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Title: The Bride of the Tomb and Queenie's - Terrible Secret
Author: Miller, Alex. McVeigh, Mrs., 1850-1937 [Adapter]
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.

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CONTENTS

  The Bride of the Tomb; or, Lancelot Darling's Betrothed
    Chapter I.
    Chapter II.
    Chapter III.
    Chapter IV.
    Chapter V.
    Chapter VI.
    Chapter VII.
    Chapter VIII.
    Chapter IX.
    Chapter X.
    Chapter XI.
    Chapter XII.
    Chapter XIII.
    Chapter XIV.
    Chapter XV.
    Chapter XVI.
    Chapter XVII.
    Chapter XVIII.
    Chapter XIX.
    Chapter XX.
    Chapter XXI.
    Chapter XXII.
    Chapter XXIII.
    Chapter XXIV.
    Chapter XXV.
    Chapter XXVI.
    Chapter XXVII.
    Chapter XXVIII.
    Chapter XXIX.
    Chapter XXX.
    Chapter XXXI.
    Chapter XXXII.
    Chapter XXXIII.
    Chapter XXXIV.
    Chapter XXXV.
    Chapter XXXVI.
    Chapter XXXVII.
    Chapter XXXVIII.
    Chapter XXXIX.
    Chapter XL.

  Queenie's Terrible Secret; or, A Young Girl's Strange Fate
    Chapter I.
    Chapter II.
    Chapter III.
    Chapter IV.
    Chapter V.
    Chapter VI.
    Chapter VII.
    Chapter VIII.
    Chapter IX.
    Chapter X.
    Chapter XI.
    Chapter XII.
    Chapter XIII.
    Chapter XIV.
    Chapter XV.
    Chapter XVI.
    Chapter XVII.
    Chapter XVIII.
    Chapter XIX.
    Chapter XX.
    Chapter XXI.
    Chapter XXII.
    Chapter XXIII.
    Chapter XXIV.
    Chapter XXV.
    Chapter XXVI.
    Chapter XXVII.
    Chapter XXVIII.
    Chapter XXIX.
    Chapter XXX.
    Chapter XXXI.
    Chapter XXXII.
    Chapter XXXIII.
    Chapter XXXIV.
    Chapter XXXV.
    Chapter XXXVI.
    Chapter XXXVII.
    Chapter XXXVIII.
    Chapter XXXIX.
    Chapter XL.
    Chapter XLI.
    Chapter XLII.
    Chapter XLIII.



  EAGLE SERIES                   No. 426


       THE BRIDE OF THE TOMB
       AND
       QUEENIE'S TERRIBLE SECRET

       [Illustration]

       BY
       MRS. ALEX. M^cVEIGH MILLER

  STREET & SMITH × PUBLISHERS × NEW YORK



_The Eagle Series_

_OF POPULAR FICTION_

  _Principally Copyrights._        _Elegant Colored Covers_


This is the pioneer line of copyright novels. Its popularity has
increased with every number, until, at the present time, it stands
unrivaled as regards sales and contents.

It is composed, mainly, of popular copyrighted titles which cannot be
had in any other lines at any price. The authors, as far as literary
ability and reputation are concerned, represent the foremost men and
women of their time. The books, without exception, are of entrancing
interest, and manifestly those most desired by the American reading
public. A purchase of two or three of these books at random, will make
you a firm believer that there is no line of novels which can compare
favorably with the EAGLE SERIES.

PUBLISHED EVERY WEEK


       =To be Published During May=

  466--Love, the Victor                      By a Popular Southern Author

       =To be Published During April=

  =465--Outside Her Eden=                         =By Mrs. Harriet Lewis=
  =464--The Old Life's Shadows=                   =By Mrs. Harriet Lewis=
  =463--A Wife's Triumph=                    =By Effie Adelaide Rowlands=
  462--A Stormy Wedding                                  By Mary E. Bryan

       =To be Published During March=

  461--Above All Things                              By Adelaide Stirling
  =460--Dr. Jack's Talisman=                    =By St. George Rathborne=
  459--A Golden Mask                              By Charlotte M. Stanley
  =458--When Love Meets Love=                        =By Charles Garvice=

       =To be Published During February=

  =457--Adrift in the World=                      =By Mrs. Harriet Lewis=
  =456--A Vixen's Treachery=                      =By Mrs. Harriet Lewis=
  =455--Love's Greatest Gift=                =By Effie Adelaide Rowlands=
  454--Love's Probation                                By Elizabeth Olmis

       =To be Published During January=

  453--A Poor Girl's Passion                           By Gertrude Warden
  452--The Last of the Van Slacks                   By Edward S. Van Zile
  =451--Helen's Triumph=                        =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  =450--Rosamond's Love=                          =By Mrs. Harriet Lewis=
  =449--The Bailiff's Scheme=                     =By Mrs. Harriet Lewis=

         *       *       *       *       *

  448--When Love Dawns                               By Adelaide Stirling
  =447--A Favorite of Fortune=                  =By St. George Rathborne=
  446--Bound with Love's Fetters                    By Mary Grace Halpine
  =445--An Angel of Evil=                    =By Effie Adelaide Rowlands=
  444--Love's Trials                                 By Alfred R. Calhoun
  443--In Spite of Proof                               By Gertrude Warden
  442--Love Before Duty                               By Mrs. L. T. Meade
  441--A Princess of the Stage                   By Nataly von Eschstruth
  =440--Edna's Secret Marriage=                      =By Charles Garvice=
  439--Little Nan                                      By Mary A. Denison
  =438--So Like a Man=                       =By Effie Adelaide Rowlands=
  437--The Breach of Custom                          By Mrs. D. M. Lowrey
  =436--The Rival Toreadors=                    =By St. George Rathborne=
  435--Under Oath                                     By Jean Kate Ludlum
  434--The Guardian's Trust                            By Mary A. Denison
  =433--Winifred's Sacrifice=                   =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  432--Breta's Double                                 By Helen V. Greyson
  =431--Her Husband and Her Love,=           =By Effie Adelaide Rowlands=
  430--The Honor of a Heart                            By Mary J. Safford
  429--A Fair Fraud                               By Emily Lovett Cameron
  428--A Tramp's Daughter                                   By Hazel Wood
  =427--A Wizard of the Moors=                  =By St. George Rathborne=
  426--The Bride of the Tomb and Queenie's Terrible Secret,
                                             By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller
  425--A College Widow                                   By Frank H. Howe
  =424--A Splendid Man=                      =By Effie Adelaide Rowlands=
  423--A Woman's Way                         By Capt. Frederick Whittaker
  422--Lady Kildare                                 By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  421--Her Sweet Reward                                   By Barbara Kent
  420--A Sweet Little Lady                             By Gertrude Warden
  =419--The Other Woman=                             =By Charles Garvice=
  418--An Insignificant Woman                              By W. Heimburg
  =417--Brave Barbara=                       =By Effie Adelaide Rowlands=
  =416--Down in Dixie=                          =By St. George Rathborne=
  =415--Trixy=                                  =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  414--A Girl's First Love                         By Elizabeth C. Winter
  413--Were They Married?                                   By Hazel Wood
  412--The Love That Lives                      By Capt. Fred'k Whittaker
  411--Fettered and Freed                             By Eugene Charvette
  410--Miss Mischief                                       By W. Heimburg
  =409--A Girl's Kingdom=                    =By Effie Adelaide Rowlands=
  408--On a False Charge                             By Seward W. Hopkins
  =407--Esther, the Fright=                     =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  =406--Felipe's Pretty Sister=                 =By St. George Rathborne=
  405--The Haunted Husband                          By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  404--The Captive Bride                        By Capt. Fred'k Whittaker
  403--The Rival Suitors                                By J. H. Connelly
  402--A Silent Heroine                              By Mrs. D. M. Lowrey
  401--The Woman Who Came Between                 Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  400--For Another's Wrong                                 By W. Heimburg
  =399--Betsey's Transformation=                =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  398--Cupid's Disguise                                   By Fanny Lewald
  397--A Gilded Promise                              By Walter Bloomfield
  =396--Back to Old Kentucky=                   =By St. George Rathborne=
  395--Wooing a Widow                                       By E. A. King
  394--A Drama of a Life                              By Jean Kate Ludlum
  393--On the Wings of Fate                    By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  392--A Resurrected Love                            By Seward W. Hopkins
  =391--Marguerite's Heritage=                  =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  390--A Mutual Vow                                       By Harold Payne
  389--Sundered Hearts                              By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  388--Two Wives                                            By Hazel Wood
  387--A Heroine's Plot                          By Katherine S. MacQuoid
  386--Teddy's Enchantress                        By St. George Rathborne
  385--A Woman Against Her                     By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  384--Yet She Loved Him                              By Mrs. Kate Vaughn
  383--A Lover From Across the Sea                     By Mary J. Safford
  =382--Mona=                                   =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  381--The Sunshine of Love                         By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  380--Her Double Life                              By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  379--Blinded by Love                           By Nataly Von Eschstruth
  378--John Winthrop's Defeat                         By Jean Kate Ludlum
  377--Forever True                            By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  =376--The Red Slipper=                        =By St. George Rathborne=
  375--Transgressing the Law                    By Capt. Fred'k Whittaker
  374--True Daughter of Hartenstein                    By Mary J. Safford
  =373--A Thorn Among Roses=                    =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  =372--A Girl in a Thousand=                   =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  371--Cecil Rosse                                  By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  370--Edith Trevor's Secret                        By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  369--At a Great Cost                         By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  =368--The Pride of Her Life=                       =By Charles Garvice=
  367--Hearts and Coronets                              By Jane G. Fuller
  =366--Comrades In Exile=                      =By St. George Rathborne=
  365--Under a Cloud                                  By Jean Kate Ludlum
  364--A Fool's Paradise                            By Mary Grace Halpine
  363--The Opposite House                        By Nataly Von Eschstruth
  =362--Stella Rosevelt=                        =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  =361--The Ashes of Love=                           =By Charles Garvice=
  360--An Only Daughter                                     By Hazel Wood
  359--The Spectre's Secret                         By Sylvanus Cobb, Jr.
  358--Beryl's Husband                              By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  =357--Montezuma's Mines=                      =By St. George Rathborne=
  356--Little Kit                              By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  355--Wife and Woman                                  By Mary J. Safford
  =354--A Love Comedy=                               =By Charles Garvice=
  353--Family Pride, Vol. II.                           By Mary J. Holmes
  352--Family Pride, Vol. I.                            By Mary J. Holmes
  =351--The Churchyard Betrothal=                    =By Mrs. G. Sheldon=
  350--A Wronged Wife                               By Mary Grace Halpine
  349--Marion Grey                                      By Mary J. Holmes
  =348--My Florida Sweetheart=                  =By St. George Rathborne=
  =347--The Eyes of Love=                            =By Charles Garvice=
  346--Guy Tresillian's Fate                        By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  345--Tresillian Court                             By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  344--Leah's Mistake                               By Mrs. H. C. Hoffman
  343--Little Sunshine                                  By Adah M. Howard
  342--Her Little Highness                       By Nataly von Eschstruth
  341--Bad Hugh, Vol. II.                          By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  340--Bad Hugh, Vol. I.                           By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  =339--His Heart's Queen=                      =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  =338--A Daughter of Russia=                   =By St. George Rathborne=
  337--Dear Elsie                                      By Mary J. Safford
  336--Rose Mather                                 By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  335--We Parted at the Altar                        By Laura Jean Libbey
  334--Miss McDonald                               By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  =333--Stella's Fortune=                            =By Charles Garvice=
          (The Sculptor's Wooing)
  332--Darkness and Daylight                       By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  331--Christine                                      By Adeline Sergeant
  330--Aikenside                                   By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  =329--My Hildegarde=                          =By St. George Rathborne=
  =328--He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not=                =By Charles Garvice=
          (Valeria)
  327--Was She Wife or Widow?                             By Malcolm Bell
  326--Parted by Fate                                By Laura Jean Libbey
  325--The Leighton Homestead                      By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  324--A Love Match                                 By Sylvanus Cobb, Jr.
  323--The Little Countess                                 By S. E. Boggs
  322--Mildred                                     By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  321--Neva's Three Lovers                          By Mrs. Harriet Lewis
  =320--Mynheer Joe=                            =By St. George Rathborne=
  319--Millbank                                    By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  =318--Staunch of Heart=                            =By Charles Garvice=
          (Adrien Le Roy)
  317--Ione                                          By Laura Jean Libbey
  316--Edith Lyle's Secret                         By Mrs. Mary J. Holmes
  315--The Dark Secret                               By May Agnes Fleming
  314--A Maid's Fatal Love                         By Helen Corwin Pierce
  313--A Kinsman's Sin                         By Effie Adelaide Rowlands
  =312--Woven on Fate's Loom=                        =By Charles Garvice=
  (And Farmer Holt's Daughter)
  =311--Wedded by Fate=                         =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  310--A Late Repentance                              By Mary A. Denison.
  309--The Heiress of Castle Cliffe                 By May Agnes Fleming.
  308--Lady Ryhope's Lover                        By Emma Garrison Jones.
  =307--The Winning of Isolde=                  =By St. George Rathborne=
  306--Love's Golden Rule                           By Geraldine Fleming.
  =305--Led by Love=                                 =By Charles Garvice=
  =304--Staunch as a Woman=                          =By Charles Garvice=
          (A Maiden's Sacrifice)
  303--The Queen of the Isle                        By May Agnes Fleming.
  302--When Man's Love Fades                               By Hazel Wood.
  301--The False and the True                 By Effie Adelaide Rowlands.
  =300--The Spider and the Fly=                      =By Charles Garvice=
          (Violet)
  =299--Little Miss Whirlwind=                  =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  298--Should She Have Left Him?                    By William C. Hudson.
  297--That Girl from Texas                       By Mrs. J. H. Walworth.
  =296--The Heir of Vering=                          =By Charles Garvice=
  295--A Terrible Secret                            By Geraldine Fleming.
  =294--A Warrior Bold=                         =By St. George Rathborne=
  293--For Love of Anne Lambart               By Effie Adelaide Rowlands.
  =292--For Her Only=                                =By Charles Garvice=
          (Diana)
  =291--A Mysterious Wedding Ring=,             =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  290--A Change of Heart                      By Effie Adelaide Rowlands.
  289--Married in Mask                          By Mansfield T. Walworth.
  =288--Sibyl's Influence=                      =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  =287--The Lady of Darracourt=                      =By Charles Garvice=
  286--A Debt of Vengeance                      By Mrs. E. Burke Collins.
  285--Born to Betray                               By Mrs. M. V. Victor.
  =284--Dr. Jack's Widow=                       =By St. George Rathborne=
  =283--My Lady Pride=                               =By Charles Garvice=
          (Floris)
  =282--The Forsaken Bride=                     =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  281--For Love Alone                                   By Wenona Gilman.
  =280--Love's Dilemma=                              =By Charles Garvice=
          (For an Earldom)
  279--Nina's Peril                         By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller.
  278--Laura Brayton                                    By Julia Edwards.
  =277--Brownie's Triumph=                      =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  =276--So Nearly Lost=                              =By Charles Garvice=
          (The Springtime of Love)
  275--Love's Cruel Whim                      By Effie Adelaide Rowlands.
  274--A Romantic Girl                                By Evelyn E. Green.
  =273--At Swords Points=                       =By St. George Rathborne=
  =272--So Fair, So False=                           =By Charles Garvice=
          (The Beauty of the Season)
  271--With Love's Laurel Crowned                        By W. C. Stiles.
  270--Had She Foreseen                                   By Dora Delmar.
  269--Brunette and Blonde                  By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller.
  =268--Olivia; or, It Was for Her Sake=             =By Charles Garvice=
  =267--Jeanne=                                      =By Charles Garvice=
          (Barriers Between)
  266--The Welfleet Mystery                      By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon.
  265--First Love is Best                               By S. K. Hocking.
  264--For Gold or Soul                             By Lurana W. Sheldon.
  =263--An American Nabob=                      =By St. George Rathborne=
  262--A Woman's Faith                                  By Henry Wallace.
  261--A Siren's Heart                        By Effie Adelaide Rowlands.
  260--At a Girl's Mercy                             By Jean Kate Ludlum.
  259--By a Golden Cord                                   By Dora Delmar.
  258--An Amazing Marriage                         By Mrs. Sumner Hayden.
  =257--A Martyred Love=                             =By Charles Garvice=
          (Iris; or, Under the Shadow)
  256--Thy Name is Woman                                   By F. H. Howe.
  =255--The Little Marplot=                     =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  =254--Little Miss Millions=                   =By St. George Rathborne=
  253--A Fashionable Marriage                       By Mrs. Alex. Frazer.
  252--A Handsome Sinner                                  By Dora Delmar.
  251--When Love is True                                By Mabel Collins.
  =250--A Woman's Soul=                              =By Charles Garvice=
          (Doris; or, Behind the Footlights)
  249--What Love Will Do                            By Geraldine Fleming.
  248--Jeanne, Countess Du Barry                       By H. L. Williams.
  247--Within Love's Portals                            By Frank Barrett.
  246--True to Herself                            By Mrs. J. H. Walworth.
  245--A Modern Marriage                                  By Clara Lanza.
  =244--A Hoiden's Conquest=                    =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  243--His Double Self                                 By Scott Campbell.
  =242--A Wounded Heart=                             =By Charles Garvice=
          (Sweet As a Rose)
  241--Her Love and Trust                            By Adeline Sergeant.
  =240--Saved by the Sword=                     =By St. George Rathborne=
  239--Don Cæsar De Bazan                                 By Victor Hugo.
  238--That Other Woman                                  By Annie Thomas.
  237--Woman or Witch?                                    By Dora Delmar.
  =236--Her Humble Lover=                            =By Charles Garvice=
          (The Usurper; or, The Gipsy Peer)
  235--Gratia's Trials                           By Lucy Randall Comfort.
  234--His Mother's Sin                              By Adeline Sergeant.
  =233--Nora=                                   =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  232--A Debt of Honor                                  By Mabel Collins.
  =231--The Earl's Heir=                             =By Charles Garvice=
          (Lady Norah)
  230--A Woman's Atonement, and A Mother's Mistake,    By Adah M. Howard.
  229--For the Sake of the Family                       By May Crommelin.
  228--His Brother's Widow                         By Mary Grace Halpine.
  227--For Love and Honor                     By Effie Adelaide Rowlands.
  226--The Roll of Honor                                 By Annie Thomas.
  225--A Miserable Woman                           By Mrs. H. C. Hoffman.
  224--A Sister's Sacrifice                         By Geraldine Fleming.
  =223--Leola Dale's Fortune=                        =By Charles Garvice=
  =222--The Lily of Mordaunt=                   =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  221--The Honorable Jane                                By Annie Thomas.
  220--A Fatal Past                                      By Dora Russell.
  =219--Lost, A Pearle=                        =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon.=
  218--A Life for a Love                             By Mrs. L. T. Meade.
  217--His Noble Wife                            By George Manville Fenn.
  216--The Lost Bride                                   By Clara Augusta.
  =215--Only a Girl's Love=                          =By Charles Garvice=
  214--Olga's Crime                                     By Frank Barrett.
  213--The Heiress of Egremont                     By Mrs. Harriet Lewis.
  212--Doubly Wronged                                  By Adah M. Howard.
  211--As We Forgive                                By Lurana W. Sheldon.
  =210--Wild Oats=                              =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  209--She Loved but Left Him                           By Julia Edwards.
  =208--A Chase for a Bride=                    =By St. George Rathborne=
  207--Little Golden's Daughter             By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller.
  206--A Daughter of Maryland                         By G. Waldo Browne.
  205--If Love Be Love                                 By D. Cecil Gibbs.
  204--With Heart So True                     By Effie Adelaide Rowlands.
  =203--Only One Love=                               =By Charles Garvice=
  202--Marjorie                                 By Katharine S. MacQuoid.
  201--Blind Elsie's Crime                         By Mary Grace Halpine.
  200--In God's Country                                     By D. Higbee.
  =199--Geoffrey's Victory=                     =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  198--Guy Kenmore's Wife, and The Rose and the Lily,
                                            By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller.
  197--A Woman Scorned                        By Effie Adelaide Rowlands.
  =196--A Sailor's Sweetheart=                =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  195--Her Faithful Knight                            By Gertrude Warden.
  194--A Sinless Crime                              By Geraldine Fleming.
  193--A Vagabond's Honor                    By Ernest De Lancey Pierson.
  192--An Old Man's Darling and Jacquelina, By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller.
  191--A Harvest of Thorns                         By Mrs. H. C. Hoffman.
  190--A Captain of the Kaiser                   By St. George Rathborne.
  189--Berris                                   By Katharine S. MacQuoid.
  =188--Dorothy Arnold's Escape=                =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  187--The Black Ball                        By Ernest De Lancey Pierson.
  186--Beneath a Spell                        By Effie Adelaide Rowlands.
  185--The Adventures of Miss Volney              By Ella Wheeler Wilcox.
  184--Sunlight and Gloom                           By Geraldine Fleming.
  183--Quo Vadis                                   By Henryk Sienkiewicz.
  182--A Legal Wreck                                 By William Gillette.
  181--The Baronet's Bride                          By May Agnes Fleming.
  180--A Lazy Man's Work                    By Frances Campbell Sparhawk.
  179--One Man's Evil                         By Effie Adelaide Rowlands.
  178--A Slave of Circumstances              By Ernest De Lancey Pierson.
  =177--A True Aristocrat=                     =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  176--Jack Gordon, Knight Errant                  By William C. Hudson.
          (Barclay North)
  175--For Honor's Sake                                By Laura C. Ford.
  =174--His Guardian Angel=                         =By Charles Garvice=
  =173--A Bar Sinister=                      =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  =172--A King and a Coward=               =By Effie Adelaide Rowlands.=
  171--That Dakota Girl                                By Stella Gilman.
  170--A Little Radical                          By Mrs. J. H. Walworth.
  169--The Trials of an Actress                        By Wenona Gilman.
  168--Thrice Lost, Thrice Won                     By May Agnes Fleming.
  167--The Manhattaners                           By Edward S. Van Zile.
  =166--The Masked Bridal=                     =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  165--The Road of the Rough                       By Maurice M. Minton.
  164--Couldn't Say No                  By the author of Helen's Babies.
  163--A Splendid Egotist                        By Mrs. J. H. Walworth.
  162--A Man of the Name of John                       By Florence King.
  =161--Miss Fairfax of Virginia=            =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  160--His Way and Her Will                    By Frances Aymar Mathews.
  159--A Fair Maid of Marblehead                  By Kate Tannatt Woods.
  158--Stella the Star                                 By Wenona Gilman.
  157--Who Wins?                                   By May Agnes Fleming.
  156--A Soldier Lover                              By Edward S. Brooks.
  =155--Nameless Dell=                         =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  154--Husband and Foe                       By Effie Adelaide Rowlands.
  153--Her Son's Wife                                     By Hazel Wood.
  152--A Mute Confessor                               By Will N. Harben.
  151--The Heiress of Glen Gower                   By May Agnes Fleming.
  150--Sunset Pass                              By General Charles King.
  149--The Man She Loved                     By Effie Adelaide Rowlands.
  148--Will She Win?                             By Emma Garrison Jones.
  =147--Under Egyptian Skies=                =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  146--Magdalen's Vow                              By May Agnes Fleming.
  145--Country Lanes and City Pavements            By Maurice M. Minton.
  =144--Dorothy's Jewels=                      =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  143--A Charity Girl                        By Effie Adelaide Rowlands.
  =142--Her Rescue from the Turks=,          =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  141--Lady Evelyn                                 By May Agnes Fleming.
  140--That Girl of Johnson's                       By Jean Kate Ludlum.
  139--Little Lady Charles                   By Effie Adelaide Rowlands.
  138--A Fatal Wooing                              By Laura Jean Libbey.
  137--A Wedded Widow                                  By T. W. Hanshew.
  136--The Unseen Bridegroom                       By May Agnes Fleming.
  135--Cast Up by the Tide                               By Dora Delmar.
  =134--Squire John=                        =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  =133--Max=                                  =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  132--Whose Was the Crime?                         By Gertrude Warden.
  131--Nerine's Second Choice                     By Adelaide Stirling.
  =130--A Passion Flower=                          =By Charles Garvice=
          (Madge)
  129--In Sight of St. Paul's                           By Sutton Vane.
  128--The Scent of the Roses                           By Dora Delmar.
  127--Nobody's Daughter                              By Clara Augusta.
  =126--The Girl from Hong-Kong=            =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  125--Devil's Island                                    By A. D. Hall.
  124--Prettiest of All                               By Julia Edwards.
  123--Northern Lights                                   By A. D. Hall.
  =122--Grazia's Mistake=                     =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  121--Cecile's Marriage                       By Lucy Randall Comfort.
  120--The White Squadron                            By T. C. Harbaugh.
  =119--'Twixt Smile and Tear=                     =By Charles Garvice=
          (Dulcie)
  118--Saved from the Sea                             By Richard Duffy.
  =117--She Loved Him=                             =By Charles Garvice=
  116--The Daughter of the Regiment                 By Mary A. Denison.
  =115--A Fair Revolutionist=               =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  114--Half a Truth                                     By Dora Delmar.
  113--A Crushed Lily                     By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller.
  112--The Cattle King                                   By A. D. Hall.
  =111--Faithful Shirley=                     =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  110--Whose Wife Is She?                               By Annie Lisle.
  =109--Signa's Sweetheart=                        =By Charles Garvice=
          (Lord Delamere's Bride)
  =108--A Son of Mars=                      =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  107--Carla: or, Married at Sight          By Effie Adelaide Rowlands.
  106--Lillian, My Lillian                By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller.
  105--When London Sleeps                             By Chas. Darrell.
  104--A Proud Dishonor                             By Genie Holzmeyer.
  103--The Span of Life                                 By Sutton Vane.
  =102--Sweet Cymbeline=                           =By Charles Garvice=
          (Bellmaire)
  =101--A Goddess of Africa=                =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  100--Alice Blake                                 By Francis S. Smith.
  =99--Audrey's Recompense=                   =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  =98--Claire=                                     =By Charles Garvice=
          (The Mistress of Court Regna)
  97--The War Reporter                               By Warren Edwards.
  96--The Little Minister                              By J. M. Barrie.
  =95--A Wilful Maid=                              =By Charles Garvice=
          (Philippa)
  94--Darkest Russia                            By H. Gratton Donnelly.
  93--A Queen of Treachery                            By T. W. Hanshew.
  92--Humanity                                          By Sutton Vane.
  91--Sweet Violet                        By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller.
  90--For Fair Virginia                                 By Russ Whytal.
  89--A Gentleman from Gascony                      By Bicknell Dudley.
  =88--Virgie's Inheritance=                  =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  87--Shenandoah                                   By J. Perkins Tracy.
  86--A Widowed Bride                          By Lucy Randall Comfort.
  =85--Lorrie: or, Hollow Gold=                    =By Charles Garvice=
  =84--Imogene=                                    =By Charles Garvice=
          (Dumaresq's Temptation)
  83--The Locksmith of Lyons                   By Prof. Wm. Henry Peck.
  82--Captain Impudence                          By Edwin Milton Royle.
  81--Wedded for an Hour                        By Emma Garrison Jones.
  =80--The Fair Maid of Fez=                =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  =79--Out of the Past=                            =By Charles Garvice=
          (Marjorie)
  78--The Yankee Champion                         By Sylvanus Cobb, Jr.
  =77--Tina=                                  =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  76--Mavourneen                              From the celebrated play.
  75--Under Fire                                        By T. P. James.
  74--The Cotton King                                   By Sutton Vane.
  =73--The Marquis=                                =By Charles Garvice=
  72--Wilful Winnie                                By Harriet Sherburne
  =71--The Spider's Web=                    =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  =70--Sydney=                                     =By Charles Garvice=
          (A Wilful Young Woman)
  69--His Perfect Trust                            By a popular author.
  68--The Little Cuban Rebel                          By Edna Winfield.
  67--Gismonda                                     By Victorien Sardou.
  =66--Witch Hazel=                           =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  65--Won by the Sword                             By J. Perkins Tracy.
  64--Dora Tenney                         By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller.
  63--Lawyer Bell from Boston                      By Robert Lee Tyler.
  62--Stella Stirling                                 By Julia Edwards.
  61--La Tosca                                     By Victorien Sardou.
  =60--The County Fair=                      =From the celebrated play=
  59--Gladys Greye                                   By Bertha M. Clay.
  =58--Major Matterson of Kentucky=         =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  57--Rosamond                            By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller.
  56--The Dispatch Bearer                            By Warren Edwards.
  =55--Thrice Wedded=                         =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  54--Cleopatra                                    By Victorien Sardou.
  53--The Old Homestead                             By Denman Thompson.
  52--Woman Against Woman                   By Effie Adelaide Rowlands.
  51--The Price He Paid                                   By E. Werner.
  =50--Her Ransom=                                =By Charles Garvice=
          (Paid For)
  49--None But the Brave                          By Robert Lee Tyler.
  48--Another Man's Wife                            By Bertha M. Clay.
  =47--The Colonel by Brevet=              =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  46--Off with the Old Love                      By Mrs. M. V. Victor.
  45--A Yale Man                                  By Robert Lee Tyler.
  =44--That Dowdy=                           =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  43--Little Coquette Bonnie             By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller.
  42--Another Woman's Husband                       By Bertha M. Clay.
  =41--Her Heart's Desire=                        =By Charles Garvice=
          (An Innocent Girl)
  =40--Monsieur Bob=                       =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  39--The Colonel's Wife                            By Warren Edwards.
  =38--The Nabob of Singapore=             =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  37--The Heart of Virginia                       By J. Perkins Tracy.
  36--Fedora                                      By Victorien Sardou.
  =35--The Great Mogul=                    =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  34--Pretty Geraldine                   By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller.
  =33--Mrs. Bob=                           =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  32--The Blockade Runner                         By J. Perkins Tracy.
  31--A Siren's Love                              By Robert Lee Tyler.
  =30--Baron Sam=                          =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  29--Theodora                                    By Victorien Sardou.
  =28--Miss Caprice=                       =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  27--Estelle's Millionaire Lover                    By Julia Edwards.
  =26--Captain Tom=                        =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  25--Little Southern Beauty             By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller.
  =24--A Wasted Love=                             =By Charles Garvice=
          (On Love's Altar)
  =23--Miss Pauline of New York=           =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  =22--Elaine=                                    =By Charles Garvice=
  21--A Heart's Idol                                By Bertha M. Clay.
  20--The Senator's Bride                By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller.
  19--Mr. Lake of Chicago                      By Harry DuBois Milman.
  =18--Dr. Jack's Wife=                    =By the author of Dr. Jack=
  =17--Leslie's Loyalty=                          =By Charles Garvice=
          (His Love So True)
  16--The Fatal Card          By Haddon Chambers and B. C. Stephenson.
  =15--Dr. Jack=                             =By St. George Rathborne=
  14--Violet Lisle                                  By Bertha M. Clay.
  13--The Little Widow                               By Julia Edwards.
  =12--Edrie's Legacy=                       =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  11--The Gypsy's Daughter                          By Bertha M. Clay.
  10--Little Sunshine                             By Francis S. Smith.
  9--The Virginia Heiress                        By May Agnes Fleming.
  8--Beautiful But Poor                              By Julia Edwards.
  =7--Two Keys=                              =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  6--The Midnight Marriage                           By A. M. Douglas.
  5--The Senator's Favorite              By Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller.
  4--For a Woman's Honor                            By Bertha M. Clay.
  3--He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not                    By Julia Edwards.
  =2--Ruby's Reward=                         =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=
  =1--Queen Bess=                            =By Mrs. Georgie Sheldon=



  The Bride of the Tomb

  AND

  Queenie's Terrible Secret

  BY

  MRS. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER

  AUTHOR OF

  "A Crushed Lily," "Brunette and Blonde," "Nina's Peril," etc.

  [Illustration]

  NEW YORK

  STREET & SMITH, PUBLISHERS,
  79-89 SEVENTH AVENUE



  Copyright, 1883
  By Norman L. Munro

  The Bride of the Tomb
  Queenie's Terrible Secret



  THE BRIDE OF THE TOMB;

  OR,

  Lancelot Darling's Betrothed.

  By MRS. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER.



CHAPTER I.


Sweet Lily Lawrence had committed _suicide_!

Oh! impossible! A girl so young, so gifted, so lovely, the darling of
her father's heart, the idol of her brilliant lover, the heiress of a
splendid fortune--what had she to do with the grim king of terrors?
Death to her was an enemy to be shunned and dreaded rather than a lover
to be courted.

And to-morrow was her bridal day!

Yet there she lay prone on the velvet carpet, with its delicate pattern
of myosotis, and the soft light of the June morning shining through the
open window on the still form, robed in creamy white satin and priceless
lace, the fair hair streaming across the floor, the turquoise blue eyes
wide-open with a look of unutterable horror frozen in their upward
stare, the small and dimpled white hand clinching tightly a tiny jeweled
dagger whose murderous thrust had left a ghastly, gory, crimson stain on
the snowy satin lace above her heart. By that crimson stain death
claimed her for his own--the fairest bride the grim monarch ever took to
his icy arms.

A thrill of universal horror ran through the great city where she had
been known and loved, not more for her beauty and wealth than for her
sweet and gentle character. Friends came and went through the portals of
Banker Lawrence's splendid brown stone mansion on Fifth avenue for a
sight of the beautiful suicide who had been expected to appear so soon
as a happy bride. Mr. Lawrence, the bereaved and sorely stricken father,
appeared like one dazed with grief and horror. Ada, his younger and only
remaining daughter, was confined to her room in strong hysterics,
attended by the maids. Mrs. Vance, the beautiful widow of a second
cousin of Mrs. Lawrence, a lady who made her home at the banker's, was
the only one in the house who retained sufficient calmness to attend to
anything at all. It was she who kept back the curious throng of the
news-seekers who would fain have invaded the mansion. It was she who
talked with sympathizing friends, breaking now and then into a
heart-wrung sob, and hiding her eyes in her damp lace handkerchief.

"Oh, doctor," she cried, as the physician who had been hastily summoned
after the shocking discovery, bent over the pale form trying to see if
any spark of life remained--"oh, doctor, she is not really dead, is she?
Surely our darling Lily is not gone from us forever!"

The physician looked up curiously at the dark, beautiful face of the
speaker now convulsed with grief and horror. He bent again over the
recumbent form, closely examining the beautiful white features of the
girl, touched her wide-open eye-lids, felt her tightly clenched hands
carefully, and laid his ear over the still breast whose crimson blood
had stiffened the bridal robe above the tender heart so lately bounding
with the joyous pulses of youth and hope and perfect happiness.

"I am sorry to say," he answered, rising and looking down with a pale
face and trembling hands, "that Miss Lawrence is, indeed, no more. Life
has been extinct for hours."

A few hours later a coroner's inquest was held over the remains. Mrs.
Vance, Miss Ada Lawrence, and the deceased girl's waiting-maid were the
three who had seen Lily Lawrence last in life. Their testimony was
accordingly taken.

The maid deposed that on the night on which the fatal event had
transpired her mistress had kept her in her room until about eleven
o'clock, for the purpose of making some trifling alterations in the fit
of the elegant white satin bridal robe.

While thus engaged Miss Ada Lawrence and Mrs. Vance had come in for a
chat with Miss Lawrence. Miss Ada, a young school-girl, and fond of
finery, had persuaded her sister to don the beautiful dress and veil.

After staying awhile and admiring the loveliness of Miss Lawrence, the
maid had been dismissed, her young mistress saying that she would
herself remove the dress, having already laid aside the veil and wreath
of orange blossoms.

She (the maid) had accordingly bidden the ladies good-night. The next
morning, as usual, she had gone at eight o'clock to call her young
mistress. She had found the door locked on the inside.

In response to repeated knocks and calls no answer had been elicited,
and becoming frightened she had repeated the fact to the family, who
were just assembling at breakfast. Mr. Lawrence had caused the door to
be forced immediately. On entering they had found Miss Lawrence lying
dead upon the floor, arrayed in her bridal dress, and clutching in her
right hand a small, jeweled dagger.

She was asked here by the coroner if the dagger had belonged to Miss
Lawrence. She answered in the affirmative, saying that Mrs. Vance had
presented it to her a few days before as a bridal present, and that it
had lain on the dressing-table ever since as an ornament.

Being asked why they had supposed it to be suicide instead of murder,
the affectionate girl burst into tears, and replied that her sweet young
mistress had not an enemy on earth, so that no one could have murdered
her for malice; and that none of her splendid jewelry or bridal presents
had been touched, so that no one could have murdered her for gain; and
that the natural inference was that Miss Lawrence had taken her own life
with her own weapon.

The young lady had seemed much as usual in her manner when she last saw
her, had betrayed no undue agitation of mind and was only anxious about
the fit of the bridal robe in which she was to appear on the morrow. The
maid was suffered to leave the stand, on which Miss Ada Lawrence,
dreadfully nervous and agitated, was led in and took her place.

Her testimony was merely a corroboration of the maid's. She had left the
room in Mrs. Vance's company shortly after the maid's dismissal. Both
had kissed her good-night and left her standing at the mirror smiling at
her lovely reflection. Lily had seemed in good health and spirits. She
did not know of any reason for her sister's committing suicide; but as
she had no enemies, and nothing had been touched in the room, it was the
natural inference. She had not seen her sister again until the next
morning, when she lay cold and dead in the middle of her room.

Mrs. Vance gave substantially the same testimony, with the addition that
she had heard Miss Lawrence lock her room door after their departure.
She knew of no cause that could have driven the young girl to take her
own life. For a few months past she had noticed that Lily had strange
fits of depression and abstraction. She had thought then that some
secret sorrow preyed on the mind of her cousin, but she did not know of
what nature. She was suffered to retire, her agitation growing
uncontrollable, while many admiring glances followed her graceful form
as she swept from the room.

Dr. Pratt was next called to the stand. He was a tall, dark,
sinister-looking man, with restless black eyes and nervous manner. He
gave his testimony briefly and to the point.

He was not Mr. Lawrence's family physician. He was riding past the house
on his way to visit a patient when he had been suddenly called in by the
summons of a domestic who rushed frantically into the street after him.
He had gone into Miss Lawrence's room, where he found the family
assembled and indulging in the wildest grief. The young bride-elect lay
dead upon the floor, grasping a small dagger in her right hand. Upon
examination he found that life had been extinct for eight or nine hours.
He thought that death must have been instantaneous with the
dagger-thrust. From the pose of the body and the position of the right
arm and hand, together with the direction of the deadly weapon, all the
probabilities pointed to an act of self-destruction.

A few more witnesses were examined, but nothing new was elicited, and
the jury retired to consult.

The verdict was given to the effect that "Miss Lawrence came to her
death by a dagger-thrust inflicted by her own hand--probably under a
temporary aberration of mind."



CHAPTER II.


Doctor Pratt attended the funeral of Miss Lawrence, looking grave and
sad, and dignified as the mournful occasion demanded. His restless eyes
took in every detail, noted the grief of the mourners and friends,
peered beneath the heavy crape veil of handsome Mrs. Vance, noted the
absence of the bereaved bridegroom-elect; he even entered the gloomy
vault and stood by the open coffin among the friends who were taking
their last look at the pallid features of the beautiful suicide whose
golden hair strayed over the white satin pillow, mingling with fragrant
rosebuds and lilies.

After the funeral was over he drove to a fashionable street, and
stopping at a fine hotel, sent up his card to a person whom he
designated as Mr. Colville.

After a brief delay he was shown up to that gentleman's room.

Mr. Colville was a rather handsome but dissipated-looking man, of
perhaps forty years. He was dressed in the extreme of fashion, and the
elegance of his apparel, his costly diamonds, as well as the
luxuriousness of the furniture about him, betokened a man of wealth and
ease.

He removed his cigar from his dark mustached lips, and said, with a
light laugh:

"Ah, Pratt, what deviltry are you up to now?"

"I have just come from attending a funeral," Doctor Pratt answered
sedately, as he seated himself in a satin-cushioned arm-chair.

"A funeral!" Mr. Colville started and grew pale. "Was it that of--of
Miss Lawrence?"

"The same," was the calm reply.

"Ah! beautiful Lily--so you are gone to be the bride of death--to be
clasped to her icy heart! Well, better so," said Colville, bitterly.

"I wonder at your coldness," said Doctor Pratt, eying him keenly. "I
thought you loved her to desperation."

"Man, man--I did, I did!" cried out Colville, starting up and pacing the
floor wildly, "but what of that? She would not have my love. She laughed
it to scorn, and was about to give herself to my haughty rival. Great
Heaven! I was nearly crazed by the knowledge. It was a happy madness
that armed her hand against her own life! I am glad she is dead. I would
rather she were the prey of the worm than given to the arms of another."

"Sit down, sit down," said the physician, shortly. "Calm yourself, or
you will fall in a fit as did your horror-struck rival on hearing the
dreadful news of her death."

"Fell in a fit, did he?" said Colville, stopping short in his hurried
walk. "I wish he had died. But, no! he might have rejoined her then in
some better land than this."

"If there be a better land, which I doubt," said Pratt, with a cold
sneer.

Colville threw himself down into an arm-chair and looked moodily across
at the physician.

"Well, what have you come after?" he asked, abruptly and testily. "You
have put me up to so many devilish schemes that I always expect some
villany when I see your satanic countenance."

"I have put my freedom in jeopardy this week for the sake of your
happiness," Doctor Pratt answered with assumed indifference, "but if you
take such a high tone I can leave with my secret untold."

"A secret!" said Colville, looking up with some interest; "your secrets
are always worth hearing, doctor. Let me have it, I beg you."

"This one is worth hearing, any way," said Doctor Pratt grimly, and,
rising, he turned the door-key in the lock, after looking out
suspiciously into the wide hall. Returning, he drew his chair close to
Colville's and continued, calmly: "I cannot afford to give you this
secret, Colville, I will sell it to you for the pretty little sum of ten
thousand dollars--a mere bagatelle, that, to a man of your wealth."

"Ten thousand dollars! is the man mad?" muttered Colville. "Why, man
alive, there is not a secret under the sun I would pay that much for!"

"Is there not?" smiled the other, and bending a little nearer he
whispered in low, impressive accents: "What would you give me, Harold
Colville, if I could take Lily Lawrence from her coffin to-night, cheat
the grave-worm of its prey, and give her to your arms, warm, living,
beautiful--dead to all the world, alive only to you?"

"Great Heaven! the half of my fortune were not too great a price for
such a miracle," breathed Colville, excitedly. "But, Pratt, you are
raving! Even your skill, great though I own it to be, could not
accomplish that, unless you are leagued with the devil, as I have often
suspected you are."

"Thanks," said the grim physician, curtly, then interrogated calmly: "So
ten thousand dollars would not weigh much in the scale against Lily
Lawrence living?"

"Not a feather's weight! I would give it to you freely, gladly, but,
Pratt, you cannot do it!"

"I _can_ do it! Listen to me, Colville," he whispered breathlessly.
"Lily Lawrence lies in her coffin to-night, to all the world dead: but
to me she is a living woman, and as such may be resurrected."

"But how--why----"

"Be calm, I will explain all. When her lifeless form was discovered I
was hastily called in. I went; I carefully examined the body, which lay,
to all appearance, cold and dead. I found an almost imperceptible warmth
about her heart, a tinge of color in the palms of her hands, and a
vacant stare in the eyes resembling death, but which might be only
produced by that rare and strange disease known to medical men as
'catalepsy.' There was a slight flesh-wound about the heart; but the
blow had been struck by such a trembling hand that it had failed to
penetrate a vital part, and the dreadful shock of the attempted murder
(for I do not believe in the sapient jury's verdict of suicide) threw
the poor girl into a state of syncope, or catalepsy, so closely
resembling death that it deceived all but my professional eyes."

"Yet you suffered them to entomb a living woman?"

"For your sake, remember, Colville; for as I knelt by the beautiful
creature, half stunned by my startling discovery, the thought of you
darted into my head like an inspiration. I remembered what you must
suffer if she lived to bless your rival with her love. I said to
myself--It will be several days, most likely, before she rouses from
this trance of death. Let them bury her, and make to themselves other
idols. In the meantime I will resurrect her, give her to Colville's
eager arms, and earn his eternal gratitude as well as a more substantial
fee for myself."

"Pratt, you are a demon!"

"Is that the way you thank me for my friendship?"

"No, oh, no; you have done well--you have done right, and you shall have
your reward. But, Heavens! to think of her lying there in her living
beauty among the skeletons and the worms--perhaps even now she is waking
amid those gloomy shades! Ugh!" he shuddered, and started from the
chair.

"No danger, I think," said the dark physician, smiling contemptuously;
"I observed her closely this evening, and there were no signs of
reviving. Patience, my friend, I bribed the old sexton, I have the key
to the vault. In a few hours it will be night, and then we will bear
away your drooping Lily to revive beneath the sunshine of your love."

"But where can we take her? If the theft is discovered there will be a
hue and cry raised about the body."

"I know of a safe place. You remember the old couple in the suburbs? the
same who kept poor Fanny till her ravings ended in her death?"

"Oh, God! do not remind me of such horrible things--let the dead past
lie! Yes, I remember!"

"We will take her _there_. I have been to see them, and prepared them
for our coming. You will have to pay heavily, of course, but you will
not mind that in such a cause. Now, then, will you go with me to the
graveyard to-night?"

"I will, and may the devil, who certainly helps you in your evil deeds,
doctor, aid us both in this precarious scheme, and restore my living
love to my devoted arms!"

"Amen!" breathed Doctor Pratt piously.



CHAPTER III.


It was the day following the funeral of sweet Lily Lawrence--a sunny
day, fragrant and bloomy with the wealth of summer. Outside of Mr.
Lawrence's stately mansion in the handsome grounds enclosing it, flowers
blossomed, the fountain threw up its diamond spray, and birds twittered
and chirped.

But within the house all was silence and gloom. Mr. Lawrence was shut up
in the library alone with his grief; Ada Lawrence lay ill of a low,
nervous fever, induced by her poignant sorrow, and Mrs. Vance sat in the
drawing-room alone, nervous and ill, and starting at every trivial
sound.

The stately-looking widow was very handsome this morning. She wore a
dress of thin black grenadine, relieved by creamy old lace at throat and
wrists, and delicate ribbons of heliotrope color. Her wavy black hair
was braided about her small head like a coronet, and a cluster of
heliotrope blossoms nestled in its silken darkness.

A faint roseate bloom tinted her lips and cheeks, and hightened by
contrast the restless brightness of her full, dark eyes, and the
whiteness of her low brow. She was fully thirty-five years old, but
nature and art had combined so gracefully in her make-up that she did
not appear twenty-five.

A sudden peal of the door-bell made her spring up suddenly in nervous
terror of she scarce knew what. She had hardly reseated herself when an
obsequious servant ushered in a tall, exceedingly distinguished-looking
young man. It was Lancelot Darling, the betrothed lover of the dead
girl.

He was a splendidly handsome and imposing gentleman, but his elegant
dress was disordered, his face was pale, almost to the verge of
ghastliness, his large, brilliant dark eyes were so wild in their
expression of grief that they almost seemed to glare upon the lady who
advanced toward him with extended hands.

"Mr. Darling," she murmured in a low tone of surprise and pleasure. "You
are better, you are able to be out."

He pressed her hand speechlessly, and tottered to a sofa, falling
heavily upon it while his eyes closed for a minute. In a fright at the
look of exhaustion on his white face, Mrs. Vance darted from the room,
soon returning with a glass of cordial.

She lifted his head on her arm and pressed the goblet to his lips,
trembling excessively the while. In a moment he revived, and rising on
his elbow looked up while a faint flush mounted to his white forehead.

"Pardon me," he said, in a broken voice. "This is unmanly, I know, but I
have been very ill, Mrs. Vance, and I am weak still--and it is hard, oh!
so hard to come here like this!" He sat up, pushing the dark locks back
from his brow, while a shudder ran through his strong frame.

"Believe me, I sympathize with you, I grieve with you," murmured the
lady in silvery tones. "Our poor, lost Lily!" and her face was hidden in
her handkerchief while a sob seemed to shake her graceful form.

"They say she died by her own hand," he cried, excitedly. "My God! what
mystery is here, Mrs. Vance? What hidden cause drove the girl who was
almost my wife to that fearful deed?"

"Did you suspect no cause?" asked she, looking at him sadly.

"None--there could be none. Young, beautiful, loving and beloved, she
had no cause for sorrow."

"So it seemed to _you_," she answered, in low, soft tones, looking down
as if she could not bear the anguish written on his features; "but
strange as it may seem, Lily had some trouble unknown to us all, but
which I suspected months ago. She had strange moods of deep depression
and abstraction, followed by a feverish, unnatural gaiety. My suspicion
of some mysterious trouble weighing on her heart was only confirmed by
her sad and tragic death."

"Of what nature did you suspect her mysterious trouble to be?" asked the
young man, looking at her in surprise and anxiety.

"I had nothing but conjecture to build on," said she, reluctantly. "It
would be cruelty to harrow your soul with suspicions that may be
baseless."

"But I insist on your telling me," said he, with unconscious
imperiousness of tone and look.

"I fancied--mind, I only _fancied_," said she, deprecatingly, "that
Lily, though betrothed to you, had conceived an unrequited attachment
for another, or that perhaps she was the victim of some boarding-school
entanglement which threatened to mar her happiness."

"Oh, impossible!" he answered, decisively. "Lily had no silly
school-girl entanglements. She told me so. And she loved me alone--loved
me as devotedly as I loved her--I am perfectly certain of that. No, Mrs.
Vance, you are mistaken. The theory of the jury is the only one I can
accept. The fatal deed must have been committed under a temporary
aberration of mind."

The sudden entrance of Mr. Lawrence checked the mournful expression that
rose to her lips.

As the two men shook hands in silence, each noted the ravages grief had
made in the other.

Mr. Lawrence's portly form was bowed feebly, his genial face was seamed
with lines of grief and care, while premature silver threads shone amid
his chestnut-brown hair.

The ghastly pallor of Lancelot Darling, his wild eyes, his trembling
hands, attested how maddening and soul-harrowing was his despair.

"Lance, my poor boy, you have been ill," said the banker, in a gentle
tone of sympathy.

"Yes, I have been ill," said Lancelot, brokenly; then almost crushing
the banker's hand in his strong, unconscious grasp, he broke out wildly:
"Mr. Lawrence, I have come here to beg a favor of you."

"Name it," said Mr. Lawrence, kindly.

"I want the key of your vault. I want to see my Lily's face once more,"
he answered, in an imploring tone.

"Would it be well? Would it be wise?" asked the other in a tone of
surprise and pain.

"I do not know, I do not ask," said Lancelot, impetuously. "I only know
that my soul hungers for a sight of my darling's face. Do not refuse me,
my friend. Let me see her once more before death has obliterated all her
beauty!"

"Better think of her, Lance, as when you last saw her in life and
health," said the banker uneasily. "She is already changed. You are too
weak to bear the agitation that would ensue if I granted your request."

"You refuse me, then," said the young man in a voice of passionate
grief. "She was to have been my wife ere now, yet you will not suffer me
to press one last, long kiss on the cold lips of my darling."

"Oh, do not refuse him," cried Mrs. Vance, gliding forward and laying a
persuasive little hand on the banker's arm. "Think of his bleeding heart
and blighted hopes. Remember how fondly he loved her. Go with him to the
vault, and show him our broken Lily lying asleep in the deep rest she
coveted."

Lancelot's heavy, dark eyes flashed a look of gratitude upon the
beautiful pleader as she ceased to speak.

The banker paused irresolutely.

"If I thought he could bear it," he murmured.

"I _can_ bear it, I _will_!" said Lancelot, firmly. "Only grant my
request."

"The sexton has the key of the vault," said Mr. Lawrence, yielding
reluctantly. "I will go with you, Lance."

"Let it be at once then. My carriage is at the gate," said the half
frenzied young lover, moving off after a slight bow to Mrs. Vance.

Mr. Lawrence followed him, the door was closed, and the handsome widow
stood alone in the center of the splendid drawing-room. She took one or
two turns up and down the room, her black dress trailing its gloomy
folds over the rich carpet.

"Let him go," she said at last, pausing and clenching her delicate hands
together. "Let him go! That marble mask of his beautiful love can but
disenchant him. I have already dropped a suspicion of her love into his
heart. He does not heed it yet, but no matter, it shall take root, it
shall grow, it shall bear fruit an hundredfold! He shall turn to me yet.
I love him with a love passing everything, and I will stop at nothing
till I call him mine!"

She laughed aloud as the thought of her future triumph swept through her
heart. It was a strange, eerie laugh--It sounded as if a beautiful fiend
had laughed in Hades.

       *       *       *       *       *

The elegant carriage, with its high stepping, spirited gray horses,
bowled rapidly along the busy streets of New York, and at length paused
before the beautiful cemetery in which Mr. Lawrence's vault was
situated. The banker then stepped into the sexton's house where he
called for the key of the vault. The sexton gave it to him with some
surprise at the request, and the gentleman returned to Lancelot Darling
who was impatiently pacing a graveled path in the "fair Necropolis of
the dead."

The banker paused and laid his hand on the young man's arm.

"I have the key, Lance," he said, "but even now I wish I could persuade
you not to enter the vault; I dread the effect on your already weak
nerves. Remember what a difference there must be between the blooming
Lily you last looked upon and the poor, faded flower in yon gloomy stone
vault."

"Mr. Lawrence, you do but torture me," said the young man, with a
gesture of wild despair. "However she may be changed let me see her. Yet
I cannot believe that that beautiful face can be altered so soon. Cruel
death would stay his defacing hand when he looked on such loveliness."

With a sigh of regret the elder man turned and walked on down the shady
path. Lancelot followed him, taking no note of the beautiful day and the
song of the birds and the fragrance of the rare flowers all around him.
Over the low mounds everywhere gentle hands of affection had planted
lovely flowers and shrubs, trying to make grim death beautiful. But he
heeded them not as he stopped in front of the marble vault, guarded by a
marble angel, and followed Mr. Lawrence into its dim recesses.

They walked down the echoing aisle, between rows of moldy, decaying
coffins, and paused with beating hearts and labored breath beside a new
casket, loaded with wreaths and crosses of fragrant white hot-house
flowers.

The murky air of the charnel house was heavy with the scent of
tube-roses, violets and pale white roses. With trembling hands they
removed these tokens of affection, until the lid of the coffin was
disclosed. With a shudder Lancelot read the inscription on the silver
plate:

  "LILY LAWRENCE.
  "_Aged eighteen._"

Mr. Lawrence drew out the silver screws and removed the lid.

"My God!" he cried, as he gazed within.

The costly casket was empty. The white satin cushioning that love had
devised to make the bed of death a soft one, held the impress of her
form, the pillow was lightly dented where her golden head had lain, but
the cold form that rested there yesterday with white hands folded over
the quiet heart, with pale lips shut over the woful secret of her death,
that loved form was gone from their gaze.



CHAPTER IV.


Go with me, kind reader, to the outskirts of the great city; enter with
me an humble house; we pass invisibly inside the locked door, we glide
unseen up the staircase, and into a plainly furnished, low-ceiled room.
Our acquaintance, Doctor Pratt, is there--also his co-conspirator,
Harold Colville, is there. Both are bending anxiously over a low, white
bed where a girlish, recumbent form lies extended.

At the foot of the bed stands an old crone with gray elf-locks floating
under a tawdry black lace cap. Wrinkled, and bent, and witch-like, with
beady black eyes and parchment-like skin, she is frightful to look at as
she peers curiously into the beautiful white face lying on the pillow.

"Pratt, you have deceived me," Colville breaks out sternly; "all your
restoratives have failed, all your potent art is at fault. Look at that
marble face, those breathless lips. It is death, not life, we look
upon."

"Bah!" said Doctor Pratt. Rising and going to the young lady's head, he
gently turned it on one side: at the same time he changed the position
of one arm. _Both retained for a short time their new position_ then
slowly resumed their former place. He raised her eyelids and they
remained open a brief interval, then gently closed again. The beautiful
blue eyes they disclosed were neither glassy nor corpse-like, though
fixed in a vacant, unnatural stare. The physician resumed his seat and
said, calmly:

"You see, Colville, it is life, not death. I tell you it is that rare,
mysterious affection we call _catalepsy_--a state fearfully blending the
conditions of life and death--a seeming life in death, or death in life.
It is true that all my remedies have failed: but it is equally true that
life is not extinct, though the spark may perish from exhaustion if she
does not soon revive. It is now four days since the cold steel entered
her side and this mysterious unconsciousness fell upon her. But the
horrid spell must soon be broken, or death will ensue as a consequence
of loss of blood and vitality."

They withdrew a little further from the bed, Pratt still keeping a
watchful eye upon the patient, while Colville tried to keep his roving
glance away from the death-like face that sent a shudder of fear now and
then along his frame. It seemed fearfully like death despite the learned
theory of the case which Doctor Pratt was patiently explaining to him.

"You said the first time we talked of this that you believed Miss
Lawrence had been murdered," said Colville, suddenly. "Why did you form
that opinion despite the contrary evidence?"

"There was no evidence to the contrary," said the dark physician,
complacently. "I formed it on the evidence of my own eyes. True, Miss
Lawrence's door was locked on the inside; but"--he paused a moment to
give effect to his words--"but a heavy, luxuriant honeysuckle vine was
trained from the ground up to her window in the second story. The
murderer, or murderess, entered her room by the door, turned the key,
perpetrated the dreadful deed, and escaped by sliding down the
thickly-twisted vine to the ground."

"That is only your theory, doctor, I suppose."

"It is a fact, not theory, monsieur. I furtively examined the vine
myself. It was broken in places, bruised in its tender parts, and
quantities of leaves and flowers were strewn upon the ground. It plainly
showed that a heavy body had slid down upon it and injured it. I wonder
that it escaped the dull eyes of the jury."

"You are an astute man, doctor. Who, then, was the assassin of one so
young and fair?"

"I do not know, but I half suspected the beautiful woman who lives at
Lawrence's--a sort of cousin, I think--a Mrs. Vance by name. Her
evidence went a little further than the rest. She asserted that she
heard the young lady lock her door that night--she seemed to favor the
idea of suicide also by pressing a theory of her own, that Miss Lawrence
had a secret trouble--was subject to fits of abstraction and depression.
Yes, decidedly, I suspect the beautiful widow."

"What motive could she have had?"

"That I do not know. I could find out though if I set my wits to work.
But I have no interest in knowing."

"I have it," said Colville, suddenly; "I am acquainted with Mrs. Vance.
When I used to visit the Lawrences I found out--no matter how--that Mrs.
Vance was in love with Lancelot Darling. If she did the deed it was
jealousy that goaded her to its commission."

"Very probably," said the doctor.

They had talked on, forgetful or regardless of the old woman who sat at
the foot of the bed. She was listening eagerly, with twitching fingers,
and muttered inaudibly, "Gold, gold."

"What are you muttering about, old hag?" said Pratt, overhearing her.
"None of your jargon now. And don't repeat what we have been saying to
your old man. If you do I will send your black soul to its doom sooner
than it would go of its own accord! Do you hear me, old witch?"

"Yes, I hear; I will never repeat it, never," whined the old wretch,
grinning horribly.

"See that you don't, then," said Colville.

The evening hours wore on to midnight, and the three watchers in the
quiet room kept their places, undisturbed by even a breath from the pale
form on the bed. The old crone sat wide awake and on the alert: Doctor
Pratt leaned back and watched the patient through half-closed lids;
Colville dozed in a large arm-chair. Surely there never was a patient
who gave so little trouble to the nurses. No querulous complaint came
from the pale lips, no restless hands tossed aside the bed-clothes, no
fever-parched tongue cried out for the cooling draught of ice-water.
Still and pale she lay through the panting summer night, taking no note
of time or aught earthly.

Hark! the midnight hour tolled solemnly and sharply. Mysterious hour
when crime stalks abroad under shelter of darkness, when disembodied
spirits re-visit the haunts of men! Colville started from his uneasy
dozing, then settled himself again as the last loud stroke died away in
hollow echoes. But he did not sleep again, for a simultaneous cry from
the physician and the old woman turned his glance toward the bed. Ah!
what was that?

The awful spell of death was _broken_. The patient presented a ghastly
appearance. Her large, blue eyes were wide open, and staring an
indescribable look of horror at the witch-like face of the old woman.
Her lips were slightly apart, and a thin stream of blood was trickling
from her mouth and nostrils.

"Begone," said the physician, sharply. "Bring warm water and sponges."

She quickly returned with the necessary articles. Doctor Pratt gently
sponged away the blood with warm water so as not to entirely check the
bleeding. A long, deep sigh quivered over the patient's lips, and
turning her head she looked languidly about her. Doctor Pratt made a
sign to Colville and he hastily drew aside out of range of her vision.

"Drink this wine, Lily," said the physician, putting a wine-glass to her
lips. She feebly swallowed the contents, then closing her eyes with a
languid sigh fell into a deep, refreshing sleep, breathing softly and
audibly. He turned to Colville with a triumphant smile.

"What about my theory _now_?" said he.

Colville was trembling with excitement. He came forward, and looked at
the face sleeping calmly on the pillow, its rigid lines softening into
natural repose.

"Surely, Pratt, you are in league with the devil," said he,
half-fearfully. "An hour ago I could have sworn that it was grim death
we looked upon, but now----"

"But now," said Doctor Pratt, "she is doing well--she will soon recover.
And then you can set about your wooing."

"Ah!" said Colville, doubtfully. "I wish that your potent art could
insure me her love as skillfully as you insured me her life!"

The patient's deep slumber lasted till the rosy dawn of the summer morn
began to break over the earth. Then the blue eyes opened with a look of
bewilderment in their beautiful depths.

"Where am I?" she languidly interrogated, sweeping her small white hand
across her brow.

Colville had gone, but the unwearied physician sitting by the bedside
answered, calmly:

"You are in good hands, Miss Lawrence. I am your physician. You have
been very ill, and must not agitate yourself by asking questions yet."



CHAPTER V.


"You say I have been very ill?" said Lily, looking up into the dark face
bending over her.

"Yes, you have been near to death's door; but indeed you must not talk;
you will exhaust yourself."

"But I must talk," said the patient, willfully. "Why am I here? This is
not my home," glancing round the poor, ill-furnished room. "Where are my
father, my sister, my maid? Oh, God!" and a piercing shriek burst from
her lips. "I remember everything--the murderous dagger-thrust, the
horrid spell that bound me hand and foot and tongue. I could not speak,
I could not move; but I heard them weeping round me; I heard----"

"For Heaven's sake, cease! You will kill yourself indeed, Miss
Lawrence!" cried the physician in alarm.

But she waved him off, and sitting upright in bed continued wildly:

"I heard your voice telling them that I was dead. I heard the horrid
inquest held over me. I heard the funeral service while I lay in the
open coffin, unable to stir, unable to comfort my weeping loved ones.
They bore me away. They locked me--me, a living, agonized human
creature--into the dreadful vault with the horrible dead for companions.
Ah! then, indeed, I became unconscious. I knew no more. Oh! oh! what
torture, what agonies I have endured!" cried the girl, waving her white
hands over her head and screaming aloud in her terrified recollection of
the dreadful agonies she had borne while in her cataleptic state.

"She will kill herself indeed," muttered Pratt, hastily forcing a
composing draught between her writhing lips.

She continued to rave wildly until the potent drug took effect on her
overwrought system and produced a deep, unnatural slumber.

He went away and left her to the care of the witchlike old woman. She
awoke toward evening and found the old woman knitting away by her
bedside. The beautiful girl looked at her in wonder and fright.

"Are you a vision from another world or only a fevered phantom of my
brain?" she inquired in a weak voice.

The creature only scowled at her in reply, but she rose and brought a
bowl of fresh arrowroot and fed the patient, who found it very
refreshing after her protracted fasting.

Old Haidee, as she was called, left the room with the empty bowl, and
Lily lay still, looking about her with a vague dread creeping into her
heart. Had she indeed died in that horrible vault, and was she now in
another world inhabited by such hideous beings as the one who had just
left her? She shuddered and closed her eyes. The sound of a footstep
aroused her. A man was entering the room. It was Harold Colville. He
came and stood by the bed-side, looking down at her pale face with
passionate tenderness shining in his eyes.

Her white cheeks turned crimson.

"Mr. Colville!" she cried, angrily, "what means this unwarrantable
intrusion?"

"Oh, Lily! this from you!" he cried in sorrowful reproach. "Lily, I have
saved your life, my darling, and this is my reward; when all others
deserted you and left you in your coffin my love could not rest without
one more look at your dear face. Yes, the love you spurned in happier
days clung to you then and sought you amid the horrors of the dreadful
charnel-house. I entered the vault; I opened the coffin; I kissed the
lips that were dearer to me dead than those of any living woman. And
then I discovered faint signs of life! In my rapture at the discovery I
bore you away in my carriage and placed you under the care of a splendid
physician. You revived; you lived--yes, dead to all the world beside,
you live alone for me, my fair, my peerless Lily!"

He smiled triumphantly, while a look of horror dawned in her eyes.

"You--you will restore me to my friends?" she gasped in breathless
agitation.

"Lily, can you ask it? Can I bear to give you up, long and truly as I
have loved you? When death, in compassion for my sorrow, has given you
up from the very tomb itself to my loving arms could I give you back to
your less devoted lover and live my life without you, my peerless
darling? Lily, do not ask me for such a sacrifice."

"I am never to see father, sister, friends, again?" asked she, with
whitening lips.

"Yes, yes, Lily. Only consent to reward my fidelity with your dear hand,
and you shall see them all again."

"I cannot," she moaned, faintly; "I am betrothed to another."

"Death has broken the bond," said he; "your lover has torn you from his
heart ere this in angry resentment at your supposed suicide. He believes
that you loved another and chose death in preference to a loveless
marriage with him. Give yourself to me, Lily, and that will confirm his
belief."

"Oh, never, never! I do not love you," she cried, vehemently.

"Love would come in time, darling. Gratitude to the savior of your life
would create love. I could make you happy, Lily; I have wealth,
position, influence--all the things that woman values most."

"I can never love anyone but Lancelot Darling," she said, while a blush
tinged her cheek at the sweet confession.

His brow grew dark as night.

"Speak not the name of my hated rival," he cried, angrily. "I saved your
life, not he! Yet this is your gratitude!"

"Oh, indeed I am grateful if indeed you saved my life," she cried. "But
ask me for some other reward. Take my eternal gratitude, my undying
friendship, take the last penny of my fortune, but spare me my
happiness!"

"You rave, Lily," he answered, coldly. "Nothing you have offered me has
any value in my eyes except yourself. I will never, never resign you.
You are in my power here. To all the world you are dead. You shall
remain so until you marry me!"

"I will never, never marry you!" she cried, with passionate defiance.

"We shall see," he answered, angrily; but his words fell on deaf ears.
She had fallen back in a deep swoon. He went out and sent Haidee to
assist her while he hurriedly left the house.

The swoon was a deep one. Lily lay quite exhausted after she revived,
and was still and speechless for some hours. Doctor Pratt came that
night and gave her another sleeping potion. She took it quietly without
remark, and slept heavily all night. The sun was high in the heavens
next day when old Haidee, sitting by her pillow, started to find those
large blue eyes fixed thoughtfully upon her. She ran and brought a
nourishing breakfast up-stairs to her patient.

"You are better," said she, in her cracked voice, seeing that Lily ate
with an appetite.

"I am stronger," said she, as Haidee removed the tray.

She was quiet a while after the old crone had taken her seat and resumed
her knitting. Presently she asked, abruptly:

"What is your name?"

"They call me Haidee," said the old woman, shortly.

"Do you live here alone, Haidee?"

"My old man lives with me," said she.

"You are very poor, I suppose," said Lily, letting her eyes rove over
the poorly furnished bedroom.

"Miserably poor, honey," said old Haidee, while an avaricious light
gleamed in her small black eyes.

"Is this place in New York?" asked the patient.

"Thereabouts," answered old Haidee.

"Would you like to earn some money--heaps of shining gold?" asked the
girl, timidly.

The old woman's beady eyes sparkled. "Aye, that I would," said she.

"If you will carry a little note to my father for me, I'll give you
plenty of money," said Lily, tremblingly.

"Where is your money?" asked Haidee, cautiously.

"I have no money with me," said Lily, "but my father will give you some
when you take him this note."

"The pay must be in advance," said Haidee, provokingly, "I can't trust
your promise."

Lily looked about her despairingly. There was nothing valuable about her
except a diamond ring on her finger. Her eyes fell upon that.

"I will give you my diamond ring if you will carry the note to my
father."

"Aye, aye, but your captors would miss it from your finger," said
Haidee, watching the sparkling jewel with greedy eyes. "They would
suspect you had bribed me, and they would kill old Haidee."

