as he expected, with a great show of willingness that yet
was without any positive result.

"Mary? Mary?" he repeated, "we have known a dozen Marys. Do you mean any
one belonging to this town?"

"I mean some one with whom your sister was intimate thirty years ago.
Some one who knew your other sister, the one who married Smith; some one
who would simply sign her first name in writing to Mrs. Wakeham, and who
in speaking of Mrs. Smith would call her Harriet."

"Ah!" ejaculated the cautious Huckins, dropping his eyes for fear they
would convey more than his tongue might deem fit. "I'm afraid I was too
young in those days to know much about my sister's friends. Can you tell
me where she lived, or give me any information beyond her first name by
which I could identify her?"

"No," was the lawyer's quick retort; "if I could I should not need to
consult you; I could find the woman myself."

"Ah, I see, I see, and I wish I could help you, but I really don't know
whom you mean, I don't indeed, sir. May I ask where you got the name,
and why you want to find the woman?"

"Yes, for it involves your prospects. This Mary, whoever she may have
been, was the one to tell Mrs. Wakeham that Harriet Smith lived in
Marston. Doesn't that jog your memory, Huckins? You know you cannot
inherit the property till it is proved that Harriet is dead and left no
heirs."

"I know," he whined, and looked quite disconsolate, but he gave the
lawyer no information, and Frank left at last with the feeling that he
had reached the end of his rope.

As a natural result, his thoughts turned to Marston--were they ever far
away from there? "I will go and ease my heart of some of its burden,"
thought he; "perhaps my head may be clearer then, and my mind freer for
work." Accordingly he took the train that day, and just as the dew of
evening began to fall, he rode into Marston and stopped at Miss
Cavanagh's door.

He found Hermione sitting at an old harp. She did not seem to have been
playing but musing, and her hands hung somewhat listlessly upon the
strings. As she rose the instrument gave out a thrilling wail that woke
an echo in his sensibilities for which he was not prepared. He had
considered himself in a hopeful frame of mind, and behold, he was
laboring instead under a morbid fear that his errand would be in vain.
Emma was not present, but another lady was, whose aspect of gentle old
age was so sweet and winning that he involuntarily bent his head in
reverence to her, before Hermione could utter the introduction which was
trembling on her tongue.

"My father's sister," said she, "and our very dear aunt. She is quite
deaf, so she would not hear you speak if you attempted it, but she reads
faces wonderfully, and you see she is smiling at you as she does not
smile at every one. You may consider yourself introduced."

Frank, who had a tender heart for all misfortune, surveyed the old lady
wistfully. How placid she looked, how at home with her thoughts! It was
peacefulness to the spirit to meet her eye. Bowing again, he turned
towards Hermione and remarked:

"What a very lovely face! She looks as if she had never known anything
but the pleasures of life."

"On the contrary," returned Hermione, "she has never known much but its
disappointments. But they have left no trace on her face, or in her
nature, I think. She is an embodiment of trust, and in the great silence
there is about her, she hears sounds and sees visions which are denied
to others. But when did you come to Marston?"

He told her he had just arrived, and, satisfied with the slight look of
confusion which mantled her face at this acknowledgment, launched into
talk all tending to one end, his love for her. But he did not reach that
end immediately; for if the old lady could not hear, she could see, and
Frank, for all his impetuosity, possessed sufficient restraint upon
himself not to subject himself or Hermione to the criticism of even this
most benignant relative. Not till Mrs. Lovell left the room, as she did
after a while,--being a very wise old lady as well as mild,--did he
allow himself to say:

"There can be but one reason now for my coming to Marston--to see you,
Miss Cavanagh; I have no other business here."

"I thought," she began, with some confusion,--evidently she had been
taken by surprise,--"that you were looking for some one, a Harriet
Smith, I think, whom you had reason to believe once lived here."

"I did come to Marston originally on that errand, but I have so far
failed in finding any trace of her in this place that I begin to think
we were mistaken in our inferences that she had ever lived here."

"Yet you had reason for thinking that she did," Hermione went on, with
the anxiety of one desirous to put off the declaration she probably saw
coming.

"Yes; we had reasons, but they prove to have been unfounded."

"Was--was your motive for finding her an important one?" she asked, with
some hesitation, and a look of curiosity in her fine eyes.

"Quite; a fortune of some thousands is involved in her discovery. She is
heiress to at least a hundred thousand dollars from a sister she has not
seen since they were girls together."

"Indeed!" and Hermione's eyes opened in some surprise, then fell before
the burning light in his.

"But do not let us talk of a matter that for me is now of secondary
interest," cried he, letting the full stream of his ardor find its way.
"You are all I can think of now; you, you, whom I have loved since I
caught the first glimpse of your face one night through the window
yonder. Though I have known you but a little while, and though I cannot
hope to have awakened a kindred feeling in you, you have so filled my
mind and heart during the few short weeks since I learned your name,
that I find it impossible to keep back the words which the sight of your
face calls forth. I love you, and I want to guard you from loneliness
forever. Will you give me that sweet right?"

"But," she cried, starting to her feet in an excitement that made her
face radiantly beautiful, "you do not seem to think of my misfortune,
my----"

"Do you mean this scar?" he whispered softly, gliding swiftly to her
side. "It is no misfortune in my eyes; on the contrary, I think it
endears you to me all the more. I love it, Hermione, because it is a
part of you. See how I feel towards it!" and he bent his head with a
quick movement, and imprinted a kiss upon the mark she had probably
never touched herself but with shrinking.

"Oh!" went up from her lips in a low cry, and she covered her face with
her hands in a rush of feeling that was not entirely connected with that
moment.

"Did you think I would let that stand in my way?" he asked, with a
proud tenderness with which no sensitive woman could fail to be
impressed. "It is one reason more for a man to love your beautiful face,
your noble manners, your soft white hand. I think half the pleasure
would be gone from the prospect of loving you if I did not hope to make
you forget what you have perhaps too often remembered."

She dropped her hands, and he saw her eyes fixed upon him with a strange
look.

"O how wicked I have been!" she murmured. "And what good men there are
in the world!"

He shook his head.

"It is not goodness," he began, but she stopped him with a wave of her
hand.

A strange elation seemed to have taken hold of her, and she walked the
floor with lifted head and sparkling eye.

"It restores my belief in love," she exclaimed, "and in mankind." And
she seemed content just to brood upon that thought.

But he was not; naturally he wished for some assurance from her; so he
stepped in her path as she was crossing the room, and, taking her by the
hands, said, smilingly:

"Do you know how you can testify your appreciation in a way to make me
perfectly happy?"

She shook her head, and tried to draw her hands away.

"By taking a walk, the least walk in the world, beyond that wooden
gate."

She shuddered and her hands fell from his.

"You do not know what you ask," said she; then after a moment, "it was
that I meant and not the scar, when I spoke of my misfortune. I cannot
go outside the garden wall, and I was wrong to listen to your words for
a moment, knowing what a barrier this fact raises up between us."

"Hermione,--" he was very serious now, and she gathered up all her
strength to meet the questions she knew were coming,--"why cannot you go
beyond the garden gate? Cannot you tell me? Or do you hesitate because
you are afraid I shall smile at your reasons for this determined
seclusion?"

"I am not afraid of your smiling, but I cannot give my reasons. That I
consider them good must answer for us both."

"Very well, then, we will let them answer. You need not take the walk I
ask, but give me instead another pleasure--your promise to be my wife."

"Your wife?"

"Yes, Hermione."

"With such a secret between us?"

"It will not be a secret long."

"Mr. Etheridge," she cried with emotion, "you do not know the woman you
thus honor. If it had been Emma----"

"It is you I love."

"It would have been safe," she went on as if she had not heard him. "She
is lovely, and amiable, and constant, and in her memory there is no dark
scar as there is in mine, a scar deeper than this," she said, laying her
finger on her cheek, "and fully as ineffaceable."

"Some day you will take me into your confidence," he averred, "and then
that scar will gradually disappear."

"What confidence you have in me?" she cried. "What have you seen, what
can you see in me to make you trust me so in face of my own words?"

"I think it is the look in your eyes. There is purity there, Hermione,
and a deep sadness which is too near like sorrow to be the result of an
evil action."

"What do you call evil?" she cried. Then suddenly, "I once did a great
wrong--in a fit of temper--and I can never undo it, never, yet its
consequences are lasting. Would you give your heart to a woman who could
so forget herself, and who is capable of forgetting herself again if her
passions are roused as they were then?"

"Perhaps not," he acknowledged, "but my heart is already given and I do
not know how to take it back."

"Yet you must," said she. "No man with a career before him should marry
a recluse, and I am that, whatever else I may or may not be. I would be
doing a second ineffaceable wrong if I took advantage of your generous
impulse and bound you to a fate that in less than two months would be
intolerably irksome to one of your temperament."

"Now you do not know me," he protested.

But she heeded neither his words nor his pleading look.

"I know human nature," she avowed, "and if I do not mingle much with
the world I know the passions that sway it. I can never be the wife of
any man, Mr. Etheridge, much less of one so generous and so
self-forgetting as yourself."

"Do you--are you certain?" he asked.

"Certain."

"Then I have not succeeded in raising one throb of interest in your
breast?"

She opened her lips and his heart stood still for her answer, but she
closed them again and remained standing so long with her hands locked
together and her face downcast, that his hopes revived again, and he was
about to put in another plea for her hand when she looked up and said
firmly:

"I think you ought to know that my heart does not respond to your suit.
It may make any disappointment which you feel less lasting."

He uttered a low exclamation and stepped back.

"I beg your pardon," said he, "I ought not to have annoyed you. You will
forget my folly, I hope."

"Do you forget it!" cried she; but her lips trembled and he saw it.

"Hermione! Hermione!" he murmured, and was down at her feet before she
could prevent it. "Oh, how I love you!" he breathed, and kissed her hand
wildly, passionately.



XII.

HOW MUCH DID IT MEAN?


Frank Etheridge left the presence of Hermione Cavanagh, carrying with
him an indelible impression of her slender, white-robed figure and
pallid, passion-drawn face. There was such tragedy in the latter, that
he shuddered at its memory, and stopped before he reached the gate to
ask himself if the feeling she displayed was for him or another. If for
another, then was that other Dr. Sellick, and as the name formed itself
in his thoughts, he felt the dark cloud of jealousy creep over his mind,
obscuring the past and making dangerous the future.

"How can I know," thought he, "how can I know?" and just as the second
repetition passed his lips, he heard a soft step near him, and, looking
up, saw the gentle Emma watering her flowers.

To gain her side was his first impulse. To obtain her confidence the
second. Taking the heavy watering-pot from her hand, he poured its
contents on the rose-bush she was tending, and then setting it down,
said quietly:

"I have just made your sister very unhappy, Miss Cavanagh."

She started and her soft eyes showed the shadow of an alarm.

"I thought you were her friend," she said.

He drew her around the corner of the house towards the poplar trees.
"Had I been only that," he avowed, "I might have spared her pain, but I
am more than that, Miss Cavanagh, I am her lover."

The hesitating step at his side paused, and though no great change came
into her face, she seemed to have received a shock.

"I can understand," said she, "that you hurt her."

"Is she so wedded to the past, then?" he cried. "Was there some one, is
there some one whom she--she----"

He could not finish, but the candid-eyed girl beside him did not profess
to misunderstand him. A pitiful smile crossed her lips, and she looked
for a minute whiter than her sister had done, but she answered firmly:

"You could easily overcome any mere memory, but the decision she has
made never to leave the house, I fear you cannot overcome."

"Does it spring--forgive me if I go beyond the bounds of discretion, but
this mystery is driving me mad--does it spring from that past attachment
you have almost acknowledged?"

She drooped her head and his heart misgave him. Why should he hurt both
these women when his whole feeling towards them was one of kindness and
love?

"Pardon me," he pleaded. "I withdraw the question; I had no right to put
it."

"Thank you," said she, and looked away from him towards the distant
prospect of hill and valley lying before them.

He stood revolving the matter in his disturbed mind.

"I should have been glad to have been the means of happiness to your
sister and yourself. Such seclusion as you have imposed upon yourselves
seems unnecessary, but if it must be, and this garden wall is destined
to be the boundary of your world, it would have been a great pleasure to
me to have brought into it some freshness from the life which lies
beyond it. But it is destined not to be."

The sad expression in her face changed into one of wistfulness.

"Then you are not coming any more?" said she.

He caught his breath. There was disappointment in her tones and this
could mean nothing but regret, and regret meant the loss of something
which might have been hope. She felt, then, that he might have won her
sister if he had been more patient.

"Do you think it will do for me to come here after your sister has told
me that it was useless for me to aspire to her hand?"

She gave him for the first time a glance that had the element of
mirthfulness in it.

"Come as my friend," she suggested; then in a more serious mood added:
"It is her only chance of happiness, but I do not know that I would be
doing right in influencing you to pursue a suit which may not be for
yours. _You_ know, or will know after reflection (and I advise you to
reflect well), whether an alliance with women situated as we are would
be conducive to your welfare. If you decide yes, think that a woman
taken by surprise, as my sister undoubtedly was, may not in the first
hurried moment of decision know her own mind, but also remember that no
woman who has taken such a decision as she has, is cast in the common
mould, and that you may but add to your regrets by a persistency she may
never fully reward."

Astonished at her manner and still more astonished at the intimation
conveyed in her last words, he looked at her as one who would say:

"But you also share her fate and the resolve that made it."

She seemed to understand him.

"Free Hermione," she whispered, "from the shackles she has wound about
herself and you will free me."

"Miss Emma," he began, but she put her finger on her lips.

"Hush!" she entreated; "let us not talk any more about it. I have
already said what I never meant should pass my lips; but the affection I
bear my sister made me forget myself; she does so need to love and be
loved."

"And you think I----"

"Ah, sir, you must be the judge of your own chances. You have heard her
refusal and must best know just how much it means."

"How much it means!" Long did Frank muse over that phrase, after he had
left the sweet girl who had uttered it. As he sat with Edgar at supper,
his abstracted countenance showed that he was still revolving the
question, though he endeavored to seem at home with his friend and
interested in the last serious case which had occupied the attention of
the newly settled doctor. How much it means! Not much, he was beginning
to say to himself, and insensibly his face began to brighten and his
manner to grow less restrained, when Edgar, who had been watching him
furtively, broke out:

"Now you are more like yourself. Business responsibilities are as hard
to shake off as a critical case in medicine."

"Yes," was the muttered reply, as Frank rose from the table, and took
the cigar his friend offered him. "And business with me just now is
particularly perplexing. I cannot get any clue to Harriet Smith or her
heirs, nor can the police or the presumably sharp detective I have put
upon the search."

"That must please Huckins."

"Yes, confound him! such a villain as he is! I sometimes wonder if he
killed his sister."

"That you can certainly find out."

"No, for she had a mortal complaint, and that satisfies the physicians.
But there are ways of hastening a death, and those I dare avow he would
not be above using. The greed in his eyes would do anything; it even
suffices to make him my very good friend, now that he sees that he might
lose everything by opposing me."

"I am glad you see through his friendship."

"See through a sieve?"

"He plays his part badly, then?"

"He cannot help it, with that face of his; and then he gave himself away
in the beginning. No attitude he could take now would make me forget the
sneak I saw in him then."

This topic was interesting, but Edgar knew it was no matter of business
which had caused the fitful changes he had been observing in Frank's
tell-tale countenance. Yet he did not broach any other theme, and it was
Frank who finally remarked:

"I suppose you think me a fool to fix my heart on a woman with a
secret."

"Fool is a strong word," answered Edgar, somewhat bitterly, "but that
you were unfortunate to have been attracted by Hermione Cavanagh, I
think any man would acknowledge. You would acknowledge it yourself, if
you stopped to weigh the consequences of indulging a passion for a woman
so eccentric."

"Perhaps I should, if my interest would allow me to stop. But it won't,
Edgar; it has got too strong a hold upon me; everything else sinks in
importance before it. I love her, and am willing to sacrifice something
for her sake."

"Something, perhaps; but in this case it would be everything."

"I do not think so."

"You do not think so now; but you would soon."

"Perhaps I should, but it is hard to realize it. Besides, she would drop
her eccentricities if her affections once became engaged."

"Oh, if you have assurance of that."

"Do I need assurance? Doesn't it stand to reason? A woman loved is so
different from a woman----" scorned, he was going to say, but,
remembering himself, added softly, "from a woman who has no one to think
of but herself."

"This woman has a sister," observed Edgar.

Frank faltered. "Yes, and that sister is involved in her fate," thought
he, but he said, quietly: "Emma Cavanagh does not complain of Hermione;
on the contrary, she expresses the greatest affection for her."

"They are both mysteries," exclaimed Edgar, and dropped the subject,
though it was not half talked out.

Frank was quite willing to accept his silence, for he was out of sorts
with his friend and with himself. He knew his passion was a mad one, and
yet he felt that it had made giant strides that day, and had really been
augmented instead of diminished by the refusal he had received from
Hermione, and the encouragement to persistence which he had received
from her usually shy sister. As the evening wore on and the night
approached, his thoughts not only grew in intensity, but deepened into
tenderness. It was undoubtedly a passion that had smitten him, but that
passion was hallowed by the unselfish feelings of a profound affection.
He did not want her to engage herself to him if it would not be for her
happiness. That it would be, every throb of his heart assured him, but
he might be mistaken, and if so, better her dreams of the past than a
future he could not make bright. He was so moved at the turmoil which
his thoughts made in his usually quiet breast, that he could not think
of sleep, but sat in his room for hours indulging in dreams which his
practical nature would have greatly scorned a few short weeks before. He
saw her again in fancy in every attitude in which his eyes had ever
beheld her, and sanctified thus by distance, her beauty seemed both
wonderful and touching. And that was not all. Some chord between them
seemed to have been struck, and he felt himself drawn towards her as if
(it was a strange fancy) she stood by that garden gate, and was looking
in his direction with rapt, appealing eyes. So strong became that fancy
at last, that he actually rose to his feet and went to the window which
opened towards the south.

"Hermione! Hermione!" broke in longing from his lips, and then annoyed
at what he could not but consider a display of weakness on his part, he
withdrew himself from the window, determined to forget for the moment
that there lived for him such a cause for love and sorrow. But what man
can forget by a mere effort of will, or what lover shut his eyes to the
haunting vision which projects itself upon the inner consciousness. In
fancy he saw her still, and this time she seemed to be pacing up and
down the poplar walk, wringing her hands and wildly calling his name. It
was more than he could bear. He must know if this was only an
hallucination, and in a feverish impulse he rushed from his room with
the intention of going to her at once.

But he no sooner stood in the hall than he realized he was not alone in
the house, and that he should have to pass Edgar's door. He naturally
felt some hesitation at this and was inclined to give up his purpose.
But the fever urging him on said no; so stealing warily down the hall he
stepped softly by the threshold of his friend's room, when to his
surprise he perceived that the door was ajar.

Pushing it gently open he found the room brilliant with moonlight but
empty. Greatly relieved and considering that the doctor had been sent
for by some suffering patient, he passed at once out of the house.

He went directly to that of Hermione, walking where the shadows were
thickest as if he were afraid of being recognized. But no one was in the
streets, and when he reached the point where the tall poplar-trees made
a wall against the moonbeams, he slid into the deep obscurity he found
there with a feeling of relief such as the heart experiences when it is
suddenly released from some great strain.

Was she in the poplar walk? He did not mean to accost her if she were,
nor to show himself or pass beyond the boundary of the wall, but he must
know if her restless spirit drove her to pace these moonlit walks, and
if it were true or not that she was murmuring his name.

The gate which opened in the wall at the side of the house was in a
direct line with the window he had long ago fixed upon as hers. He
accordingly took up his station at that spot and as he did so he was
sure that he saw the flitting of some dark form amid the alternate bands
of moonlight and shadow that lay across the weird pathway before him.
Holding his breath he listened. Oh, the stillness of the night! How
awesome and yet how sweet it was! But is there no break in the universal
silence? Above his head the ever restless leaves make a low murmuring,
and far away in the dim distances rises a faint sound that he cannot
mistake; it is the light footfall of a dainty woman.

He can see her now. She is coming towards him, her shadow gliding before
her. Seeing it he quails. From the rush of emotion seizing him, he knows
that he should not be upon this spot, and panting with the effort, he
turns and flees just as the sudden sound of a lifted window comes from
the house.

That arrests him. Pausing, he looks up. It is her window that is open,
and in the dark square thus made he sees her face bright with the
moonlight streaming over it. Instantly he recovers himself. It is Emma's
step, not Hermione's, he hears upon the walk. Hermione is above and in
an anxious mood, for she is looking eagerly out and calling her sister
by name.

"I am coming," answers back the clear, low voice of Emma from below.

"It is late," cries Hermione, "and very cold. Come in, Emma."

"I am coming," repeated the young girl. And in another moment he heard
her step draw nearer, saw her flitting figure halt for a moment on the
door-step before him and then disappear just as the window closed above.
He had not been observed.

Relieved, he drew a long breath and leaned his head against the garden
wall. Ah, how fair had been the vision of his beloved one's face in the
moonlight. It filled him with indescribable thoughts; it made his spirit
reel and his heart burn; it made him ten times her lover. Yet because he
was her lover he felt that he ought not to linger there any longer; that
the place was hallowed even from his presence, and that he should return
at once to the doctor's house. But when he lifted his head he heard
steps, this time not within the wall but on the roadside behind him, and
alert at once to the mischievous surmises which might be aroused by the
discovery of his presence there, he remained perfectly still in the hope
that his form would be so lost in the deep shadows where he had
withdrawn himself, that he would not be seen.

But the person, whoever it was, had evidently already detected him, for
the footsteps turned the corner and advanced rapidly to where he stood.
Should he step forward and meet the intruder, or remain still and await
the words of surprise he had every reason to expect? He decided to
remain where he was, and in another moment realized his wisdom in doing
so, for the footsteps passed on and did not halt till they had reached
the gate. But they paused there and at once he felt himself seized by a
sudden jealousy and took a step forward, eager to see what this man
would do.

He did not do much; he cast a look up at the house, and a heavy sigh
broke from his lips; then he leaned forward and plucked a rose that grew
inside the wall and kissed it there in the moonlight, and put it inside
his breast-pocket; then he turned again towards the highway, and started
back in surprise to see Frank Etheridge standing before him.

"Edgar!" cried the one.

"Frank!" exclaimed the other.

"You have misled me," accused Frank; "you do love her, or you would not
be here."

"Love whom?" asked Edgar, bitterly.

"Hermione."

"Does Hermione tend the flowers?"

"Ah!" ejaculated Frank, understanding his friend for the first time;
"it is Emma you are attached to. I see! I see! Forgive me, Edgar;
passion is so blind to everything but its own object. Of course it is
Emma; why shouldn't it be!"

Yet for all its assurance his voice had strange tones in it, and Edgar,
already annoyed at his own self-betrayal, looked at him suspiciously as
they drew away together towards the main street.

"I am glad to find this out," said Frank, with a hilarity slightly
forced, or so thought his friend, who could not know what thoughts and
hopes this discovery had awakened in the other's breast. "You have kept
your secret well, but now that I know it you cannot refuse to make me
your confidant, when there is so much to tell involving my happiness as
well as your own."

"I have no happiness, Frank."

"Nor I; but I mean to have."

"Mean to marry Miss Cavanagh?"

"Of course, if I can induce her to marry me."

"I do not mean to marry Emma."

"You do not? Because she has a secret? because she is involved in a
mystery?"

"Partly; that would be enough, Frank; but I have another good reason.
Miss Emma Cavanagh does not care for me."

"You know that? You have asked her?"

"A year ago; this is no sudden passion with me; I have loved her all my
life."

"Edgar! And you mean to give her up?"

"Give her up?"

"If I were you, nothing would induce me to resign my hopes, not even her
own coldness. I _would_ win her. Have you tried again since your
return?"

"Frank, she is a recluse now; I could not marry a recluse; my wife must
play her part in the world, and be my helpmate abroad as well as at
home."

"Yes, yes; but as I said in my own case, win her love and that will all
right itself. No woman's resolve will hold out against a true passion."

"But you forget, she has no true passion for me."

Frank did not answer; he was musing over the subject. He had had an
opportunity for seeing into the hearts of these girls which had been
denied to Edgar. Had he seen love there? Yes, but in Hermione's breast,
not Emma's. And yet Emma was deeply sad, and it was Emma whom he had
just seen walking her restlessness off under the trees at midnight.

"Edgar," he suddenly exclaimed, "you may not understand this girl. Their
whole existence is a mystery, and so may their hearts be. Won't you tell
me how it was she refused you? It may serve to throw some light upon the
facts."

"What light? She refused me as all coquettish women refuse the men whom
they have led to believe in their affection."

"Ah! you once believed, then, in her affection."

"Should I have offered myself if I had not?"

"I don't know; I only know I didn't wait for any such belief on the part
of Hermione."

"You are impulsive, Frank, I am not; I weigh well what I do, fortunately
for myself."

"Yet you did not prosper in this affair."

"No, because I did not take a woman's waywardness into consideration. I
thought I had a right to count upon her regard, and I found myself
mistaken."

"Explain yourself," entreated Frank.

"Will not to-morrow do? Here we are at home, and it must be one o'clock
at least."

"I should sleep better if I knew it all now," Frank intimated.

"Well, then, come to my room; but there is nothing in the story to
specially interest you. I loved her----"

"Edgar, you must be explicit. I am half lawyer in listening to this
tale; I want to understand these girls."

"Girls? It is of Emma only that I have to speak."

"I know, but tell the story with some details; tell me where you first
met her."

"Oh, if I must," sighed Edgar, who hated all talk about himself, "let's
be comfortable." And throwing himself into a chair, he pointed out
another to Frank.

"This is more like it," acknowledged the latter.

Edgar lit a cigar; perhaps he felt that he could hide all emotion behind
its fumes. Frank did not take one.

"I have known Emma Cavanagh ever since we were children," began Edgar.
"As a school-boy I thought her the merriest-eyed witch in town.---- Is
she merry now?"

Frank shook his head.

"Well, I suppose she has grown older, but then she was as full of
laughter and fun as any blue-eyed Mischief could well be, and I, who
have a cynical turn of mind, liked the brightness of hers as I shall
never like her sadness--if she is sad. But that was in my adolescence,
and being as shy as I was inclined to be cynical, I never showed her my
preference, or even joined the mirthful company of which she was the
head. I preferred to stand back and hear her laughter, or talk to
Hermione while watching her sister."

"Ah!" thought Frank.

"When I went to college she went to school, and when I graduated as a
doctor she was about graduating also. But she did not come home at that
time for more than a fleeting visit. Friends wished her company on a
trip abroad, and she went away from Marston just as I settled here for
my first year of practice. I was disappointed at this, but I made what
amends to myself I could by cultivating the acquaintance of her father,
and making myself necessary to him by my interest in his studies. I
spent much of my spare time at the house, and though I never asked after
Emma, I used to get continual news of her from her sister."

"Ah!" again ejaculated Frank to himself.

"At last she returned, and--I do not know how she looks now, but she
was pretty then, wonderfully pretty, and more animated in her manner
than any other woman I have ever seen. I saw her first at a picnic, and
though I lacked courage to betray the full force of my feeling, I
imagined she understood me, for her smiles became dazzling, and she
joked with everybody but me. At last I had her for a few minutes to
myself, and then the pent up passion of months had its way, and I asked
her to be my wife. Frank, you may find it easy to talk about these
things, but I do not. I can only say she seemed to listen to me with
modest delight, and when I asked her for her answer she gave me a look I
shall never forget, and would have spoken but that her father called her
just then, and we were obliged to separate. I saw her for just another
moment that day, but there were others about, and I could only whisper,
'If you love me, come to the ball next week'; to which she gave me no
other reply than an arch look and a smile which, as I have said before,
appeared to promise me all I could desire. Appeared, but did not; for
when I called at the house the next day I was told that Mr. Cavanagh was
engaged in an experiment that could not be interrupted, and when I asked
to see the ladies received word that they were very busy preparing for
the ball and could see no one. Relieved at this, for the ball was near
at hand, I went home, and being anxious to do the honorable thing, I
wrote to Mr. Cavanagh, and, telling him that I loved his daughter,
formally asked for the honor of her hand. This note I sent by a
messenger.

"I did not receive an immediate reply (why do you want all these
particulars, Frank?); but I did not worry, for her look was still warm
in my memory. But when two days passed and no message arrived I became
uneasy, and had it not been for the well-known indifference of Mr.
Cavanagh to all affairs of life outside of his laboratory, I should have
given up in despair. But as it was, I kept my courage up till the night
of the ball, when it suddenly fell, never to rise again. For will you
believe it, Frank, she was not there, nor any of her family, though all
had engaged to go, and had made many preparations for the affair, as I
knew."

"And did no letter come? Did you never see Miss Cavanagh again, or any
of her family?"

"I received a note, but it was very short, though it was in Emma's
handwriting. She had not been well, was her excuse, and so could not be
present at the ball. As for the offer I had been kind enough to make
her, it was far above her deserts, and so must be gratefully declined.
Then came a burst of something like contrition, and the prayer that I
would not seek to make her alter her mind, as her decision was
irrevocable. Added to this was one line from her father, to the effect
that interesting as our studies were, he felt compelled to tell me he
should have no further time to give to them at present, and so bade me a
kindly adieu. Was there ever a more complete dismissal? I felt as if I
had been thrust out of the house."

Frank, who was nothing if not sympathetic, nodded quickly, but did not
break into those open expressions of indignation which his friend had
evidently anticipated. The truth was, he was too busy considering the
affair, and asking himself what part Hermione had taken in it, and
whether all its incongruities were not in some way due to her. He was so
anxious to assure himself that this was not so, that he finally asked:

"And was that the end? Did you never see any of them again?"

"I did not wish to," was the answer. "I had already thought of trying my
fortunes in the West, and when this letter came, it determined me. In
three weeks I had left Marston as I thought forever, but I was not
successful in the West."

"And you will be here," observed Frank.

"I think so," said Edgar, and became suddenly silent.

Frank looked at him a long time and then said quietly:

"I am glad you love her still."

Edgar, flushing, opened his lips, but the other would not listen to any
denial.

"If you had not loved her, you would not have come back to Marston, and
if you did not love her still, you would not pluck roses from her wall
at midnight."

"I was returning from a patient," objected Edgar, shortly.

"I know, but you _stopped_. You need not blush to own it, for, as I say,
I think it a good thing that you have not forgotten Miss Cavanagh." And
not being willing to explain himself further, Frank rose and sauntered
towards the door. "We have talked well into the night," he remarked;
"supposing we let up now, and continue our conversation to-morrow."

"I am willing to let up," acquiesced Edgar, "but why continue to-morrow?
Nothing can be gained by fruitless conjectures on this subject, while
much peace of mind may be lost by them."

"Well, perhaps you are right," quoth Frank.



XIII.

FRESH DOUBTS.


Frank was recalled to business the next day by the following letter from
Flatbush:

    DEAR MR. ETHERIDGE:

    It has been discovered this afternoon that Mr. Huckins has left
    town. When he went or where he has gone, no one seems to know.
    Indeed, it was supposed that he was still in the house, where he
    has been hiding ever since the investigations were over, but a
    neighbor, having occasion to go in there to-day, found the
    building empty, and all of Mr. Huckins' belongings missing. I
    thought you would like to know of this disappearance.

        Yours truly,
            A. W. SENEY.

As this was an affair for the police, Frank immediately returned to New
York; but it was not many days before he was back again in Marston,
determined to see Miss Cavanagh once more, and learn if his suit was as
really hopeless as it appeared. He brought a box of some beautiful
orchids with him, and these he presented to Miss Emma as being the one
most devoted to flowers.

Hermione looked a little startled at his presence, but Mrs. Lovell, the
dear old lady who was paying them a visit, smiled gently upon him, and
he argued well from that smile, knowing that it was not without its
meaning from one whose eyes were so bright with intelligence as her's.

The evening was cool for summer, and a fire had been lighted in the
grate. By this fire they all sat and Frank, who was strangely happy,
entertained the three recluses with merry talk which was not without a
hidden meaning for one of the quiet listeners. When the old aunt rose
and slipped away, the three drew nearer, and the conversation became
more personal. At last--how was it done--Emma vanished also, and Frank,
turning to utter some witty speech, found only Hermione's eyes
confronting him in the fire-glow. At once the words faltered on his
tongue, and leaning forward he reached out his hand, for she was about
to rise also.

"Do not rob me of this one moment," he prayed. "I have come back, you
see, because I could not stay away. Say that it does not anger you; say
that I may come now and then and see your face, even if I may not hope
for all that my heart craves."

"Do I look angry?" she asked, with a sad smile.

"No," he whispered; "nor do you look glad."

"Glad," she murmured, "glad"; and the bitterness in her tone revealed
to him how strong were the passions that animated her. "I have no
business with gladness, not even if my own fate changed. I have
forfeited all joy, Mr. Etheridge; and that I thought you understood."

"You speak like one who has committed a crime," he smiled; "nothing else
should make you feel as you do."

She started and her eyes fell. Then they rose suddenly and looked
squarely into his. "There are other crimes than those which are marked
by blood," said she. "Perhaps I am not altogether guiltless."

Frank shuddered; he had expected her to repel the charge which he had
only made in the hopes of showing her into what a morbid condition she
had fallen.

"My hands are clean," she went on, "but my soul is in shadow. Why did
you make me speak of it? You are my friend and I want to keep your
friendship, but you see why it must not grow into love; _must not_ I
say, for both our sakes. It would be fatal."

"I do not see that," he cried impetuously. "You do not make me see it.
You hint and assert, but you tell me nothing. You should give me facts,
Hermione, and then I could judge whether I should go or stay."

She flushed, and her face, which had been lifted to his, slowly sank.

"You do not know what you ask of me," she murmured.

"I know that I have asked you to be my wife."

"And it was generous of you, very generous. Such generosity merits
confidence, but--Let us talk of something else," she cried. "I am not
fit--not well enough, I mean, to speak of serious matters to-night. Tell
me about your affairs. Tell me if you have found Harriet Smith."

"No," he returned, greatly disappointed, for there had been something
like yielding in her manner a moment before. "There is no Harriet Smith,
and I do not even know that there is a Hiram Huckins, for he too has
disappeared and cannot be found."

"Hiram Huckins?"

"Yes, her brother and the brother of Mrs. Wakeham, whose will has made
all this trouble. He is the heir who will inherit her property if
Harriet Smith or her children cannot be found, and as the latter
contingency is not likely to happen, it is odd that he should have run
away without letting us know where he can be found."

"Is he a good man?"

"Hardly. Indeed I consider him a rascal; but he has a good claim on the
property, as I have already said, and that is what angers me. A hundred
thousand dollars should not fall into the hands of one so mean and
selfish as he is."

"Poetic justice is not always shown in this world. Perhaps if you found
the true heirs, you would find them also lacking in much that was
admirable."

"Possibly; but they would not be apt to be as bad as he is."

"Is he dishonest?"

"I do not like to accuse him, but neither would I like to trust him
with another man's money."

"That is unfortunate," said she. "And he will really have this money if
you do not find any nearer heirs?"

"Certainly; his name follows theirs in the will."

"It is a pity," she observed, rising and moving towards the harp. "Do
you want to hear a song that Emma composed when we were happier than we
are now?"

"Indeed I do," was his eager reply. "Sing, I entreat you, sing; it will
make me feel as if the gloom was lifting from between us."

But at this word, she came quickly back and sat down in her former place
by the fire.

"I do not know what came over me," said she; "I never sing." And she
looked with a severe and sombre gaze into the flames before her.

"Hermione, have you no right to joy, or even to give joy to others?"

"Tell me more about the case that is interesting you. Supposing you
found Harriet Smith or her children?"

"I would show them the will and put them in the way of securing their
fortune."

"_I_ should like to see that will."

"Would you?"

"Yes, it would interest me."

"You do not look very interested."

"Do I not? Yet I am, I assure you."

"Then you shall see it, or rather this newspaper copy of it which I
happen to have in my pocket-book."

"What, that little slip?"

"It is not very large."

"I thought a will was something ponderous."

"Sometimes it is, but this is short and very much to the point; it was
drawn up in haste."

"Let me take it," said she.

She took it and carried it over to the lamp. Suddenly she turned about
and her face was very white.

"What odd provision is this," she cried, "about the heir being required
to live a year in the house where this woman died?"

"Oh," said he, "that is nothing; any one who inherits this money would
not mind such a condition as that. Mrs. Wakeham wanted the house fitted
up, you see. It had been her birthplace."

Hermione silently handed him back the slip. She looked so agitated that
he was instantly struck by it.

"Why are you affected by this?" he cried. "Hermione, Hermione, this is
something to _you_!"

She roused herself and looked calmly at him, shaking her head.

"You are mistaken," she declared. "It is nothing to me."

"To some one you know, then,--to your sister?"

"How could it be anything to her, if not to me?"

"True; I beg your pardon; but you seem to feel a personal
disappointment."

"You do not understand me very well," said she, and turned towards the
door in welcome of her sister, who just then came in. She was followed
by Doris with a tray on which were heaped masses of black and white
cherries in bountiful profusion.

"From our own trees," said Emma, as she handed him a plate.

He made his acknowledgments, and leaned forward to take the cherries
which Doris offered him.

"Sir," whispered that woman, as she pushed into view a little note which
she held in her hand under the tray, "just read this, and I won't
disobey you again. It's something you ought to know. For the young
ladies' sakes do read it, sir."

He was very angry, and cast her a displeased look, but he took the note.
Hermione was at the other end of the room, and Emma was leaning over her
aunt, so the action was not seen; but he felt guilty of a discourtesy
for all that, and ate his cherries with a disturbed mind. Doris, on the
contrary, looked triumphant, and passed from one to the other with a
very cheerful smile.

When Frank arrived home he read that note. It was from Doris herself,
and ran thus:

    "Something has happened to the young ladies. They were to have
    had new dresses this month, and now they say they must make the
    old ones do. There is less too for dinner than there was, and if
    it were not for the fruit on our trees we would not have always
    enough to eat. But that is not the worst; Miss Emma says I shall
    have to leave them, as they cannot pay me any longer for my
    work. As if I would leave them, if I starved! Do, do find out
    what this means, for it is too much to believe that they are
    going to be poor with all the rest they have to endure."

Find out what it meant! He knew what it meant; they had sacrificed their
case, and now they must go hungry, wear old clothes, and possibly do
their own work. It made him heart-sick; it made him desperate; it made
him wellnigh forget her look when she said: "Our friendship must not
grow into love, _must not_, I say, for both our sakes. It would be
fatal."

He resolved to see Hermione the next morning, and, if possible,
persuade her to listen to reason, and give up a resolve that endangered
both her own and her sister's future comfort.



XIV.

IN THE NIGHT WATCHES.


Meantime in the old house Hermione sat watching Emma as she combed out
her long hair before the tiny mirror in their bedroom. Her face,
relieved now from all effort at self-control, betrayed a deep
discouragement, which deepened its tragic lines and seemed to fill the
room with gloom. Yet she said nothing till Emma had finished her task
and looked around, then she exclaimed:

"Another curse has fallen upon us; we might have been rich, but must
remain poor. Do you think we can bear many more disappointments, Emma?"

"I do not think that I can," murmured Emma, with a pitiful smile. "But
what do you mean by riches? Gaining our case would not have made us
rich."

"No."

"Has--has Mr. Etheridge offered himself? Have you had a chance of _that_
happiness, and refused it?"

Hermione, who had been gazing almost sadly at her sister as she spoke
the foregoing words, flushed, half angrily, half disdainfully, and
answered with sufficient bitterness in her voice:

"Could I accept any man's devotion _now_! Could I accept even _his_ if
it were offered to me? Emma, your memory seems very short, or you have
never realized the position in which I stand."

Emma, who had crimsoned as painfully as her sister at that one
emphasized word, which suggested so much to both sisters, did not answer
for a moment, but when she did her words came with startling
distinctness.

"You do me wrong; I not only have realized, to the core of my heart,
your position and what it demands, but I have shared it, as you know,
and never more than when the question came up as to whether we girls
could marry with such a shadow hanging over us."

"Emma, what do you mean?" asked Hermione, rising and confronting her
sister, with wide open, astonished eyes. For Emma's appearance was
startling, and might well thrill an observer who had never before seen
her gentleness disturbed by a passion as great as she herself might
feel.

But Emma, at the first sight of this reflection of her own emotions in
Hermione's face, calmed her manner, and put a check upon her expression.

"If you do not know," said she, "I had rather not be the one to tell
you. But never say again that I do not realize your position."

"Emma, Emma," pursued Hermione, without a change of tone or any
diminution in the agitation of her manner to show that she had heard
these words, "have _you_ had a lover and I not know it? Did you give up
that _when_----" The elder sister choked; the younger smiled, but with
an infinite sadness.

"I should not have spoken of it," said she; "I would not have done so,
but that I hoped to influence you to look on this affair with different
eyes. I--I believe you ought to embrace this new hope, Hermione. Do but
tell him----"

"_Tell him_! that would be a way to gain him surely."

"I do not think it would cause you to lose him; that is, if you could
assure him that your heart is free to love him as such a man ought to be
loved."

The question in these words made Hermione blush and turn away; but her
emotion was nothing to that of the quieter sister, who, after she had
made this suggestion, stood watching its effect with eyes in which the
pain and despair of a year seemed at once to flash forth to light.

"I honor him," began Hermione, in a low, broken voice, "but you know it
was not honor simply that I felt for----"

"Do not speak his name," flashed out Emma. "He--you--do not care for
each other, or--or--you and I would never be talking as we are doing
here to-night. I am sure you have forgotten him, Hermione, for all your
hesitations and efforts to be faithful. I have seen it in your eyes for
weeks, I have heard it in your voice when you have spoken to this new
friend. Why then deceive yourself; why let a worn-out memory stand in
the way of a new joy, a real joy, an unsullied and wholly promising
happiness?"

"Emma! Emma, what has come to you? You never talked to me like this
before. Is it the memory of this folly only that stands in the way of
what you so astonishingly advocate? Can a woman situated as I am, give
herself up to any hope, any joy?"

"Yes, for the situation will change when you yield yourself once again
to the natural pleasures of life. I do not believe in the attitude you
have taken, Hermione; I have never believed in it, yet I have cheerfully
shared it because, because--you know why; do not let us talk of those
days."

"You do not know all my provocation," quoth Hermione.

"Perhaps not, but nothing can excuse the sacrifice you are making of
your life. Consider, Hermione. Why should you? Have you not duties to
the present, as well as to the past? Should you not think of the long
years that may lie between this hour and a possible old age, years which
might be filled with beneficence and love, but which now----"

"Emma, Emma, what are you saying? Are you so tired of sharing my fate
that you would try to make me traitor to my word, traitor to my
love----"

"Hush," whispered again Emma, "you do not love _him_. Answer me, if you
do. Plunge deep into your heart, and say if you feel as you did once; I
want to hear the words from your lips, but be honest."

"Would it be any credit to me if I did not? Would you think more of me
if I acknowledged the past was a mistake, and that I wrecked my life for
a passion which a year's absence could annul."

But the tender Emma was inexorable, and held her sister by the hands
while she repeated.

"Answer, answer! or I shall take your very refusal for a reply."

But Hermione only drooped her head, and finally drew away her hands.

"You seem to prefer the cause of this new man," she murmured ironically.
"Perhaps you think he will make the better brother-in-law."

The flush on Emma's cheek spread till it dyed her whole neck.

"I think," she observed gravely, "that Mr. Etheridge is the more devoted
to you, Hermione. Dr. Sellick--" what did not that name cost her?--"has
not even looked up at our windows when riding by the house."

Hermione's eye flashed, and she bounded imperiously to her feet.

"And that is why I think that he still remembers. And shall I forget?"
she murmured more softly, "while he cherishes one thought of grief or
chagrin over the past?"

Emma, whose head had fallen on her breast, played idly with her long
hair, and softly drew it across her face.

"If you knew," she murmured, "that he did not cherish one thought such
as you imagine, would you then open your heart to this new love and the
brightness in the world and all the hopes which belong to our time of
life."

"If, if," repeated Hermione, staring at the half-hidden face of her
sister as at some stranger whom she had found persistent and
incomprehensible. "I don't know what you mean by your _ifs_. Do you
think it would add to my content and self-satisfaction to hear that I
had reared this ghastly prison which I inhabit on a foundation of sand,
and that the walls in toppling would crash about my ears and destroy me?
You must have a strange idea of a woman's heart, if you thought it would
make me any readier to face life if I knew I had sacrificed my all to a
chimera."

Emma sighed. "Not if it gave you a new hope," she whispered.

"Ah," murmured Hermione, and her face softened for the first time. "I
dare not think of that," she murmured. "I dare not, Emma; I DARE NOT."

The younger sister, as if answered, threw back her hair and looked at
Hermione quite brightly.

"You will come to dare in time," said she, and fled from the room like a
spirit.

When she was gone, Hermione stood still for many minutes; then she
began quietly to let down her own hair. As the long locks fell curling
and dark about her shoulders, a dreamier and dreamier spirit came upon
her, mellowing the light in her half-closed eyes, and bringing such a
sweet, half-timid, half-longing smile to her lips that she looked the
embodiment of virginal joy. But the mood did not last long, and ere the
thick curls were duly parted and arranged for the night, the tears had
begun to fall, and the sobs to come till she was fain to put out her
light and hide behind the curtains of her bed the grief and remorse
which were pressing upon her.

Meanwhile Emma had stolen to her aunt's room, and was kneeling down
beside her peaceful figure.

"Aunt, dear Aunt," she cried, "tell me what my duty is. Help me to
decide if Hermione should be told the truth which we have so long kept
from her."

She knew the old lady could not hear, but she was in the habit of
speaking to her just as if she could, and often through some subtle
sympathy between them the sense of her words was understood and answered
in a way to surprise her.

And in this case Mrs. Lovell seemed to understand, for she kissed Emma
with great fondness, and then, taking the sweet, troubled, passionate
face between her two palms, looked at her with such love and sympathy
that the tears filled Emma's eyes, for all her efforts at self-control.

"Tell her," came forth at last, in the strange, loud tones of the
perfectly deaf, "and leave the rest to God. You have kept silence, and
the wound has not healed; now try the truth, and may heaven bless you
and the two others whom you desire to make happy."

And Emma, rising up, thanked God that he had left them this one blessing
in their desolation--this true-hearted and tender-souled adviser.

       *       *       *       *       *

That night, as Hermione was tossing in a restless sleep, she suddenly
became aware of a touch on her shoulder, and, looking up, she saw her
sister standing before her, with a lighted candle in her hand, and her
hair streaming about her.

"What is the matter?" she cried, bounding up in terror, for Emma's face
was livid with its fixed resolve, and wore a look such as Hermione had
never seen there before.

"Nothing," cried the other, "nothing; only I have something to tell
you--something which you should have known a long time ago--something
about which you should never have been deceived. It is this, Hermione.
It was not you Dr. Sellick wished to marry, but myself." And with the
words the light was blown out, and Hermione found herself alone.



BOOK II.

THE SECRET OF THE LABORATORY.



XV.

THE BEGINNING OF CHANGES.


As Frank went by the house early the next morning on his way to the
train, he paused and glanced at one of the upper windows, where he had
once before seen Hermione's face looking out. The blinds were closed,
but the slats were slightly turned, and through them he thought, but he
could not be quite sure, he caught the glimpse of a pair of flashing
eyes. In the hope that this was so, he laid his hand upon the gate and
then glanced up again, as if asking permission to open it. The blinds
moved and in another instant fell back, and he saw the face he loved,
looking very pale but sweet, bending towards him from the clustering
honeysuckles.

"May I come in," he asked, "just for a few words more? You know we were
interrupted last night."

She shook her head, and his heart sank; then she seemed to repent her
decision and half opened her lips as if to speak, but no words came. He
kept his hand on the gate, and his face grew eloquent.

"You cannot say no," he now pleaded, smiling at the blush that was
slowly mantling on her cheek. "I may not be here again for weeks, and if
you do not let me say good-by I shall always think I have displeased
you, and that will not add to my happiness or peace."

"Wait," came in sudden eagerness from her lips, and he saw her disappear
from the window and appear, almost before he could realize his own
relief, in the open door-way before him. "Come in," said she, with the
first full glad smile he had ever seen on her lips.

But though he bounded up the steps he did not enter the house. Instead
of that he seized her hand and tried to induce her to come out in the
open air to him. "No close rooms," said he, "on such a morning as this.
Come into the poplar-walk, come; let me see you with the wind blowing
your hair about your cheeks."

"No, no!" burst from her lips in something almost like fright. "Emma
goes into the garden, but not I. Do not ask me to break the habit of
months, do not."

But he was determined, tenderly, firmly determined.

"I must," said he; "I must. Your white cheeks and worn face demand the
freshness of out-door air. I do not say you must go outside the gate,
but I do say you must feel again what it is to have the poplars rustle
above your head and the grass close lovingly over your feet. So come,
Hermione, come, for I will not take no, I will not, even from the lips
whose business it shall be to command me in everything else."

His eyes entreated her, his hand constrained her; she sought to do
battle with his will, but her glances fell before the burning ardor of
his. With a sudden wild heave of her breast, she yielded, and he drew
her down into the garden and so around to the poplar-walk. As she went
the roses came out on her cheeks, and she seemed to breathe like a
creature restored to life.

"Oh, the blue, blue sky!" she cried, "and oh, the hills! I have not seen
them for a year. As for the poplars, I should love to kiss their old
boughs, I am so glad to be beneath them once more."

But as she proceeded farther her spirits seemed to droop again, and she
cast him furtive looks as much as to say:

"Is it right? ought I to be enjoying all this bliss?"

But the smile on his face was so assured, she speedily took courage
again, and allowed him to lead her to the end of the poplar-walk, far up
in those regions where his eye had often strayed but his feet never been
even in fancy. On a certain bench they sat down, and he turned towards
her a beaming face.

"Now I feel as if you were mine," he cried. "Nothing shall part us after
this, not even your own words."

But she put her hands out with a meek, deprecating gesture, very unlike
the imperious one she had indulged in before.

"You must not say that," she cried. "My coming out may have been a
weakness, but it shall not be followed by what you yourself might come
to regard as a wrong. I am here, and it was for your pleasure I came,
but that commits me to nothing and you to nothing, unless it be to the
momentary delight. Do you hear that bird sing?"

"You are lovely with that flickering sunlight on your face," was all the
reply he made.

And perhaps he could have made no better, for it gave her a sweet sense
of helplessness in the presence of this great love, which to a woman who
had been so long bearing herself up in solitary assertion had all the
effect of rest and relief.

"You make me feel as if my youth was not quite gone," said she; "but,"
she added, as his hand stole towards hers, "you have not yet made me
feel that I must listen to all the promptings of love. There is a gulf
between me and you across which we cannot shake hands. But we can speak,
friend, to one another, and that is a pleasure to one who has travelled
so long in a wilderness alone. Shall we not let that content us, or do
you wish to risk life and all by attempting more?"

"I wish to risk everything, anything, so as to make you mine."

"You do not know what you are saying. We are talking pure foolishness,"
was her sudden exclamation, as she leapt to her feet. "Here, in this
pure air, and in sight of the fields and hills, the narrow, confining
bands which have held me to the house seem to lose their power and
partake of the unsubstantiality of a dream. But I know that with my
recrossing of the threshold they will resume their power again, and I
shall wonder I could ever talk of freedom or companionship with one who
does not know the secrets of the house or the shadow which has been cast
by them upon my life."

"You know them, and yet you would go back," he cried. "I should say the
wiser course would be to turn away from a place so fatal to your
happiness and hopes, and, yielding to my entreaties, go with me to the
city, where we will be married, and----"

"Frank, what a love you have for me! a love which questions nothing, not
even my past, notwithstanding I say it is that past which separates us
and makes me the recluse I am."

"You have filled me with trust by the pure look in your eyes," said he.
"Why should I ask you to harrow up your feelings by telling me what you
would have told me long ago, if it had not been too painful?"

"You are a great, good man," she cried. "You subdue me who have never
been subdued before, except by my own passionate temper. I reverence you
and I--love--you. Do not ask me to say anything more." And the queenly,
imperious form swayed from side to side, and the wild tears gushed
forth, and she fled from his side down the poplar-walk, till she came
within sight of the house, when she paused, gathering up her strength
till he reached the place where she stood, when she said:

"You are coming again, some time?"

"I am coming again in a week."

"You will find a little packet awaiting you in the place where you stay.
You will read it before you see me again?"

"I will read it."

"Good-by," said she; and her face in its most beautiful aspect shone on
him for a moment; then she retreated, and was lost to his view in the
shrubbery.

As he passed the house on his way to the gate, he saw Doris casting
looks of delight down the poplar-walk, where her young mistress was
still straying, and at the same instant caught a hurried glimpse of Mrs.
Lovell and Emma, leaning from the window above, in joyful recognition of
the fact that a settled habit had been broken, and that at his
inducement Hermione had consented to taste again the out-door air.

He was yet in time for the train, for he had calculated on this visit,
and so made allowances for it. He was therefore on the point of turning
towards the station, when he saw the figure of a man coming down the
street, and stopped, amazed. Was it--could it be--yes, it was Hiram
Huckins. He was dressed in black, and looked decent, almost trim, but
his air was that of one uncertain of himself, and his face was
disfigured by an ingratiating leer which Etheridge found almost
intolerable. He was the first to speak.

"How do you do, Mr. Etheridge?" said he, ambling up, and bowing with
hypocritical meekness. "You didn't expect to see me here, did you? But
business calls me. My poor, dear sister Harriet is said to have been in
Marston, and I have come to see if it is true. I do not find her, do
you?"

The sly, half-audacious, half-deprecating look with which he uttered
these words irritated Frank beyond endurance.

"No," he rejoined. "Your valuable time will be wasted here. You will
have to look elsewhere for your _dear_ sister."

"It has taken you a long time to find that out," insinuated the other,
with his most disagreeable leer. "I suppose, now, you thought till this
very last night that you would find her in the graveyard or in some of
these old houses. Else why should you waste _your_ valuable time in a
place of such mean attractions."

They were standing directly in front of the Cavanagh house and Frank was
angry enough to lift his hand against him at these words, for the old
man's eyes--he was not old but he always presented the appearance of
being so--had wandered meaningly towards the windows above him, as if he
knew that behind them, instead of in any graveyard, centred the real
attractions of the place for Frank.

But though a lawyer may have passions, he, as a rule, has learned to
keep a curb upon them, especially in the presence of one who is likely
to oppose him.

So bowing with an effort at politeness, young Etheridge acknowledged
that he had only lately given up his hope, and was about to withdraw in
his haste to catch the train, when Huckins seized him by the arm with a
low chuckle and slyly whispered:

"You've been visiting the two pretty hermitesses, eh? Are they nice
girls? Do they know anything about my sister? You look as if you had
heard good news somewhere. Was it in there?"

He was eager; he was insinuating; he seemed to hang upon Frank's reply.
But the lawyer, struck and troubled by this allusion to the women he so
cherished, on lips he detested beyond any in the world, stood still for
a moment, looking the indignation he dared not speak.

Huckins took advantage of this silence to speak again, this time with an
off-hand assurance only less offensive than his significant remarks.

"I know they keep at home and do not go out in the world to hear the
gossip. But women who keep themselves shut up often know a lot about
what is going on around them, Mr. Etheridge, and as you have been there
I thought--"

"Never mind what you thought," burst out Frank, unable to bear his
insinuations any longer. "Enough that I do not go there to hear anything
about Harriet Smith. There are other law cases in the world besides
yours, and other clients besides your sister and her heirs. These young
ladies, for instance, whom you speak of so freely."

"I am sure," stammered Huckins, with great volubility, and an air of
joviality which became him as little as the suspicious attitude he had
hitherto taken, "I never meant to speak with the least disrespect of
ladies I have never met. Only I was interested you know, naturally
interested, in anything which might seem to bear upon my own affairs.
They drag so, don't they, Mr. Etheridge, and I am kept so long out of my
rights."

"No longer than justice seems to demand, Mr. Huckins; your sister, and
her heirs, if they exist, have rights also."

"So you say," quoth Huckins, "and I have learned not to quarrel with a
lawyer. Good-day, Mr. Etheridge, good-day. Hope to hear that some
decision has been arrived at soon."

"Good-day," growled Frank, and strode rapidly off, determined to return
to Marston that very night if only to learn what Huckins was up to. But
before he had gone a dozen steps he came quickly back and seized that
person by the arm. "Where are you going?" he asked; for Huckins had laid
his hand on Miss Cavanagh's gate and was about to enter.

"I am going to pay a visit," was the smiling reply. "Is there anything
wrong in that?"

"I thought you did not know these young ladies--that they were strangers
to you?"

"So they are, so they are, but I am a man who takes a great interest in
eccentric persons. I am eccentric myself; so was my sister Cynthia; so I
may say was Harriet, though how eccentric we have still to find out. If
the young ladies do not want to see an old man from New York they can
say so, but I mean to give them the chance. Have you anything to say
against it?"

"No, except that I think it an unwarrantable intrusion about which you
had better think twice."

"I have thought," retorted Huckins, with a mild obstinacy that had a
sinister element in it, "and I can't deny myself the pleasure. Think of
it! two healthy and beautiful girls under twenty-four who never leave
the house they live in! That is being more unlike folks than Cynthia and
myself, who were old and who had a fortune to guard. Besides we did
leave the house, or rather I did, when there was business to look after
or food to buy. But they don't go out for anything, I hear, _anything_.
Mr. Ruthven--he is the minister you know--has given me his card by way
of introduction; so you see they will have to treat me politely, and
that means I shall at least see their faces."

His cunning, his satisfaction, and a certain triumph underlying all,
affected Frank like the hiss of a serpent. But the business awaiting him
in New York was imperative, and the time remaining to him before the
train left was barely enough to enable him to reach the station. So
curbing his disgust and the dread he had of seeing this knave enter
Hermione's door, he tore himself away and made what haste he could to
the station. He arrived just as the first whistle of the coming train
was heard, and owing to a short delay occasioned by the arrival of a
telegram at the station, he was enabled to write two notes, one to Miss
Cavanagh and one to Dr. Sellick. These he delivered to Jerry, with
strict injunctions to deliver them immediately, and as the train moved
off carrying him back to his duties, he had the satisfaction of seeing
the lumbering figure of that slow but reliable messenger disappear
around the curve in the highway which led directly to Miss Cavanagh's
house.



XVI.

A STRANGE VISITOR.


Frank's visit and interview with Hermione had this advantage for the
latter, that it took away some of the embarrassment which her first
meeting with Emma, after the revelations of the night before, had
necessarily occasioned. She had breakfasted in her own room, feeling
that it would be impossible for her to meet her sister's eye, but having
been led into giving such proof of her preference for Mr. Etheridge, and
the extent of his influence over her, there could of course be no
further question of Dr. Sellick, or any need for explanations between
herself and Emma regarding a past thus shown to be no longer of vital
interest to her. When, therefore, she came in from the garden and saw
Emma waiting for her at the side-door, she blushed, but that was all, in
memory of the past night; and murmuring some petty commonplace, sought
to pass her and enter again the house which she had not left before in a
full year.

But Emma, who was bright with a hope she had not felt in months, stopped
her with a word.

"There is an old man waiting in the parlor who says he wants to see us.
He sent in this card--it has Dr. Ruthven's name on it--and Doris says he
seemed very eager and anxious. Can you guess who he can be?"

"No," rejoined Hermione, wondering. "But we can soon see. Our visitors
are not so numerous that we can afford to slight one." And tripping by
Emma, she led the way into the parlor.

A slight, meagre, eager-eyed man, clad in black and wearing a
propitiatory smile on very thin lips, rose as she entered, and bowed
with an awkward politeness that yet had something of the breeding of a
gentleman in it.

Hermione did not like his looks, but she advanced cordially enough,
perhaps because her heart was lighter than usual, and her mind less
under the strain of one horrible fixed idea than it had been in months.

"How do you do?" said she, and looked at him inquiringly.

Huckins, with another bow, this time in recognition of her unexpected
beauty and grace, shambled uneasily forward, and said in a hard,
strained voice which was even more disagreeable than his face:

"I am sure you are very good to receive me, Miss Cavanagh. I--I had a
great desire to come. Your father----"

She drew back with a gasp.

"My father----" she repeated.