"That is true," murmured the patient, sadly. She lay a little while lost
in thought, then her face grew bright.

"I will tell you what I will do," said she. "See, there are five
diamonds in my ring. Each one is worth a hundred dollars. I will loosen
one of the stones and give it to you if you will help me to escape from
here. They will not miss one single stone from the ring, or if they do
they will think it had become loosened from the setting and lost. Come,
what do you say?"

"It is a risky undertaking, and the reward is small," muttered the old
creature.

"My father shall give much more if you help me. Haidee, will you do it?"
asked Lily, imploringly.

"Yes, I will," said the old woman, greedily.

"Now?" asked Lily.

"Yes, now, before the doctor or Mr. Colville comes back. My old man can
take care of you until I return."

Lily shuddered at the mention of the old man, but hastily begged for
writing materials.

There were none to be had except the stub of an old pencil and some
light brown wrapping-paper. The old crone brought her these with a
muttered apology for her poverty, and sitting up in bed, Lily wrote a
few feeble, incoherent lines to her father.

     "Dear papa," she wrote, "I am not dead, though you put me in a
     coffin and locked me in the vault with all the dead and gone
     Lawrences. I was stolen from the vault, and a doctor brought me to
     life again. I am kept a prisoner here by Harold Colville, who
     swears he will not release me until I marry him. I have hired the
     old woman who takes care of me to take you this letter. You must
     give her money, papa dear, for her kindness. She will conduct you
     here where I am. Oh! hasten, papa, and release me from this
     horrible prison.

         "Your loving daughter,

              "LILY."

Taking the old woman's knitting needle she carefully pryed out one of
the diamonds from her ring, and putting it with the note into Haidee's
hand bade her hasten.

"It is a long way from here. It will take me several hours to go," was
the answer.

"I shall count the minutes till you return," said Lily. "God bless you,
Haidee, for your goodness to me at this trying time."

The old woman chuckled as she went out, and locked the door after her.
At the foot of the stairs she paused and carefully reread the
superscription of the letter.

"Number 1800 Fifth avenue," said she, gloatingly. "Ah! the outside of
this letter is all I want to see."

She hobbled into her room, set her old man on guard to watch her
prisoner, and blithely wended her way cityward.



CHAPTER VI.


"Mrs. Vance, there is an old woman down-stairs says she has brought the
laces you wished to see," said a trim little serving maid at Mrs.
Vance's door.

Mrs. Vance looked up impatiently from her book.

"I have not ordered any laces at all," said the lady, sharply. "Send the
lying old creature away, Agnes."

The trim maid hesitated.

"You ought to look at them, Mrs. Vance," said she, timidly; "such lovely
laces I never saw. They are as delicate as sea-foam and very cheap. I
expect they are smuggled goods."

"Well, well, let her come up then, but I do not need any of her wares."

Agnes went away and presently reappeared a moment at the door, and
ushered in old Haidee with a basket on her arm. The maid then left them
together.

"Now, then," said the lady, sharply, "what did you mean by saying I had
ordered your laces?"

"Oh! pretty lady, forgive an old woman's lie to the maids for the sake
of getting in. I have bargains, lady--lovely laces smuggled through the
Custom House without any duty--I can sell them to you much cheaper than
the merchants can afford to do."

"Let me see them, then," said the lady, with apparent indifference.

Old Haidee unpacked her wares and exhibited a small but fine assortment
of real laces. Her prices were extremely low, and Mrs. Vance, though she
pretended indifference, was charmed with their elegance, and the small
sum asked by the vender. After a good deal of haggling she selected
several yards, and paid for them in gold pieces taken from a silken
netted purse through whose interstices gleamed many more pieces of the
same kind. Old Haidee's eyes gleamed greedily at the sight.

"Gold-gold!" she muttered, working her claw-like fingers. "Give me the
purse, pretty lady."

Mrs. Vance withdrew a step in amazement.

"Old woman, you are crazy. Go, leave the room this very instant!"

"Give me the gold," still pleaded the miserly old hag.

"I will have you turned out of the house this minute, miserable old
beggar!" cried Mrs. Vance, moving toward the bell.

"Stop one moment, lady, I have something to say to you--a secret to tell
you. You would not have me tell it before the servants, would you?" said
the old woman, in such a meaning tone that Mrs. Vance actually
hesitated, with her hand on the bell-rope.

"Say on," said she, haughtily, and thinking to herself that the old
lace-vender was insane.

"Bend closer, lady, the walls have ears sometimes. This is a terrible
secret," said Haidee, with a solemn air.

Mrs. Vance moved a step nearer, impressed in spite of herself by the
eerie, witch-like gestures and sepulchral air of the speaker.

"Lady, a few nights ago a fair young girl was murdered within these
stately walls. Ah! you tremble; she trembled too when the jealous woman
stole into her room, turned the key in the lock, and struck her down as
she stood looking at her sweet reflection in her bridal dress--yes,
struck her down with a brutal dagger-thrust in her heart. The wicked
murderess stooped to see if her guilty work was done, then escaped down
the ladder of vines that climbed up to the window. The jury said that
the poor girl committed suicide; but we know better--do we not,
beautiful lady?"

"You are a fiend," cried Mrs. Vance, from the chair where she had sunk
down, still clutching the heavy purse of gold coins in her cold hand.
"You lie! no one murdered her--she died by her own hand."

"Lady, I shall not tell my secret to any one but you," said Haidee, with
a low and fiend-like laugh. "Now, will you give me the gold?"

"Never! You have come here to blackmail me! you wish to frighten me by
trumped up suspicion; I will not buy your silence!" cried Mrs. Vance,
passionately.

"Very well, lady, I will go to Mr. Lawrence, I will go to Mr. Darling, I
will tell them what I have told you," said the lace-vender, rising to
leave.

"Stay--who knows this lying tale besides yourself?"

"No one, lady. I, Haidee Leveret, am the only witness of your crime, and
you can buy my silence with that purse of gold," said the old crone,
sepulchrally.

"Take it, then," said Mrs. Vance, flinging it down at her feet "and keep
the secret till your dying day! you need not return to blackmail me
again. That is all the gold I have. I am a poor woman. I can get no more
to give you!"

The old woman gathered up the purse of coins, hid it in her bosom, and
trotted out, mouthing and mumbling to herself. Mrs. Vance fell down upon
the floor writhing in terror. "My sin has found me out," she cried,
wringing her white hands helplessly. "Oh, Lancelot, Lancelot, it was all
for you!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"A lucky day," said old Haidee to herself as she trotted down the
street. "A fine piece of work, and well paid for! A purse of gold and a
diamond! Well, well!"

She stopped and took poor Lily's note from her pocket where it had lain
concealed, and tearing it into minute fragments threw it into the
street. A gentleman passing by observed the action curiously. It was Mr.
Lawrence. Ah! if he had but known whose hand had written the note whose
coarse, brown fragments lay under his feet, if he had but turned and
followed that hideous old witch, what months of sorrow might have been
spared him. But he did not know, and he went on to his home, bowed and
heart-broken, while old Haidee trotted quickly past, crooning a low tune
in the pride of her gratified avarice and cunning.

As she went into the door of her home, Doctor Pratt came in suddenly
after her.

"Now where have you been, Haidee?" he asked, suspiciously.

"Only to market, doctor," said she, trembling, sidling past him with the
basket on her arm.

He found his patient restless and excited. She was tossing uneasily from
side to side of the bed, and her cheeks were flushed and feverish. He
took the small hand, and found the pulse bounding rapidly beneath his
touch.

"This will not do," said he, "you must not excite yourself unduly."

The door opened, admitting Haidee with a bowl of fresh arrowroot. Lily
looked wistfully beyond her, but she was quite alone. She saw in
Haidee's cautious, negative shake of the head that her mission had
failed. She fell back, crushed with her disappointment.

"Come, take your nourishment," said Pratt, kindly.

She shook her head. A choking sensation arose in her throat, and she
could not swallow. She determined to make one appeal to this
grim-looking man.

"Doctor," she said, clasping her hands imploringly, "I appeal to your
honor, to your generosity, to your humanity, to restore me to my home
and father!"

Doctor Pratt shook his head decisively.

"It is impossible for me to do that," he answered; "you are in the power
of Mr. Colville; I am merely employed by him to attend you in your
illness. You must make your appeal to him."

"He is a villain, a designing wretch!" she broke out, indignantly. "I
will make no appeal to him. But, doctor, if you will go and tell my
father where to find me, I will give you five thousand dollars the day I
am liberated from this prison-house."

He laughed and drew a newspaper from his pocket. Putting it in her
hands, he directed her attention to a marked paragraph. She read it with
streaming eyes. It ran simply:

"Much sympathy has been excited for the Lawrence family in the painful
discovery that the body of Miss Lily Lawrence has been stolen from the
vault of her father. The well-known wealth of the great banker makes it
seem probable that the foul deed was committed with a view to a heavy
ransom. It will be seen in our reward column that Mr. Lawrence offers
ten thousand dollars for the return of the corpse."

"So your father offers more for the repose of your dead body than you do
for your living one," he said, laughing. "No, Miss Lawrence, I cannot
accept your munificent bribe. My duty to Mr. Colville forbids. And _au
revoir_. I must be going. I leave you some medicine and will see you
again to-morrow. Take the best care of her, Haidee."

He went away, and they heard the hall door clang behind him. Lily turned
to her silent attendant.

"Haidee, you did not go," she murmured, in a reproachful tone.

"Oh! yes, I did, miss, but your father was not there," readily answered
the treacherous old woman.

"Oh! then you left the note for him, and also your address?" said Lily
in a more hopeful tone.

"Aye, that I did, miss," said old Haidee, lying glibly; "I gave it to a
very pretty lady."

"It was my sister Ada, then," said Lily.

"No, miss; your sister lies ill of a fever. I gave it to a lady called
Mrs. Vance," lied Haidee, watching the patient's face keenly.

A startling change swept over the girl's white features. Fear, terror,
resentment--all were blended in that look.

"Oh!" she cried, "then indeed I have no hope of release! She will not
give the letter to my father. She is my murderess--she tried to kill me.
She will come here and make her fatal work sure! Watch for her,
Haidee--do not allow her to enter here. She will kill me, indeed she
will kill me!"

"Oh, me, honey, I am so sorry that I gave her the note," said Haidee,
artfully; "but do not be afraid, she shall not come here to finish her
devil's work--no, not she, my poor deary."

Alas! alas! poor Lily! Doctor Pratt's opiates could not bring oblivion
of her troubles that night. She raved and tossed through the long and
weary night, while Haidee, thoroughly alarmed, was very glad to see the
physician's face quite early the next morning.



CHAPTER VII.


"Come home and dine with, me, Lance," said Mr. Lawrence, meeting
Lancelot Darling amid the bustle and stir of Wall street.

Poor Lance had been strolling carelessly up and down with a care-worn,
wretched look upon his handsome face. Time went very slowly with him
now. He turned about and, shaking hands with his friend, walked on by
his side.

"Is there any news?" he asked, his mind reverting instantly to the
painful event which occupied all his waking thoughts.

"None," answered the banker, sadly. "Some of the sharpest detectives in
the city are trying to trace it, but as yet there is not the faintest
clew."

He sighed and Lancelot echoed the sigh. Both walked silently on. At
length the banker signaled a car and, entering it, they became at once
the cynosure of all the eyes within it. Their recent terrible affliction
was so well known that sympathy shone on them from every eye. But little
was said to them even by the friends they encountered. The mute trouble
of their faces seemed to repel the mere trivialities of conversation,
and no one wished to speak of the mournful tragedy whose impress was
written so legibly on the faces of both the sufferers.

"You are looking very ill," Mrs. Vance said, in a gentle tone of
sympathy, when the banker had left the guest in the drawing-room while
he went up to see Ada, whose illness had not as yet taken any favorable
turn.

"I am quite well, thank you," he answered, absently, and with an
unconscious, heart-wrung sigh. He was looking about him sadly, seeing in
fancy the graceful, girlish form that had so often flitted through this
grand room. She saw the turn his mind had taken, and instantly diverted
it to the present.

"Has anything been heard from our poor Lily yet?" she asked, in low,
mournful tones.

"Nothing, nothing. Oh! Mrs. Vance, this suspense is very hard to bear,"
said he, impetuously, won by the gentle sympathy in her face and voice
to an outburst he had not intended. "It is almost killing me!"

"Poor Lance," said she, in a broken voice; "your features show the
traces of your great suffering. It is hard for us all to bear, but
harder still for you."

Her delicate hand fluttered down upon his own with a pressure of mute
sympathy, while she buried her face in her handkerchief, sobbing softly.

"I should not have brought my gloomy face here to sadden you still
more--forgive me for my reckless outburst," said he, pained by the sight
of her womanly grief, which always goes to a man's heart.

"Do not regret it," she answered, through her sobs. "Let me grieve with
you, poor boy, in your trouble. Believe me, sympathy is very sweet."

"Thank you," he answered, gently. "Ah! this indeed is a house of
mourning. Is Ada any better to-day, Mrs. Vance?"

"I am sorry to say she is not," answered the lady, making a pretence of
drying her eyes, which, however, had not been wet by a single tear. "She
has a low, intermittent fever, which does not as yet yield at all to the
physician's treatment. God grant we are not to lose our lovely Ada,
too. Ah! that would indeed be a sad consequence of poor Lily's rash
suicide."

He shuddered through all his strong young frame at that concluding word.

"Oh, God!" he groaned, "the mystery of it! Suicide! Suicide! If God had
taken her from us, I could learn to say, 'It is well'--but that she
should weary of us all, that she should rush out of this life that I
thought to make so fair and beautiful to her in our united future! I
cannot understand it--it is horrible, maddening!"

Musingly she murmured over a few lines from Tom Hood's mournful poem,
"The Bridge of Sighs:"

    "Mad from Life's history,
    Swift to Death's mystery,
    Glad to be hurled
    Anywhere, anywhere, out of the world!"

The words seemed to madden him. Impatiently he strode up and down the
floor.

"She never loved me as I loved her!" he broke out, passionately. "I
could not have done aught to grieve her so. If earth had been a desert,
it must still have been Paradise to me while she walked upon it. Oh!
Lily, Lily, you were very cruel!"

"Do not grieve so, I beseech you," said the widow's gentle voice.
Timidly she took his hand and led him to a seat. "You will make yourself
ill. We cannot afford to lose you, too. You were so near becoming one of
the family that you seem almost to take the place of our dear one who
has left us."

"You think me almost a madman," said he, remorsefully. "I startle you
with my wild words. I should not have come here."

"Yes, you should," she answered, kindly. "You should come oftener than
you do and let me sympathize with you in your trouble. Who can grieve
with you so well as I who knew and loved your dear one? Promise to come
every day, dear Lance, and let us share our trouble together."

"I will try," he answered, moved by her gentle friendliness, and
thinking as he looked up that she was a very handsome woman. Not with
the beauty of his lost Lily. _Her_ angelic, blonde fairness typified the
highest beauty to him. But handsome with a certain queenliness that was
very winning. How dark and soft her eyes were--how beautiful the sweep
of the long, dark lashes. And her cheeks--how rich and soft was the
color that glowed upon them and deepened to crimson tints upon her full
lips. And when that dark, bright face glowed with tenderness and feeling
how very fascinating it became. When she took on herself the _role_ of
comforter how softly she could pour the oil of healing on the troubled
waves of feeling. She had Lance soothed and quieted before Mr. Lawrence
came down, with a pale and troubled face, from Ada's sick room.

Dinner went off rather soberly and solemnly. The array of silver and
cut-glass was dazzling, the edibles costly and dainty, but Lance
scarcely made a pretence of eating. Mr. Lawrence merely trifled with the
viands, and Mrs. Vance was the only one whose appetite was equal to the
demands of the occasion. Conversation lagged, though the beautiful
widow tried to keep it up with all the consummate art of which she was
mistress. But the gentlemen did not second her efforts, and she was
relieved when the formal ceremony was over and they went out to smoke
their cigars.

"I will go in and see Ada a little," thought she. "The nurse says the
fever is not infectious."

She tripped lightly up the steps and into the room where poor Ada lay
tossing in her burning fever. She was very much like her sister in
appearance, but the luxurious chamber where she lay was in great
contrast with that in which poor suffering Lily was now immured. True,
Lily had all the comforts her sickness needed, but here the capricious
eyes of an invalid found everything to charm and soothe the weary eye.
Here delicate curtains of silk and lace shut out the too dazzling light
of day; here dainty white hangings delighted the eye with their coolness
and purity. Here and there were set vases of freshly-cut flowers filling
the air with sweetness, and rare and costly paintings looked down from
the softly tinted walls.

An expression of annoyance swept over the girl's fair, ingenuous face as
Mrs. Vance bent airily over her and touched her feverish brow with her
delicately rouged lips.

"You should not kiss me," said she, pettishly, "this fever may be
infectious."

"The doctor said it was not infectious, my dear," murmured the lady
sweetly. "I asked him myself this morning."

"Oh! you did, eh? I suppose wild horses could not have dragged you in
here to see me if it had been," said Ada, sarcastically.

"Is there anything I can do for you, my love?" asked Mrs. Vance,
gracefully ignoring the spoiled girl's incivility.

"Nothing--only do not talk to me--talking hurts my head," replied the
invalid, turning her face away.

"Ah, then, if I only disturb you I will take my leave," said the
handsome widow, tripping out of the room.

"You were rather rude, my dear," said the nurse, surprised at her gentle
patient's sudden petulance.

"I don't care," said Ada vehemently, "I hate that woman! I cannot tell
why it is, but I have hated her ever since she came here to live, nearly
two years ago. She knows I do not like her, but she affects
unconsciousness of it. Keep the door locked, nurse, and do not let her
come in here again--tell her I am too ill to see anyone. When she kissed
me just now I felt as if a great slimy snake had crawled over me--ugh!"
she said, shuddering at the recollection.



CHAPTER VIII.


The great agitation of poor imprisoned Lily Lawrence culminated in a
severe fit of illness, and Doctor Pratt found need for all his skill
before convalescence set in again. Mr. Colville prudently kept himself
in the background now, so she was not troubled by the sight of the
villain's face for several weeks. Haidee proved herself a careful and
efficient nurse, and in three weeks' time poor Lily rose from her
sick-bed pale, weak and weary, her girlish heart filled with heaviness
and despair. She had again and again entreated old Haidee to go to her
father, but in vain. The old woman stubbornly turned a deaf ear to all
her entreaties. The old crone's husband Lily had not yet seen, though
she frequently heard his gruff and brutal tones in the next room to
hers, which appeared to be his sleeping-apartment.

She was sitting up one day in the great arm-chair puzzling her brain
over some plan of escape. She looked very lovely still, though wasted by
illness and sorrow. Haidee had provided her with a neat blue wrapper,
and her fairness was almost dazzling by contrast with its becoming hue.
Her rich golden hair was gathered in a loose coil at the back of her
graceful little head, showing the whiteness of her neck, and the rosy
tinting of her small, shell-like ears. A fancy seized her to look out of
the window which was always covered with thick curtains. It was warm and
sultry and she longed for a breath of the sweet and balmy air outside
her gloomy-looking room.

Rising with feeble steps she went to the window, and pulled aside the
curtain.

Horrors! the window was barred with great, heavy iron bars!

Some vague, indefinite plan of escape through that window had been
forming in her mind. She almost screamed in her despair as she saw the
futility of her plan.

"Hateful prison-bars!" said she, angrily, and clenching one in her small
hand she shook it with angry violence. To her surprise the rotten
wood-work yielded, and the bar fell from its place and remained in her
hand. Very cautiously she looked through the aperture just formed.

She saw that she was in an old and weather-beaten house set in the midst
of a large garden whose overgrown shrubs and bushes had grown wild and
tangled, and over-run the paths. There was not another house within half
a mile of this one. She was far out on the suburbs, she comprehended at
once.

A noise below startled her from her reconnoissance. Hastily fitting the
heavy bar back to its place, she dropped the curtains and tottered back
to her seat, assuming an air of indifference and weariness.

The door opened and Harold Colville entered.

"Good-evening, Miss Lawrence," said he, coolly; "I trust you find
yourself improving."

Lily vouchsafed him no answer save a look of scorn and contempt.

"Come--come, fair lady," said he, seating himself near her, "have you no
kinder greeting for your devoted admirer?"

"Leave the room, if you please," said she, while the indignant crimson
suffused her cheeks. "I have nothing to say to you, sir!"

"Nothing? surely it were wiser, Lily, to try to make terms with me than
to bandy angry words. Remember you are in my power. I love you, and I
want your love in return. But, proud girl, beware how you change my love
into hate."

"Mr. Colville," said she, "it is cruel, it is unmanly thus to persecute
a defenseless girl. I beseech you, restore me to my home and my father.
Think of my poor father, my suffering sister. There are other women who
will love you, women who have not given away their hearts as I have
done."

"There is but one woman on earth to me, Lily, and I have sworn to make
her my own. You cannot move me by all you say--as well try to topple a
mountain from its base as to move me from my firm will. Better, far
better were it for you, Lily Lawrence, to waive all this useless
pleading, make yourself as charming as you well know how to do, and
become my wife. If you still persist in refusing there may be worse
things in store for you."

She could not misunderstand the insulting meaning of his angry speech.
The hot blood flushed into her face, then receded and left her pale as
death. In bitter shame at his rudeness she bowed her face in her hands.

"You understand me," said he with a low, malignant laugh; "so much the
better! Now listen to reason, Lily. I love you, and you are in my power!
you are dead to the world, dead to the father who reared you, the sister
who loved you, the man you would have wedded. Consent to marry me, and
within an hour after I call you my wife you shall see your friends
again, and tell them the romantic story of my love, and how it saved
your life; you can tell them that such devotion won you to reward my
fidelity with your hand. All this I offer you in good faith and honor,
and give you time for decision. But refuse--and--well, you know you are
still in my power!"

She rose and stood confronting him in all the pride and dignity of
outraged and insulted purity. She was rarely, peerlessly beautiful with
that scarlet tide staining her cheeks, that lightning flash in the
violet eyes.

"Villain, coward, dog!" she cried, in the white heat of passionate
resentment, "how dare you threaten me thus? Know that I defy you! I
spurn you! I will never be your wife! I will die first, do you hear me?
I will die by my own hand rather than be so disgraced."

"Rave on, my beauty," he answered, laughing tauntingly. "Flap your
pretty wings against your prison bars, my little bird, you will only
ruffle your feathers in vain. By Jove, you only make me more determined!
I never saw you so beautiful, so utterly fascinating! I did not think
you had so queenly a spirit, my fair one! you would make your fortune on
the tragic stage!"

"Oh! go, go," she gasped, lifting her hand with a wild gesture toward
the door, "go, leave me, unless you wish to see me dying!"

He paused irresolute an instant; then her flashing eye and dauntless air
cowed his craven spirit into submission. With a slight bow he turned and
went out of the door.

Face downward on the bed, Lily wept and sobbed unrestrainedly. She was
determined, if release did not come ere long, to die by her own hand.
"Better than dishonor," thought she with another burst of anguished
tears.

She looked about her for some instrument to secrete in case she should
be driven to the last stronghold of honor. There was nothing to secure.
Old Haidee had made sure of that. "Well," she thought, "if there is
nothing else I can strangle myself with my handkerchief."

The hours wore on to twilight. Old Haidee brought her supper, grumbled
because she did not eat it, and scowlingly withdrew. Lily was left alone
with her sad thoughts for companions. She went to the window, pulled
aside the curtain, and looked out. The twilight had faded, a few pale
stars glimmered in the cloudy sky, a crescent moon gave forth a weak and
watery light. A wild thought darted into her mind. "Oh! if I could
escape through these broken bars. Ah! why not?"

She stood still and listened. Familiar sounds from the adjoining room
informed her that the Leverets were retiring. She crouched down and
waited perhaps half an hour. Then a dual chorus of snores announced that
her lynx-eyed guardians slept.

Breathlessly she stole to the window and removed the iron bar. It left
an aperture large enough to admit her slight form. She tried the other
bars, but they seemed more firmly fixed than the first one she had
tried. They resisted her strongest efforts.

"If I only had a strong rope," she thought to herself, "I could secure
it to these bars and slide down it to the ground."

She leaned her head through the aperture and looked down to see how far
she would have to descend. The distance appeared to be about thirty
feet.

"If I only had a rope," she thought again, "I could certainly gain my
freedom--freedom! that means home again, papa, Ada, Lancelot!"

She sat down, her heart beating wildly at the thought. They believed her
dead. She pictured their wild, incredulous joy at first when she burst
in among them, their own living darling. What a story she would have to
tell, and how swiftly the vengeance of papa and Lancelot would descend
on Mrs. Vance and Harold Colville. Her breath came quick and fast, her
courage mounted high within her.

"I must escape," she murmured with passionate vehemence; "surely there
must be some way out of this horrible prison."

She thought of all the stories she had heard and read of the escape of
prisoners--she remembered that she had read of one man who had torn his
bed-clothes into strips and made a rope of them by which he descended
from the window. Why could not she do the same?

Cautiously, so as not to awaken the sleepers in the next room, she
removed the bed-covers. There were not many, for the sultry summer
weather precluded the possibility of their use, but there were two
strong linen sheets.

"These would do, I think," she murmured to herself. "I am so light it
would not need a very strong rope to bear my weight. I will tear these
sheets into four long strips each. That will make eight strips. I will
tie them together in knots, fasten the rope thus formed to a bar, and
lower myself from the window. If the rope is not long enough I must jump
the remainder of the distance. Then, free from this dreadful prison, I
must trust in Providence to find the way home."

She set to work diligently. She was obliged to be very cautious for fear
the sound of her work should penetrate the ears of her jailers. She had
nothing with which to cut the cloth, and it was strong and difficult to
tear. But by dint of hard labor with teeth and fingers she at length
accomplished it, and set to work tying the slips of linen together.

It took some time to make these knots secure. When that was done she
secured the end of her impromptu rope to the lowest bar of the window,
and looked out to see how far the end escaped the ground. Joy, joy! it
was only about ten feet.

"I can easily jump that distance," she thought, with a thrill of triumph
at her success.

She looked about for some wrapping to put over her thin blue dress. A
long dark cloak with hood attached hung conveniently against the wall.

"They must have put that around me when I was brought here," she said,
"so I will wear it to go away in," and, taking it down, she rolled it
into a compact bundle and threw it out of the window.

Nothing now remained but to follow the bundle. She stood still a moment
with streaming eyes raised to Heaven while with clasped hands she
invoked the divine mercy and protection on her perilous undertaking.
Then shuddering, she climbed into the window, forced her body through
the narrow opening, and, catching to the rope, swung herself downward.

Hark! there was a swish in the shrubbery in the garden below as if some
heavy body had dashed through them. Her heart leaped into her throat,
her clasp on the rope grew unconsciously looser, and she slipped much
lower; so low that she heard distinctly on the ground beneath a deep,
low, hurried breathing.

In an agony of dread and fear she clung tightly to the rope and waited
for some demonstration from below. Some unexpected peril had intervened
between her and freedom.

Hush! Hark! Suddenly, as if all Hades had broken loose, there rose a
fearful, blood-curdling sound on the soft warm air of the summer night.
Louder and deeper still it grew, and Lily, hanging there by the clasp of
her frail little hands, midway between the window and the ground, knew
that it was the cruel, hungry, relentless baying of a deep-mouthed
blood-hound.

A scream of terror burst from her lips as she heard the dangerous
creature at work beneath her wreaking its vengeance on the cloak she had
thrown down--tearing it and rending it with fangs and paws. Thus, she
thought, with a gasp of agony, the terrible beast would soon be rending
her warm, living body.

Its vengeance sated on the cloak, the blood-hound began to make hungry
leaps into the air towards Lily's body, at the same time uttering
murderous yelps that froze the blood in the poor young creature's veins.
She felt herself growing weak and faint, and knew that she could hold on
but a few minutes longer ere she must faint and fall into the devouring
jaws of the blood-thirsty animal. Oh! God, she thought, what a horrible
death, to be torn limb from limb by that hungry brute! Papa and Lancelot
would never know all she had suffered.

She had escaped death by steel, death by living entombment, to be rent
in twain by this awful blood-hound!

Suddenly, with a cry of rage, a night-capped head was thrust out of a
window above. The Leverets had been awakened by the noise, and now
hastened to the rescue. Lily heard them coming and tried to hold on yet
a little longer; but her strength was spent, her bruised hands relaxed
their hold, and with a shriek of horror she was hurled downward into the
hungry jaws that were waiting for her. She heard the wild, prolonged
howl of joy given by the dog, felt its hot breath on her face, then
unconsciousness supervened and she knew no more.

At that moment when her death would have been but the work of an
instant, a powerful hand grasped the dog's collar and dragged him,
howling and yelping away to his kennel, while old Haidee raised the
unconscious girl carefully up and looked at her limp form in the
moonlight.

"Is she dead?" muttered the old witch. "Has the hound killed her? Here,
Peter," as the old man came back from fastening the dog into his kennel,
"carry the girl up-stairs--I believe the dog has killed her."

They carried her back and laid her down upon the bed whose coverings she
had stripped and rent with such high hope an hour ago.

White and cold she lay there as if indeed life had been driven from its
beautiful citadel forever. Old Haidee carefully examined her face and
limbs. There was no sign of any wound from the animal's fangs.

"He has not bitten her. If she be dead, it is sheer fright that has
killed her," said she. "Peter, you ugly brute, stand aside. If she were
to revive, the sight of you would be enough to frighten her to death!"

Peter removed his homely countenance to one side, while old Haidee
pursued her task of bringing the unconscious girl out of her swoon. Cold
water, camphor, burnt feathers and ammonia were successively tried by
the old crone before faint breath began to flutter again over the pale
lips. Her eyes opened and she looked up in bewilderment.

"Where am I?" she moaned. "What is the matter--oh! what is that?"

Her wandering gaze had fastened on old Peter Leveret, and she regarded
him with looks of horror. And no wonder, for old Peter was hump-backed
and deformed, and had a countenance so wicked it resembled that of a
brute more than a human being. A shock of bristly, unkempt red hair
surmounted his visage, and his straggling beard was of the same fiery
hue. He leered maliciously at her looks of terror.

"Pshaw! that is only my old man, miss," said Haidee, shortly. "You need
not put on so many airs at sight of him, for I do assure you that if he
had not pulled old Nero off you just in the very nick of time, the
hound would have torn you to pieces long before this."

"I thank you," said Lily, timidly, forcing herself to look gently at the
repulsive old creature. "Oh, where did the dreadful dog come from?"

"We keeps it chained up all day in the garden, and at night we lets him
loose to purwent you from escaping, miss," answered old Peter, doggedly.

"Strange that I never heard him before," mused Lily, reflectively.

"He never had occasion to make himself heard before," said Haidee,
grimly.

Lily shuddered and remained silent.

"Pray, miss," said old Peter, who had been examining the window
curiously, "how did you get the iron bar out of this here window? You
don't look strong enough to have wrenched it out."

"The woodwork was rotten," she answered, quietly. "I pulled the bar out
at the first effort."

"Peter," said old Haidee, "go into the third room from this and see if
the bars are strong in that window."

Old Peter hobbled out on his errand, and Haidee said, shortly:

"I did not think you would try to give us the slip, miss, or I would
have warned you long ago about old Nero. There is no use trying to
escape from here--you are as secure in this house as if you were in your
grave. Grave perils await you the moment you step over this threshold.
Old Nero was but a foretaste of what you may meet with, so I advise you
to marry Mr. Colville, and content yourself."

"I will never, never marry him, Haidee," said the young girl, sadly, yet
dauntlessly. "And you need not try to frighten me from trying to escape,
for I shall use every endeavor to that end. I can but die, and death is
preferable to what I must endure in this house."

She lay back and closed her eyes wearily.

Peter Leveret entered and reported the bars as strong and tight in the
third room.

"You may sit here by the patient, then, while I go and prepare that room
for her reception," said his wife.

"You will not put her in _that_ room," said Peter, with vague surprise
and doubt.

"Yes, in that very room--there is no other where the windows are barred.
She must occupy that until we can get this window fixed. Nothing will
hurt her. I dare say she is not afraid of ghosts," said Haidee, grimly,
as she passed out.

She was absent half an hour or more. Lily lay still with closed eyes all
the while, dreading to see again the villanous countenance of old Peter,
for hideous as Haidee had appeared to her startled eyes, her aspect was
beauty in comparison with that of her husband. It was with feelings of
relief, therefore, that Lily welcomed her return.

"Come," said the old crone, shortly, "I will conduct you to a more
secure apartment, miss."

She led Lily along a dark passage, thrust her rudely into a
dimly-lighted room, and locked the door upon her.



CHAPTER IX.


Thus rudely disposed of, Lily stood still a moment in the center of the
floor whither the old woman's rude push had landed her, and looked about
her with a swelling heart full of grief and indignation.

She found herself in a meagerly furnished, low-ceiled room, very similar
to the one she had just quitted. The single window was barred with iron
strongly and securely fitted in. The low, white bed had a very
refreshing look to her worn and agitated frame, and throwing herself
upon it, dressed as she was, Lily fell into a deep and weary slumber,
broken now and then by a sob that welled up from her heart.

It was probably midnight when she was awakened by the peal of thunder
overhead, and the patter of heavy rain upon the roof. A violent summer
storm was in progress, and Lily lay still awhile and listened in awe to
the raging elements warring furiously together. In a temporary lull of
the storm, she fancied she heard groans of pain arising from beneath the
floor, and sprang up in bed, trembling violently. She listened again,
but the sound was not repeated, and the girl smiled as she said to
herself:

"It was only my nervous fancy, giving a human voice to the winds and
rain. There can be no one in this old house save my cruel jailers and
myself."

She laid her head down again upon the pillow, and as the ominous sounds
were not repeated, and the wild thunder-storm decreased in violence, she
fell asleep and did not wake until the sun was high in the summer
heavens.

Haidee, entering with her breakfast and fresh water for her ablutions,
scowled at her suspiciously.

"Did you sleep well?" interrogated she.

"Very well," answered Lily, coldly and briefly.

"Did nothing disturb you through the night?" said the old witch,
watching the young girl keenly from beneath her shaggy, over-hanging
eyebrows.

"Thunder awakened me," replied Lily, calmly, "and once, in a pause of
the storm, it seemed to me I heard a human voice groaning; but I became
satisfied afterward that it was only the wind in the trees."

"Most likely," said Haidee. "I'm glad you were not frightened. But they
do say this room is haunted. A woman died in here, and they do say she
walks about and wrings her hands and groans. I know nothing about it
myself, but I will own that I have heard strange sounds here."

The long, lonely day wore on while she sat absorbed in her painful
thoughts. Colville, with "malice prepense," had denied her the solace of
books, work, or music, thinking that the unutterable weariness and
stagnation of her life would drive her sooner into his eager arms.

Time passed on leaden footsteps to the impatient young creature whose
life hitherto had held every pleasure that love and wealth combined
could lavish on its beautiful idol.

Noon brought Haidee and her dinner. Wearied by the length of the sultry
day and her own vexing thoughts, Lily scarcely tasted the food brought
her.

"Take it away," she said, indifferently, "I have no appetite, Haidee."

Haidee obeyed in silence, and left her walking up and down the floor in
passionate impatience. Now and then she shuddered with fear at
remembering her escape of the previous night.

"I shall have to die," she thought, despairingly. "There is no hope of
escape from this house. But, oh! may it not be by such a dreadful method
as that."

Her meditations were suddenly interrupted by a horrible sound. It was
the far-off clank of a heavy chain mingled with the anguished wail of an
unearthly voice. It broke so suddenly on the stillness that Lily started
in affright, the very hairs on her head seeming to stand erect in her
over-mastering horror.

She had never been a believer in the supernatural, but what was that,
she asked herself, with a wildly beating heart. The sounds continued,
muffled by distance, yet distinctly horrible and realistic. They seemed
to rise from the floor beneath her feet. She covered her ears with her
hands, but the sounds penetrated to her whirling brain in spite of her
efforts not to hear--dreadful sounds of woe from the suffering lips of
some human or inhuman creature. All the while the heavy chain seemed
clanking in unison with the voice.

Was Haidee's ghost-story true after all, Lily asked herself, in doubt
and bewilderment. No, she would not believe it. Only the narrow-minded
and superstitious believed in such things. Suddenly the solution of the
mystery broke on her mind like the light of an inspiration. She
understood Haidee's anxiety that she should believe in the unearthly
nature of the sound she was likely to hear.

"It is nothing supernatural," she said to herself, firmly. "I am not the
only prisoner in this house. Some poor being, more wretchedly treated
even than myself, perhaps driven to madness, as they will probably drive
me, is confined in some loathsome dungeon below me, and Haidee does not
wish me to know it."

"Poor soul, poor soul!" murmured Lily in divine pity and compassion for
the unknown prisoner.

As she sat musing sadly her eyes fell absently on the carpet beneath her
feet. It had evidently been laid down the night before in a great hurry,
for it was unevenly spread, and was not tacked down. There was no carpet
in the room she had occupied before. Why had old Haidee been so
particular about placing one here?

"It is rather strange," she thought to herself. "Haidee had something to
conceal. I will look under that carpet."

She glanced toward the key-hole, fearing that argus eyes might be
watching her. No one was there. She rolled up a piece of wrapping paper
that lay carelessly upon the floor and pushed it into the opening.

"Now I will see what that carpet hides," said the brave girl to herself.

She advanced to the corner of the room and slowly turned back the
corners of the gay flowered carpet as far as the middle. She was
rewarded by more than she expected. The carpet had been drawn over a
trap-door in the center of the room. It had recently been used, too,
thought the girl, for it was free from dust and a small crevice appeared
at one end. She inserted her fingers in the opening thus found, and
cautiously pushed against it. The door slid back under the flooring
lightly and easily, and disclosed below Lily's room a long and narrow
winding stairway. It looked gloomy and dark, as if the footsteps of the
wicked alone trod over its hidden way, and with a shudder Lily pushed
the door back into its place, carefully replaced the carpet, removed the
paper from the key-hole, and sat down with a wildly-beating heart and
trembling limbs.

"That stairway evidently leads to the dungeon of that poor chained
prisoner," was her inward comment. "Who can it be that Haidee has
immured there? Perhaps another victim of Dr. Pratt and Harold Colville.
Oh! God, that such infamous villany should go unpunished beneath the sky
of heaven!"

She walked to the iron-barred window, and looked out through the
grating.

The sun was shining in the blue heavens--the tangled old garden,
refreshed by the storm of the previous night, was a wilderness of bloom.
Untrimmed, the roses spread their wild, loving arms over the ground, or
climbed heavenward by whatever frail support they could reach. Vines
broken down from their frames blossomed luxuriantly on the ground, and
ran across the winding path. A high stone wall ran around the whole
place, shutting out all the bloom and sweetness from the curious gaze of
any who might chance to pass. Poor Lily inhaled the fragrant air that
rose to her window with a heart-wrung sigh. What sunshine and sweetness
and beauty were outside of her horrible prison--what grief, what
desolation, perhaps even madness, within.

The fresh pure air infused new courage into her fainting heart; the
memory of those mournful, anguished wails became less dreadful as her
courage rose.

"I will go down that winding stairway to-night," was the resolve taking
shape in her mind. "I will try and find that poor soul imprisoned
beneath me. Ah! can I, dare I? Who knows what awful shape of idiocy or
madness may affright me thence? No matter; after enduring the dread
companionship of the dead in the charnel house, I can bear that chained
creature also."

The day wore on. Twilight came with its dusky shadows and passed. Old
Haidee entered with supper and a freshly trimmed lamp. Lily could
scarcely eat, she was so excited by the thought of her projected night
adventure.

"I suppose you are trying to starve yourself to death, miss," said she
grimly; "I shall send word to Dr. Pratt and he will give you some stuff
to stimulate your appetite."

Lily made no reply.

"I suppose you'll not try to escape to-night," continued Haidee
maliciously. "If you do old Nero will be on the watch for you. He never
sleeps at night."

"I will make my next attempt at daylight then," replied Lily coolly.

"You'll not find another loose bar," retorted the old woman angrily, as
she went out with the scarcely touched dishes.

Lily waited a long while in perfect silence for the sound of the old
people going up-stairs. At length she heard their harsh footsteps
creaking up the stairs. As she had expected old Haidee's course was
straight towards her room. She sprang into bed, drew the covers up to
her chin, and feigned slumber. The key grated in the lock and the old
woman's fiendish visage peered in.

"Ah! there you are safe in your nest, pretty bird," croaked she; "well,
happy dreams to you." So saying, she turned the key again and went away,
satisfied that her charge was safe for that night.



CHAPTER X.


Lily lay perfectly still, but quite sleepless for more than two hours.
During that time she heard several groans from below, accompanied by the
ominous clank of the chain. At length, as the cries grew louder and more
frequent, she determined at all hazards to seek the poor, suffering
creature.

She rose and removed the carpet, slid back the trap-door, and gazed down
into the gloomy pit below. All was blackness and darkness, but the
harsh, wailing sounds arose more distinctly than before. She took up the
lamp in her hand, and with an irrepressible shudder, began to descend
the winding stair. Presently she stood at the foot of the stairs in a
narrow passage-way.

At the further end was a door. Trembling so that she could scarcely hold
the lamp, Lily advanced and tried the handle. It yielded to her touch
and swung open. She found herself in an empty, dismal room, its walls
festooned with cobwebs, its cold flooring formed of solid stone.

As she looked about by the dim light of the lamp she saw another door,
and resolutely advancing she caught the knob and swung it open. Another
instant and she had stepped across the threshold and stood in the
presence of the mystery.

It was an empty, cobwebbed room like the first, its only furniture
consisting of a narrow cot-bed. Close beside it an iron staple was
driven into the stone floor. A long and heavy iron chain was fastened to
this staple. At its opposite end it was linked to a strong leathern belt
wound about the frame of a poor creature lying at full length on the bed
and wasted to a living _skeleton_!

In all her speculations regarding the mysterious prisoner, Lily had not
imagined aught as dreadful as the reality. There lay the poor frame upon
the bed, its tattered dress scarce covering its bony knees, its
claw-like hands twisted wildly together. The limbs presented the
appearance of bones with parchment-like skin drawn tightly over them.

Masses of long, black hair, tangled and unkempt, strayed over the coarse
pillow, and fierce, dark eyes, sunken and dim, peered from their hollow
orbits in a face shriveled simply to skin and bone, the cheeks fallen
in, the temples hollow, the purple lips drawn away from the glistening
white teeth. This dreadful creature stopped its frenzied cries at Lily's
entrance, and crouching into a frightened heap wailed out submissively:

"I will hush, I will hush! Do not beat me again!"

"Poor creature, I will not harm you," answered Lily, gently.

She stood in the center of the room, holding the lamp in her shaking
hand, its light streaming over her lovely face and golden hair. The poor
creature turned suddenly at the sound of her compassionate voice and
looked at her with an expression of awe in her great, hollow eyes.

"Are you an angel?" she asked, abruptly.

"No, poor soul; I am a wronged and unhappy prisoner like yourself!"

"Another one of _his_ victims?" queried the living skeleton, sitting up
on the cot and folding her emaciated arms around her skinny knees.

Lily came forward and seated herself on the foot of the bed, and set her
lamp on the floor.

"Of whom are you speaking?" asked she.

"Of Harold Colville, to be sure," said the poor woman, shuddering as the
name writhed over her blanched lips. "Has he married you, too, eh?"

"God forbid," ejaculated her visitor with a strong shiver of disgust. "I
am a poor girl whom he is trying to force into a marriage with him. He
has stolen me away from my friends and is keeping me locked up here
until I consent to be his wife. But I will never, never do so!" she
cried, passionately.

"You do not love him?" said the poor frame beside her.

"No, I hate him! But who are you?" asked Lily, her interest deepening in
the poor creature whose mind it was evident still burned clearly in her
wrecked frame.

"I am Fanny Colville," was the answer, in a low and bitter tone. "I am
Harold Colville's lawful wife--I was married to him four years ago."

"Is it possible?" cried Lily, with a violent start. "Then why are you
here?"

"My husband wearied of me," said poor Fanny, her dark eyes burning like
coals. "He stole me away from my friends, too, lady, but I went
willingly because I loved him--yes, I loved him then! He married me and
I hid away the certificate the good minister gave me. We traveled for a
year or so, and lived very happily. Then he wearied of me and brought me
here. He told me our marriage ceremony was a farce--that we had not been
lawfully married--he demanded the certificate the minister had given me.
But I was not a fool, I knew he lied to me, and I would not give up the
paper for the sake of the little child that was soon coming to me. I
kept it hidden away, and he raved and swore at me, then went away and
left me. He hired the Leverets to kill me and the child also when my
hour should arrive. The day came--my child was born--a healthy, living
boy. They took it away from me and said that it died. I knew they had
killed it. But they were not merciful enough to kill me. They drove me
mad with their cruelty. I became a raving, dangerous maniac for awhile,
and they chained me down here like a dog. Here I have remained nearly
two years, fed on a scanty supply of bread and water. You see what they
give for a week's subsistence," said she, pointing to a half-eaten loaf
of bread and a jug of water, both upon the floor.

Lily looked and shuddered.

"Does your husband ever come to see you?" she inquired.

"No, no; he thinks me dead--he paid old Peter Leveret to murder me. But
they are slowly starving me to death instead of thrusting a knife into
my heart. And I am so strong, it takes me a long while to die!"

She paused a moment, catching her breath painfully, then continued:

"Dreadful deeds have been committed here--murder's red right hand has
been lifted often. Look down into that pit, lady."

She pointed to a trap-door near the iron staple.

Lily pushed it aside and looked down, but saw only thick darkness, while
a noisome smell rushed out of the pit. She closed it hurriedly.

"I see nothing," she said, "but darkness."

"Because it is night," said Fanny Colville. "You should come when it is
daylight, lady. You would see horrible, grinning skeletons then. I look
at them sometimes. They are the only companions I have."

"Poor Fanny, I wish you could escape out of this horrible place. Would
you like to do so?"

"Oh! so much," said the living skeleton, clasping her bony hands. "I
have dear friends far away from here whom I love so much. They know
nothing of my whereabouts. How gladly they would welcome me back."

"My case is the same," said Lily, mournfully. "I have tried to escape,
but was near losing my life through falling into the clutches of the
blood-hound they keep here. But I am going to try again, Fanny, and I
will try to help you out of your prison also. I will come and see you
again," said she, taking up her lamp and turning to go.

"Do not go yet, sweet lady," cried the prisoner, imploringly; "I love to
look at you and hear you speak. I have not heard a kind word for more
than two years until you came in like an angel to-night."

"I must go now," replied Lily, gently. "I am afraid old Haidee will miss
me and trace me here. Keep up a brave heart--I will come again to-morrow
night if nothing happens. Good-night, now, Fanny."

"Good-night, miss," said the unfortunate creature, seizing Lily's hand
and kissing it. "I am happier for your coming, and I shall expect you
again to-morrow night!"

The young girl took up her lamp and went away, leaving the poor creature
alone in her dreadful solitude once more. But hope, like a brightly
beaming star, had penetrated that gloomy dungeon and beamed into Fanny
Colville's lacerated heart. She lay awake all night, thinking feverishly
of the beautiful girl who had visited her, and building bright
air-castles on the slight hint of escape she had thrown out.

And Lily, too, tossed on a feverish bed which gentle slumber refused to
visit with its benign influence. Fear, horror and indignation filled her
heart against Harold Colville and the Leverets, mixed with deep sorrow
and pity for the injured Fanny. She understood now the depth of villany
of which her would-be suitor was capable, and the wickedness of Haidee
and Peter appeared more dreadful than before. No wonder Haidee found her
tossing on a bed of pain the next morning, racked by a nervous headache.
Colville called to see her, but went away when he heard she was ill, and
sent Doctor Pratt instead, who prescribed a sedative and left her
sleeping heavily and profoundly.



CHAPTER XI.


Late in the evening she awoke, feeling rested and refreshed by her long
sleep. Her headache was quite gone, and Haidee found her sitting in the
arm-chair when she came in with supper.

She drank a cup of tea, ate a few mouthfuls of food, and declared
herself much better. Old Haidee, however, brought in her knitting and
pertinaciously sat out the evening with her, with the intention, no
doubt, of listening for sounds from below and marking their effect on
her captive. But no sound, no groans, broke the stillness. Fanny
Colville, in the new hope that had dawned upon her, had refrained all
day from the groans and cries that usually gave vent to her despair. She
was impatiently waiting for the return of her visitor of the night
before.

Haidee had not visited the poor chained captive since the night she had
incarcerated Lily in her new lodging. In fact, there was no entrance to
the dungeon except through the trap-door in this room. Haidee had taken
her a week's rations that night, and scowlingly bade her to abstain from
her noise or it would be worse for her. She now concluded that the
captive had obeyed her mandate, or that death had at last removed her
out of her power. It was with a feeling of relief at the last thought
that she left Lily's room, telling her with a malicious grin that old
Nero was loose in the garden as usual.

It was almost midnight before Lily ventured to seek poor Fanny Colville
again. Long before she descended the stairs she could hear the sound of
the rusty chain as the poor woman tossed restlessly on her bed of pain.
Her wild eyes lighted glaringly at the young girl's entrance.

"I thought you were not coming," she said pathetically.

"I dared not come earlier," Lily answered, relating the cause of her
detention.

"Old Haidee is a fiend," said Fanny, briefly and comprehensively.

"I have been revolving in my mind a plan of escape for us both," said
Lily, proceeding to detail it to her eager listener.

But Fanny sighed and looked down at her skeleton limbs and the heavy
chain.

"That would do for you, but not for me," she said; "I am too weak. It is
a long way from here to the city. We have no money--we have to walk
several miles to your father's house. You see I know the distance--I
came here in daylight. I can tell _you_ the way to go, but my wasted
limbs would not carry me a mile. I should only fall by the way, and be a
hindrance to you."

Lily sighed as her clear-headed companion thus presented the
difficulties in their way.

"I had forgotten your exceeding weakness in the ardor of my hopes," said
she.

"Besides," continued Fanny, "look at this chain. We have nothing with
which to cut the leather or file the iron. I cannot get away from this
staple."

"Can I, then, do nothing to help you, my poor creature?" cried Lily, in
great distress as she saw how futile was the plan she had proposed.

"Of course there is," answered Fanny, hopefully. "The plan you spoke of
is quite feasible for you. Put it into operation as soon as possible. I
feel almost assured of your success. Then as soon as you have told your
story to your father, tell him mine also, and entreat him to send a
force of police out here to arrest the Leverets and liberate me."

"Certainly, I could do that," said Lily, brightening, "that would be the
better plan after all--but still I cannot bear to leave you here alone,
poor soul, in your wretchedness. Who can tell what may happen ere relief
can reach you? Perhaps this slow starvation may finish its dreadful work
upon you."

"Never fear," was the hopeful reply. "I have subsisted like this for two
long years, yet I feel the flame of life still brightly burning in my
wasted frame. And, think you, I cannot endure a few more days'
confinement when you have given me such hope to feed upon?"

Her eyes were brightly burning in her wasted face, and her parched lips
tried to smile. She took her visitor's little white hand caressingly
between her own bony members and looked at it in fond admiration.

"You are a beautiful girl," she said. "Ah, would you believe that I was
once a pretty girl, and that I am young still--but little older than
you, perhaps, for I am only twenty, though, trouble and starvation have
made me prematurely old!"

Lily looked the astonishment she felt, for indeed that poor face with
all the curves and lines of flesh stricken out of it by the sharp pangs
of starvation, had indeed no mark to discern whether she were young or
old. True, the matted locks of black hair were too thick for those of
age, but they were thickly streaked with silver threads. Harold
Colville's wretched victim retained now no trace of either youth or
beauty.

Lily remained with her several hours, feeling all the while that she ran
a great risk in remaining, yet still unwilling to leave the unhappy
woman who showed such pitiful pleasure in seeing once more the friendly
face of a human being. But she was forced to go at length, having
listened to the story of Fanny's life, and exchanged a like friendly
confidence.

"I may not see you again, Fanny," she said, "for I may make the attempt
to-morrow. It must be made in the day-time, you know, when Nero is
chained up. But you may rest assured that if I succeed in escaping I
shall lose no time in having you liberated, and your guilty captors
brought to punishment."

"May God help you," said the prisoner, fervently. "I will pray for your
success."

And with a sigh she kissed the white hands and looked lovingly after the
slight form as it glided away.

Lily went back to her room half apprehensive that the old witch might be
waiting for her there. But all was safe; the room was vacant of all but
her own sweet presence. She disrobed herself, extinguished the lamp, and
lying down upon the bed fell into a light slumber, broken by many fitful
and strangely-troubled dreams.

She awakened only when the summer sun was shining high in the heavens.
Haidee was waiting with her breakfast, and seemed even more petulant
than usual.

"It seems to me you require more sleep than anyone I ever saw," she
said, tartly. "After sleeping all day yesterday, you cannot even get
awake for your breakfast this morning."

"I dare say you would sleep heavily yourself, Haidee, if you had been
drugged as I was yesterday," retorted the young girl, good-humoredly.
"And really, I am feeling ill and weary this morning. This warm weather
and close confinement begin to tell on my health sadly. Perhaps I may
escape you yet through the welcome gates of death."

"No danger of that," was the quick reply. "Youth and health can bear
much more than you have had to stand yet, my fine lady."

She went out and did not return until noon. Her prisoner lay dressed
upon the bed with flushed and burning cheeks and strangely glittering
eyes.

"Haidee," she said, "I cannot eat my dinner. I am feeling very
strangely. I have a dreadful feeling here." She pressed her hand upon
her heart and seemed to gasp for breath. "Go, send for the doctor as
quickly as possible. Perhaps I am about to die!"

Haidee looked at her in doubt a moment. The suffering aspect of the
captive reassured her. She was evidently ill.

"I will send at once for Doctor Pratt," said she, leaving the room in
haste, but not forgetting to lock the door.

"I have sent old Peter for the doctor," said she, returning "but it may
be several hours before he returns. It is a long way to the city."

"Sit down and stay with me, then, Haidee. I am afraid to remain alone
when I feel so strangely."

Ten, fifteen minutes elapsed, then the patient said, faintly:

"Haidee, for the love of Heaven, try and get me a glass of wine! Perhaps
it may relieve this wild fluttering and palpitation of my heart!"

Again Haidee went out, locking the door as before. The patient sprang up
and stood waiting when the witch returned. The key grated, the door
swung open--but at that instant Haidee received a dexterous push that
sent her sprawling into the middle of the room, the wine glass crashing
on the floor. Before she could rise, Lily sprang past her, into the
hall, slammed and locked the door, removed the key and ran wildly down
the stairs.

The outer door was fastened, but the key was in the lock. As she paused
to remove it, she could hear the old woman's frenzied shrieks of anger
and despair on realizing her situation. She flung the door open, flew
down the path, pushed open the heavy iron gate, and ran wildly down the
lonely country road, the afternoon sun beating hotly down on her
unprotected head, the dust flying thick and fast beneath the rapid
pit-a-pat of her small, slippered feet.



CHAPTER XII.


She was free, she was free! that happy thought beat time in Lily's heart
to her wildly rushing feet. She was outside of that horrible prison, old
Haidee was locked in, and could not pursue her, old Peter could not
return for several hours. She had that much time in advance of them.
Only a few miles lay between her and her loved home. Surely, surely,
with the start she had she could distance her enemies and reach the
haven of rest for which she yearned and prayed.

She ran on and on, her brain reeling, her heart beating almost to
suffocation, the perspiration running down her face in streams.

Sheer exhaustion at last caused her to slacken her pace and look behind
her at the lonely stretch of road over which her flying feet had swiftly
carried her. The old house in which she had passed such awful hours was
out of sight; a turn in the road had hidden it from view. No baleful
pursuer was on her track yet. She turned and looked before her. A long
stretch of country road, dotted here and there with poor-looking houses,
lay ahead. She wet her handkerchief in a rill that trickled by the side
of the road, bound it about her throbbing head, and set forward again,
steadily, but at a less swinging pace than she had used before.
Exhausted nature could not hold out at the rapid rate with which she had
begun.

On and on she went through the blistering sunshine. Her head ached, the
hot road burnt her feet, the warm wind blew the dust into her strained
and weary eyes. No matter--she did not heed these trifling things. She
was free! That was the glad refrain to which her bounding heart kept
time. She was so happy she could not realize her great physical weakness
and weariness.

It seemed to her at last that hours had passed since she had set forth
on her journey, carefully following some directions Fanny Colville had
given her. The houses and lots began to stand nearer together. She was
getting nearer to the great city. She began to be afraid that she would
meet old Peter Leveret returning to his home after his errand to Doctor
Pratt.

At last she came to a little house standing apart from the others. She
peeped in and saw an elderly woman sitting at the open door sewing on a
coarse garment, and singing blithely at her task. She opened the gate
and went up to her.

"Will you let me come in and rest, and have a drink of water?" said she,
gently. "I am very tired!"

The woman looked up in surprise. God knows what she thought of the poor
girl standing there bareheaded and dusty, in her blue morning dress,
looking so drooping and weary, but she moved aside and said kindly:

"Yes! dear heart, come in and rest, and have a bit and a sup--you look
as if you needed all three."

The kind words and gentle smile went to the lonely girl's heart. Tears
started into her eyes as she took the offered glass of water and drained
it thirstily.

"I thank you, I do not wish anything to eat," she answered wearily, "but
if you will give me an old bonnet I will be glad--I have no bonnet, you
see--and an old dress, for I do not wish to go into the city with this
morning-dress--I will pay you well, indeed I will. See, I will give you
my diamond ring."

The woman started in surprise as her strange visitant turned the costly
ring upon her finger.

"Here is some strange mystery," she thought within herself. "The girl is
running away, mayhap, and wants a disguise."

She went to a closet, and brought out an old straw hat and thick veil,
and a long, light sack somewhat worn.

"I will not take your ring, my dear," she said kindly. "You may take
these things, though, and welcome. Maybe I am doing wrong in helping you
to run away, but then again I may be doing you a great kindness. You
look very forlorn, my poor dear."

Lily went to work in a dazed kind of way putting on the long sack over
her dress and the hat on her head. This done she wound the thick veil
tightly over her face and turned to go.

"I thank you for your kindness, my good woman," she said. "I will come
back here some time and reward you richly, I will indeed. Now I am
going. If anybody comes here to ask about me be sure and tell them I
have not been here. Do not let them know----"

Whatever else she was going to say died unuttered on her pale lips.
Exhausted nature was giving away. She threw up her hands wildly,
staggered forward a step, and fell fainting on the floor.

"Poor soul," said the good woman, kneeling down on the floor, and
loosening the hat and veil from her head, "she is dead tired-out."

She straightened Lily out upon the floor, and dashed cold water into her
white face, but with no success. The swoon was a deep one, and it was
fully an hour before the girl was sufficiently revived to be lifted up
by the woman's strong arms and laid upon a clean white bed.

"A beauty and no mistake," thought the warm-hearted creature, smoothing
back the damp, golden ringlets from the marble white brow on the pillow.

Lily's large, blue eyes opened and looked up at her in amaze.

"Am I sick? Have I been here long?" she inquired, struggling up to a
sitting posture and looking out through the window anxiously. "Why, the
sun is setting," said she, turning her bewildered face on her kind
attendant.

"Yes, you fainted and were a long time coming to," was the answer: "you
have been here more than an hour."

Lily slipped down from the bed and began to put on her hat and veil with
trembling hands.

"I must be going," she said; "I have far to go yet, and it is growing so
late."

Before the astonished woman could remonstrate, she was out of the house,
going slowly on her way. She was so weak she could not walk very fast.
Her impetuous will alone sustained her dragging footsteps. Thick
twilight had fallen before she entered the busy, bustling city. Sorely
frightened at finding herself alone in the gathering darkness, yet
afraid that the glare of the gaslights would reveal her shrinking form
to her pursuers, she shrank along in the friendly shadows, drawing back
nervously from the hurrying forms that brushed past her, and trembling
at every footstep behind her. But in spite of her nervousness she at
length entered the elegant street where her father resided.

All was gaiety and life in the brilliant houses as she hurried past
them. The light from the drawing-rooms streamed out upon her shrinking
form.

Wild and entrancing strains of music filled the night air. Long lines of
carriages were drawn up in front of some of the houses whose owners were
holding balls and receptions. She knew them all; they were all friends
of hers: but she flitted past them like a spirit, pausing not in her
frightened yet happy course until she stood before the windows of her
father's handsome mansion.

These windows were lighted, too, but not so brightly as some; music,
too, stole through them, but it was soft and subdued. Death had been
there so recently they had not the heart to be gay, she thought.

Wild with her joy she threw off her disguising hat and veil and running
up the broad, marble steps rang the bell. It was opened by the stately
old servitor whom she had been accustomed to from childhood. But instead
of welcoming her home, the gray-haired old man fled wildly down the hall
after one glance into her lovely white face.

"He takes me for a ghost," she thought, laughing and running after him
down the wide hall till she reached the drawing-room door which stood
open for coolness that sultry night.

She stopped in the doorway, framed like a picture in the hall gaslights,
and looked into the room.

They were all there before her--her dear ones! The piano stood in the
center of the room, its back towards her, with Mrs. Vance on the
music-stool, directly facing her. Her white hands strayed over the pearl
keys, and Lancelot Darling stood beside her, and turned the leaves of
her music.

A low divan was drawn near them, and Ada rested upon it, looking very
fair and ethereal in her deep mourning dress. Her father sat beside her
looking very grave and sad.

"Papa, papa!" cried poor Lily in a choking voice.

The passionate cry, low as it was, was distinctly heard by the
quartette. They all looked up and saw her standing there in the light
with her wild, white face and streaming golden hair.



CHAPTER XIII.


The group in the drawing-room gazed at Lily for a moment in mingled awe
and consternation, but suddenly, before word or sound broke the trance
of silence, the beautiful picture was wholly blotted out and obliterated
by a blackness of darkness that filled and flooded the wide hall.

Then the sound of women's screams filled the grand drawing-room.

"Lily, Lily!" screamed Ada, throwing herself into her father's arms,
while Mrs. Vance fell writhing upon the floor, shrieking in abject
terror.

Lancelot Darling paused a moment to extricate himself from the clinging
hands of the kneeling woman, then bounded out into the hall.

Darkness met him only as he ran excitedly up and down its length. There
was no one there. The front door, standing wide open, attracted his
attention. He went out on the porch and looked up and down. Just then
Mr. Lawrence came out and joined in the search. There was no one
passing. They went in and found Willis, the aged servitor, who had
returned to his post, and was lighting up the gas again.

"Willis, what is the meaning of this?" he asked, sharply. "The hall door
open, the gas out, and you absent from your post!"

"On my soul, Mr. Lawrence. I could not help it! I saw a ghost," said the
man, looking about him in visible trepidation.

"Explain yourself," said his master, sternly.

"I went to answer the door-bell," said Willis, trembling, "and when I
opened the door there stood a ghost, all in white, looking at me and
smiling. I was so frightened I let go the door-handle and ran away; I
beg your pardon for neglecting my duty, sir, and leaving the door ajar,"
concluded the man, humbly.

"What sort of a ghost did you see?" asked Mr. Darling.

The man's eyes grew large and wild.

"Perhaps I ought not to tell you," said he, "but, begging your pardon,
Mr. Lawrence, and yours, Mr. Darling, it was the spirit of our poor lost
Miss Lily!"

Mr. Lawrence grew pale as he looked at the man.

"Come, Lance; come, Willis," he said, "we will search the house from top
to bottom. There is some mystery here which we may penetrate."

They looked into every room and closet, they neglected no hiding place
from garret to cellar, but no one, either ghost or being, was
discovered. Mr. Lawrence went up to Ada's room to see if she were
recovering from her agitation.

She was lying in bed pale, but very quiet, attended by her maid. He sent
the girl away, and told his daughter what Willis had seen, and how
vainly they had searched the house.

"Papa, what do you think?" asked she, in low, awe-struck tones. "Was it,
indeed, as the man asserts, the restless spirit of my sister? It was
like her, only paler and more shadowy, as a spirit well might be."

"Ada, I do not know what to think," said her father in low, moved tones,
"I am lost in a maze of doubt and conjecture. Can it be that my
daughter's soul cannot rest while her poor desecrated body remains
uncoffined?"

"It may be so," said Ada, weeping. "What a mournful tone was in that
voice as it breathed your name!"

He started up, pacing the floor in wild agitation.

"I must go down to Lance," he said. "We will go and see the detective
again to-night, and learn if any clew has been found. We must find her
body if skill and money combined can accomplish it; I cannot bear for
her restless soul to be seeking its body at my hands!"

Mrs. Vance had retired to her room in a state of abject terror.

She believed that she had seen and heard the veritable spirit of the
girl she had murdered, instigated thereto by jealousy.

Her bold and venturesome spirit had never yet felt the promptings of
remorse for her dreadful deed. She rejoiced that Lily was dead, and that
the shameful stigma of suicide lay upon her memory; though she was the
daily witness of the bereaved family's sorrow, though she saw that
Lancelot Darling was aged as if ten years had passed over his head in
the past few weeks, still she felt no grief for her sin, and kept on her
resolute way, swearing in her secret soul to win the young man whom she
passionately adored, and whose wealth and position made him the most
eligible _parti_ in the whole city. Love and ambition alike spurred her
on to the attainment of her cherished object.

But the dreadful revelation of old Haidee had struck a lightning flash
of terror to her guilty soul.

She had believed herself secure in her sin; she had thought it known
only to herself of all the world, and the knowledge that her secret
belonged to another had almost crazed her with the fear of its betrayal.
She regretted that she had not followed the old witch home that day and
struck another secret blow that would have sealed the old woman's lips
forever.

She who had struck down so ruthlessly the fair and blooming life of Lily
Lawrence would have felt no compunction in ending prematurely the old
and sin-blasted existence of Haidee Leveret. All that she lacked was the
chance.

Now another scathing monition had been hurled against her guilty
conscience. In the hour when old Haidee's continued silence and absence
had begun to inspire her with confidence again, when the wooing tones
had brought Lancelot Darling to her side, when she could almost feel his
breath upon her cheek as he bent to turn the pages of her music--in that
supreme hour the image of the woman she hated had risen to blast her
sight, and to come between her and the love she sought. It was horrible,
it was maddening.

She sought her solitary apartment and flung herself face downward on the
bed, afraid to lift her heavy eyes lest they should be blasted by the
sight of the restless spirit which her guilty hand had driven forth a
wanderer from the fair citadel it once inhabited.

"Do the dead walk?" she said to herself, in fearful agitation, "do they
revisit the haunts of life and love? Do they ever return and denounce
their murderers? Oh! God, why do I ask myself these fruitless questions?
Do I not know? Have I not looked upon the face of the dead this night?
Ah! what if she had pointed a ghostly finger at me, and said before them
all, 'Thou art my murderess!'"

Shivering as if with the ague she buried her head in the bed-clothes.

A sudden rap at the door caused her to start violently.

"Enter," said she, almost inaudibly.

It was only one of the neat housemaids. She looked concerned at the
ghastly white face the widow lifted on her entrance.

"Are you ill, Mrs. Vance?" she inquired.

"No--yes--that is, my head aches badly," was the confused answer.

The maid had heard the story of the ghostly visitor from Willis, and
rightly attributed the agitation of the lady to that cause.

She did not allude to it, however, as Mrs. Vance did not. She simply
said:

"I found this trinket in the hall as I was passing through it, Mrs.
Vance. I have shown it to Miss Lawrence, but she does not know anything
about it, so I came to ask if it belonged to you?"

She held the piece of gold in her hand. Mrs. Vance arose and examined it
by the light.

It was the broken half of a golden locket such as gentlemen wear on
their watch-chains. It was of costly workmanship, richly chased, with a
delicate monogram set in minute diamonds. The intertwined letters were
"H. C."

"It does not belong to me, Mary," answered Mrs. Vance. "It has probably
broken off from some gentleman's watch-chain, and dropped as he was
passing through the hall. But I do not know to whom it can belong. We
have had no visitors to-day, and indeed I cannot recollect any
acquaintance we have with the initials, 'H. C.' What do you intend to do
with it?"

"I shall ask Mr. Lawrence to take charge of it as soon as he returns,"
replied Mary. "It may be that he can find the owner. It is quite
valuable, is it not, ma'am?"

"Yes, it has some value, Mary--the monogram is set with real diamonds,
though they are very small. It evidently belongs to a person of some
means," said Mrs. Vance, returning the trinket to Mary's hand.

The trim little maid said a polite good-night and tripped away with the
jewel carefully wrapped in a handkerchief. Mrs. Vance, with her thoughts
turned into a new channel, sat musing thoughtfully over the little
incident. The longer she thought it over the more mysterious it
appeared.

"To whom can it belong?" said she to herself. "No gentlemen at all have
called here to-day. Can it have any connection with our mysterious
visitation to-night?"