"Was an old friend of mine," he went on, in a wheedling tone, in
seeming oblivion of the effect his words had had upon her. "Did you
never hear him speak of Hope, Seth Hope?"

"Never," cried Hermione, panting, and looking appealingly at Emma, who
had just entered the room.

"Yet we were friends for years," declared the dissimulator, folding his
hands with a dreary shake of his head.

"For years?" repeated Emma, advancing and surveying him earnestly.

"Our father was a much older man than you, Mr.--Mr. Hope."

"Perhaps, perhaps, I never saw him. But we corresponded for years. Have
you not come across letters signed by my name, in looking over his
effects?"

"No," answered Emma, firmly, while Hermione, looking very pale,
retreated towards the door, where she stopped in mingled distress and
curiosity.

"Then he must have destroyed them all," declared their visitor. "Some
people do not keep letters. Yet they were full of information, I assure
you; full, for it was upon the ever delightful subject of chemistry we
corresponded, and the letters I wrote him sometimes cost me a week's
effort to indite."

Emma, who had never met a man like this before, looked at him with
wide-open eyes. Had Hermione not been there, she would have liked to
have played with his eccentricities, and asked him numberless questions.
But with her sister shrinking in the doorway, she dared not encourage
him to pursue a theme which she perceived to be fraught with the keenest
suffering for Hermione. So she refrained from showing the distrust which
she really felt, and motioning the old man to sit down, asked, quietly:

"And was it for these letters you came? If so, I am sorry that none such
have been found."

"No, no," cried Huckins, with stammering eagerness, as he marked the
elder sister's suspicious eyes and unencouraging manner. "It was not to
get them back that I ventured to call upon you, but for the pleasure of
seeing the house where he lived and did so much wonderful work, and the
laboratory, if you will be so good. Why has your sister departed?" he
suddenly inquired, in fretful surprise, pointing to the door where
Hermione had stood a moment before.

"She probably has duties," observed Emma, in a troubled voice. "And she
probably was surprised to hear a stranger ask to see a room no one but
the members of his family have entered since our father's death."

"But I am not a stranger," artfully pursued the cringing Huckins,
making himself look as benevolent as he could. "I am an admirer, a
devoted admirer of your remarkable parent, and I could show you
papers"--but he never did,--"of writing in that same parent's hand, in
which he describes the long, narrow room, with its shelves full of
retorts and crucibles, and the table where he used to work, with the
mystic signs above it, which some said were characters taken from
cabalistic books, but which he informed me were the new signs he wished
to introduce into chemistry, as being more comprehensive and less liable
to misinterpretation than those now in use."

"You do seem to know something about the room," she murmured softly, too
innocent to realize that the knowledge he showed was such as he could
have gleaned from any of Mr. Cavanagh's intimate friends.

"But I want to see it with my own eyes. I want to stand in the spot
where he stood, and drink in the inspiration of his surroundings, before
I go back to my own great labor."

"Have you a laboratory? Are you a chemist?" asked Emma, interested in
despite of the dislike his wheedling ways and hypocritical air naturally
induced.

"Yes, yes, I have a laboratory," said he; "but there is no romance about
mine; it is just the plain working-room of a hard-working man, while
his----"

Emma, who had paled at these words almost as much as her sister had done
at his first speech about her father, recoiled with a look in which the
wonderment was strangely like fear.

"I cannot show you the room," said she. "You exaggerate your desire to
see it, as you exaggerate the attainments and the discoveries of my
father. I must ask you to excuse me," she continued, with a slight
acknowledgment in which dismissal could be plainly read. "I am very
busy, and the morning is rapidly flying. If you could come again----"

But here Hermione's full deep tones broke from the open doorway.

"If he wishes to see the place where father worked, let him come; there
is no reason why we should hide it from one who professes such sympathy
with our father's pursuits."

Huckins, chuckling, looked at Emma, and then at her sister, and moved
rapidly towards the door. Emma, who had been taken greatly by surprise
by her sister's words, followed slowly, showing more and more
astonishment as Hermione spoke of this place, or that, on their way
up-stairs, as being the spot where her father's books were kept, or his
chemicals stored, till they came to the little twisted staircase at the
top, when she became suddenly silent.

It was now Emma's turn to say:

"This is the entrance to the laboratory. You see it is just as you have
described it."

Huckins, with a sly leer, stepped into the room, and threw around one
quick, furtive look which seemed to take in the whole place in an
instant. It was similar to his description, and yet it probably struck
him as being very different from the picture he had formed of it in his
imagination. Long, narrow, illy lighted, and dreary, it offered anything
but a cheerful appearance, even in the bright July sunshine that sifted
through the three small windows ranged along its side. At one end was a
row of shelves extending from the floor to the ceiling, filled with
jars, chemicals, and apparatus of various kinds. At the other end was a
table for collecting gases, and beneath each window were more shelves,
and more chemicals, and more apparatus. A large electric machine perched
by itself in one corner, gave a grotesque air to that part of the room,
but the chief impression made upon an observer was one of bareness and
desolation, as of the husk of something which had departed, leaving a
smell of death behind. The girls used the room for their dreary midnight
walks; otherwise it was never entered, except by Doris, who kept it in
perfect order, as a penance, she was once heard to declare, she having a
profound dislike to the place, and associating it always, as we have
before intimated, with some tragic occurrence which she believed to have
taken place there.

Huckins, after his first quick look, chuckled and rubbed his hands
together, in well-simulated glee.

"Do I see it?" he cried; "_the room_ where the great Cavanagh thought
and worked! It is a privilege not easily over-estimated." And he flitted
from shelf to drawer, from drawer to table, with gusts of enthusiasm
which made the cold, stern face of Hermione, who had taken up her stand
in the doorway, harden into an expression of strange defiance.

Emma, less filled with some dark memory, or more swayed by her anxiety
to fathom his purposes, and read the secret of an intrusion which as yet
was nothing but a troublous mystery to her, had entered the room with
him, and stood quietly watching his erratic movements, as if she half
expected him to abstract something from the hoard of old chemicals or
collection of formulas above which he hung with such a pretence of
rapture.

"How good! how fine! how interesting!" broke in shrill ejaculation from
his lips as he ambled hither and thither. But Emma noticed that his eye
ever failed to dwell upon what was really choice or unique in the
collection of her father's apparatus, and that when by chance he touched
an alembic or lifted a jar, it was with an awkwardness that betrayed an
unaccustomed hand.

"You do not hold a retort in that way," she finally remarked, going up
to him and taking the article in question out of his hand. "This is how
my father was accustomed to handle them," she proceeded, and he, taken
aback for the instant, blushed and murmured something about her father
being his superior and she the very apt pupil of a great scholar and a
very wise man.

"You wanted to see the laboratory, and now you have seen it," quoth
Hermione from her place by the door. "Is there anything else we can do
for you?"

The chill, stern tones seemed to rouse him and he turned towards the
speaker.

"No, no, my dear, no, no. You have been very good." But Emma noticed
that his eyes still kept roaming here, there, and everywhere while he
spoke, picking up information as a bird picks up worms.

"What does he want?" thought she, looking anxiously towards her sister.

"You have a very pleasant home," he now remarked, pausing at the head of
those narrow stairs and peering into the nest of Hermione's own room,
the door of which stood invitingly open. "Is that why you never leave
it?" he unexpectedly asked, looking with his foxy eyes from one sister
to the other.

"I do not think it is necessary for us to answer you," said Emma, while
Hermione, with a flash in her eye, motioned him imperiously down, saying
as she slowly followed him:

"Our friends do not consider it wise to touch upon that topic, how much
more should a stranger hesitate before doing so?"

And he, cowering beneath her commanding look and angry presence, seemed
to think she was right in this and ventured no more, though his restless
eyes were never still, and he appeared to count the very banisters as
his hand slid down the railing, and to take in every worn thread that
showed itself in the carpet over which his feet shuffled in almost
undignified haste.

When they were all below, he made one final remark:

"Your father owed me money, but I do not think of pressing my claim. You
do not look as if you were in a position to satisfy it."

"Ah," exclaimed Emma, thinking she had discovered the motive of his
visit at last; "that is why you wanted to see the laboratory."

"Partly," he acknowledged with a sly wink, "but not altogether. All
there is there would not buy up the I. O. U. I hold. I shall have to let
the matter go with other bad debts I suppose. But three hundred dollars
is a goodly sum, young ladies, a goodly sum."

Emma, who knew that her father had not been above borrowing money for
his experiments, looked greatly distressed for a moment, but Hermione,
who had now taken her usual place as leader, said without attempting to
disguise the tone of suspicion in her voice:

"Substantiate your claim and present your bill and we will try to pay
it. We have still a few articles of furniture left."

Huckins, who had never looked more hypocritically insinuating or more
diabolically alert, exclaimed,

"I can wait, I can wait."

But Hermione, with a grand air and a candid look, answered bitterly and
at once:

"What we cannot do now we can never do. Our fortunes are not likely to
increase in the future, so you had better put in your claim at once, if
you really want your pay."

"You think so?" he began; and his eye, which had been bright before,
now gleamed with the excitement of a fear allayed. "I----"

But just then the bell rang with a loud twang, and he desisted from
finishing his sentence.

Emma went to the door and soon came back with a letter which she handed
to Hermione.

"The man Jerry brought it," she explained, casting a meaning look at her
sister.

Hermione, with a quick flush, stepped to the window and in the shadow of
the curtains read her note. It was a simple word of warning.

    DEAR MISS CAVANAGH:

    I met a man at your gate who threatened to go in. Do not receive
    him, or if you have already done so, distrust every word he has
    uttered and cut the interview short. He is Hiram Huckins, the
    man concerning whom I spoke so frankly when we were discussing
    the will of the Widow Wakeham.

        Yours most truly,
            FRANK ETHERIDGE.

The flush with which Hermione read these lines was quite gone when she
turned to survey the intruder, who had forced himself upon her
confidence and that of her sister by means of a false name. Indeed she
looked strangely pale and strangely indignant as she met his twinkling
and restless eye, and, to any one who knew the contents of the note
which she held, it would seem that her first words must be those of
angry dismissal.

But instead of these, she first looked at him with some curiosity, and
then said in even, low, and slightly contemptuous tones:

"Will you not remain and lunch with us, Mr. Huckins?"

At this unexpected utterance of his name he gave a quick start, but soon
was his cringing self again. Glancing at the letter she held, he
remarked:

"My dear young lady, I see that Mr. Etheridge has been writing to you.
Well, there is no harm in that. Now we can shake hands in earnest"; and
as he held out his wicked, trembling palm, his face was a study for a
painter.



XVII.

TWO CONVERSATIONS.


That afternoon, as Emma was sitting in her own room, she was startled by
the unexpected presence of Hermione. As they were not in the habit of
intruding upon each other above stairs, Emma rose in some surprise. But
Hermione motioning her back into her chair, fell at her feet in sudden
abandon, and, laying her head in her sister's lay, gave way to one deep
sob. Emma, too much astonished to move at this unexpected humiliation of
one who had never before bent her imperious head in that household,
looked at the rich black locks scattered over her knees with wonder if
not with awe.

"Hermione!" she whispered, "Hermione! do not kneel to me, unless it be
with joy."

But the elder sister, clasping her convulsively around the waist,
murmured:

"Let me be humble for a moment; let me show that I have something in me
besides pride, reckless endurance, and determined will. I have not shown
it enough in the past. I have kept my sufferings to myself, and my
remorse to myself, and alas! also all my stern recognition of your love
and unparalleled devotion. I have felt your goodness, oh, I have felt
it, so much so, at times, that I thought I could not live, ought not to
live, just because of what I have done to _you_; but I never said
anything, could not say anything! Yet all the remorse I experienced was
nothing to what I experience now that I know I was not even loved----"

"Hush," broke in Emma, "let those days be forgotten. I only felt that
you ought to know the truth, because sweeter prospects are before you,
and----"

"I understand," murmured Hermione, "you are always the great-hearted,
unselfishly minded sister. I believe you would actually rejoice to see
me happy now, even if it did not release you from the position you have
assumed. But it shall release you; you shall not suffer any longer on my
account. Even if it is only to give you the opportunity of--of meeting
with Dr. Sellick, you shall go out of this house to-day. Do you hear me,
Emma, _to-day_?"

But the ever-gentle, ever-docile Emma rose up at this, quite pale in her
resolution. "Till you put foot out of the gate I remain this side of
it," said she. "Nothing can ever alter my determination in this regard."

And Hermione, surveying her with slowly filling eyes, became convinced
that it would be useless to argue this point, though she made an effort
to do so by saying with a noble disregard of her own womanly shame which
in its turn caused Emma's eyes to fill:

"Dr. Sellick has suffered a great wrong, I judge; don't you think you
owe something to him?"

But Emma shook her head, though she could not prevent a certain wistful
look from creeping into her face. "Not what I owe to you," said she, and
then flushed with distress lest her sister should misjudge the meaning
of her words.

But Hermione was in a rarely generous mood. "But I release you from any
promise you have made or any obligations you may consider yourself to be
under. Great heaven! do you think I would hold you to them _now_?"

"I hold myself," cried Emma. "You cannot release me,--except," she
added, with gentle intimation, "by releasing yourself."

"I cannot release myself," moaned Hermione. "If we all perish I cannot
release myself. _I_ am a prisoner to this house, but you----"

"We are sister prisoners," interpolated Emma, softly. Then with a sudden
smile, "I was in hopes that he who led you to break one resolution might
induce you to break another."

But Hermione, flushing with something of her old fire, cried out
warmly: "In going out of the house I broke a promise made to myself, but
in leaving the grounds I should--oh, I cannot tell you what I should do;
not even you know the full bitterness of my life! It is a secret, locked
in this shrinking, tortured heart, which it almost breaks, but does not
quite, or I should not linger in this dreadful world to be a cause of
woe to those I cherish most."

"But Hermione, Hermione----"

"You think you know what has set a seal on my lips, the gloom on my
brow, the death in my heart; but you do not, Emma. You know much, but
not the fatal grief, the irrepressible misery. But you shall know, and
know soon. I have promised to write out the whole history of my life for
Mr. Etheridge, and when he has read it you shall read it too. Perhaps
when you learn what the real horror of this house has been, you may
appreciate the force of will-power which it has taken for me to remain
in it."

Emma, who had never suspected anything in the past beyond what she
herself knew, grew white with fresh dismay. But Hermione, seeing it,
kissed her, and, speaking more lightly, said: "You kept back one vital
secret from me in consideration of what you thought the limit of my
endurance. I have done the same for you under the same consideration.
Now we will equalize matters, and perhaps--who knows?--happier days may
come, if Mr. Etheridge is not too much startled by the revelations I
have to make him, and if Dr. Sellick--do not shrink, Emma--learns some
magnanimity from his friend and will accept the explanations I shall
think it my duty to offer him."

But at this suggestion, so unlike any that had ever come from Hermione's
lips before, the younger sister first stared, and then flung her arms
around the speaker, with cries of soft deprecation and shame.

"You shall not," she murmured. "Not if I lose him shall he ever know
why that cruel letter was written. It is enough--it shall be
enough--that he was dismissed _then_. If he loves me he will try his
fate again. But I do not think he does love me, and it would be better
for him that he did not. Would _he_ ever marry a woman who, not even at
his entreaty, could be induced to cross the limits of her home?"

"Mr. Etheridge should not do it either; but he is so generous--perhaps
so hopeful! He may not be as much so when he has read what I have to
write."

"I think he will," said Emma, and then paused, remembering that she did
not know all that her sister had to relate.

"He would be a man in a thousand then," whispered the once haughty
Hermione. "A man to worship, to sacrifice all and everything to, that it
was in one's power to sacrifice."

"He will do what is right," quoth Emma.

Hermione sighed. Was she afraid of the right?

Meantime, in the poplar-walk below, another talk was being held, which,
if these young girls could have heard it, might have made them feel even
more bitterly than before, what heavy clouds lay upon any prospect of
joy which they might secretly cherish. Doris, who was a woman of many
thoughts, and who just now found full scope for all her ideas in the
unhappy position of her two dear young ladies, had gone into the open
air to pick currants and commune with herself as to what more could be
done to bring them into a proper recognition of their folly in clinging
to a habit or determination which seemed likely to plunge them into such
difficulties.

The currant bushes were at the farther end of the garden near the
termination of the poplar-walk, and when, in one of the pauses of her
picking, she chanced to look up, she saw advancing towards her down that
walk the thin, wiry figure of the old man who had taken luncheon with
the young ladies, and whom they called, in very peculiar tones, she
thought, Mr. Huckins. He was looking from right to left as he came, and
his air was one of contemplation or that of a person who was taking in
the beauties of a scene new to him and not wholly unpleasant.

When he reached the spot where Doris stood eying him with some curiosity
and not a little distrust, he paused, looked about him, and perceiving
her, affected some surprise, and stepped briskly to where she was.

"Picking currants?" he observed. "Let me help you. I used to do such
things when a boy."

Astonished, and not a little gratified at what she chose to consider his
condescension, Doris smiled. It was a rare thing now for a man to be
seen in this lonesome old place, and such companionship was not
altogether disagreeable to Mistress Doris.

Huckins rubbed his hands together in satisfaction at this smile, and
sidled up to the simpering spinster with a very propitiatory air.

"How nice this all is," he remarked. "So rural, so peaceful, and so
pleasant. I come from a place where there is no fruit, nor flowers, nor
young ladies. You must be happy here." And he gave her a look which she
thought very insinuating.

"Oh, I am happy enough," she conceded, "because I am bound to be happy
wherever the young ladies are. But I could wish that things were
different too." And she thought herself very discreet that she had not
spoken more clearly.

"Things?" he repeated softly.

"Yes, my young ladies have odd ideas; I thought you knew."

He drew nearer to her side, very much nearer, and dropped the currants
he had plucked gently into her pail.

"I know they have a fixed antipathy to going out, but they will get over
that."

"Do you think so?" she asked eagerly.

"Don't _you_?" he queried, with an innocent look of surprise. He was
improving in his dissimulation, or else he succeeded better with those
of whom he had no fear.

"I don't know what to think. Are you an old friend of theirs?" she
inquired. "You must be, to lunch with them."

"I never saw them before to-day," he returned, "yet I am an old friend.
Reason that out," he leered.

"You like to puzzle folks," she observed, picking very busily but
smiling all the while. "Do you give answers with your puzzles?"

"Not to such sharp wits as yours. But how beautiful Miss Cavanagh is.
Has she always had that scar?"

"Ever since I knew her."

"Pity she should have such a blemish. You like her, don't you, very
much?"

"I love her."

"And her sister--such a sweet girl!"

"I love them both."

"That is right. I should be sorry to have any one about them who did not
love them. _I_ love them, or soon shall, very much."

"Are you," Doris inquired, with great inquisitiveness, "going to remain
in Marston any time?"

"I cannot say," sighed the old man; "I should like to. I should be very
happy here, but I am afraid the young ladies do not like me well
enough."

Doris had cherished some such idea herself an hour ago, and had not
wondered at it then, but now her feelings seemed changed.

"Was it to see them you came to Marston?" said she.

"Merely to see them," he replied.

She was puzzled, but more eager than puzzled, so anxious was she to find
some one who could control their eccentricities.

"They will treat you politely," she assured him. "They are peculiar
girls, but they are always polite."

"I am afraid I shall not be satisfied with politeness," he insinuated.
"I want them to love me, to confide in me. I want to be their friend in
fact as I have so long been in fancy."

"You are some relative of theirs," she now asserted, "or you knew their
father well or their mother."

"I wouldn't say no," he replied,--but to which of these three
intimations, he evidently did not think it worth while to say.

"Then," she declared, "you are the man I want. Mr. Etheridge--that is
the lawyer from New York who has lately been coming here--does not seem
to have much confidence in himself or me. But you look as if you might
do something or suggest something. I mean about getting the young ladies
to give up their whims."

"Has this Mr.--Mr. Etheridge, did you call him?--been doing their
business long?"

"I never saw him here till a month ago."

"Ah! a month ago! And do they like him? Do they seem inclined to take
his advice? Does he press it upon them?"

"I wish I knew. I am only a poor servant, remember, though my bringing
up was as good almost as theirs. They are kind to me, but I do not sit
down in the parlor; if I did, I might know something of what is going
on. I can only judge, you see, by looks."

"And the looks? Come, I have a _great_ interest in the young
ladies--almost as great as yours. What do their looks say?--I mean since
this young man came to visit them? He is a young man, didn't you say?"

"Yes, he is young, and so good-looking. I have thought--now don't spill
the currants, just as we have filled the pail--that he was a little
sweet on Miss Hermione, and that that was why he came here so often, and
not because he had business."

"You have?" twitted the old man, almost dancing about her in his sudden
excitement. "Well, well, that must be seen to. A wedding, eh, a wedding?
That's what you think is coming?" And Doris could not tell whether it
was pleasure or alarm that gave so queer a look to his eyes.

"I cannot say--I wish I could," she fervently cried; "then I might hope
to see a change here; then we might expect to see these two sweet young
ladies doing like other folks and making life pleasant for themselves
and every one about them. But Miss Hermione is a girl who would be very
capable of saying no to a young man if he stood in the way of any
resolve she had taken. I don't calculate much on her being influenced by
love, or I would never have bothered you with my troubles. It is fear
that must control her, or----" Doris paused and looked at him
knowingly--"or she must be lured out of the house by some cunning
device."

Huckins, who had been feeling his way up to this point, brightened as
he noticed the slyness of the smile with which she emphasized this
insinuation, and from this moment felt more assured. But he said nothing
as yet to show how he was affected by her words. There was another
little matter he wanted settled first.

"Do you know," he asked, "why she, and her sister, too, I believe, have
taken this peculiar freak? Have they ever told you, or have you ever--"
how close his head got to hers, and how he nodded and peered--"surprised
their secret?"

Doris shook her head. "All a mystery," she whispered, and began picking
currants again, that operation having stopped as they got more earnest.

"But it isn't a mystery," he laughed, "why you want to get them out of
the house just _now_. I know your reason for that, and think you will
succeed without any device of love or cunning."

"I don't understand you," she protested, puckering her black brows and
growing very energetic. "I don't want to do it _now_ any more than I
have for the last twelve months. Only I am getting desperate. I am not
one who can want a thing and be patient. I _want_ Miss Hermione Cavanagh
and her sister to laugh and be gay like other girls, and till they give
up all this nonsense of self-seclusion they never will; and so I say to
myself that any measures are justifiable that lead to that end. Don't
you think I am right?"

He smiled warily and took her pail of currants from her hand.

"I think you are the brightest woman and have one of the clearest heads
I ever knew. I don't remember when I have seen a woman who pleased me so
well. Shall we be friends? I am only a solitary bachelor, travelling
hither and thither because I do not know how else to spend my money; but
I am willing to work for your ends if you are willing to work for mine."

"And what are they?" she simpered, looking very much delighted. Doris
was not without ambition, and from this moment not without her hopes.

"To make these young ladies trust me so that I may visit them off and on
while I remain in this place. I thought it was pleasant here before, but
_now_----" The old fellow finished with a look and a sigh, and Doris'
subjugation was complete.

Yet she did not let him at this time any further into her plans,
possibly because she had not formed any. She only talked on more and
more about her love for the young ladies, and her wonder over their
conduct, and he, listening for any chance word which might help him in
his own perplexity, walked back at her side, till they arrived in sight
of the house, when he gave her the pail and slunk back to come on later
alone. But a seed was sown at that interview which was destined to bear
strange fruit; and it is hard telling which felt the most satisfaction
at the understood compact between them--the hard, selfish, and scheming
miser, or the weak and obstinate serving-woman, who excused to herself
the duplicity of her conduct by the plea, true enough as far as it went,
that she was prompted by love for those she served, and a desire to see
the two women she admired as bright and happy as their youth and beauty
demanded.



XVIII.

SUSPENSE.


The letter which Frank sent to Edgar described his encounter with
Huckins, and expressed a wish that the Doctor would employ some proper
person to watch his movements and see that he did not make himself
disagreeable to the Misses Cavanagh, whom he had evidently set himself
to annoy.

What, then, was Etheridge's surprise to receive on the following day a
reply from his friend, to the effect that Mr. Huckins had not only
called upon the young ladies mentioned by him, but had made himself very
much at home with them, having lunched, dined, and report even said
breakfasted at their table.

This was startling news to Frank, especially after the letter he had
written to Hermione, but he restrained himself from returning at once to
Marston, as he was half tempted to do, and wrote her again, this time
beseeching her in plain words to have nothing to do with so suspicious a
person as he knew this Huckins to be, and advised her where to appeal
for assistance in case this intolerable intruder was not willing to be
shaken off. This letter brought the following answer:

    DEAR MR. ETHERIDGE:

    Do not be concerned about us. Mr. Huckins will not trouble us
    unduly. Knowing his character, we are not likely to be misled by
    him, and it amuses us in our loneliness to have so queer and
    surprising a person as our guest.

    Aunt Lovell is very sharp and keeps a keen eye upon him. He does
    not offend us except by his curiosity, but as that is excusable
    in an old man introduced into a household like ours, we try to
    make the best of it. When you come yourself we will dismiss the
    intruder.

        Ever sincerely yours,
            HERMIONE CAVANAGH.

This letter was put very near Frank's heart, but it did not relieve him
from his anxiety. On the contrary, it added to his fears, because it
added to his mystification. What did Huckins want of the Misses
Cavanagh, and what was the real reason for the indulgence they showed
him? Was there a secret in their connection which he ought to know? He
began to hasten his business and plan to leave the city again, this time
for more than a single night.

Meantime, Dr. Sellick was not without his own secret doubts. Hide it as
he would, he still cherished the strongest affection for the once
dimpling, dainty, laughing-eyed Emma. Not a day passed but he had to
combat a fervent desire to pass her gate, though when he yielded to this
temptation he went by like an automaton, and never looked to right or
left unless it was dark night. His was a proud soul and an exacting one.
His self-esteem had been hurt, and he could not bring himself to make
even the shadow of an advance towards one who had been the instrument of
his humiliation. And yet he trembled when he thought of misfortune
approaching her, and was almost as anxious as Frank about the presence
in her house of the hypocritical and unprincipled Huckins. Had he
listened only for a moment to the pleading of his better instincts, he
would have gone to their door and lent his entreaties to those of Frank
for a speedy dismissal of their unreliable guest; but the hour had not
yet come for such a self-betrayal, and so he refrained, even while
cursing himself for a pride which would not yield even at the impending
danger of one so passionately beloved.

He however kept a man at watch upon the suspected stranger, a precaution
which certainly did not amount to much, as the danger, if there was any,
was not one which a detective stationed outside of the Misses Cavanagh's
house would be able to avert.

Meanwhile Huckins, who was in his element, grew more insinuating and
fatherly in his manner, day by day. To him this run of a house in which
there lurked a mystery worth his penetrating, was a bliss that almost
vied with that of feeling himself on the road to wealth. He pottered and
poked about in the laboratory, till there was not a spot in the room or
an article on the shelves which had not felt the touch of his hand; and
Hermione and Emma, with what some might have thought a curious disregard
of their father's belongings, let him do this, merely restricting him
from approaching their own rooms. Possibly they felt as if some of the
gloom of the place was lifted by the presence of even this evil-eyed old
man; and possibly the shadows which were growing around them both, as
Hermione labored day after day upon the history she was writing for her
lover, made this and every other circumstance disconnected with the
important theme they were considering, of little moment to them. However
that may be, he came and went as he would, and had many sly hours in the
long, dim laboratory and in the narrow twisted corridors at the back of
the house, and what was worse and perhaps more disastrous still, on the
stairs and in the open doorways with Doris, who had learned to toss her
head and smile very curiously while busying herself in the kitchen, or
taking those brief minutes of respite abroad, which the duties of the
place demanded. And so the week passed, and Saturday night came.

It was seven o'clock, and train-time, and the blinds in the Cavanagh
house guarding the front windows were tipped just a little. Behind one
of these sat Emma, listening to the restless tread of Hermione pacing
the floor in the room above. She knew that the all-important letter was
done, but she could not know its contents, or what their effect would be
upon the free, light-hearted man whose approach they were expecting. She
thought she ought to know all that Hermione had been through in the year
which had passed, yet the wild words uttered by her sister in their late
memorable interview, had left a doubt in her mind which a week's
meditations had only served to intensify. Yet the fears to which it had
given rise were vague, and she kept saying to herself: "There cannot be
anything worse than I know. Hermione exaggerated when she intimated that
she had a secret bitterer than that we keep together. She has suffered
so much she cannot judge. I will hope that all will go right, and that
Mr. Etheridge will receive her explanations and so make her his
everlasting debtor. If once she is made to feel that she owes him
something, she will gradually yield up her resolve and make both him and
me happy. She will see that some vows are better broken than kept,
and----"

Here her thoughts were interrupted by the appearance of Hermione. The
latter had not been able to walk off her excitement, and so had come
down-stairs to bear the moments of suspense with her sister.

"I hope he will not stop," she cried. "I do not feel as if I could see
him till----"

"You will have to," murmured Emma, "for here he comes." And the next
moment the ardent, anxious face of the young lawyer appeared at the
gate, making the whole outside world seem brighter to one pair of eyes
which watched him.

"He wants to talk about our visitor," declared Hermione. "I cannot talk
about anything so trivial to-day; so do you see him, and when he rises
to go, say that Doris will bring a certain packet to his door to-night.
I will not meet his eyes till that ordeal is passed." And with a gasp
that showed what this moment was to her, she flew from the room, just as
Doris' step was heard in the hall on her way to the front door.

"Where is your sister?" were the first words uttered by Frank, as he
came into the room.

"Upstairs," answered Emma. "She does not feel as if she can see you
again till everything is clear between you. The letter she promised is
written, and you shall have it to-night. Then if you wish to come
again----" her smile completed the sentence.

He took heart at this smile.

"I do not doubt," said he, "that I shall be here very early in the
morning." And then he glanced all around him.

"Does Huckins still bother you?" he asked.

"Oh," she cried, with some constraint, "we allow him to come here. 'Tis
the least we can do for one----"

She paused, and seemed to bite off her words.

"Do not let us talk of trivialities," she completed, "till the great
question of all is settled. To-morrow, if you come, we will speak of
this visitor of whom you so little approve."

"Very well," he rejoined, with some wistfulness, and turned with his
usual impetuosity towards the door. "I will go to Dr. Sellick's, then,
at once, that I may receive your sister's communication the sooner. Tell
her every moment will be an hour till it is in my hands."

"Doris will carry it to you as soon as it is dark. Had we known you were
going to stop here, she might have had it ready now. As it is, look for
it as I have said, and may it bring you no deeper pain than the mystery
of our seclusion has already done. Hermione has noble qualities, and if
her temper had never been injured by the accident which befell her in
her infancy, there might have been no call for Doris' errand to-night."

"I will remember that," said he, and left the house with the confident
smile of a man who feels it impossible to doubt the woman towards whom
his heart has gone out in the fullest love.

When the door was shut behind him, Hermione came stealing again
down-stairs.

"Does he--is he--prepared to receive the letter?" she asked.

Emma nodded. "I promised that it should go as soon as it is dusk."

"Then send Doris to me in half an hour; and do not try to see me again
to-night. I must bear its long and tedious hours alone." And for a
second time Hermione disappeared from the room.

In half an hour Doris was sent upstairs. She found Hermione standing in
the centre of her room with a thick packet in her hand. She was very
pale and her eyes blazed strangely. As Doris advanced she held out the
packet with a hand that shook notwithstanding all her efforts to render
it firm.

"Take this," she said; "carry it to where Mr. Etheridge stays when here,
and place it in his hands yourself, just as you did a former note I
entrusted to you."

Doris, with a flush, seized the letter, her face one question, but her
lips awed from speaking by the expression of her mistress' face.

"You will do what I say?" asked Hermione.

The woman nodded.

"Go then, and do not wait for an answer; there will be none to-night."

Her gesture of dismissal was imperative and Doris turned to go.

But Hermione had one word more to say. "When you come back," she added,
"come to my door and tap on it three times. By that I shall know you
have delivered the letter; but you need not come in."

"Very well, Miss," answered the woman, speaking for the first time. And
as Hermione turned her back, she gave her young mistress one burning,
inquisitive look and then slid out of the room with her eyes on the
packet which she almost seemed to devour with her eyes.

As she passed the laboratory door she detected the thin weasel-like face
of Huckins looking out.

"What is that?" he whispered, pointing eagerly at the packet.

"Be in the highway at Dobbins' corner, and I'll tell you," she slyly
returned, going softly on her way.

And he, with a chuckle which ought to have sounded through that house
like a premonition of evil, closed the laboratory door with a careful
hand, and descending the twisted staircase which led to the hall below,
prepared to follow out her injunction in his own smooth and sneaking
way.

"I think I'll spend the evening at the prayer-meeting," he declared,
looking in at Emma, as he passed the sitting-room door. "I feel the need
of such comfort now and then. Is there anything I can do for either of
you up street?"

Emma shook her head; she was glad to be rid of his company for this one
evening; and he went out of the front door with a quiet, benevolent air
which may not have imposed on her, but which certainly did on Doris, who
was watching from the garden to see him go.

They met, as she had suggested, at Dobbins' corner. As it was not quite
dark, they walked into a shaded and narrow lane where they supposed
themselves to be free from all observation.

"Now tell me," said he, "what your errand is. That it is important I
know from the way you look. What is it, good, kind Doris; anything that
will help us in our plans?"

"Perhaps," said she. "It is a letter for Mr. Etheridge; see how big and
thick it is. It ought to tell a deal, this letter; it ought to explain
why she never leaves the house."

The woman's curious excitement, which was made up of curiosity and a
real desire to know the secret of what affected her two young mistresses
so closely, was quickly communicated to the scheming, eager old man.
Taking the packet from her hand, he felt of it with trembling and
inquisitive fingers, during which operation it would have been hard to
determine upon which face the desire to break the seal was most marked.

"It may contain papers--law papers," he suggested, his thumb and
forefinger twitching as they passed over the fastening.

But Doris shook her head.

"No," she declared vivaciously, "there are no law-papers in that
envelope. She has been writing and writing for a week. It is her secret,
I tell you--the secret of all their queer doings, and why they stay in
the house so persistently."

"Then let us surprise that secret," said he. "If we want to help them
and make them do like other reasonable folks, we must know with what we
have to contend."

"I am sure we would be justified," she rejoined. "But I am afraid Miss
Hermione will find us out. Mr. Etheridge will tell her somebody meddled
with the fastening."

"Let me take the letter to the hotel, and I will make that all right. It
is not the first----" But here he discreetly paused, remembering that
Doris was not yet quite ready to receive the full details of his
history.

"But the time? It will take an hour to open and read all there is
written here, and Miss Hermione is waiting for me to tell her that I
have delivered it to Mr. Etheridge."

"Tell her you had other errands. Go to the stores--the neighbors. She
need never know you delivered this last."

"But if you take it I won't know what is in it, and I want to read it
myself."

"I will tell you everything she writes. My memory is good, and you shall
not miss a word."

"But--but----"

"It is your only chance," he insinuated; "the young ladies will never
tell you themselves."

"I know it; yet it seems a mean thing to do. Can you close the letter so
that neither he nor they will ever know it has been opened?"

"Trust me," he leered.

"Hurry then; I will be in front of Dr. Sellick's in an hour. Give me the
letter as you go by, and when I have delivered it, meet me on my way
back and tell me what she says."

He promised, and hastened with his treasure to the room he still kept
at the hotel. She watched him as long as he was in sight and then went
about her own improvised errands. Did she realize that she had just put
in jeopardy not only her young mistresses' fortunes, but even their
lives?



XIX.

A DISCOVERY.


Frank Etheridge waited a long time that night for the promised
communication. Darkness came, but no letter; eight o'clock struck, and
still there was no sign of the dilatory Doris. Naturally impatient, he
soon found this lengthy waiting intolerable. Edgar was busy in his
office, or he would have talked to him. The evening paper which he had
brought from New York had been read long ago, and as for his cigar, it
lacked flavor and all power to soothe him. In his exasperation he went
to the book-shelves, and began looking over the numberless volumes
ranged in neat rows before him. He took out one, glanced at it, and put
it back; he took out another, without even seeing what its title was,
looked at it a moment, sighed, and put that back; he took out a third,
which opened in his hand at the title-page, saw that it was one of those
old-fashioned volumes, designated _The Keepsake_, and was about to close
and replace it as he had done the others, when his attention was
suddenly and forcibly attracted by a name written in fine and delicate
characters on the margin at the top. It was no other than this:

       HARRIET SMITH
    Gift of her husband
      October 3rd 1848

_Harriet Smith!_ Astounded, almost aghast, he ran to Edgar's office with
the volume.

"Edgar! Edgar!" he cried; "look here! See that name! And the book was in
your library too. What does it mean? Who was, who is Harriet Smith, that
you should have her book?"

Dr. Sellick, taken by surprise, stared at the book a minute, then jumped
to his feet in almost as much excitement as Frank himself.

"I got that book from Hermione Cavanagh years ago; there was a poem in
it she wanted me to read. I did not know I had the book now. I have
never even thought of it from that day to this. Harriet Smith! Yes, that
is the name you want, and they must be able to tell you to whom it
belongs."

"I believe it; I know it; I remember now that they have always shown an
interest in the matter. Hermione wanted to read the will, and--Edgar,
Edgar, can they be the heirs for whom we are searching, and is that why
Huckins haunts the house and is received by them in plain defiance of my
entreaties?"

"If they are the heirs they would have been likely to have told you.
Penniless young girls are not usually backward in claiming property
which is their due."

"That is certainly true, but this property has been left under a
condition. I recollect now how disappointed Hermione looked when she
read the will. Give me the book; I must see her sister or herself at
once about it." And without heeding the demurs of his more cautious
friend, Frank plunged from the house and made his way immediately to the
Cavanagh mansion.

His hasty knock brought Emma to the door. As he encountered her look and
beheld the sudden and strong agitation under which she labored, he
realized for the first time that he was returning to the house before
reading the letter upon which so much depended.

But he was so filled with his new discovery that he gave that idea but a
thought.

"Miss Cavanagh--Emma," he entreated, "grant me a moment's conversation.
I have just found this book in Dr. Sellick's library--a book which he
declares was once given him by your sister--and in it----"

They had entered the parlor by this time and were standing by a table
upon which burned a lamp----"is a name."

She started, and was bending to look at the words upon which his finger
rested, when the door opened. Hermione, alarmed and not knowing what to
think of this unexpected return of her lover so soon, as she supposed,
after the receipt of her letter, had come down from her room in that
mood of extreme tension which is induced by an almost unendurable
suspense.

Frank, who in all his experience of her had never seen her look as she
did at this moment, fell back from the place where he stood and hastily
shook his head.

"Don't look like that," he cried, "or you will make me feel I can never
read your letter."

"And have you not read it?" she demanded, shrinking in her turn till she
stood on the threshold by which she had entered. "Why then are you here?
What could have brought you back so soon when you knew----"

"This," he interpolated hastily, holding up the book which he had let
fall on the table at her entrance. "See! the name of Harriett Smith is
written in it. Tell me, I pray, why you kept from me so persistently the
fact that you knew the person to whom the property I hold in trust
rightfully belongs."

The two girls with a quick glance at each other drooped their heads.

"What was the use?" murmured Emma, "since Harriet Smith is dead and her
heirs can never claim the property. _We_ are her heirs, Mr. Etheridge;
Harriet Smith was our mother, married to father thirty-nine years ago
after a widowhood of only three months. It was never known in this place
that she had had a former husband or had borne the name of Smith. There
was so much scandal and unhappiness connected with her first most
miserable marriage, that she suppressed the facts concerning it as much
as possible. She was father's wife and that was all that the people
about here knew."

"I see," said Frank, wondering greatly at this romance in real life.

"But you might have told me," he exclaimed. "When you saw what worriment
this case was causing me, you might have informed me that I was
expending my efforts in vain."

"I wished to do so," answered Emma, "but Hermione dreaded the arguments
and entreaties which would follow."

"I could not bear the thought of them," exclaimed the girl from the
doorway where she stood, "any more than I can bear the thought now when
a matter of much more importance to me demands your attention."

"I will go," cried Frank. But it was to the empty doorway he spoke;
Hermione had vanished with these passionate words.

"She is nearly ill," explained Emma, following him as he made for the
door. "You must excuse one who has borne so much."

"I do not excuse her," he cried, "I love her." And the look he cast up
the stairs fully verified this declaration. "That is why I go with half
on my lips unsaid. To-morrow we will broach the topic again, meanwhile
beware of Huckins. He means you no good by being here. Had I known his
connection with you, he should never have entered these doors."

"He is our uncle; our mother's brother."

"He is a scamp who means to have the property which is rightfully your
due."

"And he will have it, I suppose," she returned. "Hermione has never
given me a hope that she means to contend with him in this matter."

"Hermione has had no counsellor but her own will. To-morrow she will
have to do with me. But shut the door on Huckins; promise me you will
not see him again till after you have seen me."

"I cannot--I know too little what is in that letter."

"Oh, that letter!" he cried, and was gone from the house.

When he arrived at Dr. Sellick's again, he found Doris awaiting him,
looking very flushed and anxious. She had a shawl drawn around her, and
she held some bundles under that shawl.

"I hope," she said, "that you did not get impatient, waiting for me. I
had some errands to do, and while doing them I lost the letter you
expected and had to go back and look for it. I found it lying under the
counter in Mr. Davis' store and that is why it is so soiled, but the
inside is all right, and I can only beg your pardon for the delay."

Drawing the packet from under her shawl, she handed it to the frowning
lawyer, her heart standing still as she saw him turn it over and over in
his hand. But his looks if angry were not suspicious, and with a
relieved nod she was turning to go when he observed:

"I have one word to say to you, Doris. You have told me that you have
the welfare of the young ladies you serve at heart. Prove this to be so.
If Mr. Huckins comes to the door to-night, or in the early morning, say
that Miss Cavanagh is not well and that he had better go to the hotel.
Do not admit him; _do not even open the door_, unless Miss Cavanagh or
her sister especially command you to do so. He is not a safe friend for
them, and I will take the responsibility of whatever you do."

Doris, with wide-stretched eyes and panting breath, paused to collect
her faculties. A week ago she would have received this intimation
regarding anybody Mr. Etheridge might choose to mention, with gratitude
and a certain sense of increased importance. But ambition and the sense
of being on intimate and secret terms with a man and bachelor who
boasted of his thousands, had made a change in her weak and cunning
heart, and she was disposed to doubt the lawyer's judgment of what was
good for the young ladies and wise for her.

But she did not show her doubt to one whom she had secretly wronged so
lately; on the contrary she bowed with seeming acquiescence, and saying,
"Leave me alone to take good care of my young ladies," drew her shawl
more closely about her and quietly slid from the house.

A man was standing in the shadow of a great elm on the corner.

As she passed, he whispered: "Don't stop, and don't expect to see me
to-night. There is some one watching me, I am sure. To-morrow, if I can
I will come."

She had done a wicked and dangerous thing, and she had not learned the
secret.



XX.

THE DEVIL'S CAULDRON.


Frank, being left alone, sat down with the letter Doris had given him.
These are the words he read:

"DEAR MR. ETHERIDGE:

"I must ask you to walk by my house as early as nine o'clock to-morrow
morning. If, having read this letter, you still feel ready to meet fate
at my side, you will enter and tell me so. But if the horror that has
rested upon my life falls with this reading upon yours, then pass by on
the other side, and I will understand your verdict and accept it.

"It was at a very early age that I first felt the blight which had
fallen upon my life with the scar which disfigures one side of my face.
Such expressions as 'Poor dear! what a pity!'--'She would be very
beautiful if it were not for that,' make a deep impression upon a
child's mind, especially if that child has a proud and sensitive nature,
eager for admiration and shrinking from pity. Emma, who is only a year
younger than myself, seemed to me quite an enviable being before I knew
what the word envy meant, or why I felt so hot and angry when the
neighbors took her up and caressed her, while they only cast looks of
compassion at me. I hated her and did not know it; I hated the
neighbors, and I hated the places where they met, and the home where I
was born. I only loved my mother; perhaps, because she alone never spoke
of my misfortune, and when she kissed me did not take pains to choose
that side of my face which was without blemish. O my mother! if she had
lived! But when I was just fifteen, and was feeling even more keenly
than ever what it was to have just missed being the beauty of the town,
she died, and I found myself left with only a stern and cruelly
abstracted father for guardian, and for companion a sister, who in those
days was a girl so merry by nature, and so full of play and sport, that
she was a constant source of vexation to me, who hated mirth, and felt
aggrieved by a cheerfulness I could not share. These passions of
jealousy and pride did not lessen with me as I slowly ripened into
womanhood. All our family have been victims of their own indomitable
will, and even Emma, gentle as you see her to be now, used to have
violent gusts of temper when she was crossed in her plans or pleasures.
I never flashed out into bitter speech as she did, or made a noise when
I was angry, but I had that slow fire within me which made me perfectly
inexorable when I had once made up my mind to any course--no one, not
even my father or my sister, having the least influence over me. And so
it was that those who knew me began to dread me, even while they were
forced to acknowledge that I possessed certain merits of heart and
understanding. For the disappointment which had soured my disposition
had turned me towards study for relief, and the determination to be
brilliant, if I could not be beautiful, came with my maturity, and saved
me, perhaps, from being nothing but a burden to my family and friends.

"It was Mr. Lothrop, the Episcopalian minister, who first gave me this
turn toward serious pursuits. He was a good man, who had known my
mother, and after her death he used to come to the house, and finding me
moping in a corner, while Emma made the room gay with her talk, he would
draw me out with wonderful stories of women who had become the centre of
a great society by the brilliance of their attainments and the sparkle
of their wit. Once he called me beautiful, and when he saw the deep
flush, which I could not subdue, mantle my cheeks and agitate my whole
body, he took me very kindly by the hand, and said:

"'Hermione, you have splendid powers. Perhaps God allowed a little
defect to fall upon your beauty, in order to teach you the value of the
superior faculties with which you are endowed. You can be a fine, grand
woman, if you will.'

"Alas! he did not know that one unconscious tribute to my personal
attractions would just then have gone much farther with me than any
amount of appreciation for my mental abilities. Yet his words had their
effect, and from that moment I began to study--not as my father did,
with an absorbed, passionate devotion to one line of thought; that
seemed to me narrow and demoralizing, perhaps because almost every
disappointment or grief incident to those days could be traced to my
father's abstraction to everything disconnected with his laboratory. If
I wished to go to the city, or extend my knowledge of the world by
travel, it was: 'I have an experiment on hand; I cannot leave the
laboratory.' If I wished a new gown, or a set of books, it was: 'I am
not rich, and I must use all my spare means in buying the apparatus I
need, or the chemicals which are necessary to the discoveries I am in
the way of making.' Yet none of those discoveries or experiments ever
resulted in anything further than the acquiring on his part of a purely
local fame for learning. Therefore no special branch for me, but a
general culture which would fit me to shine in any society it might
henceforth be my good fortune to enter.

"My father might brood over his books, and bend his back over the retort
and crucible; my sister might laugh and attract the liking of a crowd of
foolish heads, but I would be the Sevigny, the Rambouillet of my time,
and by the eloquence of my conversation and the grace of my manner win
for myself that superiority among women which nature had designed for
me, but of which cruel fate had robbed me, even before I knew its worth.

"You will say these are great hopes for a village girl who had never
travelled beyond her native town, and who knew the great world only
through the medium of books. But is it not in villages and quiet
sequestered places that lofty ambitions are born? Is it the city boy who
becomes the President of our United States, or the city girl who
startles the world with her talent as poet, artist, or novelist?

"I read, and learned the world, and felt that I knew my place in it.
When my training should be complete, when I had acquired all that my
books and the companionship of the best minds in Marston could teach,
then I would go abroad, and in the civilization of other lands complete
the education which had now become with me a passion, because in it I
saw the stepping-stone to the eminence I sought.

"I speak plainly; it is necessary. You must know what was passing in my
mind during my girlhood's years, or you will not understand me or the
temptations which befell me. Besides, in writing thus I am preparing
myself for the revelation of a weakness I have shrunk till now from
acknowledging. It must be made. I cannot put it off any longer. I must
speak of Dr. Sellick, and explain if possible what he gradually became
to me in those lonely and studious years.

"I had known him from a child, but I did not begin to think of him till
he began to visit our house. He was a student then, and he naturally
took a great interest in chemistry. My father's laboratory was
convenient, well-stocked with apparatus, and freely opened to him. To my
father's laboratory he accordingly came every day when he was in town,
till it began to be quite a matter of course to see him there.

"I was very busy that summer, and for some time looked upon this only as
a habit on his part, and so took little heed of his presence. But one
day, being weary with the philosophy I had been studying, I took from
the shelves a book of poems, and sitting down in the dimmest corner of
our stiff old parlor, I began to read some impassioned verses, which,
before I knew it, roused my imagination and inflamed my heart to a point
which made it easy for any new romantic impression to be made upon me.

"At this instant fate and my ever-cruel destiny brought into my
presence Edgar Sellick. He had been like myself hard at work, and had
become weary, and anxious perhaps for a change, or, as I am now
compelled to think, eager to talk of one whose very existence I was
tempted to forget when she was, as then, away from home. He had come
into the room where I was, and was standing, flushed and handsome, in
the one bright streak of sunlight that flashed at that moment over the
floor. I had always liked him, and thought him the only real gentleman
in town, but something quite new in my experience made my heart swell as
I met his eyes that day, and though I will not call it love (not now),
it was something which greatly moved me and made me feel that in the
gaze and seeming interest of this man I saw the true road to happiness
and to the only life which would ever really satisfy me. For, let it be
my excuse, under all my vanity, a vanity greater for the seeming check
it had received, dwelt an ardent and irrepressible desire for affection,
such affection as I had never received since my dying mother laid her
trembling hand upon my head and bade me trust the good God for a
happiness I had never possessed. My disfigurement owed its deepest sting
to the fact, never revealed to others before, and scarcely acknowledged
to myself then, that it stood in the way, as I thought, to my ever being
passionately beloved. When, therefore, I saw the smile on Dr. Sellick's
face, and realized that he was looking for me, I rose up with new hopes
in my heart and a new brightness in my life.

"But we said nothing, he or I, beyond the merest commonplaces, and had
my powers of observation been as keen then as they are now, since a new
light has been shed upon those days, I would have perceived that his eye
did not brighten when it rested upon me, save when some chance mention
was made of Emma, and of the pleasures she was enjoying abroad. But no
doubts came to me at that time. Because my heart was warm I took it for
granted that his was so also, and not dreaming of any other reason for
his attentions than the natural one of his desiring my society for its
own sake, I gradually gave myself up to a feeling of which it is shame
now for me to speak, but which, as it was the origin of all my troubles,
I must compel myself to acknowledge here in all its force and fervor.

"The fact that he never uttered a word of love or showed me any
attention beyond that of being constantly at my side, did not serve to
alarm or even dispirit me. I knew him to have just started upon his
career as physician, and also knew him to be proud, and was quite
content to cherish my hopes and look towards a future that had
unaccountably brightened into something very brilliant indeed.

"It was while matters were in this condition that Emma came home from
her trip. I remember the occasion well, and how pretty she looked in her
foreign gowns. You, who have only seen her under a shadow, cannot
imagine how pleasing she was, fresh from her happy experiences abroad,
and an ocean trip, which had emphasized the roses on her cheek and the
brightness in her eyes. But though I saw it all and felt that I could
never compete with the gaiety which was her charm, I did not feel that
old sickly jealousy of her winsome ways which once distorted her figure
in my eyes, nor did I any longer hate her laugh or shrink from her merry
banter. For I had my own happiness, as I thought, and could afford to be
lenient towards a gay young thing who had no secret hope like mine to
fill her heart and make it too rich with joy for idle mirth.

"It was a gay season for humble little Marston, and various picnics
followed by a ball in Hartford promised festivities enough to keep us
well alive. I did not care for festivities, but I did care for Dr.
Sellick, and picnics and balls offered opportunities beyond those given
by his rather commonplace visits to the house. I therefore looked
forward to the picnics at the seashore with something like expectancy,
and as proof of my utter blindness to the real state of affairs, it
never even entered into my head that it would be the scene of his first
meeting with Emma after an absence of many months.

"Nor did any behavior on his part at this picnic enlighten me as to his
true feelings, or the direction in which they ran. He greeted Emma in my
presence, and the unusual awkwardness with which he took her hand told
me nothing, though it may have whispered something to her. I only
noticed that he had the most refined features and the most intellectual
head of any one present, and was very happy thereat, and disposed to
accord him an interview if he showed any inclination to draw me away
from the rest of the merry-makers. But he did not, though he strolled
several times away by himself; and once I saw him chatting with Emma;
but this fact made no impression upon me and my Fool's Paradise remained
still intact.

"But that night on reaching home I felt that something was going wrong.
Aunt Lovell was then with us, and I saw her cast a glance of dismay upon
me as I entered the room where she and Emma had been closeted together.
Emma, too, looked out of sorts, and hardly spoke to me when I passed her
in the hall. Indeed, that quick temper of which I have already spoken
was visible in her eyes, and if I had opened my own lips I am sure she
would have flashed out with some of her bitter speeches. But I was
ignorant of having given her any cause for anger; so, thinking she was
jealous of the acquirements which I had made in her absence, and the
advantages they now gave me in any gathering where cultured people came
together, I hurried by her in some disdain, and in the quiet of my own
room regained the equanimity my aunt's look and Emma's manifest
ill-feeling towards me had for a moment shaken.

"It was the last time I was to encounter anger in that eye. When I met
her next morning I discovered that some great change had passed over
her. The high spirits I had always secretly deprecated were gone, and in
their place behold an indescribable gentleness of manner which has never
since forsaken her.

"But this was not all; her attitude towards me was different. From
indifference it had budded into love; and if one can become devoted in a
night, then was it devotion that she showed in every look and every word
she bestowed upon me from that day. The occasion for this change I did
not then know; when I did, a change passed over me also.

"Meantime a grave event took place. I was out walking, and my path took
me by the church. I mean the one that stands by itself on the top of the
hill. Perhaps you have been there, perhaps you have not. It is a
lonesome-looking structure, but it has pleasant surroundings, while the
view of the sea which you get from its rear is superb. I often used to
go there, just for the breath of salt-water that seemed to hover about
the place, and as there was a big flat stone in the very spot most
favorable for observation, I was accustomed to sit there for hours with
my book or pencil for company.

"Had Edgar Sellick loved me he would have been acquainted with my
habits. This is apparent to me now, but then I seemed to see nothing
beyond my own wishes and hopes. But this does not explain what happened
to me there. I was sitting on the stone of which I have spoken, and was
looking at the long line of silver light on the horizon which we call
the sea, when I suddenly heard voices. Two men were standing on the
other side of the church, engaged, in all probability, in gazing at the
landscape, but talking on a subject very remote from what they saw
before them. I heard their words distinctly. They were these:

"'I tell you she is beautiful.'

"I did not recognize the voice making use of this phrase, but the one
that answered was well known to me, and its tones went through me like a
knife.

"'Oh, yes, if you only see one side of her face.'

"They were speaking of me, and the last voice, careless, indifferent,
almost disdainful as it was, was that of Edgar Sellick.

"I quailed as at a mortal blow, but I did not utter a sound. I do not
know as I even moved; but that only shows the control a woman
unconsciously holds over herself. For nothing short of a frenzied scream
could have voiced the agony I felt, or expressed the sudden revolt which
took place within me, sickening me at once with life, past, present, and
future. Not till they had strolled away did I rise and dash down the
hill into the wood that lies at its foot, but when I felt myself alone
and well shielded from the view of any chance observer, I groaned again
and again, and wrung my hands in a misery to which I can do but little
justice now. I had been thrust so suddenly out of paradise. I had been
so sure of _his_ regard, _his_ love. The scar which disfigured me in
other eyes had been, as I thought, no detriment in his. He loved me, and
saw nothing in me but what was consistent with that love. And now I
heard him with my own ears speak contemptuously of that scar. All that I
had hoped, all that I had confided in, was gone from me in an instant,
and I felt myself toppling into a misery I could neither contemplate nor
fathom. For an hour I walked the paths of that small wood, communing
with myself; then I took my resolve. Life, which had brought me nothing
but pain and humiliation, was not worth living. The hopes I had
indulged, the love in which I had believed, had proved a mockery, and
the shame which their destruction brought was worse than death, and so
to be more shunned than death. I was determined to die.

"The means were ready to my hand. Further on in that very wood I knew of
a pool. It was a deep, dark, deadly place, as its name of Devil's
Cauldron betokens, and in it I felt I could most fitly end the life that
was dear to no one. I began to stray towards that place. As I went I
thought of home, but with no feelings of longing or compunction. Emma
might be kind, had been kind for the last day or so, but Emma did not
love me, would not sacrifice anything for me, would not grieve, save in
the decent way her sisterhood would naturally require. As for my father,
he would feel the interruption it would cause in his experiments, but
that would not last long, and in a few days he would be again in his
beloved laboratory. No one, not a single being, unless it was dear Aunt
Lovell, would sincerely mourn me or sigh over the death of the poor girl
with a scar. Edgar Sellick might raise his eyebrows in some surprise,
and Edgar Sellick should know what a careless word could do. I had a
pencil and paper in my pocket, and I meant to use them. He should not go
through life happy and careless, when a line from me would show him that
the death of one who had some claims upon his goodness, lay at his door.

"The sight of the dim, dark pool did not frighten me from these
intentions. I was in that half-maddened state of disgust and shame which
makes the promise of any relief look inviting and peaceful. I loved the
depth of that cool, clear water. I saw in it rest, peace, oblivion. Had
I not had that letter to write I would have tasted that rest and peace,
and these words would never have come to your eyes. But the few minutes
I took to write some bitter and incoherent lines to Dr. Sellick saved me
from the doom I contemplated. Have I reason to be thankful it was so?
To-morrow morning will tell me.

"The passion which guided my pencil was still in my face when I laid the
paper down on the bank and placed a stone above it. The eyes which saw
those evidences of passion were doubtless terrified by them, for as I
passed to the brink of the pool and leaned over it I felt a frenzied
grasp on my arm, and turning, I met the look of Emma fixed upon me in
mortal terror and apprehension.

"'What are you going to do?' she cried. 'Why are you leaning over the
Devil's Cauldron like that?'

"I had not wished to see her or to say good-by to any one. But now, that
by some unaccountable chance she had come upon me, in my desperation I
would give her one kiss before I went to my doom.

"'Emma,' I exclaimed, meeting her look without any sharp sense of shame,
'life is not as promising for me as it is for you; life is not promising
for me at all, so I seek to end it.'

"The horror in her eyes deepened. The grasp on my arm became like that
of a man.

"'You are mad,' she cried. 'You do not know what you are doing. What
has happened to drive you to a deed like this? I--I thought--' and here
she stammered and lost for the moment her self-control--'that you seemed
very happy last night.'

"'I was,' I cried. 'I did not know then what a blighted creature I was.
I thought some one might be brought to love me, even with this
frightful, hideous scar on my face. But I know now that I am mistaken;
that no man will ever overlook this; that I must live a lonely life, a
suffering life; and I have not the strength or the courage to do so.
I--I might have been beautiful,' I cried, 'but----'

"Her face, suddenly distorted by the keenest pain, drew my attention,
even at that moment of immeasurable woe, and made me stop and say in
less harsh and embittered tones:

"'No one will miss me very much, so do not seek to stop me.'

"Her head fell forward, her eyes sought the ground, but she did not
loosen her hold on my arm. Instead of that, it tightened till it felt
like a band of steel.

"'You have left a letter there,' she murmured, allowing her eyes to
wander fearfully towards it. 'Was it to me? to our father?'

"'No,' I returned.

"She shuddered, but her eyes did not leave the spot. Suddenly her lips
gave a low cry; she had seen the word _Sellick_.

"'Yes,' I answered in response to what I knew were her thoughts. 'It is
that traitor who is killing me. He has visited me day by day, he has
followed me from place to place; he has sought me, smiled upon me, given
me every token of love save that expressed in words; and now, now I hear
him, when he does not know I am near, speak disrespectfully of my looks,
of this scar, as no man who loves, or ever will love, could speak of any
defect in the woman he has courted.'

"'You did not hear aright,' came passionately from her lips. 'You are
mistaken. Dr. Sellick could not so far forget himself.'