CHAPTER XIV.


Mr. Lawrence detailed to the special detective, Mr. Shelton, the
particulars of his daughter's appearance that evening. He was listened
to with the closest attention.

When he had concluded his story, the detective said, respectfully:

"I am a very practical man, Mr. Lawrence, and my profession only makes
me more so. When I am brought in contact with a mystery I invariably
suspect crime. And I must tell you that I do not believe in the
visionary nature of the girl you saw in your hall this evening. I am not
a believer in the supernatural."

"What then, is your opinion of the phenomenon?" inquired Mr. Lawrence.

"That it was no phenomenon at all," answered Mr. Shelton, smiling. "It
was palpably an attempt at robbery. Some girl with a resemblance to your
lost daughter was employed to frighten off the man at the door, while
her accomplices entered the hall, turned off the light and perpetrated a
burglary."

"But there was nothing stolen," objected Mr. Lawrence. "The house was
searched immediately, for I had an idea rather similar to yours at
first. But nothing had been taken nor was there any person concealed in
the house."

The detective smiled blandly in the comfortable knowledge of his own
superior wisdom.

"The thieves were only frightened off that time," said he; "they will
come again, feeling secure in the belief that the girl played the ghost
to perfection. The next time do not be frightened but make an instant
effort to capture her, and she can soon be forced to reveal her
accomplices."

"You have learned nothing yet about the grave-robbers?" asked Mr.
Lawrence, dismissing the first subject, thinking it quite possible that
Mr. Shelton's exposition of the case was a very correct one.

"I have found the first link in the chain," said the detective
brightening up.

"You have?" said the banker, gladly.

"It is a very slight clew, though," said Mr. Shelton. "I would not have
you build your hopes on it, Mr. Lawrence, for it may not lead to
anything. The case is a very mysterious one, and so far has completely
baffled thorough investigation."

"But that you have discovered anything at all is an earnest of hope,"
said the banker. "Slight things lead to great discoveries sometimes.
Will you give us the benefit of your discovery?"

"It must be held in the strictest confidence," said Mr. Shelton, looking
from Mr. Lawrence to Mr. Darling, who had sat quite silent throughout the
interview. "Of course you know that if suffered to get abroad it would
put the guilty party on their guard."

Both gentlemen promised that they would preserve inviolable secrecy.

"Briefly, then, I have learned that the sexton was bribed to lend out
the key of your vault the night of the funeral, Mr. Lawrence."

"The villain!" said Mr. Lawrence, hotly.

"Softly," said the detective; "he is not so bad as you think. His error
lay in the possession of a soft heart unfortunately abetted by a soft
head."

"I fail to catch your meaning," said the banker.

"I mean," said the detective, "that poor old man had no thought or dream
of abetting a robbery. His consent was most reluctantly forced from him
by the sighs and protestations of a pretended lover, who only desired
that he might be permitted to look once more on the beloved face of the
dead. The sighing Romeo prevailed over the old man's scruples with his
frantic appeals and obtained the key, rewarding the sexton with all a
lover's generosity. It was returned to him in a short while, and so
implicit was his faith in the romantic lover that he never even looked
in the vault to see if all was secure. The shocking discovery made the
following day by Mr. Darling and yourself so appalled him with its
possibilities of harm to himself, that he feared to reveal the fact of
his unconscious complicity in the theft."

"Yet he revealed it to you," said Mr. Lawrence.

"The detectives are a shrewd lot for worming secrets out of people,"
said Shelton, with one of his non-committal smiles. "I used much
_finesse_ with the old man before I made my discovery. I suppose I may
feel safe in supposing that you will not molest him at the present
critical time? Much depends on secrecy."

"The case is in your hands--rest assured I shall not make any disastrous
move in it," returned Mr. Lawrence, reassuringly.

"One thing further," said Mr. Shelton. "I learned that the man who
enacted the hypocritical _role_ of the despairing lover was tall and
dark, but have not succeeded in identifying him yet. That is the meager
extent of my information at present."

"I hope and trust it may soon lead to an entire elucidation of the
mystery," said the banker, rising to leave.

"I will report all discoveries tending that way immediately, sir,"
answered the detective, bowing his visitors out of the office.

"How are you impressed with Mr. Shelton's powers as a detective, Lance?"
asked Mr. Lawrence as they walked on a few blocks before hailing a car.

"I believe he is an able man, but--I am not prepared to subscribe to his
theory of the event which happened to-night," was the somewhat
hesitating reply of the young man.

"You are not? What, then, is your opinion?" asked the banker, in some
surprise.

"Mr. Lawrence, I believe that it was really and truly our lost Lily whom
we beheld to-night," said Lancelot, earnestly.

"Really and truly our Lily! Come, Lance, you talk wildly. Has your
affliction turned your brain, poor boy? Recollect that Lily is dead."

"I know--I know. Who could realize that fact more forcibly than I do?
But, my dear friend, I did not mean that it was Lily in the flesh. What
I meant was that Lily's spirit, the better part of her which is
imperishable, really and truly appeared to us to-night," said the young
man, who was of a very impressive and imaginative cast of mind.

Mr. Lawrence regarded him curiously.

"But why should you persist in this belief, Lance, when the clever Mr.
Shelton has so clearly shown us the fallacy of the idea?"

"He has not shown us the fallacy of the idea at all," answered Lancelot
Darling earnestly, as before. "He has only given us his practical theory
regarding it."

"Have you any conjecture regarding her object in so appearing to us--if,
indeed, you take the right view of the matter, Lance?" asked the banker,
impressed by the serious manner of his young friend.

"I have not thought of it, Mr. Lawrence. I have no distinct or tangible
impression at all except this one, which is indelibly fixed on my mind.
I believe that the pure, white soul of Lily Lawrence looked out visibly
upon us to-night from the eyes of the girl whom we saw in the hall. I
cannot be mistaken. My soul leaped forth to meet hers as it could not
have done for any other woman, mortal or immortal," replied the loyal
lover earnestly.

"Well, here is my car," said the banker, hastening to signal it.

"Good-night, sir," said Lance, turning a corner and going down the
street toward his hotel to pass the weary night in restless tossing and
sleeplessness, while visions of his beautiful lost love haunted his
feverish brain until he was well-nigh driven to madness.

Mr. Lawrence went back to the detective next day with the costly broken
jewel that Mary, the housemaid, had found in the hall. He explained to
Mr. Shelton that no gentleman had called at the house the day previous
except Mr. Darling, who said he had never seen it before.

"This confirms my view of the case," said Mr. Shelton, triumphantly "Did
I not say that the girl had one or more accomplices? This was probably
dropped by the man in his hurried flight. Yet it would seem to have
belonged to a person of taste and wealth. Such a one would not be
engaged in burglary. The mystery only deepens."

"But may not this be a clew by which to discover the perpetrators of the
dastardly act?" inquired the banker.

"It ought to do so," said the detective, frankly.

He remained lost in thought a few moments then inquired:

"Have you any acquaintance who can claim these initials, Mr. Lawrence?"

"Let me think. My circle of acquaintance is large, but I cannot recall
anyone claiming H. C. as his monogram. My memory may not serve me
correctly, though."

"Perhaps your card-receiver may do better, Mr. Lawrence. Will you
examine that and let me know?"

"Certainly. Suppose you accompany me, and let us find out at once? I do
not feel disposed to let this vexing matter rest."

"With pleasure, as I have a leisure hour at my disposal."

They returned to the house together and entered at once upon their
quest.

It was not long before their labors were rewarded with success The
detective looked up with a small square of pasteboard in his hand, from
which he read aloud triumphantly.

"Harold Colville!"

"'H. C.' Harold Colville!" exclaimed the banker. "Why, really I had
forgotten Mr. Colville."

"He visits here then, of course," said the detective.

"He did--at one time--frequently. Latterly he has discontinued his
visits. Indeed, it has been four or five months since he called upon
us."

"Had he any reason for the cessation of his visits?"

"Yes," said the banker, promptly. "He was a suitor for the hand of my
daughter, Lily. She rejected him--being already engaged to Mr. Darling."

"I have seen Mr. Colville," said Shelton. "He is a man of wealth and
leisure--dissipated and fast, I have heard."

"You have been correctly informed," was the reply.

"Indeed?" said Mr. Shelton. He laid the card back as he spoke, and rose
to take leave.

"Does this discovery throw any light on the mystery?" said the other.

"I will be frank with you, Mr. Lawrence. It does not. The case seems
complicated at present, but it is my business to unravel the crooked
skein, and I hope to do so. You will suffer me to retain this bit of
jewelry for the present. I wish to see if Mr. Colville can furnish the
missing half."

"You suspect him, then--" said the banker, breaking off his sentence
because perplexed how to end it.

"I suspect him of nothing at present," was the reply. "This trinket may
have been stolen from him and lost by another, I have that to find out.
If it be proved that Mr. Colville lost this locket in your hall last
night, my theory of a projected theft will not hold water. A gentleman
of his wealth and position would not need to descend to that phase of
crime. Some other object must have actuated him."

He paused, drawing on his gloves.

"There is one thing more," he resumed. "Keep this mutual discovery we
have made a dead secret until I give you leave to reveal it. Do not even
mention it to your daughter or to Mr. Darling. He does not believe the
theory I advanced last night. I read it in his expressive features. He
thinks he really saw a spirit. Let him think so still; I am gathering
the tangled ends of a fearful mystery in my hands. But if human skill
can unravel it I will not fail to do so. Good-day, Mr. Lawrence."

He tripped airily away down the street with the air and manner of a
well-bred gentleman. Few who saw the well-dressed man swinging his natty
little cane so jauntily and wearing that supremely indifferent air would
have supposed him to be the most daring and accomplished detective in
the State of New York. So thought Mr. Lawrence as he watched him walk
away.



CHAPTER XV.


The rage of old Haidee Leveret at finding herself duped and outwitted by
such a weak girl as Lily Lawrence was frightful to witness and
impossible to describe. She raved, she stormed, she tore her scanty gray
locks and blasphemed in the most frightful and blood-curdling terms.

In vain she tried the door-handle, in vain she shook the iron bars in
the window. They resisted her most vigorous efforts.

In her terrible rage she fell to breaking and tearing everything in her
room that could be destroyed. She threw down the dishes containing
Lily's untasted dinner and shivered them into fragments. She tore off
the bed-covers and rent them in pieces in the hight of her insane fury.
If Lily had fallen into her cruel hands just then she would have killed
her remorselessly.

At length, having sated her rage momentarily by wreaking it on those
poor inanimate things, she began to quiet down somewhat and to consider
the situation.

The enemy had worsted her, that was self-evident. Stratagem had
succeeded against brute force and power.

Lily Lawrence had freed herself from captivity, and there was no one to
pursue her and bring her back. Old Peter was not likely to return for
several hours. If Lily's strength held out she would be safe in her home
ere the old man could get back to town and carry the tidings to Doctor
Pratt and Harold Colville.

Harold Colville had promised the old couple a most extravagant reward
for the safe-keeping of his beautiful prisoner.

Not only did the loss of this trouble the old crone's mind, but also the
fact that Lily would betray them all into the hands of the police and
that exposure and punishment would follow on the discovery of the
nefarious works which she and her husband had wrought for years. A
species of abject terror filled her quaking frame at the thought. She
thought of the miserly accumulations of her wicked life secreted beneath
the roof of the old house, and dreaded lest her greedy eyes should never
again be permitted to gloat over that golden hoard.

In the hight of these woful cogitations her thoughts suddenly recurred
to the prisoner in the gloomy dungeon beneath her.

Poor Fanny Colville, whose hearing had been strained all day to detect
the faintest sound from above, had been a frightened listener to old
Haidee's fearful explosion of wrath.

She knew by the violence of the witch's rage that Lily had succeeded in
her stratagem and effected her escape. The knowledge filled her with
joy, even while she feared that rage would instigate Haidee to yet
further cruelties against herself. The desire for life was yet strong in
the breast of the poor starving creature, and she shrank in terror while
she thought it was probable that old Haidee would kill her in her
frantic desire to wreak vengeance upon something. Even while she
shivered over her fear she heard the heavy footsteps lumbering down the
stairs toward the dungeon.

"What! are you not dead yet, you she-devil?" was the fierce salutation
that greeted her ears.

Her enemy advanced, and seizing hold of her crouching body as it lay
upon the bed, shook it with the fury of a wild-cat until it seemed as if
the poor bones must rattle. "What do you mean by living in this way?
Must I kill you at last with my own hands?"

"Spare me," moaned the poor victim between her chattering teeth, "spare
me yet a little longer, I am so young, and life is so sweet!"

"Sweet, you fool!" cried the old hag, desisting from sheer weariness,
and letting go of the poor skeleton to glare fiercely at her. "What!
Life is sweet, chained in a dungeon, in rags, on a crust of bread and a
sup of water?"

"Yes, oh, yes!" faltered the poor creature, hoping to gain a little time
so that deliverance from her bonds might come.

"Live then, you worm!" cried the old witch, throwing life at her poor
victim with a curse. "Live as long as you can since you find it such a
luxury!"

The shivering heap of rags and bones did not answer. Stamping about the
floor, glaring at the frightened Fanny, her mood changed. She said
retrospectively:

"After all you are not such a devil as she! You have not the spirit in
your poor, crushed, beaten body! You have never even tried to escape
from me and bring me to punishment! Why should I tread on you when you
will not even turn like the worm? No, live, live! Never fear but you
shall have your crust of bread and sup of water while Haidee remains
here to bring it to you."

So saying she went out again, and Fanny wept tears of joy at her
departure. But a little while now, she thought gladly, and Lily would be
at home. Then to-morrow at the farthest her own deliverance would
arrive. She thought of the loved ones she had never expected to see
again, of the dear old mother and father in their old home in the
country, and the affectionate girl's tears flowed like rain for very joy
at the blissful hope of reunion.

Alas! poor Fanny!

It seemed many hours to Haidee before her husband and Doctor Pratt
returned. It was very near sunset, for Doctor Pratt had been absent
visiting a patient, and Peter had been forced to await his return.

When at last they came and knocked at the door she had to inform them,
with a curse for every word, of Lily's escape. Then they were compelled
to force the door open, for the brave girl had taken the key with her
and thrown it away in the road.

As soon as Doctor Pratt heard her story he sprang into the buggy and
drove into the city with furious haste in search of Colville. It was
late before he found him, so that Lily was almost home before he learned
the story.

"I suppose it is all up with us now," said Colville, after swearing an
oath or two. "And we had better be getting away from town before we are
arrested. I suppose she is at home by now."

"There is only one chance in ten that she is not," was the reply. "Her
excessive weakness may have caused her to fall by the way. It seems
impossible that one so debilitated by sickness should take so long a
walk without resting."

"You think there is a chance of her recapture, then?" inquired Colville
eagerly.

"There may be," was the cautious reply. "You see, if she is yet on the
road we can watch for her near her home; and as it is getting dark it
would be very easy to seize her and put her into a waiting carriage.
After that there would be no difficulty. Chloroform would stifle her
screams while we drove back to Leveret's with her."

"But the carriage driver, doctor. Might he not betray us?"

"I will drive my own carriage," answered Pratt. "We will stop near the
corner of Mr. Lawrence's house. You will then get out and watch for her.
If she should appear you will hastily throw a cloak over her head and
carry her to the carriage."

"Well planned, doctor! Let us be going at once. Every moment is precious
in this extremity."

"We must first purchase a bottle of chloroform, a sponge, and a long,
water-proof cloak in which to envelope her form," said the doctor,
recollecting precautions which Colville in his impetuosity was about
forgetting.

These purchases were hastily made, and the two worthies stepped into the
doctor's light carriage and drove rapidly away on their mission of evil.

They were not a minute too soon. As the carriage stopped at the corner a
slight form hurried past, plainly visible in the light of the
street-lamp.

"It is she!" said Pratt in a hasty whisper. He recognized her graceful
form in spite of the disguising veil and sack.

Colville was stung to madness by the sight.

"I will have her," he declared with a terrible oath, "if I have to tear
her from the arms of her lover!"

He sprang out and followed her. She had gone up the steps and rung the
bell. Just as he came opposite the steps he saw old Willis open the
door, and witnessed his headlong flight from the supposed spirit of his
young mistress. As she glided into the house he ran lightly up the steps
and followed her. She heard the footsteps of her pursuer and faintly
moaned:

"Papa! papa!"

But in that moment, ere assistance could reach her, the gaslights were
turned out by a steady hand; she was plucked backward by the skirt of
her dress, and fell into Colville's arms, so muffled by the heavy cloak
he threw over her that she could not breathe. Hardly clogged by the
light burden in his arms he ran through the hall and down the steps
before Lancelot Darling reached the door. It was but the work of a
moment to reach the carriage and give his captive into the doctor's
ready arms. He then sprang in himself and drove rapidly away with their
beautiful captive.



CHAPTER XVI.


Lily awakened from the temporary stupor induced by chloroform and found
herself a prisoner again in the old familiar room. She was lying on the
bed, and Doctor Pratt, grim, and satanic-looking as usual, sat by the
side.

Harold Colville was also an occupant of the room, and Haidee Leveret,
from the foot of the bed, gave her a fiendish scowl in answer to the
glance she cast upon her.

"How do you feel after your journey this evening?" inquired the
physician, with a sarcastic smile.

A glance of scorn from Lily's eyes fell upon him. She did not vouchsafe
him any reply.

"I think you must begin to realize by this time that it is quite
impossible for you to escape from us," continued Doctor Pratt. "You have
now made two attempts which have resulted in nothing except to make us
more vigilant than before in keeping you safely secured. Hereafter you
will be doubly guarded by Haidee and Peter. He will accompany her and
stand outside the room door whenever she has any business within. You
are aware that the window is too heavily and strongly barred for you to
tamper with it. You now see that there is no possible chance for you to
make a third attempt to elude us."

There was no reply. Lily still regarded him with a flashing gaze full of
scorn and contempt; but the villain went on, in no-wise disconcerted by
her anger:

"It seems to me, Miss Lawrence, that your best and wisest course would
be to thankfully accept Mr. Colville's proposals of marriage. Surely
that cannot be such a terrible thing to do. There are many ladies who
would be proud of the honor which he seeks to force upon you. Your
former home is forever lost to you; you are as one dead to your family.
They have seen you laid away in the tomb. If you went to them now they
would not believe that you belonged to them; they would scout your story
as impossible and yourself as an impostor. There remains, therefore, but
one possible chance of restoration to your friends and to liberty, and
that is to appear before them in the character of Mrs. Harold Colville."

"Mr. Colville has already had an answer to his proposals," answered
Lily, firmly. "I will die before I accept liberty on these terms!"

"Do not allow any scruples in regard to Mr. Darling to influence your
decision," interrupted Colville, speaking for the first time, "for I can
assure you, on the honor of a gentleman, Miss Lawrence, that he has
transferred his fickle affections to the wily widow who tried to murder
you in order that she might steal into his heart and win his hand and
fortune."

"It is false; Lancelot has not forgotten me so soon," cried Lily,
warmly.

But though she defended her lover's loyalty so bravely, there flashed
over her mind a remembrance of the scene she had momentarily witnessed
last night--Mrs. Vance at the grand piano, playing and singing softly,
her lover--her handsome, kingly Lancelot--bending over her as he turned
the pages of her music.

She had thought nothing of it then; but in the light of Harold
Colville's bold assertion it seemed to her terribly significant.

"I do not wonder that my assertion taxes your credulity," returned
Colville, with a maddening smile. "It seemed almost beyond belief when
it first came to my knowledge. Not yet three months from your supposed
death, I can scarcely understand how the man who lacked but a few hours
of being your husband could console himself with the smiles of another
so soon. But he is young and impressible, and I grant you she is rarely
beautiful, and gifted with consummate art."

"I can add my testimony to Mr. Colville's assertion," said Doctor Pratt.
"Your lover has, indeed, been beguiled into forgetfulness of his grief
by the fascination of the charming widow. They are now acknowledged
lovers!"

"I do not believe it," answered Lily, proudly. "Do you think I would
take your word, Harold Colville, or yours, Doctor Pratt, for the truth?
You have proved yourselves villains, and I do not place the least
confidence in your assertions. You tell me these things believing I will
the more readily yield to your wishes. But you are mistaken--sadly
mistaken! I tell you now that if Lancelot Darling should marry Mrs.
Vance to-morrow it would not make any difference in my rejection of a
villain's suit!"

Both the worthies glared at her with fierce wrath.

"So be it," said Colville, angrily. "But remember, you will remain a
prisoner until you accede to my wishes, no matter how long you hold out.
Haidee, you need not provide so sumptuously for so contumacious a
captive. Let bread and water be her portion until her rebellious spirit
is broken. I will see her again in a month's time. Come, doctor; come,
Haidee; let us leave her to the pleasures of solitary contemplation."

All three retired; the door, which had been provided with another key,
was securely locked, and she was left again in her loneliness and bitter
sorrow.

Weak and weary with her long journey and unbroken fast she lay still,
her limbs aching with fatigue and her heart almost broken with sorrow.

Her momentary glimpse of her dear ones had filled her heart with a wild
flood of new tenderness for them. She had come back to them from the
dead, and she felt that they would have been filled with the deepest joy
in receiving her again.

She had been so cruelly torn from them in the very moment when they
first caught sight of her! She wondered what they would think.

"Perhaps they will share old Willis' delusion that it was a spirit,"
thought she, with a flood of tears.

She had almost forgotten Fanny in the bitter anguish of being retaken
thus in the very moment of impending re-union with her family.

But presently she heard the clank of the poor captive's chain, as she
turned restlessly on her hard bed, and caught the sound of her groans.

"Poor Fanny," she thought, "how will she bear this sad disappointment
when she hoped so much from my escape!"

Weak and trembling she rose from the bed, and taking the lamp in her
hand staggeringly descended the stairs in quest of her poor companion in
captivity and sorrow.

Fanny lay extended on the cot, moaning piteously. She cried out in
surprise and terror, fearing that Haidee had returned to threaten and
abuse her. But she soon saw that it was the sweet face of the captive
girl that beamed upon her.

"My God, Miss Lawrence, is it you?" she said. "I thought, I hoped that
you had escaped!"

Lily threw herself down upon the hard stone floor and wept piteously.
The trial was hard upon herself, as affecting her own individual
welfare.

Now the burden of this poor creature's sorrow added to the weight of her
own made it almost insupportable. It was some time before she could
summon sufficient calmness to relate her mournful story to the suffering
creature.

"It is all over," she said in conclusion. "There is no hope of escape
from our prison, and death is before us."

Fanny lay still, moaning now and then in pain. She made no attempt to
rise, and at last Lily noticed the fact.

"What is the matter with you, my poor soul?" said she. "Are you worse?
Are you unable to rise?"

"I cannot raise my head," answered the poor girl patiently, "my poor
bones have been shaken and beaten terribly by old Haidee. I am very
stiff and sore."

As well as she could she related the story of old Haidee's rage at her
captive's escape, her descent into the dungeon and her wild onslaught on
her starving captive. Lily wept at the recital of Fanny's sufferings.

"She was wreaking her rage at my escape, upon you, poor Fanny," said
she. "Oh! God, why dost thou allow the wicked thus to triumph over the
weak and the innocent?"

"Are you much hurt? Do you think you can survive it?" she asked
presently in anxious tones.

"I don't know. I am very sore at present. There seems very little life
left in me. Perhaps it would be better if I should die," said the poor
creature despondently. The little spark of hope awakened in her breast
by Lily's escape was dead now, and despair had claimed her for its own.
Lily knelt by the cot and felt her hands. They were cold and clammy, and
chilly dews stood upon the wasted brow. Lily started. Could this be
death that was stealing over the poor captive? She feared it was, but
she was afraid to linger longer lest old Haidee should find her out. She
rose reluctantly.

"I wish I could stay with you, Fanny," said she. "It seems hard to leave
you suffering thus alone. But if old Haidee should find me, she might
kill you for fear I should betray her. So it seems that I must go.
Good-night."

Lily took the poor, wasted hand and pressing it gently, went away,
fearing that the few sands of life remaining to Harold Colville's
injured wife were fast running out.



CHAPTER XVII.


About a month subsequent to the events which have been related in the
last chapter, Mrs. Vance and Ada Lawrence sat alone in the drawing-room
of their splendid home. Ada had been reading, but the volume seemed to
have little interest, for it had fallen from her hands to the floor, and
she was reclining on a luxurious divan, looking bored and sad, while now
and then a low sigh rippled across her coral lips.

She was very lovely, being a pure blonde with red and white complexion
and hair of golden tint. Her face looked flower-like in its delicacy,
gleaming out from the somber folds of her mourning dress.

Mrs. Vance, sitting opposite, absorbed in a voluminous billow of crimson
crochet work, looked over at her, and started as if she had only just
begun to realize the girl's exceeding fairness.

"How pretty she is," she thought apprehensively, "and how startling her
likeness to her dead sister! Good Heavens! what if Lance should see the
resemblance as plainly as I do, and fall in love with her for Lily's
sake."

The thought which now presented itself for the first time was startling
in its probability. She began to think that it was time for Ada to be
going back to school. It was dangerous to keep that fair flower-face in
Lancelot Darling's vicinity.

"Ada," said she, abruptly, "how old are you?"

"Sixteen," answered the girl sleepily, without lifting her drooping,
golden-brown lashes.

"Almost old enough to come out in society," said the lady. "You will
have to hurry and finish your education--you mean to graduate, of
course. When are you going back to school?"

"I do not expect to go back at all," was the startling reply.

"Not go back," said Mrs. Vance, affecting extreme astonishment.

"Papa is so lonely now that Lily is gone," said Ada, choking back a sob,
"that I have not the heart to leave him. I will stay with him and
comfort him."

"But, my dear--you so young, so unformed in your manners--surely you
will not sacrifice yourself thus! Let me advise you to go back to
college another year at least," urged Mrs. Vance.

A little annoyed at her persistence, Ada sat up and looked across at
her.

"Mrs. Vance," said she, coldly, "do you happen to know that if I took
your advice and returned to my boarding-school this house could no
longer be a home for you?"

"Why not?" asked the lady, a little fluttered.

"Do you not see?" said Ada, pointedly. "You are not related to papa at
all. You are a young and handsome woman. If you and he were living here
alone together, with no one but the servants, people would couple your
names unpleasantly. So you comprehend that it is better for me to stay
and play propriety."

"Ada, I do not believe you care whether I have a shelter over my head or
not," said the widow, stung into anger by the pointed speech of the
girl.

"I should be sorry to see any one houseless," answered Ada, calmly; "but
to own the truth, Mrs. Vance, I must say that I am sorry that the same
roof has to shelter us both. I do not like you, and I am honest enough
to tell you so!"

"Because I am poor and you are rich," said Mrs. Vance, affecting to
weep.

"It is not that," said the young girl. "It is not that you are no
relation to papa, except by marriage, and that you forced yourself here
and claimed a support when you might have earned one for yourself, as
many another widow has done. No, it is not for these things, Mrs. Vance,
for I might still like you in spite of them, though I might pity your
lack of true independence. But I dislike you because I believe you are a
false, deceitful, unprincipled woman, scheming for some secret end of
your own."

"What have I ever done to you, Ada, that you should denounce me thus?"
sobbed the widow.

"Nothing--you would not dare to, for my papa would turn you out of the
house if you did," replied the girl, spiritedly. "But do you think, Mrs.
Vance, I cannot see your present drift? Do you think I do not see how
shamelessly you are courting Lance Darling, and trying to win him from
poor Lily who has been dead these four months scarcely?"

"Perhaps you want him for yourself," Mrs. Vance was beginning to say
sarcastically, when they were interrupted by a slight rap on the door.

"Enter," called out Ada.

It was a servant with a message for the widow.

"There's an old woman out in the hall, Mrs. Vance, who says she has
brought the samples of lace you desired."

Ada, who was watching her curiously, wondered why the angry woman grew
so ghastly white under her rouge at the reception of so commonplace a
visitor.

"Say that I am coming," said the widow to the domestic.

In a moment she arose with a muttered apology and followed him into the
hall. Old Haidee stood there patiently waiting with her basket of laces
on her arm.

"Bring the laces up to my apartment," said the lady, with as indifferent
an air as she could assume.

When they were once safe within the locked room, Mrs. Vance turned
furiously on the old lace-vender.

"Did I not tell you not to come here again?" she said. "I have nothing
else to give you."

"Oh, Mrs. Vance, don't say that," whined the old crone, piteously; "I
did not mean to come back, I did not indeed, but I am so poor and the
gold you gave me is all gone."

"Liar! there was enough to last you a year," said Mrs. Vance, angrily.

"Oh, no, ma'am--not with my old man down with the rheumatism, and all my
starving children around me. The money all went for medicine, food and
clothes. It melted away like the new-fallen snow," whined Haidee. "So I
said to myself, I will go back, I will tell the kind lady how poor I am
and she will give me more money."

"I told you I had no more to give," almost shrieked Mrs. Vance in her
desperation. "The money I gave you was presented to me by Mr. Lawrence,
and he expected it would last me a long while. I am a poor woman, living
here on the rich man's bounty, and I have nothing more for
you--absolutely nothing!"

"Oh! but the pretty lady is mistaken," said Haidee, doggedly. "She has
money, or if not she has jewels."

"Would you rob me of my few jewels, you base old wretch?"

"Necessity knows no law," retorted the old creature, grinning hideously.
"I must have help for my sick husband and starving children. If you will
not help me I must go to Mr. Lawrence or to Mr. Darling."

These sly words had their intended effect of frightening Mrs. Vance into
compliance.

She went to her jewel box and began hurriedly to toss over its
glittering contents.

"Here," she said, turning round with a handsome brooch in her hand,
"will this satisfy your cupidity?"

But old Haidee's eyes roved greedily over the sparkling gems in the
casket. She shook her head.

"I could not sell it for a quarter of its value," said she. "It would
not relieve my necessities. Add some other trifle to it, lady--that
bracelet for instance."

The bracelet was a very handsome one in the form of a serpent with
glistening emerald eyes. With a groan Mrs. Vance put it into the greedy,
working fingers.

"You will strip me of every valuable I possess," she said, "and then
when I have nothing else to give you will betray me to my enemies, for
the sake of gaining a reward from them."

"Lady, you do me cruel injustice," was the hypocrite's meek reply. "I
will never betray you while you so generously divide your all with me."

"But if you keep coming with such demands as this I shall soon have
nothing to divide with you," said Mrs. Vance.

"Aye, but the rich man will soon supply you with more gold," said the
harpy, cunningly, as she turned to take leave.

"It will be a good while before I get any more money from Mr. Lawrence,
so you need not be in a hurry to return for it," said the widow, letting
her unwelcome visitor out of the door, and shaking her fist after her
departing form.

As soon as her heavy footsteps ceased lumbering on the stairs, she
hurriedly changed her house-dress for a walking costume of plain
material and simple make. She then put on a small, black hat, tied over
her face a thick, dark veil, and descended the steps, letting herself
quietly out at the front door.

Once in the street, she paused and glanced hurriedly up and down. No one
was in sight but the crooked form of the old lace-vender going slowly
along a few blocks ahead of her.

Mrs. Vance set out to follow the old woman, walking briskly a few
squares until she came within half a block of her. She then slackened
her pace and went on more slowly, keeping herself invisible, but never
losing sight of her prey.

"I will track the beast to its lair," she said to herself, "and then we
will have our reckoning out."

Mrs. Vance hurried on at a steady pace, keeping her enemy fairly in
sight, but aiming to keep too far in the background to be recognized
herself. She had a long walk ahead of her, but she did not mind it, for
her excitement was so great that she was insensible to bodily fatigue.
She was filled with a raging anger against Ada Lawrence, whose pure,
true instincts had so clearly fathomed her meanness and littleness of
spirit. Added to this was her hatred of old Haidee Leveret, mixed with
an abject fear of the old woman's power against her in the possession of
her guilty secret. As she turned corner after corner, and traversed
street after street, her mind was busy revolving vague schemes by which
to rid herself of the greedy and dangerous old creature who began to
hang upon her shoulders heavily as a veritable Sinbad.

At length she began to see that she was coming out upon the outskirts of
the city. Old Haidee, a little ahead of her, kept on at a swinging pace,
hastening her footsteps as she found herself nearing home. Mrs. Vance
kept on steadily too, feeling determined to find out the old woman's
home if she had any.

At last they reached the gloomy old stone house, with its high,
forbidding stone wall. Even Mrs. Vance, courageous as she felt herself
to be, was conscious of a pang resembling fear as she contemplated the
place. But when Haidee was entering the gate she felt a firm touch on
her shoulder, and turned to meet the smiling gaze of the beautiful
widow.

"You see I have overtaken you," was her smooth salutation.

"You have followed me!" exclaimed Haidee, with a savage scowl of rage
and surprise commingled.

"Yes," said Mrs. Vance coolly.

"Woman, woman! are you not afraid?" cried the old witch, pulling her
visitor in and letting the heavy gate fall shut between them and the
outer world. "Have you no dread of my vengeance? Remember, a word from
me can consign you at any moment to the prison cell. Yet you dare to
incur my wrath!"

"I did not follow you to provoke you to anger," said Mrs. Vance,
deprecatingly. "Two motives prompted me to discover your residence.
First, I desired to see your sick husband and starving children in the
hope that I might do something to benefit them. And secondly, if you
intend to make periodical calls on me for hush-money it is better that I
should come here and bring it than for you to call on me. Your frequent
visits on the slight pretext of your laces will not continue to deceive
anyone, and may draw down suspicion upon me. Already Miss Lawrence
suspects me of something. She has plainly told me so. So I repeat what I
have already said--that it is much safer for me to come here than for
you to go there."

"Come in, then, do," said Haidee, with a grim politeness that showed she
was not much imposed on by the lady's profuse explanations. "Come in,
and I will introduce you to my family. If you are really anxious to
benefit us you shall have the opportunity."

She walked on down the grass-grown patch as she spoke and knocked at the
house door. There was the sound of a key grating in the lock; then the
door swung open and disclosed old Peter Leveret standing on the
threshold.

Mrs. Vance, who kept close behind Haidee, started back with a cry of
fear as his huge, misshapen body and bristling red hair met her gaze.

"That is my old man," said the lace vender, coolly. "I see you do not
like his looks. Well, he is not handsome, certainly; but he is very
useful in _other_ ways."

Her malicious emphasis on the last words sent a shudder of fear through
the veins of the visitor, but she did not betray her alarm. She followed
the couple quietly into their rude and poorly furnished sitting-room and
sat down in the chair old Haidee placed for her. Old Peter retired from
their company at an almost imperceptible sign from his wife, and left
the two together.

"Well, you have seen my husband," said the hostess, coolly. "You
perceive he is a very miserable object--one calculated to strike fear
into the heart of a fine lady with such delicate nerves as your own. My
children, I am sorry to say, are not at home to-day. They would have
remained if they had anticipated the honor of your visit; but they are
all out begging, as I have been."

Old Haidee had thrown off the tone of whining meekness which she often
adopted with Mrs. Vance and showed herself now cool, impudent and
crafty. Mrs. Vance noted this change with alarm. She began to think she
had perhaps erred in risking her head in the lion's den. She now said
in a tone of meekness calculated to allay the spirit of defiance she had
raised in the old witch:

"One word, Haidee, as I think you told me your name was--does that old
man, your husband, share the secret you hold against me?"

"I told you once," was the answer, "that the secret belongs to me
alone."

"Yes, but as a man and his wife are one," said Mrs. Vance, cajolingly,
"perhaps you would not count him as anyone but yourself--but you see it
would make much difference to me. So I ask you again, does he know that
secret?"

"And I decline to answer that question," answered the old witch
craftily.

Truth to tell, old Peter was not aware of the secret which his wife
assumed to hold against Mrs. Vance, for Haidee, in her miserly avarice,
had wished to share its golden fruits alone; but the cunning old
creature saw in the anxiety of the lady a menace of danger to herself,
and thought it as well to encourage Mrs. Vance's doubts in that
direction.

"I decline to answer that question," she repeated, with a fearful scowl.

"I may as well go then," said the visitor, rising. She was too much
frightened at the loneliness of the house and the murderous looks of its
inhabitants to remain longer. "But, Haidee, I wish you to understand
plainly that you are not to enter the house of Mr. Lawrence again. If
you must have more hush-money from me, you can send me a line through
the post-office, and I will come here myself and bring you what I can
raise. Will you promise to do this?"

"I will promise to do as you say if you will keep your word," was the
sullen answer, "but if you fail to come with the money within
twenty-four hours after I write you, rest assured I shall come after it
at the grand house."

"I will not fail you," was the firm answer, "and now unfasten the door
and let me go."

"How do you know that I will let you go?" asked Haidee, tauntingly.
"This is a fine old house in which to hold you prisoner--it has old
stone dungeons, iron-barred windows."

Mrs. Vance shuddered, but she answered in as fearless a tone as
possible:

"You have no interest in making a prisoner of me, for in that case you
would get no profit out of your secret. You will not kill the goose that
lays the golden eggs."

"No, no," chuckled Haidee, "but perhaps you are laying some plan against
me--you wish to have me arrested."

"It is not likely. My safety depends on yours--no, no, you need fear
nothing from me. Come, come, it grows late. I am very thirsty. Give me a
drink of water and let me go."

The water was procured, and the visitor drank and departed.

She walked hastily over the lonely road, passed the scattered houses,
and then hailing an empty hack that was passing, entered it and was
driven rapidly homeward, her thoughts, if possible, being more gloomy
than before, for now the dread of old Peter Leveret was added to her
fears of his wife.

She had started out to follow old Haidee with black murder in her heart.
She had not believed in the story of the sick husband and children, but
had expected to find the old crone alone.

Heaven knows what would have happened if she had; but instead she found
the strong, hideous old man, whose leering looks had struck terror to
her heart, and she now believed that he also was cognizant of the fatal
secret which was fraught with such danger to her.

Her thoughts and feelings were anything but enviable ones as she walked
up the steps of the brown-stone palace she called her home.

As she passed through the hall she saw the drawing-room door ajar, and
heard voices. She tip-toed to the door and peeped cautiously in.

Lancelot Darling was there, his handsome head bowed over the couch where
Ada half reclined, listening to a poem which Lancelot was reading aloud.
They looked cozy, comfortable, and supremely contented to the jealous
eyes that glared steadily upon them.

She made no sign, however, but went on to her room, with a tempest in
her heart which, however, did not prevent her from subsequently
descending to the drawing-room, where she set herself to work by every
beguiling art of which she was mistress, to wile away the unconscious
young man from the side of the beautiful Ada.



CHAPTER XVIII.


Haidee Leveret had scarcely returned from locking the door after her
despairing visitor when she was confronted by her husband.

Old Peter's eyes snapped viciously, his hideous old face was flushed
crimson, and his shock of bristly red hair stood erect with indignation.

"Now, then, madam," said he, with a snort of rage, "I have caught you at
your sly tricks, have I?"

"What is the matter with you, old man?" inquired his spouse, affecting
serene unconsciousness.

"Oh, you may well ask!" snapped her liege lord. "You haven't been and
gone and discovered a mine of wealth and worked it yourself in secret,
denying your poor honest old husband a share in the profits--oh, no, you
have not!"

"Shut up your nonsense," said Haidee, witheringly.

"You haven't got a secret against a great lady," pursued old Peter,
disregarding her adjuration. "A great lady who follows you home to
lavish gold upon you, and who wants to know if poor old Peter shares the
secret with you, that she may bestow some of her wealth upon him. You
have not got your pockets full of gold at this moment--oh, no, no, no!"

"You have been eavesdropping, you devil," cried his wife in a rage.

"Well, what if I have?" snapped he. "When a woman has secrets from her
husband--a kind, faithful old man like you have got, Haidee--it is his
right to find out all he can by hook or by crook. I have a mind to
search your pockets this minute, and see what hoards of wealth you have
hidden there now."

"Have done with your foolishness, old man," said Haidee, with an uneasy
consciousness of the costly golden brooch and bracelet, lying _perdu_ in
her pocket that minute.

"Will you turn your pocket inside out then, and let me see if it is
empty?" asked her husband threateningly.

"No, I won't," was the sullen response.

Inflamed with rage and cupidity the old man advanced fiercely upon her,
intending to carry out his threat.

But the virago was ready for him. As he was about to pinion her arms
down to prevent her resistance, she suddenly thrust her hands into his
hair, and clutched its bushy red masses tightly in her long and
claw-like fingers.

This done, with a quick and dexterous movement she flourished her arms
and brought her husband down groveling on his knees before her.

"So you will pick my pocket, will you, you old villain!" she cried
triumphantly.

But she cried victory a moment too soon. As she spoke the words old
Peter made a furious lunge forward with his immense head and succeeded
in throwing her backward upon the floor, where she lay kicking furiously
and waving her hands, in which were tangled great bunches of fiery hair.

The old man immediately followed up his signal success by planting his
knees on her chest, and rifling her pocket of its costly contents, while
the vanquished wife sent forth wailing cries of rage and grief at the
spoliation of her property.

"Oh! yes," cried the old man, holding aloft these spoils of war with one
hand, while he vigorously pummelled his wife with the other. "Oh! yes,
you have already stripped the woman of her money, and have now commenced
on her jewels! Where have you hidden the pile of money? Tell me this
minute, before I kill you!"

Receiving no answer but a loud curse he began to rain blows thick and
fast on the head and shoulders of his powerless victim, and there is no
telling how this conjugal war might have ended had not a loud and
continued knocking on the door startled the furious belligerents.

"Get up," shrieked the vanquished, rejoicing at this diversion in her
favor. "Get up and open the door! Someone has been knocking these ten
minutes past."

Old Peter obeyed this mandate reluctantly, shambling off and carefully
pocketing the jewels as he went, while Haidee rose and straightened her
disordered dress, and picked up her cap, which had been torn off in the
furious _melee_.

"Now, then," said Doctor Pratt, entering, attended by Horace Colville,
"what is the matter here? I never heard such a furious racket in my
life! Have you two been fighting?"

"Only having a friendly knock-about by way of exercise, sir," answered
old Peter, with a hideous grin at his conquered opponent, who had
received a black eye and a swollen face for her portion of the friendly
contest, while he himself had not escaped scatheless, as he bore several
bloody scratches on his face, and sundry bites on his large red hands
that testified to the efficacy of her teeth and finger nails.

"What was the cause of your quarrel?" inquired Mr. Colville, curiously.

"It was of no moment," answered Haidee, with a warning glance at her old
man; but Peter's fighting blood was up and he did not heed her caution.
He proceeded to explain by way of revenge on his angry spouse.

"It was all along of a fine lady, doctor, that Haidee is holding a
secret against, and getting lots of money from on account of it, which
she refuses to share, either the money or the secret, with her poor old
husband."

"Who is the lady, and what secret have you got against her?" inquired
Doctor Pratt, looking sternly at her.

"It is no concern of yours, doctor," was the sullen reply.

"Her name was Mrs. Vance," said Peter, taking a malicious joy in
circumventing old Haidee.

"Good Heavens," said Doctor Pratt, remembering how incautiously he had
talked to Colville about the widow in Haidee's presence. "Why, you
she-devil, is it possible you have been trading upon the suspicions you
heard me breathe about the woman?"

The old witch would not answer, but Peter, taking on himself the role of
spokesman, replied for her:

"I can't tell you where she got suspicions or her information, sir, but
she has certainly made a good bit by her knowledge, for she has gathered
in all the lady's money, and now begins to strip her of her jewels. Fine
ladies don't part with things like these until all their money has gone
the same gait," said he, holding up the brooch and the jeweled serpent
whose emerald eyes glared like living ones.

"It's a lie--I've only had money of her once," said old Haidee fiercely.
"She is a poor woman, and has nothing to pay with."

"How did you gain your information, Peter, if, as you say, your wife
would not share her secret with you?" inquired Doctor Pratt, trembling
with rage against Haidee.

"The lady followed her home to-day to make arrangements for coming here
the next time to pay another installment of hush-money. Haidee had been
going there on some pretext of peddling lace, I think, but the lady was
afraid to have her come to her house again, and promised to meet her
here."

"My God!" said the physician, growing white with fear and rage. "Mrs.
Vance here--in this house only to-day. Haidee, you shall repent this!"

"I have not betrayed any of your secrets, doctor--I was only making a
little money for myself, and no harm done," said the old witch,
beginning to grow apologetic.

"No matter, you must never go there again, nor suffer her to come here.
If you do I swear I will murder you! Do you understand me?"

"Yes, sir," was the sulky answer.

"And you promise to do as I bid you?"

"I promise."

"Very well, then. See that you keep your word. And you, Peter, let me
know if she dares to disobey my injunction. And let the matter rest also
yourself. If either of you approach Mrs. Vance again, I swear you shall
pay a heavy penalty for your temerity!"

"Your prisoner, Haidee--is she safe?" inquired Harold Colville, growing
impatient of the delay.

"She is, sir," was the answer.

"The key then--we wish to visit her," said Colville; whereupon he and
Doctor Pratt both arose and made their way to Lily's room.



CHAPTER XIX.


Lily Lawrence sat alone in the same room in which she had first been
incarcerated when in her cataleptic state she had been brought to this
house of captivity. Peter Leveret had made the window secure again, and
she had been removed here the day after her recapture in her father's
hall by Colville.

Consequently she had had no means of ascertaining whether or not the
miserable wife of Colville still survived.

She thought it more than likely that the poor creature was dead and
beyond all suffering which the vindictive spirit of old Haidee might
still inflict upon her while a spark of life remained in her body.

A profound sympathy and regret for poor Fanny's wretched fate, mixed up
with Lily's deep solicitude for herself, added to the melancholy air
which began to overshadow her like a cloud.

It is a month since we have seen her and she has changed greatly since
that time.

Her jailers have strictly carried out Colville's injunction to allow her
nothing but bread and water, and the result is plainly seen in an added
frailty of face and form.

As she sits in the old arm-chair with her small head thrown wearily
back, she looks almost too transparently pale and pure for an inhabitant
of earth.

The blue veins show plainly as they wander beneath the white skin, the
blue eyes look larger and darker by contrast with the purple shadows
beneath them, the once rounded cheeks are thin and hollow.

Even the lips, once so rosy and smiling with their arch dimpled corners,
have taken on an expression of pain and endurance pitiful to see in one
so young and fair.

The small white hands, growing thin and weak, are listlessly folded
across her lap, while she looks wearily at the smouldering ashes of a
fire that had been kindled on the hearth that morning, for the September
mornings are chilly and the girl's enfeebled frame feels cold keenly.

Thus the two confederates found her when, after a premonitory rap, they
unlocked the door and entered. She looked up and her white face blanched
still whiter at their presence, but beyond that she took no notice save
in a fixed and slightly scornful curl of the lip.

"I trust that I find you well, Miss Lawrence," said her suitor, with an
air of devotion.

"Is it possible I should feel well after subsisting for a month on bread
and water?" asked the girl, in a languid voice of unutterable contempt.

"Lily, forgive me, but you force me to adopt these stringent measures.
It is my love that drives me thus to extremes in hope of forcing your
consent at last. Oh! why will you not relent and make yourself
comfortable, and me the happiest of men?" cried Colville, imploringly,
as he tried to take her hand in his own. But she drew it away with a
gesture of contempt and repugnance to his touch and he desisted. Dr.
Pratt withdrew to the window and appeared to ignore the conversation.

"Lily," continued Colville, seeing that she made no motion of replying,
"you have now had a month for contemplation and sober reflection. Surely
you have profited by the thoughts that must have assailed you in that
time. Do you now consent to become my wife?"

"Mr. Colville, I have not changed my mind at all," replied Lily, coldly
and firmly.

"But come, now, my dear girl," urged Colville, who had been persuaded by
Dr. Pratt to try a little kind persuasion instead of such violent
threatenings; "come, now, my dear girl, why should you persist in your
first ill-considered rejection of my suit? Look at the matter calmly and
dispassionately, and weigh all the advantages in my favor. I am not a
bad-looking man, nor an old man. I have a splendid income and I love you
to distraction. I would spend all my life in making you happy. This is
your one chance of happiness. On the other hand there is nothing but
captivity and starvation. Were it not better to become my wife?"

"No!" answered Lily, firmly.

"You are very candid, at least, if not very flattering," said Colville,
bitterly.

Lily regarded him sadly and calmly. She could pity him when he showed
some sign of feeling. She only hated and feared him when he descended to
abuse and threatening.

"Mr. Colville," said she, in her soft, flute-like voice, "I am very
sorry for you if you love me as you say you do. I pity you from my
heart, but if I yielded to your wish and became your wife I could bring
you no happiness. I do not love you, and I should hate you then for the
means you used to win me. Oh! believe me, your persistence is unwise and
foolish. Let me go away from here, I beg you, to my home and my friends.
I will not betray your complicity in my abduction. I will suffer you and
your friend there to invent whatever plausible tale you please, and I
will try to palm it off on my friends for the truth. See, I bear you no
malice for the cruelty and injustice I have suffered at your hands. I
am willing to forgive you everything if you will but restore my
freedom!"

"You waste your breath in such appeals, Lily--I will never let you go!"
said Colville, inflexibly.

"Oh! I beseech you do not kill me with such refusals," cried Lily,
wildly. She slipped from her chair and knelt before him, clasping her
fragile white hands in an agony of appeal, and lifting her wan, white
face imploringly. "See, I kneel to you. My spirit is broken, my pride is
humbled in the dust; I am starving, dying here. I beg you for the poor
boon of my liberty and life!"

He stood still with folded arms regarding her as she knelt, while a cold
and cruel smile curled the corners of his thin lips. Her pitiful appeal
made no impression on him; he was not moved by the sight of her fragile
face and hands, wasted into pallor and wanness through his cruelty. His
answer fell on her quivering nerves as cruelly as the lash cuts into
human flesh.

"Kneel, if it relieves your feelings, but do not suppose that your
humility can weaken my resolution, which is as fixed as adamant. And
hear me now, proud girl, and remember that I mean what I say. I shall
yet give you time to change your mind. I am merciful to you because I
love you. But if time does not weaken your perversity, so surely as I
live I will make you repent your obstinacy. The time will come when you
will kneel to me more prayerfully than you now do, and implore me to
marry you and save your honor!"

"Never!" she cried, springing to her feet and waving her white hands
aloft like some beautiful, inspired prophetess. "Never! Before that day
comes I will die by my own hand! And, Harold Colville, while you exult
in your wickedness, remember that there is a God above who punishes the
guilty for their evil deeds. Nemesis shall yet overtake you--it is
written!"

"Come, come, Miss Lawrence, you overrate your strength by this senseless
ranting," said Doctor Pratt, coming forward and reseating her with
gentle force. "Remember, you are very weak. You have never fully
recovered from the effects of your wound and your subsequent fast during
the cataleptic state that succeeded it. Illness and deprivation have
sapped your strength and dimmed your beauty until there will soon be
nothing left of the fairness that now holds Mr. Colville's heart.
Believe me, your wisest course is to yield now, marry Mr. Colville, and
set about the restoration of your health by travel, recreation and
generous living. A few more months of this reckless obstinacy will break
down your constitution irrevocably."

"I thank you for that assurance," she answered, exultingly. "Perhaps
death will come to me of his own accord, and save me from the sin of
taking my own life and sending my soul, trembling and uncalled, before
its dread Creator!"

"You do not mean what you say, Miss Lawrence. You are too young and
lovely to welcome death. Life holds many attractions for you even as the
wife of the despised Mr. Colville."

"I do not think so," she answered, briefly.

"Well, well, your mind will change perhaps; and in that laudable desire
we will take leave of you for awhile," said the doctor, turning off with
a sardonic bow.

"And do me the favor of never returning," said Lily, angrily. "You can
never change my decision, and if I am doomed to wear out the remnant of
my days here, let me at least be spared the sight of your hated faces
again!"

"You ask too much," said Colville, airily. "Captives are not permitted
to make their own conditions, or select their visitors. Adieu, obdurate
fair one."

His gaze lingered on her a moment, noting her beauty and grace which
still shone pre-eminent, though her beautiful coloring was all faded and
gone, and she looked like a picture looked at by moonlight alone with
all the bright tints of daylight invisible. Loving her for her beauty,
and hating her for her scorn, he went away, but carried the picture in
his heart, at once a joy and a torment, for his conscience could not but
reproach him for the change that was so sadly visible in her fragile,
drooping form.

Lily remained sitting motionless in her chair, lost in painful revery,
until twilight filled the room with shadows. The room grew chilly, and
she shivered now and then in her thin dress, but she never stirred until
old Haidee entered with a light and supper, the latter consisting of a
scanty portion of dry bread and a pitcher of water. Lily cast a glance
of loathing upon the food and turned away. Her weak appetite could not
relish the dry bread, and it often was taken away untasted.

"Haidee, I wish you would light a fire," said she, shivering in the
chilly atmosphere. "The night is cool, and I am very thinly clad."

"There will be no fire to-night," said Haidee, curtly. "If you are cold
go to bed and cover up under the bed-clothes."

"At least bring me a shawl to wrap about my shoulders," pleaded the
girl.

"Not a rag," retorted the old woman, whose sharp temper was even more
acid than usual to-night on account of her rencontre that evening.

"Does Mr. Colville wish me to suffer from cold as well as hunger?"
inquired Lily, bitterly.

"I wish it whether he does or not!" answered Haidee, viciously.

"What noise was that I heard this evening?" inquired Lily, looking
curiously at the old woman. "I was very much frightened by a succession
of screams and oaths as if people were fighting--ah, and now that I look
at you, Haidee, I see that there is something the matter with your
face."

"Old Peter whipped me, if you must know the truth," snapped the witch.

"Whipped you!" said Lily, with an incredulous look; "oh, no, he would
not whip his wife, would he?"

"Yes, he would, and did," retorted Haidee, with a grim sort of smile, as
if she took a certain sort of pride in Peter's ferocity. "Oh, we think
nothing of a rough-and-tumble fight now and then. Sometimes I get the
better of him, sometimes he overpowers me, but it's often an even thing.
Old Peter is a ferocious one, I can tell you. If you had knocked him
down as you did me the time you escaped, he would have killed you when
they brought you back."

Lily shuddered at this intimation of Peter's cruelty.

"Haidee, I did not mean to hurt you that day," said she, earnestly. "I
would not hurt the meanest thing that lives if I could help it. I only
pushed you to throw you off your balance, so that I might get away."

"You had better eat your supper," said Haidee, not caring to recall that
day, for she still harbored a furious resentment against the girl on the
score of it, and often felt tempted to wreak revenge upon her. "You had
better eat your supper, for old Peter will be angry with you if you keep
him waiting outside the door so long."

"Take the bread away. I cannot eat any to-night," answered Lily, with a
hopeless sigh.



CHAPTER XX.


The autumn sunlight fell goldenly on the handsome face and form of
Lancelot Darling as he stood on the broad marble steps of the grand
hotel where he boarded, his glance roving carelessly up and down the
crowded street.

Our hero was that _rara avis_ whose species is almost extinct at the
present day--a young man of wealth and fashion, yet totally unspoiled by
the flattery and adulation of the world.

Carefully raised by judicious parents, whom he had unhappily lost by
death in the dawn of manhood, he had been shielded from many temptations
that would have assailed one less carefully guarded than this only and
beloved child of fond and doting parental care.

Enjoying the possession of an almost princely fortune, which precluded
the need of work, one would have thought him liable to be whirled into
the maelstrom of vice and dissipation, and engulfed in its fatal
whirlpool forever.

But such was not the case. He was only twenty-three when he met and
loved the beautiful Lily Lawrence, and her love had been to him a
talisman and safeguard against evil.

Even now, amid the total wreck of all his hopes, and the despair that
filled his own being, he was no less the pure-hearted man and perfect
gentleman than when the happiness of Lily's love had crowned his life
with bliss.

As he stood there on the marble steps he did not note the many admiring
glances that fell on him from passers-by--the appreciative looks of
women whose gaze lingered on the tall, elegant figure and handsome face,
nor the approving nod of men who, while they made no endeavor to reach
his lofty standard, could yet admire him as a gentleman "_sans peur et
sans reproche_."

While he stood thus abstracted a boy approached, and placing in his hand
a delicate envelope, scented with heliotrope, turned away.

Lancelot turned the envelope in his hand for a moment in some surprise,
for the writing was unfamiliar. In a moment he tore it open, however,
and read these few lines on the perfumed sheet:

     "MY DEAR FRIEND:--I enclose a list of some new songs which I wish
     to try. Will you do me the favor to select them for me, and bring
     them up this afternoon?

          "Yours faithfully,

               "ETHEL VANCE."

This was a bold move on the part of the fascinating widow. She knew
perfectly well that she could have sent the boy to a music store and
secured the songs at less trouble than by entrusting the commission to
Lancelot Darling.

The young man was aware of the fact also; but in the integrity of his
own heart he suspected no art in her, and made an excuse for her in his
mind.

"How tender-hearted she is," he thought. "She knows how wretched and
forlorn I am, and charitably devises schemes for drawing me away from my
gloomy retrospections, and cheering me with her gentle society."

Thus thinking Lancelot turned away and proceeded to execute the widow's
commission. And punctually he appeared at Mr. Lawrence's drawing-room
that afternoon.

The artful woman was alone, and rose to greet him with a beaming smile
of welcome.

She had laid aside her usual dress of half mourning, and appeared in a
becoming costume of costly black velvet and cream-colored brocade,
profusely trimmed with rich lace. Diamonds twinkled in her ears and on
her breast, and a bunch of vivid scarlet roses was fastened in the jetty
braids of her beautiful hair.

"It is _so_ kind of you to come," she said, pressing his hand in her
soft, pink palm as he bowed before her. "Ada has gone riding with her
father, and I am very lonely."

"It is not much kindness on my part," said he, bluntly: "for I am aware
that I am not very cheerful company for anyone these days. I only came
because you asked me."

"And not at all that you wished to see me," said she, with a very
becoming pout of her rich, red lip.

"Oh, pardon my rudeness," said Lance, contritely. "You know I did not
mean that. Of course I like to see you. You are very kind to me always.
I meant that I would not presume to inflict my sad countenance and heavy
heart upon you unless you insisted I should do so."

"You are very sad, certainly," answered she, with a pensive air.
"Indeed, I sometimes wonder, Lance, that the natural light-heartedness
of youth does not begin to assert itself within you. It is almost five
months since your bereavement, and we do not grieve forever for the
dead."

"Do we not?" he asked, with a heavy sigh. "Ah, Mrs. Vance, my grief does
not lessen with time. My love was deeper than a common love, and my
regret will be eternal!"

"That is all romantic nonsense," she answered, impatiently. "It is not
the nature of any human creature to cherish the memory of one dead
forever. 'Men's hearts crave tangible, close tenderness; love's presence
warm and near.' You will be happy again, Lance, and you will love
again."

"You judge me wrongly, Mrs. Vance, and under-rate the constancy of a
heart like mine. You used a quotation just now, Permit me to reply with
another one."

In a voice like saddest music he repeated those exquisite lines from
Leigh Hunt:

    "The world buds every year,
      But the heart, just once, and when
    The blossom falls off sere,
      No new blossom comes again.
    Ah! the rose goes with the wind
    But the thorns remain behind!"

"Your poetry reminds me of the new songs," said she, dropping the
argument. "It was very kind of you to bring them. Will you come to the
piano and turn the leaves while I try them?"

"Certainly," he answered, rising and attending her.

It was the hardest thing she could have asked of him, but Lance was very
unselfish. He put down the throb of pain that rose at the remembrance of
the new songs he and Lily had been wont to practice at the same piano,
and turned the leaves with a steady hand while her fingers flew over the
keys. But one thing she had asked more than once. It was that he should
sing with her. This he always quietly declined to do.

"That is rude of you," she would say, in a voice of chagrin. "Your tenor
is so perfectly splendid, why should you refuse?"

"I shall never sing again," he would answer, quietly but firmly, and no
persuasion on her part could induce him to change his mind.

It was agony for him to stand there and turn the leaves, looking down
upon that dark head instead of the golden one he had been wont to gaze
upon so fondly. When the face was lifted with a smile to his, and
instead of Lily's soft, blue eyes he met the gaze of the black ones, his
heart thrilled with pain. Perhaps she guessed it, but she kept him there
all the same, thinking that time would blunt the keenness of his
remembrance and teach him to adore the brunette as fondly as he had
loved the blonde.

She played at him, she sung at him, lifting her passionate glance to his
whenever some appropriate sentiment in the song seemed to warrant such
expressiveness. Lance never dreamed of the reason for her pantomime. He
had seen the same thing practiced by ladies in society. He deemed it a
harmless kind of flirting, but never thought of responding to it.

She kept him there perhaps an hour patiently waiting on her pleasure,
and passing his opinion only as it was called for on the various pieces
she was practicing. At last, to his great relief, she grew weary of her
amusement, and left the piano.

"Come and read to me, Lance," said she, with a pretty tone of
proprietorship in him; "I am tired of the music, I do not like the
songs. There is not a passable one in the whole selection."

She threw herself down half-reclining on a rich divan and settled
herself to listen. Lance selected a volume of Tennyson, and seating
himself near her, began to read quite at random the celebrated poem of
Lady Clara Vere De Vere.

    "Lady Clara Vere De Vere,
      Of me you shall not win renown;
    You thought to break a country heart
      For pastime ere you went to town.
    At me you smiled, but unbeguiled
      I saw the snare, and I retired;
    The daughter of a hundred Earls,
      You are not one to be desired."

"Oh! no more of that," she cried, as he paused after the first verse. "I
have never fancied that poem--try something else."

Patiently he turned the leaves and came upon the exquisite little poem
of "Edward Gray"--a dainty bit of versification admired by all women.

"This will please her fancy," he thought, and began again:

    "Sweet Emma Moreland of yonder town
      Met me walking on yonder way,
    'And have you lost your heart?' she said;
      'And are you married yet, Edward Gray?'
    Sweet Emma Moreland spoke to me;
      Bitterly weeping I turned away:
    'Sweet Emma Moreland, love no more
      Can touch the heart of Edward Gray.'"

"You need not finish that one," said she, impatiently. "Pray excuse me,
Lance, but I do not think you make very pretty selections, or perhaps I
am not in the humor for listening. Put the book aside--let us talk
instead."

"As you will, fair lady," said he, gallantly. "I shall listen to you
with pleasure; but I must warn you that my conversational powers are not
great."

"Perhaps the will is wanting," said she, trying hard to repress all
signs of vexation. It was terribly hard to lead him on, this
frank-spoken young ideal of hers.

"Oh, no," said he, smiling slightly. "It is a real inability for which I
ought to be excusable."

"And so you are excusable," said she, with a tender glance. "There are
but few things I would not excuse in you, Lance."

"You are very good to say so," he answered, quite gravely. "I am very
faulty, I know, and it needs the eyes of a true friend indeed to
overlook my manifold imperfections."

"A true friend," she sighed, softly. "Ah! would that I might find such
an one."

Lance was about to make some commonplace reply to this aspiration when
he suddenly observed that her face had dropped into her hands, and she
was crying softly, her graceful form heaving with deep emotion.

"Mrs. Vance," said he in alarm, "what is the cause of your distress?
Have I said or done anything to wound you? If I have, pray forgive me.
It was unintentional, I assure you."

There was no reply. She continued to sob violently for a few minutes
while Lancelot sat silent and perplexed at her unusual emotion. At
length the storm of grief ceased in low sighs, and she lifted her head
and carefully wiped off a few genuine tears that hung pendent on her
silky lashes and threatened to fall upon her cheek and wash off the
delicate rose-tint so carefully put on. Lance at once renewed his
apologies and regrets.

"It is I who should beg your pardon, Lance, for this childish and
undignified outburst of mine," said she, with quivering lips, "But
indeed I could not help it. Our chance words struck a chord so tender
that it vibrated painfully. Oh! Lance, I am very unhappy!"

"I should not have thought it," said he, quite surprised at her
admission.

"No; because I mask my aching heart in deceitful smiles," was the
mournful answer.

"But you have no present cause for unhappiness," said Lancelot, quite
perplexed as to the means of comforting her. "Your home is pleasant,
your friends are kind and loving."

"Ah! you think so," said she, with a bitter smile, "but you do not know
what I have to endure. You could scarcely believe how bitterly Ada
Lawrence taunts me with my poverty and dependence. Were it not for Mr.
Lawrence, whom I will admit is kind in his way, I believe she would
drive me forth homeless and shelterless."

"Surely you misjudge Ada," said he, warmly, "I am sure she has a tender
heart."

"Ah! her sweet face is no index of her mind," answered Mrs. Vance, with
a gloomy shake of her head. "God knows what insolence I daily endure
from that ill-natured girl! Ah! Lance, this life of dependence is a
bitter one. I would leave here to-morrow and seek to earn my own bread
with my own weak hands were it not for one dear tie which holds me with
a power stronger than my woman's will."

"And that tie?" asked the unconscious young man, in a voice of gentle
interest.

"Is my passionate, uncontrollable, hopeless love for one whom I will not
name," she answered, in a broken voice, and drooping her eyes from his
earnest gaze.

"You mean Mr. Lawrence?" Lance queried, in surprise.

"Can you think so?" inquired the lady, in a low and meaning tone,
lifting her eyes with one swift glance to his face, then quickly letting
them droop again beneath their sweeping lashes.

"It seems incredible," pursued Lancelot, quite oblivious of the meaning
she had so delicately conveyed. "Mr. Lawrence, though a very fine
looking man, is at least double your age, and is not at all the kind of
a man I should have supposed as likely to win your love, Mrs. Vance."

"Heavens, what obtuseness!" thought the almost distracted woman. "He
_will_ not understand. I shall have to tell him plainly, and then see
what will become of his sublime unconsciousness!"

"Oh! Lance," she cried, shading her burning cheek with her hand, "why
will you misunderstand my meaning? I did not mean to tell you the
truth, but your assumption of my love for that old dotard forces me to
vindicate the choice of my heart! Oh! Lance, do you not know, can you
not see what I am ashamed to put in these plain words, that it is _you_
whom I love and no other?"

If a bombshell had exploded at Lancelot Darling's feet he could not have
been more surprised and actually alarmed than he was at this avowal of
love from the woman whom he had honestly admired and reverenced as one
among the gentlest and loveliest of her sex. He sprang up and stood
looking down at her while a blush of honest shame for her burnt on his
cheek.

"Oh, no," he stammered, finding breath after a long, embarrassed pause.
"You cannot mean what you say!"

She arose at his words, and drawing near him laid a fluttering hand on
his coat-sleeve. Her dark eyes still drooped before his, and her shamed
yet imploring posture was the embodiment of grace.

"Do not be angry," she pleaded. "I do mean it; how could I help it when
you are the only living creature that is kind to me? Oh, forgive me,
Lance, for my wild words, and let me love you a little."

"Mrs. Vance, it is a shame for a woman to love unsought," said he, in a
low, rebuking tone.

"Oh, do not say so!" she answered, wildly. "You men are too hard upon us
women. You tie us down and restrict us in everything, and if we let our
poor, clinging hearts go out to you ever so little before you give us
leave, then you cry out shame upon us. Oh, Lance, is it so strange that
I should love you? You have been kind to me, you are dangerously
handsome and winning, and a woman's heart must cling to something. I
have not a true friend on earth, Lance; I have no one to love and no one
to love me. I am lonely and wretched beyond expression. Let me love you
and say that you will love me in return."

Her forlornness moved his generous heart to pity and sorrow for her. He
stood still as if rooted to the spot, listening to the wild torrent of
words she poured forth so eagerly.

"Why should you be angry because a woman's heart lies at your feet,
Lance, to trample on or to cherish as you please? Am I not young,
beautiful, accomplished? If you chose me for your own before the world
what could any one say against me, save that I could bring you no wealth
but myself?"

Still no word from the appalled listener.

She raised her eyes beseechingly to him and drew a step nearer.

"Lance, do speak to me--do tell me that I am not wasting the wealth of
my woman's heart in vain!"

He gently removed her clinging hands and seated her in a low arm-chair,
standing beside her and looking down with visible embarrassment, yet
with a steady purpose.

"Mrs. Vance," he said, gently, "words would fail me if I tried to
express the unutterable regret I feel for the revelation you have made.
You must know how hopeless your affection is, remembering all that I
have said on that subject this afternoon. There is no woman living, no
matter what her attractions may be, who could take the place of Lily
Lawrence in my heart."

"But she did not love you--she died by her own hand rather than wed
you."

"Perhaps so--we cannot tell. Be that as it may, I shall keep her image
in my heart forever, and no other woman shall come between us,"
earnestly answered Lily's loyal lover.

"Then there is no hope for me," she moaned, faintly.

"None, Mrs. Vance--absolutely none. Pardon me that I have been forced to
wound you thus, and forget this madness if you can. No one shall ever
know of it from me," said he, gently, as he turned to go.

"Are you going?" she asked, rising.

"Yes," he asked, pausing reluctantly.