"'Dr. Sellick can and did. Dr. Sellick has given me a blow for which his
fine art of healing can find no remedy. Kiss me, Emma, kiss me, dear
girl, and do not hold me so tight; see, we might tumble into the water
together.'

"'And if we did,' she gasped, 'it would be better than letting you go
alone. No, no, Hermione, you shall never plunge into that pool while I
live to hold you back. Listen to me, listen. Am I nothing to you? Will
you not live for me? I have been careless, I know, happy in my own hopes
and pleasures, and thinking too little, oh, much too little, of the
possible griefs or disappointments of my only sister. But this shall be
changed; I promise you shall all be changed. I will live for you
henceforth; we will breathe, work, suffer, enjoy together. No sister
shall be tenderer, no lover more devoted than I will be to you. If you
do not marry, then will not I. No pleasure that is denied you shall be
accepted by me. Only come away from this dark pool; quit casting those
glances of secret longing into that gruesome water. It is too awful, too
loathsome a place to swallow so much beauty; for you are beautiful, no
matter what any one says; so beautiful that it is almost a mercy you
have some defect, or we should not dare to claim you for our own, you
are so far above what any of us could hope for or expect.'

"But the bitterness that was in my soul could not be so easily
exorcised.

"'You are a good girl,' I said, 'but you cannot move me from my
purpose.' And I tried to disengage myself from her clasp.

"But the young face, the young form which I had hitherto associated only
with what was gay, mirthful, and frivolous, met me with an aspect which
impressed even me and made me feel it was no child I had to deal with
but a woman as strong and in a state of almost as much suffering as
myself.

"'Hermione,' she cried, 'if you throw yourself into that pool, I shall
follow you. I will not live ten minutes after you. Do you know why?
Because I--_I_ caused you that scar which has been the torment of your
life. It was when we were children--babes, and I have only known it
since last night. Auntie Lovell told me, in her sympathy for you and her
desire to make me more sisterly. The knowledge has crushed me, Hermione;
it has made me hate myself and love you. Nothing I can do now can ever
atone for what I did then; though I was so young, it was anger that gave
me strength to deal the blow which has left this indelible mark behind
it. Isn't it terrible? I the one to blame and you the one to
suffer!--But there must be no dying, Hermione, no dying, or I shall feel
myself a murderess. And you do not want to add that horror to my
remorse, now that I am old enough to feel remorse, and realize your
suffering. You will be a little merciful and live for my sake if not for
your own.'

"She was clinging to me, her face white and drawn, upturned towards mine
with pitiful pleading, but I had no words with which to comfort her, nor
could I feel as yet any relenting in my fixed purpose. Seeing my unmoved
look she burst into sobs, then she cried suddenly:

"'I see I must prepare to die too. But not to-day, Hermione. Wait a
month, just one month, and then if you choose to rush upon your fate, I
will not seek to deter you, I will simply share it; but not to-day, not
in this rush of maddened feeling. Life holds too much,--may yet give you
too much, for any such reckless disregard of its prospects. Give it one
chance, then, and me one chance--it is all I ask. One month of quiet
waiting and then--decision.'

"I knew no month would make any difference with me, but her passionate
pleading began to work upon my feelings.

"'It will be a wretched time for me,' said I, 'a purgatory which I shall
be glad to escape.'

"'But for my sake,' she murmured, 'for my sake; I am not ready to die
yet, and your fate--I have said it--shall be mine.'

"'For your sake then,' I cried, and drew back from the dangerous brink
upon which we had both been standing. 'But do not think,' I added, as we
paused some few feet away, 'that because I yield now, I will yield then.
If after a month of trying to live, I find myself unable, I shall not
consult you, Emma, as to my determination, any more than I shall expect
you to embrace my doom because in the heat of your present terror you
have expressed your intention of doing so.'

"'Your fate shall be my fate, as far as I myself can compass it,' she
reiterated. And I, angry at what I thought to be an unwarrantable
attempt to put a check upon me, cried out in as bitter a tone as I had
ever used:

"'So be it,' and turned myself towards home."



XXI.

IN THE LABORATORY.


"But Emma, with a careful remembrance of what was due to my better
nature, stopped to pick up the letter I had left lying under a stone,
and joining me, placed it in my hand, by which it was soon crumpled up,
torn, and scattered to the wind. As the last bits blew by us, we both
sighed and the next minute walked rapidly towards home.

"You will say that all this was experience enough for one day, but fate
sometimes crowds us with emotions and eventful moments. As we entered
the house, I saw auntie waiting for us at the top of the first stairs;
and when she beckoned to Emma only, I was glad--if I could be glad of
anything--that I was to be left for a few minutes to myself. Turning
towards a little crooked staircase which leads to that part of the house
containing my own room and my father's laboratory, I went wearily up,
feeling as if each step I took dragged a whole weight of woe behind it.

"I was going to my own room, but as I passed the open laboratory door,
I perceived that the place was empty, and the fancy took me, I know not
why, to go in. I had never liked the room, it was so unnaturally long,
so unnaturally dismal, and so connected with the pursuits I had come to
detest. Now it had an added horror for me. Here Dr. Sellick had been
accustomed to come, and here was the very chair in which he had sat, and
the table at which he had worked. Why, then, with all this old and new
shrinking upon me did I persistently cross the threshold and darken my
already clouded spirit with the torturing suggestions I found there? I
do not know. Perhaps my evil spirit lured me on; perhaps--I am beginning
to believe in a Providence now--God had some good purpose in leading me
to fresh revelations, though up to this time they have seemed to cause
me nothing but agony and shame.

"No one was in the room, I say, and I went straight to its middle
window. Here my father's desk stood, for he used the room for nearly
every purpose of his life. I did not observe the desk; I did not observe
anything till I turned to leave; then I caught sight of a letter lying
on the desk, and stopped as if I had been clutched by an iron hand, for
it was an open letter, and the signature at the bottom of the sheet was
that of Edgar Sellick.

"'Can I never escape from that man?' thought I, and turned passionately
away. But next minute I found myself bending over it, devouring it first
with my eyes, and then taking it to my heart, for it was an expression
of love for the daughter of the man to whom it was addressed, and that
man was my father.

"This language as I now know referred to Emma, and she was under no
error in regard to it, nor was my father nor my aunt. But I thought it
referred to me, and as I read on and came upon the sentence in which he
asked, as I supposed, for my hand and the privilege of offering himself
to me at the coming ball, I experienced such a revulsion of feeling that
I lost all memory of the words I had overheard him speak, or attributed
them to some misunderstanding on my part, which a word or look from him
could easily explain.

"Life bloomed for me again, and I was happy, madly happy for a few short
moments. Even the horrible old room I was in seemed cheerful, and I was
just acknowledging to myself that I should have made a great mistake if
I had carried out my wicked impulse toward self-destruction, when my
father came in. He shrank back when he saw me; but I thought nothing of
that; I did not even wonder why Emma was closeted with aunt. I only
thought of the coming ball, and the necessity of preparing myself for it
right royally.

"I had come from the desk, and was crossing the floor to go out. My
happiness made me turn.

"'Father,' said I, taking what I thought to be an arch advantage of the
situation; 'may I not have a new dress for the ball?'

"He paused, cast a glance at his desk, and then another at me. He had
been, though I did not know it, in conversation with Emma and my aunt,
and was more alive to the matters of the hour than usual. It was
therefore with some display of severity that he confronted me and said:

"'You are not going to the ball, Hermione.'

"Struck as by a blow, the more severely that it was wholly unexpected, I
gasped:

"'Not going to the ball when you know what depends upon it? Do you not
like Dr. Sellick, father?'

"He mumbled something between his lips, and advancing to the desk, took
up the letter which he thus knew I had read, and ostentatiously folded
it.

"'I like Dr. Sellick well enough,' was his reply, 'but I do not approve
of balls, and desire you to keep away from them.'

"'But you said we might go,' I persisted, suspecting nothing, seeing
nothing in this but a parent's unreasonable and arbitrary display of
power. 'Why have you changed your mind? Is it because Dr. Sellick has
fixed upon that time for making me the offer of his hand?'

"'Perhaps,' his dry lips said.

"Angry as I had never been in all my life, I tried to speak, and could
not. Had I escaped suicide to have my hopes flung in this wanton way
again to the ground, and for no reason that I or any one else could
see?'

"'But you acknowledge,' I managed at last to stammer, 'that you like
him.'

"'That is not saying I want him for a son-in-law.'

"'Whom do you want?' I cried. 'Is there any one else in town superior to
him in wit or breeding? If he loves me----'

"My father's lip curled.

"'He says he does,' I flashed out fiercely.

"'You should not have read my letters,' was all my father replied.

"I was baffled, exasperated, at my wits' end; all the more that I saw
his eye roaming impatiently towards the pneumatic trough where some
hydrogen gas was collecting for use.

"'Father, father,' I cried, 'be frank to me. What are your objections to
Dr. Sellick? He is your friend; he works with you; he is promising in
his profession; he has every qualification but that of wealth----'

"'That is enough,' broke in my father.

"I looked at him in dismay and shrank back. How could I know he was
honestly trying to save me from a grief and shame they all thought me
unequal to meeting. I saw nothing but his cold smile, heard nothing but
his harsh words.

"'You are cruel; you are heartless,' burst from me in a rage. 'You never
have shown the least signs of a mercenary spirit before, and now you
make Dr. Sellick's lack of money an excuse for breaking my heart.'

"'Hermione,' my father slowly rejoined, 'you have a frightful temper.
You had better keep down the exhibitions of it when you are in this
room.'

"'This room!' I repeated, almost beside myself. 'This grave rather of
every gentle feeling and tender thought which a father should have
towards a most unfortunate child. If you loved me but half as well as
you love these old jars----'

"But here his face, usually mild in its abstraction, turned so pale and
hard that I was frightened at what I had said.

"'Hermione,' he cried, 'there is no use trying to show you any
consideration. Know the truth then; know that----'

"Why did he not go on? Why was he not allowed to tell me what I may have
been but little fitted to hear, but which if I had heard it at that time
would have saved me from many grave and fatal mistakes. I think he would
have spoken; I think he meant to tell me that Dr. Sellick's offer was
for Emma, and not for me, but Emma herself appeared just then at the
door, and though I did not detect the gesture she made, I gather that it
was one of entreaty from the way he paused and bit his lip.

"'It is useless to talk,' he exclaimed. 'I have said that you are to
stay home from the ball. I also say that you are not to accept or refuse
Dr. Sellick's addresses. I will answer his letter, and it will not be
one of acceptance.'

"Why did I not yield to his will and say nothing? When I saw how
everything was against me, why did I not succumb to circumstances, and
cease to maintain a struggle I knew then to be useless? Because it was
not in my nature to do so; because Providence had given me an
indomitable will which had never been roused into its utmost action till
now. Drawing myself up till I felt that I was taller than he, I advanced
with all the fury of suppressed rage, and quietly said the fatal words
which, once uttered, I never knew how to recall:

"'If you play the tyrant, I will not play the part of submissive slave.
Keep me here if you will; restrain me from going where my fancy and my
desires lead, and I will obey you. But, father, if you do this, if you
do not allow me to go to the ball, meet Dr. Sellick, and accept his
offer, then mark me, I will never go out of this house again. Where you
keep me I will stay till I am carried out a corpse, and no one and
nothing shall ever make me change my mind.'

"He stared, laughed, then walked away to his pneumatic trough. 'Suit
yourself about that,' said he, 'I have nothing to do with your whims.'
Probably he thought I was raving and would forget my words before the
day was out.

"But there was another person present who knew me better, and I only
realized what I had done when I beheld Emma's slight body lying
insensible at my feet."



XXII.

STEEL MEETS STEEL.


Up to this point Frank had read with an absorption which precluded the
receiving of all outward impressions. But the secret reached, he drew a
long breath and became suddenly conscious of a lugubrious sound breaking
in upon the silence with a gloomy iteration which was anything but
cheering.

The fog-horn was blowing out on Dog Island.

"I could have done without that accompaniment," thought he, glancing at
the sheets still before him. "It gives me a sense of doom."

But the fog was thick on the coast and the horn kept on blowing.

Frank took up the remaining sheets.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Life for me was now at an end indeed, and not for me only, but for
Emma. I had not meant to involve her in my fate. I had forgotten her
promise, _forgotten_. But when I saw her lying there I remembered, and a
sharp pang pierced me for all my devouring rage. But I did not recall my
words, I could not. I had uttered them with a full sense of what they
meant to me, and the scorn with which they were received only deepened
my purpose to keep the threat I had made. Can you understand such a
disposition, and can you continue to love the possessor of it?

"My father, who was shocked at Emma's fall, knowing better than I did
perhaps the real misery which lay behind it, cast me a look which did
not tend to soften my obduracy, and advanced to pick her up. When he had
carried her to her own room, I went proudly to mine, and such was the
depth of my anger and the obstinate nature of my will that I really felt
better able to face the future now that I had put myself into a position
requiring pride and purpose to sustain it. But I did feel some relenting
when I next saw Emma--such a change was visible in her manner. Meekness
had taken the place of the merriment which once made the house to ring,
and the eye which once sparkled now showed sadness and concern. I did
not, however suspect she had given up anything but freedom, and though
this was much, as I very soon began to find, I was not yet by any means
so affected by her devotion, that I could do more than beg her to
reconsider her own determination and break a promise from which I would
be only too happy to release her.

"But the answer with which she always met my remonstrances was, 'Your
fate shall be my fate. When it becomes unbearable to us both you will
release me by releasing yourself.' Which answer always hardened me
again, for I did not wish to be forced to think that the breaking up of
our seclusion rested with me, or that anything but a relenting on my
father's part could make any change in my conduct.

"Meanwhile that father maintained towards me an air of the utmost
indifference. He worked at his experiments as usual, came and went
through the sombre house, which was unrelieved now by Emma's once bright
sallies and irrepressible laughter, and made no sign that he saw any
difference in it or us. Aunt Lovell alone showed sympathy, and when she
saw that sympathy accomplished nothing, tried first persuasion and then
argument.

"But she had iron and steel to deal with and she soon ceased her gentle
efforts, and as the time of her visit was drawing to a close, returned
again to those gentle expressions of silent sympathy more natural to her
nature; and so the first week passed.

"We had determined, Emma and I, that no one beside our four selves
should ever know the secret of our strange behavior. Neighbors might
guess, gossips might discuss it, but no one should ever know why we no
longer showed ourselves in the street, went to any of the social
gatherings of the place, or attended the church from which we had never
before been absent. When, therefore, the ball came off and we were not
seen there, many were the questions asked, and many were the surmises
uttered, but we did not betray our secret, nor was it for some time
after this that the people about us awoke to the fact that we no longer
left our home.

"What happened when this fact was fully realized, I will not pause to
relate, for matters of a much more serious nature press upon me and I
must now speak of the bitter and terrible struggle which gradually awoke
between my father and myself. He had as I have already related, shown
nothing at first but indifference, but after the first week had passed
he suddenly seemed to realize that I meant what I said. The result was a
conflict between us from the effects of which I am still suffering.

"The first intimation I received of his determination to make me break
my word came on a Sunday morning. He had been in his room dressing for
church, and when he came out he rapped at my door and asked if I were
ready to go with him.

"Naturally I flung wide the door and let him see my wrathful figure in
its morning dress.

"'Can you ask,' I cried, 'when you yourself have made it impossible for
me to enjoy anything outside of this house, even the breath of fresh air
to which all are entitled?'

"He looked as if he would like to strike me, but he did not--only
smiled. If I could have known all that lay under that smile, or been
able to fathom from what I knew of my own stubborn nature, the terrible
depths which its sarcasm barely suggested!

"'You would be a fool if you were not so wicked,' was all he said, and
shuffled away to my sister's door.

"In a few minutes he came back.

"'Hermione,' he cried, 'put on your hat and come directly with me to
church.'

"I simply looked at him.

"'Do you hear?' he exclaimed, stepping into the room and shutting the
door after him. 'I have had enough of this nonsense, and to-day you go
out with me to church or you never shall call me father again.'

"'Have you been a father to me?' I asked.

"He shook and quivered and was a picture of rage. I remembered as I
looked at him, thinking, 'Behold the source of my own temper,' but I
said nothing, and was in no other way affected by what I saw.

"'I have been such a father to you as your folly and blindness
deserved,' he exclaimed. 'Should I continue to treat you according to
your deserts, I would tell you what would lay you in shame at my feet.
But I have promised to be silent, and silent will I be, not out of
consideration for you, but because your punishment will some day be the
greater. Will you give up this whim and go with me, and so let your
sister go also, or will you not?'

"'I will not.'

"He showed a sudden change of manner. 'I will ask you the same question
next Sunday,' said he, and left my presence with his old air of
indifference and absorption. No subject disconnected with his work could
rouse more than a temporary passion in him.

"He kept his word. Every Sunday morning he came on the same errand to
my door, and every Sunday he went forth alone. During the week days he
did not trouble me. Indeed, I do not know as he thought of me then, or
even of Emma, who had always been dearer to him than I. He was engaged
on some new experiment, some vital discovery that filled him with
enthusiasm and made every moment passed out of his laboratory a trial
and a loss to him. He ate that he might work, he slept that he might
gather new strength and inspiration for the next day. If visitors came
he refused to see them; the one visitor who could have assisted him at
the retort and crucible had been denied the door, and any other was a
hindrance. Our troubles, our cares, our schemes, or our attempts to
supply the table and dress ourselves upon the few and fewer dollars he
now allowed us, sank into insignificance before the one idea with which
he was engrossed. I do not think he even knew when we ceased having meat
for dinner. That Emma was growing pale and I desperate did not attract
his attention as much as a speck of dust upon a favorite jar or a crack
in one of his miserable tubes.

"That this deep absorption of his was real and not assumed was made
evident to me the first Sunday morning he forgot to come to my door. It
was a relief not to have to go through the usual formula, but it alarmed
me too. I was afraid I was to be allowed to go my own way unhindered,
and I was beginning to feel a softness towards Emma and a longing for
the life of the world, which made me anxious for some excuse to break a
resolution which was entailing upon me so much more suffering than I had
anticipated. Indeed, I think if my father had persisted in his practice
and come but two or three Sunday mornings more to my door, that my pride
would have yielded at last, and my feet in spite of me have followed him
out of a house that, since it had become my prison, had become more than
ever hateful to me. But he stopped just as a crisis was taking place in
my feelings, and my heart hardened again. Before it could experience
again the softening effects of Emma's uncomplaining presence the news
came that Dr. Sellick had left the town, and my motive for quitting the
house was taken from me. Henceforth I felt no more life or hope or
ambition than if I had been an automaton.

"This mood received one day a startling interruption. As I was sitting
in my room with a book in my hand I felt too listless to read, the door
opened, and my father stood before me. As it was weeks since he had
appeared on a Sunday morning and months since he had showed himself
there on a week day, I was startled, especially as his expression was
more eager and impatient than I had ever seen it except when he was
leaning over his laboratory table. Was his heart touched at last? Had he
good news for me, or was he going to show his fatherhood once more by
proffering me an invitation to go out with him in a way which my pride
would allow me to accept? I rose in a state of trembling agitation, and
made up my mind that if he spoke kindly I would break the hideous bonds
which held me and follow him quickly into the street.

"But the words which fell from his lips drove every tender impulse back
into my heart.

"'Have you any jewels, Hermione? I think I gave your mother some pearls
when we were married. Have you them? I want them if you have.'

"The revulsion of feeling was too keen. Quivering with disappointment, I
cried out, bitterly:

"'What to do? To give us bread? We have not had any too much of it
lately.'

"He stared, but did not seem to take in my words.

"'Fetch the pearls,' he cried; 'I cannot afford to waste time like this;
my experiments will suffer.'

"'And have you no eye, no heart,' I asked, 'for the sufferings of your
daughters? With no motive but an arbitrary love of power, you robbed me
of my happiness. Now you want my jewels; the one treasure I have left
either in the way of value, or as a remembrance of the mother who loved
me.'

"Of all this he heard but one word.

"'Are they valuable?' he asked. 'I had hoped so, but I did not know. Get
them, child, get them. The discovery upon which my fame may rest will
yet be made.'

"'Father, father, you want to sell them,' I screamed. 'My mother's
jewels; my dead mother's jewels!'

"He looked at me; this protest had succeeded in entering his ears, and
his eye, which had been simply eager, became all at once dangerous.

"'I do not care whose they were,' he hissed, 'so long as they are now
mine. It is money I want, and money I will have, and if they will get it
for me you had better be thankful. Otherwise I shall have to find some
other way to raise it.'

"I was cowed; he did not say what other way, but I knew by his look I
had better not drive him into it, so I went to the place where I kept
these sacred relics, and taking them out, laid them in his trembling,
outstretched hand.

"'Are these all?' he asked. And I wondered, for he had never shown the
least shrewdness in any matter connected with money before.

"'All but a trivial little locket which Emma wears,' said I.

"'Is it worth much?'

"'Scarcely five dollars,' I returned.

"'Five dollars would buy the bit of platinum I want,' he muttered. But
he did not ask for the locket, for I saw it on Emma's neck the next day.

"This was the beginning of a fresh struggle. My father begrudged us
everything: the food we ate; the plain, almost homely, clothes we wore.
He himself wellnigh starved his own body, and when in the midst of an
experiment, his most valuable retort broke in his hand, you could have
heard his shriek of dismay all over the house. The following Sunday he
did not go to church; he no longer had a coat to wear; he had sold his
only broadcloth suit to a wandering pedlar.

"Our next shock was the dismissal of the man who had always kept our
garden in order. Doris would have been sent away also, but that father
knew this would mean a disorder in the household which might entail
interruption in his labors. He did not dare to leave himself to the
tender mercies of his daughters. But her pay was stopped.

"Meanwhile his discovery delayed. It was money that he needed, he said,
more money, much more money. He began to sell his books. In the midst of
this a stranger came to visit him, and now the real story of my misery
begins."



XXIII.

A GROWING HORROR.


"There are some men who fill you from the beginning with a feeling of
revulsion. Such a one was Antony Harding. When he came into the parlor
where I sat, I felt it difficult to advance and greet him with the
necessary formalities, so forcibly did I shrink from his glance, his
smile, his bow of easy assurance. Not that he was ugly of feature, or
possessed of any very distinguishing marks in face or form to render him
personally repulsive. He was what some might have called good-looking,
and many others a gentlemanly-appearing man. But to me he was simply
revolting, and I could not then or now tell why, for, as far as I know,
he has never done anything incompatible with his standing as a gentleman
and a man of family and wealth.

"He had some claim upon my father, and desired very much to see him. I,
who could not dispute that claim, was going to call my father, when Mr.
Harding stopped me, thinking, I really believe, that he would not see me
again, and I was forced, greatly against my will, to stand and answer
some half-dozen innocent enough questions, while his eyes roamed over my
features and took in the scar I turned towards him as a sort of defence.
Then he let me go, but not before I saw in him the beginning of that
fever which made me for a while hate the very name of love.

"With a sense of disgust quite new to me, I rushed from the room to the
laboratory. The name by which he had introduced himself was a strange
one to me, and I had no idea my father would see him. But as soon as I
uttered the word Harding, the impatience with which he always met any
interruption gave way to a sudden and irresistible joy, and, jumping up
from his seat, he cried:

"'Show him up! show him up. He is a rich man and interested in
chemistry. He cannot but foresee the fame which awaits the man who
brings to light the discovery I am seeking.'

"'He says he has some claim on you,' I murmured, anything but pleased at
this prospect of seeing a man whose presence I so disliked, inveigled
into matters which might demand his reappearance in the house.

"'Claims? claims? Perhaps he has; I cannot remember. But send him up; I
shall soon make him forget any claims he may have.'

"I did as my father bade me. I sent the smiling, dapper, disagreeably
attentive man to the laboratory, and when this was done, went to the
window and threw it up with some vague idea of cleansing the room from
an influence which stifled me.

"You may imagine then with what a sense of apprehension I observed that
my father fairly glowed with delight when he came to the supper-table.
From being the half-sullen, half-oblivious companion who had lately
chilled our board and made it the scene of anything but cheer or
comfort, he had brightened at once into a garrulous old man, ready with
jests and full of condescending speeches in regard to his great
experiments. Emma, to whom I had said nothing, looked her innocent
pleasure at this, and both of us started in amazement when he suddenly
turned towards me, and surveyed me with something like interest and
pleasurable curiosity.

"'Why do you look at me like that?' I could not help saying. 'I should
think you had never seen me before, father.'

"'Perhaps I never have,' he laughed. Then quite seriously: 'I was
looking to see if you were as handsome as Mr. Harding said you were. He
told me he had never seen so beautiful a woman in his life.'

"I was shocked; more than that, I was terrified; I half-rose from the
table, and forgetting everything else which made my life a burden to me,
I had some wild idea of rushing from the house, from the town, anywhere
to escape the purpose I perceived forming itself in my father's mind.

"'Father,' I cried, with a trembling in my tones that was not common to
them, even in the moments of my greatest displeasure; 'I hate that man,
and abominate the very idea of his presuming to admire me. Do not ever
mention him to me again. It makes my very soul turn sick.'

"It was an unwise speech; it was the unwisest speech I could have made.
I felt this to be so the moment I had spoken, and stole a look of secret
dismay at Emma, who sat quite still and helpless, gazing, in silent
consternation, from my father to myself.

"'You will hate no one who can help me perfect my experiments,' he
retorted. 'If I command you to do so, you must even love him, though we
have not got so far as that yet.'

"'I will never love anybody again,' I answered bitterly. 'And I would
not love this man if your discoveries and my own life even hung upon
it.'

"'You would not?' He was livid now. 'Well, we shall see. He is coming
here to dinner to-morrow, and if you dare to show him anything but the
respect due to an honored guest you will live to rue it as you have
never rued anything yet.'

"Threats that are idle on some lips are anything but idle on ours, as I
think you have already begun to perceive. I therefore turned pale and
said no more, but all night the tormenting terror was upon me, and when
the next day came I was but little fitted to sustain the reputation for
beauty which I had so unfortunately earned from a distasteful man's lips
the day before.

"But Antony Harding was not one to easily change his first impressions.
He had made up his mind that I was beautiful, and he kept to that
opinion to the last. I had dressed myself in my most expensive but least
becoming gown, and I wore my hair in a way to shock the taste of most
men. But I saw from the first moment that his eyes fell on my face that
this made no difference to him, and that I must take other means to
disillusionize him. So then I resorted to a display of stupidity. I did
not talk, and looked, if I looked at all, as if I did not understand.
But he had seen glimpses of brightness in me the day before, and this
ruse succeeded no better than the other. He even acted as if he admired
me more as a breathing, sullen image than as a living, combative woman.

"My father, who watched us as he never had watched anything before but
rising bubbles of gas or accumulating crystals, did not show the
displeasure I feared, possibly because he saw that I was failing in all
my endeavors; and when the meal over, he led the way to the parlor, he
even smiled upon me in a not altogether unfriendly way. I felt a sinking
of the heart when I saw that smile. Better to me were his frowns, for
that smile told me that, love or no love, liking or no liking, I was to
be made the bait to win this man's money for the uses of chemistry.

"Walking steadfastly into the parlor, I met the stranger's admiring eye.

"'You would not think,' I remarked, 'that my life at present was
enclosed within these four walls.'

"It was the first sentence I had voluntarily addressed him, and it must
have struck him as a very peculiar one.

"'I do not understand what you mean,' he returned, with that unctuous
smile which to me was so detestable. 'Something interesting, I have no
doubt.'

"'Very interesting,' I dryly rejoined. 'I have taken a vow never to
leave this house, and I mean to keep it.'

"He stared at me now in some apprehension, and my heart gave a bound of
delight. I had frightened him. He thought I was demented.

"My father, seeing his look of astonishment, but not knowing what I had
said, here advanced and unconsciously made matters worse by remarking,
with an effort at jocularity:

"'Don't mind what Hermione says; for a smart girl and a good one, she
sometimes talks very peculiarly.'

"'I should think so,' my companion's manner seemed to assert, but he
gave a sudden laugh, and made some observation which I scarcely heard in
my fierce determination to end this matter at once.

"'Do you not think,' I persisted, 'that a woman who has doomed herself
to perpetual seclusion has a right to be peculiar?'

"'A woman of such beauty possesses most any rights she chooses to
assert,' was his somewhat lame reply. He had evidently received a shock,
and was greatly embarrassed.

"'I laughed low to myself, but my father, comprehending as in a flash
what I was attempting, turned livid and made me a threatening gesture.'

"'I fear,' said he, 'that you will have to excuse my daughter for
to-night. The misfortune which has befallen her has soured her temper,
and this is not one of her amiable days.'

"I made a curtsey deep as my disdain. 'I leave you to the enjoyment of
your criticisms,' I exclaimed, and fled from the room in a flutter of
mingled satisfaction and fear.

"For though I had saved myself from any possible persecution on the part
of Mr. Harding, I had done it at the cost of any possible reconciliation
between my father and myself. And I was not yet so hardened that I could
contemplate years of such life as I was then living without a pang of
dread. Alas! if I had known what I was indeed preparing for myself, and
how much worse a future dwelt in his mind than any I had contemplated!

"Emma, who had been a silent and unobtrusive witness to what had
occurred, soon followed me to my room.

"'What have you done?' she asked. 'Why speak so to a stranger?'

"'Father wants me to like him; father wants me to accept his attentions,
and I detest him. I abhor his very presence in the house.'

"'But----'

"'I know he has only been here but twice; but that is enough, Emma; he
shall not come here again with any idea that he will receive the least
welcome from me.'

"'Is he a person known to father? Is he----'

"'Rich? Oh, yes; he is rich. That is why father thinks him an eligible
son-in-law. His thousands would raise the threatened discovery into a
fact.'

"'I see. I pity you, Hermione. It is hard to disappoint a father in his
dearest hopes.'

"I stared at her in sudden fury.

"'Is that what you are thinking of?' I demanded, with reckless
impetuosity. 'After all the cruel disappointment he has inflicted upon
me----'

"But Emma had slipped from the room. She had no words now with which to
meet my gusts of temper.

"A visit from my father came next. Though strong in my resolve not to be
shaken, I secretly quaked at the cold, cruel determination in his face.
A man after all is so much more unrelenting than a woman.