"One word, Lance. I have been mad and blind in allowing my feelings to
find vent as I have done. I beg your pardon, and ask you as a priceless
boon to forgive and forget my madness. Will you try and do it?"

"Gladly," he answered, with a sigh of relief.

"And one thing more. You will not suffer this act of mine to alter your
pleasant relations with the household here. You will come and go as
usual that they may not suspect anything has occurred. I promise you
that I will not obtrude my company upon you," said she, humbly.

"It were better that I should remain away," he said, hesitatingly.

"But you will come sometimes," she said, and he did not answer nay, but
only said: "Good-bye."



CHAPTER XXI.


Mr. Shelton, the famous detective, was slowly but surely gaining ground
in his mysterious and interesting case.

For a long time it had puzzled him and baffled his investigations, but
having at last obtained a single clew, he began to push on, slowly, to
be sure, but certainly, to eventual success.

He had discovered, after patient and almost incredible labors, that
Doctor Pratt was the man who had bribed the sexton and obtained the key
of the Lawrence vault the night of Lily's interment there. He had also
learned that Harold Colville wore the missing half of the broken locket
found in Mr. Lawrence's hall the night on which the specter of the
banker's daughter had appeared to the assembled family. As yet he had
not thought of linking these separate facts together, but the day was
not far away when he would do so.

He adopted quite a bold method of obtaining the desired knowledge
regarding Mr. Colville.

He called upon that gentleman attired in a very plain business suit, and
still further disguised by a rather long wig of reddish hair, set off by
beard and eyebrows of the same ruddy hue. He sent up a card to the
gentleman of pleasure, simply engraved: "J. Styles."

After some delay he was ushered into Mr. Colville's parlor. That
gentleman, attired in the extreme of fashion, merely nodded at his
visitor's entrance. He did not think it necessary to rise for such a
plain-looking personage.

"I have not the honor of knowing you, sir," said he, stiffly.

"J. Styles, under-clerk to the bankers, Lawrence and Co.," explained the
visitor, briskly.

"Indeed!" said Mr. Colville, affecting nonchalance, but he started
violently and the keen eyes of "J. Styles" saw that he turned a trifle
paler.

"You have met with a loss, I see," said the under clerk, abruptly
bending forward and taking hold of the broken locket that dangled among
the charms of the gentleman's watch-chain.

"A personal affair that does not concern strangers," answered Mr.
Colville, haughtily, as he drew back.

"I beg your pardon--it is the very business on which I called," replied
the visitor, imperturbably. As he spoke he slipped his fingers into his
breast pocket, produced the missing half of the locket, and deftly
fitted it to the broken part that dangled from the chain. "I have the
honor to return this to you, sir," said he, slipping the jewel into Mr.
Colville's hand.

The gentleman's fingers closed over it mechanically.

"Why, what--the devil--where did you find it?" asked he, thrown off his
guard by the unconcerned and business air of the under-clerk.

"I did not find it at all," answered "J. Styles," calmly. "I was
commissioned to return it to you by Mr. Lawrence. It was found in the
hallway of his residence on the evening of the twenty-first instant."

Mr. Colville started as if a bullet had struck him. He grew deathly
white even to the lips, and stared at the visitor a moment in silence.
At length he recovered himself with a powerful effort, and asked,
curtly:

"Well, why did Lawrence think of sending it to me? I did not lose it
there. Lawrence is a friend of mine, certainly, but I have not called on
him for several months."

"He recognized it as your property, and supposed that you might have
called on the ladies that day in his absence," returned the visitor,
fabricating this lie with bare-faced effrontery.

"Yes, that seemed plausible," answered Colville, with evident relief.

"I suppose now that you have no idea where you actually lost it?"
inquired the clerk, respectfully.

"Not the slightest--indeed, it was but yesterday that I discovered the
loss. That must have been several days afterwards if, as you said, it
was found on the twenty-first," replied Colville, more affably than he
had yet spoken. "You will return my thanks to Mr. Lawrence for its
prompt return."

"It appears strange that it should be found in the hallway of a house
which you have not entered for months--does it not, sir?" remarked the
clerk with a musing air.

"Exceedingly strange," returned Colville, uneasily. "But perhaps it had
been found on the street by some person who might have lost it in Mr.
Lawrence's hall that day. That is the only explanation of the mystery I
can think of, for I assure you I have not been to the house for months.
Not since long before the--the tragic death of his daughter," said he,
growing pale as the words left his lips.

"By the way, a most startling event occurred at the home of Mr. Lawrence
the same night on which your locket was found," said the clerk, who
seemed in no haste to leave. "Your mention of Miss Lily recalls it to my
mind."

"Indeed, and what was that?" inquired Colville, with an affectation of
carelessness.

"Why, the spirit of the deceased young lady actually appeared to the
family, who were all assembled in the drawing-room in company with the
gentleman to whom she was to have been married," replied the visitor in
a voice of awe.

"Can it be possible?" inquired Mr. Colville in a tone of surprise and
interest. "In what manner did the apparition appear?"

"She appeared in the doorway, sir, with her arms extended towards her
lover. She was heard to utter her father's name twice, then the whole
illusion faded out in the thick darkness."

"Dear me, how very interesting," said Colville, shifting uneasily on his
chair as though it were set round with thorns. "I have heard of such
things, but never witnessed any manifestations myself. Miss Lawrence was
a charming girl. A pity she should have destroyed herself."

"Yes, sir--a most lamentable affair--well, I must be going," said "J.
Styles," rising.

"You will let me offer you a reward for your trouble in returning my
property?" inquired Mr. Colville.

"Oh! no, I thank you, sir--but perhaps the housemaid who found it would
be glad of a trifle, sir!"

Mr. Colville placed a bill in his hand, and the pair separated
courteously, the fine gentleman returning to his seat in a tremor of
anxiety and trepidation, while the detective took himself to the office
of Mr. Lawrence, and after revealing his identity (for his disguise
completely deceived that gentleman) he proceeded to detail the interview
with Mr. Colville and its result as we have already described it.

"I took the liberty of borrowing the name of one of your under-clerks,"
said he. "I suppose there is no harm done."

"None at all, I should say," returned the banker, with a smile.

"And here is the reward the gentleman gave me for the housemaid who
found the locket," continued the detective, producing the money.

"Ah! he was generous," commented the banker, tucking the five-dollar
bill into his vest pocket. "Well, and what do you make of all this,
Shelton?"

"Much, if I could guess at the meaning of it," returned the detective,
frankly. "At present I am all at sea, but from this day forward until I
get at the truth, Colville will be a shadowed man. I shall be on his
track like a bloodhound. His agitation and alarm at learning where his
locket had been found meant much, and his lying assertion that he had
not been at your house that night meant more. I assure you that Harold
Colville was in your house that night and with no good purpose. I will
yet give you proofs of my assertion."

"You have done well so far," said Mr. Lawrence, approvingly; "I believe
you will succeed in ferreting out that mystery, and I will try and bide
the time patiently. And now about the man who had the key of my vault
the night of my daughter's interment. Have you tracked him yet?"

"I have," answered Mr. Shelton, triumphantly.

"You have?" cried the banker, eagerly. "His name?"

"You remember the physician who was called in to examine your daughter's
body the morning she was found dead--the same man who testified at the
inquest? The man is one Doctor Pratt, a physician of fair repute in this
city and of some skill in his profession."

"A physician, Shelton? My God! Then poor Lily's body was stolen for
purposes of dissection!"

"I do not think so. They would not have run so great a risk to gain so
little. No, Mr. Lawrence, I still firmly believe that it was done for
the sake of a large ransom."

"Then why do the thieves not return the body, since I have long ago
offered a ransom for it and no questions asked?" said the banker,
impatiently.

"Perhaps you have not offered as much as they expected," answered
Shelton.

"Would you advise me to increase the amount? I would willingly double
and treble it if necessary," said Mr. Lawrence, earnestly.

"Do not do so at present, sir. I hope that we shall succeed in finding
the body and punishing the knaves for their unholy sacrilege. I am loth
to reward their treachery and suffer them to go scot-free," answered
Shelton, earnestly.

"Well, you know best, Shelton. I will wait yet a little longer,
then--but, oh, Heavens, this suspense is very dreadful. I feel myself
growing old before my time with the pressure of my troubles," said Mr.
Lawrence, passing his hand wearily through his fast whitening hair.

"Have patience yet a little longer. Indeed, Mr. Lawrence, I feel deeply
for your distress, and will do all I can to alleviate it," said the
detective, in a tone of respectful sympathy.

"Thank you, Shelton. I believe that you will," said the banker,
gratefully. "And now about this rascally physician. You were very clever
in finding him out. How did you manage it?"

"It would weary you if I went into details, Mr. Lawrence. I arrived at
my knowledge after much time and labor. But I will briefly explain that
I furnished the old sexton who helped on this trouble a deputy in his
business, and disguising the old fellow thoroughly, I took him about
with me night and day until he recognized his man and pointed him out to
me."

"It seems incredible that a man with a good profession and of fair
repute should be found engaging in such a nefarious scheme," said Mr.
Lawrence, in amazement.

Mr. Shelton smiled knowingly.

"My dear sir," he said, "there is nothing incredible, nor even uncommon
about it. My experience in the detective line has made me familiar with
a hundred such cases. Men steeped in every iniquity are found concealed
under the guise of respectable professions or genteel business. Wolves
in lamb's clothing, you know."

"It is shocking to think of," said the banker. "Well, can anything be
done with this Pratt? Should not he be arrested at once on the charge of
bribery?"

"And thereby lose the chance of tracking him to the hiding-place where
he has the body concealed?" said Mr. Shelton. "Oh! no, Mr. Lawrence, we
will not molest him yet. I have my eye upon him. Like Mr. Colville, he
is a shadowed man; I have a colleague in this business, and we each have
our marked man to watch. Dr. Pratt's profession takes him abroad so much
and into so many houses that it will be difficult to track him, but
depend upon it we shall run him to earth at last."

"I truly hope so; your recent discoveries have put new heart into me,
Shelton; may God prosper you in your undertaking," said the banker,
supplementing this aspiration with a very large roll of bank-bills which
he slipped into the detective's hand.

"Thank you, sir," smiled Shelton. "That material way you have of
supplementing a prayer is not a bad thought. I may count upon your
silence about what I have disclosed--may I?"

Mr. Lawrence placed his fingers on his lips with a nod and smile.

"All right, I'll rely upon you," said the disguised detective, and with
a brief "good-day, sir," he went buoyantly away on the secret mission
that meant detection and ruin to Messrs. Pratt and Colville.

The banker returned to his counting-room with renewed hope and vigor.
The impenetrable darkness that had hovered over Lily's disappearance so
long seemed to be lifting at last and a gleam of light shone through the
little rift in the clouds.



CHAPTER XXII.


Mr. Shelton spoke truly when he said to Mr. Lawrence that he would
shadow Harold Colville like a bloodhound.

By day and by night, on foot or on horseback, in various disguises, he
kept himself on the track of the fine gentleman.

For several weeks he kept up this close espionage, but at the end of
that time he seemed no nearer his object than when it was first begun.

Mr. Colville's comings and goings seemed to be quite the same with those
of other gentlemen of his means and position.

He frequented theaters and gaming-houses; he was a welcome and much
sought-for partner in ball-rooms, and was smiled upon by scheming
mothers with marriageable daughters.

Thus far Mr. Shelton had seen nothing on which to seize as a possible
clew to Mr. Colville's mysterious presence in Mr. Lawrence's house the
night of Lily's appearance.

Mr. Shelton had made one discovery, however, though he did not begin to
attach much importance to it. It was that Doctor Pratt and Harold
Colville were acquainted with each other, and, moreover, that they
sometimes "hunted in couples."

That is to say, the worthy physician occasionally stopped his carriage
on meeting Colville, whereupon the latter would spring in and accompany
the doctor on his round of visits, seeming deeply interested in the
conversation they pursued together.

Mr. Shelton was puzzled to decide whether there was any collusion
between the gay man of fashion and the busy physician, or whether it was
only one of those odd friendships that are sometimes observed to exist
between persons of totally different temperaments and pursuits.
Sometimes he was inclined to believe it was only the latter.

But he noticed a fact at last that struck him as rather peculiar.
Following the pair closely on his stout, black horse, he had seen that
Colville always remained in the carriage while the physician went into
the houses to pay his visits to the sick.

On this occasion, which struck him so forcibly, they drove quite out
upon the outskirts of the city, and stopped before a house standing
almost a half mile distant from any other.

This house, the detective observed, had a gloomy and forbidding aspect,
being closely shuttered and surrounded by a very high stone wall.

Here Dr. Pratt descended and fastened his horse. Mr. Colville also
sprang out, and they entered with a familiar air, the heavy gate closing
and shutting them in.

"Now, that is rather strange," thought the detective as he walked his
horse slowly past the deserted-looking place.

"What business has Colville in there? I can imagine that Pratt may have
a patient inside those gloomy walls; but what the deuce can Colville
have to do with it? I am almost positive that I heard shrieks issuing
thence when they went in at the gate. I wonder can it be a private
asylum for the insane?"

He spurred his horse ahead and rode on for some distance, then paused,
and remained as erect and still as a statue while he watched and waited
for the pair of confederates to come forth. But at least an hour elapsed
before they emerged, and pursued the devious tenor of their guilty way.

"Now, upon my word," thought the wary spy, "Doctor Pratt must have a
very interesting case inside of those gloomy, prison-like walls. I have
a mind to stop somewhere in the neighborhood and inquire about the
inhabitants thereof."

He accordingly suffered Doctor Pratt's carriage to drive on out of
sight, and stopping before a cottage on the road with the ostensible
purpose of obtaining a drink of water, he inquired of the woman who gave
it to him as to the names of the people who inhabited the old house with
the stone wall.

"And indade, it's mesilf that cannot tell ye, sor," said she, with a
very broad Hibernian accent, "for shure, Mickey and mesilf have but
lately moved intil the cot, and knows naught about the nayburs!"

Mr. Shelton rode on and made the same inquiry at the next house, but
elicited no encouraging answer. People did not seem to know anything
about the deserted-looking old house in such close proximity to them.

After several similar experiences he rode on quite disgusted with the
general stupidity of the neighborhood.

Almost two miles from the old house that had so powerfully attracted his
interest, he came upon a little house standing close to the roadside.

A kind-looking woman sat in the doorway, though the day was chilly, and
as she kept knitting away on the homely gray stocking, sang cheerily at
her work.

"Now that is a pleasant-looking old soul," he thought. "Perhaps her
intellect is above the average of her neighbors. Perhaps she is better
informed than they are. At any rate, I will speak to her."

He dismounted from his horse this time, fastened him at the gate-post,
and walked up the narrow path to the door.

The good woman arose in quite a flutter.

"Do not let me disturb you," said he, courteously. "I only wish to
trouble you for a drink of water. I have ridden far and feel very
thirsty."

"Certainly, sir," said the woman, in a voice as pleasant as her face.
"Come in and have a seat, sir, and you shall have a draught fresh from
the spring."

She hurried away on hospitable thoughts intent, and soon returned with a
glass of pure cold water. The guest sat still in his homely chair and
sipped at the water very slowly considering how thirsty he had professed
himself to be.

The fact was, he had drank several glasses of water already while
prosecuting his inquiries, and began to feel himself almost unequal to
this latter one.

"You do well to sip your water slowly, sir," said the woman, observing
him, "for the doctors do say that it is very imprudent to drink rapidly
when tired and overheated."

"Bless the good, unsuspecting soul," thought the detective. Aloud he
said very politely: "Yes, madam, I am aware of that fact, and I believe
some very severe illnesses have resulted from injudicious gulping down
of cold water by thoughtless persons. I always make a point of sipping
mine very slowly."

"And very right of you, too, sir," said the kind soul, approvingly.

"Ah, by the way," said he, "I am a stranger in this neighborhood, and I
passed a house about two miles back that powerfully attracted my
curiosity. It was an old, deserted-looking building, inclosed by a high
stone wall. Its prison-like aspect repelled me. Do you know anything
about it?"

"They do say it was a convent once, sir," answered the good woman,
readily. "I know the place you speak of, and as you say, sir, it has a
very repelling aspect."

"Is it inhabited now?" inquired the wayfarer.

The hearer shuddered.

"That it is, sir," said she; "and by a wicked lot, I assure you."

"Is it possible?"

"It is quite true, sir. The place has been inhabited for many years by
an old couple of the name of Leveret. They have no family at all, and
live there alone, having no friends or neighbors, and it is said that
they keep a powerful bloodhound upon the place. Strange tales are told
of these people, but nothing is known certainly. Both of them are
hideously ugly, and many people declare that the old woman is a witch."

"Is either of them sick, do you know?" inquired the detective.

"That I cannot tell you, sir. They are all very reserved, and hold no
intercourse with people around them. I have heard that they are misers,
and have large quantities of gold buried in their garden, and guarded by
the great bloodhound. They might both sicken and die, and not a living
soul be the wiser. May I inquire why you asked that question, sir?"
asked she.

"Certainly. I saw a doctor's carriage standing in front of the gate, and
concluded that someone must be sick, within."

"Perhaps there may be, sir, but I would not have thought they would have
called in a doctor. These old witches, like Haidee Leveret, as they say
her name is, usually cure sickness with their own herbs and simples."

"Perhaps they failed on this occasion. Well, I must be going," said the
detective. "Many thanks for your information. Permit me to offer you a
trifle for your kind entertainment," said he, politely tendering a piece
of silver.

"Not a penny, sir. The water costs nothing, and as for changing a bit
word with you, why, that's a pleasure to a lonesome old lady like me,
with few neighbors and friends. Why, it was only last month that a young
thing in trouble, passing this way, offered me her fine diamond ring to
pay for a bit kindness I showed her. But I refused it, sir. I want
nothing for showing a little kindness to the wayfaring," said the good
woman, pausing to take breath.

Shelton's attention had been caught unaccountably by the mention of the
diamond ring.

"You stimulate my curiosity," said he, deliberately sitting down again.
"The young person must have felt your kindness very sensibly to have
offered such a costly reward as a diamond ring."

"Aye, she was in sore trouble, sir, that I believe. But now I bethink
me," said the good creature, stopping short, "she charged me if any one
came here inquiring for her to say she had not been here, and here I am
blabbing away at this thoughtless rate."

"But you see I am not inquiring for her," said the visitor briskly. "I
am a perfect stranger in these parts, and I am not looking for anyone,
so there is no harm done in relating this interesting story to me."

"Why, that is very true, sir," said she, and thereupon followed a minute
and detailed account of the visit of Lily Lawrence, and the disguise
she had furnished her. Mr. Shelton listened to the story with very close
attention.

"How long ago has it been since this happened?" he inquired when she had
finished her relation.

"Several weeks, sir. Stay, let me see--I was so excited by it that I put
down the date in my little memorandum book," she said, as she began to
fumble in her pocket. Presently she produced the book in question, and
turning a leaf announced triumphantly, "it was fully two months ago,
sir. It was August--the 21st of August."

"The very day that Lily Lawrence appeared to her friends," thought the
detective, with a start. "Can there be any connection between the two?"

"She was young and beautiful, you say?" asked he.

"Aye, she was, sir. Not more than seventeen or eighteen, and beautiful
as a white lily, sir. She put me in mind of that flower, she was so
delicate and pale, sir--not a tint of color in her poor lips and cheeks.
Her hair was pale golden too, sir, falling down upon her shoulders, and
her eyes of a beautiful deep blue."

"I suppose no one came by to inquire for her?" said Shelton.

"No one, sir; I did not see anyone passing that day except a doctor's
carriage that whirled past in a desperate hurry soon after she left
here."

"Let us hope she made her escape from whatever evils menaced her," said
he, fervently. "Well, I must be going in earnest now. My kind friend,
will you tell me your name? I may call on you again."

"My name is Mrs. Mason, sir," she answered.

"Do you live here alone?" asked he, as he jotted it hastily down in his
note-book.

"Quite alone, sir. My poor husband and my only child have been dead
these ten years--I am quite alone in the world," answered Mrs. Mason
with a sigh.

"Good day, Mrs. Mason, and many thanks for your kindness to a wayfaring
man," said the detective as he went down the path, leaped into the
saddle and rode away.

Mrs. Mason's revelation had thrown his mind into a chaos of doubt,
perplexity and suspicion. New light began to break in on him, startling
him with a wondrous possibility he had not suspected.



CHAPTER XXIII.


Mrs. Vance had done herself more harm than good by the bold avowal of
her love for Lancelot Darling. The innate delicacy and almost womanly
refinement of his character revolted at the idea of her imprudent and
ill-considered step. He could not understand why she should have lowered
herself by declaring her love after all he had said regarding the
constancy of his affection for his loved and lost Lily. He pitied, and
yet the feeling of pity was more closely allied than he knew to a
feeling that bordered on contempt.

The fair widow herself was not by any means cast down by Lancelot's
firm and resolute repulse. She thought, from her knowledge of masculine
character in general, that Lancelot's vanity would soon overcome his
first shocked repugnance to her unfeminine avowal, and cause him to
exult in the knowledge that he was so madly beloved by so beautiful and
accomplished a woman.

From that there would be but a slight step to giving his love in return.
She had not driven him away from her, for he had not said he would not
come again. She would see him often, and work on his feelings by every
art of which she was mistress. Surely she could not fail to win him. He
was young, impressible, and youth is not prone to constancy to the dead.
True he had an idle, romantic fancy that "love is love forevermore," but
time and her artifice would cure him of that.

"I will be very shy and humble when he first comes back again," she
thought. "No young maiden in her teens shall outdo me in coyness and
reserve. I will make him think that my wild outburst that day was
entirely unpremeditated and that I am thoroughly ashamed and repentant.
He will begin to excuse me to himself, then he will pity my hopeless
love, and then--ah, then, 'pity is akin to love!'"

She was sitting in the drawing-room, rocking leisurely back and forth
while she trifled over a delicate bit of fancy-work. A fire burned
cheerily on the marble hearth, for the late October days were growing
chilly, and diffused an air of warmth and comfort in the large,
luxuriously appointed apartment. Mrs. Vance herself was quite in keeping
with the elegance of the room. Her house dress of delicate pink
cashmere, with trimmings of cream-white lace, made a beautiful spot of
color in the darker, more subdued coloring of the furnishings around
her.

Ada came in from the conservatory with her arms full of flowers, and
sitting down opposite the lady, began to arrange them into tasteful
bouquets.

"You need two roses to complete the harmony of your dress," said she
carelessly, selecting that number and tossing them over to her. Mrs.
Vance took the roses and fastened them in her breast and hair. "Now your
toilet is perfect," said the young girl in a tone of admiration that was
quite sincere, for though she believed Mrs. Vance to be a false and
scheming woman, she could not but admit the perfection of her beauty and
grace.

There had been no more angry passages between Mrs. Vance and Ada, though
the pure-hearted and impulsive girl had in no-wise changed her opinion
of the lady. But on mature reflection she began to think that since Mrs.
Vance was her father's guest she had acted wrongly in thus declaring war
with her. Therefore she treated her as before her sudden outburst
against her, with outward politeness and respect.

The young girl appeared very lovely that morning. Her deep mourning
dress, with its heavy crape folds, could not obscure her beauty, and set
off, like the somber setting of a jewel, her transcendant fairness. All
traces of her severe illness in the summer had disappeared. Her cheeks
were glowing with a faint, sea shell tint, deepening to glowing crimson
on her full and pouting lips. Her large, blue eyes had the serene,
innocent look of a child's tender orbs. Her golden hair, simply drawn
back and braided, allowed a soft, curly fringe to escape and flutter
caressingly over her low, white brow. Mrs. Vance hated her for the
beauty that recalled the image of the rival her jealous hand had
ruthlessly slain.

While they sat thus engaged there was a ring at the door-bell, and
presently the beloved object of Mrs. Vance's secret thoughts was shown
in. He looked very handsome and distinguished as he replied to Ada's
unembarrassed and sisterly greeting, "Good morning, Lance," but his face
flushed slightly as he bowed distantly to her companion. Mrs. Vance
replied to his greeting with a bow that was quite as formal, and sinking
languidly back into her seat, fixed all her attention upon her work. Not
a single glance of her down-drooped eyes was allowed to wander toward
him. She preserved entire silence while the other two entered into a
simple and desultory chat with the easy familiarity of old friends. At
length, as though her embarrassment were becoming unendurable, she rose
with an incoherent apology, and heaving a deep sigh quitted the room
abruptly and did not appear again. Ada looked after her departing form
in amazement.

"What is the matter with Mrs. Vance?" asked she. "You seem to have
frozen her into a statue."

"I am sure I cannot tell," he answered with an assumption of
carelessness.

"But you barely spoke to each other. I am sure I thought you two were
the best of friends--really intimate in fact. Yet you seemed on the most
indifferent terms just now," said she, incredulously.

Lance smiled carelessly, and reached out for one of the roses in her
lap.

"My dear little sister," said he, "who can answer for the vagaries of
woman? Mrs. Vance has always been exceedingly friendly with me, but she
seems to have taken an opposite whim just now. But it would not be fair
to question her motives, would it? Men have to bear the caprices of
women without complaint--do they not? I believe one of the best of the
female poets claims _caprice_ as a _right divine_ of the fair sex."

"Oh, yes. Mrs. Osgood says:

    "''Tis helpless woman's right divine,
    Her only right--caprice,'"

returned Ada, repeating the quotation with a very pretty emphasis.

"Then let us not question Mrs. Vance's right to exercise her divine
prerogative. I dare not rebel--I must only submit. And, by the way,
begging your pardon for changing the subject, will you ride with me this
evening? I came expressly to ask you. I have my new phaeton and
cream-white ponies--the ones I purchased for Lily's use," said he, with
a smothered sigh.

She went to the window to look at them.

How beautiful, how proud, how thoroughbred were the restive creatures
champing at their silver bits, impatient of the little groom's
restraint--how exquisite the costly little phaeton with its luxurious
cushions of azure satin, and the azure satin carriage-robe thickly
embroidered with white lilies. The equipage was dainty enough for Queen
Mab herself. Ada sighed as she thought of the beautiful form that had
chosen the rest of the coffin rather than these downy cushions to
recline upon.

"It is beautiful," she said, "rarely beautiful. Yes, I will ride with
you in the park, Lance. Wait a minute until I get on my wrappings, for I
believe it is a little chilly to-day."

She tripped away lightly. Lance looked after her with an affectionate
glance.

"A dear, sweet girl," he thought to himself; "surely Mrs. Vance
misunderstands her, for I am sure she is true and sweet and kind. How
like she grows to Lily."

She came back presently, cloaked and heavily veiled.

"Are you ready?" he asked.

"Not quite," she answered. "I had forgotten to put my bouquets into the
vases."

She tripped around and disposed of her flowers in the various vases that
adorned the room, then came back to him.

"Now, I am ready," said she.

They went out, took their places in the dainty phaeton, the little groom
in blue and silver sprang into his place, and they were whirled swiftly
away.

From an upper window Mrs. Vance was watching for the young man's
departure. She started as she saw him drive off with Ada beside him, and
a lurid fire of rage and jealousy blazed in her heart.

"The fair-faced little devil!" she muttered, clenching her hands tightly
together. "Oh! that I dared to murder her as I did that other one who
came between me and him!"

She paced up and down, wild with contending passions.

"I was wrong to leave them together," she thought, in bitter anger with
herself. "He was glad, perhaps, that I came away and left them to an
uninterrupted _tete-a-tete_. I over-reached myself that time; but, ah!
Ada Lawrence, woe be unto you if you win him from me!"

The postman's impatient rattling at the door-bell interrupted her angry
mood. In a moment a maid rapped at the door, delivered a letter to her
and went away.

Mrs. Vance had no correspondents usually. She guessed, with a sharp
quiver of anger and fear, whence it came, and held it at arm's length a
moment as if it had been a noxious reptile.

"The greedy old harpy," she muttered indignantly, tearing it open at
last. "Must she bleed me again so soon?"

She tore the coarse, yellow envelope into a hundred little bits, then
angrily scanned the note in her hand. It was very brief, but amounted to
an imperative summons from Haidee Leveret to come to the old house
to-morrow and bring all the money she could raise.



CHAPTER XXIV.


Old Peter Leveret and Haidee, his wife, after much bickering and mutual
recriminations, attended by more or less pummelling and hair pulling,
had at last made an amicable adjustment of their difficulty regarding
Mrs. Vance's secret.

Old Haidee, termagant and spit-fire though she was, found herself no
match for the eternal reproaches and brutal usage of her thoroughly
enraged husband, and eventually confessed herself the weaker vessel by
yielding to the pressure of a stronger conjugal power and revealing the
secret of her influence over Mrs. Vance, at the same time dividing her
ill-gotten spoils with the incensed old ruffian.

It is needless to say that old Peter's greedy soul was not content with
these ill-gotten gains. He felt that the beautiful widow had not paid,
so far, a tithe of what was due to himself and Haidee as the fortunate
possessors of so fatal a secret.

"I tell you, Haidee," said he, "the woman has got to come down heavily
with the money, or I shall sell her secret to somebody who will pay a
better price for it--perhaps to Mr. Lawrence or that young Darling."

"Yes, and get yourself into a fatal difficulty," retorted the wife
contemptuously. "Let me tell you, Peter Leveret, you have more brute
strength than I have, but all the sense we own between us is in the head
that rests on my shoulders. Suppose you try to sell this secret to
Lawrence or Darling, where is your evidence against Mrs. Vance? Did you
see her commit the murder? Did I see her commit it? Did Doctor Pratt see
her either? No; to all of these questions you have nothing to urge in
support of your assertion except the bare suspicion of Doctor Pratt. And
if you brought forward his name and got him into difficulty, why, he
knows enough evil of us both to send us to the gallows to-morrow. Ah!
that word frightens you, does it? Well, Doctor Pratt would do it
willingly if we got him into trouble. So I say to you be content with
what we can wring out of the woman's fears, and let all else alone. She
will prove a mine of wealth to us as long as we can make her believe
that there was an actual eye-witness to her crime."

"Well, perhaps you are right, old woman," said Peter, dimly
comprehending the indubitable force of her statements. "You were always
more cautious than I was, Haidee. Now, don't understand me to imply that
you have more sense than I have, for I don't admit it at all. I am more
hasty than you, that is all. But I say, as I said before, Mrs. Vance has
got to plank the money down more freely."

"But I have told you she has nothing of her own, stupid!" retorted
Haidee, impatiently. "She is dependent on Mr. Lawrence for every penny
she gets. We must be satisfied with our small gains now, and wait until
she gets the rich husband she is angling for. Then we shall reap our
golden harvest."

"Aye, aye; but, Haidee, write to the lady and tell her to come here
to-morrow and bring all the gold she can lay her hands upon," said Peter
with dogged persistency.

"So soon?" said Haidee, hesitatingly. Her greed was as great as her
husband's; but she had a fair modicum of caution and common sense. "It
is but a little while since she gave me the jewels, old man."

"No matter. Write to her again, I say, or it will be the worse for you,"
scowled Peter, wrinkling up his heavy brows ferociously.

Accordingly, the note to Mrs. Vance was written and dispatched, and the
pair of plotters awaited her coming impatiently. But they little
anticipated what fatal results to themselves would follow that
imperative summons.

That letter awoke in Mrs. Vance a burning desire to be rid of the old
couple, whose constant demands for money she would soon be entirely
unable to meet.

She had a hundred dollars in gold that Mr. Lawrence had kindly presented
to her that morning, with a jesting reference to a "new fall suit."

Her wardrobe needed no replenishing, and she could spare this sum to the
rapacity of the old people; but she felt that no sooner would this be
yielded to their greed than they would demand more.

And where was the next hush-money to come from? It was not probable that
the banker would give her any more money before Christmas, and she could
not ask him for more than what his own generosity bestowed on her.

She had no claim upon his beneficence whatever. These two old harpies
would be down upon her a dozen times before she would have another penny
to give them.

And as soon as they learned her inability to bribe them further, they
would carry their fatal secret to Lancelot Darling or Mr. Lawrence.

Mrs. Vance looked these difficulties in the face fairly, and could see
but one way out of them. The hideous old witch, and her still more
hideous old mate, must _die_.

_Must die!_ No thrill of compunction or pity touched her heart as she
made this fatal avowal to herself. On the contrary, she experienced a
feeling of relief at the thought, mingled with a longing to consummate
the deed quickly that she might taste the sweetness of revenge.

They must die. But how?

Her fertile brain could suggest no feasible plan for the execution of
the dreadful deed she was determined upon. All through that night she
tossed on a sleepless pillow, revolving various schemes in her excited
mind. Morning found her haggard and pale, and all her paints and
cosmetics could not conceal her wretchedly ill appearance. She would not
present that agitated mien at the breakfast table, and had her morning
repast sent up to her room on the plea of a severe headache.

At noon she dressed herself in a plain, dark walking dress, wrapped a
double veil about her head and face, and set forth upon her errand. She
walked some distance, carefully selecting the most secluded streets, and
shunning observation. At length she went into a small apothecary shop
and purchased from an inexperienced boy-clerk some strychnine which she
said she wanted for the purpose of destroying rats. She paid for it,
tucked the small parcel inside the palm of her dark kid glove, and
walked on steadily to her destination.

Old Peter and his wife had just sat down to their frugal dinner when her
quick rap sounded on the hall door. They looked at each other
apprehensively.

"It is she, no doubt," said he in a moment. "So the jade is come at
last."

He had been swearing all the morning at her tardiness.

Haidee got up and went to the door, unlocked it, admitted the visitor,
and turned the key again.

"You see I keep my engagements punctually," said Mrs. Vance, pleasantly,
as she tripped in, "although I barely expected to be called on so soon."

The hostess only grunted in reply to this as she ushered the visitor
into the low-ceiled, bare-looking room, where old Peter sat blowing his
cup of hot tea.

He looked up and gave the new-comer a gruff nod.

Mrs. Vance stood still a moment taking in all her surroundings with a
comprehensive glance, then she took the chair Haidee offered her, and
placing it in a position to suit herself she sat down.

She had seated herself sidewise from the table, but in close proximity
to that corner of it on which sat the old brown tea-pot from whose
cracked nozzle issued the fragrant steam of the hot tea. By raising her
hand she could have poured out a cup of the refreshing beverage for
herself, but she smilingly declined the grim offer of the table's
hospitalities that was made by the hostess.

"I thank you, I do not wish for a morsel of food, but I shall be glad of
a glass of a fresh, cold water. I have walked the whole distance and am
very tired and thirsty."

Haidee arose, and taking a small white pitcher from the cupboard in the
corner, went out to the well.

At the same moment old Peter arose, and taking his plate in hand,
hobbled to the stove for a portion of the mutton-chop that had been left
in the frying-pan for warmth.

In that moment Mrs. Vance saw her opportunity. Her hand fluttered over
the lid of the tea-pot and raised it noiselessly, while a quantity of
white powder was poured from her other hand into the smoking-hot
beverage. It was but the work of a moment. When the host hobbled back to
his place she was leaning back in her chair, her hands folded over her
lap, and a look of bland unconsciousness on her handsome face. Her
nerves seemed steeled against emotion.

Old Haidee entered and pouring a glass of water, offered it in silence.
She took it and drained it thirstily with profuse thanks.

"Have you brought us any money?" asked old Peter, sharply, looking up
from his voracious feeding.

"What if I have not?" she retorted, jestingly.

"Then it will be the worse for you, my fine lady," he answered,
threateningly.

Old Haidee had resumed her place at the head of the table.

"Pray go on with your dinner," said the visitor, in a patronising tone.

The old woman poured a fresh cup of tea for her husband, diluted it
plenteously with milk and coarse brown sugar, then replenished her own
cup. At the moment when the old man was greedily gulping his portion
down, Mrs. Vance put her hand into her pocket and drew out a netted
purse of shining gold coin.

"Here is a hundred dollars I was fortunate enough to get for you," said
she, handing it reluctantly over to the woman; "and you must understand
that I cannot possibly get another penny for you before Christmas; so
try and economize it the best you can."

Haidee gulped her tea down hurriedly as she clutched the purse, and the
old man hurried around to his wife's side.

"Divide fair is my motto," said he. "Give me the purse, Haidee, and I
will count it for you."

"No, you don't, old man," she answered, resolutely holding on to it
while her husband's fingers worked eagerly. "I will count it myself! Not
a coin will I ever see again if I trust this purse in your itching
fingers!"

She poured out the shining mass upon the table and began to count it
over carefully, but the sight of it was too much for the grasping soul
of the old miser looking on. He thrust out his open claw-like fingers
and hastily gathered the whole pile into his greedy clutch, except for
one or two coins which escaped and rolled down upon the floor.

In an instant his wife sprang up and bounded upon him like a wild-cat.

There ensued a furious battle that defied description. Mrs. Vance
retreated hurriedly to the door, and stood at a safe distance watching
the couple as they fought over the gold that was clutched in Peter's
fingers, placing him somewhat at a disadvantage, for Haidee, with both
hands at liberty, pulled, and tore, and bit with the ferocity of a wild
animal.

At length old Peter's tight grasp relaxed, the treasured gold fell from
his grasp and rolled here and there upon the floor.

Haidee felt him writhing in her clasp and loosened the hold she had upon
his throat, and suffered him to fall upon the floor.

He lay there, rolling and tossing, and uttering hideous groans, while
dreadful contortions passed over his features.

"You have killed your husband, woman! Look at his throat, purple from
the clasp of your hands!" cried Mrs. Vance from the doorway, laughing
aloud at the shocked, incredulous stare of the woman as she gazed at her
writhing husband.

At that moment the suffering man gave a furious plunge, rose to a
sitting posture, gave a hideous rattle from his throat, and fell
backward with a dull thud on the bare floor. He was dead!

Old Haidee stooped over the still form like one dazed.

"Is he really dead?" she said in wonder, feeling that it could not be
true. "Have I actually killed my old man?"

"Yes, you have killed him," answered Mrs. Vance, with a fiendish laugh.
"Ha, ha, old woman, what is your fatal secret worth now? You, too, are a
murderess!"

Old Haidee stood still for a moment, utterly stunned and bewildered by
the suddenness of the blow that had fallen upon her. But as she gazed at
the triumphant face of her enemy, her dazed senses seemed to clear and a
perception of the truth rushed upon her.

"You lie!" she shrieked, in a voice of horrible rage and despair.
"Devil, you have poisoned him, and me, too; I see it all now! You sent
me out for the water while you drugged the tea! But I will have my
revenge before I die!"

With a dreadful oath she sprang forward. The affrighted woman retreated
before her, but old Haidee was too quick for her. In a moment her
strong, claw-like fingers were fastened about the fair neck of the
beautiful woman. In another moment her sinful soul would have been sent
forth to its dread account with Heaven; but before that critical instant
arrived, the old witch fell backward on the hard floor, writhing in the
agonies that had destroyed her husband.

The widow stepped a few paces back out of reach of her victim, and stood
regarding her with a smile of wicked triumph, while the witch, amid her
dying groans, hurled the most awful maledictions upon her destroyer.

"Ha, ha!" laughed Mrs. Vance, enjoying her revenge to the utmost limit;
"did you think you could play with fire and not be burned? Did you think
I would destroy a beautiful and valued life like that of Lily Lawrence,
yet suffer two worn-out old hulks to stand between me and my cherished
purpose? Ha, ha! you realize your folly, now!"

Her words fell on deaf ears. Old Haidee had expired in horrible agonies,
while the jeers and taunts of her destroyer yet echoed in her hearing.
She lay inside the door-way where she had fallen, a hideous spectacle of
death.

Mrs. Vance lifted her foot and spurned the still body with all the
intensity of the hate that burned in her heart.

"They are both dead," she said, aloud. "My evil genius has helped me. I
am safe now."

She stepped across old Haidee's body with a slight thrill of repulsion,
and entering the room, picked up her purse and began to collect the
scattered gold coins.

"I may as well have my money again," she thought to herself. "I need not
be in a hurry to get away. No one ever comes here, I am sure."

She placed the last coin in the purse and paused to look around her. Old
Peter's ghastly dead face met her view. The wicked eyes, wide open and
staring, seemed to threaten her as in life. A shiver of deadly fear
thrilled along her veins, seeming to freeze them.

"Great God!" she exclaimed. "What if my sins should find me out!"

She lifted her slender, white hands and regarded them fixedly.

"There is blood upon my hands," she said with an irrepressible shudder.
"They look fair and white, but they have sent three human souls into the
presence of their Creator. Pshaw! why do I pause to reflect here? Let me
cover up the traces of my crime and go."

She took up the shovel, and opening the door of the stove, pulled out a
quantity of blazing fire-brands and scattered them recklessly upon the
bare floor, tossing one so close to the body of old Peter that his shock
of red hair was ignited and burned with a disagreeable stench.

Mrs. Vance turned away with such a laugh as a fiend might have loved to
hear, and hurried from the house, leaving the door, which she hastily
unlocked, partly ajar.

"It does not matter," she thought to herself. "No one will discover
them. The old shell of a house will ignite from the brands directly and
burn down to the ground."

Drawing her veil tightly over her face she hurried away over the lonely
road. About half a mile from the old house she met a man riding on
horseback towards the route she was leaving. He scrutinized the solitary
woman keenly, but could make nothing of her thickly shrouded features,
and rode onward.

"Some wayfarer," she thought carelessly, and hurried on, eager to leave
the hated vicinity of her double crime.



CHAPTER XXV.


Mr. Shelton's first impulse, after his interesting interview with Mrs.
Mason, had been to rush into town, secure a squad of police, and make an
immediate raid upon the house of which he had heard such suspicious
tales.

Had he obeyed this hasty prompting of his mind, all would have gone
well, and this story of mine might have been concluded in a very few
more chapters.

But the famous detective in his eventful career had usually found it
advantageous to think twice before he acted.

He did so in this case, and his second thought resulted briefly in this:
He did not consider that he had as yet sufficient to warrant him in
taking the step he at first proposed to himself.

He had no actual grounds for suspicion except the fact that Doctor Pratt
and Harold Colville had entered the house, and remained there a
seemingly rather long time for a professional call from a busy physician
whose time was limited.

Mrs. Mason's information was all gained from the oftentimes worthless
gossip of a country neighborhood, and could scarcely be depended on as
reliable evidence. The mysterious case of the young girl who had been
befriended by the worthy woman might have no connection with the old
house and its inhabitants as he had hastily concluded at first.

Considering all the circumstances, the cautious detective determined to
wait before taking any decided step, and in the meantime to learn more
of the mysterious house if possible.

His pursuit of Pratt and Colville in the next few days took him in
entirely different directions, but resulted in nothing satisfactory.

In the meantime Mrs. Mason's gossip about the old house and its wicked
inhabitants haunted him persistently. He could not rid himself of the
thought. It abode with him by day, and in his sleep assumed the guise of
night-mare. The old house actually preyed upon him. After a few days of
this troubled thinking he came to a firm determination.

"I will go out there and make some plausible excuse for entering, if I
can possibly do so," he said, to himself, "and once inside, I will try
to find out whether there is ready ground for suspicion and inquiry."

His mind was relieved when he had resolved upon his course. Accordingly,
he mounted his black horse and set out that very evening on his quest.
He felt disappointed when he passed the tiny cottage of Mrs. Mason and
saw the door closed. He missed the pleasant face from the doorway, but
the evening was quite cool, and the good soul was, no doubt, knitting
inside by her lonely hearthstone.

Within half a mile of his destination he encountered a lady walking
rapidly in the dusty road. She was graceful in figure, fashionable in
dress, but her thickly-veiled face gave no hint of her identity. The
detective looked after her with no little curiosity.

"That is not the sort of woman one expects to see walking alone in this
vicinity," he thought. "She has the proud air and step of a fashionable
New York lady. And she does not wish to be recognized, else why that
thick veil?"

He turned in the saddle and looked after her again. The tall figure of
the graceful lady was rapidly receding from sight around the bend in the
road.

"Some intrigue is on foot," he laughed to himself, as he rode on. "These
fashionable ladies sometimes find time hanging heavy on their hands,
and--well, 'Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.'"

Thus soliloquizing, he found himself in front of the old house which had
lately occupied so many of his leisure moments of thought.

He dismounted, fastened his horse, and laid his hand on the heavy gate,
peering cautiously inside before entering, being mindful of Mrs. Mason's
report of the bloodhound.

"The hound is probably chained up," he thought, after a careful
reconnoissance. "Of course they would not allow such a dangerous beast
to run at large in the daytime. Now, I must bethink me of my excuse, for
I am about to storm the castle of the formidable ogres."

He advanced up the path to the door which, greatly to his surprise,
stood slightly ajar.

"I should have thought these reputed misers would keep a locked door to
their house," he said to himself, with unconscious disappointment. "I
dare say they will prove to be quite ordinary people after all."

He proceeded to rap lightly on the door, then waited a little for a
response from within.

No one came to answer his knock. He repeated it once or twice loudly
with a like result.

"Are they all dead or asleep, or gone away?" said he, jestingly to
himself, as he pushed the door boldly open and looked into the hall.

He saw nothing in the hall but a thin, blue volume of smoke that was
pouring out of an open doorway on the right. With a bound he sprang
inside and looked into the room.

A horrible sight met his startled eyes as soon as they became accustomed
to the cloud of smoke that slowly rose over every thing.

Inside the doorway, at his feet, lay the dead body of an old woman, her
aged features distorted and drawn as if by her dying agonies. Near the
stove lay another horrible corpse, that of an old and deformed man.

The flooring in front of the stove had become ignited from the brands
scattered over it, and was slowly burning through. The clothing of the
man had caught fire and every shred was burned off of him, while his
charred and frying flesh sent forth a sickening smell. The table with
its unfinished repast stood in the center of the room. Several dishes
had been knocked off in the furious fight of the old couple, and lay
shattered in fragments on the floor. Chairs were overturned and gave
silent evidence of the struggle that had gone on so lately in the now
silent and deserted room. The detective stood as if rooted to the spot
in a trance of horror.

He roused himself at last as he saw what headway the flames were making,
like one starting from a dreadful dream.

"Heavens!" he cried out, "this is terrible. Murder and arson have both
been committed here!"

He looked about him. Two buckets of water stood on a rude plank shelf.
He took them down and poured the water over the burning body of the man,
then dashed out into the yard where he remembered he had seen a well as
he came in.

He filled the two buckets, carried them in, and poured the contents over
the fire. Again and again he repeated this operation till the smoldering
fire was quite extinguished, and he stood, weary and perspiring, looking
at the dismal scene.

"Well, what next?" he asked himself. "I suppose I ought to go into town
and bring the coroner; but first I believe I will explore this horrible
den. What if the body I have sought so long should lie hidden in this
dreadful lazar house."

He went out into the hall and looked down its narrow length. Three
doorways opened into as many rooms. The handles yielded to his touch,
and the door of each swung open readily, but the rooms were empty, dark
and cobwebbed.

Dust lay thick upon the floor, showing that they had long been
untenanted. With a sigh of disappointment he closed them again, and
stood contemplating the stairway.

"Better luck in the upper regions, perhaps," he thought. "I wonder if I
dare venture up there? Surely I can encounter nothing more fearful than
I have seen below."

Slowly, and with some apprehension, he mounted the stairs, not knowing
what to expect, and thinking it possible that he might encounter some
further dreadful spectacle.

At the top of the stairs he found himself in a narrow passage-way on
which three doors opened. He advanced to the first door and tried it.

It yielded easily to his touch, and swung open. He entered and looked
about him.

There was nothing suspicious here. It was evidently the sleeping
apartment of the two dead people below who would never need it more.

A bed and two chairs constituted the sole furnishing. Some cheap
articles of feminine apparel hung upon pegs against the wall, together
with one or two rusty old coats and a pair of pants that doubtless
belonged to the man he had seen below.

"There is nothing hidden here," thought Mr. Shelton, leaving it and
entering the next room.

This room was similar to the first one. A bed and several chairs were
all it contained. A single article of feminine apparel hung against the
wall.

It was a dress of summer blue, and made in a more fashionable style than
the one which he had seen in the adjoining room.

Like a flash he remembered that Mrs. Mason had told him, when describing
the appearance of the girl she had befriended, that she wore a "morning
dress of a light-blue color, and fashionably made."

"Great Heavens!" he thought, "is it possible that the poor creature
escaped from this very house? If so, then she was recaptured and brought
back, for here hangs the dress that Mrs. Mason described. My God! what
has become of the wearer! Has some fearful fate befallen her?"

Echo only answered him as he sat down trembling with excitement.

He was here in the room where sweet Lily Lawrence had dragged out weary
months of captivity, sickness and sorrow; where her pure cheeks had
burned at insult and wrong, where she had suffered the pangs of hunger
and cold until her weakened frame had almost succumbed to the grim
destroyer, death.

But it was silent and deserted now. The dead ashes strewed the hearth,
the empty robe hung against the wall, and the cold October wind sighing
past the iron-barred window did not whisper of the tender heart that had
ached so drearily within.

"This has been a prison for some poor soul," Mr. Shelton said aloud as
he noticed the iron bars that guarded the window.

He went out shuddering as if with cold, and advanced to the next room.

The door was locked, but the key had been left upon the outside.

He turned it hastily and stepped over the threshold, half-expecting to
find some poor creature incarcerated within.

But silence and gloom greeted him here also.

The room was bare and dreary as the ones he had quitted. A bed and a
chair comprised its furniture, and heavy bars of iron secured the
solitary window.

"What a horrible prison house," he exclaimed. "And what dreadful deeds
of darkness have perhaps been committed within these old walls."

He went to the window and peered out through the heavy bars at the
tangled garden. It was faded and dying now, and the russet leaves of
autumn strewed the deserted paths.

"My God, what was that?" he exclaimed with a violent start.

A strange sound had grated upon his ears--the distinct clank of a heavy
chain and the smothered moan of a human voice.

Involuntarily he looked downward and saw a trap-door in the middle of
the room.

"Now some new discovery of human misery," thought the detective as he
advanced and pushed the sliding door backward.

A dark and narrow stairway was disclosed. He descended it quickly and
entered the empty room beyond.

A feeling of disappointment struck him as he entered the deserted,
cobwebbed dungeon, but guided by the sound of faint, low moans he
advanced across the floor and opened the opposite door to the one by
which he had entered.

Here he paused and swept his hand across his brow, as though to dispel a
mist that had risen before his shrinking vision.

There before his eyes, extended on her low cot bed, with the horrible
strap and chain about her waist fastened to the iron staple in the
floor, with her hungry black eyes glaring on him from her skeleton face,
lay poor Fanny Colville in all her abject wretchedness.

"My God!" exclaimed Mr. Shelton, "horrors upon horrors accumulate!"



CHAPTER XXVI.


"Who are you?" asked the poor, wasted creature, looking up into the
strange face of the new-comer.

"I am a friend, poor creature--one who will deliver you from your
dungeon, and give you liberty," said the detective, advancing into the
room.

Joy beamed on the pale, shrunken features of the prisoner. For a moment
she could not speak, then she murmured brokenly:

"Thank God for those words! I am starving and dying here. I have not
tasted food for two days!"

Mr. Shelton in his frequent excursions had contracted a habit of
carrying a flask of wine and paper of crackers in his pocket for his own
occasional refreshment.

He took a silver cup from his pocket, and pouring a small portion of
wine into it held it silently to the lips of the poor, famishing woman.

She drank it thirstily. He then began to dip crackers into the wine and
fed her slowly and carefully.

"You feel better now?" he inquired, after she had consumed a generous
portion of the food.

"Oh! so much better," said she, fervently, laying her head back on its
hard pillow while the hungry, famished look died out of her eyes and a
softer light beamed in them. "I thank you very much, sir. I was on the
verge of expiring when you came to my relief!"

"Perhaps you feel well enough to tell me your name now," said he,
smiling kindly.

"My name is Fanny Colville," she answered, feebly.

The detective started.

"Are you any relation of Harold Colville, of New York?" he inquired.

"I am his wife," said poor Fanny, simply.

"His wife!" repeated the detective, a gleam of light breaking in on his
mind regarding Mr. Colville's visit to this place. "Then why does he
keep you chained up here like a dog?" he inquired indignantly.

"He does not know of it," said Mrs. Colville.

"He does not know of it," repeated Mr. Shelton in surprise; "you amaze
me, madam. Surely he visited you a few days ago. I saw him leaving the
house."

"I do not doubt that he was here. It is more than probable he was, but
he did not come to see me. He believes me dead. He hired the old woman
here to kill me and my child. He was weary of me and sighed for a fairer
face," explained the deeply wronged wife.

"Yet the old woman, more merciful than your husband, spared your life,"
said he.

"She killed my child and let me live because she loved to have something
about her that she might torture at will," said the poor woman bitterly.
"She has had me chained in here for two years, fed upon bread and water,
and an insufficient allowance of that. Oh! God, how I hate that woman,
and how I long to avenge my wrongs!"

"She is beyond the reach of both your hatred and your vengeance, Mrs.
Colville. She is dead," said Mr. Shelton, solemnly.

"Dead? Old Haidee Leveret dead? It cannot be true," said Haidee's poor
victim, with incredulous joy shining in her eyes.

"I assure you, madam, it is perfectly true. When I came here a few
minutes ago I found both her and her husband lying dead upon the floor
down-stairs, and the room in flames. But for my opportune arrival in
time to extinguish the fire, the house must have soon burned down, and
you would inevitably have perished with it."

Fanny trembled like a leaf in a storm.

"It was a narrow escape," she murmured. "And so they both are dead. Did
they kill each other?"

"I should say not," replied Mr. Shelton. "They both looked as though
they had been poisoned. They certainly died suddenly, for their
half-consumed dinner was upon the table. This fact, taken in conjunction
with the fire, leads me to think they were poisoned by some enemy who
then set fire to the house to cover up all traces of the crime."

"They have met with a fearful punishment for their evil deeds," said
Fanny, solemnly.

"And now I wish to ask you a question," said her deliverer, "Do you know
of any reason for Mr. Colville's visits here now, since he does not come
to see you?"

"The villain," she uttered, indignantly. "Oh, yes, sir. I know full
well. He has a young girl imprisoned here whom he is trying to force
into a marriage with him."

Mr. Shelton saw that she was growing weak and faint, and poured a little
wine between her lips.

"That makes me feel stronger," she said, reviving.

"Mrs. Colville," he said, "you must be mistaken. I have searched the
house carefully through, and there is not another living soul here
beside yourself."

"Oh, then she has either escaped again or they have removed her to
another place," was the confident reply.

"Are you quite sure the lady was ever imprisoned in this house, Mrs.
Colville?"

"Oh, I am perfectly sure of that, sir. She occupied the room above me
for some time. My groans troubled her so that she sought for me and
found me here in my misery."

"And she told you that she was your husband's prisoner?"

"Yes, sir," answered poor Fanny, sighing. "I had her whole sad story
from her own sweet lips."

"Was she a New York lady?" inquired the detective, evincing a deep
interest.

"Yes, sir, and the daughter of a wealthy man."

"If you feel equal to the task I wish you would tell me all you know
about the lady. I am deeply interested in her fate," said he very
gently, though he was burning with impatience to learn more of
Colville's mysterious prisoner.

"I think I am strong enough. Your coming has put new life and hope into
me," answered the grateful creature.

"Go on, then," said he. "Did the wicked Colville abduct her from her
home?"

"Worse than that, sir. She was a young lady who was murdered by a
jealous woman. A Doctor Pratt, the friend and abettor of Colville in all
his sins, was called in to view the body of the murdered girl. He
pronounced her dead. In reality he discovered that she was in a curious
condition known to the medical profession as catalepsy. He suffered them
to bury her, then stole her body from the vault and sold it to Colville,
who was in love with her. They brought her here, used every means to
bring her to life, and at length succeeded. She revived after four days
and found herself the prisoner of my husband, dead to all the world
beside, and doomed never to see her friends again unless she consented
to become his wife."

She paused, overcome by exhaustion.

Mr. Shelton sat white and rigid on the foot of the cot regarding her
fixedly. He seemed frozen into a statue. At length he gasped rather than
spoke:

"Her name?"

Fanny Colville's wasted hand went up to her brow in painful perplexity.

"I do not seem to recollect it. Strange that I should forget. I am sure
she told me," she murmured.

"Try and think of it, Mrs. Colville. Much depends upon it," urged
Shelton, anxiously.

She was silent a few moments, lost in troubled thought. At length she
said, timidly:

"I am afraid I cannot recall it, sir. My poor brain is dazed by my
troubles, perhaps. But I am sure of one thing. She had the name of a
flower, sir--a beautiful flower. I remember that, because it seemed to
suit her so well."

Shelton's eyes brightened.

"Was her name--Lily?" he asked, impressively.

Instantly a gleam of remembrance irradiated the listener's face.

"Lily, Lily!" she said; "yes, that was indeed her name, sir. How could I
forget it when I remembered everything else so well? I recall it
distinctly now. It _was_ Lily--Lily Lawrence."

Shelton sprang up with a cry that rang through the dungeon.

He was like one dazzled by the flash of light that broke in upon his
mind.

Here was the solution of the dreadful mystery that had baffled him for
weary months, the confirmation of the vague suspicion that had haunted
him for days.

It was a living, breathing, beautiful woman he sought instead of a cold
and lifeless body! No wonder the banker's reward failed of its object!

"She tried to escape from here, did she not?" he inquired abruptly.

Fanny replied by relating the circumstances of Lily's two attempts at
escape, and how Colville had carried her off the second time from under
her father's own roof.

"The villains! the fiends!" muttered Shelton, crushing an oath between
his clenched teeth.

"After they brought her back again she was put into the room above me,
but only for a night. She came in to see me after midnight, and promised
to come again soon. But she never came, and I concluded that she had
been removed to another place. I am confident she has not escaped from
them, for had she done so she would have sent someone to liberate me at
once."

"Colville and Pratt spent an hour here five days ago," said he, "so it
seems probable that she was still here up to that date."

"No doubt of it. I suppose old Haidee put her into another room for fear
that she might discover me down here, and also because the trap-door in
that room is the only entrance which she had to bring my weekly dole of
bread and water through," said Fanny.

It was getting on toward sunset, and just then they heard the loud
baying of the bloodhound. Shelton started.

"It is the horrible hound that is chained up in a kennel in the garden,"
exclaimed Fanny. "He has missed his dinner and is hungry, I suppose."

"I will put a bullet in his brain before I go away from here," said
Shelton, curtly.

"Now, Mrs. Colville," he continued, "I must leave you a little while. I
will go and report these dead bodies to the coroner, and I must secure
some easy vehicle to transport your poor aching body away from here to a
comfortable place. Do you think you can wait patiently? I shall be
absent but a few hours at farthest."

"Oh, yes, I can wait. But you will be sure to come back again?" she
said, anxiously.

He smiled at her pathetic tone.

"Yes, I will certainly return," he answered, confidently. "And I will
take you to the house of a good woman who will feed you and nurse you
back to health again. I have one favor to ask you," said he, pausing.

"You have only to name it," said she, "if it lies in my power to grant
it."

"It is this. When I bring the officers here and they question you, will
you withhold the story you have told me--even your name? It will be very
easy to do so. Your emaciated condition and feebleness will easily
excuse you from giving any evidence at present."

"I will do as you wish me, sir," she answered, in some surprise.

"I do not mean you any harm, dear madam," he explained. "Far from it. My
reason is this. If this story gets into the papers (as it certainly must
if you relate it to the coroner), it will put those two villains on
their guard, and though we could arrest them on your evidence, they
might never reveal the place where they have hidden their unhappy
victim. But if they are still suffered to go at large, free and
unsuspecting, I can track them to their lair and rescue her. So I only
ask you to postpone your evidence until such time as I have delivered
Lily Lawrence and put these wretches inside of a prison."

"Your reasoning is very clear," answered Fanny. "I will do just as you
have told me, sir."

"Thanks; I will leave you my wine and biscuits for refreshment," said
he, smiling, and putting them by her side. "Keep up your spirits, Mrs.
Colville. I will soon return and remove you to a safe and comfortable
home."

He hurried away, fastening the door carefully after him, and went out in
the garden in search of the howling, hungry brute. He found him tearing
madly at his chain in his rage to get away and seek for food. It made
abortive attempts to reach Mr. Shelton when he came in sight, but the
detective coolly drew a pistol from his pocket, and fired a bullet into
the brain of the dangerous creature, who instantly fell dead. He then
walked away, mounted his horse and galloped rapidly towards the city.

At Mrs. Mason's gate he stopped and dismounted. The kind woman opened
the door and beamed on him smilingly as she invited him to enter. He did
so and soon made known the object of his visit.

"My curiosity about the old house we spoke about when I first saw you,"
said he, "induced me to visit it this afternoon. I did so, and to my
horror I found the old people lying dead in the house. While exploring
it I discovered a poor, imprisoned woman in a weak and starving
condition. She needs to be removed to a safe and quiet place where she
may be carefully tended, for she has enemies who would not scruple to
kill her if they discovered her whereabouts. Mrs. Mason, you are a kind
and motherly woman, and your home is quiet and secluded. Will you
receive that poor soul here and take care of her? I will pay you
generously for the trouble."

Mrs. Mason promised to do all he asked, her kind eyes brimming with
sympathetic tears, and he resumed his journey to the city, reported the
case to the coroner, and secured a comfortable carriage for the use of
Fanny Colville.

After the inquest the grateful creature was removed to the tiny cottage
of Mrs. Mason.

The next day the generous detective took care to furnish wines and
jellies and every needful luxury for building up an exhausted frame, and
himself conveyed them to the new home of the invalid.



CHAPTER XXVII.


My readers are wondering, perhaps, as to the fate of our beautiful and
unfortunate heroine.

Let us go back a little in our story and take up the thread of her
adventures.

It was the night previous to the day on which the two Leverets came to
their death at the hands of Mrs. Vance. Up to that night Lily Lawrence
had remained under the guardianship of the wicked old pair.

It was nearly nine o'clock when Lily sat before the fire in her room,
her small hands resting on the arms of the chair, her eyes fixed sadly
on the glowing coals in the grate. Old Haidee had brought her supper in
and departed. She was alone for the night.

The young girl was simply habited in a neat, dark woolen dress. Cuffs
and collar she had none, for Haidee, in providing her a winter dress,
had had no thought or care for those delicate feminine accessories of
the toilet. The thick, dark fabric fastened about her white throat and
wrists rendered her extreme pallor and delicacy doubly striking. The
earthly tabernacle seemed growing white and transparent enough for the
bruised and wounded young soul to glimmer through.

She was thinking of Lancelot Darling--her betrothed husband--and now and
then hot tears welled from her eyes and rolled down upon her pale
cheeks. She wondered if he still remained faithful to her memory, or if,
indeed, the wily widow had won him from her, as Doctor Pratt and Harold
Colville had so confidently asserted.

"It is false," she said to herself, through her fast falling tears.
"Lance loved me too truly to forget me so soon. What if I did see him
bending over that wicked woman, turning the leaves of her music as he
was wont to do for me? She had beguiled him to her side by the
fascinating arts which a true woman would disdain. It was to win him
that she tried to murder me. But though I never see my lover again I
will not believe he could love her after having loved me, even though
she might try to poison my memory with her false tale of suicide. No,
no; I will believe in the loyalty of my lover until my latest breath."

She was sitting near the side of the fireplace, and on the other side
of the wall old Peter and Haidee, who had retired to their room for the
night, were sitting over their fire and talking earnestly together. She
could hear the sound of their voices quite distinctly, for on her side
of the room there was a large cracked place in the wall from which the
plaster had fallen out, leaving a thin aperture through which voices
were distinctly audible. Lily had never felt any desire before to hear
the conversation of the old couple, but at this moment a sudden
curiosity seized upon her as she heard the sound of her own name
distinctly repeated.

Rising noiselessly from her chair she knelt upon the floor, and, placing
her ear against the broken place in the wall, listened intently.

Their words and even the tone of their voices were plainly audible to
her trained and acute hearing.

Words were being spoken by that wicked old pair that seemed to chill the
blood in her veins to an icy current as she knelt there listening to the
awful doom she had no power to avert.

"Yes," said the woman's voice, sharply, "I hate the girl so that I could
strangle her with my own hands! Ever since the day she knocked me down
and escaped from me, I have hated her with the hate of hell!"

"Aye, aye," said old Peter; "then why delay the deed we have long been
determined upon. I am in favor of getting it done and over with."

"If I were not afraid of the vengeance of Pratt and Colville," said she,
hesitating. "It's a terrible risk to run."

"Ten thousand dollars is worth running a considerable risk for,"
answered the old miser. "Now, here is the way we are placed, Haidee:
Harold Colville will give us a few paltry hundreds for keeping the girl
here, but her father will pay ten thousand dollars to the person who
delivers her dead body, and no questions asked. How can you hesitate
which to choose?"

"My God!" thought the wretched girl, with a wildly beating heart, "they
are planning to murder me."

"I would not hesitate a moment--you know that, Peter--only that I see
the difficulties in the way more plainly than you do," said the cautious
Haidee.

"Difficulties--now that is the way with women, the silly geese," snorted
Peter in angry contempt. "They always make mountains of mole-hills! What
difficulties can you see, I wonder."

"How could we account to Pratt and Colville for her disappearance?"
answered she.

"Easily enough; I have told you that twenty times before, old
dunder-head! Say that she has escaped from us again."

"They would not believe it when they know that we both guard the
door--they would not believe such a tale in the face of our united
strength," returned she, rather shortly.

"Say that I was ill--say that I was drunk--or that I fell down in a fit
before the door, and while you were assisting me she rushed past and
escaped. Say anything you please to account for it--only tell them that
she has given us the slip. They cannot help but believe it, knowing
that she has made two desperate attempts before."

"That is true," she admitted; "still, when they find the body has been
returned to the banker, and the ransom paid, what will they think then?"

"They will think that some designing person has palmed off a spurious
body on them at first, and before they learn better we can be off and
away to another city, Haidee. It all seems so plain and easy to me I
wonder why you hang back so."

"My God! this is horrible," breathed poor Lily to herself, but a
dreadful fascination held her immovable to her post.

"And then, the body itself," pursued Haidee. "It would have the look of
one lately dead. How could we account to her friends for that? Remember,
she is supposed to be dead these five months."

"Haidee, you are an old fool! You are getting into your dotage--what
silly questions you ask, to be sure," panted the old man, in a furious
rage with his hesitating wife.

"Oh, yes, I hear all that. But you have not answered my question yet,"
returned she, pertinaciously.

"I have answered it twenty times before--every time that we talked the
matter over. We can say that we had it embalmed so that her friends
might make sure of her identity when we claimed the ransom."

The old witch sat silently pondering a few minutes.

"Perhaps that would do," she said, rousing herself at last. "It may be
that I am over cautious; I confess that I wish the girl dead."

"You consent then?" said Peter eagerly.

"Yes, I consent," she answered, with a ring of fierce joy in her
unwomanly tones.

"Now that's my sensible wife," said Peter, transported with joy. "I
thought you would come to your senses after a while. Well, since you
_are_ willing I say the sooner the better."

"Yes, the sooner the better," his wife repeated after him.

"Let it be to-night then," suggested Peter, who did not want to give
Haidee's cautious fears any time to change her resolution. He believed
in the old adage: "Strike while the iron is hot."

"Yes," answered Haidee readily, "let it be to-night."

The listener's heart gave a great fluttering bound and then sank like
lead in her bosom.

Through all that she had suffered the desire of life, and the hope of
ultimate release had remained strong in her breast. How could it be
otherwise with one so young and lovely, and for whom life held so much?
Now all her hopes were blighted in the dreadful knowledge just come upon
her. Death in the horrible form of murder was about to blot out her
young and tender life forever from the earth. She clasped her hands
together, and repressing a strong desire to shriek aloud, lest that cry
of anguish should precipitate her fate, listened on.

"Who will do the deed?" asked Peter, who was a coward in spite of his
braggadocio.

"I will!" said Haidee, fiercely. "I will get my revenge upon her thus.
Presently, when she is asleep and dreaming perhaps of her home and her
lover, I will steal in upon her and clasp my hands around her white
little neck and strangle her to death."

"It is settled, then," said old Peter, with a fiendish chuckle of
delight. "Get our pipes, now, Haidee, and let us sit up and wait till
the time comes."

Lily Lawrence dropped down upon the floor and lay there like one already
smitten with death.

"Oh, God!" she thought, "if I only had not listened I might indeed have
been asleep, and death might have stolen on me unconsciously. How
dreadful to lie here and wait for death each moment."

She lay there shuddering and trying to pray as the fatal minutes crept
on, each one bearing away on its swift sands the brief span of precious
life yet left her.

At each movement in the next room she shivered and started, thinking
that old Haidee was about to come forth to execute her murderous task.

How long she lay there weeping and praying she never knew, but at length
she heard the clock in the lower hall strike ten.

The next instant stealthy steps came gliding through the hall to her
door.

Already she seemed to feel the horrible clutch of old Haidee's hands
about her warm, white throat, pressing out the life.



CHAPTER XXVIII.


"Oh, God spare me!" breathed Lily, clasping her hands in agony as she
heard the key grate in the lock, and the hand of the murderess turning
the knob of the door.

At that instant, before the door opened, while but a moment intervened
between Lily and a horrible death, a loud and hurried knocking was
distinctly heard down-stairs. It was so startling, coming upon the
previous utter stillness, that old Haidee darted back to her own room in
a fright, and directly she and her husband were heard making a shuffling
descent of the stairs. Lily arose upon her feet in a tumult of hope.

"Who can it be?" she murmured. "Can it be possible that rescue is at
hand?"

The revulsion from despair and terror to instant hope was too great to
be borne.

Her slight form wavered an instant, then unconsciousness stole upon her
and she fell prostrate on the floor.

In the meantime the old couple down-stairs, after removing bolts and
bars, admitted, to their astonishment and dismay, the two conspirators,
Pratt and Colville.

"You were not expecting me, eh?" said Doctor Pratt, with a laugh at
Haidee's astonished look as she blinked at him beneath the flaring
candle she held aloft. "Well, that cursed hound of yours was not
expecting me either. He had nearly taken a piece out of my throat before
he recognized my voice and became pacific. I had thought he must have
known me at once. Look you, I shall put a bullet in his head some day,
the blood-thirsty brute!"

"If you do, you will destroy the best safeguard you have against the
escape of your prisoner," said Haidee, shortly.

"Ah! well, let him live a little longer then, but you must teach him not
to forget his old friends," was the careless reply.

"You come late, doctor. We did not expect you, and were about retiring,"
said old Peter.

"Yes, we thought it better to come by stealth," said Pratt, shortly.
"The fact is, Colville has taken it in his head that we are watched by
some fellow, and it suits us to be wary just now. We wish to see Miss
Lawrence at once. Is she safe and well?"

"As safe and well as usual. Starvation does not seem to agree with her
very well," answered Haidee, leading the way up-stairs with her flaring
candle.

"It will break her proud spirit all the sooner," said Colville,
brutally, as he followed them.

Haidee stepped into the hall, opened Lily's door and entered, nearly
falling over the prostrate form of the girl. She started back in dismay.

"Why, what--the devil!" cried Pratt, entering behind her. "What has
happened to the girl? Is she dead?"

He knelt down, felt the pulse, and laid his ear over the heart as
Colville and Peter entered after him.

"She is in a faint," he said, looking up into Colville's frightened
face. "Our arrival was most opportune. Haidee, bring wine or whatever
stimulants you have in the house. Her vitality is exhausted. The late
regimen has been too severe for her weak constitution, perhaps."

He straightened the still form out upon the floor and applied a vial of
pungent smelling salts to her nostrils. In a moment life came fluttering
back, and Lily's languid gaze opened upon the faces of her enemies. The
white lids closed again and a heart-wrung sigh drifted over her lips.

Doctor Pratt lifted the light form in his arms and laid her upon the bed
as Haidee entered, carrying a glass of wine. He took it from her hand
and held it to the lips of his patient.

"Drink this, Miss Lawrence," he said, "you are weak and faint; it will
revive you."

She drank it thirstily, and felt a momentary thrill of returning
strength. Rising on her elbow she looked at them all languidly.

"You time your visit late, gentlemen," she said, with a slight
inflection of scorn on the concluding word.

"We are obliged to consult our own convenience rather than yours, Lily.
Pardon our informal and ill-timed visit," said Mr. Colville, coming
forward to her side.

She flashed a look of scorn upon him, but deigned no reply. He turned to
the two old people who stood waiting.

"You may go," he said. "We will apprise you when we are about to leave."

"No, let them remain," said Lily, imperiously. "I have something to say
to you, Mr. Colville, and I desire that these, _your friends_, may hear
it."

Old Peter and Haidee looked at each other in some trepidation at her
words and manner, but stood still, curious and a little frightened.

"My _friends_," muttered Colville, indignantly; "Miss Lawrence, I do not
choose my friends from among such rabble, I assure you!"

"Do you not?" said she, contemptuously. "Yet if you had a precious
treasure, Mr. Colville, and desired to guard it very carefully, you
would entrust it to your best friends rather than your enemies--would
you not?"

"Assuredly," he answered, wondering what she meant by her strange words
and manner.

"You would? and yet you have professed to regard me as the thing most
precious upon earth to you while you have given the lie to the assertion
by leaving me here in the keeping of these wretches whom you disdain to
own as your friends. Is it not so?"

He quailed before the scorn in her ringing voice, and the proud gesture
of her lifted finger.

"You were safe with them," he muttered. "My dearest friends could not
have guarded you more faithfully than they have done."

"It is false," she said, scornfully. "My life has been in constant
jeopardy at their hands ever since I first entered this house."

"Miss Lawrence, you are raving," said Doctor Pratt. "These people have
been paid to keep you here: it is to their interest to do so. And why
should you fancy yourself in danger from them?"

"It is no fancy," she answered, coldly, while her scathing glance fell
upon the cowering pair of interrupted murderers like lightning a moment,
then returned to the faces of those she addressed. "I assure you, Doctor
Pratt, and you, Mr. Colville, that your sudden coming interrupted her--I
was on the point of being _murdered_ by that woman there!"

"She lies!" cried Haidee and Peter, simultaneously.

"Silence, wretches!" thundered Dr. Pratt, furiously, reading guilt in
their very faces. "Let the lady tell her story, then deny it if you
can."

"It is the wine that has got into her head," whined Peter, abjectly.

"Silence, fellow! Now, go on with your story, Miss Lawrence," said the
physician, impatiently.

Thus encouraged, Lily related every word of the frightful conversation
that was indelibly stamped on her memory. There was no discrediting her
assertions. The truth was unmistakable.

"She was just opening the door," concluded Lily, "when your loud
knocking frightened her away. My relief from the pressure of
over-wrought feeling was so great that I fainted when I attempted to
stand up again!"

Dr. Pratt was foaming at the mouth with such furious rage that he could
not speak. Colville, pale, trembling, with chattering teeth and staring
eyes, found his voice first.

"Wretches! Devils!" he shouted, in a voice hoarse with passion, as he
pointed to the door. "Go hide yourselves from my sight before I rend you
limb from limb!"

The craven wretches slunk away and locked themselves into their room in
wild fear lest the two infuriated men should put their threat into
execution. Colville came forward and stood by the bedside of the young
girl who had fallen back panting from weariness after her denunciation
of the would-be murderers.

"Lily," he said abjectly, "I am so unnerved by the thought of the
horrible fate you have just escaped that I can scarcely speak: but,
believe me, my dearest girl, I thought you perfectly safe in this place,
I never dreamed of such perfidy in these hired servants of my will."

"This is no time for apologies," interrupted the doctor abruptly. "Make
them hereafter when you have more leisure and better command of your
feelings. At present the most important thing is to remove Miss Lawrence
from this house immediately, and place her in a safer retreat."

He drew Colville aside one moment.

"I know of a place a few miles from here," he whispered, "to which I
have the _entree_. The place is a private mad-house, and is kept by a
doctor who is a very particular friend of mine. I know of no better
retreat at present for our fair little friend. He will receive her with
pleasure, and you can represent her as insane if it pleases you."

"Let us take her there then," answered Colville.

Doctor Pratt took down a dark cloak with a hood attached which hung
against the wall.

"Miss Lawrence," he said, quite courteously, "my carriage is at the gate
and I find it necessary to remove you at once from the perils that
environ you here. Put on this cloak and let us go. I will find means
afterward to punish these wretches for their perfidy."

Lily obeyed in silence, and was led down between them to the waiting
carriage.

The Leverets did not appear again, nor did the hound offer to molest
them.

Placing their prisoner in the carriage the two confederates drove
rapidly away over the country road.



CHAPTER XXIX.


The inquest that was held over the dead bodies of Peter and Haidee
Leveret developed no information that could lead to the conviction of
their destroyer.

An expert examined the bodies and declared that the cause of their death
was strychnine poison.

Large quantities of this baneful drug was found in the tea pot and in
the partly emptied cups of the victims.

Mr. Shelton testified to the accidental finding of the bodies, and to
his extinguishing the flames which had been lighted for their funeral
pyre--also to the finding of the chained prisoner in the gloomy dungeon.
His evidence threw no light on the subject.

Fanny Colville testified to the names and general bad character of the
deceased, but knew nothing which was calculated to enlighten the jury as
to the mystery of their death.

She had not seen Peter for two years. Haidee had been in the habit of
bringing her some bread and water once a week, but had neglected to
return the last time, and nine days had elapsed since Fanny had seen
her, two of which days she was entirely without food.

She supposed that the old witch was putting into execution her
often-reiterated threat of starving her to death.

This was all they learned of Fanny. She had given her evidence with many
pauses and turns of faintness. At length she became so ill and exhausted
that it seemed cruel to weaken her with farther questioning, and it was
decided to defer it until she became stronger and better.

The jury, in accordance with the facts elicited, rendered a verdict that
the pair had come to their death by strychnine poisoning at the hands of
some person unknown.

Search was made for the hidden treasure the misers were supposed to have
concealed about the house, but nothing of value was found, and the
bodies of the iniquitous pair were committed to burial at the expense of
the city. They had lived their evil life, and the world being rid of
them was better off.

Mrs. Colville was removed to the home of Mrs. Mason, and the kind soul
was shocked at the spectacle of human misery thus presented to her view.

She gave the poor creature a warm bath, clothed her skeleton limbs in
soft and comfortable apparel, and shingled her long, inextricably
tangled hair close to her head.

This done she proceeded to put her to bed and feed her with warm and
nourishing food.

The poor, starved woman could scarcely realize her good fortune.

She lay looking about her at the pleasant little room with its neat
carpet and curtains, its comfortable bed and cheery fire, and feared it
was all a dream from which she would awaken to the horrors of her
lonely, fireless dungeon.

But the gentle voice of her hostess soothed away her fears and lulled
her into profound and restful sleep.

For several days the most of her time was spent in eating and sleeping.

The warm room and nourishing food seemed to induce slumber, and she
began to improve very slowly, but still so perceptibly that when the
detective came to see her after the lapse of a week he was delighted at
the change.

"Mrs. Mason, you must be a capital nurse," said he, smiling. "Your
patient looks very well, and begins to improve at a rate I hardly dared
hope for; I should scarcely have known her."

"And, but for your timely help I should have been dead ere this," said
the invalid, giving him a grateful look from her large, hollow, dark
eyes. "I owe you my life. I do not know how to thank you."

"Do not try," answered the detective, feeling shy under the gratitude
that was about to be showered upon him. "The revelation you made me when
I found you fully repays the debt."

"Ah! that dear girl," sighed Fanny. "Have you learned anything further
about her, Mr. Shelton?"

He shook his head sadly.

"I am sorry to say I have not. The wretches have eluded me in some way,
and managed to remove her without my knowledge. But I do not despair of
catching up with them yet, and restoring the unfortunate young creature
to her friends."

"God grant you may," she murmured, fervently.

"There is one thing I wish to ask you," said he, suddenly. "When you
were telling me your story that day in the dungeon, you made an
assertion that threw a new light on the subject of Miss Lawrence's
supposed death."

"Ah! what was that?" she inquired.

"You know, or, perhaps, you do not know," said he, "that the jury's
verdict was suicide. Yet you made the assertion that she was murdered by
a jealous woman."

"Miss Lawrence was my informant, sir," answered Mrs. Colville. "Perhaps
she knew all the circumstances better than the jury."

"No doubt she did," he answered, smiling at her demure tone. "And the
woman?"

"Was a beautiful widow who lives under the Lawrence roof, and is
dependent on the banker for the very means of existence. I cannot recall
her name, for I have a peculiar faculty for forgetting names, but
perhaps you have heard it."

"I have," he answered, gravely. "And indeed it amazes me. It passes
belief that she should have struck a blow so terrible at the heart of
Mr. Lawrence, to whom she owes nothing but gratitude."

"She was maddened by jealousy, sir. She loved the young man whom Lily
Lawrence was on the point of marrying. I heard this from the young
girl's own lips. She told me she had long before suspected her love, and
pitied her sincerely, without a thought of the cruel vengeance she was
about to take."

"Cruel! It was fiendish," said Mr. Shelton.

"Yes, sir, it was fiendish. She crept into the room while Miss Lawrence
was trying on her wedding-dress, caught up a dagger from the table, and
exclaimed, as she plunged it into her victim's heart: 'Girl, you shall
die because Lancelot Darling loves you!'"

"Horrible!" exclaimed the detective.

"Miss Lawrence became immediately unconscious," continued Mrs. Colville,
"and does not know how the woman left the room after locking her door on
the inside, but thinks it probable she slid down the long vine that runs
up to her chamber window."

"It is very probable she did," said Mr. Shelton. "Heavens! what a tissue
of crime and villany has been woven about the innocent life of that
beautiful girl! But I will see her righted, I swear it by all that I
hold most sacred. And then let Mrs. Vance and Pratt and Colville look to
themselves. I hold the evidences of their crime in my hands now. They
only bide my time to see the inside of a prison cell!"

Mrs. Mason, sitting with her knitting, had been an interested listener
to the above conversation. The detective turned to her now, saying
kindly:

"We have been discussing secrets very freely in your presence, my kind
hostess, but I suppose you know how to keep silence regarding them."

"Wild horses should not drag a word from me, sir, without permission,"
replied she, earnestly.

"I fully believe it," answered Mr. Shelton. "Therefore I shall
commission Mrs. Colville to take you fully into our confidence after I
leave here. You will thereby hear a very romantic story regarding the
young lady whom you so nobly befriended some time ago."

"Bless her sweet face! I never shall forget her," said Mrs. Mason, on
whom indeed that little incident had made a deep and lasting impression.

"I hope you may yet have the pleasure of meeting her under more
favorable auspices," said the detective, strong in the faith that he
should yet rescue Lily from her cruel and unrelenting captors.

"Mr. Shelton," said the invalid, abruptly, "I have been thinking of
sending for my poor old mother from the country. I must tell you that I
ran away from home to marry that villain, Colville. I have never seen my
poor old mother since, but I sent her my marriage certificate to keep
for me, and to assure her that I was an honorable wife. I have never
seen or heard from her since. I would like to see her very much."

"Well?" he said, as she paused, looking wistfully at him.

"Would you advise me to send for her?" asked Fanny.

Mr. Shelton took down a little mirror hanging over the small toilet
table and held it before her face.

"Is it possible your mother would recognize you?" he inquired, gently.

Poor Fanny did not know how sadly she was changed before. She looked at
herself and shuddered.

"Oh! no, sir!" said she, mournfully; "I was a black-eyed, rosy-cheeked
young girl when I left home. I am a gray-headed skeleton now."

"Then take my advice and wait a little while. In the meantime, let Mrs.
Mason feed you and nurse you until you get some flesh on your limbs, and
some color in your ghostly face. Then as soon as you get strong enough
to travel, I myself will take you home to your mother."

"Oh! thank you, thank you; that will be best," she murmured, gratefully.

"No thanks," he answered, and bidding them adieu, he went hurriedly
away.



CHAPTER XXX.


Lily Lawrence leaned back in the physician's carriage and wept silently
as she was whirled onward to her new prison.

Her companions were very taciturn. Doctor Pratt was driving and gave
the most of his attention to his task. Beyond one or two questions as to
her comfort he did not address either Lily or Colville. The latter sat
entirely silent opposite the young girl through the whole time.

At length, after several miles of rapid driving the carriage came to a
pause, and the young girl was lifted out in front of a large, frowning
brick edifice which loomed up gloomily in the darkness of the chilly
night. She was led up a flight of stone steps and Doctor Pratt rang the
bell.

The summons was quickly answered by a small dark man, who showed
surprise at the visit, but welcomed Doctor Pratt with the cordiality of
an old friend.

"Doctor Heath, this is Mr. Colville, a friend of mine," said Doctor
Pratt as they stepped into the hall. "We have brought you a patient in
the person of this young lady."

"Indeed!" said the host, bowing gracefully to these two new
acquaintances, and ushering them into a small reception-room on the
right. "Pray take seats, my friends, and draw near the fire. The night
is raw and chilly."

Mr. Colville placed a comfortable chair near the fire for Lily, and she
sat down and held out her numbed hands to the cheerful blaze that burned
on the hearth.

Doctor Heath took a seat near her regarding her with looks of surprise
and admiration. Her colorless beauty shone out like a lily indeed from
the dark hood over her head.

"She looks very ill," said he in an undertone to his colleague, and
unseen by Lily, he tapped his forehead significantly.

Doctor Pratt gave a shy affirmative nod.

"She has been very ill," he answered, "and has had a tiresome drive
to-night in addition. Perhaps it would be better to let her have some
refreshments and retire at once. I wish to have a private conversation
with you."

Doctor Heath retired to give the necessary order. Lily's blue eyes
turned upon her captors with a look of dread in their soft depths.

"Doctor Pratt," said she, "what new trials am I about to experience
here?"

"None at all, I hope," said he, smoothly. "Your health is visibly
declining, Miss Lawrence, and I have concluded to place you under the
constant care of my friend, Doctor Heath. I think you will find this a
more comfortable place than old Haidee Leveret's and you will have
kinder treatment; I shall leave orders for a rather more generous diet
than has been lately allowed you, for I fear your constitution may be
ruined by your recent course of starvation. Yet I must say your own
obstinacy brought it upon you. One kind word from your lips to Mr.
Colville would have placed every luxury at your command."

"And I would die rather than speak that word!" said Lily, with a
scornful curl of her beautiful lip.

"You will change your mind, doubtless, before you have remained long in
this place," said Mr. Colville, in a tone so significant that she stared
and looked at him keenly, as if trying to fathom its hidden meaning,
but she could not read the expression on his face, and dropped her eyes
with a weary sigh.

Doctor Heath came in, followed by a neat young woman with a large and
apparently very strong frame. She came in and stood behind Lily's chair.

"This young woman will attend you to your room," said Doctor Heath, with
a polite bow. "I dare say you are tired and would like to seek repose."

Mr. Colville approached Lily and bent down to say, softly:

"I may not see you again for several weeks, Lily; but if you should
change your mind and wish to recall me sooner, you need only signify it
to Doctor Heath, and he will communicate with me at once."

"I am not likely to change my mind," she answered, coldly, turning from
him and following the strong-limbed young woman out of the room.

Her guide led her up a stairway and along a wide hall, with a number of
closed doors on each side. At length she paused and threw open the door,
saying, politely:

"This will be your room for the present, miss."

Thus addressed, Lily stepped reluctantly across the threshold and looked
around her.

She found herself in a small and neatly-furnished room. The floor was
covered with a bright, warm carpet, a nicely-cushioned chair was drawn
before a comfortable fire, and a tray containing refreshments was placed
on a little stand in front of it.

The attendant entered behind her and closed the door.

"Allow me to assist you," said she, removing Lily's cloak, and seating
her in the easy-chair before the fire.

Lily's lip quivered slightly at the gentle kindness of the woman's tone.
Poor girl! harshness and coldness and threatening had become the only
familiar sounds to her ears. This woman, though she looked young
herself, assumed a motherly tone like one talking to a sick child.

"You would like a cup of tea, I reckon," said she, pouring out the
fragrant beverage, and putting in cream and sugar, "and a bit of this
toast and cold chicken? You look very cold and tired, my dear."

"Thank you," answered Lily, taking the tea and drinking it thirstily.

After her long fast upon bread and water the food tasted simply
delicious to her. She did not know how much its quality was sweetened by
the kind looks of her attendant, who sat by and watched her with a
good-natured smile on her round and rosy face.

"Perhaps you would like me to help you to bed before I take away the
tray," said she, as Lily finished her tea and leaned back wearily in her
chair.

"Thanks; presently I will avail myself of your kindness, but now I wish
to ask you some questions," said Lily, quietly.

"Yes, miss," said the woman, kindly, but she looked at Lily with a great
deal of surprise at her tone.

"What is your name?" inquired the young prisoner.

"Mary Brown, if you please, miss," answered the woman in her kind,
soothing tone.

"You live here, I suppose, Mary?" pursued the young girl.

"Yes, miss."

"Then, Mary, I wish you would tell me what kind of a house this is. I
have been fancying that it must be a hospital, as there seems to be a
resident physician. Am I right?"

"Oh! yes, miss, certainly, this is a hospital. We have a number of sick
people here," said the woman, like one humoring an inquisitive child.
"But don't you wish to retire now, miss? It's about midnight I should
think."

"In a minute, Mary. Tell me first, is it a public hospital?"

"Oh! no, miss. It's perfectly private, and very select indeed. We
receive none but first-class people here--we don't indeed."

She was turning down the covers of the bed as she spoke, and now she
said, persuasively:

"Come, now, let me help you to bed, miss, I want to tuck you up warm and
comfortable before I leave you."

Lily submitted patiently, but as she laid her tired head on the pillow,
she asked, suddenly:

"Is Dr. Heath a good man, Mary?"

"La, now, miss, you must judge of that yourself. You will see him often
enough before you get well," said Mary Brown.

Lily was about to open her lips to refute the charge of her illness,
when she was suddenly interrupted by the sound of a wild and piercing
shriek which seemed to come from the room that was next her own. In her
alarm she sprang up and caught Mary Brown's arms in both hers,
shuddering with surprise and terror.

"Oh! what is it?" she cried, as the wild shriek was repeated again and
again, mingled with frenzied shouts and peal after peal of frightful,
demoniacal laughter.

"It's only one of the sick ones, miss," said Mary Brown, uneasily.
"Don't fret yourself, my dear. Lie down again. He will soon be quiet,
and then you can go to sleep."

A horrible suspicion flashed into Lily's mind.

"Mary Brown, you have been deceiving me with your kind face and friendly
talk. This is not a hospital for the sick. It is a private mad-house--is
it not?"

"Well, it is for people who are sick in their heads," admitted Mary.

"You mean for people who are insane," said she, holding tightly to the
woman's arm.

Mary Brown nodded acquiescence.

Lily was silent a moment, lost in painful thought. At length she said,
sadly:

"I hope you do not think that I am insane, Mary Brown?"

"Oh! dear, no, miss," said Mary, in her placid tone. "Of course not."

"But you _do_ believe it. I can see that plainly," cried Lily, in an
anguished tone. "You have been humoring and petting me, taking me for
some insane creature. But I assure you I am not. I am perfectly sane,
though I have suffered cruelty and injustice enough to have driven me
mad long ago. I have been brought here by two wicked men to be made a
prisoner because I will not marry a man whom I hate."

"You poor, injured dear," said the good nurse, affecting to believe the
young girl's story, though in her heart she set it down simply as one of
the vagaries of madness.

"You do not believe me," cried Lily, passionately. "Oh! God, is this
crowning insult to be added to my sufferings? Must they represent me as
mad, and thus drive me into insanity indeed?"

The attendant began to think that her beautiful and gentle patient was
becoming violent. She gently but forcibly released her arms from Lily's
clasp, and laid the moaning girl back on her pillow.

"My dear," she said, "you must not excite yourself. You look too ill to
stand agitation. I must go now and help Doctor Heath to manage that poor
shrieking maniac in the next room. Try and go to sleep, my pretty dear."

She drew the warm covers up carefully over the patient, brushed back the
disordered golden hair with a coarse but kindly hand, extinguished the
light, and, taking up the tray of dishes, went out, carefully locking
the door after her.

In the hall she encountered Doctor Heath about entering the room of the
shrieking patient. He paused at sight of her.

"How is your new patient?" he inquired, abruptly.

"A little excited at present, sir. She appeared very quiet and sensible
at first, but after the violent patient began his shrieks she became
violent and wild, sir!"

"Did she tell you her name?" he inquired.

Mary Brown replied in the negative.

"Her case is rather peculiar," said Doctor Heath. "She is the victim of
a strange hallucination. A wealthy young lady of New York committed
suicide last summer under very romantic circumstances. This young person
imagines herself to be the identical young lady who killed herself, and
asserts that she was resurrected by a physician and his friend, who
detain her in durance vile because the latter wishes to marry her. She
will tell you her story, of course. Do not contradict her, but gently
humor her. She will not give you much trouble, I think, as it is a mere
case of melancholy madness. The young lady she personates was named Miss
Lawrence. Be particular and call her by that name, Mary."

"I will, sir," said Mary, passing on.



CHAPTER XXXI.


Mrs. Vance read in the daily papers an account on the inquest that had
been held over the dead bodies of her two victims.

She was surprised and troubled at first because her scheme for burning
the house down and destroying the bodies had failed, but as she saw that
no clew to the perpetrator of the poisoning had been discovered, her
courage rose in proportion.

"I am free now," she thought, with a guilty thrill of triumph. "The two
old harpies who preyed upon me are dead, and their secret with them. No
one will ever discover my agency in their death. Suspicion would never
dream of fastening upon me. Who would believe that these white hands
could be stained with crime?"

She held them up, admiring their delicate whiteness and the costly rings
that glittered upon them, then went to the mirror and looked at her
handsome reflection.

"I am beautiful," she said to herself with a proud smile. "There is no
reason why I should not win Lancelot Darling. A woman can marry whom she
will when she is gifted with beauty and grace like mine. And I will yet
be Lancelot Darling's wife. I solemnly swear that I will!"

In the exuberance of her triumph and her pride in herself, she ordered
the carriage and went out to spend the money she had rescued from Peter
and Haidee in some new feminine adornment wherewith to deck her beauty
for the eyes of the obdurate young millionaire.

Time flew past and brought the cold and freezing days of November. The
latter part of it was exceedingly cold, and snow covered the ground with
a thick, white crust.

Lancelot Darling came into the drawing-room one day where Ada and the
beautiful widow sat by the glowing fire, Mrs. Vance busy as usual with
some trifle of fancy work, and Ada yawning over the latest novel. They
welcomed him without surprise or formality, for he had fallen into a
habit of dropping in familiarly and with the freedom of a brother. Mrs.
Vance, after the first few weeks of affected shyness and prudence, had
resumed her old frank relations with Lance, though but feebly seconded
by that young man, who had not recovered from the shock of her unwomanly
avowal of love for himself.

"Well, Ada, how does the novel please you?" he inquired, looking at the
book that she had laid aside.

"Either the author is very dull, or I am out of spirits," she returned,
smiling, "for I have failed to become interested in the woes of the
heroine, this morning. Have you read it, Lance?"

"Oh, yes, a week ago," he answered, carelessly. "I found it readable and
interesting. I dare say you are in fault to-day, not the author. You are
out of tune."

"Perhaps so," said Ada, "but what am I to do about it? Can you suggest a
remedy?"

"The sleighing is very fine just now," he returned. "It thrills one very
pleasurably. Have you tried it?"

"Oh, yes, Mrs. Vance and myself have been out twice with papa this
week."

"By daylight?" he queried.

"Yes, by daylight," she answered.

"The latest sensation, however, is sleigh-riding by moonlight," rejoined
Lance. "There is a full moon, you know, and the nights are superb.
Parties go out to Dabney's hotel--it is far out on the suburbs--and have
hot coffee and oysters by way of refreshment, you know--then they return
to the city, getting home near midnight usually. Altogether it is very
exhilarating."

"You speak from experience, I presume?" said Ada.

"Yes. I tried it myself last night, being induced thereto by the glowing
representations of two young friends of mine. I found the drive quite as
bracing and delightful as they described it. I should be tempted to try
it again to-night if I could persuade you, Ada, and Mrs. Vance to
accompany me."

"Why, that would be delightful," said Ada, clapping her hands, with the
pleasure of a child over a new toy. "I think that is just what I am
needing--a new sensation."

"You consent, then?" said he, smiling at her pretty enthusiasm.

"Oh, yes, if Mrs. Vance will go, too. Will you do so?" inquired she,
turning to the lady, who had as yet taken no part in the conversation.

"Do you wish to go very much?" inquired she, looking up from her work
with a very pleasant smile.

"I think I should enjoy it very much."

"I don't know that I care for it very much," said the widow, with a
light sigh; "but I will go to please you, Ada."

"It is settled then," said Lance. "We will go, and I think I can promise
you both a very enjoyable evening."

It could not fail to be otherwise, Mrs. Vance thought to herself, with a
thrill of pleasure at the knowledge that she would be seated beside him
for hours, hearing his musical voice and looking into his handsome face.

"If it were not for that hateful Ada going, too," she said to herself,
"what a chance I could have to make an impression on his heart!"

But regret it as she would she could not prevent Ada from going, for she
saw plainly enough that the excursion was planned for the young girl's
pleasure, not her own. She was merely secondary in the affair. A thrill
of jealous pain cut through her heart like a knife, and the furtive
glance of hatred she cast upon Ada boded no good to the lovely and
high-spirited young girl.

Night came, and Lance appeared with his elegant little sleigh. The
ladies, comfortably arrayed in sealskin cloaks and hats, were helped
into the sleigh, the warm buffalo robes were tucked around them, and
taking the reins in hand, Lance started out at a dashing pace over the
smooth and shining crust of snow.

The moon shone gloriously, making the ground look as if paved with
sparkling gems, the silver bells rang out a merry chime, and the hearts
of all three seemed to fill with pleasure at the joyous sound, and the
breath of winter seemed like a caress as it sighed past their warm and
glowing cheeks.

Numbers of merry pleasure-seekers were out enjoying the fine sleighing
and the beautiful night. Gay words and happy laughter rang out from
youthful voices, and many a heart beat high with hope and love.

Mrs. Vance and Ada enjoyed their moonlight ride very much, and found
their appetite sharpened for the delicious supper which was ready for
them when they arrived at their destination.

They met several of their friends at Dabney's hotel on the same
pleasant mission as themselves, and enjoyed an hour of social converse
before starting on their homeward way. They were the last to leave.

"It has been very pleasant," said Ada, impulsively, as Lance tucked the
buffalo robes around them preparatory to starting.

"I am glad you have enjoyed it," answered the young man, touching up his
spirited horses and starting off in gallant style.

They had gone about half a mile when, in turning a corner, the
mettlesome young horses became suddenly frightened at something, and
reared upward, nearly upsetting the sleigh and its occupants. With a
grasp of steel, Lance tried to bring them down upon their feet, but
succeeded only to see them start away at a maddened and furious pace,
entirely beyond his control, while shriek after shriek of terror burst
from the two ladies as they clung to Lance.

Impeded by the clinging arms of the two, and distressed beyond measure
by their frightened screams, it was impossible for Lance to do anything
to help them. Though he held on to the reins so tightly that his hands
were wounded and bleeding, his utmost strength was insufficient to
arrest the speed of the horses. They ran faster and faster, as though
incited to greater speed by the screams of the women. At length, with a
frantic effort, they cleared themselves of the sleigh and bounded away,
leaving the dainty vehicle overturned and broken, and its occupants
reposing in a snow-drift.

Lance was the first to lift himself up and look about. He felt as if
every bone in his body were broken, so swift had been the impetus that
hurled him out; but repressing his own pain he hastened to his two
companions.

"Ada, Mrs. Vance, are either of you hurt?" he inquired, anxiously.

Mrs. Vance was already on her feet, shaking the loose snow from her hair
and dress.

"I believe I am quite uninjured beyond the shock of the fall," said she.
"Are you, Lance?"

"Oh! I am all right," said he; "but, Ada, my dear girl, are you hurt?"

Ada answered his query with a moan of pain, but made no effort to rise.
He bent over her and lifted the slight form in his strong arms.

"Can you stand?" he inquired, anxiously.

"Oh, no--no!" she moaned. "My ankle seems to be twisted or sprained, and
my head struck something hard like a rock in falling. It aches
dreadfully."

She burst into tears, sobbing aloud in her pain. Lance looked about him
in despair.

There he was in the road, several miles from the city, with two helpless
females to take care of, and his broken sleigh lying useless, the horses
quite out of sight. Worse than all, Ada lying helpless in his arms,
unable to stand or walk, and moaning like a child in her acute
suffering.

"This is terrible," he said. "What can we do, Mrs. Vance?"

"Nothing," said she, coldly, maddened by the sight of Ada's head
resting against his shoulder, "except to remain here and freeze to death
waiting for some other vehicle to happen along and take us home."

"Something may happen along at any minute," he answered, encouragingly.
"There are numbers of people out to-night as well as ourselves."

"It is quite probable that we are the last on the road," said she
doubtfully. "Indeed, I believe that we are. If Ada were unhurt I should
suggest that we walk home, or back to the hotel at least. Ada, my dear,
rouse yourself and do not weep so childishly. Do you not see what a
plight you are putting us in? I am quite sure you can walk a little if
you will only try to make an effort."

Thus adjured, Ada lifted herself and tried to put her foot on the ground
and stand up.

"It is useless," said she, falling back with a sharp cry. "My ankle is
too badly hurt. I cannot stand upon it."

Ere she ceased to speak, the welcome tinkle of sleigh-bells in the
distance saluted their ears.

"Thank Heaven!" ejaculated Lance, "we have but a moment to wait. Relief
is at hand."

"How fortunate!" chimed in Mrs. Vance, recovering her good humor at the
prospect of help in their extremity.

Directly a splendid little sleigh drove up to them, stopped, and the
single occupant, a handsome young man, jumped out.

"What is the trouble here?" he inquired, in a genial, friendly voice.
"Why, upon my word," with a start of surprise, "it's you, Lance, is it
not?"

"Yes, it is I, Phil, and I was never so glad to see you before in my
life," answered Lance, in a tone of relief. "Mrs. Vance, Miss Lawrence,
this is my best friend, Philip St. John."

"You have met with an accident?" said Mr. St. John, after briefly
acknowledging this off-hand presentation to the ladies.

"Yes, my horses ran off and overturned the sleigh, pitching us into the
road. Mrs. Vance and myself luckily escaped unhurt, but Miss Lawrence
has sustained an injury that incapacitates her for walking."

"Perhaps I can help you," said the new-comer, cordially. "My sleigh is
very small, but it will be roomy enough to accommodate one of these
ladies, I am sure. Now, if Miss Lawrence will trust herself to my care,
I will take her home immediately. And, Lance, if you and Mrs. Vance can
stand a walk of a mile back to Dabney's hotel, you will find that they
keep a good trap there and you can get it to return in."

"What do you say to my friend's plan, Ada?" asked Lance, looking down at
her as she leaned upon his arm. "Will you allow Mr. St. John to take you
home? I assure you he will take the kindest care of you."

"I accept his offer with thanks," said Ada, gratefully, "but it seems
selfish to leave Mrs. Vance and you to trudge back to the hotel on
foot."

"My dear child, pray do not distress yourself on that score," said Mrs.
Vance, in her kindest tone. "I feel so thankful for this timely
assistance in your behalf that I shall not mind the long walk at all."

"It is the best thing they can do, Miss Lawrence," said Mr. St. John,
respectfully. "They would freeze if they remained here waiting till I
sent a conveyance out from the city, but if they walk back to the hotel
they can get Dabney's sleigh and follow us directly."

Ada was accordingly lifted into the very small sleigh of Mr. St. John;
the robes from Lance's useless sleigh were brought and tucked around
her, and in a minute she was off like the wind for home, feeling in
spite of her pain a very shy consciousness of her proximity to the
handsome young stranger.

Lancelot and his fair companion in distress set off rather soberly on
their return to Dabney's hotel.



CHAPTER XXXII.


It was rather an embarrassing position to be placed in both for Lancelot
and the handsome widow. After some little desultory conversation they
both relapsed into silence and walked soberly on their way.

Mrs. Vance at length broke the silence in a low and very faltering
voice.

"Lance," she murmured, "I must avail myself of this, the only
opportunity I have had, to crave your pardon and forgetfulness for a
confession which I too sadly remember with blushes of shame for my
madness and folly. Forgive me for recurring to that moment of frenzy and
shame. I only do so to entreat your pardon and crave your
forgetfulness."

He felt the small hand trembling within his arm where it rested, like a
fluttering bird; looking down in the brilliant moonlight he saw tears
shining like drops of dew on her down-drooped lashes.

He did not answer, and she continued, in a voice full of sadness and
shame:

"Words cannot paint my grief and shame for that deeply deplored
confession. Not shame that I love you, Lance, but shame that in an hour
of impulsive and passionate abandonment, I showed you the secret of my
heart and gained in return your bitterest scorn."

"No, no, you mistake me, dear madam," said he, struggling for words to
reassure her. "It was not scorn--it was grief that moved me to speak as
I did. I felt your words dimly as an outrage on the modesty of
womanhood--oh, forgive me, I do not know how to express myself," cried
he, feeling himself floundering into deeper depths with every effort he
made to extricate himself.

"You express yourself only too clearly," she cried with inexpressible
bitterness; "I see that my fault will never be forgiven or forgotten."

"Oh! indeed it will," cried Lance eagerly, trying to condone his
offensive words. "What I meant to say was this; I felt very badly over
your words at first, but since I have seen how much you regret your
rashness I have ceased to consider it anything but a momentary
indiscretion which I trust soon to wholly forget, when you will again be
reinstated in my whole confidence and respect."

"Oh! thank you, thank you," she cried, chafing at the coldness of his
words, but trying to content herself since she could extract no kinder
speech from him. "Believe me, Lance, I will try to merit your
confidence, and no indiscretion of mine shall wound you again."

"And we will drop that subject forever, will we not?" said he, leading
her up the hotel steps and into the warm, lighted parlor.

"Forever!" she answered with a quivering sigh.

He drew forward a chair before the glowing coal fire and led her to it.

"You must feel tired and cold after your long walk," he said; "I will
have something warm sent in while I inquire about the sleigh."

He went away and directly a neat serving-maid entered, bearing a tray of
warm refreshments.

Mrs. Vance drank some coffee, but had no appetite for the viands, warm
and delicious as they appeared, so the maid, with a courtesy took the
tray and retired.

She waited some time before Lance returned. He came in looking pale and
troubled.

"It is too bad," he said in a tone of vexation, "but Dabney's sleigh
which I counted on confidently as being available was hired out in the
earlier part of the evening to a couple of young fellows off on a lark
into the country. They will not return until to-morrow evening."

"Then what are we to do?" she asked.

The young fellow smothered some sort of a vexed ejaculation between his
mustached lips.

"We are to be patient," he answered, grimly. "Dabney knows a man a mile
away from here who keeps a sleigh. He has sent off on the mere chance of
its being at home to secure it for us."

He went out and left her sitting before the fire gazing into the glowing
coals thoughtfully.

After he had gone she took out her watch and looked at it.

"Twelve o'clock," she repeated to herself, putting the watch quietly
back.

Lance returned after an hour of patient waiting, accompanied by Mr.
Dabney himself.

"We have been very unfortunate, indeed, in being unable to secure you a
conveyance of any sort to-night, madam," he said, courteously. "It is
now after one o'clock and all efforts have failed. Would it please you
to retire and wait until morning? We will then provide comfortable means
for your return."

She looked at Lance timidly.

"It is the only thing to be done," he answered, moodily. "I would walk
to the city myself if it were the slightest use; but I am an indifferent
walker, and could not possibly get back here till long after daylight;
so the only course I see open is to wait for a sleigh which is promised
me in the morning."

"If that is the case," she answered, sadly, "I should be glad to retire.
I am very tired, and feel the shock of my accident painfully."

The gentlemen retired, and a maid came in and showed Mrs. Vance to a
sleeping apartment. She locked the door, and threw herself wearily
across the bed. She was laboring under some strong excitement. No sleep
refreshed her burning eyelids that night. At daylight the little maid
knocked at the door with a tempting breakfast arranged on a tray.

"The sleigh has arrived, and is waiting until you have your breakfast,"
said she, politely.

Mrs. Vance bathed her face and hands, re-arranged her disordered hair,
and after doing full justice to the tray of viands, descended to Lance,
who impatiently waited her coming.

He helped her into the sleigh, took up the reins and set off homeward.

"I hope you slept well?" he remarked, to break the awkward silence.

She turned her dark eyes up to meet his questioning glance. He saw with
surprise they were hollow, languid and sleepless, while a glance of
ineffable anguish shone upon him.

"Could I sleep well, do you think?" she inquired, in a voice full of
passionate reproach. "Could I sleep at all, knowing the dreadful fate
which awaits me?"

"I fail to understand you," said he, in a voice of perplexity.

"You cannot be so blind, Lance. You are only playing with me," she
murmured, sadly.

"Pray explain yourself," he answered. "I give you my word of honor that
your speech and manner simply mystify me. What dreadful fate awaits you,
Mrs. Vance?"

She turned upon him a moment with flashing eyes, then looked down again
as she answered in low, intense tones:

"Do you not understand, Lance, what my pride shrinks from telling you in
plain terms?--the bitter truth that my stay with you last night at the
Dabney Hotel has irretrievably compromised my fair fame in the eyes of
the carping and censorious world?"

She paused, and Lancelot Darling sat still and motionless like one
stricken with paralysis.

"Oh! that is impossible," he said at last. "No one knows of our
accident."

"All New York will know it to-morrow," she said, bitterly. "Ill news
flies apace. To-morrow the finger of scorn will be lifted against me on
every hand. Perhaps even Mr. Lawrence will turn me out of doors."

The reproach and passion had died out of her voice. It was full of
pathetic pity for her own sorrow.

"Surely it cannot be as bad as you fear," said Lance, startled and
troubled.

"Alas! it is too sadly true!" she said, mournfully.

"What can I do to remedy your trouble?" he inquired, his native
chivalry rising to the surface in defense of the woman he had
unwittingly injured.

"What _can_ a man do in such cases?" she asked, in a low and meaning
tone.

"Marry, I suppose?" he said, after a long hesitation.

"Yes," she answered, quietly.

Silence fell for the space of a few moments. Lance drove on
mechanically, drawing his breath hard like a hunted animal.

He roused himself at last and spoke in a cold, constrained, unnatural
tone.

"Then I will marry you, Mrs. Vance," he said. "I cannot promise to love
you, nay, I can hardly give you the respect I would think the natural
due of some other woman. But since I have injured your honor I will give
you the shelter of my name."

"Thanks, a thousand thanks," she murmured.



CHAPTER XXXIII.


Mr. Shelton did not think it expedient to communicate to Mr. Lawrence
the startling fact that the beloved daughter whom he mourned as dead was
yet numbered among the living.

He had not the heart to give him this joyful assurance and then offset
it by the statement that she was immured somewhere in the walls of a
prison in the power of two wicked and unscrupulous men.

He determined, if possible, to trace out her whereabouts and rescue her
before revealing the whole truth to the sorrowing father.

He therefore compromised the matter by telling a portion only of the
truth to the banker.

Namely, that he had traced the body of the young girl to a certain house
in the suburbs, but that it had been removed thence when he went to look
for it, and that he was following up a new clew which he confidently
hoped would soon lead to its recovery.

He also added the fact that Doctor Pratt and Harold Colville were the
guilty parties in the matter.

Mr. Lawrence was anxious at first to have these two men arrested and
forced to acknowledge their guilt and return the missing body, but he
yielded to Mr. Shelton's contrary persuasions on being assured that such
a proceeding might result in the disastrous failure of his plan.

"For though we might imprison them, Mr. Lawrence," said he, "the rigor
of the law could not force them to divulge their dreadful secret unless
they chose to do so. It is only too probable that they would maintain
the most obstinate silence on the subject. Therefore let them go free a
little longer, and let us oppose cunning to cunning, and fraud to fraud
until we attain our end."

The banker acquiesced, and the detective hurried away, for he was
resolved that the wily schemers should not elude him again as they had
certainly done on the occasion of the removal of Lily Lawrence from the
Leverets' house.

Once more he and his faithful colleague took up their task of espionage,
but it was unavailing for weeks. Harold Colville had conceived a dim
suspicion that he was watched, and was therefore doubly vigilant and
wary. For more than a month he did not visit Lily, but contented himself
by receiving cautious bulletins of her welfare from Doctor Heath,
weekly. The messages went through the mails and were directed to a
fictitious address.

In these careful weeks a new scheme was revolving in Colville's brain,
always fertile in evil. He was growing heartily tired and impatient at
Lily's obstinacy, and was frightened lest some unforeseen accident
should snatch his lovely prize from him. He began to realize that Lily
would never yield her consent to become his wife, yet he swore to
himself that he would never give her up. He determined, therefore, on a
forced marriage.

"What do you think of it?" said he to his familiar, Pratt, after
detailing his fears and anxieties to that worthy, and stating his final
resolution. "Would that do?"

"Excellently well," said Pratt, who began to feel as anxious as Colville
about the obstinacy of their prisoner. "It is the best thing we can do.
Our position is becoming environed with difficulties. If we had not
removed her from Leveret's just in the nick of time, that detective,
Shelton, who found the bodies of Haidee and Peter, must inevitably have
discovered her, and ere this hour we must both have seen the inside of a
prison. Yes, it would be infinitely wiser to force a marriage with the
perverse little jade and carry her off to Europe if need be. Seeing
herself thus irrevocably bound to you, she would understand that her
only hope of happiness lay in reconciliation and she would act
accordingly."

"Marry it shall be then," said Colville, with a brightening face. "But
when, and by whom? Could we find a priest who would read the ceremony
over us under the peculiar circumstances of the case?"

"Never fear for that," said Pratt, laughing. "I can find you a priest in
New York who would do the deed without any twinges of conscience for a
pocket full of money. Leave that to me, and when I have found him I will
report progress and you shall name the happy day."

"It will be a speedy bridal if I am allowed to usurp the lady's usual
prerogative and name the day," returned Colville, in a fine humor with
himself at the near prospect of his union with the beautiful Lily.

"It will be better to allow her the chance of doing so," replied Pratt,
sarcastically. "Ladies are great sticklers for these small points of
etiquette, you know. After we have settled the preliminaries we will
slip out there some dark night in disguise and acquaint her with the
good fortune in store for her, and give her a chance to yield
gracefully. Should she still refuse we will make no more ado about it,
but take the priest out there next day and marry the beauty
willy-nilly."

"It is settled, then," said Colville, "and I shall write myself
'Benedick, the happy man.' But, apropos of that, Pratt, whom do you
imagine the chained prisoner found at Leveret's could be? I had no idea
the devils were carrying on such a double game."

"Nor I," said Pratt. "I have indulged in a great many surmises
respecting that mysterious prisoner, but cannot arrive at anything
satisfactory."

"Have you fancied it might be _Fanny_?" inquired Colville, fearfully,
while drops of perspiration broke out upon his brow.

"Yes, I have fancied it might be she," answered Pratt, coolly. "Perhaps
old Peter and Haidee played us false, and did not kill her as you
desired. We were not strict enough with them. We should have demanded a
sight of the body for our assurance."

"Where is the woman they found?" asked Colville.

"I have tried to learn her whereabouts diligently," said Doctor Pratt,
"but only ended by asking myself the same question you asked now. It is
rather strange, too; I should have thought there would be no difficulty,
but there seems to be a mystery connected with her removal."

"If I could find her, and it prove to be Fanny, I would kill her,"
muttered Colville, with a fearful oath.

"Perhaps she is dead already," replied the physician. "The papers
described her as being too far gone to give her name or any evidence
regarding herself. Probably she has succumbed to her great weakness and
died."

"I hope so," replied the other, "for I have felt horribly afraid that
she might prove to be Fanny."

"The killing of those two wretches was a most mysterious affair,"
remarked Pratt, musingly.

"Have you any suspicion as to the perpetrator?" asked Harold Colville.

"Not the slightest. It is a most mysterious affair to me. The wildest
conjecture fails to fathom it."

"Whoever the mysterious poisoner may be he has my sincere thanks and
best wishes," said Harold Colville, sardonically. "I owed the wretches a
grudge for their attempt on Lily's life!"

"Yes, their death is eminently satisfactory to me," remarked Pratt. "I
was casting about in my mind for some safe way to punish their perfidy
without getting into trouble myself, when this opportune accident to
their health stepped in between me and my meditated revenge. A pious
person might almost call it an intervention of Providence.

"I dare say we should have called it an intervention of the devil if we
had not been fortunate enough to carry my lady off safely the night
before it happened," laughed Colville.

"After all, their plot to kill her was rather fortunate, since we came
in just in time to frustrate it," answered Pratt, "for if they had not
conspired against her life we should not have thought of removing her
that night and she must have fallen into the detective's hands on the
ensuing day."

"The devil takes care of his own. I am certain his satanic majesty
helped us in that affair," was the laughing reply.

The two villains continued to indulge in these pleasing retrospections
of the past for some minutes, then separated, the physician going off
on his medical duties, and the man about town to some of his familiar
haunts of dissipation.

As they emerged from the hotel, each man, unconsciously to himself, was
followed by another man who stole forth from the corridors of the
building.

One of those men--the same who now followed Pratt--had been outside of
Colville's door, with his ear glued to the keyhole during the progress
of their interesting conversation. It was Mr. Shelton, the detective.

How little the two conspirators dreamed of what ears had listened to
their nefarious schemes of forcing their victim into a loathsome
marriage by the aid of some priest who disgraced the holy robe he wore
by such sacrilege.

Fate was weaving her web silently but rapidly around the two wicked
plotters, and ere long they would receive their reward.

Mr. Shelton had learned several facts unknown to him before while
listening to that private conversation. He resumed his weary task of
espionage, infused with new hope and courage, feeling within himself the
consciousness that he must and would succeed.



CHAPTER XXXIV.


Lancelot Darling's unfortunate sleigh-riding accident had achieved for
Mrs. Vance a victory that all her previous arts and maneuvers had failed
to conquer.

Lancelot's noble and chivalrous spirit could not brook the thought that
any woman's fair name should suffer through his fault or accident.

He therefore fell an easy victim to her artful wiles, and prepared to
sacrifice himself on the altar of her imperious will, while deploring
with all the passion of his manly nature the cause that demanded it.

"I thought myself the most miserable of all men on earth before this
happened," said he to Mr. Lawrence, after confiding to him his unhappy
position. "Life has held nothing but despair for me since Lily died. But
now that I must take to my heart, in place of my worshiped darling, this
mature woman, with her bold beauty and coquettish arts, I feel myself,
if possible, driven nearer than before to the verge of madness."

"I believe you are sacrificing yourself unnecessarily, my boy," said the
banker, warmly, for he saw through the widow's arts directly, and
lamented the chivalrous nature that made Lance become her prey easily.
"I believe Mrs. Vance, in order to secure a rich husband, has
represented matters in a much stronger light than truth would sanction.
Your unfortunate accident is unknown save to a few, and by a timely
whisper to those who are cognizant of it, it need never transpire to the
world. And even if it should there is no harm in it."

"It would be impossible to convince Mrs. Vance of that," said Lance,
with a heavy sigh.

"Because she does not desire to be convinced of it," said the banker,
grimly. "In her eagerness to secure you she will make the most of her
small capital that she may delude you into becoming her husband."

Lance felt that Mr. Lawrence spoke the truth; but he was too modest and
honorable to tell his friend of the previous attempt of the wily widow
to secure him by her bold declaration of love. He felt that he had
gotten into her toils, and that she would never allow him to extricate
himself; so he answered, sadly enough:

"Be that as it may I have given her my word to make her my wife, and I
cannot now withdraw from it."

"You would if you were of my mind, though," said his friend; "you are at
least ten years younger than she is, Lance, and the match is totally
unsuitable. Take my advice and withdraw from it. Make over to her a sum
of money. Perhaps that would heal her wounded honor."

"I do not think she would release me on any terms were I brave enough to
propose it," said Lance; "and to tell you the truth," he added, with a
blush, "I actually believe that the woman really loves me."

Mr. Lawrence laughed at the blush and the assertion.

"Perhaps she does," he admitted. "I suppose that would not be difficult
for her to do. Women run mad over handsome faces, you know. But,
seriously, Lance, jesting aside, I would be off with the whole thing. If
you loved her it would be different. She is handsome enough to grace
your home and queen it royally there. But to burden yourself with an
unloved wife will be like hanging a mill-stone about your neck."

"I wish I could take your advice, sir," said Lance; "but I think it
would be useless to try to get loose from Mrs. Vance. She is quite
determined to write her name Mrs. Darling."

"How soon does she propose to immolate her victim on the altar of
sacrifice?" inquired the banker, grimly.

"At a very early day," answered the young man. "The twenty-fourth of
December is her choice."

"Shameful!" ejaculated the banker. "She is determined to push her power
to the utmost. And you permitted it?"

"Naming the day is the lady's prerogative, you know, sir," said Lance,
bitterly. "I confess I did hint for a rather longer extension of my
bachelor freedom; but she asserted that the peculiar circumstances
attending our engagement would not admit of farther delay."

"She was afraid you might possibly escape her toils if you were afforded
a longer time in which to reflect on your position," asserted Mr.
Lawrence. "Well, Lance, if you are determined to sacrifice yourself for
a scruple of overstrained chivalry I need not urge you further. It would
be useless. I am tempted to drive the deceitful jade forth from the
shelter of my roof within the hour."

"Oh, pray do not," said Lance, earnestly. "It would only precipitate the
evil day of our union. She would claim my protection immediately then."

"It is very probable she would. For your sake, then, Lance, I will let
her remain, and even allow her marriage to take place in my house; but
I can never like or respect her again, even as your wife."

"I will leave you to make the truth known to Ada," continued Lancelot,
bitterly; "do not allow her to believe that I am faithless to Lily's
precious memory, Mr. Lawrence."

"I will tell her the whole truth," answered Mr. Lawrence, deeply moved.

Lance went away, and Mr. Lawrence hastened to communicate the
astonishing news to Ada, who was confined to her sofa with her sprained
ankle.

"Papa, I am not so surprised as you expect me to be," said the young
girl, frankly. "I have long seen that Mrs. Vance was using every art in
her power to win poor Lance. Indeed, I incurred her everlasting
displeasure some time ago by boldly charging her with it. She did not
deny it, but retaliated by saying that I wanted him myself. She seized
upon the occurrence of last night as a pretext for winning what she has
long been angling for--the hand of our poor, unhappy Lance."

"He will live to repent his boyish notion of chivalry, I am sure," he
added; changing the subject abruptly, "I called on young Philip St. John
to-day, and thanked him for his friendliness to you last night, and
invited him to dinner. I had to show him some attention, you know," he
said, observing the flush that colored Ada's cheek so suddenly. "You do
not object, I hope?"

"Oh, no, no," she murmured; "he was exceedingly kind."

"He is a very superior young man," said the banker, cordially. "Well
born, wealthy, and a lawyer by profession. He is a particular friend of
Lance, which in itself is a recommendation to any young man," continued
Mr. Lawrence, in whose eyes Lancelot Darling appeared the _beau ideal_
of human perfection.

If Mrs. Vance had expected to be congratulated by the banker and his
daughter upon her approaching marriage she was doomed to disappointment.
Neither one of them alluded to it at all, though she knew that Lance had
told them, and that they resented her conduct bitterly by the cold and
altered manner, almost amounting to contempt, with which they treated
her.

She was obliged to broach the matter to Mr. Lawrence herself, coupled
with a modest request for the funds wherewith to purchase as elaborate a
_trousseau_ as could be gotten in the short time intervening between
then and Christmas.

Mr. Lawrence, in the grimmest and coldest manner imaginable, presented
her with a check for a thousand dollars, and with profuse thanks she
hurried out to expend it in finery.

She was very happy now in the coming fulfillment of her cherished
desire, and no coldness, not even the lowering shadow on Lance's face
when he came and went, had power to alter her imperious will.

To win him she had steeped her hands in human blood and risked the
dangers of the scaffold. It was not likely she would relent now, when
the sin and sorrow lay behind her in the past, and the happy
consummation of all her efforts loomed brightly before her.

She went on blithely with her task of preparation for the grand event,
seeing dressmakers and milliners daily, and leaving herself no time for
retrospection in her whirl of engagements. And time, that "waits for no
man," hurried on and brought the day of fate.



CHAPTER XXXV.


Slowly and wearily passed the days to the poor captive girl immured in
the midst of Doctor Heath's insane patients.

She was kept closely confined to her room, seeing no one at all except
the kind-hearted attendant, Mary Brown, and occasionally Doctor Heath.
Both these persons, in spite of her agonized assertions and
explanations, persisted in regarding her as a lunatic.

Immured in a madhouse, startled and frightened daily by the insane
shrieks of the mad people about her, and regarded as insane herself,
Lily's heart sank within her, and she began to fear that her mind would
indeed give way under her trials, and she would become in reality the
melancholy maniac they pretended to believe her.

But she had at least one comfort in the midst of her troubles. She had
been spared for nearly two months the odious visits of Harold Colville
and his confederate, Doctor Pratt.

She could not conjecture why she had been thus highly favored, but
congratulated herself all the same upon the fact.

If she had known the real truth of the matter, that they believed
themselves watched and were afraid to venture near her, she would have
felt her heart leap with new hope at the knowledge; but her long
imprisonment and many trials had worn out hope in her breast. She
believed that death was the only friend that would intervene to save her
from Harold Colville.

She sat sadly musing before her fire one night, when the loud ringing of
the bell below startled her from her dreaming, and the thought that she
was about to receive a visit from her captors darted into her mind.

Ten minutes elapsed and she began to feel relieved and believe herself
mistaken, when footsteps were heard upon the stairs, and presently the
two wretches entered her room.

They had remained below long enough to remove their disguises, without
which they had been afraid to visit her.

They would not have felt so secure if they had known that the lynx-eyed
detective, Mr. Shelton, was pacing up and down the road in front of the
house, laughing in his sleeve at the ineffectual trouble they had taken
in disguising themselves.

Mr. Shelton had seen this house before, knew that it was a madhouse, was
acquainted with the name of the proprietor, and knew also that he was
suspected at the police headquarters of being engaged in a fraudulent
business, and that a descent upon the house for the purpose of verifying
suspicion was meditated.

"Ah! Miss Lawrence, good-evening," said Doctor Pratt, airily. "I trust
you find yourself in better health and spirits than when we last met."

Lily turned her head away without replying, while Colville, bending over
her, whispered gallantly:

"Ah, my obdurate fair one, have you relented yet?"

"No," answered Lily, briefly and coldly, withdrawing the hand he had
tried to take in his own.

"I hoped your mind had changed in the long interval since we last met,"
said he, taking a seat near her.

Doctor Pratt had already taken a chair by the grated window.

"You were mistaken," she answered, coldly, as before.

"I think you will admit that I have waited long and patiently on your
pleasure, Lily," said he, in a tone of expostulation.

Lily lifted her large blue eyes for a moment and looked at him with a
glance in which contempt and weariness were blended.

"Mr. Colville," she said, quietly, "pray spare yourself the useless
discussion of that subject. You had my answer long ago. I assure you my
decision is unalterable."

"But, Lily, reflect a moment. Would not a union with me be preferable to
a lifetime of isolation and weariness here?"

"No," she answered, steadily. "Even the wretched existence I drag out
here among the insane inhabitants of this place is far more welcome to
me than the hated thought of a union with you!"

"I am sorry you think so," he answered, in tones of bitter sarcasm, "as,
unfortunately, I do not propose to give you any choice in the matter."

"What do you mean?" she inquired, with a thrill of indefinable fear
creeping coldly around her heart.

He saw the look of terror that came into her eyes, and, villain though
he was, he hesitated before speaking out what was in his mind. He
glanced at Dr. Pratt and took courage from the gleam of that villain's
eyes.

"I mean," he answered, in a low voice of concentrated rage and
bitterness, "that your obstinacy has at length worn out my patience, and
I have determined to take my own way in the matter regardless of your
will."

"What are you going to do?" she asked, in a quivering voice, while her
young face blanched to a deathly hue.

"I am going to make you my wife without your consent," he answered,
grimly.

"You cannot!" she answered, with dilating eyes and a trembling voice.
"It would be no marriage if I refused to consent."

"So much the worse for you, then," he answered, laughing harshly, "for
the marriage ceremony shall certainly be read over us, and that will be
entirely sufficient for me. I shall surely consider you my wife, then,
and take you to my heart without further scruples."

"No holy man of God would perform such an unhallowed ceremony," said she
incredulously.

"Do not delude yourself thus, my sweet girl," he laughed mockingly. "A
_bona fide_ priest is already engaged for the important occasion. Will
you be pleased to appoint the happy day?"

"Never!" she flashed out bitterly.

"You force me then to usurp your feminine privilege," he answered
coolly. "And in that case your womanly vanity can of course pardon the
impatient ardor of a lover who has waited humbly and patiently as I have
done. To-morrow, then, shall witness our bridal!"

"To-morrow!" she cried, springing up and clasping her small hands
together in helpless agony. "To-morrow! Oh! no, you do not mean it! You
will not be so cruel?"

"You will see!" he answered. "I have made every preparation for the
event, even to our bridal tour. To-morrow a steamer leaves her wharf for
Europe. I have secured our passage, and this morning sent aboard of her
a trunk well filled with feminine apparel for your use during the
voyage. Of course you will select your bridal _trousseau_ after we
arrive at Paris. I shall not deny my beautiful bride any luxury. It only
remains for me to inform you that I will bring a priest out here
to-morrow, and our marriage shall be duly celebrated before we take
passage for the Old World."

Lily remained standing, gazing at the scheming villain with dilated blue
eyes, and lips and cheeks blanched to the pallid whiteness of death.

Harold Colville laughed mockingly.

"You may stare, fair one," he said. "To-morrow shall see you my wife. No
power can save you."

"No power!" she repeated, gazing at him with flashing eyes. "No power!
Oh! blasphemer, do you forget that there is a God above who cares for
the innocent and punishes the guilty? Beware, lest His vengeance fall
upon you in the hour of your fancied triumph!"

She looked like some beautiful, inspired prophetess as she faced him
with a lifted hand that seemed to menace him with evil.

Her golden hair had become loosened from its fastenings and streamed
over her shoulders, gleaming around her lovely pallid features like a
halo of light.

For a moment Harold Colville quailed before her with something like fear
of that dread tribunal with whose vengeance she threatened him.

His heart sank strangely within him, while hers, for the moment,
thrilled with a presentiment of coming deliverance.

Surely if "coming events cast their shadows before," both the guilty
Harold Colville and the wronged Lily Lawrence were gifted with a
momentary prescience of that which was hastening to them in the near
future.

Doctor Pratt saw the subtle shadow settling over Colville's pale
features, and arose hastily.

"Come, come, Miss Lawrence," he said harshly. "These tragedy airs would
be very fine on the stage, but they are out of place here. Spare
yourself so much unnecessary exertion; you will most certainly become
Mr. Colville's wife to-morrow. Instead of this useless defiance let me
advise you to cultivate a spirit of meekness and submission. It is
useless to threaten us with the punishment of God. We do not believe in
Him!"

She was walking restlessly up and down the floor, and made him no
answer, save one scathing flash from her brilliant eyes. He turned away
with a laugh of derision.

"Come, Colville, let us go," he said. "Other matters demand our
attention now. We must arrange matters with Dr. Heath before we go."

Colville paused at the door and looked at the young girl restlessly
pacing the floor.

"To-morrow, then, my fair and obdurate love," said he. "To-morrow! Until
then, adieu!"

No word or motion betrayed that she heard him.

He closed and locked the door, going away with the exultant thought that
this was his last parting from his beautiful captive.

She heard the sound of the receding footsteps, and fell on her knees,
lifting up her convulsed face in a passionate appeal to God that He
would deliver her from the snares of these wicked men.

They went down-stairs and were closeted some time with Doctor Heath.

When they went away a large roll of bills was passed from the purse of
Harold Colville to the pocket of the complacent little insane-doctor.
Then resuming their disguises they took leave.

"To-morrow, then," said Colville, as they descended the steps, speaking
thoughtlessly aloud. "To-morrow we shall return, and with the worthy
priest's assistance, I shall bear away my unwilling bride."

"Hush! do not speak so loud," said Doctor Pratt, cautiously. "The very
stones have ears."

They sprang into their carriage and drove rapidly away.

Then a dark form that had been crouching beneath the steps came out and
straightened its cramped limbs.

"To-morrow," he repeated, with a low, exultant laugh. "To-morrow! Ah!
what a happy day to-morrow will be to some sorrowing hearts that I know
of. Take courage, sweet Lily Lawrence! To-morrow shall see you restored
to the arms of your father and your lover! Let me see--to-morrow is the
twenty-fourth of December. What a triumphant Christmas eve it will be
for me!"

He walked on some distance to where he had secured his horse, and
mounting him in haste, rode away full of plans for his next day's happy
mission to sorrowing hearts.



CHAPTER XXXVI.


It was the twenty-fourth of December and Mr. Lawrence sat alone in his
elegant office at the bank, musing sadly before the glowing fire in the
grate.

The banker looked worn and sad, and now and then a heavy sigh parted his
well-cut lips, and a dimness crept over his fine blue eyes.

He was thinking of his beautiful elder daughter whose tragic death had
well-nigh broken his fatherly heart.

He brushed his handkerchief across his eyes and sighed heavily.

There was a knock at the door and a clerk entered with Mr. Shelton's
card.

"Ah!" said Mr. Lawrence. "Show the gentleman in, Mr. Styles."

Mr. Shelton entered with suppressed excitement beaming from every
feature. His greeting ceremonies were brief and hurried.

"Mr. Lawrence," he said directly, "I have a carriage in waiting outside.
Will you do me the honor to ride several miles with me this morning?"

"You have made some important discovery?" exclaimed Mr. Lawrence, rising
excitedly.

"Yes," answered the detective, "but I cannot explain until we are on our
way. We have not a minute to spare!"

They hurried out and took their places in the carriage.

"Driver, you have your directions," said the detective to the man on the
box. "Do not forget. Drive fast and overtake the other carriage if
possible--if not, try and get within sight of it at least."

"Is there another carriage?" inquired the banker, bewildered.

"Yes," said Mr. Shelton. "I have sent a carriage ahead of us containing
four policemen, and they are secretly following another carriage. The
first carriage contains Doctor Pratt, Harold Colville, and a priest.
They are on the way to the place where the body of your daughter is
concealed, and we are on our way to secure and arrest them."

"You are perfectly certain, I hope," said Mr. Lawrence, trembling with
excitement.

"Yes, success is assured," said Mr. Shelton, with a ring of triumph in
his clear tone.

"Thank God!" exclaimed the banker fervently. "At last my poor Lily's
desecrated corpse may rest in a fitting sanctuary."

He leaned over and wrung the detective's hand gratefully.

"God bless you, my friend, for the patience and perseverance that have
brought this result at last," he said.

The detective was deeply moved by the emotion of the elder man.

"Mr. Lawrence," said he, bending forward and speaking in low, impressive
tones, "prepare yourself for a wonderful revelation! Are you strong
enough to bear tidings of great joy?"

"What do you mean, Mr. Shelton?" inquired the banker with a start.
"Alas! what joyful tidings can come to me, broken-hearted as I am at the
loss of my daughter?"

The detective leaned forward and laid his hand on the banker's arm.

"Mr. Lawrence," he said, in a voice that vibrated with feeling, "it is
not the corpse of your daughter that I am about to restore to the
desecrated vault, but the _living_, beautiful Lily that will be given
back to your heart and your home!"

Mr. Lawrence fell back against the cushion of the carriage like one
stricken with death, so great was the shock of the detective's
revelation. Mr. Shelton took a small flask from his pocket, and forced
some wine between his white and gasping lips.

"I feared these joyful tidings would unnerve you," said he, gently.
"Calm yourself, my dear sir. Your daughter, whom you have mourned as
dead, yet lives. It was her own living self that you saw in your hall
that night, not her spirit!"

"Oh! God be thanked! Lily lives!" repeated the banker in a low voice of
ecstasy.

Shelton put his head out of the carriage window a moment.

"We have caught up with the officers' hack," said he. "Now we are all
right. Driver, just keep on at your present pace. We do not need to go
faster."

"Every moment seems an hour," exclaimed the banker, in a fever of
anxiety and impatience. "Oh, to think that my darling lives! And yet,
oh, God! what would be her feelings on learning that her betrothed will
wed another to-night!"

"Do not distress yourself about that marriage, Mr. Lawrence," answered
the detective. "I assure you it shall never be consummated."

"Ah! you think she will generously yield him to Lily when she finds that
she is still living?" said the banker; "but you do not know Mrs. Vance.
Nothing would induce her to release her victim from the toils she has
wound about him."

"Perhaps I know more of Mrs. Vance than you suppose," said Mr. Shelton.
"For instance, Mr. Lawrence, you believe that your daughter committed
suicide--do you not?"

"It was the jury's verdict," said the banker.

"Mr. Lawrence, your daughter was as happy and as much in love with life
as you believed her to be. She never attempted to commit suicide," said
the detective, firmly.

"She did not? Then who--what--?" began the banker, in a maze of
bewilderment.

"The dagger that pierced her innocent breast was driven home by the
murderous hand of Mrs. Vance!" was the reply.

Fear, horror and amazement were blended on the pale, excited features of
the listener. His gray head fell back against the cushions of the
carriage, and he struggled helplessly for speech in which to express his
feelings. Mr. Shelton again had recourse to his convenient flask of
wine.