"'Hermione,' he cried, 'you have disobeyed me. You have insulted my
guest, and you have shaken the hopes which I thought I had a right to
form, being your father and the author of your being. I said if you did
this you should suffer, but I mean to give you one more chance. Mr.
Harding was startled rather than alienated. If you show yourself in
future the amiable and sensible woman which you can be, he will forget
this foolish ebullition and make you the offer his passion inspires.
This would mean worldly prosperity, social consideration, and everything
else which a reasonable woman, even if she has been disappointed in
love, could require. While for me--you cannot know what it would be for
me, for you have no capability for appreciating the noble study to which
I am devoted.'

"'No,' I said, hard and cold as adamant, 'I have no appreciation for a
study which, like another Moloch, demands, not only the sacrifice of the
self-respect, but even the lives of your unhappy children.'

"'You rave,' was his harsh reply. 'I offer you all the pleasures of
life, and you call it immolation. Is not Mr. Harding as much of a
gentleman as Dr. Sellick? Do I ask you to accept the attentions of a
boor or a scape-grace? He is called a very honorable man by those who
know him, and if you were ten times handsomer than you are, ten times
more amiable, and had no defect calculated to diminish the regard of
most men, you would still be scarcely worthy to bear the name of so
wealthy, honorable, and highly esteemed a young man.'

"'Father, father!' I exclaimed, scarcely able to bear from him this
allusion to my misfortune.

"'Why he has taken such a sudden, and, if I may say it, violent fancy
to you, I find it hard to understand myself. But he has done this, and
he has not scrupled to tell me so, and to intimate that he would like
the opportunity of cultivating your good graces. Will you, then--I ask
it for the last time--extend him a welcome, or must I see my hopes
vanish, and with them a life too feeble to survive the disappointment
which their loss must occasion.'

"'I cannot give any sort of welcome to this man,' I returned. 'If I did,
I would be doing him a wrong, as well as you and myself. I dislike him,
father, more than I can make you understand. His presence is worse than
death to me; I would rather go to my coffin than to his arms. But if I
liked him, if he were the beau-ideal of my dreams, could I break the vow
I made one day in your presence? This man is not Dr. Sellick; do not
then seek to make me forget the oath of isolation I have taken.'

"'Fool! fool!' was my father's furious retort. 'I know he is not Dr.
Sellick. If he were I should not have his cause to plead to _you_.'

"How nearly his secret came out in his rage. 'If I could make you
understand; make you see----'

"'You make me see that I am giving you a great and bitter
disappointment,' I broke in. 'But it only equalizes matters; you have
given me one.'

"He bounded to my side; he seized my arm and shook it.

"'Drop that foolish talk,' he cried. 'I will hear no more of it, nor of
your staying in the house on that account or any other. You will go out
to-morrow. You will go out with Mr. Harding. You will----'

"'Father,' I put in, chill as ice, 'do you expect to carry me out in
your arms?'

"He fell back; he was a small man, my father, and I, as you know, am
large for a woman.

"'You vixen!' he muttered, 'curses on the day when you were born!'

"'That curse has been already pronounced,' I muttered.

"He stood still, he made no answer, he seemed to be gathering himself
together for a final appeal. Had he looked at me a little longer; had he
shown any sympathy for my position, any appreciation for my wrongs, or
any compunction for the share he had taken in them, I might have shown
myself to have possessed some womanly softness and latent gentleness.
But instead of that he took on in those few frightful moments such a
look of cold, calculating hate that I was at once steeled and appalled.
I hardly knew what he said when he cried at last:

"'Once! twice! thrice! Will you do what I desire, Hermione?'

"I only knew he had asked something I could not grant, so I answered,
with what calmness I could, in the old formula, now for some months gone
into disuse, 'I will not,' and sank, weary with my own emotions, into a
chair.

"He gave me one look--I shall never forget it,--and threw up his arms
with what sounded like an imprecation.

"'Then your sin be upon your own head!' he cried, and without another
word left the room.

"I was frightened; never had I seen such an expression on mortal face
before. And this was my father; the man who had courted my mother; who
had put the ring upon her finger at the altar; who had sat at her dying
bed and smiled as she whispered: 'For a busy man, you have always been a
good husband to me.' Was this or that the real man as he was? Had these
depths been always hidden within him, or had I created them there by my
hardness and disobedience? I will never know."



XXIV.

FATHER AND CHILD.


"The night which followed this day was a sleepless one for me. Yet how I
dreaded the morning! How I shrank from the first sight of my father's
face! Had Auntie Lovell been with us I should have prevailed upon her to
have gone to him and tried to smooth the way to some sort of
reconciliation between us, but she was in Chicago, and I was not yet
upon such terms with Emma that I could bear to make of her a go-between.
I preferred to meet him without apology, and by dutifulness in all other
respects make him forget in time my failure to oblige him in one. _I had
made up my mind to go out of the house that day, though not with Mr.
Harding._

"But sometimes it seems as if Providence stepped in our way when we try
to recover from any false position into which we have been betrayed by
the heat and stress of our own passions. When I tried to rise I found
myself ill, and for several days after that I knew little and cared less
where I was, or what my future was like to be. When I was well enough to
get up and go about my duties again, I found the house and my father in
very much the same condition as they were before the fatal appearance of
Mr. Harding. No look from his eye revealed that any great change had
taken place in his attitude towards me, and after learning that Mr.
Harding had come once since my illness, been closeted with my father for
some time, and had then gone away with a rather formal and hard good-by
to the anxious Emma, I began to feel that my fears had been part of the
delirium of the fever which had afterwards set in, and that I was
alarming myself and softening my heart more than was necessary.

"The consequence was that I did not go out that afternoon, nor the next
morning, nor for a week after, though I was always saying to myself that
I would surprise them yet by a sudden dash out of the house when they
showed, or rather my father showed, any such relenting in his studied
attitude of indifference as would make such an action on the part of one
constituted like myself, possible.

"But he was thinking of anything else but relenting, and even I began
to see in a few days that something portentous lay behind the apparent
apathy of his manner. He worked as he had of old, or rather he shut
himself up in his laboratory from morning until night, but when he did
appear, there was something new in his manner that deeply troubled me. I
began to shrink at the sound of his step, and more than once went
without a meal rather than meet the cold glance of his eye.

"Emma, who seemed to have little idea of what I suffered and of what I
dreaded (what did I dread? I hardly knew) used to talk to me sometimes
of our father's failing health; but I either hushed her or sat like a
stone, I was in such a state of shuddering horror. I remember one day as
I stole past the laboratory door, I beheld her with her arms round his
neck, and the sight filled me with tumult, but whether it was one of
longing or repugnance, or a mixture of both, I can hardly tell. But I
know it was with difficulty I repressed a cry of grief, and that when I
found myself alone my limbs were shaking under me like those of one
stricken with ague. At last there came a day when father was no longer
to be seen at the table. He ordered his meals brought to the laboratory,
but denied being sick. I stared at Emma, who delivered this message, and
asked her what she thought of it.

"'That he _is_ ill,' she declared.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Two weeks later my father called me into his presence. I went in fear
and trembling. He was standing by his desk in the laboratory, and I
could not repress a start of surprise when I saw the change which had
taken place in him. But I said nothing, only stood near the doorway and
waited for what he had to say.

"'Look at me,' he commanded. 'I am standing to-day; to-morrow I shall be
sitting. I wish you to watch your work; now go.'

"I turned, so shaken by his look and terrible wanness that I could
hardly stand. But at the door I paused and cried in irrepressible
terror:

"'You are ill; let me send for a doctor. I cannot see you dying thus
before my eyes.'

"'You cannot?' With what a grim chuckle he uttered the words. 'We will
see what you can bear.' Then as my eyes opened in terror, and I seemed
about to flee, he cried, 'No doctor, do you hear? I will see none. And
mark me, no talking about what goes on in this room, if you do not wish
my curse.'

"Aghast, I rushed from that unhallowed door. What did his words mean?
What was his purpose? Upon what precipice of horror was I stumbling?

"The next day he summoned me again. I felt too weak to go, but I dared
not disobey. I opened his door with a shaking hand, and found him
sitting, as he had promised, in an old arm-chair that had been his
mother's.

"'Do I look any better?' he asked.

"I shook my head. He was evidently much worse.

"'The poison of disobedience works slowly, but it works sure,' he cried.

"I threw up my arms with a shriek.

"He seemed to love the sound.

"'You do not enjoy the fruits of your actions,' said he. 'You love your
old father so dearly.'

"I held out my hands; I entreated; I implored.

"'Do not--do not look on me like this. Some dreadful thought is in your
mind--some dreadful revenge. Do not cherish it; do not make my already
ruined life a worse torture to me. Let me have help, let me send for a
doctor----'

"But his sternly lifted finger was already pointing at the door.

"'You have stayed too long,' he muttered. 'Next time you will barely
look in, and leave without a word.'

"I crouched, he cowed me so, and then fled, this time to find Emma,
Doris, some one.

"They were both huddled in the hall below. They had heard our voices and
were terrified at the sound.

"'Don't you think he is very ill?' asked Emma. 'Don't you think we ought
to have the doctor come, in spite of his commands to the contrary?'

"'Yes,' I gasped, 'and quickly, or we will feel like murderers.'

"'Dr. Dudgeon is a big know-nothing,' cried Doris.

"'But he is a doctor,' I said. And Doris went for him at once.

"When he came Emma undertook to take him to the laboratory; I did not
dare. I sat on the stairs and listened, shaking in every limb. What was
going on in that room? What was my father saying? What was the doctor
deciding? When the door opened at last I was almost unconscious. The
sound of the doctor's voice, always loud, struck upon my ears like
thunder, but I could not distinguish his words. Not till he had come
half-way down the stairs did I begin to understand them, and then I
heard:

"'A case of overwork! He will be better in a day or two. Send for me if
he seems any worse.'

"Overwork! that clay-white cheek! those dry and burning lips! the eyes
hollowed out as if death were already making a skeleton of him! I seized
the doctor's hand as he went by.

"'Are you sure that is all?' I cried.

"He gave me a pompous stare. 'I do not often repeat myself,' said he,
and went haughtily out without another word.

"Emma, standing at the top of the stairs, came down as the door closed
behind him.

"'Father was not so angry as I feared he would be. He smiled at the
doctor and seemed glad to see him. He even roused himself up to talk,
and for a few minutes did not look so ill as he really is.'

"'Did the doctor leave medicine?' I asked.

"'Oh, yes, plenty; powder and pills.'

"'Where is it?'

"'On father's desk. He says he will take it regularly. He would not let
me give it to him.'

"I reeled; everything seemed turning round with me.

"'Watch him,' I cried, 'watch----' and could say no more.
Unconsciousness had come to relieve me.

"It was dark when I came to myself. I was lying on my own bed, and by
the dim light burning on a small table near by I saw the form of Doris
bending over me. Starting up, I caught her by the arm.

"'What is going on?' I cried.

"Rude noises were in the house. A sound of breaking glass.

"'It comes from the laboratory,' she exclaimed, and rushed from the
room.

"I rose and had barely strength enough to follow her. When we reached
the laboratory door Emma was already there. A light was burning at one
end of the long and dismal room, and amid the weird shadows that it cast
we saw our father in a loose gown he often wore when at work, standing
over his table with lifted fist. It was bleeding; he had just brought it
down upon a favorite collection of tubes.

"'Ah!' he cried, tottering and seizing the table to steady himself; 'you
have come to see the end of my famous discovery. Here it is; look!' And
his fist came down again upon a jar containing the work of months.

"The smash that followed seemed to echo in my brain. I rushed forward,
but was stopped by his look.

"'Another result of your obduracy,' he cried, and sank back fainting
upon the hard floor.

"I let Emma and Doris lift him. What place had I at his side?

"'Shall I go for the doctor again?' inquired Doris as she came to my
room a half-hour later.

"'Does he seem worse?' I asked.

"'No; but he looks dreadfully. Ever since we got him on the lounge--he
would not leave the laboratory--he has lain in one position, his eye
upon those broken pieces of glass. He would not even let me wipe up the
red liquid that was in them, and it drips from table to floor in a way
to make your blood run cold.'

"'Can I see him,' I asked, 'without his seeing me?'

"'Yes,' said she, 'if you come very carefully; his head is towards the
door.'

"I did as she bade, and crept towards the open door. As I reached it he
was speaking low to himself.

"'Drop by drop,' he was saying, 'just as if it were my life-blood that
was dripping from the table to the floor.'

"It was a terrible thing to hear, for _me_ to hear, and I shrank back.
But soon a certain sense of duty drove me forward again, and I leaned
across the threshold, peering at his rigid and attenuated figure lying
just where he could watch the destruction of all his hopes. I could not
see his face, but his attitude was eloquent, and I felt a pang strike
through all my horror at the sight of a grief the death of both his
children could not have occasioned him.

"Suddenly he bounded up.

"'Curse her!' he began, in a frenzy; but instantly seemed to bethink
himself, for he sank back very meekly as Emma stooped over him and Doris
rushed to his side. 'Excuse me,' said he; 'I fear I am not just in my
right mind.'

"They thought so too, and in a few minutes Doris stole out after the
doctor, but I knew whatever delirium he had sprang from his hate of me,
and was awed into a shrinking inactivity which Emma excused while only
partially understanding.

"The doctor came and this time I stood watching. My father, who had not
expected this interference, showed anger at first, but soon settled back
into a half-jocular, half-indifferent endurance of the interloper, which
tended to impress the latter, and did succeed in doing so, with the
folly of those who thought he was sick enough to rouse a doctor up at
midnight. Few questions brought few replies, and the irritated physician
left us with something like a rebuke. He however said he would come
again in the morning, as there was a fitfulness in my father's pulse
which he did not like.

"But before the doctor appeared that morning father had called me for
the third and last time to his side.

"'I wish to see my eldest daughter alone,' he declared, as Emma lingered
and Doris hovered about the open door. They at once went out. 'Now shut
the door,' said he, as their footsteps were heard descending the stairs.

"I did as I was bid, though I felt as if I were shutting myself in with
some horrid doom.

"'Now come in front of me,' he commanded, 'I want to look at you. I
have just five minutes left in which to do it.'

"'Five minutes!' I repeated hoarsely, creeping round with tottering and
yet more tottering steps to where he pointed.

"'Yes; the poison has done its work at last. At eight o'clock I shall be
dead.'

"'Poison!' I shrieked, but in so choked a tone the word sounded like a
smothered whisper.

"But he was alarmed by it for all that.

"'Do not tell the world,' he cried. 'It is enough that you know it. Are
you pleased that you have driven your father to self-destruction? Will
it make your life in this house, in which you have vowed to remain, any
happier? I told you that your sin should be on your head; and it will
be. For, listen to me: now in this last dreadful hour, I command you,
heartless and disobedient one, to keep that vow. By this awful death, by
the despair which has driven me to it, beware of leaving these doors. In
your anger you swore to remain within these walls; in your remorse see
that you keep that oath. Not for love, not for hatred, dare to cross the
threshold, or I will denounce you in the grave where I shall be gone,
and my curse shall be upon you.'

"He had risen in his passion as he uttered these words, but he sank
back as he finished, and I thought he was dead. Terrified, crushed, I
sank upon my knees, having no words with which to plead for the mercy
for which I now longed. The next minute a horrible groan burst upon my
ear.

"'It eats--it burns into my vitals. The suffering has come,--the
suffering which I have often noted with unconcern in the animals upon
which I tested it. I cannot bear it; I had rather live. Get me the
antidote; there, there, in the long narrow drawer in the cabinet by the
wall. Not there, not there!' he shrieked, as I stumbled over the floor,
which seemed to rise in waves beneath my feet. 'The other cabinet, the
other drawer; _you are where the poison is_.'

"I halted; weights seemed to be upon my feet; I could not move. He was
writhing in agony on the floor; he no longer seemed to know where I
stood.

"'Open it--the drawer,' he cried. 'Bring me what is in it.'

"I reached out my hand; heaven and earth seemed to stand still; red
lights danced before my eyes; I drew out the drawer.

"'Quick, quick, the powder!' he moaned; 'fetch it!'

"I was staring at him, but my hand groped in the drawer. I felt a little
packet of powder; I took it and crossed the room. As soon as I was near
him he stretched out his hand and grasped it. I saw him empty it into
his mouth; at the same instant his eyes fixed themselves in horror on
the drawer I had left open behind me, the drawer in which the poison was
kept.

"'Curse you for a----' He never said what. With this broken imprecation
upon his lips, he sank back upon the floor, dead."



XXV.

EDGAR AND FRANK.


Frank, who had been reading these words as if swept along by a torrent,
started to his feet with a hoarse cry, as he reached this point. He
could not believe his eyes, he could not believe his understanding. He
shrank from the paper that contained the deadly revelation, as though a
snake had suddenly uncoiled itself from amid the sheets. With hair
slowly rising on his forehead, he stared and stared, hoping wildly,
hoping against hope, to see other words start from the sheet, and blot
out of existence the ones that had in an instant made his love a horror,
his life a desert.

But no, Heaven works no such miracle, even in sight of such an agony as
his; and the words met his gaze relentlessly till his misery was more
than he could endure, and he rushed from the room like a madman.

Edgar, who was busy over some medical treatise, rose rapidly as he heard
the unsteady footsteps of his friend.

"What is the matter?" he cried, as Frank came stumbling into his
presence. "You look----"

"Never mind how I look; comfort me, Edgar, comfort me!" and in his
anguish he burst into irrepressible sobs "Hermione is----" He could not
say what, but drew his friend after him to the room where the letter
lay, and pointed to the few ghastly lines which had undone him. "Read
those," he panted. "She had suffered; she was not herself, but, oh----"
He broke down again, and did not try to speak further till Edgar had
read the hideous confession contained in those closing lines, and some
of the revelations which had led up to it. Then he said: "Do not speak
to me yet; let me bear the horror alone. I loved her so; ah, I did love
her!"

Edgar, who had turned very pale, was considerate enough to respect this
grief, and silently wait for Frank to regain sufficient composure to
talk with him. This was not soon, but when the moment came, Edgar showed
that his heart beat truly under all his apparent indifference. He did
not say, "I bade you beware"; he merely took his friend's hand and wrung
it. Frank, who was almost overwhelmed with shame and sorrow, muttered
some words of acknowledgment.

"I must get out of the town," said he. "I feel as if the very atmosphere
here would choke me."

Here came again the long, doleful drone of the foghorn. "How like a
groan that is," said he. "An evil day it was for me when I first came
within its foreboding sound."

"We will say that when all is over," ventured Edgar, but in no very
hopeful tones. "You should not have shown me these words, Frank; the
wonder is that she was willing to show them to you."

"She could not otherwise get rid of my importunities. I would take no
hint, and so she tells me the truth."

"That shows nobleness," remarked Edgar. "She has some virtues which may
excuse you to yourself for the weakness you have shown in her regard."

"I dare not think of it," said Frank. "I dare not think of her again.
Yet to leave her when she is suffering so! Is not that almost as cruel a
fate as to learn that she is so unworthy?"

"I would you had never come here!" exclaimed Edgar, with unwonted
fervency.

"There are more words," observed Frank, "but I cannot read them. "Words
of sorrow and remorse, no doubt, but what do they avail? The fact
remains that she gave her father in his agony another dose of the poison
that was killing him, instead of the antidote for which he prayed."

"Yes," said Edgar, "only I feel bound to say that no antidote would have
saved him then. I know the poison and I know the antidote; we have
tested them together often."

Frank shuddered.

"He had the heart of a demon," declared Edgar, "to plan and carry out
such a revenge, even upon a daughter who had so grievously disappointed
him. I can hardly believe the tale, only that I have learned that one
may believe anything of human nature."

"She--she did not kill him, then?"

"No, but her guilt is as great as if she had, for she must have had the
momentary instinct of murder."

"O Hermione, Hermione! so beautiful and so unhappy!"

"A momentary instinct, which she is expiating fearfully. No wonder she
does not leave the house. No wonder that her face looks like a tragic
mask."

"No one seems to have suspected her guilt, or even his. We have never
heard any whispers about poison."

"Dudgeon is a conceited fool. Having once said overwork, he would stick
to overwork. Besides that poison is very subtle; I would have difficulty
in detecting its workings myself."

"And this is the tragedy of that home! Oh, how much worse, how much more
fearful than any I have attributed to it!"

The Doctor sighed.

"What has not Emma had to bear," he said.

"Emma!" Frank unconsciously roused himself. "If I remember rightly,
Hermione has said that Emma did not know all her trouble."

"Thank God! May she never be enlightened."

"Edgar," whispered Frank, "I do not think I can let you read all that
letter, though it tells much you ought to know. I have yet some
consideration--for--for Hermione--" (How hard the word came from lips
which once uttered it with so much pride!)--"and she never expected any
other eyes than mine to rest upon these revelations of her heart of
hearts. But one thing I must tell you in justice to yourself and the
girl upon whom no shadow rests but that of a most loyal devotion to a
most wretched sister. Not from her heart did the refusal come which
blighted your hopes and made you cynical towards women. There were
reasons she could not communicate, reasons she could not even dwell upon
herself, why she felt forced to dismiss you, and in the seemingly
heartless way she did."

"I am willing to believe it," said Edgar.

"Emma is a pure and beautiful spirit," observed Frank, and gave himself
up to grief for her who was not, and yet who commanded his pity for her
sufferings and possibly for her provocations.

Edgar now had enough of his own to think of, and if Frank had been less
absorbed in his own trouble he might have observed with what longing
eyes his friend turned every now and then towards the sheets which
contained so much of Emma's history as well as her sister's. Finally he
spoke:

"Why does Emma remain in the house to which the father only condemned
her sister?"

"Because she once vowed to share that sister's fate, whatever it might
be."

"Her love for her sister is then greater than any other passion she may
have had."

"I don't know; there were other motives beside love to influence her,"
explained Frank, and said no more.

Edgar sank again into silence. It was Frank who spoke next.

"Do you think"--He paused and moistened his lips--"Have you doubted what
our duty is about this matter?"

"To leave the girl--you said it yourself. Have you any other idea,
Frank?"

"No, no; that is not what I mean," stammered Etheridge. "I mean
about--about--the father's death. Should the world know? Is it a matter
for the--for the police?"

"No," cried Edgar, aghast. "Mr. Cavanagh evidently killed himself. It is
a dreadful thing to know, but I do not see why we need make it public."

Frank drew a long breath.

"I feared," he said,--"I did not know but you would think my duty would
lie in--in----"

"Don't speak of it," exclaimed Edgar. "If you do not wish to finish
reading her confession, put it up. Here is a drawer, in which you can
safely lock it."

Frank, recoiling from the touch of those papers which had made such a
havoc with his life, motioned to Edgar to do what he would with them.

"Are you not going to write--to answer this in some way?" asked Edgar.

"Thank God she has not made that necessary. She wrote somewhere, in the
beginning, I think, that, if I felt the terror of her words too deeply,
I was to pass by her house on the other side of the street at an early
hour in the morning. Did she dream that I could do anything else?"

Edgar closed the drawer in which he had hidden her letter, locked it,
and laid the key down on the table beside Frank.

Frank did not observe the action; he had risen to his feet, and in
another moment had left the room. He had reached the point of feeling
the need of air and a wider space in which to breathe. As he stepped
into the street, he turned in a contrary direction to that in which he
had been wont to walk. Had he not done this; had he gone southward, as
usual, he might have seen the sly and crouching figure which was drawn
up on that side of the house, peering into the room he had just left
through the narrow opening made by an imperfectly lowered shade.



BOOK III.

UNCLE AND NIECE.



XXVI.

THE WHITE POWDER.


It was nine o'clock in the morning, and Hermione stood in the laboratory
window overlooking the street. Pale from loss of sleep and exhausted
with the fever of anxiety which had consumed her ever since she had
despatched her letter to Mr. Etheridge, she looked little able to cope
with any disappointment which might be in store for her. But as she
leaned there watching for Frank, it was evident from her whole bearing
that she was moved by a fearful hope rather than by an overmastering
dread; perhaps because she had such confidence in his devotion; perhaps
because there was such vitality in her own love.

Her manner was that of one who thinks himself alone, and yet she was
not alone. At the other end of the long and dismal apartment glided the
sly figure of Huckins. No longer shabby and unkempt, but dressed with a
neatness which would have made his sister Cynthia stare in amazement if
she could have risen from her grave to see him, he flitted about with
noiseless tread, listening to every sigh that escaped from his niece's
lips, and marking, though he scarcely glanced her way, each turn of her
head and each bend of her body, as if he were fully aware of her reasons
for standing there, and the importance of the issues hanging upon the
occurrences of the next fifteen minutes.

She may have known of his presence, and she may not. Her preoccupation
was great, and her attention fixed not upon anything in the room, but
upon the street without. Yet she may have felt the influence of that
gliding Evil, moving, snake-like, at her back. If she did she gave no
sign, and the moments came and went without any change in her eager
attitude or any cessation in the ceaseless movements with which he
beguiled his own anxiety and the devilish purposes which were slowly
forming themselves in his selfish and wicked mind.

At length she gave a start, and leaned heavily forward. Huckins, who was
expecting this proof of sudden interest, paused where he was, and
surveyed her with undisguised eagerness in his baleful eyes, while the
words "She sees him; he is coming" formed themselves upon his thin and
quivering lips, though no sound disturbed the silence, and neither he
nor she seemed to breathe.

And he was right. Frank was coming down the street, not gayly and with
the buoyant step of a happy lover, but with head sunk upon his breast
and eyes lowered to the ground. Will he lift them as he approaches the
gate? Will he smile, as in the olden time--the olden time that was
yesterday--and raise his hand towards the gate and swing it back and
enter with that lightsome air of his at once protecting and
joy-inspiring? He looks very serious now, and his steps falter; but
surely, surely, his love is not going to fail him at the crisis; surely,
surely, he who has overlooked so much will not be daunted by the little
more with which she has tried his devotion; surely, surely---- But his
eyes do not lift themselves. He is at the gate, but his hand is not
raised to it, and the smile does not come. He is going by, not on the
other side of the street, but going by, going by, which means----

As the consciousness of what it did mean pierced her heart and soul,
Hermione gave a great cry--she never knew how great a cry--and, staring
like one demented after the beloved figure that in her disordered sight
seemed to shrink and waver as it vanished, sank helpless upon the window
sill, with her head falling forward, in a deadly faint.

Huckins, hearing that cry, slowly rubbed his hands together and smiled
as the Dark One might smile at the sudden downfall of some doubtful
soul. Then he passed softly to the door, and, shutting it carefully,
came back and recommenced his restless pacings, but this time with an
apparent purpose of investigation, for he opened and shut drawers, not
quietly, but with a decided clatter, and peered here and there into
bottles and jars, casting, as he did so, ready side-glances at the
drooping figure from which the moans of a fatal despair were now slowly
breaking.

When those moans became words, he stopped and listened, and this was
what he heard come faltering from her lips:

"Twice! twice! Once when I felt myself strong and now when I feel myself
weak. It is too much for a proud woman. I cannot bear it."

At this evidence of revolt and discouragement, Huckins' smile grew in
its triumph. He seemed to glide nearer to her; yet he did not stir.

She saw nothing. If she had once recognized his presence, he was to her
now as one blotted from existence. She was saying over and over to
herself: "No hope! no hope! I am cursed! My father's hate reaches higher
than my prayers. There is no escape; no love, no light. Solitude is
before me; solitude forever. Believing this, I cannot live; indeed I
cannot!"

As if this had been the word for which he was waiting, Huckins suddenly
straightened up his lean figure and began himself to talk, not as she
did, in wild and passionate tones, but in low, abstracted murmurs, as if
he were too intent upon a certain discovery he had made to know or care
whether there was or was not any one present to overhear his words.

And what did he say? what could he say at a moment like this? Listen
and gauge the evil in the man, for it is deep as his avarice and
relentless as his purpose to enjoy the riches which he considers his
due. He is standing by a cabinet, the cabinet on the left of the room,
and his hand is in a long and narrow drawer.

"What is this?" (Mark the surprise in his tone.) "A packet labelled
_Poison_? This is a strange thing to find lying about in an open drawer.
_Poison!_ I wonder what use brother Cavanagh had for poison?"

He pauses; was it because he had heard a moan or cry break from the spot
where Hermione crouched against the wall? No, there was silence there, a
deep and awful silence, which ought to have made the flesh creep upon
his bones, but which, instead, seemed to add a greater innocence to his
musing tones.

"I suppose it was what was left after some old experiment. It is very
dangerous stuff. I should not like to drop these few grains of white
powder upon my tongue, unless I wanted to be rid of all my troubles.
Guess I had better shake the paper out of the window, or those girls
will come across it some day, and may see that word Poison and be moved
by it. Life in this house hasn't many attractions."

Any sound now from that dim, distant corner? No, silence is there still;
deadly silence. He smiles darkly, and speaks again; very low now, but
oh, how clearly!

"But what business is it of mine? I find poison in this drawer, and I
leave it where I find it, and shut the drawer. It may be wanted for
rats, and it is always a mistake for old folks to meddle. But I should
like to; I'd like to throw this same innocent-looking white powder out
of the window; it makes _me_ afraid to think of it lying shut up here in
a drawer so easily opened---- My child! Hermione!" he suddenly shrieked,
"what do you want?"

She was standing before him, a white and terrible figure.

"Nothing," came from her set lips, in a low and even tone; but she laid
one hand upon the drawer he had half shut and with the other pointed to
the door.

He shrank from her, appalled perhaps at his work; perhaps at her
recognition of it.

"Don't," he feebly protested, shaking with terror, or was it with a
hideous anxiety? "There is poison in that drawer; do not open it."

"Go for my sister," was the imperious command. "I have no use for you
here, but for her I have."

"You won't open that drawer," he prayed, as he retreated before her eyes
in frightened jerks and breathless pauses.

"I tell you I do not need you," she repeated, her hand still on the
drawer, her form rigid, her face blue-white and drawn.

"I--I will bring Emma," he faltered, and shambled across the threshold,
throwing back upon her a look she may have noted and may not, but which
if she had understood, would certainly have made her pause. "I will go
for Emma," he said again, closing the door behind him with a touch which
seemed to make even that senseless wood fall away from him. Then he
listened--listened instead of going for the gentle sister whose presence
might have calmed the turbulent spirit he had just left. And as he
listened his face gradually took on a satisfied look, till, at a certain
sound from within, he allowed his hands the luxury of a final
congratulatory rub, and then gliding from the place, went below.