"I fear I am exciting you too much with my astonishing revelations,"
said the detective, kindly. "I do not wonder at your emotion, for my own
agitation at learning these facts was great. How much more poignant must
your feelings be than mine were, under the circumstances that affect you
so closely."

"The viper! The serpent that stung the hand that warmed and fed her!"
exclaimed the banker, bitterly.

"You may well say so," said Mr. Shelton. "She has indeed proved herself
a monster of ingratitude! But to-day she will find herself foiled and
ruined. She has but a few hours remaining to her now of her fancied
security and happiness."

"God be thanked!" said the banker; "and, oh! Mr. Shelton, are we almost
there? The time seems so long. Forgive a father's impatience, but you
cannot imagine what suspense I suffer, what longings overwhelm me at the
thought that I shall soon clasp my darling Lily to my heart again!"

"We shall soon be there now. Patience, my friend," said the detective.
"Believe me, I sympathize in your impatience to behold your daughter
again."

"You are a noble fellow, Mr. Shelton," said the banker. "You will not
find me ungrateful."

The carriage slackened its pace, and Mr. Shelton put his head out of the
window.

"We are there," he exclaimed in a voice that trembled with excitement
and triumph, while his manly, handsome features beamed with joy.

The carriage stopped and Mr. Shelton descended, followed by the banker,
who trembled so that he could scarcely stand upon the ground.

The four officers had already descended from their vehicle and stood
respectfully awaiting Mr. Shelton's approach. The empty carriage of
Pratt and Colville stood in waiting before the door.

At a word from Mr. Shelton they all ascended the steps, and the
detective rang a furious peal upon the bell.

The summons was unanswered. Mr. Shelton rang again and again with a like
result.

"What will you do now?" asked Mr. Lawrence, in a perfect fever of dread
and impatience.

"Burst in the door!" said the detective, in a ringing voice.

At the word the four officers fell to furiously with their clubs upon
the door. A few moments of their impetuous battering sufficed to burst
it in, and they all bounded tumultuously into the hall.

A neat-looking maid-servant stood at the bottom of the stairway, looking
frightened and indignant. It was none other than Mary Brown.

"Woman," said Mr. Shelton, imperiously, "lead the way to Miss Lawrence's
room immediately!"

"It's against orders, sir," said Mary, sullenly.

"No matter, do as I bid you!" thundered the impatient detective.

"Miss Lawrence has company, sir, and the orders are not to admit any
one."

"Push her aside, men; we will hunt for Miss Lawrence ourselves," said
the detective sternly.

Strong hands forced Mary aside from her position on the stairway.
Several domestics, attracted by the noise, had hastened up from the
regions of the basement and stood staring stupidly, but did not offer
any resistance to the officers' power. The men began to mount the stairs
rapidly, and Mary Brown rushed frantically after them.

"Oh! for the Lord's sake, gentlemen," she panted, "don't burst in the
doors up-stairs, and let the poor crazy people out upon us. They will
murder us all."

"Will you do as we told you, then?" asked the detective, sharply.

"Oh! yes, yes," whimpered Mary, running along in front of them. "This
way, gentlemen."

She stopped, at length, and indicated the door. It was locked, but the
officers' clubs demolished it directly, and not a moment too soon were
they for what was progressing within that room.

The villanous priest who was desecrating his holy office by this
sacrilege, stood in the center of the floor with his prayer-book open at
the marriage service, from which he was slowly reading. Colville stood
in front of him, and the united efforts of the worthy doctors, Pratt and
Heath, were employed in holding up the form of Lily Lawrence beside him.

With a scream of horror Mr. Lawrence rushed forward, and snatching his
daughter from their villanous hold, he folded her tightly to his heart.
She looked up an instant with a wild and piercing shriek, and seeing the
beloved face of her father, dropped unconscious in his loving arms.



CHAPTER XXXVII.


"Harold Colville, Doctor Pratt and Doctor Heath, you are under arrest,"
cried the detective, in a ringing voice that fell on the ears of the
villanous trio like the trump of doom. "Officers, secure your men."

There was a brief struggle, accompanied by loud cries and oaths, then
the superior power of the policemen triumphed, and each man had his
prisoner handcuffed and reduced to grim silence. The fourth officer had
collared the fat little priest, who was struggling in his grasp.

In the meantime Mr. Lawrence had been vainly striving to restore the
consciousness of his fainting daughter. He had laid her upon the bed,
and was wildly chafing her cold hands, while he called her by every term
of love his fond affection could devise.

"Here, woman," said Mr. Shelton to Mary Brown, who lingered in the hall
looking in at the scene, "come and lend a hand in reviving the young
lady. She has fainted."

Mary hurried in with alacrity, and Lily was soon restored to partial
consciousness, to the great delight of her father. She lay quite still,
with half-open eyes, contemplating the banker's face with an expression
of languid ecstasy, though she trembled excessively.

"I must get my prisoners away at once," said Mr. Shelton. "Do you think
you are strong enough to return to the city with us now, Miss Lawrence?"

She looked up in languid inquiry at the strange yet kindly voice
addressing her so respectfully, and made an effort to rise, but fell
backward wearily. Doctor Pratt turned about sullenly.

"In my character of a physician," said he, shortly, "I would advise you
not to remove the young lady for several hours. She needs complete rest
for a little while to recover from the shock she has sustained. You can
take my advice or not, as it pleases you."

Mr. Shelton looked at the banker. He in turn looked inquiringly at the
pale face of his daughter.

She answered in feeble tones:

"Perhaps he is right. I feel completely exhausted now. Allow me an
interval of rest, and then, oh! how gladly I will leave this place with
you, dear papa."

"I will take these men into the city, then," said the detective, "and
return for you, Mr. Lawrence, as we intend to search the house
thoroughly. It is strongly suspected that some persons as sane as you or
I are confined here through the wickedness of their relatives and the
connivance of this man, Dr. Heath. I will leave two officers on guard
here while I am away."

He went out, followed by the officers with their prisoners. Mary Brown
followed after, and the banker was left alone with the daughter who had
been so strangely restored to him after he had mourned her as dead for
many months. He bent down and clasped her in his arms, and his joyful
tears rained upon her sweet, white face.

A smile of heavenly sweetness beamed on her pale face. She lay still a
little while, nestling against her father's breast, trying to picture to
herself the ineffable sweetness of the re-union that awaited her. She
pictured to herself the happiness that would shine in the dark eyes of
her lover when she came back to him as one from the dead. Her heart
began to beat tumultuously, and a tinge of color crept into her wasted
cheeks. She closed her eyes to shut out the hateful sight of her prison
walls, and fancied herself at home with the loved ones instead.

In the meantime Mr. Lawrence was gazing sadly on her pale and wasted
features, marking the mournful ravages privation and sorrow had worked
in that once blooming face.

"My Lily," he said, in a tone of anguish, taking up one delicate hand
and looking at the blue veins wandering so clearly over its surface,
"you have grown to be a lily indeed. How white and wan you look."

She trembled and clung closer to his breast.

"Ah! papa," she murmured, "they tried to starve me into compliance with
their wishes. But though my strength failed and my beauty faded, I would
not give up, though I thought I should have died with the weakness and
the horror of it all."

"The devils!" exclaimed Mr. Lawrence, smothering a stronger malediction
between his lips.

"Papa," she said, in her weak tones, "you know all, do you not? How Mrs.
Vance hated me for Lancelot's sake? How she tried to murder me?"

"Yes, my dear," he answered, gently. "Thank God, her wicked attempt did
not succeed. A terrible retribution awaits her."

"Papa, I can forgive her now since I am restored to you all again," said
Lily, sweetly. "Cannot we let her go away and not punish her for her
cruelty? I hated her at first, but that is all over with now since she
has failed in her endeavor. You know it was all because she loved my
Lancelot."

"My love," said the banker, "your sweet forgiveness is angelic; but the
secret of Mrs. Vance's crime is in other hands than mine. However much
we might wish to shield her from the consequences of her sin we could
not do so. The law will have to take its course."

He did not tell her of the marriage that was to take place between her
lover and Mrs. Vance that night. In her weak state he feared to shock
her by the disclosure. He hoped that they would reach home before the
appointed time, and forestall the dreaded event, and he resolved that
the knowledge of it should never come to Lily's hearing.

Mr. Shelton returned in a few hours and instituted a search. As he had
suspected, several sane persons were found confined in the house, and
these were set at liberty, swearing deadly vengeance against Dr. Heath
and sundry wicked relatives. The evening was far advanced, and the
detective began to see the necessity of his hastening Miss Lawrence away
if they were to reach Fifth avenue in time to stop the contemplated
marriage of Lancelot to Mrs. Vance. He accordingly stated the fact to
Mr. Lawrence.

Lily was feeling stronger and better, and declared her desire to start
immediately. The carriage was made as comfortable as possible with
pillows and cushions, and the young girl was lifted tenderly into it.

They then set forth rapidly on their journey, but the early winter
twilight had given place to night before they reached the banker's
house.

Lily's heart beat rapidly as they reached home. She remembered the last
time she had glided up those steps, worn and weary, but, oh! so happy in
the prospect of reunion with her loved ones, and the cruel hand that had
snatched her away in the moment that she beheld the faces she had so
longed to behold. She clung convulsively to her father's arm as they
stepped upon the pavement.

"Courage, dear," he whispered, feeling how she trembled, and how
nervously she glanced about her. "You are safe, love. No one can harm
you now."

"Oh! papa," she whispered, after her first startled glance around her.
"What does all this mean? Is Ada giving a party?"

Mr. Lawrence glanced up in dismay. He knew what to expect, but he had
fondly hoped to reach home before matters went so far.

The mansion was brilliantly lighted from top to bottom. A silken awning
extended from the house out to the street to shelter the heads of the
guests from the few flying flakes of snow that whirled homelessly
through the bitter cold air. They stepped from the carriage upon an
elegant Turkey carpet that led to the marble steps.

Every arrangement betokened a grand reception, and as they walked
through the wide hall, lined with staring servants, the notes of the
wedding march pealed forth from the grand organ in the music-room.

"Oh, God, if we should be too late!" whispered Mr. Lawrence to the
detective.

"It seems that we are just in time," whispered Mr. Shelton reassuringly.

"Must we take Lily in with us?" asked the banker dubiously.

"Yes," was the firm reply, and at the words all three stepped across the
threshold of the open drawing-room door.

What a startling sight met the eyes of the fair young girl so strangely
restored to her home and loved ones!

The room was crowded with guests, elegantly arrayed, the men in their
fine black reception suits, the women in their satins and laces and
sparkling jewels. Hot-house flowers were in profusion everywhere. A
beautiful horse-shoe, formed with white flowers, depended from the
ceiling, and beneath it Lily saw a group that seemed to freeze the blood
in her veins to solid ice.

Brilliantly beautiful, flushed with love and triumph, Mrs. Vance stood
there in elaborate bridal robes, leaning on the arm of a splendidly
handsome young man. His face was slightly turned away, but Lily knew it
was none other than her own betrothed, Lancelot Darling, who was
listening so calmly there to the opening words of the beautiful marriage
service read by the lips of the white-haired and venerable clergyman. At
one glance she took in the whole appalling scene, and then a shriek of
agony, loud, piercing, horror-stricken, broke from the lips of the
stricken girl, thrilling every heart with terror.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.


So wild and startling was that anguished scream that even the bride and
groom sprang apart and looked toward the door in terror.

Lance saw his lost darling standing there, clinging to the arm of her
father, the dark hood thrown back from her head, and her golden hair
streaming over her shoulders and about her lovely face, now convulsed
with pain and grief.

With a wild prescience of the truth, he rushed forward and with a
ringing cry of joy caught his darling to his heart.

At the same moment the clear, full voice of the detective pealed through
the large apartment thronged with wedding guests, with the suddenness of
a trumpet call.

"Mrs. Vance, I arrest you for the attempted murder of Lily Lawrence, and
that of Haidee and Peter Leveret!"

The detective had instantly recognized her form as that of the woman he
had seen walking in the road near the Leveret house the day of the
murder, and the conviction rushed upon him with the suddenness of a
flash of lightning.

None who were present ever forgot the look of the guilty woman as those
clarion tones fell upon her ears.

Her brain was reeling with horror, her heart beat to suffocation's verge
as she beheld Lancelot clasping her rival to his heart.

When the detective's ringing voice with its dreadful accusation reached
her hearing, she turned her face on him a moment, and its expression of
awful horror and black despair was fearful to behold.

The next instant she threw up her arms with a wail of agony, and fell
down in a writhing heap upon the floor.

The aged minister, who stood nearer to her than the rest of the guests,
hastened to lift her up, though he was trembling so perceptibly he could
hardly stand.

As he raised the dark head on his arm and turned her face upward to the
light, a stream of blood gushed from her lips and poured its crimson
rain upon the stainless whiteness of her bridal robe and veil.

"She has burst a blood vessel," said a physician in the crowd, now
coming forward. "She will die."

The words reached her ears as they knelt around her trying to stanch the
life tide flowing thick and fast from her lips. Her dark eyes opened and
stared up into their faces with a mute despair awful to behold.

She must die! That was the only triumph that was left her out of the
full cup of happiness pressed to her lips overflowingly but a moment
ago! She might cheat the scaffold of its prey--that was all! Life with
all its pleasures and luxuries lay before her just a moment before--now,
darkness and the grave! Like one in a dream she seemed to recall words
carelessly heard in the past that lay behind her forever beyond recall:

"_The wages of sin is death!_"

They gathered around her, the awe-stricken guests, with their pale, pale
faces and gala attire, and looked at her dying before them with the
awful stain of murder on her soul--that beautiful woman with the bridal
wreath crowning her coronal of dark hair, and her satin robe deluged
with her life-blood--such a beautiful, beautiful sinner!

Her haunting eyes roved over their faces restlessly, seeking, seeking
for one face that was not there. _He_ stood apart with Mr. Lawrence and
Ada, showering caresses on the pale, almost fainting girl lying on a
sofa, with her dear ones clustered round her. Mrs. Vance could not see
them, but her quick intuition told her the truth, and the groan that
burst from her lips brought with it a fresh torrent of life-blood.

"She wishes to see someone, I think," said the physician, interpreting
her yearning look.

She gave him a glance of assent, and, with a violent effort, pronounced
almost unintelligibly the name of "Lance."

Mr. Shelton, who had stood beside her, carried the message to Lancelot,
but in his passionate anger against her the young man refused to go, and
the detective went back without him.

"He refuses to see you," he said, with a pitying glance at her ghastly
face.

The streaming blood had ceased to flow for the moment, and as the
physician wiped the stains from her gasping lips, she whispered,
brokenly:

"Bring Lily!"

The gaping throng parted to admit Mr. Shelton, with Lily Lawrence
clinging to his arm. She knelt down, trembling, and took into her own
white, innocent hand the crimson-stained one that had thrust the dagger
into the gentle bosom.

Her blue eyes beamed with the soft compassion of an angel's as she
looked down upon the fallen woman.

"I am here, Mrs. Vance," she said, in her sweet, flute-like voice. "I
am not angry now. I forgive you everything--freely!"

But Mrs. Vance pushed away the hand that held hers as if its soft clasp
hurt her.

"I do not want forgiveness," she gasped, in broken, yet defiant tones.
"I want--Lance. Bring--him--to me."

Silently the young girl turned away, followed by the wondering and
admiring glances of all.

She came back at last, bringing with her the reluctant one for whom the
dying woman waited longingly. He bent down over her, trying to hide his
horror and aversion under a mask of calmness.

The dark eyes, fast growing dim, lighted up with passion as she looked
upon his face.

"I wanted--to tell you," she gasped, faintly, "that--that all
my--sin--was for--love of you, Lance!"

He bowed in silence. He had no words with which to answer her passionate
avowal.

"She is going very fast," said the physician, in a whisper.

Mr. Shelton bent over her.

"Do you confess your crimes?" he inquired, in a low voice.

Her eyes left Lancelot Darling's face one moment, while she gazed into
that of the detective.

"You are--my--accuser?" she faltered.

"I am," he answered, briefly. "Do you confess?"

She did not answer. Her gaze had gone back to Lancelot Darling's face,
searching its cold, immovable outlines longingly. The white-haired man
of God bent over her gently.

"Do you confess your sins?" he inquired.

No answer. Her dying gaze was fixed on the one beloved face to the
exclusion of all other earthly objects. The minister touched her arm
gently.

"I pray you," he said, "do not suffer yourself to die with your
unconfessed sins lying heavy on your soul."

She heard the words, and spoke faintly to her idol:

"What is it they want--of me--Lance?"

"To confess your crimes," he said, coldly. "Oh! Mrs. Vance, are you
indeed guilty of all with which you are accused?"

"All, all!" she murmured, hollowly. "I tried--to kill Lily--first, you
see--then when I felt safe--from detection--old Haidee learned my
secret--and threatened to tell _you_--_you_, my darling! So I poisoned
her and the old man both--to save myself. But, Lance--it was all for
love of you!"

There was neither regret nor repentance in her tone--nothing but
passionate love and despair. He did not answer, and she broke forth
wailingly:

"Oh! Lance, do but say that--you--are sorry--that I must die! Say
that--you might have learned to love me--poor me--if you had not
learned--my fatal secret!"

Lance turned his head away that he might not see the agonized pleading
of her eyes, and seeing that he could not answer her, the minister again
spoke gently:

"Mrs. Vance, the time for human love is over with you now! Look rather
to the Divine love that is able to pardon your sins though they be as
scarlet. Do you repent?"

"Repent!" she echoed, with a wild and chilling laugh. "Repent! No,
never! Were it all to do over again, and the prize the same, I would
wade through seas of blood to reach my darling's heart! All for _love_,
and--my soul--well--lost!"

With the wild, defiant words, a fresh stream of blood poured forth from
her lips.

There was a gasp, a spasmodic tremor of all the features, a convulsive
quiver of the limbs, and the soul of the guilty woman went wandering
forth into the vast arcana of eternity!

"The wages of sin is death."



CHAPTER XXXIX.


On the day that Mr. Lawrence paid the reward of ten thousand dollars to
the detective, Lancelot Darling was present.

He immediately wrote a check for fifteen thousand dollars and tendered
it to Mr. Shelton, saying gracefully:

"Allow me also to testify some slight sense of my gratitude, although
money alone can never pay the great debt we owe you!"

"Our hearty appreciation and faithful friendship shall unfailingly pay
the interest, at least," added the banker cordially.

Mr. Shelton's fine features beamed with pride and joy. He felt a
pardonable elation at the wonders his skill and patience had
accomplished.

He felt within himself the proud consciousness that his indefatigable
perseverance had nobly earned his success.

Within a few weeks he had the pleasure of seeing Doctor Pratt and Harold
Colville sentenced to the penitentiary for a long term of years, and
Doctor Heath also was duly punished for his wickedness.

The testimony of Lily Lawrence and Fanny Colville filled the thronged
court-room with horror on the day of the trial.

Everyone felt that lynching would not be too bad for such villains; but
the sentence of the court was duly carried out, and the wretches were
incarcerated in the penitentiary.

Doctor Pratt served out his sentence faithfully. When it was ended he
left the shores of America for a foreign land, not, as some may suppose,
to repent of his sins, but solely to hide his dishonored head from the
contempt of all who knew him, and begin again under new auspices a
second career of vice and crime.

Harold Colville's patience could not uphold him, as it did his
colleague, the doctor. Solitude and confinement fairly maddened him.

Within a few months after the trial he hung himself in his cell, and
sent his wicked soul forth into the darkness of eternity.

Fanny Colville was thus left a widow, and on producing requisite
evidence that she had been the dead man's wife, inherited his handsome
property.

She took possession of his wealth, feeling herself honestly entitled to
it, purchased a handsome house in the city, and brought her old mother
from the country to live with her, while the friendly Mrs. Mason was
duly installed as her housekeeper.

In the meantime Fanny had paid several visits to Lily Lawrence, and the
two young creatures had exchanged numberless congratulations with each
other on the happy termination of their mutual trials.

"I never should have recognized you, my dear," Lily said frankly at
their first meeting, "if Mr. Shelton had not informed me who was coming.
When I _first_ saw you I could not believe that you were not an old
woman. Now you have grown young and pretty."

Fanny laughed and blushed at the compliment, and it only made her more
attractive. In truth, she deserved Lily's praise.

Her clear, dark complexion began to glow with health and strength. Her
softly rounded cheeks had a soft tint glowing on them like the heart of
a sea-shell.

She had beautiful eyes, large, dark and expressive, and her black hair,
which Mrs. Mason had shingled close to her head, now clustered in short,
silky rings about her brow, adding a charming piquancy to her pretty
face.

Her dress, too, was always as perfectly elegant as wealth and taste
could make it, so that many more beside Lily Lawrence considered the
dark-eyed widow young and pretty.

Mr. Shelton was among the number of those who agreed with Lily.

The forlorn young creature whom he had rescued and cared for had begun
to twine herself about his heart.

He was a bachelor, and forty years old, but his heart was not proof
against Cupid's darts.

Now since Fanny Colville had come into his path of duty, pity and
kindness had grown into love, strong, fervent, and abiding.

He strolled into her drawing-room one day a few months after her
husband's death, and found her sitting cosily before the fire with a bit
of fancy-work lying on her lap.

"I hope I do not disturb you," he said, noting her dreamy look. "You
seemed to be thinking on some very absorbing subject when I entered."

"I was thinking of you, Mr. Shelton," returned the young widow, with a
smile and a slight blush.

"Of me!" exclaimed the detective, observing the blush with a thrill of
pleasure. "I hope your thoughts were agreeable ones."

"They could not be otherwise when I think of my kind friend and
preserver," answered Fanny, giving him a gentle glance from her frank,
dark eyes. "Oh, Mr. Shelton, when I think of myself as I was when you
discovered me in that loathsome dungeon, starving and freezing in my
wretched rags, and delivered me from my bonds--when I remember that and
contrast it with my present happy lot, I feel that I can never repay the
great debt of gratitude I owe you."

"I fear," he said, at length, "that you overestimate the value of the
service I did you, Mrs. Colville. It is true, I suppose that I saved
your life, but what then? Life to many is not as great a boon that they
would thank one for saving it."

"Ah, but they are misanthropic," returned Fanny, brightly. "Life to me,
Mr. Shelton, is a great boon. I love to live! I love to feel the warm
blood rushing through my veins with the ardor of youth and hope. I love
to feel my pulses bounding with life's fitful fever. Oh, Mr. Shelton,
can I do nothing to show my gratitude for all you have done for me?"

The detective drew nearer and took her soft, warm hand impulsively in
his own.

"Yes, dear Fanny," he said, his deep, manly voice trembling with
emotion. "Give me the life I saved for my reward. Give me your own sweet
self for the day-star of my future. Be my wife!"

Blushing and startled, Fanny looked up into his face, but her eyes
drooped swiftly before the great tenderness in his.

The next moment she laid both hands in his and whispered, between April
smiles and tears:

"Take me if I can make you happy. I ask no brighter fate."



CHAPTER XL.


It was the close of New Year's Day, and Lily and Ada Lawrence stood
together in the grand drawing-room, their arms fondly interlaced, the
glow of firelight and gaslight shining down like a blessing on their
golden heads.

Ada was perfectly lovely in an elegant costume of white cashmere and
blue brocaded silk. The only ornaments of her fair girlish beauty were
knots of fragrant blue and white violets.

"My darling sister," said the younger girl affectionately, "you look
very weary. Sit down here in this comfortable arm-chair and rest."

She drew forward the chair as she spoke, but before Lily could seat
herself two more visitors were announced. They were Lancelot Darling and
Philip St. John.

Lancelot's friend was duly presented to Lily, and after a little
friendly chatter Lance stole away with his darling to the quiet library.

"My dearest, I am very selfish," he said to her fondly. "I want you all
to myself, that I may look at you, listen to you, and feel that my
happiness is real, and not a dream from which I may awaken to the pangs
of bereavement!"

They sat down together on a low divan before the glowing fire. Lancelot
drew the golden head down upon his breast and pressed passionate,
lingering kisses on the sweet red lips of his long-lost darling.

"My darling," he whispered, presently, "our wedding-day has been long
deferred, When shall I have the happiness of claiming you before all the
world?"

"Papa and Ada could not bear to give me up yet," said Lily, smiling at
his eagerness.

"I do not want to be selfish, love," he said; "I know you wish to stay
with them a little longer, and I know how hard it would be to them to
give you up now. But you must pity my loneliness and come to me soon."

"I want to get my roses back first," she answered, demurely. "I am so
weak and weary from all that I have suffered that I should be a pale and
faded bride if I came to you now. You must wait, dear Lance, until I
grow strong and well again before I don the bridal veil."

"How long must I wait, then?" he inquired.

"Till the roses come again," she answered; "you know how I love the
summer, with its beautiful sunshine and fragrant flowers. I should like
for the happiest event of my life to be associated with the sweetest
month in the year. Let it be in June."

Lance was beginning a passionate protest when the door opened and Mr.
Lawrence entered.

The banker looked very bright and happy as his eyes fell on the handsome
pair before him.

"Here, papa," said Lily, making room for him beside her; "I am very glad
you have come, for I think Lance was just about to find fault with me."

"On what pretext?" inquired her father, kissing her sweet, upturned
lips.

"For cruelty," said Lance, promptly. "She actually intends to defer our
marriage until June."

"Soon enough," said the banker, laughing at the young man's impatience.
"You must leave us our darling yet awhile, Lance. Come and see her every
day if you choose, my boy, but do not persuade her to leave us yet. It
will be hard to give her up, even to you."

When the beautiful "month of roses" came round again, Mr. Lawrence had
to lose both his lovely daughters.

Philip St. John had wooed and won the beautiful, girlish Ada, and Lily's
bridal day was to be hers also.

Once again Lily stood in her old familiar chamber, with the robes of
satin and lace trailing over the velvet carpet, and the snowy mist of
the bridal veil hiding the blushes that came and went on her lovely
face.

"There is no one to envy your happiness now, Lily," said Ada, as she
clasped the pearl necklace around her sister's snowy neck. "That
dreadful woman is dead!"

"It is so cruel a thing to remember, dear; let us try to forget the sin,
and forgive the sinner!"

"Amen!" said Ada, solemnly.

Mr. Lawrence came in, and kissed and blessed them with a sadness on his
face that he could not wholly hide. The only alleviation to the sorrow
of that hour was the knowledge that he was giving the happiness of his
beloved children into the keeping of "good men and true."

"Papa, you must not forget what I told you once before," whispered Lily,
through April tears and smiles. "You will not lose your daughters; you
will only gain two sons."

Lily was to go to a beautiful home on Fifth avenue, close to that of her
father. Lancelot had been busy for months preparing his splendid mansion
for the home-coming of his bride, and now it only awaited the sunshine
of her presence to become an earthly Eden.

Ada and her husband were to live with the banker. His great house would
be so lonely, the old man pleaded, with both his darlings gone. So they
yielded to his wish and promised to make his house their home as long as
he lived.

The grand portals of Trinity Church opened wide to admit the two lovely
brides.

New York had never seen a grander marriage, nor brides so lovely, nor
bridegrooms more gallant and handsome. Trinity was thronged with their
friends, and the pavements outside were crowded with interested
spectators. No marriage had excited so much interest for years as that
of the lovely girl whose romantic story was known far and wide.

"She is beautiful as a dream," they whispered, when the first bride
passed over the flower-strewn pavement to the church steps. "And the
sister is equally lovely," they cried, rapturously, when the trembling
Ada followed after her.

"God bless them both!" whispered a good woman who had a prominent seat
in the church.

It was Mrs. Mason, the kind soul whom Lily had not forgotten when her
wedding cards were issued to her friends.

So amid good wishes and blessings the fair brides passed up the stately
aisle on the arms of their father, followed by a score of lovely
bridesmaids in snowy flower-bedecked robes. At the altar they were met
by Lancelot and Philip, and then, above the pealing notes of the wedding
march, the minister's voice arose in the beautiful words of the marriage
service.

Silence brooded over the throng softly as the wings of a dove, while the
holy, reverent words filled the church. In the stillness the sweet
responses of the brides even were distinctly audible. The rings were
slipped upon their fingers, the solemn words of the benediction were
spoken, and then, with the sweet strains of music echoing above their
heads, the fragrance of flowers beneath their feet, and the tender
blessings of friends around them, the two beautiful brides, with their
chosen mates, went forth with smiles to the future that lay beaming in
the sunshine of love and happiness.


[THE END.]

[Illustration]



  QUEENIE'S TERRIBLE SECRET

  OR,

  _A Young Girl's Strange Fate_.

  By MRS. ALEX. McVEIGH MILLER.



CHAPTER I.


"There is positively not a dollar left to buy a dress for Queenie and
yet she _will_ insist upon going to the ball. Could you let me have your
old green silk to make over for her, Sydney?"

The small figure perched on the top of a large Saratoga trunk sprang
down upon the floor, and stamped her foot so vehemently that the blue
satin bow flew off from her tiny slipper.

"_Wear_ Sydney's old green silk to the ball!" cried Queenie,
indignantly. "Indeed I _won't_, mamma, I will stay at home first!"

"The best place for you," said her sister, Sydney, calmly. "I see no use
in taking a child like you to Mrs. Kirk's grand ball."

"A child, indeed," flashed the younger sister, with a pout of her
rosebud lips. "I am as tall as you, Syd, and I was seventeen yesterday.
It's real mean to call me a child and leave me at home every time I get
invited out. I know why it is, though. It's because mamma spends every
dollar papa gives her decking out you and Georgie, and there's never a
decent thing left for me to wear."

"It is because you are too pretty, my dear," laughed her father, who had
entered the dressing-room unnoticed. "The girls keep you back because
they are afraid you will cut them out with their fine beaux."

Sydney and Georgina flushed angrily and muttered that it wasn't so, and
that papa ought to be ashamed of himself--it was all his fault that
Queenie was setting herself up for a woman so fast when he couldn't
afford to dress the two that were already grown decently enough for the
position they had to fill in society.

The poor, worried mother, having been so quickly snubbed on the subject
of the old green silk, looked on and said nothing.

"I give you every cent I can spare from my business, girls," said Mr.
Lyle, in a vexed tone, "and this time I strained a point and pinched
myself in order that little Queenie might have a new dress and go to the
ball, too."

"But they have spent every cent upon themselves!" cried pretty little
Queenie with the tears of vexation standing in her pansy-blue eyes. "The
dressing-room is littered all over with their finery yet they want me to
wear that horrid green silk of Syd's! A pretty fright I should look!"

"Never mind, dear, you can stay at home with your old papa. Your time
will come after awhile when the girls are married and out of the way,"
said her father kindly, as he drew his arm about her. "Maybe it is true
that I have spoiled you, dear, and that you are too young to go to such
a grand ball."

"No, I am not, papa. I am quite old enough, and I know how to dance, and
I love to dance, and I _will_ go to the ball," exclaimed the pretty,
willful little creature, with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes.

"But, Queenie, what on earth will you wear?" asked the poor, tired
mother, who was quite worn out with the worry of keeping herself and her
two elder girls well-dressed. "I have no money to give you a new dress."

Queenie stood meditating, with her head perched on one side like a
little bird, her slender, arched brows puckered into a thoughtful frown.

"I'll tell you," said she at length, "I shall sell my painted fan--the
white satin one that Uncle Rob sent me from Paris. It is worth fifteen
dollars at least, and I can certainly get five for it. Five dollars will
buy lots of white tarleton, and I can make the dress myself. There are
plenty of flowers in the garden, so you see I can make a toilet for the
ball," she added, half laughing.

"Sell Uncle Rob's gift!" cried mamma and the girls in concert.

"Necessity knows no law!" answered Queenie, dancing out of the room to
avoid their remonstrances.

"Mr. Lyle, you really should not allow her to sell her uncle's beautiful
gift!" exclaimed Mrs. Lyle, in a vexed tone.

"I certainly shall not try to prevent her," answered her husband, rather
shortly. "If you had acted fairly by her and divided the money I gave
you for the three girls she need not have been driven to such straits as
to sell her pretty fan. Why, I gave you a hundred dollars, and she only
wants five for her dress. You might have spared her that small
pittance!"

"I did not think she would be contented with such a shabby dress,"
muttered Mrs. Lyle.

"Queenie only wants to enjoy herself," said the fond father. "She will
be as beautiful and as happy in her five-dollar tarleton as Georgie and
Sydney in their elegant silks."



CHAPTER II.


Full of her suddenly conceived purpose, Queenie Lyle went to her room,
attired herself in a neat walking-suit, and tied a blue tissue veil over
her luxuriant golden ringlets.

Then carefully wrapping a paper about the box that held her painted fan,
she set forth upon her errand, feeling sorry that she must part with the
elegant trifle, yet determined to sacrifice it rather than forego the
ball, which to her young, imaginative fancy appeared like a promised
peep into fairy-land.

In the large city where she lived there were plenty of stores that dealt
in fancy articles.

She entered one of these stores, and presented her fan for the
merchant's inspection.

"How much will you give me for it?" asked she, childishly, coming
straight to the point.

"Did you paint it yourself?" asked the man; unfurling the beautiful fan,
and gazing admiringly at the delicate leaves and flowers painted upon it
by a skillful hand.

Queenie laughed at the question, and the gay, musical chime attracted
the attention of a gentleman a little further down the counter--a tall,
dark, handsome man, who drew nearer as if fascinated, and glanced
furtively at the young girl, revealing a lovely face as fresh and fair
as a flower, the eyes as dark as pansies, the cheeks as pink as roses.

She was smiling that moment, and the stranger saw two dazzling rows of
milk-white teeth between her parted crimson lips, and the loveliest
dimples in the world in her rounded cheeks and chin.

"No, indeed," she said, in answer to the merchant. "My uncle sent it to
me from Paris. It is quite French, I assure you. I would not part with
it if I did not need the money very much."

"We are overcrowded with such articles, miss," said the man, carelessly,
not wishing to show his anxiety to possess the elegant fan, "but to
oblige you, and because you need the money, I will give you five dollars
for it."

"Very well, I will take it," said little Queenie, and as she spoke she
looked up carelessly and suddenly encountered the fixed gaze of a pair
of burning, dark eyes.

Blushing crimson, she knew not why, Queenie dropped the sweeping lashes
over her eyes, and taking her money from the merchant, hurriedly left
the store.

"A pretty trifle--what will you take for it?" said the handsome
stranger, stepping forward as Queenie went out.

"Twenty dollars," answered the merchant, coolly. "It is a real Parisian
fan and worth more than that, but as I bought it so cheap I will let you
have it at a small profit."

"Do you know the young lady from whom you bought it?" inquired the
gentleman, as he laid down a twenty-dollar bill on the counter.

"No, I do not; but she was a little beauty," laughed the merchant, as he
wrapped up the fan and handed it to his customer.

The handsome stranger bowed and hastily withdrew with his purchase. In
the street he paused, and looked up and down.

Seeing Queenie's graceful little figure half a square ahead of him, he
slowly walked on after her.

Little Queenie went into a dry goods store, and invested the price of
her fan in a nice quality of white tarleton. She told the obliging clerk
where to send the package, and dropping her veil over her sweet face,
hurried homeward.

"Queenie, oh, Queenie, come in," called Georgina, as she was passing the
open door of the dressing-room. "Only think--something so perfectly
splendid has happened. Guess what it is."

"You have been buying some more finery, I suppose," answered the young
girl, seeing a large box in the center of the floor.

"Uncle Rob has sent us another box from Paris," announced Sydney,
triumphantly.

"Dresses and jewelry both," added Mrs. Lyle, joyfully.

"You can go to the ball as fine as a queen now," laughed Georgina,
diving down into the box and bringing out a parcel which she placed in
Queenie's hands.

"It is for you," she said.

Queenie unrolled the tissue paper from the bundle and shook out the
folds of a magnificent cream-colored brocade silk.

"Oh, how exquisite!" she exclaimed. "What has he sent you, girls?"

Sydney, who was a brilliant brunette, exhibited a rose-colored brocade
as handsome as Queenie's dress. Georgina, a plump blonde, rejoiced in
the possession of a costly azure satin.

"Uncle Rob is a dear darling," exclaimed little Queenie, delightedly.

"And only look here," said Mrs. Lyle, who held three jewel-cases in her
lap, "he has sent you each a lovely set of jewels--diamonds for Sydney,
opals for Georgina, pearls for you."

Little Queenie looked and admired until she was almost wild with
delight. She clasped the pearls on her neck and arms, and held the rich
brocade up before her, admiring the sheeny richness of the creamy folds.

"If you had only waited a little while you need not have sold your
painted fan," said Georgie. "You can have this lovely dress to wear to
Mrs. Kirk's ball."

"No, I cannot," answered Queenie, with a sigh. "Madame Dufarge would
charge thirty dollars to make such a dress as this, and where could I
get thirty dollars? No, I'll wear my five-dollar tarleton and the pearls
to the ball, but I will put this lovely brocade away, and keep it for my
wedding-dress."

"Only hear the child," exclaimed Sydney, who was twenty-five and
unmarried yet. "She talks of marrying as confidently as if husbands grew
on trees."

"They do for pretty girls like me," answered Queenie, with a saucy nod
at her sister. "But, mamma, did Uncle Robbie write? Is he getting well?
Is he coming home soon?"

"Ah, the best of the news is yet to come," exclaimed Georgina, who was
in brilliant spirits. "We are to go out to Uncle Robbie, you and I, and
Syd, and mamma, and have a continental tour with him. Isn't that
glorious news?"

Little Queenie's bright eyes danced with joy.

"Mamma, is it true?" she panted, breathlessly.

"Yes, dear, it is quite true," said Mrs. Lyle, looking quite happy. "He
has sent us a check, and we are to go over in the _Europa_, which sails
three months from now. We are to employ ourselves in the interim
polishing up our French."

"Hurrah for Uncle Rob!" exclaimed the delighted little Queenie,
boyishly waving her hat around her head, "he is a perfect fairy prince.
The dream of my life has been to go to Europe."

"I think _you_ will need to polish more than your French, Queenie,"
exclaimed Sydney, peevishly. "Your manners are as rude as a
school-boy's!"

"And yours are as prim as an old maid's!" retorted Queenie, maliciously,
for Sydney's perpetual fault-finding was a thorn in the flesh to the
petted little creature.

Sydney flushed crimson at the retort. Her years were verging so near to
the line of old-maidenhood that she was particularly sensitive on the
subject. She now said angrily:

"Mamma, can you sit silently there and permit Queenie to address me so
disrespectfully?"

Mrs. Lyle looked at her youngest daughter imploringly.

"Queenie, how often have I scolded you for aggravating Sydney? Apologize
to her immediately."

Queenie looked at Sydney's tearful eyes and flushed cheeks, and her
tender little heart melted at once. She crossed over and put her round,
white arms about Sydney's stately neck.

"Sister, do forgive me," she said, sweetly. "I did not mean a word of
it. Your manners are simply perfection, and I only wish that mine were
half as polished!"

"You should cultivate yourself," answered Sydney, coldly, as she put the
clinging arms away from her neck, "I am ashamed of your hoydenish
manners."

"I _will_ try to cultivate myself, Sydney, indeed I will," answered
Queenie, innocently. "I am so young yet, you know; I have time to learn
a great many things!"

Sydney bit her lip and made no reply. There was nothing she envied so
much as Queenie's tender youth, and to have it thrust upon her notice
like that, however innocently, was unendurable. The silence that fell
was becoming awkward, when a servant entered the room with a small
parcel which she laid in Queenie's hand.

"A small boy left it at the door for you," she said, as she withdrew.

Queenie stared at the parcel in bewilderment. It had a familiar look.

"Open it, my dear," said Mrs. Lyle, curiously.

Queenie tore off the paper and a box was revealed. She took off the lid
with a trembling hand. Within the box lay the painted fan she had sold
an hour ago to the dealer on ---- Street.

"What is this?" said Georgina, stooping down.

She picked up a card that had fallen from the box. Upon it was written
in a clear, bold, manly hand:

"From an unknown admirer of Miss Queenie Lyle."

"Someone has sent your painted fan back to you," exclaimed Mrs. Lyle.
"How kind! But who could it have been?"

"Queenie has caught a beau!" said Georgina, laughing.

Involuntarily Queenie's thoughts reverted to the dark-eyed stranger who
had looked at her in the store, but she said nothing.



CHAPTER III.


"Who is the young _debutante_, Miss Lyle?"

Sydney Lyle, coming down the long ball-room on the arm of the most
distinguished man in the room, looked up with ill-concealed annoyance at
his words.

She followed his glance, and saw little Queenie standing in the center
of a group of admirers, fluttering her satin fan with the grace of an
embryo coquette. The girl looked lovely as a dream in her thin, white
dress, with its multitudinous puffings and frillings.

It was looped here and there with natural rosebuds, and she wore her set
of pearls clasped round her white throat and wrists, while her golden
hair rippled to her waist in a shower of natural ringlets. Anything more
sweetly fair and happy could scarcely be imagined than Queenie, as she
stood there, warm and flushed from the dance, and enjoying, with all the
keenness of youth and novelty, the honied flatteries of the little court
around her. An irrepressible pang of jealousy gave a touch of sharpness
to Sydney's voice, as she answered:

"That is my sister Queenie, Captain Ernscliffe--a willful child who
ought to be in the school-room this moment, but who has persuaded mamma
to let her come here instead."

"Ah! your sister," said Captain Ernscliffe. "I might have known it by
her beauty. She has lived near the _rose_," and he pointed the
compliment by a meaning glance that made Sydney blush. "You will
introduce me, Miss Lyle?"

"Certainly." Sydney answered, and pausing beside Queenie, she said,
carelessly:

"Captain Ernscliffe, this is my sister, Queenie. If she should shock you
by her _outre_ manners, please remember that she is but a child and
quite unaccustomed to appear in society."

Captain Ernscliffe bowed low over the white-gloved hand of the
enchanting little beauty, and Queenie looked up at him and said, with a
flash of wrath against Sydney:

"You need not believe Sydney, when she tells you I am nothing but a
child, Captain Ernscliffe. I am _seventeen_ years old, and I know how to
behave myself just as well as any young lady of my age, in spite of
Sydney's warning."

The gentleman saw that the young heart was sorely wounded, despite her
quick assumption of dignity, and hastened to say, consolingly:

"I can well believe you, Miss Queenie, for I see there is but one
unanimous opinion among the gentlemen. You are the belle of the ball."

Sydney passed on with the words rankling in her heart, though she knew
that they were true. Among all the beautiful women present, in their
cosily dresses and splendid jewels, little Queenie, with her sunny smile
and her cheap, white tarleton dress, was the most admired and sought
after.

The women who envied her fresh, young loveliness sneered at the simple
dress, but the men--bless their ignorant hearts--did not know whether
the snowy mist that floated about her cost a hundred dollars or five.
They only saw that her face was the fairest, her eyes the brightest, her
voice the sweetest of any in the room. Mrs. Lyle saw the sensation she
created, and straightway began to lay matrimonial plans for her.

"Sydney and Georgina are both handsome and stylish, yet they are very
slow in marrying off well," she said to herself, with a sigh. "Perhaps I
shall have better luck with my willful Queenie. There is that rich
Ernscliffe with her now. He is a splendid catch, but then, Sydney has
had her heart set on him this long while. She would be very angry if
Queenie were to rival her."

In the meantime little Queenie was clapping her tiny hands and saying,
in a voice full of girlish pleasure:

"The belle of the ball, Captain Ernscliffe? Oh, how nice that is! I love
for people to like me, yet Syd and George said that no one would look at
me in this cheap dress, that I bought for five dollars and made with my
own hands."

"It is the prettiest dress in the rooms. I had no idea but that it cost
at least a hundred dollars," said Captain Ernscliffe, regarding the
fairy-like puffs attentively. "And your bouquet, as the ladies say, is
too sweet for anything. Was it a tribute from some admirer?"

She blushed and smiled, and lifted the fragrant triumph of the floral
art to her sweet face.

"You have guessed right," she said. "It was handed in at our door this
evening, with the compliments of an unknown admirer."

"The fellow had fine taste anyway," laughed the captain, "both in the
selection of the flowers and their recipient."

"Thank you," answered Queenie, demurely, looking up with a smile, and
dropping her lashes very quickly a minute after, for something in the
glance of his dark eyes sent a blush to her cheek and made her silly
little heart thrill strangely.

Captain Ernscliffe only smiled like one used to such effects. He was a
bachelor, and thirty years old, and women called him a flirt. Be that as
it may, he was as handsome as a prince, and knew how to make women's
lashes flutter down upon cheeks that blushed crimson under his glance.

"What an innocent little darling she is," he thought, to himself. "How
different from her sisters, and from the girls one meets usually in
society! One might well resign all the liberties of bachelorhood to win
and wear so sweet a flower." "Doubtless you have woven a pretty web of
romance about the unknown giver of your flowers, Miss Lyle," he said,
jestingly.

She had pressed the flowers to her lips unconsciously, and at his words
she started and smiled, and looked up to reply with the brightest face
he had ever looked upon. But suddenly, before a single word left her
lips, her aspect changed strangely and marvelously. Her cheeks and lips
grew white as death, her eyes grew wild with horror, and she swept her
hand across her brow as if to dispel some horrid vision. Her form
trembled like a leaf in a storm, and with a wild, inarticulate cry she
wavered and fell in a lifeless heap at Captain Ernscliffe's feet.

It was all so sudden that Captain Ernscliffe lifted her up and carried
her through the low window out on the balcony before anyone had noticed
her fall. He laid her down on a rustic lounge, turned her white face up
to the air, and went and called her mother very quietly.

"Oh! Captain Ernscliffe, is she dead?" exclaimed Mrs. Lyle, wringing her
hands in terror.

"Oh! no, she has only fainted, I think. The rooms were too warm,
perhaps. See, she is already reviving in the cooler air out here."

The girl's breath came fluttering back in a long, quivering sigh. She
caught Captain Ernscliffe's arm and half-lifted herself without seeming
to notice her mother.

"Oh! Captain Ernscliffe, did you see _it_?" she gasped, rather than
spoke.

"Did I see _what_?" he inquired, rather blankly.

"The _horrid_ vision that came between me and the flowers and made me
faint," she answered, sitting up and looking at him in surprise.

"My dear young lady, there was nothing to see, only the dancers. You
were tired and excited, and the heat overcame you. You are unaccustomed
to the crush and excitement of balls, you know."

"And _you_ saw nothing but the _dancers_?" she said to him, shivering as
she spoke, like one in a chill, and passing her hand before her eyes.

"Nothing, I assure you," he answered, gravely.

"What did you see, Queenie?" inquired Mrs. Lyle, coming forward.

"Oh! mamma, is that you?" Little Queenie reached out her white arms,
twined them about her mother's neck, and sank on her bosom trembling and
shivering, and moaning faintly: "Oh! mamma! mamma!"

"My dear, my dear, compose yourself. You are nervous and hysterical,"
remonstrated Mrs. Lyle. "See, you are distressing Captain Ernscliffe
very much."

Little Queenie hushed her sobs and looked up at the gentleman, who did
indeed look anxious and distressed.

"What was it you saw, Miss Lyle?" he inquired, gently.

"Perhaps you will not credit it," she said, lifting her white,
awe-stricken face in the moonlight that flooded the balcony, "but,
Captain Ernscliffe, just as I looked up from my flowers to speak to you,
the whole scene of the ball faded out into _blackness_, and then I saw a
vision come before me in its place."

She paused, shuddered visibly, then resumed:

"I saw a thick, dark wood before me with the rain-drops falling down
through the leaves of the trees. I saw a tall man with his back to me,
and close by that man was a _grave_--a shallow grave, so shallow that it
could not hide the girl that lay within it, for the wind and the rain
had beaten away the earth and the dead leaves with which the man had
covered her. I saw her awfully white, dead face upturned to the light,
and there were cruel black marks around her throat as if someone had
choked her--and a purple wound on her brow."

"My darling, it was only your excited imagination," said Mrs. Lyle,
soothingly.

"Oh, no, I saw it quite plainly," answered little Queenie, with a sharp
wail of anguish; "and, oh, mamma, mamma, _the face of that dead girl was
just exactly like mine_!"



CHAPTER IV.


"I always knew you were a little simpleton, Queenie, but I never thought
you could be so foolish and ungrateful as this! No girl in her senses
would refuse the chance of spending Captain Ernscliffe's money!"

Three months had elapsed since the grand ball at Mrs. Kirk's, and
Queenie Lyle was arraigned before the bar of maternal justice. Little
Queenie had spent those three months in a perfect whirl of excitement,
pleasure and conquest. And now Captain Ernscliffe, the irresistible, the
invincible, had surrendered at discretion, and actually proposed to
marry her! And little Queenie Lyle had had the audacity to refuse the
honor.

"To think," went on Mrs. Lyle, reproachfully, "how we have humored and
indulged you the last three months, and all for this! You have been to
all the balls and parties worth going to--you have had nice dresses and
laces--and we all thought you would marry off well, and rid your papa of
one of his expensive daughters--yet last month you refused that rich old
Myddleton! I did not care as much for that, for I saw that Ernscliffe
was madly in love, and thought you would be sure to accept him. Yet now
you have actually refused him, too, you wicked, ungrateful girl!"

"Mamma, mamma," pleaded Queenie, with a quivering lip, "do not be angry
with me. I could not marry Captain Ernscliffe, because I do not love
him."

"Then if you do not love _him_ you can never love anyone," exclaimed
Mrs. Lyle. "He is handsome, accomplished, wealthy; and there's not a
girl I know but would jump at _your_ chance, Sydney not excepted."

"Sydney _loves_ him, mamma--let her marry him."

"She cannot get him--more's the pity. I wish he had fancied her instead
of you," said Mrs. Lyle, sharply.

"I wish so too mamma. I am very sorry for Sydney, and for Captain
Ernscliffe, too," said Queenie, with a long, quivering sigh.

"You had better be sorry for yourself, foolish girl; you have thrown
away the best chance for marrying that you ever will have!" exclaimed
Mrs. Lyle, angrily, for she was deeply chagrined at Queenie's willful
disregard of her best interests.

To her surprise Queenie threw herself down at her feet and began to sob
wildly.

"Mamma, I am sorry for myself," she moaned, faintly, "so sorry that I
wish I were dead!"

"For shame, Queenie, to go into such a passion because I scolded you!
Get up and stop making a baby of yourself," said her mother severely.

Little Queenie dried her eyes at that sharp reproof and went on with her
packing, which Mrs. Lyle's entrance had interrupted, for they were to
sail for Europe that week, and the house was "topsy-turvey" with their
preparations.

Her mother sat moodily watching her as she folded silks and laces, and
packed them away securely in the great Saratoga trunk.

"What have you in that box, Queenie?" she inquired, seeing the girl put
a box in the trunk with a half-conscious glance. "You look as if you
were smuggling something."

Queenie blushed violently, and Mrs. Lyle saw that she trembled as she
answered falteringly:

"Nothing of any importance, I assure you, mamma."

"Let me see," said Mrs. Lyle, resolutely, and she took the box from the
trunk and lifted the lid. "Why, what have we here? Flowers--withered
flowers! Queenie, why upon earth are you keeping these dead,
ill-smelling things? Throw them out of the window."

"Oh, no, mamma," cried Queenie, blushing very much and trying to take
the box from her mother's hand.

But Mrs. Lyle held on to the box and took out three bouquets of withered
flowers, and three cards that lay in the bottom of the box. She read
aloud:

"From an unknown admirer of Miss Queenie Lyle."

"Oh dear, dear," said Mrs. Lyle, impatiently; "now I begin to
understand. These flowers, which were sent by some impudent fellow, have
made a fool of you, Queenie. You have been building a romance over him,
and that is why you have no eyes for better men. Tell me the truth now,
Queenie; do you know who sent you these flowers?"

"How should I know, mamma?" asked the girl, evasively, and turning her
crimson face away from her mother's keen scrutiny. "You see he writes
himself unknown."

"Well, known or unknown, here is an end to _that_ foolishness," said
Mrs. Lyle, crossing the room and tossing the luckless flowers out of the
window. "I did not know you were so silly and romantic, Queenie, as to
carry a bunch of dead flowers to Europe."

Queenie stamped her little foot on the floor, and her eyes flashed fire.

"Mamma, you had no right to throw my flowers away!" she passionately
exclaimed. "Papa would never have intermeddled with my affairs like
that!"

Mrs. Lyle dropped into a chair and buried her face in her hands.

"To think that I should have a child that would treat me so
disrespectfully," she sighed.

"What has mamma been doing to my little pet?" asked Mr. Lyle, entering
quietly and unexpectedly, as he always did.

There was an awkward silence for a moment; then Queenie said, with her
sweet face turned away:

"Mamma has been scolding me because I would not marry Captain
Ernscliffe."

"Your papa would do well to scold you also," flashed Mrs. Lyle. "After
all your father's goodness to you, and your pretense of loving him so
well, to think that you would throw away your chance of helping him in
his old age. I have no patience with such folly!"

"Papa, _you_ are not angry with me, are you?" asked his daughter,
turning her soft, beseeching eyes, now swimming in tears, upon his kind
yet troubled face. "I could not marry Captain Ernscliffe, papa, because
I do not love him."

"Love," sneered Mrs. Lyle, scornfully. "Love is the last thing to be
considered nowadays!"

Papa drew the tearful pleader down by his side on the lounge, and
smoothed away the disheveled golden ringlets from the flushed little
face.

"No, dear, I am not angry with you," he said. "It is true that my
business affairs are tottering on the verge of failure, and if you had
accepted the captain he might have helped me to tide over the crisis,
but I would not have you sacrifice yourself, my pet, for I would be loth
to part from you even if you went willingly and happily to another home.
But let us hope for the best. Now that your Uncle Rob is about to take
my expensive family off my hands for a year, I may be able to save some
money and get straight again."

       *       *       *       *       *

Three days later Mrs. Lyle and her three fair and charming daughters
stood on the deck of the _Europa_ bound for their long and anxiously
anticipated continental tour.



CHAPTER V.


"How I miss them all," Mr. Lyle said to himself often and often in the
long year while his family were absent, and he went home every night to
his solitary supper and lonely newspaper. "I would give anything to see
my little Queenie, or even to get a letter from her. Strange that she
does not write to me. And mamma, too, in her brief letters never says a
word about Queenie, though she must know that I want to hear something
about my little one. She always says that the girls are well and
enjoying themselves, but she never goes into particulars."

It was quite true. The Lyles were traveling from place to place, and
Mrs. Lyle, never fond of writing, always dropped the briefest of notes
to her husband, and invariably informed him that he need not reply, for
they were constantly on the wing and could not tell him where to direct
his letter so that it would reach them. She spoke of the girls casually,
never naming them in particular save once in her first letter when she
said that "Robert was much disappointed, and even vexed at Queenie's
defection."

Mr. Lyle puzzled a great deal over those words at first, and at last
concluded that Mrs. Lyle referred to Queenie's rejection of Captain
Ernscliffe.

Robert Lyle was a younger brother of Mr. Lyle, and had inherited a
large fortune from a deceased uncle. He was an invalid, and spent most
of his time abroad from whence many fine presents found their way to his
elder brother's family in America.

Mr. Lyle felt rather vexed that Robert should have blamed little Queenie
for her course in regard to Captain Ernscliffe.

"The child is too young to be forced into a loveless marriage," he said
to himself. "I hope she will marry money some day, for I know how sad
the lack of it is, but I hope it may be a love-match, too."

The longing for his little girl was very strong upon him one night as he
sat in his quiet library trying to interest himself in the daily
paper--so strong that he laid the paper down, and rested his head a
little wearily on his hands.

"It is six months since they went away," he said. "How long it seems,
and how much I want to see my little Queenie. It is strange, but ever
since she was born I have loved her better than the other children."

Something like a quivering sigh sounded faintly through the room. He
looked up quickly, but he was quite alone.

"I am growing fanciful in my old age and solitude," he thought, and
dropped his head again upon his hands.

Again that soft, low sigh went trembling through the room.

This time some strange instinct drew his eyes to the window, and he
sprang to his feet with a smothered cry. A sweet, white face, framed in
golden hair, was pressed against the window-pane looking at him, with
dark eyes full of love and sorrow--the beautiful face of his absent
daughter, Queenie.

"She has come home--my darling!" he cried joyfully, and rushed to the
window and threw up the sash.

But in that moment the lovely young face had disappeared.

"Queenie, my love--where are you?" he called. "Do not tease your poor
old papa!"

But silence and darkness answered him only. He went out into the garden
and wandered about in the shrubbery, calling, softly.

"Queenie, Queenie!"

But echo only answered him.

He went back sadly into the house and thought over the perplexing
mystery.

"She is dead," he said, at last; "I have seen her spirit. She has come
to me from far-off foreign lands to bid me an eternal farewell. Oh,
Queenie, Queenie, my lost darling!"

And from that night Mr. Lyle began to grow old and broken. He could
neither eat, nor sleep, nor rest until he heard from his wife again.

In a month one of her short, careless epistles came to hand. She said,
as usual, that the girls were well and enjoying themselves very much,
and added that Georgina had caught a beau, and was apt to make a
splendid match.

"She is living, then, my little pet!" exclaimed the doting old father,
in delighted surprise, "and yet I surely saw her spirit face looking in
upon me that night. It was a warning--or a token of sorrow."

And the burden of heaviness still clung about his heart, and the shadow
brooded in his kindly blue eyes until Mrs. Lyle wrote at last that they
were coming home on the _Europa_ the next month.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a dark and stormy night when the Lyles came home again. Mr. Lyle
had not known when the _Europa_ would be in, so they took him by
surprise when they drove up to the door that night. It was verging on to
midnight and the domestics were all asleep, but Mr. Lyle was still up,
poring over an account book.

"This is a joyful surprise!" he exclaimed, as he led the way to the
drawing-room and turned up the gas that he might look at their sweet
faces clearly.

Mrs. Lyle fell on his neck and embraced him, and Sydney, then Georgina,
glided forward and touched his cheek with their lips. He looked behind
them for the little one whom he had thought would be first to embrace
him.

"Queenie--where is Queenie?" he asked.

Mrs. Lyle, slowly drawing off her gray kid gloves, looked at him in some
surprise.

"Bless the darling--is she not asleep?" she said. "It was so late and
stormy that we expected you would all be in bed and asleep."

The rain beat dismally outside, the wind howled like a demon in despair.
Something of the chill and coldness outside seemed to strike to the
man's heart as he said quickly:

"The servants are all asleep--but Queenie--she is with you, of course?"

"Why do you say _of course_, papa?" said Sydney. "Did Queenie come down
to the steamer to meet us in this dreadful storm?"

Mr. Lyle looked bewildered.

"Sydney," he exclaimed hoarsely, "did not Queenie come home with you
from Europe?"

"Why, Papa, Queenie did not go with us, you know," said Georgina, coming
forward, and laying her hand on his arm. "She came back to stay with
you. Is she not at home?"

Mr. Lyle dropped back into a chair, and wrung his hands like one
distracted.

"My God!" he exclaimed. "You torture me with your inexplicable words. I
tell you I have never laid eyes on Queenie, living, since I bade her
good-bye on the deck of the _Europa_ a year ago."

"My God!" screamed Mrs. Lyle, falling down upon the floor, while Sydney
and Georgina looked like statues of horror, "what has become of my
little Queenie?"

"Papa," said Sydney, in a trembling voice, "there is some dreadful
mystery here. Queenie did not go to Europe with us. After you bade us
good-bye that day on the steamer, she cried and wept, and almost went
into hysterics, begging mamma to let her go back and stay with you,
instead of going to Europe. She was so unmanageable that mamma consented
at last, and she and her trunks were put on shore, and we went aboard
without her. Did she not come home to you?"

"No, never," groaned the wretched father, like one demented. "I have
never seen her since that day. Oh, Queenie, my lost darling, where are
you?"

For a moment there came no answer to the question. They stood around
spellbound with horror, while a peal of awful thunder reverberated
outside and seemed to shake the house from its foundations. The next
moment the door was burst violently open, and the dripping figure of a
woman rushed into the room.

"_Queenie!_" burst from the quivering lips of the unhappy father.

Yes, it was Queenie, but oh, how terribly changed! Her streaming golden
hair, matted with mold and dead leaves, hung wet and cold over her
shoulders. Her dress of dark silk was stained with great patches and
wisps of dead autumn leaves. The tight bodice, open at the top, exposed
her throat, which--oh, Heaven!--was marked round and round with the
purple and red print of finger-marks as though she had been strangled.

Her face was white as death, showing the plainer for its whiteness a
mark upon her brow above her eyes--the horrible purple print of a man's
boot heel on the tender flesh, from which a thin stream of blood
trickled down on her ghastly face. A fearful--fearful apparition,
strangely unlike little Queenie of other days. Yet it was Queenie, for
she staggered blindly forward, and panting out: "Papa, papa, forgive!"
fell in a lifeless heap at his feet.



CHAPTER VI.


At little Queenie's sudden and terrible appearance Mrs. Lyle and the two
elder sisters screamed aloud in fright and horror, and even the agonized
father recoiled a moment from the dreadful-looking creature that lay at
his feet to all appearances dead.

Directly, however, with a strong revulsion of feeling from dismay and
terror to pity and tenderness, he bent down and lifted the white face of
his daughter on his arm.

Her head fell back helplessly, and the wet and matted locks of gold
trailed over the velvet carpet, drenching it with rain-drops. The long,
dark lashes lay close upon the marble-white cheeks and no breath
fluttered over the pale, parted lips to show that life still dwelt in
the frame of the hapless girl.

A cry of agony broke from the lips of the poor father whose fondest
affections had been concentrated on the daughter now lying lifeless in
his arms.

"Oh, God! oh, God! what fearful mystery is here? Queenie is _dead_; and
oh! those _horrible_ marks upon her throat and brow! Someone has
_murdered_ my little darling!"

Again the frightened shrieks of the women rose above the dreadful tumult
of the storm outside. They huddled together by the marble hearth,
shuddering as though afraid to approach that dreadful-looking object
that had come upon them with the face of the little Queenie they had
alternately scolded and petted in the past. Mr. Lyle looked at them
with a keen reproach and pain in his heavy eyes.

"Queenie is _dead_," he said to them, in a hollow, broken voice. "Why do
you stand aloof from her?"

His lips were white, and he trembled so that he could scarcely hold the
still form that lay so helpless in his arms. But even as he spoke, her
lips parted in a faint and scarce audible sigh, the eyelids fluttered
slightly and grew still again.

"No, no, she _lives_!" he cried, rapturously. "Quick, quick! let us take
her to her room and apply restoratives."

He lifted her in his arms and the women mechanically followed him as he
bore her to her room and laid her down upon her little white bed. Then
he turned around with the dazed look gone from his white face and a
gleam of resolution there instead.

"There is some dreadful mystery here," he said, in deep, low tones. "The
servants must not know of this. Let them think that she came back with
you from Europe. Sydney and Georgie, you may retire to your rooms. Your
mamma and I will do all that is necessary."

Frightened and weeping the girls went away to their rooms and the
fearfully stricken parents went to work to restore life in the exhausted
frame of poor little Queenie.

They bathed and dressed the wound upon her brow, laved the fearfully
discolored throat with arnica, wrung and dried the dripping golden
tresses, and lastly Mrs. Lyle removed her soiled, wet garments and robed
her in a pretty nightdress. All the while the hapless girl lay still and
motionless, without a sign of life save an occasional quiver of the
eyelids, and a faint, scarce perceptible throbbing in her wrist.

"My dear, you are tired and overcome," Mr. Lyle said to his wife when
they had done all that was possible. "Go to your room and rest. I will
stay here and watch by our little girl."

Mrs. Lyle leaned her head on his shoulder and burst into hysterical
weeping.

"Oh! what does it mean?" she moaned, wringing her hands. "_Where_, oh!
_where_, has Queenie been this past year?"

"My dear, we shall know when she revives, if she ever does. Go now and
rest," he answered, pushing her gently from the room.

He went back to his lonely vigil and watched the weary night through by
that silent form upon the bed. Now and then he rose and poured a few
drops of wine between the pale, unconscious lips and sat down again with
his finger upon the fluttering, thread-like pulse. At length, between
the dark and the dawn, Queenie opened her eyes upon his face, sighed,
and murmured:

"Papa!"

He bent over her anxiously.

"You are better, darling?" he said.

"I am better," she answered faintly.

There was silence a little while after that. She lay quite still with
her large, hollow eyes fixed wistfully on her father's pale and troubled
face as he bent over her, holding her white and wasted hand in both his
own. Everything was very still about the house. The storm outside had
spent itself, and only now and then the fitful muttering of the
"homeless wind" reminded one of the war of the elements that had raged
so fiercely a few hours ago.

Mr. Lyle's voice, hoarse, trembling, agonized, broke strangely upon the
utter stillness:

"_Queenie, where have you been all this long, dreadful year?_"

Queenie turned her face and buried it in the pillow, and a low sob of
utter agony answered him only.

Again he repeated the question, this time more firmly and resolutely.

"Oh! papa, _must_ I tell you?" she moaned, without lifting her face from
its friendly refuge.

"Yes, Queenie, I must have a full explanation of your mysterious
absence, for I fear it covers wrong or guilt. Secrecy is seldom without
sin," he answered, in a firm but heart-wrung voice.

His daughter wrung her white hands, moaning and weeping.

"Oh! papa, I _cannot, cannot_ tell you," she exclaimed.

Mr. Lyle took the white hands that were wildly beating the air, and held
them firmly in both his own.

"Be calm, Queenie," he said, "and listen to me. There can be no question
of _cannot_ between you and me! You have deceived us all and spent a
year away from us. You return to us wretched and alone, with the marks
of cruel violence upon your person. What are we to think of you,
Queenie, if you refuse to explain the mystery? How can we receive you
back with a secret, perhaps a shameful one, in your life? I must have
your vindication from your own lips, my poor child. Answer me, Queenie,
where have you spent this missing year of your life?"

She wrenched her hands away and looked about her wildly.

"Let me go--I cannot stay here! Oh! why did I ever come?" she wailed. "I
was mad, mad!"

He laid her forcibly back upon the bed. She was too weak to resist him,
and lay panting and moaning in wild despair.

"Queenie, you torture me," he said, hoarsely; "I must have the truth
from you. Tell me, dear, has anyone wronged you? If it is so, I will
have the villain's heart's blood!"

She shivered and trembled where she lay held down by his strong hands.

"Too late," she moaned, in a voice half-triumphant, half-despairing. "I
have taken vengeance into my own hands--I have," she broke off shivering
and sobbing, with a look of awful horror in the white face with the
terrible, purple print of a boot-heel on the marble brow.

"Tell me all, dear," he said, his voice sharp with anxiety and
foreboding.

She looked up, trembling and shivering, and wailed out:

"Papa, be merciful--spare me, spare me!"

He made no answer. His head was bowed on his hands, his face hidden.
Queenie looked at him and saw with a sudden sharp pang how strangely his
clustering locks had whitened in the past year. She raised herself up
and threw her arms around him, laying her cheek against his shoulder.

"Papa," she whispered, mournfully, "look up--I will tell you all--but
only to _you, you alone_, dearest and best of fathers--can I reveal the
_terrible_ secret that has ruined my life!"

With her cheek against his shoulder and her hand locked in his, Queenie
Lyle poured forth in burning words the story of that missing year--the
saddest story to which her father had ever listened--yet he made no
comment, uttered no word, until she had finished and thrown herself down
at his feet with the wailing cry:

"Papa, can you _ever_ forgive me?"

He did not try to lift her up as she lay there. He only said in a deep,
intense voice, with a lightning flash in his deep eyes:

"Queenie, you have forgotten to tell me one thing--_his name_."

She shuddered from head to foot.

"Papa, it is the only thing I must keep from you--that hated name! What
matters it? Is he not beyond the reach of your vengeance?"

"True, true," he answered with a strong shudder. "Oh, Queenie, my poor
child, would to God I had died before this terrible thing came upon me!"

She crept nearer him and rested her bowed head on his knee, all her
glorious, golden tresses sweeping to the floor.

His heart ached as he saw that bright head lying there bowed low with
shame and disgrace.

"Papa," she whispered, in a voice like saddest music, "papa, do you
_condemn_ me?"

He was silent a moment, struggling with the keenest agony he had ever
known. Then he answered very gently:

"My poor Queenie, I forgive you." Then added in the words of the great
Teacher of men: "Let him that is without sin cast the first stone."

And the first beams of the newly risen day shone into the room and
crowned his gray head like a halo of light.



CHAPTER VII.


"Yes, Queenie was quite sick for more than a month after we returned
from abroad. She is not strong yet, but she has promised to come down
into the drawing-room for a little while this evening."

It was Mrs. Lyle who spoke, in the calmest, most composed tone in the
world. She was leaning back in her chair, richly dressed in silk and
lace and fluttering her fan as she talked to Captain Ernscliffe who
leaned over the back of her chair, tall, handsome and stately, the most
distinguished-looking man in the room.

Mrs. Lyle was giving a small reception after her return, and had bidden
the _creme de la creme_ of society only, to welcome her home.

There were beautiful women in plenty present, and none but had a
flattering smile for Captain Ernscliffe, but though he smiled and
chatted with all, he still kept looking over even the fairest heads
toward the door for one absent face while his heart thrilled with
anxiety and expectation.

She came at last, and though he had been watching for her so long he
scarcely knew her when she entered. He had expected to see a little,
fairy-like creature, with a sunny smile and falling ringlets, and cheeks
like pinkest rose leaves. Instead, there entered a tall, pale, graceful
girl, clad in a dress of white lace ornamented with knots of purple,
golden-hearted pansies. The crimson lips were set in a proud curve
instead of a smile, and the dark fringe of her lashes swept so low that
they almost shadowed her cheeks. Her golden hair was confined in a thick
braid and wound about her head like a coronet, making her seem as
stately as a young princess.

She was changed, greatly changed, from a year ago, and yet none who
looked at the fair, calm face, with pride sitting regnant on the broad,
white brow, would have dreamed that the pathos and pain of a terrible
tragedy had been wrought into her life and had seared her heart and soul
as with fire.

Friends and acquaintances crowded around her and it was many minutes
before she found her way to her mother's chair where Captain Ernscliffe
still stood with his heart beating so fast that he thought she must have
heard it. It seemed to him as if everyone in the room must read in his
face the secret of his love for Queenie Lyle who had rejected him a year
ago with all the thoughtless lightness of girlhood. But no, his face was
perfectly calm to all appearance, and as the girl gave one timid, upward
glance at him she thought he had forgotten or outlived the pain of his
rejection.

"I scarcely dared hope that you would return home as you went," he said
after the first formal greeting. "I feared some French count or English
lord would claim you as his own."

She blushed, and her eyes fell until the dark lashes rested on her
burning cheeks.

"I was not so fortunate as to claim the admiration of any of the
nobility," she answered carelessly. "Georgie outshone us all. She is to
be married to an English lord in a month from now."

"I am very glad it is not you who are to be married to him," he answered
laughing, but with an undertone of sincerity.

Other friends claimed her for awhile, but by-and-bye his restless glance
found her out sitting by a window alone for the moment, and looking
tired and a little sad.

"You are not strong enough to stand the heat of the rooms," he said
kindly. "Come out in the garden and walk in the moonlight with me."

She took his arm and they went out in the garden. It was summer, and the
flowers were blooming in profuse sweetness. The air was heavy with the
odor of the roses and honeysuckle. They sat down upon a rustic seat with
the full flood of brilliant moonlight falling on Queenie's uncovered
head and lovely white face.

"You have grown more beautiful than ever, Queenie," said her companion
admiringly.

She did not answer, but he fancied that he heard a faint, quickly
smothered sigh.

Impulsively he took into his own the small hand lying cold and listless
in her lap.

"It has been a year since I saw you, Queenie," he exclaimed, "but I find
the old love rising in my heart as passionately as if we had only parted
yesterday. Dearest, have you ever repented of your cruelty to me?"

She looked up at him, and her eyes were full of a fathomless sadness and
vague regret.

"Ah! yes," she said, and her voice was almost a wail of pain. "I have
repented, Captain Ernscliffe, I have been sorry often and often for my
blind mistake!"

He held out his arms, drawing he scarcely knew what hope from her
agitated words.

"Queenie, come to me," he cried. "Let atonement follow repentance."

But she drew back, trembling and frightened.

"I--oh, I did not mean that," she said, "I cannot--_it is too late!_"

"Queenie, do not be cruel to me again," he pleaded, carried away by the
rush of his wild passion. "If you knew how I have wearied for you since
you went away, how blank my life has been, you could not be so cruel!
You would give yourself to me out of sheer pity and tenderness."

"But I do not love you," she said.

"I will teach you to love me, Queenie. I love you so well that I could
not help winning your love in return if you only gave me the privilege
to try. Say yes, my beautiful darling, and make me the happiest of men!"

She sat still with her head bowed and her hands locked together in her
lap like one thinking intently. At length she said, without lifting her
head to look at him:

"I do not believe I can make you happy, Captain Ernscliffe, but I will
be your wife if you want me."

       *       *       *       *       *

When the reception was over and the guests all gone, Queenie sought her
father and found him alone in the library.

"Papa," she said, abruptly, laying her hand on his arm. "Captain
Ernscliffe has proposed to me again!"

"You refused him, of course, Queenie," he answered, looking at her with
the grave sadness that always rested on his features now.

Her eyes fell, and a crimson flush crept slowly over her features, but
she answered steadily:

"_Au contraire_, papa, I have accepted him."

"Queenie!"

"Papa!"

"Why have you acted thus? You do not love him?"

"No, papa, but it will be a fine match for me!" she answered, with a
hard little laugh, and a slight ring of sarcasm in her voice.

He looked at her almost angrily.

"Queenie, I have never intended--never contemplated the possibility of a
marriage for you--since--since you came back home. I took you back and
forgave you, kept your secret, and forced your mother and sisters to
receive you and overlook that dreadful blank year whose secret I would
not reveal to them. But I cannot--you must not expect it--allow you to
deceive an honest man."

"Oh, papa! papa!" she fell on her knees and looked up at him
imploringly, "for sweet pity's sake, have mercy on me! Keep my secret
and let me marry Captain Ernscliffe! I need another home--mamma and the
girls are so cold and hard to me--I will be a good wife to him--I will
indeed! He shall never know."

"Ah, Queenie, if your sin should find you out!" he said.

"It will not, it _cannot_," she said, with a shudder; "it is buried _too
deep_. And I have prayed--oh, how I have prayed, papa--and God has
forgiven me!"

"God has forgiven you, but _men_ would not," he said.

"_You_ forgave me, papa."

"Because you had been sinned against, and because I love you so dearly,
and pitied you also. But, Queenie, Captain Ernscliffe would recoil from
you in horror if he knew what I know."

"Papa, he shall _never_ know," she cried, clasping his knees with her
round, white arms, and lifting her wild, streaming eyes to his face. "I
will try to make him happy; and he wants me so very much. You will only
make him unhappy if you come between us."

A gleam of relenting came into his eyes. He had loved her so dearly even
since her innocent babyhood, and now, despite her fault, despite the
hidden tragedy in her young life, the father's heart bled for her, and
sweet pity stood sentinel over her past.

"Queenie, do you think you are doing right?" he said, appealing to her
honor.

Alas! her terrible wrongs and deep despair had steeled her heart against
all appeals.

"Right or wrong," she said, almost defiantly, "I shall marry him, unless
you tell him my secret, papa. And if you do, what good will you
accomplish! You will only break his heart."

"Go, then, unhappy, willful child," he answered, sternly, "go; but if
shame and sorrow come of your folly, remember the fault is on your own
head."

"I accept the responsibility," she answered, with a hard, steely ring in
her voice.

He turned away with a groan and went abruptly out of the room.

"She is changed almost beyond belief," he said to himself. "That
dreadful tragedy has warped her whole nature and made her reckless and
heartless. Unless some softening influence is brought to bear upon her
she will be lost forever!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Queenie was about to leave the library, when a rustling noise made her
look around, and the next moment Sydney Lyle stepped from behind the
heavy curtains at the window, where she had been an unsuspected listener
to the conversation.

Sydney looked brilliantly beautiful in a ruby-colored satin, trimmed
with Spanish lace. A cluster of rich, scarlet roses were fastened in the
dark braids of her hair, and diamonds blazed on her neck and arms, but
they were scarcely brighter than the fire in her dark eyes as she seized
Queenie by the white shoulder and shook her roughly.

"Queenie Lyle, you little wretch!" she exclaimed, in a low voice of
concentrated rage and passion, "how dare you promise to marry Captain
Ernscliffe?"

Queenie shook herself loose from the cruel grasp that had left ugly red
marks on her smooth, white shoulder, and answered defiantly:

"What business is that of yours, Sydney?"

"You shall not marry him!" Sydney continued, passionately. "You are not
fit to marry any man; but I care not whom you wed so that it be not
Captain Ernscliffe."

"I shall marry no other," answered Queenie, stung into defiance by
Sydney's overbearing look and manner. "I shall marry Captain Ernscliffe
as surely as I live, Sydney, and you cannot prevent it."

"Can I not?" hissed Sydney, furiously. "What if I tell him to ask you
for the secret of that _missing year_ of your life?"

Queenie looked back at her calmly and quietly.

"You will not dare to do it," she said. "If you did I would tell him
that you wanted him for yourself."

"He would not believe you," flashed Sydney.

"You dare not risk it, Sydney," said Queenie, defiantly. "As for me, I
have promised to marry Captain Ernscliffe at the same hour that Georgina
marries Lord Valentine, and I shall surely keep my word."

She swept from the room without pausing to listen to the reply of her
infuriated sister.



CHAPTER VIII.


Whether Sydney Lyle was frightened or not by her sister's threat she
made no effort to interfere with the marriage, whose appointed day was
swiftly approaching. Captain Ernscliffe was a daily visitor at Mr.
Lyle's, but Sydney kept her room, or was constantly absorbed in
fashionable gayeties, so that she saw but little of Queenie and her
lover.

But though Sydney had apparently given up the contest, she still
preserved a tacit feud with Queenie, refusing to speak to or notice her
in any way, and haughtily repelling the questions and remonstrances of
the family on the subject.

Lord Valentine, the lover of the fair Georgina, at length arrived, and
the cards of invitation were issued for the double wedding, which Mrs.
Lyle had determined should be quite a brilliant affair.

Mrs. Lyle was jubilant over the prospect of marrying off two of her
girls so advantageously; and Mr. Lyle, in the midst of his trouble and
anxiety over Queenie, was still conscious of a certain sense of relief,
for there had been a coldness and estrangement between Queenie and the
other members of the family ever since her return, and the atmosphere of
home had seemed charged with electricity that threatened at any moment
to burst into storm. So that none, except, perhaps, Sydney, were sorry
when the eventful night arrived, and the two brides were dressing in
their respective rooms, Georgina attended by her mother and Sydney, and
the single maid employed by the family waiting on Queenie.

The unhappy girl was keenly conscious of the tacit slight, but she did
not seem to notice it by word or sign, and after her toilet was
completed she sent the maid away, saying that she wished to be alone a
little while.

"Everything is perfect," she said, surveying herself critically in the
mirror. "I am a shade too pale, but then they allow that to brides, I
believe. Ah, me!"

She walked up and down the room, her small hands locked before her, her
beautiful face as white as death, a look of deep unrest in her large,
violet eyes.

There was a slight tap at the door. She knew it at once for her father's
familiar knock.

"Enter, papa," she said.

He turned the door-handle softly and came in.

"I have come to see if the bride looks pretty," he said, veiling his
emotion under an affectation of lightness.

"You are the only one who cares to know," she answered, with a ring of
bitterness in her sweet voice.

He stood silent, surveying her with sad yet admiring eyes.

She wore the rich brocaded silk that her uncle had sent her a year ago
from Paris, and which she had laughingly declared then should be her
wedding-dress. Its rich shining folds trailed far behind her, and the
soft folds of the bridal veil fell over it like a mist. Her wreath and
the knots of flowers that looped up her dress were of natural orange
blossoms, the gift of her lover. Their fragrance pervaded the room
deliciously. She wore a magnificent set of diamonds, the bridal gift of
Captain Ernscliffe.

Young, beautiful, elegantly attired, she made a picture on which the
eyes might feast and never grow weary, and none would have guessed how
heavy was the heart beating under the satin corsage, or that the fearful
elements of a tragedy had been woven into that life that seemed yet in
its earliest spring.

Her father looked at her a moment, then silently opened his arms, and
she as silently glided into them, heedless that the bridal veil was
disarranged as she laid her fair head down upon his breast.

"Papa," she murmured, with quivering lips, "_you_ love me, you are kind
to me in spite of--of--all."

"God bless you, my little daughter," he said, solemnly, and touched his
lips lightly to her brow.

It was the first time he had kissed her since she had come back. He had
forgiven her, and been kind to her, but the loving caresses that had
been showered on the little Queenie who went away had never been given
to the Queenie who returned. This silent, gentle kiss seemed to have all
the solemnity of a farewell.

"Papa, I feel strangely," she said, putting her hands to her brow; "my
head whirls, my--oh! oh! God, oh, God, what is that?"

With a wild and ringing shriek of horror she tore herself from his arms,
and stood pointing at the window with one jeweled finger, her blue eyes
dark and dilated, her face transfigured with terror.

That frightened shriek penetrated to Georgina's room across the hall.
The bride and her mother and sister all made a rush for Queenie's room,
apprehending some dire calamity.

They found her standing in the centre of the floor, her face
transfigured with terror, her shaking finger pointed at the window,
while she wailed aloud in accents of remorse and despair:

"_The dead! The dead!_"

"Queenie, Queenie, you rave!" her father exclaimed, catching her arm as
she held it forward, still pointing at the window.

She turned around and clung to him, sobbing wildly:

"A ghost was there, papa--a horrible ghost!"

"No, no, dear, there was nothing--I saw nothing. Queenie. There is no
one at the window," he answered soothingly.

She gave a fearful, shuddering look at the window.

"It is gone, now, papa; but I tell you I saw a ghost at the window--one
from the dead came and looked at me--_his_ ghost, papa," she moaned,
hiding her face on his shoulder.

"Whose ghost was it, Queenie?" asked Georgina, curiously, as she stepped
forward in her elegant bridal robe. "Whom did you see?"

"Do not tease her, Georgie--stand back and give her air--see, she is
about to faint!" exclaimed her father, a little shortly.

The bride stepped back with a murmur of discontent. She thought it
exceedingly rude in her father to snub the prospective Lady Valentine.

"Oh! for mercy's sake, Queenie," exclaimed Mrs. Lyle, rushing forward
with a bottle of _eau de cologne_, "don't give way to hysterical fancies
now when it is almost time for the ceremony to begin! You saw nothing at
the window but the moonlight; come, come, compose yourself! Your toilet
will be totally disarranged!"

She fell to work bathing the limp, nerveless hands and cold brow of the
girl, while Sydney and Georgina stood coldly aloof--the bride because
she was afraid of ruffling her delicate plumage, and Sydney because she
would not have lifted a finger to save Queenie if she had lain dying
before her.

In the midst of the tumult the maid rushed in.

"Oh! Mrs. Lyle," she exclaimed, "the company is arriving. Mrs. Preston's
carriage is at the door, and Mrs. Alden's and Mrs. Howe's."

"Oh! dear," exclaimed Mrs. Lyle, "was there ever such a _contre temps_?
Not a soul in the drawing-room to receive them! Sydney, you must go
down, I cannot leave Queenie in this state."

Sydney curled her lip in a disdainful smile and went.

The marriage was to take place at home, and the drawing-room was
profusely decorated with flowers. A beautiful arch of white flowers was
arranged where the bridal couples were to stand, and wreaths and
bouquets were variously disposed about the room.

Sydney in the white heat of anger that filled her heart felt sick and
faint as the overpowering fragrance pervaded her senses.

Yet she had to stand up and receive the guests and smile and talk as if
it were the happiest evening she had ever known.

She had refused to become one of the bridesmaids, so when the bridal
party with their long string of lovely attendants entered the room and
stood before the bishop, she drew back into an obscure corner that no
one might see the jealous pain and hatred in her heart disfiguring her
handsome face.

Georgina was married first, taking precedence of Queenie by virtue of
her own four years seniority, and her betrothed's superior rank. Then
the newly-wedded couple stepped quietly back, and Captain Ernscliffe and
his radiantly-beautiful bride took their place; the solemn words were
spoken, the ring slipped over her slim finger, and they turned to
receive the congratulations of their friends.

One of the servants came bowing and smiling into the group carrying a
magnificent bouquet of white flowers.

"For Mrs. Ernscliffe," he said, presenting it, "with the compliments of
a friend."

She took it into her white hand with a faint smile.

"It is rarely beautiful," she said, and lifted it to her face and
inhaled the strong, sweet odor of the costly flowers.

Something more pungent than the innocent breath of the flowers entered
into her brain as she inhaled the fragrant incense. She threw up her
hands, and without a word or cry, the smiling bride fell lifeless at her
husband's feet.



CHAPTER IX.


No one suspected the agency of the beautiful and odorous bouquet in the
sudden and tragical death of the fair young bride. It lay upon the floor
where it had fallen when she fell, and in the grief and excitement of
the moment no one thought of picking it up. Who would have thought that
death could lurk in the fragrant breath of so beautiful an offering? So
the lovely destroyer lay unheeded where it had fallen, and in the
morning it was removed by the servants, who saw in it only a withered
bouquet that littered the rich carpet.

But its mission was accomplished, and when Lawrence Ernscliffe lifting
the drooping head of his new-made bride, he saw only the marble mask of
death on that peerless face that a moment ago was wreathed in smiles.
But he could not believe it, and when the physician who was hastily
summoned gave the verdict so often wrongly given in cases of sudden
death, that heart-disease had caused the calamity, the groan of agony
that broke from the strong man's lips was heart-rending.

"She cannot be _dead_!" he cried, falling on his knees and clasping the
beautiful form to his wildly-beating heart. "Oh! God, give her back to
me, my darling, my own!"

"Queenie, my little pet, my precious child, speak to me," cried the
gray-headed old father, bending over her in agony.

"My daughter, oh, my daughter!" shrieked the mother, and Georgina wailed
aloud, both of them forgetting their coldness and estrangement, and
remembering only the little Queenie they had loved and petted and teased
so long ago, and who now was dead.

Alas! they might have stood aloof as silent and as cold as Sydney stood,
for all the answer they won from those pale lips that the bridegroom
kissed so passionately, as though those agonized caresses could have
beguiled her back to life and love again.

One by one the bridal guests stole away and left them alone with their
dead, the silent domestics crept about closing windows and doors, and
dimming the brilliant lights; the banquet stood untasted under the
glitter of flowers and lights and silver, the music was hushed, the
garlands drooped low, and the house of feasting was turned into the
house of mourning. The fairest daughter of the house of Lyle lay dead.

Mr. Lyle fell down in a fit after the dreadful certainty of his loss
became manifest to him. He was removed to his chamber, attended by
skillful physicians, but their potent art was of no avail. Entire
consciousness never returned to him again. He lay through the long hours
of the night tossing restlessly on his pillow, and babbling of the dead
girl who lay in the chamber above, deaf to his agonized appeals as to
those of her lover-husband. They thought he was delirious, he talked so
strangely.

"I knew she would die," he said. "Her spirit face came and looked at me
through the window one night--it was when she was away"--a shudder shook
him from head to foot--"I knew it was a token of her death! Ah! but I
forget--did she not tell me it was herself that came, full of love, and
pity, and sorrow, and looked at her poor papa, sitting lonely for lack
of his little girl? Queenie, Queenie, where are you? Come back, dear!
Papa forgives you! He will take you home again out of the cold and wet,
and the dark, stormy night."

He started up and held out his arms to clasp her to his heart, but
instead he encountered the form of the bereaved bridegroom who sat by
the side of his bed. They had persuaded, nay, almost forced him away
from the side of the dead bride to the relief of the suffering living.
He sat there half dazed with grief and horror, hearing dreamily the
strange ravings of his father-in-law--ravings that he scarcely heeded
then, but which burned themselves into his memory, and were recalled in
after years with inexpressible pain.

"Ah, Ernscliffe, it is you," said the poor father, when the yearning
arms that sought for Queenie touched him instead. "Are you waiting for
her, too! You must not blame her very much. She was very young and
temptation found her an innocent victim. You remember the woman in the
Bible who was forgiven much--because she loved much? Ernscliffe, you
will not be hard upon little Queenie--you will forgive her--for she
also loved much!"

The physician tapped his forehead significantly with his forefinger.

"Do not heed him--he raves," he said.

"Queenie, Queenie," called the poor sufferer, "come back, dear, I
forgive you, but you must ask God to forgive you, too. Get your Bible,
pet--read what Christ said."

Sydney, standing near the foot of the bed, looked strangely at her
mother. The dying man, as his restless glance roved about, saw that
look, and beckoned her with a warning finger.

"Come nearer, Sydney--you were cold and hard to her when she came
home--you, and mamma, and Georgie. Women are always hard to each other.
How could you be so cruel to the little one?"

He paused a moment, as if for reply, but Sydney turned her pale,
changeless face aside, and Mrs. Lyle was sobbing too wildly for words.
He went on babbling to himself on the one theme that held his thoughts:

"She was such a sweet child--was she not, mamma? So lovely, and so
loving! I can see her now with her golden curls flying on the breeze and
her light feet dancing over the turf! Little Goldilocks, we used to call
her sometimes. Goldilocks, Goldilocks, come, and kiss me. Papa forgives
you!"

Georgina, who had stood apart weeping against Lord Valentine's shoulder,
came forward and fell on her knees by the bed, thrilled to the heart by
the tender recollections his words awoke.

"Oh, papa, papa," she sobbed, "poor, little Queenie!"

He reached out and laid one trembling hand on the fair head still
crowned with the orange wreath. His words, though they seemed to the
physicians but the purposeless ravings of a disordered fancy, burnt
themselves upon her memory as if written in fire.

"Georgie, forgive her--she was more sinned against than sinning--and she
went mad and avenged the wrongs--remember that when she comes back."

"Queenie is _dead_, papa," sobbed Lady Valentine.

"Dead--who said that Queenie is dead?" he asked, looking vacantly about
him.

The physician came forward and forced a composing draught upon him.

"Do the vagaries of illness often assume such forms as this?" inquired
Sydney's clear voice from the foot of the bed, where she stood
supporting the form of her hysterical mother.

"As what, miss?" inquired the physician, politely.

"These strange and dreadful fancies about--about my sister," she
answered, flushing slightly. "His words, if _rational_, would imply so
much."

"But taken as the ravings of a disordered fancy they imply nothing,"
answered he, quickly. "He is not conscious of what he says. The shock of
your sister's sudden death has simply assumed some other form to his
delirious brain. Who can fathom the mysterious workings of a mind
diseased?"

Sydney glanced furtively across at Captain Ernscliffe. He was listening,
and his heavy, grief-filled gaze met her strange, inscrutable one.

"Do not distress yourself, Sydney," he said, very gently, "it is only
the raving of a mind distraught. Of course we know that our lost
darling"--his voice broke and quivered over the words and he paused a
moment and repeated them--"of course we know that our lost darling was
as pure as the snow. She never could have sinned."

"Who says that she sinned?" exclaimed Mr. Lyle, rousing slightly from
the stupor stealing over him. "Who says that she sinned? Let him among
you that is without sin, cast the first stone!"

He fell back exhausted on his pillow, and never spoke again. With the
first faint glimmer of the dawn the flickering spark of his life went
out--went out so gently that they could scarcely tell what moment the
soul was released from its earthly tabernacle.

His heart had been a tender one, more tender than is often found in man,
and his youngest daughter had been his idol all her life long. Her
protracted absence and her terrible return had strained the chords of
his heart almost to breaking--her sudden death had snapped them asunder.
Two days later they buried the two who had been so fondly united in
life, side by side, in a green and quiet graveyard, away from the noise
and tumult of the great, crowded city, and Lawrence Ernscliffe, as he
stood by the grave, calm to all outward appearance, though pale as
sculptured marble, when he turned away left all the heart he ever had to
give buried in the low mound that held his lost little Queenie.

And night fell, chilly, moonless and starless. The "homeless winds"
sighed over the two graves new-made in the green churchyard, and the
summer rain wept over them in the darkness, as though

    "The heart of Heaven were breaking
    In tears o'er the fallen earth."



CHAPTER X.


But, hark! who are those that disturb the peace that broods like the
wing of an angel over the city of the dead?

Under cover of the darkness and the rain, two dark, cloaked forms steal
along the graveled walk and pause beside the spot where the dark,
fresh-smelling earth is heaped in swelling mounds over the hapless
father and daughter.

The light of a bull's-eye lantern, flashing transiently over the form
and face of one, shows a tall, straight form, and features as handsome
as those of a Greek god. He speaks:

"To your work, Perkins! They were so cursed long putting her into the
ground that I feared my plot would fail! Hasten now. There is not a
minute to lose. As it is, we may be too late!"

The man called Perkins produced a spade from under his cloak, and set to
work, cautiously but rapidly throwing the earth off of one of the new
graves.

"Are you sure you are right now, Perkins? I believe I should kill you if
you made a mistake!" said the handsome man with the lantern, grinding a
terrible oath between his white teeth.

"You'll not have the chance to wreak your dev'lish temper on me," said
Perkins, in a familiar tone, as if addressing one with whom he was
thoroughly acquainted. "I'm sure of what I'm doing. I saw them put her
into this very hole this evening."

"Hurry up, then. What do you stop to talk for? Make your strokes as
light as possible. You might be heard!" said the lantern-bearer,
irascibly.

Perkins redoubled his exertions, but it seemed an age to his impatient
employer before the dull, horrible thud of the spade announced that the
coffin was reached.

"You'll have to help me git the coffin out," said Perkins. "It will be
no easy job in this darkness and the pouring rain."

It was no easy job, as he had said, but their united efforts, with the
usual appliances for such work, at length enabled them to raise it out
of the grave and set it on the ground beside them. Even as they did so,
a dreadful sound mingled with the sob of the wind and the putter of the
rain. It was a low and smothered moan from within the coffin!

"Great God, Perkins, wrench the lid off!" exclaimed the other,
excitedly. "She revives!"

Again and again the low moan echoed within the coffin, having a horrible
sound from within that prison-house of death, and fevering the blood of
the waiting man who swore audibly at Perkins, whose swiftest efforts
seemed like the progress of a snail to his impatient mood.

"Now, sir," said Perkins, at last, as panting, and perspiring, he threw
off the lid of the elegant casket, "now, sir, there's your game!"

The man flashed the lantern light forward. It shone on a beautiful white
face, fixed in unconsciousness, now, the dews of horror standing thick
and wet on the brow, the lips bleeding where the pearly teeth had bitten
them in anguish, the small, dimpled white hands clenched in the lace
upon her breast that was frayed and torn with her frantic struggles at
finding herself in that awful prison. But blessed unconsciousness had
supervened, and she looked death-like indeed to the eyes that beheld
her.

"Looks like she might be gone, sure enough, this time sir," said
Perkins, uneasily.

"If she _is_, I'll kill _you_, d--n you!" cried the man. "I'll not be
balked of my revenge like that. I'll glut it on somebody!"

Even while speaking he bent down and laid his hand upon her heart.

"No, she lives; I feel her heart beat faintly," he said. "Quick,
Perkins, the cloak! It rains on her."

"The rain will revive her," said Perkins, as he unfolded a long, dark
waterproof cloak and handed it to his companion.

The man lifted Queenie's slight form, and wrapped the long cloak over
the bridal robe in which she had been buried.

"Now, then," he said, putting a thick roll of bank-notes into the man's
hand, "cover up the grave, and remove every trace of this night's work.
And--_remember_, one word of _this_ to a living soul, and I'll send your
black soul to the devil!"

"Mum's the word, sir!" answered the man, beginning to lower the empty
coffin back into the grave.

His employer turned without another word and passed swiftly away through
the rain and the darkness to the carriage that waited for him near the
gates, bearing the unconscious girl in his arms.

He entered the carriage, deposited the still unconscious Queenie on a
seat in a recumbent attitude, and holding her head in his arms, was
whirled rapidly away through the murky night. For an hour or more he
rode thus, and the carriage stopped at length before a cottage embowered
in trees on the banks of a broad, dark river. He lifted his burden,
stepped through the gate, and the carriage whirled away.

Hurrying up the steps, he paused on the low, ornate piazza that ran
around the house, and rang the bell.

The door was opened by a neat-looking woman of middle age, who held a
lamp above her head.

"Ah! it is you," was all she said.

"Yes, it is I; and I have brought back your mistress, Mrs. Bowers, as I
said I would, though you _did_ have the impudence to insinuate that I
had made way with her," he answered, in a tone of rough pleasantry.

"You are none too good to have done it," she answered, with a certain
cool and familiar impertinence.

"Confound your impudence--lead the way to her room," he said,
carelessly. "She is ill and needs attention."

Mrs. Bowers went up the stairway and opened the door into a large, airy
room, exquisitely furnished and draped with hangings of white lace over
rose-colored silk. Costly pictures and statuettes adorned the walls, and
all the appointments were of elegant design, and evidently selected
regardless of expense.

Mrs. Bowers held back the sweeping lace canopy of the low French bed,
and the man laid his fair burden down upon it, after removing the dark
cloak.

"What ails her?" asked the woman, starting as a low moan broke from the
lips of the only half-conscious girl.

"I told you she was ill," he said, curtly. "She has been in a swoon. Get
restoratives."

Mrs. Bowers obeyed him, and was soon bathing the pale face and limp,
nerveless hands, with refreshing perfume.

Directly Queenie started up, passed her hand across her brow and looked
about her. An expression of loathing swept across her face.

"Are you glad to find yourself in your old quarters, my dear?" asked the
man, sardonically, from the window to which he had retreated.

She started as if someone had struck her a terrible blow, and looked
across the room. Fear, horror, despair, were all blended in the look she
cast upon his handsome, satanically smiling face.



CHAPTER XI.


Mrs. Bowers, seeing that her mistress had revived, lighted a brilliant
jet of gas and went out. Queenie did not even notice her departure so
intently was her gaze fixed on the man at the window, who stood there
calm, _nonchalant_, even smiling, standing the scathing fire of her
beautiful eyes like a soldier.

"So," she said, at last, and there was surprise and regret both
commingled in her tone, "so you are not _dead_!"

"No thanks to you, little tigress," he answered, with a fierce, yellow
light flaring into his black eyes. "You did your best to further that
end."

"I might have forseen how vain was the endeavor," she retorted, in
passionate anger, and quoted an old saying: "They cannot be drowned who
are born to be _hung_."

He laughed in mockery at the bitter insinuation, but years after, when
the light of Heaven shone on him through the grated bars of a prison
cell, and he heard outside the horrible sound of the hammers driving the
nails into his scaffold, he remembered the words with wonder, and
thought she must have been gifted with "second-sight," as the Scotch
called the gift of prophecy.

"Now I know it was you that sent me the flowers," she said. "Why did you
do it? They were poisoned!"

"No, only drugged! It was a subtle drug I bought in the east long ago--a
drug warranted to produce a long and sudden sleep perfectly resembling
death."

"Again I ask you, why did you do it?" she said, and her voice was full
of wonder.

"I wanted to get you into my power once more. That was the safest plan
to effect it. I let them bury you, and then I resurrected you."

"What did you want of me? You wearied of me before. Why not have let me
go in peace?"

She tried to speak calmly, but her voice trembled with some inward
resentment, and there was a passion of hatred in her dusky eyes that
might have killed him where he stood. A rage as deadly as hers leaped up
in his eyes in answer.

"Because I _hate_ you!" he said, wickedly.

"We always hate those whom we have wronged," she replied, and her whole
form trembled with her passionate indignation.

"I hate you because of that cowardly blow in the dark," he said angrily.
"But for that I might have let you go free, though I pitied Captain
Ernscliffe for being deceived by you."

"Villain!" she exclaimed, "I have not deceived him!"

"You have not?" he sneered. "Did you not withhold from him the story of
that year which he supposed you to have spent in Europe? Did you not
allow him to think you an innocent woman?"

She sprang to her feet and stood facing him, her dark-blue eyes
dilating, her cheeks flushing, her small hands clenched tightly in her
breathless anger. An artist's pencil might have handed his name down to
immortal fame could he have put on canvas that striking scene--the
beautiful room, and the man in his splendid, insolent, satanic beauty,
standing before that lovely incarnation of pride and passion, with her
glorious veil of golden hair falling loosely about her superb form, and
the shining folds of her costly bridal robe sweeping far behind her on
the rich velvet carpet.

"I _am_ an innocent woman," she said, proudly, and the light shone on
her lifted face and the earnest fire in her eyes. "I _am_ an innocent
woman! I have done no wrong, though I am a betrayed, unhappy, and
insulted victim! I have been sinned against, but I have not sinned!"

He laughed, cruelly, mockingly, insultingly.

"Why do you laugh?" she said. "_You_ know that it is true. You deceived
me and betrayed me, but was I to blame? I carried the marriage
certificate in my breast as a precious thing! I thought it was true as
Heaven, I thought I was pure as the snow! And I _am_! How could _your_
sin touch me?"

Again he laughed mockingly.

"Your mind is strangely warped," he said. "But if you were innocent in
the one thing, how about the blow in the dark? Was there no sin in
that?"

"I deny that there was sin!" she said, with passionate defiance in her
look and tone. "It was simple justice--'a blow for a blow.' You drove me
mad with the horror and cruelty of all I learned! It seemed to me that I
was given back from the grave to rid the world of a monster!"

"You failed," he said, derisively.

"Yes, to my sorrow," she answered. "But, ah! Leon Vinton, surely a day
of reckoning will come to you. The justice of God will not always sleep.
I was not permitted to take your punishment out of His hands who has
said 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay.' It will come, it will come!"

"You prate of God's vengeance," he said, sneeringly, "but it suits you
to forget that the preachers call him also a God of mercy, and love, and
forgiveness!"

"Forgiveness!" she echoed, wildly. "Neither God nor man could forgive
you, Leon Vinton! You have committed an unpardonable sin. You have
broken my heart, you have tried to kill my soul, you murdered me! Can I
ever forgive _this_?"

She swept back the golden waves of hair that shaded her white brow and
showed him the livid scar of a deep wound beneath them.

"It is your hellish work!" she said. "You ground your cruel boot-heel
into the brow your false lips had kissed a thousand times; you strangled
my life out with the hands that had caressed me uncounted times! Oh, my
God, can I ever forgive or forget my wrongs?"

"I will kill you the next time more surely, curse you!" he hissed, in
ungovernable rage, and striding forward, he caught her white arm rudely,
almost crushing it in his iron grasp. "Cease, girl, not another word!"

She wrenched herself out of his grasp and answered, defiantly:

"Let me go, then, if you cannot bear my reproaches. Let me return to my
husband."

A sneer curled his thin lips as she spoke with an unconscious accent of
tenderness on the words "my husband."

"Your husband, as you call him, shall never know that you are not
mouldering yonder in Rose Hill Cemetery. You shall never look upon his
face again, Queenie Lyle."

"Mrs. Ernscliffe, if you please," she said, drawing her graceful form
erect with a defiant dignity.

"Mrs. Ernscliffe, then, if it pleases you better," he answered,
mockingly. "Though why you care for the name I do not know. You do not
love the man."

"I _do_ love him," she answered, firmly, her fair head slightly drooped,
and a burning blush crimsoning her cheeks.

"Since when?" he queried, sneeringly. "You did not love him when he
asked you to marry him. I heard you tell him so."

"You heard me!" she exclaimed, in surprise.

"Yes, I was a witness to that moonlight wooing. I have seldom lost sight
of you since you returned to your father's house, and resumed the _role_
of innocent maidenhood."

"A spy!" she said, scornfully.

"Yes, if you put it so," he answered, coolly. "We need not be particular
about terms."

She looked at him as if he were something wonderful. The effrontery of
his wickedness almost paralyzed her. She clasped her hands and lifted
her blue eyes.

"Oh, just Heaven," she said, "why does thy vengeance tarry in smiting
this monster?"

"Permit me to commend your dramatic ability," he said, with a
mock-courtly bow. "Your tones and gestures would make your fortune on
the tragic stage."

She sank into a chair and dropped her face into her hands. She was very
weary and physically exhausted, having eaten nothing since the day of
her supposed death, but she felt no hunger now, though she was faint and
thirsty.

"Your tirade appears to be over," he remarked, with his evil sneer.

She looked up.

"Tell me one thing," she said, trying to speak calmly. "What do you want
of me? Why did you care to get me back, when we both hate each other?"

The glare of that hatred of which she spoke flamed luridly up in his
dark eyes.

"That is the very reason that I brought you back," he answered; "because
I hated you, and because I intended to make your life one long,
insufferable weariness to you until you die."

Again she looked at him with wonder. Her gentler nature could not fathom
the cruel vindictiveness of his.

"Oh, Leon," she gasped, "you would not be so cruel? Think of all that I
have suffered at your hands already. Let me go, I beg you! I am so
young, I may make something of my life yet, if I can only go back to the
good, true man I have already learned to love and honor."

The words seemed to madden him.

"Never!" he shouted, hoarsely, with a terrible oath. "Never! I hate
Lawrence Ernscliffe--I have an old grudge against him. I will have my
revenge on you both. You shall stay here, locked in these four walls, a
hated prisoner, as long as you live. Mrs. Bowers shall be your jailer,
and here you shall dwell, eating your heart out in abject wretchedness
and misery unutterable. Do you like the picture? _Au revoir, Mrs.
Ernscliffe!_"



CHAPTER XII.


Queenie heard the key grate in the lock and sprang up, uttering wild
shrieks of passion and despair, almost beside herself with the horror of
her new situation.

But no response came to her frenzied screams and cries. Perhaps those
gilded walls had echoed such wails of agony before, and the hearts of
those who heard them had grown callous with long familiarity.

She ran up and down the room like one mad, alternately skrieking and
beating upon the locked door, until she fell upon the floor, conquered
by sheer exhaustion.

She lay there awhile, then sprang up restlessly again.

"I will endure it no longer," she said, passionately; "I will throw
myself down from the window and kill myself!"

Full of that wild, suicidal resolve, she ran to the window and pushed up
the sash.

The night was far spent, and that awful darkness that comes just before
dawn obscured everything, its blackness intensified by the drizzling
rain that still poured steadily down.

Queenie fell upon her knees with the rain beating in upon her white face
and long, flowing hair, and clasped her little hands together as her
father had taught her to do when she was but a toddling baby-girl.

"Oh, God!" she prayed, lifting her lovely, despairing face to the dark
sky as if to catch a glimpse of the all-merciful Father to whom she
appealed. "Oh, God, pity and forgive me for sending my soul uncalled for
before its divine Maker. And, Heavenly Father, whatever of wrong I have
committed, do Thou pity and pardon it. That sin with which I stand
charged Thou knowest I would have died a thousand deaths rather than
willfully commit it, and----"

She paused, overcome by agonized recollections, and rising, peered out
into the darkness below.

"In the morning when he comes out into the garden," she said, "he will
find my poor, crushed, bleeding body lying beneath this window. Surely,
then, when his murderous hate has driven me to self-destruction, his
revenge will be complete!"

She placed her hand on the sill of the window, and leaned forward for
the fatal spring that was to end her earthly sorrows.

How slight a thing can distract our attention even in the most absorbing
moments of our lives.

Queenie's hands fell upon a cold, wet mass of leaves, and a gust of
intoxicating perfume blew into her face. She immediately drew back.

She had suddenly remembered that some thickly twisted vines of ivy and
sweet-scented honeysuckle were trained up to her window in the second
story.

A thought, as sudden as an inspiration, darted into her mind.

Instead of dashing her brains out on the hard ground below, why not
escape down this ladder of vines to love and happiness again?

"I will do it," she said to herself. "I will go back to my husband. I
will tell him I was stolen from my grave, and that I revived in the
fresh air, and life came back to me in its full tide. Oh! how glad he
will be to see me--my poor Lawrence. He loved me so dearly!"

In the swift revulsion of feeling from despair and desperation to love
and hope again she gave way to a burst of hysterical tears.

"I must not stay here to weep," she said, at length, brushing the
crystal drops away from her cheeks. "I must be far on my way to my
husband before he discovers my escape."

She took up the thick, hooded waterproof cloak that lay on a chair, and
wrapped it around her.

"This will never do," she said, seeing the long train of her splendid
dress sweeping from beneath the hem of the cloak. "I must not be seen
going into the city in this plight."

She took off the cloak and tucked up the long train and pinned it
securely around her, resumed the waterproof, and climbed up into the
window.

"Farewell, Leon Vinton," she said. "Pray God I may never look on your
evil face again!"

She took a firm hold of the thick body of the vine with both hands, and
with a slight shudder swung herself forward into the darkness.

The vine swayed and creaked with her weight, and for one dreadful moment
she thought she should be precipitated to the ground to the death which
a moment before she had courted, but which now, in the new dawn of hope,
she shunned. The shower of rain-drops, shaken down from the leaves into
her face, almost took her breath away. The wild wind tossed her from
side to side like a feather as she clung to her frail support.

"I shall surely be killed," she said to herself in terror.

But no--the delicate reed to which she had trusted her existence did not
fail her. She waited breathlessly a moment, then feeling that it still
held secure, she cautiously slipped one hand and then the other down to
a lower hold on the body of the vine. In that way, with many frightened
heart-beats, with sore and bleeding hands, and at infinite pains, she at
length accomplished the descent, and stood upon the ground enfolded like
a mantle by the thick darkness and pouring rain.

At the gate she paused again, and looked up at one window in a wing of
the house where a night-light glimmered faintly.

"Farewell, Leon Vinton," she said, again. "May the vengeance of God be
swift to overtake and punish you for your awful sins!"

She opened the gate softly and stepped out into the wet and slushy
road, wetting her thin, white satin slippers and silk stockings through
and through at the first step. She did not care for it, she scarcely
felt it, her heart was beating so quick and fast with joy.

"I am free!" was the exultant cry of her heart. "I am free--I am going
back to my husband. I shall tell him how fondly I have learned to love
him since I promised to be his wife. I will cling so closely to his side
that Leon's vindictive rage can never touch me!"

She pushed on steadily through the mud and water, her long garments
speedily becoming soaked with the watery elements and greatly impeding
her ease and rapidity of motion, while her heart began to beat wildly
with terror at the darkness, the desolation and loneliness of the
country road.

"I am very tired," she moaned, after traveling what seemed to her a long
distance. "It is five miles to the city. I must have come two miles at
least. I wonder if I can hold out to get there. My feet are so heavy
with the mud and the water that I can scarcely lift them. I must sit
down here and rest myself one minute--only _one little minute_!"

She dropped down like a log on the grass by the side of the road, and
the first pale beams of the watery dawn just breaking in the east,
showed her deathly-white face just fading into unconsciousness.



CHAPTER XIII.


When Queenie threw herself down upon the wet grass in a weariness so
utter that she could no longer hold her aching limbs upright, she had
thought that a minute of rest would put new strength into her exhausted
frame, and enable her to pursue her journey.

But exhausted nature could bear no more. Her unbroken fast of nearly
three days, and her wet and draggled condition combined to weaken and
depress her. Her limbs trembled under her, and when she fell down for
one minute's rest, a deep unconsciousness stole upon her, wrapping her
senses in lethargy. Her last conscious thought was one of agonized
terror, lest ere she revived her enemy should discover her escape, and
set out to trace her.

While she lay there mute and still, the dawn began to grow brighter in
the east, the rain slackened, and a few pale beams of sunshine striking
upon the scene, showed that she had fallen almost at the gate of a
little farm-house from whose chimneys the blue smoke curled cheerfully
up, showing that the inhabitants were already up and about their daily
labors.

Presently a middle-aged man, in the rough, coarse garb of a farmer came
out of the house and strode down to the gate, whistling a merry tune,
and snapping and cracking the great leathern whip he carried in his
hand.

As he stepped outside the gate his cheerful whistle suddenly ended in an
exclamation of terror.

His glance had fallen on the still form lying just outside the gate,
with its lovely, white face and closed eyes upturned to the light.

He stood still a moment, looking down at her in awe and consternation.

"What a pretty young un," he said, aloud, "And she's dead, I
mistrust--stone dead!"

The next moment he leaned over the gate and called loudly:

"Wife, wife, come out!"

The door opened and a middle-aged, pleasant-looking woman appeared. She
was flushed as if she had been over the fire, and held some small
cooking utensil in her hand.

"Well, Jerry," she said, "what do you want now?"

"Come out and see," he answered.

"Well, but I can't leave the cakes," said she, intent on her housewifely
cares; "they will burn."

"Tell Jennie to mind the gridiron," he said, "and do you come out to
me."

She went in and reappeared after a minute, coming down the path with her
homely check apron thrown over her head.

"What now, Jerry?" she said, half-pettishly, half good-naturedly. "What
is lost this morning? A pity I have to mind the farm-tools as well as
the frying-pans!"

Jerry, whom this home thrust betrayed to be a good-natured, shiftless
fellow, dependent on his better-half's more orderly ways, looked up to
laugh, then checked himself, awed by the presence of that still form at
his feet.

"There's naught misplaced this time, my dear," he said; "you shouldn't
be forever twitting a poor, careless fellow with his faults."

"What is't amiss, then?" she said, as she came up to the gate.

"Look _there_!" he answered, pointing down. "A poor tramp dead in the
road!"

The good woman looked, started, and her healthy, red cheeks turned
white.

"Oh, my Heavenly Father!" she ejaculated. "Who is't, Jerry?"

"How should I know, woman?" asked her husband. "I've but just stepped
outside the gate and found her."

"And is she really, truly _dead_, Jerry?"

"She looks like it," he said. "But stoop down and feel of her heart,
Jane. See if it beats."

The woman came out of the gate, and bending down, put her hand
half-timorously inside of Queenie's cloak and felt her heart.

"Yes--no--yes, it does beat just the leastest bit," she said. "Poor
creature! Take her up and carry her into the kitchen, Jerry. Perhaps we
may revive her."

"That's like your good heart, Jane," said the farmer, as he lifted up
the limp form and conveyed it into the kitchen.

A rosy, exceedingly pretty, dark-eyed girl who was busily frying
corn-cakes over the fire came forward with an exclamation of surprise as
he laid his burden down upon the lounge that stood in one corner.

"Never mind the cakes, Jennie," said her mother. "Come and lend a hand
to save a poor creetur as your father found perishin' in the road."

"What can I do, mother?" asked the girl.

"Take them muddy things off her feet, and rub the poor creetur's limbs
dry," said the good woman, busying herself in removing the wet cloak, "I
declare to gracious!" she said, after a moment. "How blind men are.
Jerry called her a tramp. Look at them rings on her fingers! Look at
that dress, fine enough for the finest bride! Is that the way tramps
dress, Mr. Thorn?"

"She's of the finest quality, mother," said the girl called Jennie. "Her
slippers are white satin, her stockings pure silk, and worked all over
with flowers."

"Never mind the shoes and the stockings, Jennie," said her father, "but
rub the little un's feet. See how cold and blue they are."

Thus adjured, Jennie brought a warm flannel cloth, and began to rub the
icy little feet of the wayfarer, while her mother brought strong camphor
and bathed the pale face; now and then applying a bottle of ammonia to
her nostrils.

Under this vigorous treatment, and the revivifying heat of the room, the
patient's heart began to beat quicker, and a faint, thread-like pulse to
flutter in her blue-veined wrist.

"Poor soul!" exclaimed Mrs. Thorn. "I _do_ wonder how she came to be out
in such a storm? All in her party dress, too! She'd be as pretty as a
pink, with her eyes open, and a bit more color in her cheeks."

The farmer now approached with a cup of warm coffee and a teaspoon.

"Belike she needs summat to warm her up," he said. "Take the spoon,
Jane, and force a wee bit of coffee between her lips."

Mrs. Thorn did as requested, but with no visible result for the better.
The patient still lay with closed eyes and lips, showing no sign of
life, save in the tremulous beat of her heart and the faint, faint pulse
of her wrist.

Mrs. Thorn still worked patiently over her, but at the end of an hour
looked disheartened.

"I mistrust that this is a case for the doctor," she said; "we have done
what we could, but all to no use."

"I could bring a doctor, but who's to pay him?" said the farmer. "We
have no money, Jane, and Jennie's out of work."

"The lady could pay him, herself," suggested Jennie. "There's them rings
on her fingers worth a mint of money."

"Yea, that's so," said the mother. "Go and get the doctor, Jennie. The
lady will die, I'm afraid, if she lays in this state much longer."

"I'll go and bring Dr. Pillsbury, then," said the farmer, going out,
followed by repeated injunctions from his wife to hurry.

"There's not a minute to lose," she said. "Even now it may be too late
to raise the poor creetur to life again, so low as she has sunk."



CHAPTER XIV.


Farmer Thorn stepped out of the gate, and was about to proceed on his
way, when his attention was arrested by the rather unusual sight of a
gentleman tearing madly along the road on a fine black horse.

The farmer was so impressed with the parting injunction of his wife as
to the necessity of a physician's immediate presence, that a wild fancy
that this hurrying horseman might belong to the medical fraternity
darted directly into his mind.

He accordingly lifted his hand as a signal for the impetuous rider to
pause.

The gentleman checked his impatient steed, and inquired with a smothered
oath.

"What the deuce is your business with me? I'm in a devil of a hurry!"

"I mistrusted you might be a doctor?" said the farmer, inquiringly.

"The devil! Who's sick?" was the exceedingly civil rejoinder.

"A strange lady that we found in the road this morning. She's like to
die," said Mr. Thorn.

In the twinkling of an eye the rider was off his horse, with the bridle
thrown over his arm.

"Yes, I'm a doctor," he said, briskly. "Here, tie up my horse, and let
me see the patient at once."

Mr. Thorn was so impressed by the confident air of the man that he
readily obeyed the somewhat arrogant command, and Mrs. Thorn and Jennie
were somewhat surprised at his quick return, accompanied by an utter
stranger.

"I met a doctor right at the gate, wife," he explained; "so I did not go
for Dr. Pillsbury."

"Here's your patient, sir," said Mrs. Thorn, turning back the gay
patchwork counterpane, in which she had carefully enveloped the
unconscious Queenie.

What was her surprise to see him fall upon his knees and clasp his
hands, while his dark, handsome features became luminous with mingled
joy and sorrow.

"Oh, my dear sister, my sweet, unhappy girl!" he exclaimed, "is it thus
I find you. Oh! madam, is she indeed dead?" he inquired, turning sadly
to Mrs. Thorn.

"Her heart beats just a little, sir," said Mrs. Thorn, looking at him in
surprise.

"Do you know the lady, sir?" asked Jennie Thorn, a little timidly.

The man turned around, and looked at the farmer's exceedingly pretty
daughter with a furtive look of admiration. Instead of answering her he
spoke to the farmer.

"Your daughter, I suppose, sir?"

"Yes, sir, my daughter Jennie," said the farmer, with a glance of pride
at his pretty daughter. "She's been out at service this three years,
sir, but at present she's out of a place."

"Ah!" he said, politely; then turning back to the motionless form before
him, he said: "Yes, Miss Jennie, I know this lady. She is my own
sister. Unfortunately she is insane--driven mad by an unhappy love
affair. She persists in dressing herself in white and calling herself a
bride. This morning, just before daybreak, she escaped from us, and I
have been seeking her everywhere. It was a fortunate chance that led me
here.

"Do you think that she will revive, sir?" inquired Mrs. Thorn, who was
watching the patient anxiously.

He turned and laid his hand over the girl's heart, knitting his brows
with an air of medical wisdom.

"Oh, yes," he said, confidently. "There is life here yet. She is weak
and exhausted, having eaten but little for several days. Have you tried
forcing a little wine between her lips?"

"No; we had none," apologized the farmer; "we are but poor folks."

Pretty Jennie Thorn blushed and looked away at her father's frank
admission. She felt ashamed of their poverty before the haughty glance
of the handsome stranger.

The man took a little cut-glass flask with a golden stopper from his
pocket. It was full of wine, and he lifted Queenie's head on his arm,
poured a few drops between her pale lips and suffered them to trickle
down her throat. He repeated the operation several times, then laid her
head gently back on the pillow.

"You will soon see her rally now," he said, looking at Jennie with a
smile. "And now I must be making arrangements to take my poor little
sister home again."

A startled cry came from the lips of the invalid.

The man's last words had penetrated her reviving senses.

She raised herself on her arm and looked about her at the unfamiliar
room and the strange faces around her.

"Leon Vinton, _you_ here?" she exclaimed in a piteous tone. "Oh, Heaven,
where am I?"

"We are all friends, miss," said Mrs. Thorn, soothingly. "You fell
exhausted by the roadside, and we took you in and cared for you until
your brother came along and found you here."

Queenie's eyes flashed scornfully into Leon Vinton's face.

"Does _he_ say that he is my brother?" she demanded, pointing her finger
at him and looking at Mrs. Thorn.

"Yes, miss," answered the woman.

"He lies!" exclaimed Queenie, passionately, gaining strength with her
anger. "I am nothing to him, nothing! He is trying to deceive you that
he may get me into his power!"

Leon Vinton sighed mournfully, and shook his head as he looked around at
the girl's auditors.

"Ah, my friends, I told you she was mad," he said, sadly. "You see she
denies her own brother!"

"You are _not_ my brother, villain!" exclaimed Queenie, angrily; and
looking round at the others, she said: "My good friends, do not believe
this man--I am no relative of his, and he is trying to deceive you, and
get me into his power to torture my life out! Oh, sir, I appeal to you,
and to you, madam, also, to protect me from this villain. Drive him
forth this moment from this honest house whose pure air he pollutes with
his foul presence!"

The farmer and his wife began to cast dark looks at Leon Vinton, so
impressed were they with the earnestness of the girl's words and looks.
They began to think it was the truth she spoke instead of the ravings of
madness. The arch villain soon saw that they were inclined to doubt his
word, and threw fresh earnestness and eloquence into his dramatic
manner.

"Oh, my darling, unfortunate little sister," he cried, dropping on one
knee beside her, and trying to take her hands in his, "how it grieves me
that your distraught mind should take me for the accursed villain who
has destroyed your happiness forever--me, your devoted brother, whose
whole life is devoted to your service!"

"Villain! wretch!" exclaimed Queenie, "out of my sight before I try to
kill you! Oh, will no one drive the monster away?" she wildly cried.

"She grows violent," said Vinton, looking sadly around him. "I must
remove her from here before her frenzy leads her to harm some of you.
Have you any kind of a comfortable trap that I could take her home in?"
he inquired, looking at the farmer.

"I will not go with you!" exclaimed the unhappy girl. "I am going home
to my husband. You shall not prevent me! Oh, sir," she cried, turning
her streaming eyes on Mr. Thorn's face, "you will not suffer this man to
take me away from here! I assure you, I am no kin of his, and that he is
seeking my destruction. Grant me the shelter of your roof, and your
manly protection against this villain's arts, till I can send word to my
father and my husband to come for me."

Mr. Thorn looked at the agonized face of the beautiful girl, and he
could not believe that she was insane. There seemed too much "method in
her madness." He cast a suspicious look on Vinton, and answered firmly:

"Be calm, lady. He shall not take you away without proof of what he says
about you. I will protect you!"

"Oh, father! how can you presume to doubt the gentleman's word?"
exclaimed Jennie Thorn impulsively, for the man's handsome face and
consummate acting had quite won her young, impressionable heart over to
his side.

Leon Vinton cast a grateful look upon her, throwing so much
impressiveness into his look that she dropped her eyes and blushed
deeply. In that moment the villain saw the impression he had made upon
her innocent heart, and the simple, trusting girl was from that instant
marked as his victim.

"Sir," he said, turning to the farmer, and speaking in an imperious
tone, "do not you know that I can take legal means to punish you for
thus depriving me of the custody of my insane sister?"

"I do not believe she is insane," said the farmer, doggedly. "Neither do
I believe that she is your sister. And you can't take her away from here
without proving your right."

"Well said, husband!" exclaimed Mrs. Thorn, approvingly, for her
motherly heart was full of sympathy for the distressed girl, who had so
touchingly implored her protection.

Queenie cast a look of heartfelt gratitude upon these homely friends,
who had espoused her cause in so outspoken a way; but simple Jennie
Thorn exclaimed quickly:

"Oh, mother! oh, father! I'm sure the gent speaks the truth. The lady
_must_ be crazy; for how else could she be wandering in the night and
the storm, in her white dress and thin satin slippers?"

"Hold your peace, girl. This is a matter for wiser heads than yours!"
answered her father, rather shortly; and Jennie subsided into silence,
not, however, without receiving the reward in another beaming look of
gratitude from the dark eyes of the man whom she was defending.

Mr. Vinton tried another tack. Finding the farmer's sense of justice
impregnable to threats, he put his hand in his pocket, and withdrew it
filled with gold pieces. He held them toward the man with a significant
look.

"Put your gold back, sir," said the farmer, sturdily. "We are poor folks
enough, but gold can't buy our honor!" and though he was but a poor
tiller of the soil, his mien was princely as he thus defended his honor.

Leon Vinton's brow grew black as night. He muttered some inaudible
curses between his teeth. Only his sense of policy restrained him from
knocking Mr. Thorn down.

"What am I to do?" he said, with an air of great perplexity. "Here is my
poor sister lying here needing the care of her friends, and the comforts
and luxuries of her home. Yet you will not permit me to exercise my
right to remove her."

"Prove your right, sir," said the farmer, firmly; "that's all I want you
to do."

"And if I prove my right to remove her you will suffer me to do so?"
asked Leon, after a moment's earnest thought.

"Why, of course, sir. I'd have no right to detain her after that."

"He cannot prove his right!" exclaimed Queenie, who had lain silent for
some minutes.

"Have you an errand boy?" asked Vinton, disregarding the interruption.

Mr. Thorn went to the door, and called "Jotham," and the boy-of-all-work
shambled in.

"Do you know a cottage on the banks of the river, two miles from here,
Jotham?"

"Ya'as, sur," said the boy, broadly.

Leon Vinton wrote these words on a slip of paper:

"_Take the carriage and come here immediately._"

He directed the note to Mrs. Bowers, and gave it to the boy, with
instructions to deliver it at the cottage by the river.



CHAPTER XV.


The time passed slowly enough to the impatient Vinton while the
boy-of-all-work was gone on his mission to Mrs. Bowers. He paced up and
down impatiently, now and then casting surly looks of hatred and revenge
upon the honest farmer who had dared to defy him and protect his
trembling victim.

Mrs. Thorn, seeing that Queenie was better and did not need her
attention, busied herself in setting the neglected breakfast upon the
table. She put on the smoking coffee, the hot corn-cakes, the fried
bacon and eggs, the fresh butter and milk, and invited her visitors to
partake of the homely fare.

Leon Vinton declined the invitation by a surly nod, but Queenie, who had
been watching her movements eagerly, readily signified her consent.

"I am very hungry," she declared, "for owing to the wickedness of yonder
man, I have not tasted food for several days."

"Oh, my poor, demented little sister," exclaimed the hypocritical
Vinton, "would to God your reason might be restored!"

Queenie only cast a look of scorn upon him as she took her place at the
breakfast-table. Her heart was infused with fresh courage owing to the
noble conduct of the farmer and his wife in repelling the persecutions
of Leon Vinton.

She determined to get the farmer to go into town for her father, and she
resolved that these kind people should be most liberally rewarded for
the resolute course by which they had secured her happiness. So inspired
was she by this brilliant hope, and so strengthened by the warm coffee,
that a faint flush came into her cheek, and her blue eyes sparkled with
excitement and animation.

"Your breakfast has set you up quite a bit, ma'am," exclaimed Mrs.
Thorn, admiringly. "You don't hardly look like the same woman we took up
for dead in the road."

"Your kindness has put new life in me, madam," answered Queenie,
gratefully. "It is the hope of escape from this man that fills me with
joy and lights up my face with gladness."

"Poor dear!" exclaimed the woman, turning a look of scorn on Vinton as
he still moodily paced the floor.

"Ah, madam," exclaimed he, catching that look, "in a little while, when
my sister arrives and corroborates my story, you will see how much you
have wronged me in giving credence to the senseless ravings of this poor
lunatic."

Even as he spoke there was a stir and a bustle at the door. The farmer
hastened to open it, and Mrs. Bowers, elegantly dressed and visibly
excited, rushed in. Leon Vinton sprang to meet her.

"Oh, my dear sister!" he exclaimed, "I have found our poor little one!"

Mrs. Bowers took the cue at once.

"Oh, brother!" she cried, theatrically, "you fill me with joy! What
tortures, what agonies I have endured in the fear that she was dead!"

She rolled her eyes around the room, and seeing Queenie sitting near the
fire, ran up and vigorously embraced her.

"Oh, my poor, unhappy darling," she cried, "how could you grieve your
poor old sister so?"

Queenie pushed her off frantically like the mad creature they accused
her of being.

"You are not my sister," she cried, angrily. "Go away Mrs. Bowers. You
cannot impose on these good people with your shameless lies! They would
not believe Leon Vinton and they will not believe you. They are friends
to me, and they will help me back to my husband."

Mrs. Bowers threw up her hands and looked at her coadjutor in villainy
sadly.

"You see she is still as mad as a March hare," he answered, "and would
you believe it, Alice, dear, our little sister has so imposed on these
good people with her cunning insanity, that they actually believe her
stories, and look upon me, her devoted brother, as a perjured villain
seeking her destruction. They will not even permit me to remove my poor,
demented sister home without proof of my assertion."

Mrs. Bowers looked around at the farmer and his wife with an air of
indulgent pity.

"Oh, my good people, is it possible that you have been so weak as to let
this cunning maniac deceive you? But no wonder--for insanity has baffled
wiser heads than yours or mine. It is quite natural she should deceive
you, as I do not suppose you ever saw a crazy person before. But now let
me assure you that my brother has told you the simple truth. This is our
own sister, and she has been a year insane. She escaped from us this
morning before daylight, and he has been seeking her everywhere. I have
come in the carriage, and I suppose you will not now raise any further
objection to our removing her to her home."

"I will not go with you!" exclaimed Queenie, filled with terror lest the
woman's specious acting should deceive the simple country people. "Every
word you have uttered is a base falsehood! I am nothing to either of
you--nothing! Go away and leave me in peace!"

In her wild excitement she sprang up and shook her hands violently at
Mrs. Bowers. Her loose, disheveled hair, her flashing eyes, her waving
hands made her look like a wild creature. Mrs. Bowers pointed at her
triumphantly.

"You see for yourselves that she is mad," she said. "She is going off
into one of her violent and dangerous fits, and she is just as apt as
not to catch up a knife from the table there and kill one of you. Oh,
for God's sake, brother, take her and put her in the carriage!"

Leon Vinton advanced to do her bidding, but Queenie fought him off like
a young lioness at bay.

"Oh, good people!" she cried, "help me, for Heaven's sake! Do not suffer
this villain to take me!"

"I have given you full proof now that this is my sister," exclaimed Leon
Vinton to the farmer. "I warn you if you interfere with me further it
will be at your peril!"

The farmer and his wife had been completely deceived by the spirited and
natural acting of Mrs. Bowers. They began to believe that they had
indeed been deceived into believing the artful ravings of a violent
maniac.

Therefore, when Queenie called on them for help they only stood aloof,
regarding her frightened, excited aspect with newly-awakened fear.

"Ha! so you are now convinced of the truth," exclaimed Leon Vinton,
triumphantly, seeing that they made no effort to molest him.

"Yes, sir, we are," said the farmer, in a conciliatory tone; "and I wish
to make my apology to you for the trouble I've put you to. The young
girl's acting was very nat'ral, but I see now that you told the truth
about her."

"I told you so, father!" exclaimed Jennie, triumphantly.

"Tut, tut, Jen--hold your tongue, you impudent girl!" exclaimed Mrs.
Thorn, sharply.

Queenie had dropped into a chair at the farmer's renunciation of her
claims, and, hiding her face in her hands, burst into a passionate fit
of weeping. Mrs. Bowers stood by her making a pretended effort at
consoling her, but her pretended brother paid no heed to the wretched
girl. He looked at Jennie's bright, pretty face, and then turned to her
father.

"I think you said your daughter was out of a place, at present," he
said, blandly. "Do you wish to secure another one for her?"

"Yes, we do," was the ready answer. "We have to put her out to service,
for we cannot afford to keep her at home. She must earn her clothes and
a bit more to help us along at home."

"I think my sister needs just such a girl about the house, to help her
with the housekeeping," said Leon Vinton; and, turning to Mrs. Bowers,
he said: "Do you think Miss Jennie would suit you?"

The woman stared at him in surprise for a moment, but he gave her a
significant glance, and she answered with apparent frankness:

"Yes, I think I should like to have her very much."

"Very well, then," and, turning to the farmer he inquired if his sister
could have Jennie, naming a liberal, but not too large compensation, for
fear of exciting suspicion. He did not ask the girl, herself, for he had
already read her consent in her beaming eyes. She was perfectly
fascinated by the handsome stranger, and was ready to go anywhere that
she might daily see him and hear his voice.

Before the farmer could speak, Queenie sprang to his side, and laid her
delicate white hand, all sparkling with jewels, on his coarse sleeve,
lifting her blue eyes pleadingly to his face.

"Oh! sir," she said, "you think me mad, but for Heaven's sake be warned
by me! Do not suffer your pretty, simple girl to stray into the snare
this man and woman are setting for her. If you give your consent you
will rue it in dust and ashes, when you see her innocence betrayed and
her virtue lost."

Leon Vinton glared at her fiercely as the farmer hesitated.

"Come, decide, at once," he said. "The carriage is waiting, and she can
accompany us if you are willing. Of course you need pay no attention to
the ravings of that poor maniac."

Mr. Thorn looked at his daughter. Her face was bright with smiles, for
the artful villain, with his tender glances, had made her believe that
he was deeply enamored of her charms.

"Do you want to go, Jennie?" he asked, doubtfully.

"Oh, yes, father, if you'll let me," she said.

"She may go for a month, then, and if she don't like the place she may
come home again," said the farmer.

Queenie said no more. She saw that her enemies had triumphed over her
this time, and her heart was almost broken. She made an ineffectual
struggle to escape through the door, but was captured and borne
struggling to the carriage, followed by her pretended sister and the
pretty Jennie, who was falling so unconsciously into the pit spread for
her unwary feet.



CHAPTER XVI.


Jennie Thorn was delighted with the beautiful furnishing and elegant
ease of the cottage by the river.

Mrs. Bowers proved to be one of the most indulgent of mistresses, and
the girl's position speedily became a sinecure as far as work was
concerned.

At first she was given a few light tasks to avert suspicions, and lead
her to think that everything was right. Then Mrs. Bowers began to
flatter her, and one day she said:

"You are too pretty and refined, Jennie, to stay in the kitchen with
that vulgar cook. You shall stay in the parlor and be my companion."

Nothing could have pleased the vain little creature better, for she
thought that her master would respect her more in her new situation, and
also that she would have more frequent opportunities of seeing him than
had fallen to her lot in her menial position. She accordingly consented
with ill-concealed delight.

Leon Vinton had played his cards very cleverly to win the farmer's
pretty daughter.

She saw him very seldom at first, as he spent the greater part of his
time in town, only visiting the cottage two or three times in the space
of a week.

On the occasion of these visits Jennie saw but little of him, but some
glance of his eye or tender smile made her heart beat fast and kept him
in her thoughts when he was away.

But when the little maid was promoted to the parlor, Leon Vinton began
to appear at home more frequently.

He lounged about the parlor with his cigar and newspaper, and chatted a
great deal with his pretended sister and her pretty little companion.

Very often Mrs. Bowers would leave the room, and remain away for hours,
leaving the handsome man and susceptible girl alone together.

On one of these occasions he threw away his cigar, and took a seat by
Jennie. She looked up from a trifle of sewing in her hand, and then,
with a deep blush, let her glance fall to the rich velvet carpet.

Mr. Vinton looked at her admiringly. Mrs. Bowers had presented her with
a fine dark-blue cashmere dress, and with soft, white laces at throat
and wrists, and a few bright-colored ribbons, the little country girl
looked quite the lady. Leon Vinton confessed to himself that she was
wonderfully pretty in her new surroundings. They suited her beauty much
better than the homely, humble farm-house had done.

"Jennie," he said abruptly, "do you know that the probationary month
which your father allowed you with us is at an end to-day?"

She started, and looked at him, the pretty pink color fading from her
cheeks, a look of alarm in her dark eyes.

"Yes, I know," she faltered, "and you--you're not pleased with me, and
you're going to send me home to father, I suppose."

He smiled at the piteous quiver in the girl's voice.

"I'll send you if you want to go," he said, laughing.

"I don't want to go. I like to stay here with--with your sister," she
answered, quickly.

"Well, I don't blame you," he said. "This kind of life is better suited
to you than that. You're too pretty and dainty, by George, to be working
around in people's kitchens!"

She did not answer, save by a blush and a smile of gratified vanity.

"Little Jennie," he said after a moment, "how would you like to live
here always, and never have any work to do--nothing to do but adorn your
beauty with silks and laces, and jewels, and ride and walk and amuse
yourself!"

She clasped her toil-worn little hands, and looked at him with beaming
eyes, and a happy smile on her red lips.

"Oh, I should like it above anything!" she breathed, gladly.

He took her hand in his, then dropped it with a slight frown. It was
hardened and enlarged by honest toil, and not pretty like her face. He
was used to velvet hands, white as the lily, for he seldom descended to
women in her station of life. She did not see the slight curl of his
lip, for he turned his head away, and when he looked back he was
smiling, and there was a beam of tenderness in his eyes.