Emma was standing in the parlor window, fixed in dismay at the sight of
Frank's going by without word or look; but Huckins did not stop to give
her the message with which he had been entrusted. Instead of that he
passed into the kitchen, and not till he had crossed the floor and
shambled out into the open air of the garden did he venture to turn and
say to the watching Doris:

"I am afraid Miss Hermione is not quite well."



XXVII.

THE HAND OF HUCKINS.


Frank exhausted his courage in passing Hermione's door. When he heard
the cry she gave, he stopped for a moment, then rushed hastily on, not
knowing whither, and not caring, so long as he never saw the street or
the house or the poplars again.

He intended, as much as he intended anything, to take the train for New
York, but when he came sufficiently to himself to think of the hour, he
found that he was in a wood quite remote from the station, and that both
the morning and noon trains had long since passed.

It was not much of a disappointment. He was in that stage of misery in
which everything seems blurred, and life and its duties too unreal for
contemplation. He did not wish to act or even to think. The great
solitude about him was more endurable than the sight of human faces, but
I doubt if he would have been other than solitary anywhere, or seen
aught but her countenance in any place where he might have been.

And what made this the more torturing to him was the fact that he
always saw her with an accusing look on her face. Never with bowed
forehead or in an attitude of shame, but with the straightforward aspect
of one utterly grieved where she had expected consideration and
forbearance. This he knew to be a freak of his fancy, for had he not her
words to prove she had merited his condemnation? But fancy or not, it
followed him, softening unconsciously his thought of her, though it
never for an instant weakened his resolve not to see her again or
exchange another word with one whose conscience was laden with so heavy
a crime.

The wood in which he found himself wandering skirted the town towards
the west, so that when, in the afternoon, hunger and weariness drove him
back to the abodes of men, he had but to follow the beaten track which
ran through it, to come out at the other end of the village from that by
which he had entered.

The place where he emerged was near a dark pool at the base of the hill
on which was perched the Baptist church.

As he saw this pool and caught a sight of the steeple towering above
him in the summer sky, he felt himself grow suddenly frantic. Here she
had stood with Emma, halting between life and death. Here she had been
seized by her first temptation, and had been saved from it only to fall
into another one immeasurably greater and more damning. Horrible,
loathsome pool! why had it not swallowed her? Would it not have been
better that it had? He dared to think so, and bent above its dismal
depths with a fascination which in another moment made him recoil and
dash away in horror towards the open spaces of the high-road.

Edgar had just come in from his round of visits when Frank appeared
before him. Having supposed him to be in New York, he uttered a loud
exclamation. Whereupon Frank exclaimed:

"I could not go. I seemed to be chained to this place. I have been
wandering all day in the woods." And he sank into a chair exhausted,
caring little whether Edgar noted or not his weary and dishevelled
appearance.

"You look ill," observed the Doctor; "or perhaps you have not eaten; let
me get you a cup of coffee."

Frank looked up but made no further sign.

"You will stay with me to-night," suggested Edgar.

"I am chained," repeated Frank, and that was all.

With a look of sincerest compassion the Doctor quietly left the room. He
had his own griefs, but he could master them; beside, the angel of hope
was already whispering sweet messages to his secret soul. But Frank's
trouble was beyond alleviation, and it crushed him as his own had never
done, possibly because in this case his pride was powerless to sustain
him. When he came back, he found Frank seated at the desk poring over
the fatal letter. He had found the key of the drawer lying where he had
left it, and, using it under a sudden impulse, had opened the drawer and
taken out the sheets he had vowed never to touch again.

Edgar paused when he saw the other's bended head and absorbed air, and
though he was both annoyed and perplexed he said nothing, but set down
the tray he had brought very near to Frank's elbow.

The young lawyer neither turned nor gave it any attention.

Edgar, with the wonted patience of a physician, sat down and waited for
his friend to move. He would not interrupt him, but would simply be in
readiness to hand the coffee when Frank turned. But he never handed him
that cup of coffee, for suddenly, Frank, with a wild air and eyes fixed
in a dazed stare upon the paper, started to his feet, and uttering a
cry, began turning over the two or three sheets he was reading, as if he
had made some almost incomprehensible discovery.

"Edgar, Edgar," he hurriedly gasped, "read these over for me; I cannot
see the words; there is something different here; we have made a
mistake! Oh, what has happened! my head is all in a whirl."

He sank back in his chair. Edgar, rushing forward, seized the half dozen
sheets offered him and glanced eagerly over them.

"I see no difference," he cried; but as he went on, driven by Frank's
expectant eye, he gave a surprised start also, and turning back the
pages, read them again and again, crying at last:

"We must have overlooked one of these sheets. We read her letter
without this page. What a mischance! for with these words left in it is
no longer a confession we have before us, but a narrative. Frank, Frank,
we have wronged the girl. She has no crime to bemoan, only a misery to
relate."

"Read it aloud," broke from Frank's lips. "Let me hear it from your
mouth. How could we have overlooked such a page? Oh, my poor girl! my
poor girl!"

Edgar, beginning back a page or two from the one which had before
escaped their attention, read as follows. The portion marked by brackets
is the one that was new to both their eyes:

    "But before the doctor appeared that morning father had called
    me for the third and last time to his side.

    "'I wish to see my eldest daughter alone,' he declared, as Emma
    lingered and Doris hovered about the open door. They at once
    went out. 'Now shut the door,' said he, as their footsteps were
    heard descending the stairs.

    "I did as I was bid, though I felt as if I were shutting myself
    in with some horrid doom.

    "'Now come in front of me,' he commanded. 'I want to look at
    you; I have just five minutes left in which to do it.'

    "'Five minutes!' I repeated hoarsely, creeping round with
    tottering and yet more tottering steps to where he pointed.

    "'Yes; the poison has done its work at last. At eight o'clock I
    shall be dead.'

    "'Poison!' I shrieked, but in so choked a tone the word sounded
    like a smothered whisper.

    "But he was alarmed by it for all that.

    "'Do not tell the world,' he cried. 'It is enough that you know
    it. Are you pleased that you have driven your father to
    self-destruction? Will it make your life in this house, in which
    you have vowed to remain, any happier? I told you that your sin
    should be on your head, and it will be. For, listen to me: now
    in this last dreadful hour, I command you, heartless and
    disobedient one, to keep that vow. By this awful death, by the
    despair which has driven me to it, beware of leaving these
    doors. In your anger you swore to remain within these walls; in
    your remorse see that you keep that oath. Not for love, not for
    hatred, dare to cross the threshold, or I will denounce you in
    the grave where I shall be gone, and my curse shall be upon
    you.'

    "He had risen in his passion as he uttered these words, but he
    sank back as he finished, and I thought he was dead.

    "Terrified, crushed, I sank upon my knees, having no words with
    which to plead for the mercy for which I now longed. The next
    minute a horrible groan burst upon my ear.

    "'It eats--it burns into my vitals. The suffering has
    come,--the suffering which I have often noted with unconcern in
    the animals upon which I had tested it. I cannot bear it; I had
    rather live. Get me the antidote; there, there in the long,
    narrow drawer in the cabinet by the wall! Not there, not there!'
    he shrieked, as I stumbled over the floor, which seemed to rise
    in waves beneath my feet. 'The other cabinet, the other drawer;
    _you are where the poison is_.'

    "I halted; weights seemed to be upon my feet; I could not move.
    He was writhing in agony on the floor; he no longer seemed to
    know where I stood.

        { "'The antidote!' he moaned, 'the antidote!'            }
        { I burst the bonds which held me, and leaving open      }
        { the drawer which I had half pulled out in my eagerness }
        { to relieve him, I rushed across the room to the        }
        { cabinet he had pointed out.                            }
        {                                                        }
        { "'The long drawer,' he murmured, 'the one              }
        { like the other. Pull it hard; it is not locked!'       }
        {                                                        }
        { "I tried to do as he commanded, but my hand            }
        { slid helplessly from drawer to drawer. I could         }
        { hardly see. He moaned and shrieked again.              }
        {                                                        }
        { "'The long one, I say, the long one!'                  }
        {                                                        }
        { "As he spoke my hand touched it.                       }
        {                                                        }
        { "'I have it,' I panted forth.                          }

    "'Open it--the drawer,' he cried. 'Bring me what is in it.'

    "I reached out my hand; heaven and earth seemed to stand still;
    red lights danced before my eyes; I drew out the drawer.

    "'Quick, quick, the powder!' he moaned; 'fetch it!'

    "I was staring at him, but my hand groped in the drawer. I felt
    a little packet of powder; I took it and crossed the room. As
    soon as I was near him he stretched out his hand and grasped it.
    I saw him empty it into his mouth; at the same instant his eyes
    fixed themselves in horror on the drawer I had left open behind
    me, the drawer in which the poison was kept.

    "'Curse you for a ----' He never said what. With this broken
    imprecation upon his lips, he sank back upon the floor, dead."

"God, what a difference!" cried Edgar. But Frank, trembling from head to
foot, reached out and took the sheets, and laying them on the desk
before him, buried his face in them. When he looked up again, Edgar, for
all his own relief, was startled by the change in him.

"Her vindication comes late," said he, "but I will go at once and
explain----"

"Wait; let us first understand how we both were led to make such a
mistake. Could the leaves have stuck together?"

There were no signs of this having happened. Yet who could say that
this was not the real explanation of the whole matter? The most curious
feature of the occurrence was that just the missing of that one sheet
should have so altered the sense of what they read. They did not know
then or ever that this very fact had struck Huckins also in his stolen
reading of the same, and that it had been his hand which had abstracted
it and then again restored it when he thought the mutilated manuscript
had done its work. They never knew this, as I say, but they thought the
chance which had occurred to them a very strange one, and tried to lay
it to their agitation at the time, or to any cause but the real one.

The riddle proving insolvable, they abandoned it, and Frank again rose.
But Edgar drawing his attention to the few additional sheets which he
had never read, he sat down again in eagerness to peruse them. Let us
read them with him, for in them we shall find the Hermione of to-day,
not the angry and imperious woman upon whom her father revenged himself
by a death calculated to blot the sun from her skies and happiness from
her heart forever.

    "When Emma came to the room she discovered me kneeling, rigid
    and horror-stricken, above my father's outstretched form. She
    says that I met her eyes with mine, but that there was no look
    of life within them. Indeed, I was hardly alive, and have no
    remembrance of how I was taken from that room or what happened
    in the house for hours. When I did rouse, Emma was beside me.
    Her look was one of grief but not of horror, and I saw she had
    no idea of what had passed between my father and myself during
    the last few days. Dr. Dudgeon had told her that our father had
    died of heart-disease, and she believed him, and thought my
    terror was due to the suddenness of his end and the fact that I
    was alone with him at the time.

    "She therefore smiled with a certain faint encouragement when I
    opened my eyes upon her face, but pushed me back with gentle
    hand when I tried to rise, saying:

    "'All is well with father, Hermione,--so think only of yourself
    just now; I do not think you are able to get up.'

    "I was only too happy not to make the effort. If only my eyes
    had never opened! If only I had sunk from unconsciousness into
    the perfect peace of death! But even that idea made me quake.
    _He_ was _there_, and I had such a horror of him, that it seemed
    for a moment that I would rather live forever than to encounter
    him again, even in a world where the secrets of all hearts lie
    open.

    "'Did not father forgive you?' murmured Emma, marking perhaps
    the expression of my face.

    "I smiled a bitter smile.

    "'Do not ever let us talk about father,' I prayed. 'He has
    condemned me to this house, and that will make me remember him
    sufficiently without words.'

    "She rose horror-stricken.

    "'O Hermione!' she murmured; 'O Hermione!' and hid her face in
    her hands and wept.

    "But I lay silent, tearless.

    "When the funeral procession passed out of the house without
    us, the people stared. But no thought of there being anything
    back of this seeming disrespect, save the caprice of two very
    whimsical girls, seemed to strike the mind of any one. The paper
    which had held the antidote I had long ago picked up from the
    laboratory floor; while the open drawer with the packet in it
    marked _Poison_ had doubtless been shut by Doris on her first
    entrance into the room after his death. For I not only found it
    closed, but I never heard any one speak of it, or of any
    peculiar symptoms attending my father's death.

    "But the arrow was in my heart for all that, and for weeks my
    life was little more than a nightmare. All the pride which had
    upheld me was gone. I felt myself a crushed woman. The pall
    which my father had thrown over me in his self-inflicted death,
    hung heavy and stifling about me. I breathed, but it seemed to
    be in gasps, and when exhausted nature gave way and I slept, it
    was to live over again in dreams those last fearful moments of
    his life, and hear, with even more distinctness than in my
    waking hours, the words of the final curse with which he sank to
    the floor.

    "I had not deserved it--that I felt; but I suffered all the
    same, and suffered all the more that I could take no confidant
    into my troubles. Emma, with her broken life, had had
    disappointments enough without this revelation of a father's
    vindictiveness, and though it might have eased me for the moment
    to hear her words of sympathy, I knew that I should find it
    harder to face her day by day, if this ghost of horror once rose
    between us. No; the anguish was mine, and must be borne by me
    alone. So I crushed it down into my heart and was silent.

    "Meantime the command which had been laid upon me by my father,
    never to leave the house, was weaving a chain about me I soon
    found it impossible to break. Had I immediately upon his death
    defied his will and rushed frenziedly out of the gate, I might
    have grown to feel it easy to walk the streets again in the face
    of a curse which should never have been laid upon me. But the
    custom of obeying his dying mandate soon got its hold upon me,
    and I could not overcome it. At the very thought of crossing the
    threshold I would tremble; and though when I looked at Emma
    heroically sharing my fate without knowing the reasons for my
    persistency, I would dream for a moment of breaking the spell
    those dying lips had laid upon me, I always found myself drawing
    back in terror, almost as if I had been caught by fleshless
    fingers.

    "And so the weeks passed and we settled into the monotonous
    existence of an uninterrupted seclusion. What had been the
    expression of my self-will, became now a species of expiation.
    For though I had not deserved the awful burden which had been
    imposed upon me of a father's death and curse, I had deserved
    punishment, and this I now saw, and this I now endeavored to
    meet, with something like the meekness of repentance. I accepted
    my doom, and tried not to dwell so much upon my provocations as
    upon the temper with which I met them, and the hardness with
    which I strove to triumph over my disappointments. And in doing
    this I became less hard, preparing my heart, though I did not
    know it, for that new seed of love which fate was about to drop
    into it.

    "Mr. Etheridge, I have told you all my story. If it strikes you
    with dismay and you shrink in your noble manhood from a woman
    whom, rightfully or wrongfully, is burdened with the weight of a
    father's death, do not try to overcome that shrinking or defy
    that dismay. We could never be happy if you did. Nothing but
    whole-souled love will satisfy me or help me to forget the
    shadows that bear so heavily upon my head. You say you love me,
    but your emotions upon reading this letter will prove to
    yourself what is the true strength and nature of your feelings.
    Let them, then, have their honest way. If they are in my favor I
    shall be the happiest girl alive, but if they lead you to go by
    on the other side of the street, then will I strive to bear this
    sorrow also, as one who has been much to blame for the evils
    which have befallen her."

That was all. As Frank folded the last sheet and put it and the rest
quietly away in his pocket, Edgar saw, or thought he saw, that happier
hours were about to dawn for Hermione Cavanagh. It made him think of his
own love and of the claims of the gentle Emma.

"Frank," said he, with the effort of a reticent man compelled at last
to make an admission, "if you are going to the Cavanaghs, I
think--I--will--go--with you."

Frank started and leaped forward warmly with outstretched hand. But
before their two palms could meet, the door was violently opened and a
messenger came panting in with the announcement:

"Dr. Sellick's wanted. Hermione Cavanagh is at the point of death."



XXVIII.

IN EXTREMITY.


Frank and Edgar were equally pale as they reached the Cavanagh house. No
time had been lost on the way, and yet the moments had been long enough
for them both to be the prey of the wildest conjectures. The messenger
who had brought the startling news of Hermione's illness knew nothing
concerning the matter beyond the fact that Doris, their servant, had
called to him, as he was passing their house, to run for Dr. Sellick, as
Miss Hermione was dying. They were therefore entirely in the dark as to
what had happened, and entered the house, upon their arrival, like men
for whom some terrible doom might be preparing.

The first person they encountered was Huckins. He was standing in the
parlor window, rubbing his hands slowly together and smiling very softly
to himself. But when he saw the two young men, he came forward with a
cringing bow and an expression of hypocritical grief, which revived all
Frank's distrust and antipathy.

"Oh, sir," he exclaimed to Frank, "you here? You should not have come;
indeed you should not. Sad case," he added, turning to the Doctor; "very
sad case, this which we have upstairs. I fear we are going to lose the
dear young lady." And he wiped his half-shut eyes with his fine white
handkerchief.

"Let me see her; where is she?" cried the Doctor, not stopping to look
around him, though the place must have been full of the most suggestive
associations.

"Doris will show you. She was in the laboratory when I saw her last. A
dangerous place for a young lady who has been jilted by her lover!" And
he turned a very twinkling eye on Frank.

"What do you mean?" cried Frank. "The laboratory! The place where---- O
Edgar, go to her, go at once."

But Edgar was already half-way upstairs, at the top of which he was met
by Doris.

"What is this?" he cried. "What has happened to Miss Cavanagh?"

"Come and see," she said. "O that she should go out of the house first
in this way!"

Alarmed more by the woman's manner than her words, Dr. Sellick hurried
forward and entered the open laboratory door almost without realizing
that in another instant he would be in the presence of Emma. And when he
did see her, and met the eyes he had not looked into since that night a
year before when she listened to his vows with such a sweet and bashful
timidity, he hardly felt the shock of the change observable in her, for
the greater shock her sister's appearance inspired. For Hermione lay on
that same old couch which had once held her father, ill to
speechlessness, and though the Doctor did not know what had brought her
to this condition, he began to suspect and doubt if he were in time to
revive her.

"What has she taken?" he demanded. "Something, or she would not be as
low as this without more warning."

Emma, quaking, put a little piece of paper in his hand.

"I found this in her pocket," she whispered. "It was only a little while
ago. It is quite empty," said she, "or you would have had two patients."

He stared at her, hardly taking in her words. Then he leaped to the
door.

"Frank," he cried, tossing down a slip of paper on which he had hastily
written a word, "go with this to the druggist at once! Run, for moments
are precious!"

They heard a shout in answer; then the noise of the front door opening
and shutting, and the sound of rapidly departing steps.

"Thank God!" the young physician murmured, as he came back into the
laboratory, "that I studied chemistry with Mr. Cavanagh, or I might not
know just what antidote was required here."

"Look!" Emma whispered; "she moved, when you said the word _Frank_."

The Doctor leaned forward and took Emma's hand.

"If we can rouse her enough to make her speak, she will be saved. When
did she take that powder?"

"I fear she took it this morning, shortly after--after nine o'clock;
but she did not begin to grow seriously ill till an hour ago, when she
suddenly threw up her arms and shrieked."

"And didn't you know; didn't you suspect----"

"No, for she said nothing. She only looked haggard and clung to me;
clung as if she could not bear to have me move an inch away from her
side."

"And how long has she been unconscious and in that clammy, cold sweat?"

"A little while; just before we sent for you. I--I hated to disturb you
at first, but life is everything, and----"

He gave her one deep, reassuring look.

"Emma," he softly murmured, "if we save your sister, four hearts shall
be happy. See if you can make her stir. Tell her that Frank is here, and
wants to see her."

Emma, with a brightening countenance, leaned over and kissed Hermione's
marble-like brow.

"Hermione," she cried, "Hermione! Frank wants you; he is tired of
waiting. Come, dear; shall I not tell him you will come?"

A quiver at the word _Frank_, but that was all.

"It is Frank, dear; Frank!" Emma persisted. "Rouse up long enough just
to see him. He loves you, Hermione."

Not even a quiver now. Dr. Sellick began to turn pale.

"Hermione, will you leave us now, just as you are going to be happy?
Listen, listen to Emma. You know I have always told you the truth. Frank
is here, ready to love you. Wake, darling; wake, dearest----"

There was no use. No marble could be more unresponsive. Dr. Sellick
rushed in anguish to the door. But the step he heard there was that of
Huckins, and it was Huckins' face he encountered at the head of the
stairs.

"Is she dead?" cried that worthy, bending forward to look into the room.
"I was afraid, _very_ much afraid, you could not do any good, when I saw
how cold she was, poor dear."

The Doctor, not hearing him, shouted out: "The antidote! the antidote!
Why does not Frank come!"

At that instant Frank was heard below: "Am I in time?" he gasped. "Here
it is; I ran all the way"; and he came rushing up the stairs just as
Huckins slipped from the step where he was and fell against him.

"Oh," whimpered that old hypocrite, "I beg your pardon; I am so
agitated!" But his agitation seemed to spring mainly from the fact that
the antidote Frank brought was in powder and not in a bottle, which
might have been broken in their encounter.

Dr. Sellick, who saw nothing but the packet Frank held, grasped the
remedy and dashed back into the room. Frank followed and stood in
anguished suspense within the open doorway. Huckins crouched and
murmured to himself on the stair.

"Can we get her to take it? Is there hope?" murmured Emma.

No word came in reply; the Doctor was looking fixedly at his patient.

"Frank," he said solemnly, "come and take her hand in yours. Nothing
else will ever make her unlock her lips."

Frank, reeling in his misery, entered and fell at her feet.

"Hermione," he endeavored to say, but the word would not come. Breaking
into sobs he took her hand and laid his forehead upon it. Would that
anguish of the beloved one arouse her? Dr. Sellick and Emma drew near
together in their anxiety and watched. Suddenly a murmur escaped from
the former, and he bent rapidly forward. The close-locked lips were
parting, parting so slowly, so imperceptibly, that only a physician's
eye could see it. Waiting till they were opened enough to show the
pearly teeth, he stooped and whispered in Frank's ear. Instantly the
almost overwhelmed lover, roused, saw this evidence of existing life,
and in his frenzied relief imprinted one wild kiss upon the hand he
held. It seemed to move her, to reach her heart, to stay the soul just
hovering on the confines of life, for the lips parted further, the lids
of the eyes trembled, and before the reaction came, Dr. Sellick had
succeeded in giving her a few grains of the impalpable powder he was
holding.

"It will either kill or restore her," said he. "In five minutes we
shall know the result."

And when at the end of those five minutes they heard a soft sigh, they
never thought, in their sudden joy and relief, to look for the sneaking
figure trembling on the staircase, who, at this first sign of reviving
life in one he thought dead, slid from his station and went creeping
down the stairs, with baffled looks that would have frightened even
Doris had she seen them.



XXIX.

IN THE POPLAR WALK.


Two days had passed. Hermione was sitting in the cheerful sitting-room
with the choicest of flowers about her and the breeze from the open
window fluttering gayly in her locks. She was weak yet, but there was
promise of life in her slowly brightening eye, and from the language of
the smile which now and then disturbed the lines of her proud lips,
there was hope of happiness in the heart which but two short days before
had turned from life in despair.

Yet it was not a perfect hope, or the smiles would have been deeper and
more frequent. She had held a long talk with Frank, but he had not
touched upon a certain vital question, perhaps because he felt she had
not yet the strength to argue it. He was her lover and anticipated
marrying her, but he had not said whether he expected her to disobey her
father and leave her home. She felt that he must expect this; she also
felt that he had the right to do so; but when she thought of yielding to
his wishes, the old horror returned to her, and a suffocating feeling of
fear, as if it would never be allowed. The dead have such a hold upon
us. As the pleasure of living and the ecstasy of love began to make
themselves felt again in her weakened frame, she could not refrain from
asking herself by what right she contemplated taking up the joys of
life, who had not only forfeited them by her attempt at suicide, but who
had been cursed by a father and doomed by his will to perpetual
imprisonment. Had he not said, "Let not hatred, let not _love_, lead you
to leave these doors"? How then presume to think of it or dream that she
could be happy with such remembrances as hers ever springing up to
blight her life? She wished, oh! how she wished, that Frank would not
ask her to leave her home. Yet she knew this was weakness, and that
soon, at the next interview, perhaps, she would have to dash his hopes
by speaking of her fears. And so Hermione was not perfectly happy.

Emma, on the contrary, was like a bird loosed from a cage. She sang,
yes, sang as she flitted up and down the stairs, and once Hermione
started and blushed with surprise as her voice in a merry peal of
laughter came from the garden. Such a sound had not been heard in that
house for a year; such a sound seemed an anomaly there. Yet how sweet it
was, and how it seemed to lift the shadows.

There was another person who started as this unusual note of merriment
disturbed the silence of the garden. It was Huckins, who was slowly
walking up and down beneath the poplars. He was waiting for Doris, and
this sound went through him like an arrow.

"Laughter," he muttered, shaking his trembling hands in menace towards
her. "That is a sound I must crush. It speaks too much of hope, and hope
means the loss to me of all for which I have schemed for years. Why
didn't that poison work? Why did I let that doctor come? I might have
locked the door against him and left them to hunt for the key. But I was
afraid; that Etheridge is so ready to suspect me."

He turned and walked away from the house. He dreaded to hear that
silvery sound again.

"If she had died, as I had every reason to suspect after such a dose,
Emma would have followed her in a day. And then who could have kept me
out of my property? Not Etheridge, for all his hatred and suspicion of
me." He shook his hand again in menace and moved farther down the path.

As his small black figure disappeared up the walk Doris appeared at the
kitchen door. She also looked cheerful, yet there was a shade of anxiety
in her expression as she glanced up the walk.

"He says he is going away," she murmured. "The shock of Miss Hermione's
illness was too much for him, poor man! and he does not seem to consider
how lonesome I will be. If only he had asked me to go with him! But then
I could not have left the young ladies; not while they stick to this old
horror of a house. What is it, Miss Emma?"

"A four-leaved clover! one, two, _three_ of them," cried her young
mistress from the lawn at the side of the house. "We are in luck! Times
are going to change for us all, I think."

"The best luck we can have is to quit this house forever," answered
Doris, with a boldness unusual on her lips.

"Ah," returned Emma, with her spirits a little dashed, "I cannot say
about that, but we will try and be happy in it."

"Happy in it!" repeated Doris, but this time to herself. "I can never be
happy in it, now I have had my dreams of pleasure abroad." And she left
the kitchen door and began her slow walk towards the end of the garden.

Arrived at the place where Huckins waited for her, she stopped.

"Good afternoon," said she. "Pleasant strolling under these poplars."

He grunted and shook his head slowly to and fro.

"Nothing is very pleasant here," said he. "I have stood it as long as I
can. My nieces are good girls, but I have failed to make them see
reason, and I must leave it now to these two lovers of theirs to do what
they can."

"And do you think they will succeed? That the young ladies will be
influenced by them to break up their old habits?"

This was what Huckins did think, and what was driving him to extremity,
but he veiled his real feelings very successfully under a doleful shake
of the head.

"I do not know," said he. "I fear not. The Cavanagh blood is very
obstinate, very obstinate indeed."

"Do you mean," cried Doris, "that they won't leave the house to be
married? That they will go on living here in spite of these two young
gentlemen who seem to be so fond of them?"

"I do," said he, with every appearance of truth. "I don't think anything
but fire will ever drive them out of this house."

It was quietly said, almost mournfully, but it caused Doris to give a
sudden start. Looking at him intently, she repeated "Fire?" and seemed
to quake at the word, even while she rolled it like a sweet morsel under
her tongue.

He nodded, but did not further press the subject. He had caught her look
from the corner of his eye, and did not think it worth while to change
his attitude of innocence.

"I wish," he insinuated, "there was another marriage which could take
place."

"Another marriage?" she simpered.

"I have too much money for one to spend," said he. "I wish I knew of a
good woman to share it."

Doris, before whose eyes the most dazzling dreams of wealth and
consequence at once flashed, drooped her stout figure and endeavored to
look languishing.

"If it were not for my duty to the young ladies," sighed she.

"Yes, yes," said he, "you must never leave them."

She turned, she twisted, she tortured her hands in her endeavor to keep
down the evidences of her desire and her anxiety.

"If--if this house should be blown down in a storm or--or a fire should
consume it as you say, they would have to go elsewhere, have to marry
these young men, have to be happy in spite of themselves."

"But what cyclones ever come here?" he asked, with his mockery of a
smile. "Or where could a fire spring from in a house guarded by a
Doris?"

She was trembling so she could not answer. "Come out here again at six
o'clock," said she; "they will miss me if I stay too long now. Oh, sir,
how I wish I could see those two poor loves happy again!"

"How I wish you could!" said he, and there was nothing in his tone for
her ears but benevolence.

As Huckins crept from the garden-gate he ran against Frank, who was on
his way to the station.

"Oh, sir," he exclaimed, cringing, "I am sure I beg your pardon. Going
up to town, eh?"

"Yes, and I advise you to do the same," quoth the other, turning upon
him sharply. "The Misses Cavanagh are not well enough at present to
entertain visitors."

"You are no doubt right," returned Huckins with his meekest and most
treacherous aspect. "It is odd now, isn't it, but I was just going to
say that it was time I left them, much as I love the poor dears. They
seem so happy now, and their prospects are so bright, eh?"

"I hope so; they have had trouble enough."

"Um, um, they will go to Flatbush, I suppose, and I--poor old outcast
that I am--may rub my hands in poverty."

He looked so cringing, and yet so saturnine, that Frank was tempted to
turn on his heel and leave him with his innuendoes unanswered. But his
better spirit prevailing, he said, after a moment's pregnant silence:

"Yes; the young ladies will go to Flatbush, and the extent of the
poverty you endure will depend upon your good behavior. I do not think
either of your nieces would wish to see you starve."

"No, no, poor dears, they are very kind, and the least I can do is to
leave them. Old age and misery are not fit companions for youth and
hope, are they, Mr. Etheridge?"

"I have already intimated what I thought about that."

"So you have, so you have. You are such a lawyer, Mr. Etheridge, such an
admirable lawyer!"

Frank, disgusted, attempted to walk on, but Huckins followed close after
him.

"You do not like me," he said. "You think because I was violent once
that I envy these sweet girls their rights. But you don't know me, Mr.
Etheridge; you don't know my good heart. Since I have seen them I have
felt very willing to give up my claims, they are such nice girls, and
will be so kind to their poor old uncle."

Frank gave him a look as much as to say he would see about that, but he
said nothing beyond a short "What train do you take?"

As Huckins had not thought seriously of taking any, he faltered for a
moment and then blurted out:

"I shall get off at eight. I must say good-by to the young ladies, you
know."

Frank, who did not recognize this _must_, looked at his watch and said:

"You have just a half hour to get the train with me; you had better take
it."

Huckins, a little startled, looked doubtfully at the lawyer and
hesitated. He did not wish to arouse his antagonism or to add to his
suspicion; indeed it was necessary to allay both. He therefore, after a
moment of silent contemplation of the severe and inscrutable face before
him, broke into a short wheedling laugh, and saying, "I had no idea my
company was so agreeable," promised to make what haste he could and
catch the six o'clock train if possible.

But of course it was not possible. He had his second interview with
Doris to hold, and after that was over there were the young ladies to
see and impress with the disinterested state of his feelings. So that it
was eight o'clock before he was ready to leave the town. But he did
leave it at that hour, though it must have been with some intention of
returning, or why did he carry away with him the key of the side-door of
the old Cavanagh mansion?



XXX.

THE FINAL TERROR.


A week went by and Frank returned to Marston full of hope and definite
intention. He had notified the Surrogate of the discovery of the real
heirs to the Wakeham estate, and he had engaged workmen to put in order
the old house in Flatbush against the arrival of the youthful claimants.
All that there now remained to do was to induce the young ladies to
leave the accursed walls within which they had so long immured
themselves.

Edgar was awaiting him at the station, and together they walked up the
street.

"Is it all right?" asked Frank. "Have you seen them daily?"

"Every day but to-day. You would hardly know Emma."

"And--and Hermione?"

"She shows her feelings less, but she is evidently happier than she has
been for a year."

"And her health?"

"Is completely re-established."

"Have you kept your word? Have you talked of everything but what we
propose to do?"

"I never break my word."

"And they? Have they said anything about leaving the house, or of going
to Flatbush, or--or----"

"No; they have preserved as close a silence as ourselves. I imagine they
do not think it proper to speak till we have spoken first."

"It may be; but I should have been pleased if you could have told me
that Hermione had been seen walking outside the gate."

"You would?"

"Yes. I dread the struggle which I now see before me. It is the first
step which costs, and I was in hopes she would have taken this in my
absence."

"Yes, it would have prevented argument. But perhaps you will not have to
argue. She may be merely waiting for the support of your arm."

"Whatever she is waiting for, she takes her first step down the street
to-night. What a new world it will open before her!" And Frank
unconsciously quickened his pace.

Edgar followed with a less impatient step but with fully as much
determination. Pride was mingled with his love, and pride demanded that
his future wife should not be held in any bonds forged by the obstinacy
or the superstitious fears of a wayward sister.

They expected to see the girls at the windows, but they found the
shutters closed and the curtains drawn. Indeed, the whole house had a
funereal look which staggered Frank and made even Edgar stare in
astonishment. "It was not like this yesterday," he declared. "Do they
not expect you?"

"Yes, if my telegram was delivered."

"Let us see at once what is the matter."

It was Doris who came to the door. When her eyes fell upon the two young
men, especially upon Frank, her whole countenance changed.

"Oh, Mr. Etheridge, is it you?" she cried. "I thought--I understood----"
She did not say what, but her relieved manner made quite an impression
on Frank, although it was, of course, impossible for him to suspect what
a dangerous deed she had been contemplating at that very moment.

"Are the young ladies well?" he asked, in his haste to be relieved from
his anxiety.

"Oh, yes, quite well," she admitted, somewhat mysteriously. "They are in
there," she added, pointing to the parlor on the left.

Frank and Edgar looked at each other. They had always before this been
received in the cheerful sitting-room.

"If something is not soon done to make Miss Hermione leave the house,"
Doris whispered passionately to Frank as she passed him, "there will be
worse trouble here than there has ever been before."

"What do you mean?" he demanded, gliding swiftly after her and catching
her by the arm just as she reached the back hall.

"Go in and see," said she, "and when you come out tell me what success
you have had. For if you fail, then----"

"Then what----"

"Providence must interpose to help you."

She was looking straight at him, but that glance told him nothing. He
thought her words strange and her conduct strange, but everything was
strange in this house, and not having the key to her thoughts, the word
_Providence_ did not greatly startle him.

"I will see what I can do," said he, and returning to Edgar, who had
remained standing by the parlor-door, he preceded him into that gloomy
apartment.

The girls were both there, seated, as Frank perceived with a certain
sinking of the heart, in the farthest and dimmest corner of this most
forbidding place. Emma was looking towards them, but Hermione sat with
downcast eyes and an air of discouragement about her Frank found it hard
to behold unmoved.

"Hermione," said he, advancing into the middle of the room, "have you no
welcome for me?"

Trembling with sudden feeling, she rose slowly to her feet; and her eyes
lifted themselves painfully to his.

"Forgive me," she entreated, "I have had such a shock."

"Shock?"

"Yes. Look at my head! look at my hair!"

She bent forward; he hastened to her side and glanced at the rich locks
towards which she pointed. As he did so, he recoiled in sudden awe and
confusion. "What does it mean?" he asked. There were gray spots in those
dusky tresses, spots which had never been there before.

"The fingers of a ghost have touched me," she whispered. "Wherever they
fell, a mark has been left, and those marks sear my brain."

And then Frank noticed, with inward horror, that the spots were regular
and ran in a distinct circle about her head.

"Hermione," he cried, "has your imagination carried you so far? Ghost?
Do you believe in ghosts?"

"I believe in anything _now_," she murmured.

Frightened by her shudders and dazed by words he found it impossible to
treat lightly with those mysterious marks before him, Frank turned for
relief to Emma, who had risen also and stood a few steps behind them,
with her face bent downward though the Doctor pressed close at her side.

"Do you understand her?" said Frank.

With an effort Emma moved forward. "It has frightened _me_," she
whispered.

"What has? Let us hear all about it," demanded the Doctor, speaking for
the first time.

Hermione gave him a wistful glance. "We are wretched girls," said she.
"If you expected to relieve us from the curse, it is impossible; my
father will not have it so."

"Your father!" quoth both of the young men, appalled not at the
superstition thus evinced, but at the effect they saw it was likely to
have upon her mind.

"Did you think you saw _him_?" added Frank. "When? Where?"

"In the laboratory--last night. I did not see him but I felt him; felt
him strike my head with his fingers and drag me back. It was worse than
death! I shall never get over it."

"Tell me the particulars; explain the whole matter to me. Imagination
plays us ghastly tricks sometimes. Were you alone? Was it late?"

"Why didn't I come here this morning?" cried Edgar.

"It was long after midnight. I had received your letter and could not
sleep, so I went into the laboratory, as we often do, to walk. It was
the first time I had been there since I was ill, and it made me tremble
to cross its hated threshold, but I had a question to decide, and I
thought I ought to decide it there. But I trembled, as I say, and my
hand shook so as I opened the door that I was more disturbed than
astonished when my light went suddenly out, leaving me in total
darkness. As I was by this time inside the laboratory I did not turn
back to relight my candle, for the breeze I presently felt blowing
through the room convinced me that this would be idle, and that till the
window was shut, which let in such a stream of air, any attempt to bring
a light into the room would be attended by the same results. I therefore
moved rapidly across the room to the window, and was about to close it
when I was suddenly arrested, and my arms were paralyzed by the feeling
of a presence in the room behind my back. It was so vivid, so clear to
my thoughts, that I seemed to see it, though I did not turn from the
window. It was that of an old man--my father's,--and the menace with
which the arms were lifted froze the blood in my veins.

"I had merited it; I had been near to breaking his command. I had
meditated, if I had not decided, upon a sudden breaking away from the
bondage he had imposed upon me; I had been on the point of daring his
curse, and now it was to fall upon me. I felt the justice of his
presence and fell, as if stricken, on my knees.

"The silence that followed may have been short, and it may have been
long. I was almost unconscious from fright, remorse, and apprehension.
But when I did rouse and did summon courage to turn and crawl from the
room, I was conscious of the thing following me, and would have
screamed, but that I had no voice. Suddenly I gave a rush; but the
moment I started forward I felt those fingers fall upon my head and draw
me back, and when I did escape it was with a force that carried me
beyond the door and then laid me senseless on the floor; for I am no
longer strong, Mr. Etheridge, and the hatred of the dead is worse than
that of the living."

"You had a dream, a fearful dream, and these marks prove its
vividness," declared Edgar. "You must not let your life be ruined by any
such fantasies."

"Oh, that it had been a dream," moaned Hermione, "but it was more than
that, as we can prove."

"Prove?"

"Come to the laboratory," cried Emma, suddenly. "There is something we
want to show you there; something which I saw early this morning when I
went in to close the window Hermione did not shut."

The young men, startled, did not wait for a second bidding; they
followed the two girls immediately up-stairs.

"No one has been up these stairs but Doris and ourselves since you went
down them a week ago," declared Hermione, as they entered the
laboratory. "Now look at the lid of the mahogany desk--my father's
desk."

They all went over to it, and Emma, pointing, seemed to ask what they
thought of it. They did not know what to think, for there on its even
surface they beheld words written with the point of a finger in the
thick dust which covered it; and the words were legible and ran thus:

"In your anger you swore to remain within these walls; in your remorse
see that you keep that oath. Not for love, not for hatred, dare to cross
the threshold, or I will denounce you in the grave where I shall be
gone, and my curse shall be upon you."

"My father's words to me in the dreadful hour of his death," whispered
Hermione. "You may remember them, Mr. Etheridge; they were in the letter
I wrote you."

Frank did remember them quite well, and for a moment he, like Edgar,
stood a little dazed and shaken by a mystery he could not immediately
fathom. But only for a moment. He was too vigorous, and his
determination was too great, for him to be daunted long by even an
appearance of the supernatural. So leaping forward, with a bright laugh,
he drew his hand across the menacing words, and, effacing them at once,
cried with a confident look at Hermione:

"So will I erase them from your heart if you only will let me,
Hermione."

But she pointed with an awful look at her hair.

"Can you take these spots out also? Till you can, do not expect me to
follow the beck of any hand which would lead me to defy my father's
curse by leaving this house."

At this declaration both men turned pale, and unconsciously moved
towards each other with a single thought. Had they looked at the door,
they would have seen the inquisitive face of Doris disappear towards the
staircase, with that air of determination which only ends in action. But
they only saw each other and the purpose which was slowly developing in
each of their minds.

"Come, Hermione," urged Frank, "this is no place for you. If you are
going to stay in this house, I am going to stay with you; but this room
is prohibited; you shall never enter it again."

He did not know how truly he spoke.

"Come," said Edgar, in his turn, to Emma, "we have had all the horrors
we want; now let us go down-stairs and have a little cheerful talk in
the sitting-room."

And Emma yielded; but Hermione hung back.

"I dread to go down," said she; "this seems the only place in which I
can say farewell."

But Frank was holding out his hand, and she gradually gave in to its
seduction and followed him down-stairs into the sitting-room, which was
fast growing dusky.

"Now," said he, without heeding Emma and the Doctor, who had retreated
to one of the farther windows, "if you wish to say farewell, I will
listen to you; but before you speak, hear what I have to say. In a
certain box which came with me this day from New York, and which is now
at Mr. Lothrop's, there lies a gown of snowy satin made with enough lace
to hide any deficiencies it may have in size or fit. With this gown is a
veil snowy as itself, and on the veil there lies a wreath of orange
blossoms, while under the whole are piled garments after garments,
chosen with loving care by the only sister I have in the world, for the
one woman in that world I wish to make my wife. If you love me,
Hermione, if you think my devotion a true one, fly from this nest of
hideous memories and superstitious fears, and in that place where you
are already expected, put on these garments I have brought you, and with
them a crown of love, joy, and hope, which will mean a farewell, not to
me, but to the old life forever."

But Hermione, swaying aside from him, cried: "I cannot, I cannot; the
rafters would fall if I tried to pass the door."

"Then," said Frank, growing in height and glowing with purpose, "they
shall fall first on me." And seizing her in his arms, he raised her to
his breast and fled with her out of the room and out of the house, her
wild shriek of mingled terror and love trailing faintly after them till
he stopped on the farther side of the gate, which softly closed behind
them.

Emma, who was taken as much by surprise as her sister had been, looked
at the empty place where Hermione had so lately stood, and cowered low,
as if the terrible loneliness of the house, now _she_ was gone, crushed
upon her like a weight. Then she seized Edgar by the hand and ran out
also; and Edgar pulled the great door to behind them, and the Cavanagh
mansion, for the first time in a year, was a shell without inmates, a
body without soul.

They found Hermione standing in the dark shadows cast here in the street
by the overhanging trees. Frank's arm was about her and she looked both
dazed and pleased.

When she saw Emma she started.

"Oh, it releases you too," she cried; "that is happiness. I did not
like to see you suffer for my sins." Then she drooped a little, then she
looked up, and a burden seemed to roll away from her heart. "The rafters
did not fall," she murmured, "and you, Frank, will keep all spectres
away from me, won't you? He can never reach me when I am by your side."

"Never, never," was the glad reply. And Frank began to draw her gently
up the street. "It is but a step," said he, "to Mr. Lothrop's; no one
will ever notice that you are without a hat."

"But----"

"You are expected," he whispered. "You are never to go back into your
old home again."

Again he did not know how truly he spoke.

"Emma, Emma," appealed Hermione, "shall I do this thing, without any
preparation, any thought, anything but my love and gratitude to make it
a true bridal?"

"Ah, Hermione, in making yourself happy, you make me so; therefore I am
but a poor adviser."

"What, will you be married too, to-night, at the minister's house with
me?"

"No, dear, but soon, very soon, as soon as you can give me a home to be
married in."

"Then let us make her happy," cried Hermione. "It is the only
reparation I can offer for all I have made her suffer."



XXXI.

AN EVENTFUL QUARTER OF AN HOUR.


When Edgar closed the front door of the Cavanagh mansion behind himself
and Emma, the noise he made was slight, and yet it was heard by ears
that were listening for it in the remote recesses of the kitchen.

"The gentlemen are gone," decided Doris, without any hesitation. "They
could not move Miss Hermione from her resolves, and I did not think they
could. Nothing can move her but fire, and fire there shall be, and that
to-night."

Stealing towards the front of the house, she listened. All was quiet.
She instantly concluded that the young ladies were in the parlor, and
glided back to a certain closet under the stairs, into which she peered
with a satisfied air. "Plenty of stuff there," she commented, and
shivered slightly as she thought of putting a candle to the combustible
pile before her. Shutting the door, she crept to another spot where lay
a huge pile of shavings, and again she nodded with satisfaction at the
sight. Finally, she went into the shed, and when she came back she
walked like one who sees the way clear to her purposes.

"I promised Mr. Huckins I would not start the blaze till after
midnight," said she almost audibly, as she passed again towards the
front. "He was so afraid if the fire got started early that the
neighbors would put it out before any harm was done. But I haven't the
nerve to do such a thing with the young ladies up-stairs. They might not
get down safely, or I might not have the power to wake them. No, I will
fire it now, while they are in the parlor, and trust to its going like
tinder, as it will. Won't the young gentlemen thank me, and won't the
young ladies do the same, when they get over the shock of being suddenly
thrown upon the world."

Chuckling softly to herself, she looked up-stairs and finally ran
quietly up. With a woman's thoughtfulness she remembered certain
articles which she felt were precious to the young ladies. To gather
these together would be the work of a moment, and it would ease her
conscience. Going first to Hermione's room, she threw such objects as
she considered valuable into a sheet, and tied them up. Then she tossed
the bundle thus made out of one of the side windows. Running to Emma's
room, she repeated her operations; and letting her own things go,
hastened down-stairs and went again into the kitchen. When she reissued
it was with a lighted candle in her hand.

Meantime from the poplar walk two eyes were gazing with restless
eagerness upon the house. They belonged to Huckins, who, unknown to
Etheridge, unknown to Doris even, had returned to Marston for the
purpose of watching the development of his deadly game. He had stolen
into the garden and was surveying the place, not so much from any
expectation of fire at this hour, as because his whole interest was
centred in the house and he could not keep his eyes from it.

But suddenly, as he looks, he detects something amiss, and starting
forward, with many muttered exclamations, he draws nearer and nearer to
the house, which he presently enters by means of the key he draws from
his pocket. As he does so, a faint smell of smoke comes to his nostrils,
causing him to mutter: "She is three hours too soon; what does she mean
by it?"

The door by which he had entered was at the end of a side hall. He
found the house dark, but he was so accustomed to it by this time, that
he felt no hesitancy as to his steps. He went at first to the
sitting-room and looked in; there was no one there. Then he proceeded to
the parlor, which was also empty. "Good," thought he, "they are
up-stairs"; and he slid with his quiet step to the staircase, up which
he went like the ghost or spectre which he had perhaps simulated the
night before. There was a door at the top of the first landing, and he
had some thoughts of simply locking this, and escaping. But, he said to
himself, it would be much more satisfactory to first make sure that the
two girls were really above, before he locked them in; so he crept up
farther, and finally came to Hermione's room. The door was shut, but
from the light which shone through the keyhole (a light which Doris had
left there in her haste and trepidation), he judged Hermione to be
within, so he softly turned the key that was in the lock, and glided
away to Emma's apartment. This was also closed, but there was a light
there, also from the same cause, so there being no key visible he drew a
heavy piece of furniture across the doorway, and fled back to the
stairs. As he reached them, a blinding gust of smoke swept up through
the crevices beneath his feet, but he thought he saw his way clearly,
and rushed for the landing. But just as he reached it, the door--the
door he had intended to close behind him--shut sharply in his face, and
he found himself imprisoned. With a shriek, he dashed against it; but it
was locked; and just as he staggered upright again from his violent
efforts to batter it down, a red-hot flame shot up through a gap in the
staircase and played about his feet. He yelled, and dashed up the
stairs. If he were to suffer for his own crime, he would at least have
companions in his agony. Calling upon Emma and Hermione, he rushed to
the piece of furniture with which he had barred the former's apartment,
and frantically drew it aside. The door remained shut; there was no
agonized one within to force it open the moment the pressure against it
was relieved. Stupefied, he staggered away and ran up the twisted
staircase to Hermione's room. Perhaps they were here, perhaps they were
both here. But all was silent within, and when he had entered and
searched the space before him, even beneath and behind the curtains of
the bed for its expected occupant, and found no one there, he uttered
such a cry as that house had never listened to, not even when it echoed
to its master's final yell of rage and despair.

Doris meanwhile was suffering her own punishment below. When she had
lighted the three several piles she had prepared, she fled into the
front of the house to spread the alarm and insure the safety of her
young mistresses. Passing the staircase she had one quick thought of the
likelihood there might be of Hermione or Emma dashing up those stairs in
an endeavor to save some of their effects, so she quietly locked the
door above in order to prevent them. But when she had done this she
heard a shriek, and, startled, she was about to unlock it again when a
vivid flame shot up between her and the door making any such attempt
impossible. Aghast with terror, fearing that by some error of
calculation she had shut her young ladies up-stairs after all, she went
shrieking their names through the lower rooms and halls, now filling
with smoke and lurid with shooting jets of flame. As no response came
and she could find no one in any of the rooms, her terror grew to frenzy
and she would have dashed up-stairs at the risk of her life. But it was
too late; the stairs had already fallen, and the place was one volcano
of seething flame.



XXXII.

THE SPECTRE OF THE LABORATORY.


Had Hermione been allowed time to think, she might have drawn back from
such a sudden marriage. But Frank, who recognized this possibility,
urged her with gentle speed down the street, and never ceased his
persuasions till they stood at the minister's door. Mrs. Lothrop, who
had a heart for romance, opened it, and seeing the blushing face and
somewhat dishevelled appearance of Hermione, she cast one comprehending
look at Frank, and drew them in joyfully.

"You are to be married, are you not?" she asked, welcoming the whole
four with the gayest of bows. "I congratulate you, dear, and will take
you right away to my best room, where you will find your box and
everything else you may need. I am so glad you decided to come here
instead of having us go to you. It is so pleasant and so friendly and
the Doctor does so dread to go out evenings now."

Small chatter is ofttimes our salvation. Under this little lady's fire
of bright talk Hermione lost the tragic feelings of months and seemed to
awake to the genialities of life. Turning her grand head towards the
smiling little woman she let her own happiness shine from the corners of
her mouth, and then following the other's lead, allowed herself to be
taken to a cosy chintz-furnished room whose home-like aspect struck warm
upon her heart and completed the work of her rejuvenation.

Emma, who was close behind her, laughed merrily.

"Such a chrysalis of a bride," cried she. "Where are the wings with
which to turn her into a butterfly?"

Mrs. Lothrop showed them a great box, and then left them. Emma, lifting
the lid, glanced shyly at Hermione, who blushed scarlet. Such a lovely
array of satin, lace, and flowers! To these girls, who had denied
themselves everything and been denied everything, it was a glimpse of
Paradise. As one beautiful garment after another was taken out,
Hermione's head drooped lower in her delight and the love it inspired,
till at last the tears came and she wept for a few minutes
unconstrainedly. When this mood had passed, she gave herself up to
Emma's eager fingers, and was dressed in her bridal garments.

The clock was striking ten when Frank's impatience was rewarded by the
first glimpse of his bride. She came into the room with Emma and Mrs.
Lothrop, and her beauty, heightened by her feelings to the utmost, was
such as to fill him with triumph and delight.

To Edgar it was a revelation, for always before, he had seen the scar
before he did her; but now he was compelled to see her first, for the
scar was hidden under fold upon fold of lace.

"No wonder Frank is daft over her," thought he, "if she always looks
like this to him."

As for Frank, he bowed with all his soul to the radiant vision, and
then, leading her up to Mr. Lothrop, awaited the sacred words which were
to make them one. As they were being uttered, strange noises broke out
in the street, and the cry of "Fire! fire!" rang out; but if the bride
and bridegroom heard the ominous word they did not betray the fact, and
the ceremony proceeded. It was soon over, and Frank turned to kiss his
wife; but just as Emma advanced with her congratulations, the front door
burst open and a neighbor's voice was heard to cry in great excitement:

"The Cavanagh house is burning, and we are all afraid that the girls
have perished in the flames."

It was Emma who gave the one shriek that responded to these words.
Hermione seemed like one frozen. Edgar, dashing to the door, looked out,
and came slowly back.

"Yes, it is burning," said he. "Emma will have to go with you to New
York."

"It is a judgment," moaned Hermione, clinging to Frank, who perhaps felt
a touch of superstitious awe himself. "It is a judgment upon me for
forgetting; for being happy; for accepting a deliverance I should not
have desired."

But at these words Frank regained his composure.

"No," corrected he, "it is your deliverance made complete. Without it
you might have had compunctions and ideas of returning to a place to
which you felt yourself condemned. Now you never can. It is a merciful
Providence."

"Let us go and see the old house burn," she whispered. "If it is a
funeral pyre of the past, let us watch the dying embers. Perhaps my
fears will vanish with them."

He did not refuse her; so Emma relieved her of her veil and threw about
her a long cloak, and together they stepped into the street. The glare
that struck their faces made them shrink, but they soon overcame the
first shock and hastened on.

The town was in a tumult, but they saw nothing save the flaming skeleton
of their home, with the gaunt outlines of the poplars shining vividly in
the scarlet glow.

As they drew near to it the front of the house fell in, and Hermione,
with a shriek, pointed to the corner where the laboratory had been.

"My father! my father! See! see! he is there! He is denouncing me! Look
at his lifted arms! It _is_ a judgment, it is----"

Her words trailed off in choking horror. They all looked, and they all
saw the figure of an old man writhing against a background of flame. Was
it a spectre? Was it the restless ghost of the old professor showing
itself for the last time in the place of his greatest sin and suffering?
Even Edgar was silent, and Frank refused to say, while the girls,
sinking upon their knees with inarticulate moans and prayers, seemed to
beg for mercy and cry against this retribution, when suddenly Hermione
felt herself clasped in two vigorous arms, and a voice exclaimed in the
husky accents of great joy:

"You are here! You are here! You are not burned! O my dear young
mistresses, my dear, dear young mistresses!"

Hermione, pushing the weeping Doris back, pointed again towards the
toppling structure, and cried:

"Do you see who is there? My father, Doris, my father! See how he
beckons and waves, see----"

Doris, startled, gave a cry in her turn:

"It is Mr. Huckins! O save----"

But the words were lost in the sudden crash of falling walls. The scene
of woe was gone, and the dayspring of hope had risen for the two girls.



_A Selection from the Catalogue of_

G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS

Complete Catalogue sent on application


Works by Anna Katharine Green


THE LEAVENWORTH CASE. A Lawyer's Story.

    New Illustrated Edition. Cr. 8vo.                           $1.50

    "She has worked up a _cause célèbre_ with a fertility of device and
    ingenuity of treatment hardly second to Wilkie Collins or Edgar
    Allan Poe."--_Christian Union_.


BEHIND CLOSED DOORS.

    16^o, cloth                                                 $1 00

    "... She has never succeeded better in baffling the
    reader."--_Boston Christian Register_.


THE SWORD OF DAMOCLES. A Story of New York Life.

    16^o, cloth                                                 $1 00

    "'The Sword of Damocles' is a book of great power, which far
    surpasses either of its predecessors from her pen, and places
    her high among American writers. The plot is complicated and is
    managed adroitly.... In the delineation of characters she has
    shown both delicacy and vigor."--_Congregationalist_.


X. Y. Z. and 7 TO 12: DETECTIVE STORIES.

    16^o,                                                       $1 00

    "Well written and extremely exciting and captivating.... She is
    a perfect genius in the construction of a plot."--_N. Y.
    Commercial Advertiser_.


HAND AND RING.

    16^o, cloth                                                 $1 00

    "It is a tribute to the author's genius that she never tires and
    never loses her readers.... It moves on clean and healthy.... It
    is worked out powerfully and skilfully."--N. Y. Independent.


A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE.

    16^o, cloth                                                 $1 00

    "A most ingenious and absorbingly interesting story. The readers
    are held spell-bound until the last page."--_Cincinnati
    Commercial_.


THE MILL MYSTERY.

    16^o, cloth                                                 $1 00


THE HOUSE OF THE WHISPERING PINES.

    Cr. 8vo. Colored Frontispiece. Cloth                        $1.50

    "As good as 'The Leavenworth Case.'"--_N. Y. Globe_.


THE OLD STONE HOUSE, AND OTHER STORIES.

    16^o, cloth                                              75 cents

    "It is a bundle of quite cleverly constructed pieces of fiction,
    with which an idle hour may be pleasantly passed."--_N. Y.
    Independent._


CYNTHIA WAKEHAM'S MONEY. With frontispiece.

    16^o, cloth                                                 $1 00

    "'Cynthia Wakeham's Money' is a story notable even among the
    many vigorous works of Anna Katharine Green."--_New York Sun._


MARKED "PERSONAL."

    16^o, cloth                                                 $1 00

    "The ingenious plot is built up with all the skill of the writer
    of 'The Leavenworth Case' to the very last chapter, which
    contains the surprising solutions of several mysteries."


MISS HURD: AN ENIGMA.

    16^o, cloth                                                 $1 00

    "A strong and interesting novel in an entirely new field of
    romance."


THE DOCTOR, HIS WIFE, AND THE CLOCK.

    32^o, limp cloth                                         50 cents

    "The story is entertainingly told...."--_Cincinnati Tribune_.


DR. IZARD.

    16^o, cloth                                                 $1 00

    "Those who have read her other books will not need to be urged
    to read this; they will be eager to do so, and we assure them a
    very interesting story."--_Boston Times_.


THAT AFFAIR NEXT DOOR.

    16^o, cloth                                                 $1 00

    "Startling in its ingenuity and its wonderful plot."--_Buffalo
    Enquirer_.


LOST MAN'S LANE.

    16^o, cloth                                                 $1 00


AGATHA WEBB.

    16^o, cloth                                                 $1.25


ONE OF MY SONS.

    16^o, cloth, illustrated                                    $1.50


THE DEFENCE OF THE BRIDE, AND OTHER POEMS.

    16^o, cloth                                                 $1 00


RISIFI'S DAUGHTER.

    A Drama. 16^o, cloth                                        $1 00


G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS, New York and London



Who?

By Elizabeth Kent

Author of "The House Opposite"

_Cr. 8vo. Frontispiece in Color by John Cassel $1.25 net. By mail,
$1.40_


A more thrilling detective story than "Who?" has seldom appeared. Not
only does it deal with the story of a crime such as the ablest detective
would find it difficult to solve, but there is an added mystery
concerning the identity of one of the principal suspects, regarding
which the reader's opinion will change a dozen times before arriving at
the truth. Every page teems with incidents, forming a succession of
dramatic scenes that will keep the reader's interest at white heat
throughout.

    G. P. Putnam's Sons
    New York      London



The Adventures of Miss Gregory

By Perceval Gibbon

_12^o. With 8 Illustrations. $1.35 net By mail, $1.50_


The rousing volume of dare-devil enterprise that Perceval Gibbon has
written is a book full of freshness and surprise. Miss Gregory knocks
about the world, and wherever she goes she is in the thick of things. At
one time it is a Nihilist plot which fascinates her; at another time, a
plague-stricken community that calls her. She is in Africa when the
slaver is secretly plying his trade, and again, in wicked Beíra, at the
opportune moment she interposes her calm, forceful personality between
an aggressive ruffian and his friendless victim. Wherever she goes she
attracts adventure to her. The book which recounts her extraordinary
experiences is full of graphic pictures of men and women in widely
separated parts of the globe, and the characterization of these is as
forceful and impressive as the narrative in which they play their parts
is swift in movement and enthralling in theme.

    G. P. Putnam's Sons
    New York      London



Transcriber's Note:

Punctuation has been standardised. Spelling and hyphenation have been
retained as in the original publication except as follows:

    Page 19
    before her head could and its _changed to_
    before her head could add its

    Page 87
    advisable to have an an inventory _changed to_
    advisable to have an inventory

    Page 120
    heeded neither his works nor _changed to_
    heeded neither his words nor

    Page 135
    so may their hearts be. Wont _changed to_
    so may their hearts be. Won't

    Page 144
    Hermoine, and then I could _changed to_
    Hermione, and then I could

    Page 209
    "since Hariet Smith is _changed to_
    "since Harriet Smith is





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Cynthia Wakeham's Money" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home