"Jennie, dearest," he said, "you can have all that, and what is better,
you can have one fond, devoted heart to adore you if you will only speak
the word."

She looked up blushing and smiling.

"You mean," she said, and then paused.

"I mean," he answered, "that I will lavish every luxury and pleasure
upon you if you will only accept my love."

The simple, untutored country girl did not for a moment comprehend his
meaning. She turned to him with clasped hands and a face full of joyful
emotion.

"Oh, sir," she said, fervently, "you know that I shall only be too happy
and thankful to be your wife!"

"The devil!" exclaimed the villain to himself. "The little simpleton
thinks I meant marriage."

It suddenly dawned on him that there could be no question of love with
this honest little country girl without marriage.

He determined to humor her fancy.

"So you will be my wife, my sweet one?" he inquired.

"Yes," she replied, "I will marry you if father is willing."

Mr. Vinton suddenly assumed an expression of deep concern.

"Ah! my little darling," he said, as he bent down and kissed her ruby
lips, "that is just where the trouble comes in. If I marry you now, as
my ardent love prompts me to do, I cannot ask your father to give you to
me, for our marriage must be a secret, unknown to any but ourselves."

"Why so?" she inquired, looking disappointed.

"I cannot tell you the reason now, Jennie," he replied, evasively.
"There are several things which would prevent our marriage if I declared
our intention beforehand; but there is one reason I can give you. My
sister, though she is fond of you in her way would never consent to it.
She is very proud, and she wishes me to marry a rich woman of her
choosing. If I openly defy her she has the power to keep me out of my
fortune and make me a poor man."

Jennie was too simple and innocent to be undeceived by that transparent
lie.

"Darling, after this explanation you will surely consent to a private
marriage--will you not? Remember how well I love you," pleaded the
wretch.

"How could we manage a secret marriage?" asked Jennie, blushing with
delight at his fond words.

"Easily enough. You can tell my sister that you wish to go home and
spend a week with your parents. Then I can take you to the city right
away and marry you. We can spend a week traveling about and enjoying our
honeymoon, after which I can send you back here, and Mrs. Bowers will
think that you have been at the farm the whole time. By-and-bye, when my
affairs get straight, we will declare our marriage to everybody. By
George, how surprised they will be then! Now, my dear little wife that
is to be, will you consent to my plan?"

Jennie hesitated a moment, then murmured a timid and joyful "yes."



CHAPTER XVII.


The summer sunshine waned, the summer roses faded, and the "melancholy
days--the saddest of the year," hurried swiftly on. The chilling winds
howled drearily about the river cottage, but long ere the last autumn
leaf was whirled from the tall trees standing round about like giant
sentinels, the fickle fancy that Leon Vinton had felt for the farmer's
dark-eyed daughter had perished like the frailest flower of the summer.

"The illusion was soon over," he said to himself. "It was the briefest
fancy I ever had. But that was her own fault. She was too easily won.
The game was not worth the candle."

Simple little Jennie had been living in a "Fool's Paradise" ever since
the mock-marriage which the deceiver had duly caused to be celebrated.
Ostensibly she remained as the companion of Mrs. Bowers, and that kind
lady appeared to be perfectly blind and deaf to all the strange things
that went on around her.

If Jennie had not been the most innocent of women she could not have
failed to know that Mrs. Bowers was perfectly cognizant of her secret,
and was only laughing in her sleeve all the while that she appeared so
stupid and good-natured to the new victim of her employer.

"I am heartily tired of the little fool," he said to her one day in
confidence, when the autumn days had given place to the freezing ones of
winter; "I wish I could get rid of her."

"Your fancy was soon over this time," remarked Mrs. Bowers.

"Her own fault," grumbled the wretch. "In the first place she was too
lightly won. In love more than half the pleasure lies in the pursuit,
and 'lightly won is lightly lost.' She is changed now, also. How rosy
and bright she was at first--how pale, how altered, how plain she is
now!"

"She is _ill_," said Mrs. Bowers, in a significant tone.

"The deuce!" exclaimed Leon Vinton, angrily. "Why, then, I surely _must_
get rid of her. But how to do it--that's the question!"

"Tell her the truth--that she is not married at all--and send her home
to her parents," said the woman, heartlessly.

He did not reply for a moment, but paused to light a cigar and place it
between his lips. Then he threw himself back on the lounge where he sat,
and remarked indifferently:

"Yes; I suppose I shall have to do that. There will be a scene, I
suppose."

Mrs. Bowers merely laughed in reply, as if he had uttered the most
harmless jest. She was thoroughly wicked and heartless, and cared not a
jot for the miseries of the whole world.

"Well, the sooner the better," went on Vinton, heartlessly. "I believe
I'll go and have it out with her now."

He arose as heartlessly and indifferently as if he were going about a
mission of happiness instead of being about to strike the cold steel of
despair into the young heart that trusted him so fondly.

Jennie was sitting by a window in the parlor looking out at the great,
blinding flakes of snow that whirled through the air and covered the
ground with a pure white carpet.

She looked pale, but very pretty in a black dress with scarlet
trimmings, and a scarlet shawl was draped about her shoulders, partly
concealing her form.

As Mr. Vinton entered the room her dark eyes turned from the window and
rested on him with a very fond and loving smile.

"You've come at last," she said, in a tone of joy and relief. "Where
have you been all this long week?"

"In town," he answered, laconically, as he dropped into a chair near
her.

A look of disappointment came into her eyes. She rose and went to his
side, winding her arms about his neck, and pressing her lips on his
brow.

"I've missed you so much," she said, lovingly. "I sha'n't let you leave
me so long again."

"I shall not ask your leave!" he answered, sharply, and muttering an
oath between his teeth as he rudely pushed her off.

The movement was so sudden that she nearly fell. It was only by catching
the back of a convenient chair that she steadied herself. She turned a
white, frightened face toward him.

"What's the matter?" she said. "Are you angry with me, Leon?"

"I'm sick of your baby fondness," he answered brutally. "Have done with
it."

Jennie fell back into her chair as if shot, and looked at him with
reproachful eyes.

"You're angry with me," she said, plaintively; "and I had something to
tell you--something very particular."

"Tell it, then," he answered, with a frown as black as night on his
handsome face.

The trembling young creature before him remained silent for a few
minutes, so utterly confounded was she by the unaccountable change in
her husband. His manner had always been the perfection of gentlemanly
refinement before. This sudden change to coarse brutality amazed and
frightened her. When she spoke her voice was low and broken, and her
eyes rested on the carpet.

"I waited to tell you, Leon," she said, with a scarlet blush,
"that--that we will have to make some change soon. You'll be obliged to
tell Mrs. Bowers that we are married, or take me to some other place. If
you don't she'll find out our secret pretty soon. We are compelled to
make a change!"

"I have been thinking so myself," he answered, coolly.

"You have," she said, with an accent of gladness. "Then what do you
think we had better do?"

"I think you had better go home to your mother," he answered, brutally.

She looked up at him in surprise and doubt.

"You mean to own our marriage, then, do you?" she asked, and there was a
faint suggestion of hope in her tone.

"No, by George! I don't," he answered quickly.

"You don't," she exclaimed. "Then how can I go home? They would--they
would think I had disgraced myself. Father would turn me out of doors!"

"I'm very sorry for you, then," he answered, coolly. "I see no other
resource for you."

"Leon, I don't know what you mean!" exclaimed Jennie, in surprise and
pain at his careless words and utterly indifferent manner; "you are not
one bit like yourself. What makes you talk so strange to your own wife?"

She looked up at the handsome man with the tears of wounded feeling
starting into her eyes, but all unconscious of the terrible blow that
was to fall upon her defenseless head.

"You are not my wife!" he replied, with a dark and threatening frown.

"_Not your wife!_" she cried, turning as white as death. "Oh, Leon, you
surely are going mad! What do you mean?"

"I mean what I say," he answered, curtly. "It's time you knew the truth,
Jennie. You are not my wife--never have been! The marriage ceremony was
read over us, to be sure, but it was only a mock-marriage to quiet your
scruples. The pretended preacher was a friend of mine--the wickedest
blade in town--with a soul as black as the devil!"

She sat still and looked at him, her eyes wild and frightened, her face
as white as the snow which whirled past the window. At last she spoke,
but her voice was low and thick, and did not seem like her own.

"You're joking with me, Leon--you _can't_ mean it?"

"I _do_ mean it--it's the truth," he replied, coolly; "come, now,
Jennie, don't take it hard. We've had a pleasant time--have we not? And
now you can go home to your mother. I am tired of you, I confess it; and
I'm going away myself--to Europe, I think. So of course you can't stay
here. My sister would turn you out of doors as soon as she found you
out. Go home to the farm, and there's a hundred dollars to help you
through your trouble."

He tossed a roll of bank-notes into her lap with a complacent air as if
his munificent generosity condoned everything.

The girl had been sitting quite still, looking at him with a terrible
pain frozen on her pretty young face, but at his concluding words she
sprang up and tossed the roll of notes into the fire as if it had been a
serpent. Her dark eyes blazed with passion and her voice shook with rage
as she wildly confronted her base betrayer.

"Oh, you devil!" she cried, "I would not touch one cent of that money to
save your soul from the torments of hell! My curses be upon your head!
May the Lord _never_ forgive you for this cruel sin! May you die by the
hangman's rope!"

The handsome villain laughed mockingly, and turning on his heel walked
out of the room.

As he passed through the hallway he heard the sound of a heavy fall.
Glancing over his shoulder he saw that his victim had fallen senseless
upon the floor.

He walked on and entered the room of Mrs. Bowers, his housekeeper, and
not his sister, as he had pretended.

"I have told her," he said, "and she has fainted--as they mostly do. I
am going away now, and I shall be absent a week. You must try and get
her away from here before I come back!"

"Oh! you wicked man," said Mrs. Bowers, laughing, and shaking a finger
at him. "Where shall I send her?"

"To the devil for aught I care!" said the gentleman, smarting with the
recollection of Jennie's curse and the burning of his hundred dollars.
"I care not where she goes so that I am rid of her. But take good care
of the other one. Do not suffer her to escape."

He tossed a roll of bills into her lap and walked away humming a tune.
In a few minutes after she heard him riding off down the road to the
city. She locked her money carefully away in a drawer, then went up to
the parlor where poor Jennie lay insensible upon the floor, and sitting
down in an easy-chair, carelessly regarded the poor girl whom she had
pitilessly helped to ruin.

It was a long time before the unhappy girl revived from her deep swoon,
but the housekeeper made no effort to restore her to life though the
thought crossed her mind more than once as she sat there that she might
die without assistance.

"And no matter if she does," said the heartless woman to herself. "It
would be all the better for her and for all parties concerned."

But it was not to be as Mrs. Bowers thought and almost wished. Life came
back to the poor girl with a long, fluttering sigh, and the first thing
she saw when she looked up was the angry face of the woman glaring down
upon her.

"So you're alive, are you?" she said fiercely. "Why didn't you die and
hide your shame and disgrace in the grave?"

"Ma'am?" faltered poor Jane, blankly.

"I say why didn't you die and hide your shame and disgrace in the
grave?" repeated the housekeeper, angrily. "Ah! I've found you out,
Jennie Thorn! I took you in my house for an honest girl, but you've
ruined yourself and disgraced your poor old parents; I'll not keep such
trash in my respectable home. Out of my house you go before night!"

The poor girl rose and looked out of the window. The cold winter
twilight was already falling and the great, white flakes of snow still
filled the air.

"Oh! Mrs. Bowers," she said, piteously, "it is night already, and where
could I go?"

"You should have thought of that sooner," said the pitiless woman. "It's
too late now. Go get your cloak and hat and put them on."

Almost stunned by her sorrow Jennie mechanically obeyed her imperious
command.

"Now, leave here!" said the housekeeper.

"Oh! Mrs. Bowers," cried the wretched girl, "let me stay at least until
morning! Indeed I am not what you think me! I was deceived by a
mock-marriage, and I thought myself an honest wife until Mr. Vinton told
me just now how cruelly he had betrayed me. Oh! for God's sake have pity
on me, and don't turn me out to-night in the cold and the darkness!"

For all answer Mrs. Bowers caught her by the arm and rudely dragged her
along the hall to the front door.

"You can't deceive me with your trumped up lies, you shameless thing!"
she said. "Go now, and never let me see your face here again."

She opened the door and pushing the poor, weeping, betrayed and deserted
girl out into the blinding storm, slammed and locked the door.



CHAPTER XVIII.


Over the broad, dark river, and the snow-covered earth the cold winter
moonlight lay in great, silvery bars of light.

The terrible snowstorm of two days before was over. The sky was clear
and starry, and no trace remained of the storm save the deep, white
carpeting of the beautiful snow.

Midnight was tolling from the great bell in the city, but Queenie
Ernscliffe sat at her window staring out at the night with wide,
sleepless eyes.

On a couch at the opposite side of the room lay Mrs. Bowers snoring
audibly. She had slept in Queenie's room ever since the night she had
effected her escape and her constant vigilance had entirely frustrated
any other attempt of the kind.

While Jennie Thorn had been dwelling in her Fool's Paradise, our heroine
had been suffering all the horrors of imprisonment and despair.

She had heard very little of the farmer's pretty daughter since the day
she came to live there, but she knew she had remained with them, for she
had seen her a few times walking in the garden beneath her window,
prettily, even richly dressed, and she knew too well what that meant.
She felt very sorry for the poor girl who had been so deaf to her words
of friendly warning.

Queenie was sadly altered for the worse since these long months of
imprisonment and wretchedness. Her garments hung loosely about her
attenuated form, her cheeks were thin and hollow, and her once bright
eyes were dim with weeping, and looked too wild and large for her small,
pathetic, white face. Her days and nights were passed in sleepless
wretchedness, much to the annoyance of the housekeeper, who declared
that she could not rest well while her refractory charge kept the light
burning as she did the long nights through, for she could not bear to
have darkness add its additional gloom to the horror of her thoughts.

While she sat and stared wearily out at the midnight scene, the
housekeeper snored herself awake and began to complain.

"Mercy's sake, girl, go to bed, and put the light out. I declare I
cannot sleep a wink with the gas shining in my eyes!"

"You have been _snoring_ uninterruptedly for several hours!" answered
Queenie, coldly. "How do you suppose I can sleep when you keep up such a
noise with your breathing?"

"Well, I never!" exclaimed Mrs. Bowers. "This is the first time I was
ever accused of snoring!"

Queenie did not speak for a moment. Presently she turned her head around
and said, abruptly:

"Mrs. Bowers!"

Mrs. Bowers, who was falling asleep again, gave a grunt in token that
she heard.

"What has become of that pretty girl you brought home from Farmer
Thorn's?"

"She went away two days ago," was the sleepy reply.

"With Leon Vinton, I presume," said Queenie, scornfully.

"No, she went alone."

"Betrayed and abandoned, no doubt," said Queenie, bitterly.

"Something like that, certainly," answered the housekeeper, carelessly,
and with that she turned over and went to sleep again, leaving Queenie
to her own reflections.

They were not pleasant ones, certainly. The room was chilly, and she
took up a shawl, wrapped it about her shoulders, and went back to her
lonely vigil, pressing her forehead against the pane while she looked
out into the cold winter night.

"Oh, to be out there in the night, and the cold, and the darkness," she
murmured. "Oh, to feel the breath of freedom on my brow once more, and
hope within my heart!

"How lonely, how dreary everything seems," she went on. "How dark and
dreary the river looks except where the bars of moonlight touch it with
brightness; how ghostly and skeleton-like the trees appear, tossing
their naked arms in the breeze; how weird and melancholy the silent,
deserted earth looks at midnight!"

Suddenly she started and uttered a low cry.

She fancied that she had seen a dark form darting cautiously about the
garden beneath the windows.

She looked out again, and for a moment she thought herself mistaken, but
directly the dark form of a man appeared from behind a tree, and
skirting a strip of moonlight with cautious footsteps, disappeared in
the shadows.

"What can that man be after?" she thought. "It is not Leon Vinton. Whom,
then, can it be? Perhaps a burglar."

She continued to watch for him, and presently she saw him take up his
station under a tree near the gate as if watching or waiting for
someone.

"It must be a burglar," she said to herself. "He is waiting for his
accomplice to come that they may rob the house. Shall I wake Mrs. Bowers
and tell her?"

She mused a moment, still watching the dark, mysterious form lurking
under the shadow of the trees near the gate.

"No, I will not tell her," she concluded. "What does it matter to me? I
care not what they do. Perhaps they may enter this room, and by some
means I may effect my escape."

Her heart began to beat at the thought, and the light of hope came into
her beautiful eyes, brightening her whole face.

She continued to watch the mysterious figure, expecting every minute to
see his accomplice appear on the scene; but the hours passed slowly by
and the man still remained at his post alone.

At the first peep of dawn he went away, leaving Queenie perplexed and
doubtful.

"Who can it be?" she asked herself. "It seems quite evident that he is
not here for the purpose of robbery. What, then, is he after? Can it be
some friend of mine?"

The thought overpowered her with joy.

"Oh, why did I not raise the window and give him some signal?" she
thought.

Then she remembered that the windows had been tightly fastened down by
Leon Vinton's orders, so that she could not raise them.

"I have suffered my hopes to lead my reason astray," she thought then,
with sudden despair. "Of course it is not anyone to help me. No one
knows that I am living except Leon Vinton and the wicked woman sleeping
yonder. Papa, Lawrence--all of them, think my body lies at this moment
moldering in the grave. Oh, Lawrence--oh, papa! what would I not give to
see you again!"

She little dreamed that the father she loved so fondly had died of a
broken heart over her loss.

She thought of him every day and longed to see him almost as she longed
to see the husband from whose side she had been torn at the very altar
by the vindictive malice of Leon Vinton.

The next day from her position at the window she saw the same dark
figure of a man pass up and down before the cottage at intervals at
least a dozen times. A broad, slouch hat was pulled over his brows,
effectually concealing his features from Queenie's sight.

"The mystery deepens," she thought, "the man, whoever he is, evidently
is watching this house. But with what object, I wonder?"

At night he appeared again, and passed the long, cold hours pacing up
and down the garden until dawn.

Every day for four days the man kept up this restless espionage. It
seemed to Queenie that he neither ate nor slept, so constantly did he
appear at his post. She became greatly interested in the mysterious
watcher.

"Mrs. Bowers," she said one night, "where is Leon Vinton?"

"In town, I suppose," said the housekeeper.

"When is he coming back?"

"To-morrow, I suppose. He has been gone a week and he said that he would
return in that time. Do you want to see him?"

"No, indeed--I hope I shall never see him again!" said Queenie, shortly,
turning back to the window.

The next day while she was watching the mysterious man as he paced up
and down the snowy road opposite the house, she saw Leon Vinton ride up
to the gate, dismount and tie up his horse.

Involuntarily she looked over at the mysterious stranger. He was rapidly
crossing the road toward Leon Vinton.

A gust of wind blew off his broad, slouch hat, and a startled cry broke
from Queenie's lips.

She had instantly recognized the man!

It was Farmer Thorn!

She instantly comprehended the object of his daily and nightly
espionage.

He was watching for Leon Vinton that he might avenge the wrongs of his
daughter.

Clasping her hands in breathless agitation, Queenie waited for the
_denouement_.

Leon Vinton opened the gate and passed inside. Farmer Thorn, having
replaced his hat, walked in behind him.

The next moment Leon Vinton felt a grasp of steel upon his arm.

He was whirled violently around face to face with the enraged man whom
he had wronged, and felt the muzzle of a pistol pressed against his
breast.

"Accursed villain!" shouted the farmer, in a voice of thunder, "thus do
I avenge a daughter's wrongs!"

Queenie heard the terrible words, followed by a loud report, saw a
wreath of blue smoke curling upward, and Leon Vinton fell like a log on
the snowy path. With a terrible shudder she saw his life-blood spurting
out, dyeing the pure snow with a terrible scarlet stain.

Farmer Thorn looked down at his victim, spurned him with his foot, and
replacing the pistol in his breast, walked rapidly away. At the same
moment the front door opened hurriedly, and Mrs. Bowers ran out,
followed by a servant. Both of them ran screaming down the path to the
side of their master.



CHAPTER XIX.


Weakened and shocked by the terrible scene she had witnessed, Queenie
hid her face in her hands and fell back on her sofa. She lay there
trembling and agitated, and musing on the sudden end of the wicked Leon
Vinton.

Presently the door was pushed open and Mrs. Bowers entered in such high
excitement that she forgot to lock the door behind her.

"Oh!" she cried out, "did you hear the pistol shot? Leon Vinton is
dead!"

A sudden impulse decided Queenie to conceal her knowledge of the fact.

She sprang up in apparent wild excitement.

"Is it possible?" she cried. "I heard a pistol-shot a moment ago. Who
killed him?"

"I cannot tell you," said Mrs. Bowers. "I heard a shot, and ran to the
window just in time to see a man going out of the gate. He had a wide
hat on, and I couldn't make out his features."

"You shall never learn his name from me," thought Queenie to herself,
for her whole sympathies were with the wronged father of the poor,
betrayed Jennie.

"But there laid poor Mr. Vinton, stone dead, in the path," continued
Mrs. Bowers, excitedly. "Look out of the window there, and you can see
it all for yourself."

Queenie glanced out of the window and drew back with a shudder.

"Oh! it is horrible," she said. "What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to send for the coroner," said Mrs. Bowers. "That's the
proper thing to do. I must go right away and do it. Dear, dear, who was
that murderous man, I'd like to know? I'd have followed after him, and,
mayhap, caught him, only I was so flustrated I didn't know what to do
first. The mean, murderous villain!"

She bustled out so full of excitement that she forgot to lock her
prisoner's door.

Queenie started up full of joyful emotion.

"Now is my chance!" she exclaimed, "Leon Vinton is dead, and Mrs. Bowers
has no right to detain me. I will leave this dreadful place at once."

She opened the wardrobe and took out a long waterproof cloak and hood,
putting them on with trembling hands.

Then she exchanged her thin shoes for thick walking boots, and doubled a
dark-brown barege veil over her face.

Thus equipped she opened the door and ran down the steps to the hall
with her heart beating almost to suffocation.

In the doorway she paused. Mrs. Bowers was standing in the path by the
side of the dead man, and Queenie was afraid she would attempt to detain
her.

"I must make a run for it," she thought, and suiting the action to the
word, she flitted down the steps and ran at break-neck speed down the
path, past her living and dead persecutors, and sprang through the gate
and out into the road.

Mrs. Bowers heard the patter of her feet and the rustle of her garments
as she rushed past her, and looking up she recognized the girl, and
recollected instantly that she had forgotten to lock the door after her.

"Come back, you jade!" she screamed, "come back this instant!"

But the fugitive hurried on without looking back, and Mrs. Bowers in a
rage set out in a headlong pace after her.

But the good lady was not as young as she had once been, and she found
herself rather heavy on her feet. But panting and blowing she raced on
in the useless pursuit, until suddenly both her feet slipped from under
her, and she measured her length on the icy ground.

Muttering some words rather spirited in their meaning, and not often
heard on feminine lips, the wicked woman rose from the cold earth, and
shaking her fist after the fast retreating figure of her whilom
prisoner, began to retrace her steps to the house, rubbing sundry
bruises on her person as she went.

"The keen-witted little wretch!" she thought, "how quick she was to take
advantage of my momentary forgetfulness. But after all, Vinton is dead,
and what do I want to keep her for? I shall have to leave here, anyway.
Mayhap, it's better as it is."

Thus consoling herself, she returned to her watch over the dead man who
lay in a crimson pool of his life-blood across the snowy path, his eyes
glaring glassily, his handsome face set in the expression of fear and
horror that had settled on it when Mr. Thorn's terrible denunciation had
been thundered in his ears.

Meanwhile Queenie ran on in her headlong flight until her limbs began to
tremble beneath her. Throwing a glance over her shoulder, she saw that
she had outrun her pursuer so far that she was no longer visible. She
slackened her pace then, and began to walk at a slower and more
reasonable gait.

"I may take my time now," she thought. "Mrs. Bowers is too old and slow
to overtake me. Besides she can have no interest in keeping me a
prisoner since Leon Vinton is dead. She will have enough to do to take
care of herself."

She pushed back her veil, showing a face so bright with hope and
happiness, that it was hardly recognizable for the pale and dejected
countenance that had looked from the window of the river cottage an hour
ago. Joy had fairly transfigured it.

She walked along unconscious of the keen, cold, wintery air in the rush
of happy thoughts that crowded over her.

She would go home to her father first. She would tell him everything--he
should break the news of her return to her husband.

"I cannot tell Lawrence the _whole_ truth," she said, shuddering. "I
would rather die than that he should know the terrible secret! He is so
proud and he told me once he would not marry a woman with the faintest
shadow of disgrace upon her name. I have deceived him, and I must never
let him know now, for I love him, and it would kill me to have him put
me away! I will tell him something plausible, though I will not tell a
direct lie if I can help."

Poor little Queenie!--once so innocent and transparent that her very
thoughts could be read in her eyes--her terrible misfortunes had taught
her strange subterfuges and deceit.

"I wonder if there will be any trouble about proving my identity," she
thought; "I have heard of such things, and it _will_ appear very strange
to them at first. Papa will take me for a ghost, as he did the night I
went and looked at him through the window when he thought I was
traveling in Europe. Poor Uncle Rob! I wonder if he was sorry much when
he heard I was dead."

She passed the farm-house where the Thorns lived, but the doors and
windows were both closed, and the only sign of life was a faint blue
smoke curling up from the chimney.

"I should like to stop and see what has become of that poor, willful
girl," she said to herself, "but I am so impatient I cannot spare the
time."

She walked on faster as she neared the great city. Her impatience
redoubled by the thought that every step brought her nearer to her loved
ones.

"I wonder if they will be glad to see me," she thought wistfully; "I
know papa _will_! Poor old darling, I could never doubt _him_! I do not
know about Georgie and mamma. _They_, perhaps, were relieved that I and
my terrible secret were buried together--they may be sorry to see me
resurrected. But of one thing I am certain. Sydney was glad when she
thought I was dead. She will hate me more than ever when I go back. But
I shall not trouble any of them, I shall have my husband--he is all I
want. He shall take me away from here to some other place where I can
forget all the terrible past in my new happiness."

All the while she was thinking she was walking quickly on, buoyed up by
the joyous anticipations. At last, foot-sore and weary, she entered the
great city and walked on until she stood in front of her father's
handsome residence.

Trembling with passionate joy, and with her heart beating so that she
could hear it in her ears, she went up the steps and rang the bell.

The door was opened to her by a strange man in livery instead of the
female servant who had formerly answered the bell.

Her first sensation of surprise and disappointment was succeeded by an
amusing thought.

"Mamma and Sydney are grander than ever. They have set up a
man-servant."

"Is Mr. Lyle at home?" she timidly inquired.

The man stared at her a moment in blank surprise; then getting his wits
together, replied respectfully:

"The Lyles don't live here now, miss."

"Where have they removed? Can you tell me?" she inquired, thinking that
perhaps her mother's and sister's extravagance had caused her father's
failure at last, and that they had taken a cheaper house.

"Mrs. Lyle and Miss Lyle, and Lady Valentine are all in Europe, ma'am,"
he answered, wondering what made the bright, pretty face turn so pale as
he gave her the information.

"And Mr. Lyle--you can tell me where I can find _him_?" she inquired,
eagerly.

The polite servant looked as if he thought the girl was out of her mind.
After a blank stare into her lovely, eager face, he said, surprisedly:

"Mr. Lyle--why, ma'am--_he's dead_, you know!"

If the man had struck her the cruelest blow in the face she could not
have recoiled more suddenly. She stepped backward so quickly, and with
such a wild, low cry of pain that she would have fallen down the steps
if the man had not thrown out his arm and caught her.

"Oh, ma'am, don't take it hard," he said, in a voice of respectful
sympathy. "Was he any relation of yours?"

She turned her beautiful face toward him with the whiteness of death
upon it.

"When did he die?" she asked, unheeding his question.

"The same night that his daughter died--you've heard of that, ma'am,
have you?" asked the man, who seemed rather of a gossiping turn.

"Yes, I've heard of that," she said, in a hollow voice totally unlike
her own.

"Well, Mr. Lyle, he died that same night of a broken heart, folk said.
She was his youngest daughter, and his favorite. They were both buried
the same day."

"Dead, dead!" she murmured.

"What did you say, ma'am?" asked the man, not hearing the low words.

"Nothing," she answered. "I thank you for your information," and
staggered down the steps into the street again.

"Dead, dead!" she kept moaning to herself as she staggered along the
street in white, tearless despair. "Papa is dead! and died of a broken
heart for me. Oh, I was not worth such devotion!"

Her mind was so full of this terrible blow that had fallen upon her that
she could think of nothing else, until suddenly she saw that the brief
winter twilight was settling fast over everything. Then a terror of the
night and cold took hold of her. She thought of her husband.

"They are all gone--papa and the rest," she murmured; "I have no one but
Lawrence now. I will go to him."

The thought seemed to invest him with added tenderness and dearness. She
hastened her footsteps, and before long she stood in front of the
splendid mansion where Captain Ernscliffe lived, and which he had
refurnished in splendid style for his fair young bride. The windows were
closed as if the house was deserted, but she went up the steps and rang
the bell. A woman servant answered the summons.

"Is Captain Ernscliffe at home?" asked Queenie, in a faint and trembling
voice.



CHAPTER XX.


The woman whom Queenie had addressed, and who had the appearance of
being the housekeeper, stood still and looked at the young girl a moment
without replying.

"Is Captain Ernscliffe at home?" repeated Queenie, in a tone of wistful
eagerness.

"What do you want of Captain Ernscliffe?" asked the woman, rudely, as
she stared suspiciously into the troubled, white face of the beautiful
questioner.

Queenie drew her slight figure haughtily erect.

"My business is with Captain Ernscliffe," she said, in a cool, firm tone
that rebuked the woman's impertinent curiosity. "Can I see him?"

"Oh, yes, certainly," said the housekeeper, with a palpable sneer. She
was offended because Queenie had failed to gratify her curiosity.

"Show me in at once, then," said Queenie, making a motion to step across
the threshold.

But the woman held the door in her hand and placed herself in front of
it.

"You'll have to travel many a mile from this to see him," she said,
maliciously.

"What do you mean?" exclaimed Queenie, turning pale. "Is he not at home?
I will wait here until he comes then."

"You'll wait many a month then," was the grim reply of the offended
woman.

"I do not understand you," Queenie answered, passing her small hand
across her brow with a dim presentiment of coming evil. "Will you please
tell me where I can find Captain Ernscliffe?"

"You'll find him across the Atlantic Ocean, somewhere in Europe, ma'am!"

She fired the words off like a final shot and looked at Queenie,
prepared to enjoy her chagrin and amazement, but she was almost
frightened by the expression of terrible despair that came over the
beautiful, young face.

"In Europe," she said in a voice so low and heart-broken the woman could
scarcely hear it. "Are you _quite_ sure?"

"Quite sure, ma'am. He went away to travel a week after his wife's
death, and may not return for years."

She made a motion to shut the door, intimating that the conference was
ended, but Queenie leaned up against it so that she was compelled to
desist.

"Can you give me his address that I may write to him?" she said.

"Well, I never!" ejaculated the housekeeper, staring at her in
amazement.

Queenie only repeated her words more plainly.

"I know no more of his whereabouts than the dead!" was the answer. "He
expected to be traveling all the time."

A smothered moan of pain came from the white lips of the listener.

"Have you done with me?" asked the woman, impatiently.

Queenie looked out into the street. It was almost dark, and a sleety
mist was beginning to fall. The lamp-lighters were going their rounds
lighting up the gas-lamps at the corners of the streets, and belated
pedestrians were hurrying homeward.

With a shiver she turned back to the portly, comfortable figure of the
woman rustling on the door-sill in her black silk dress, quite
unconscious that she was holding the door against her mistress, and the
mistress of that elegant brown stone mansion on whose threshold she
stood.

"You are Captain Ernscliffe's housekeeper?" said Queenie.

"Yes, and I am left in charge of the house during his absence," answered
the woman, bridling with a sense of her importance.

"I am a friend of Captain Ernscliffe," said Queenie, timidly. "Will you
let me stay here to-night? I am homeless and penniless!"

The housekeeper favored her with a stare of scornful incredulity.

"Captain Ernscliffe's friends are all rich people," she said, with a
toss of the head. "He don't have any acquaintance with _tramps_!"

"I assure you that I am not a tramp," answered the young girl, quickly.
"I have been very unfortunate in arriving in this city and finding my
friends all dead or away. If your master were here he would certainly
give me shelter this wintery night."

"It's more than I'll do, then," said the housekeeper sharply; "come,
young woman, don't tell no more lies! Captain Ernscliffe don't know you,
but I _do_! You're a burglar's accomplice, and you want to get into the
house that you may open it to your friends in the night and rob the
house."

"Indeed you are mistaken," said Queenie earnestly. "Oh! _do_ let me
stay! If you don't I shall perish of cold in the streets to-night and my
death will be on your hands. You may lock me into a room if you are
afraid of me--only give me shelter."

It had been on her mind to declare herself the wife of Captain
Ernscliffe, and force the woman to admit her into the house that was
virtually her own. But a moment's reflection showed the utter futility
of such a course. No one except those who loved her would give credence
to such a wild, improbable tale; no one would believe that the grave had
given back its dead unless she could offer more substantial proof than
she had at command. This woman before her would have laughed such an
assertion to scorn.

"Come, move on," she said roughly, at the same time seizing the girl by
the shoulder and pushing her from her position against the door. "I
can't shelter the likes of you, and I won't stand here in the cold
wasting breath on you a minute longer."

Queenie turned as the woman pushed her toward the steps and looked her
in the eyes.

"You may be sorry for this some day," she said.

"Ha, ha," laughed the heartless housekeeper, "sorry indeed! Sorry that I
didn't take a tramp into the house to rob my master."

"Will you let me stay?" said Queenie, once more looking over her
shoulder as she was wearily descending the marble steps.

If the woman's heart had not been made of stone it must have melted at
the anguish in that sweet, white face, but she only reiterated her
refusal more angrily.

"I am friendless and penniless," pleaded Queenie, still hoping to melt
that icy heart. "Think what may happen to me in the streets at night!"

"Go! go!" exclaimed the hard-hearted creature, fiercely.

"I will go," said Queenie, drawing her cloak about her, and preparing to
breast the wintery storm. "I will go, but remember, madam, that you may
one day repent this! It is quite, quite possible that I may one day turn
you from these doors as you have turned me to-night."

For all answer the woman slammed the door in her face, and fiercely
locked it.

Queenie was left alone standing on the wet pavement in the wintery
night, locked out of her husband's house like a thief, a waif and a
stray by night, while over her loomed the great brown-stone palace that
a few months ago had been splendidly refitted and furnished in velvets,
tapestries, gildings and bronzes, for her pleasure. It was hers--her
husband's--therefore her own. Yet she turned away from its inhospitable
doors, homeless, friendless, penniless--worse than all, _hopeless_!

    "Where the lamps quiver
    So far in the river,
    With many a light
    From window and casement,
    From garret to basement,
    She stood with amazement
    Houseless by night."



CHAPTER XXI.


It is some time since we have seen Mrs. Lyle and her elder daughter.

We must seek them now in one of "the stately homes of England."

They are the guests of Lady Valentine at her elegant residence in the
most fashionable quarter of London.

Nearly four years have elapsed since we first met the Lyles and heard
the spirited discussion over little Queenie's first ball and Sydney's
old green silk dress.

Sydney and Georgina would not need to scrimp little Queenie's share of
finery to bedeck themselves now were she living.

Georgina's husband is wealthy and indulgent, and "Uncle Robert," the
beneficent friend of their earlier days, has charged himself with
Sydney's support ever since her father died until recently, when she has
married a wealthy man.

Mrs. Lyle lives with Georgina, and still enjoys the whirl of fashionable
life as much as ever--indeed more than ever, for now there is no vexing
question relative to the girls' finery disturbing her placid mind.

It is a chilly morning in mid-winter, and the three ladies are sitting
in a pleasant morning-room, Georgina, grown plump and indolent, idly
reclining in an easy-chair, with her dimpled white hands lazily folded
over her silken lap, Mrs. Lyle perusing a morning paper, and Sydney
gazing restlessly out of the window--watching, perhaps, for her
husband--the honeymoon is not a month old yet, and she is naturally
impatient at his absence.

Into this quiet scene enters Lord Valentine and tosses some cards into
his wife's lap.

"Tickets for La Reine Blanche to-night," he says.

All three ladies utter a cry of delight.

"At last," exclaims Mrs. Lyle, in a spasm of anticipation.

"Yes, at last," laughs my Lord Valentine. "The great American actress
will play at the theater to-night, and we shall have a chance to see if
she is really as great an _artiste_ as Madame Rumor reports."

"Here is a paragraph regarding her now," says Mrs. Lyle, and taking up
the paper, she reads aloud:

"The beautiful and gifted young American actress, Madame Reine De Lisle,
will make her _debut_ before a London audience to-night in the great
emotional play of 'Romeo and Juliet.' The fame of this wonderful
_artiste_ has preceded her to England, and all lovers of the drama are
on the _qui vive_ for the first appearance of La Reine Blanche, as her
admirers call her."

"La Reine Blanche," said Lord Valentine's little sister, looking up from
her volume of history as she sat in a corner by the fire. "La Reine
Blanche--that means 'the white queen.' They used to call Mary Queen of
Scots La Reine Blanche, because she was so fair and lovely, and because
she wore a white dress when she was in mourning. I have just been
reading about her in my history. I wonder if this great actress is
beautiful also?"

"She is said to be the most beautiful blonde in the world, Alice," said
Lord Valentine, smiling down at the little school-girl.

A slight cloud has shadowed the brightness of Lady Valentine's face
while little Lady Alice is speaking. She leans toward her mother, and
says in a slightly lowered voice, but one which is distinctly audible to
Sydney:

"Alice's French recalls my own, mamma. Have you ever thought what the
name of this great tragedy _queen_, if rendered into English, would be?"

"_Reine De Lisle_," repeated Mrs. Lyle, musingly.

Then she gives a great start.

"It would be--ah, it would be Queen Lyle!"

"Exactly," says Georgina. "Quite an odd coincidence. Is it not?"

She leans back in her seat with a thoughtful look on her pretty pink and
white face.

Old times and old interests crowd into her mind with the memory of her
younger sister. Time has thrown a veil over Queenie's faults and
follies, and Georgina recalls her now with a softening remembrance, and
half regrets the scorn she cast upon her when she returned to them so
strangely.

"But ah! that missing year," she asks herself, as she has done many
times before. "Where was it spent?"

Sydney had risen at the first mention of Queenie's name and swept out of
the room. Neither time nor change had softened her hatred and resentment
against poor little Queenie.

She had hated her beautiful sister while living, and she hated her, even
in her grave, so bitterly that she could not endure the mention of her
name even now when years had come and gone.



CHAPTER XXII.


"Let us go home, mother, I am tired already. The play is sickening; I
always thought so."

It is Sydney who speaks, and her voice is full of restless discontent.

She is in a box at the theater, looking brilliantly beautiful in black
velvet and diamonds.

The place is packed from pit to dome; but in the dazzling rows of fair
faces, there is not one handsomer than hers, even now when it is marred
by that look of impatience, almost anger, that rests upon it like a
threatening cloud upon a summer sky.

Mrs. Lyle, a passionate lover of the drama, turns a look of dismay upon
her handsome daughter.

"Oh, not yet," she said quickly. "I would not miss seeing the play
through for anything!"

"You have seen it often enough before," objects Sydney. "But if you are
determined to stay I will go alone, if Lord Valentine will put me into
the carriage."

"Don't go yet," says Lord Valentine, turning his eyes a moment from the
stage to glance at his sister-in-law a trifle impatiently. "At least
wait until Ernscliffe comes."

"He does not appear to be coming at all. I will not wait for him,"
Sydney answers, and the look of discontent deepens into downright
vexation.

At that moment the box door opens and a gentleman comes up behind her
chair.

Georgina turns quickly.

"Ah, Captain Ernscliffe, you are just in time," she says. "Here is
Sydney trying to persuade us to go home before the play is half over.
Perhaps you can induce her to wait."

Sydney looks up to him and a tender smile curves her crimson lips.

"You are late," she murmurs.

"I was detained," he answers, carelessly. "How are you enjoying the
performance of the great actress?"

Her lip curls scornfully.

"Not at all. I am tired of the whole sickening thing. Will you take me
home?"

"Is the balcony scene over yet?" he asks.

"Oh, no," Lady Valentine answers; "only the first act."

"Do you really want to go, Sydney?" he asks.

"I really want to go," she answers, rising and drawing her opera cloak
about her white shoulders.

He gives her his arm in silence, and leads her away, puts her into the
carriage, and they are whirled rapidly homeward; but when he sees her
safely inside Lord Valentine's handsome house he turns to go back.

"You will not leave me?" Sydney says, pleadingly, and laying her white,
jeweled hand on his black coat sleeve.

"I wish to see the play out," he answers, with a touch of impatience in
his voice.

"I assure you it is not worth seeing. The acting is merely mediocre.
Madame De Lisle has been greatly over-rated," she urges, with a tone of
anxiety in her voice, as she looks down, almost afraid that he will
detect the falsehood she is telling in her eager face.

"You make me more curious than ever," he answers, lightly. "I must
certainly see her and judge for myself. Perhaps the wonderful beauty
over which men rave so much has blinded the judgment of the critics. _Au
revoir!_"

He frees himself from her clasp gently but firmly, and runs down the
steps.

Sydney stands as he has left her, the rich cloak falling from her
shoulders, her hands clasped before her, a tearless misery looking forth
from her dark eyes.

"I have lied to him and gained nothing by it," she murmurs, in a
passionate undertone. "He will go back there, he will see that terrible
resemblance that shocked us all, and he will be reminded of the one whom
I wish him to forget. Oh, it is a dreadful coincidence! The same name,
the same face, the same voice! If we had lost her in any way save by
death, I could have sworn that it was Queenie herself that I saw
to-night dancing on the stage at _Lady Capulet's_ ball."

Captain Ernscliffe hastened back to the theater, anxious to be in time
for the second act, which is a favorite with all admirers of "Romeo and
Juliet."

Lord Valentine glances around as he enters the box and drops into a
chair.

"Ah, Ernscliffe," he says; "just in time. The balcony scene is on."

Ernscliffe leans forward, scanning the stage eagerly, and quite
unconscious that his three companions in the box are regarding him with
curious eyes, anxious to note what impression the great actress would
produce upon him.

He sees the sighing _Romeo_ walking about and soliloquizing in the
garden of the hostile _Capulet_, the gentle _Juliet_ in the balcony
above him. His dark eyes rest on her for a moment; then he gives a
violent start.

"Heaven!" he mutters under his breath, and grows pale beneath his olive
skin.

"He can see the likeness, too," Lady Valentine whispered to her mother.

Rapt, spellbound, like one in a bewildering dream, Captain Ernscliffe
bends forward, the deep pallor of painful emotion on his dusk, handsome
face, his dark eyes fixed on the hapless young _Juliet_ in a wild,
astonished, incredulous gaze as she leans upon the balcony, murmuring
words of love to handsome young _Romeo_ in the garden beneath. It was no
wonder, for _Juliet_, in her fair, young beauty, her misty, white robe,
looped with rosebuds, her floating curls of gold, is the exact and
perfect counterpart of Queenie Lyle when he first met her at Mrs. Kirk's
grand ball. Not a tone of her voice, not a curve of her lip, not the
fall of a ringlet differs from the lovely girl who had won his heart
that never-to-be-forgotten night--the peerless bride that death had torn
from his arms in the very moment that he claimed her as his own!

Like one in a dream he listened and looked. He heard _Romeo_ exclaim in
deep and passionate accents:

    "'Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear,
    That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops--'"

And _Juliet_ interrupted in those silver-sweet tones so strangely
familiar to his ear:

    "'Oh! swear not by the moon, th' inconstant moon,
    That monthly changes in her circled orb,
    Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.'"

With those words:

    "Oh! swear not by the moon, th' inconstant moon,"

_Juliet_ raised her eyes that had been downcast and fixed on her lover,
and looked upward as if to gaze upon the fair orb of which she spoke.

In that moment her dark-blue eyes, shining like stars of the night,
encountered the fixed and passionate gaze of the handsome man in the box
above her. She started--it was not his dreaming fancy--it was too
palpable to all--recovered herself with an effort, and went on in a
voice that trembled in spite of her brave endeavor:

    "'That monthly changes in her circled orb,
    Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.'"

"Great God! It is Queenie herself! Do the dead come back from the grave?
I must see her, speak to her!" exclaimed Captain Ernscliffe, in a
passionate undertone, as he sprang up and turned toward the box door.

Lord Valentine, who had watched him attentively, caught him by the arm.

"Ernscliffe, are you mad? We all see the resemblance. It is accidental,
of course. What would you do?"

Ernscliffe shook off his grasp roughly.

"Yes, I am mad!" he exclaimed, "for I believe that the dead is alive,
and that yonder _Juliet_ is my lost bride, Queenie Lyle!"

He opened the box door with a shaking hand and rushed wildly out.

La Reine Blanche went on with her part and acted more brilliantly than
ever. She surpassed herself. She seemed under the influence of some
strong excitement that lent new power and force to her superb rendition
of _Juliet_. The vast and brilliant audience was fairly carried away.

At the close of the second act flowers fairly rained upon her. She was
called back before the curtain and the thunders of applause shook the
building.

Then the manager came to her with a little bit of pasteboard in his
hand.

"Madame De Lisle," he said, "there is a gentleman outside who is so
opportune in his desire to see you that I was forced to bring you his
card, although I know you always refuse to make men acquaintances."

She took the card and read the name:

"Lawrence Ernscliffe."

"Will you see him?" asked the manager, seeing that she stood silent as
if hesitating.

"No, no," she answered. "Tell him he must excuse me--I have to dress for
my part in the third act."

The manager turned away and the beautiful actress pressed her lips
passionately upon the insensible little bit of pasteboard she held in
her white and jeweled hand.

"At last, at last!" she murmured, "yet I must not meet him to-night. I
could not go on with my part--it would unfit me for anything. I must
postpone my long-sought happiness yet a little longer. To-morrow--ah,
_to-morrow_!"

She walked up and down, pressing her hands on her wildly beating heart
as if to still its convulsive throbs.

"They say that happiness never kills," she said. "If it were otherwise I
should feel afraid--my heart aches with joy--it seems as if it would
burst, it is so full of happy emotion!"

She went back on the stage and a timid glance showed her Lawrence
Ernscliffe back in the box looking terribly restless and disappointed.
She was afraid to meet his eyes again, but she knew that he watched her
through every scene, devouring every movement with passionate, yearning
eyes.

At the close of the act she saw a lovely bouquet thrown from his hand,
and picking it up she discovered a tiny note among the flowers.

When the curtain fell she read the hastily penciled lines:

     "MADAME DE LISLE:--For God's sake let me see you, if only for a
     moment. I _must_ speak to you; I shall go mad if you don't take
     pity on my anxiety and grant an interview to

          "LAWRENCE ERNSCLIFFE."

Tears came into the eyes of the beautiful actress as she read those
lines; but when after another act the same card was handed her, she
again refused to see the writer on pretence of dressing for her next
appearance.

"To-morrow," she murmured to herself, "I will see him. To-night I
cannot, I am utterly exhausted, I _must_ have rest."

When the play was over she came out on the arm of the manager, her maid
on the other side of her. As she stepped into her carriage she saw a
dark, handsome face regarding her earnestly and a little reproachfully.
The closing door sent it from sight, and she was whirled away to her
hotel. She did not know that Captain Ernscliffe had sprung into a cab
and followed her.

Neither did Captain Ernscliffe know that a mysterious-looking lady,
heavily cloaked and veiled, had gotten into another cab and followed
him.

It was Sydney, driven to desperation by her jealous misery.

She had returned to the theater _sub rosa_, and been a witness to
Captain Ernscliffe's agitated recognition of the actress, and his
subsequent persistent attempt to secure an interview with her. Heedless
of everything, and rendered reckless by her indefinable dread of some
impending evil, she determined to follow him and prevent, if possible,
an interview between him and the brilliant actress who so strikingly
resembled his lost and lamented bride.

It was midnight when the three vehicles drew up before the grand
entrance of the hotel where La Reine Blanche had her elegant suite of
apartments. She was crossing the pavement on the arm of her elderly
duenna when a light touch arrested her footsteps. She turned and looked
into the face of Captain Ernscliffe. It was white, wild, eager.

"One word, if you please, Madame De Lisle," he exclaimed, in an eager,
agitated voice.

She paused a moment and clung tremblingly to the arm of her attendant.

"That is impossible to-night, sir," she answered in a low, constrained
voice. "Call on me to-morrow at noon. I will hear you then."

Without another word she turned and fled up the steps. He stood looking
at her blankly a moment, then re-entered his cab and was driven away. He
did not notice the heavily-draped figure of a woman that had stood
almost at his elbow, and that now ran lightly up the hotel steps, into
the wide, lighted hall.



CHAPTER XXIII.


La Reine Blanche went directly to her dressing-room, where her maid
divested her of her heavy wrappings and out-door costume, and
substituted a dressing-gown of white Turkish silk confined at the waist
by gold cord and tassels. Then she took down the burnished golden hair,
and prepared to brush and plait it for the night.

As she took up the pearl-handled brush there came a timid, hesitating rap
at the outer door. Madame De Lisle started and trembled.

"Admit no one to-night, Elsie," she said, nervously, as the maid turned
toward the door.

Elsie came back in a minute with a penciled slip of paper. Her mistress
took it, and read these words:

"Will Madame De Lisle accord the favor of a brief interview to a lady
who calls on important business?"

"A lady--at this time of the night!" said La Reine Blanche, lifting her
arched brows very slightly.

"Yes, madam, a real lady--at least she spoke and moved like one,"
replied Elsie, respectfully.

"Tell her I can see no one to-night. I am too weary; she must call
another time," said the actress, in an agitated voice.

Elsie turned away with the message, but before she reached the door she
was confronted by the lady, who had heard the refusal and entered in
spite of it.

She advanced into the room, and stood before the actress, who had risen
from her seat and leaned against a chair, her golden hair falling about
her like a misty veil.

"Madame De Lisle," said the intruder, in a slightly tremulous voice, "I
entreat you to pardon this untimely intrusion. Will you send your maid
away, that I may plead my justifiable excuse?"

La Reine Blanche motioned to the maid to withdraw into an inner room at
the pleasure of her visitor. Then she looked wistfully at the lady, who
had thrown off her concealing hood and cloak, and stood revealed in all
her majestic beauty, clothed splendidly in black velvet and sparkling
diamonds.

"You are surprised to see me here?" said Sydney, interrogatively.

The actress bowed silently. She seemed like one stricken dumb and
incapable of speech.

"You were annoyed this evening by the persistent attempts of a gentleman
to obtain speech with you," went on Sydney.

Again Madame De Lisle bowed silently. She seemed like one dazed, and
stood regarding her visitor without remembering that courtesy required
her to offer her a seat.

"It is of that I wish to speak, madam. I heard you tell him he might
call on you to-morrow at noon. I beg you, Madame De Lisle, to recall
that permission, and to utterly decline the acquaintance of Lawrence
Ernscliffe now and forever."

The failing senses of La Reine Blanche seemed to return to her with a
gasp. She straightened her drooping figure and looked haughtily at the
speaker.

"May I inquire why you proffer such a singular request?" she asked,
coldly.

"Is it necessary that I should explain my motive for the request? If I
do so, it will be at the expense of some humiliation to myself," said
the visitor, and a faint flush colored her handsome, high-bred face.

For a moment they stood regarding each other fixedly--the handsome
brunette in her velvet and diamonds, the lily-white blonde in her
sweeping robe and veil of golden hair, looking like a "white queen"
indeed.

Then the actress said, in a voice full of veiled passion and almost
defiance:

"It would take a strong motive indeed to cause me to decline the
acquaintance of Lawrence Ernscliffe. Let me know your reason that I may
judge if it be potent enough to secure your wish."

With a swift rush forward Sydney fell on her knees before the beautiful
woman.

"Madame De Lisle," she said, pleadingly, "I humble myself before you to
beg for my happiness! I love Lawrence Ernscliffe; I hoped I was winning
his love in return until he saw you on the stage to-night. Your beauty,
your splendid acting, above all, your striking resemblance to one he has
loved and lost, took his heart by storm. He is carried away by this mad
and wicked infatuation. Nothing but a studied coldness from you can
check this mad passion. Will you, now that I have told you all, do as I
have begged you?"

Something pathetic in the woman's humility touched a pitying chord in
the heart of La Reine Blanche. She took her gently by the hand and
placed her in a chair.

"You say that I resemble one whom he has loved and lost," she said. "Who
was she?"

"She was his bride," answered Sydney, "his bride and my sister. She died
at the altar. But I had the better claim upon him. He admired me and I
believe he would have loved and married me if he had not inopportunely
met her. But, as I have told you, she died. Now, after years, I had
almost won his love again when you came here with _her_ face and won him
from me! It is almost as if the dead had come back."

La Reine Blanche looked at her with a strange smile.

"I have heard it said," she remarked, "that if the dead could come back
after a few years they would find their places filled, their names
forgotten, and themselves unwelcome."

Sydney gave her a keen glance, half-frightened, half-defiant.

"Madam, that is true," she said. "If my sister could come back to us we
could not help being sorry. She was a trouble and disgrace to us while
living, and we cannot help feeling relieved that the grass is growing
over all her faults and follies."

"You did not love your sister?" said the actress, with her blue eyes
blazing like stars.

Sydney looked at her with a flash of hatred in her dusky orbs.

"Madam," she said, "could you love the thing that stood between you and
your happiness?"

They looked at each other a moment in silence, and the flashing eyes of
the beautiful actress seemed to burn into Sydney's heart. A sudden
horrible fear darted into her mind.

"_Has_ the dead come back?" she asked herself. "Oh! no, it _cannot_ be!"

"You will not answer me," she said, wildly. "Oh, Madame De Lisle, be
generous! You have lovers by the score; they tell me you have refused to
marry a duke. One heart more or less cannot matter to you. You must not
take my Lawrence from me! He is my all!"

"Your _all_!" exclaimed La Reine Blanche, with a curling lip. "Lady, you
prate of your love for Lawrence Ernscliffe, you tell me that he is your
_all_! You tell me what he is to _you_--will you tell me what you are to
_him_?"

There was a tone of triumph in her sweet, incisive voice as she
confronted her visitor.

"Madam," said Sydney, proudly and haughtily, "_he is my husband--I am
his wife!_"

"His wife! Oh! my God!"

It was the cry of a breaking heart that cleft the midnight air. The
actress staggered backward, tried to catch at a chair to save herself
from falling, and then dropped heavily to the floor and laid there
without a sign of life.

Elsie came rushing in from the next room, frightened at the sound.

"Oh, my poor mistress--you have killed her!" she cried.

"It is nothing but a swoon--she will soon revive," was the contemptuous
answer.

But in her heart Sydney prayed, "Oh, that it might be death!"

But the impious prayer was not answered thus. Elsie's energetic efforts
soon restored her mistress to consciousness, and lying languidly on a
silken divan, she turned her beautiful eyes back to Sydney's face.

"You may retire again," Sydney said to the maid. "We have much still to
say to each other."

The maid was about to refuse, but an imperative command from her
mistress caused her to retire at once. Then the two beautiful women
looked at each other with ominous glances.

"So you _are_ Queenie herself? I thought as much," exclaimed Sydney, in
a hissing tone of hate.

"Yes, I am Queenie," answered the actress, coolly. "I have come back
from the grave, Sydney; but it seems that I have neither name nor place
in the hearts that once were mine!"

"No, and _never_ shall have!" exclaimed Sydney, passionately, to
herself, but aloud she said, in a voice that she strove to render calm
and controlled:

"Will you tell me why you are here?"

"I am here to claim my husband!" answered Queenie, promptly and firmly.

If a look could have killed, Queenie Ernscliffe would have been stricken
dead at her sister's feet.

"You will have to prove a few things before you accomplish your
purpose," she retorted.

"I can prove all that is necessary," was the calm reply.

"Can you justify yourself in the matter of that shameful hidden year in
your life of which I shall surely inform Captain Ernscliffe?" asked
Sydney, malevolently.

"Sydney, forbear," exclaimed the actress, lifting her hand as if to ward
off some cruel blow. "I have borne all that I can bear to-night! You
must leave me now. Come and lunch with me to-morrow, and you shall hear
the story of that missing year--you shall judge whether I can justify
myself in the eyes of my husband."

"Will you promise not to see him until after that?" asked Sydney,
anxiously, as she turned to go.

"Yes, I will promise," answered Queenie.



CHAPTER XXIV.


Sydney could not wait until the hour for luncheon next day. She was
terribly afraid that Captain Ernscliffe might by some means secure a
meeting with La Reine Blanche, and that the fatal truth might be
revealed, to the utter destruction of the frail superstructure of her
own happiness.

He had not been back to the house since he had left her to return to the
theater the night before, and the most dreadful fancies continually
darted through her mind.

It was impossible for her to wait until the hour her sister had
specified. As early as ten o'clock she entered the hotel and was shown
into the parlor of the great actress.

Queenie was at home. She had just returned from an early rehearsal at
the theater, and lay resting on a low divan of cushioned blue satin.

She wore a trained dress of black velvet and satin, with creamy-hued
laces at the wrists, and a fichu of the rarest old lace fastened at her
throat by a brooch of dead gold. A single cluster of white hyacinth was
fastened in with the lace, and filled the room with its subtle,
delicious fragrance.

Her abundant, golden hair was braided into a coronet and confined with a
comb of pearl. In spite of an almost marble pallor, and a look of
terrible suffering, she appeared as lovely as Sydney had ever seen her.

At the entrance of her rival she lifted her head, and with a faint sigh
motioned her to a seat near her.

"You come early," she said.

"I could not wait," Sydney answered. "I was too impatient. You have not
spoken with--with----"

"_Our_ husband!" said the actress, filling up the embarrassed pause with
a faint and mirthless laugh. "No, Sydney, I have not spoken with him. I
saw him on the pavement this morning when I left the theater, but I drew
down my veil and looked another way."

The look of dread in Sydney's dark eyes softened into relief.

"Oh, Queenie," she exclaimed, "if you only _would_ go away from here
without speaking to him! Think of the consequences that would follow
such a revelation--the nine days' wonder over you, the shame, the
despair, the utter desolation for me! Oh, Queenie, if you would but go
away with your secret untold, and leave my husband."

Queenie's red lips curled scornfully.

"Ah! Sydney," she said, "you were always selfish. You think only of
yourself. You would sacrifice my happiness to your own."

"_Your_ happiness, Queenie? Ah! what happiness could it give you to be
re-united to Lawrence Ernscliffe? You never professed to love him!"

A crimson blush rose into Queenie's cheek. She put up her small hand to
hide it; but when it fell to her side again the warm color had not
faded. It seemed but to burn the brighter as she said in a low and
earnest voice:

"No, Sydney, I never professed to love him. I do not think I loved him
when I promised to marry him. And yet, in the few weeks that intervened
before he led me to the altar, I learned to love him with as deep and
fond a love as the most exacting heart could have asked for. Time,
silence and suffering have but deepened and intensified that passion,
until it has become like the very pulse of my heart. He is the one dear
thing to me, yet you ask me to give him to you."

"You have your art--your profession. Surely you love that," said Sydney,
anxiously.

"It has been but the means to an end," replied Queenie. "It has never
filled but half my heart. The other half has never been at rest. It has
always been seeking its lost mate. How could I give him up now that I
have found him?"

"You mean to take him from me, then?" said Sydney, with a dangerous
gleam of hatred firing into her black eyes.

La Reine Blanche did not answer. The blush had faded from her cheeks,
and left them deathly pale.

Sydney could read nothing of her thoughts in the blue eyes, half veiled
by the sweeping lashes. She moved restlessly in her chair.

"You promised to tell me your story," she said, coldly and sharply. "I
am here to listen."

The faded color rushed back in crimson waves to Queenie's face. She
looked up into the proud, scornful features of her sister.

"I am going to keep my word," she said, "and yet, Sydney, will you
believe me when I tell you that I would rather tell my story to any
other person on earth than you? Yes, I think I could sooner tell
Lawrence Ernscliffe himself. I do not believe that anyone else would
judge me as harshly and unpityingly as you will do--not even a
stranger."

She was silent a moment, and lay still, shading her face with one small,
white hand that sparkled with diamonds; then, as Sydney made no answer,
she said, with a visible effort:

"Where shall I begin, Sydney?"

"At the beginning," answered Sydney, curtly.

"I must go back four years, then," said Queenie. "Sydney, do you
remember the day that I sold my painted fan that Uncle Robert gave me to
buy a tarleton dress to wear to Mrs. Kirk's grand ball?"

"Yes, I remember."

"_That_ was the beginning, Sydney. I saw a gentleman in the store where
I sold my fan--the handsomest man I ever saw in my life--tall, dark,
elegant. He looked me straight in the face as I left the store, and my
foolish heart fluttered into my mouth. You know I was very young and
romantic at that time--both things of which I cannot accuse myself now,"
added Queenie, thinking sagely that her present twenty-one years made
her quite elderly.

"Yes," said Sydney, curtly.

"The man bought my fan as soon as I left the store; then he followed me.
I did not know these things then, but I learned them afterward. Perhaps
you remember that 'an unknown admirer' sent the fan back to me?"

"Yes," said Sydney, curtly.

"You remember also, Sydney, that every day an elegant bouquet, formed of
the choicest hot-house flowers, came to me from the same unknown
source?"

Sydney nodded an affirmative answer.

"I was very young and foolish in those days," said Queenie, with a sigh.
"I do not suppose that any girl ever lived more silly and romantic than
I was. I brooded day and night over the mysterious donor of the fan and
flowers. All my secret thoughts were of him. I felt quite sure in my own
mind that the handsome man who had looked at me so admiringly in the
fancy store was my unknown admirer. I expected daily to meet him
somewhere in the haunts of the gay society in which I had become
somewhat of a belle. You remember, Sydney?"

Sydney did not answer, and she went on, slowly:

"I did not meet him in society; but after a time we met in a public
park. I was walking there alone. I slipped and fell, spraining my ankle
severely. A gentleman rushed to my assistance. It was the handsome
stranger of whom I had dreamed so much that I had become perfectly
infatuated with him. He placed me in a carriage and took me home. You
were all out that day, and I never told of that event in my life through
some undefined fear of censure. That was where my fault began--in that
first act of secrecy."

She paused a moment, and a heart-wrung sigh drifted over her pale and
quivering lips.

Sydney sat perfectly still, regarding her with stern, unpitying eyes, as
though they were strangers instead of sisters whom the same mother had
nursed on her breast.

"We met again and again," said Queenie, slowly. "Always by accident, it
seemed at first, Sydney, and I am quite sure it _was_ accident on my
part; but I know now that it was by design on the part of Mr. Vinton. He
wooed me in the most romantic fashion. Flowers and poetry were the
vehicles through which he conveyed his sentiments, until at last grown
bolder, he openly avowed his love for me."

"You must have been very forward to have encouraged him to a declaration
so soon," said Sydney, with a sneer.

"Sydney, I declare to you I was not. Oh! if you knew Leon Vinton as I do
now, you would know that I was not--you would know that the more timid
and shrinking the dove the more fierce and unrelenting would be his
pursuit," exclaimed Queenie, with a scarlet blush at her sister's cruel
charge.

"I knew, of course," she continued, after a moment's thoughtful pause,
"home was the proper place for my lover to woo me. I said as much to
him. His ready excuse appeared perfectly sufficient in my silly eyes. He
told me that he was a foreigner of high birth and rank, exiled from his
native land through a political offense and that he had heard that my
father was bitterly opposed to all foreigners. He, therefore, felt it to
be quite hopeless to seek for the _entree_ to my father's house. Little
simpleton that I was, I swallowed the whole stupendous lie because it
was baited with the one single grain of truth--namely, the well-known
fact that my father was bitterly prejudiced against all persons of
foreign birth. I believed all he told me, and, worse than all, I
believed that I was deeply and devotedly in love with him. That was the
blind mistake of my life, Sydney. _Now_ I know that I was not in love
with the _man_. It was the romance and poetry of his manner of wooing
me, the mystery that surrounded him with an atmosphere of ideality that
fascinated and infatuated me. I was very young and romantic, as he well
knew when he set his artful trap for me. He knew too well how to bait
it. It was only the wooing that I loved when I thought it was the
wooer."

Her voice broke a moment, and she buried her face in her hands.

Sydney offered no comment, but sat as still and silent as a statue,
regarding her intently.

"Yet, why do I linger over those fatal hours?" resumed Queenie, with a
heavy sigh. "They can have but little interest for you. I will briefly
relate what came after. You remember, Sydney, how I left you all the day
we started to Europe on the pretense of returning to remain with papa?"

"Yes," Sydney answered, in a tone of scorn.

"It was a preconcerted plan," said the actress, dropping her eyes in
shame and remorse. "In less than an hour after I left you, Sydney, I met
Leon Vinton and was married to him."

"Married to him!" exclaimed Sydney, incredulously.

The blue eyes and the black ones met for a moment--one pair cold and
incredulous, the others full of raging scorn.

"Sydney, you are cruel!" exclaimed Queenie, indignantly. "How else
should I have gone away with him? I was as pure and innocent as a little
child. There was not a thought of evil in my heart. I would have died
the most horrible death that could be conceived of before I would have
willfully sinned."

"Why, then, did you not confess the truth when you came home?" asked
Sydney. "If you were married, where was your husband? Why did you suffer
us to think worse things of you?"

"Wait until I have finished my story, Sydney, then you will understand
why," answered Queenie, mournfully. "We were married, as I told you,"
she continued. "We went to live in a beautiful cottage on the banks of
the river, about five miles from the city where we lived. My husband
appeared to be a man of wealth and taste. My home was splendidly
furnished. I had servants to wait upon me, the best of everything to eat
and wear. He appeared to be perfectly devoted to me. I had but two
things to complain of. One was the utter seclusion in which we lived. He
went into no society, and we saw no company--not a single person ever
visited us. I rode out in a carriage with Mr. Vinton sometimes. Once we
went to the theater near my old home, and an irresistible desire seized
upon me to look upon the face of my father once more. Mr. Vinton had
always sternly forbidden me to venture near my home, but I eluded him
somehow in the crush coming out of the theater, and ran homeward with
flying footsteps. I looked into the window, Sydney. It was late, but I
saw papa. He was sitting, sad and alone, thinking, perhaps, of his
absent dear ones. He looked so old and broken it almost broke my heart."



CHAPTER XXV.


Queenie paused a moment, and Sydney saw that warm, passionate tears were
streaming down her cheeks. The sight awoke no pity in the heart of the
elder sister. It seemed to her that her hatred was simply measureless
for the beautiful young sister who, living or dead, held Lawrence
Ernscliffe's heart.

"Papa looked up and saw me," continued Queenie, brushing away the
crystal drops with her perfumed handkerchief. "He took me for a ghost, I
think. I ran away and met Mr. Vinton coming after me. He was very angry
with me, and I promised him I would not venture near the place again.
Poor papa! As I went away I heard him wandering in the garden, calling
my name. I longed to turn back and throw my arms about his neck. I often
begged Mr. Vinton to allow me to make known our marriage to papa and
trust to his kind heart to forgive us, but he always refused angrily. He
had a terrible temper--a sleeping devil coiled within his heart."

"You said that you had but two things to complain of," suggested Sydney.
"You have named but one."

"The other was Mr. Vinton's frequent absence from me. He spent more than
half his time in the city, and I passed more than half my time alone,
save for the company of his housekeeper, a wicked woman, whom I
cordially detested. When I complained of his long absence, he
represented that business detained him from my side, but when I ventured
to inquire into the nature of his business, he almost rudely informed me
that it was no part of my province to inquire into his affairs. I asked
him no more questions, and I do not know to this day what engaged his
time and attention, nor what was the source of his apparent wealth.

"We had been married almost a year," she continued, after a slight
pause, "when I began to notice that Mr. Vinton grew cold and careless to
me, and his mysterious absences became longer and more frequent. In my
loneliness and isolation I began to pine more and more for papa, whose
sad and troubled face, as I saw it last, when I looked into the window
that night, haunted me persistently. To my surprise, Mr. Vinton ceased
to chide me for indulging in my grief, and pretended to be willing to
reveal our marriage to papa and beg his forgiveness. In my joy at this
assurance, I threw my arms around his neck, and kissed him as fondly as
I had ever done in the first days of our union. That evening he ordered
out the phaeton to take me home to papa. You know how fond I was of
papa, Sydney--you can imagine my happiness."

Sydney only bowed coldly in reply.

"'I am going to take you home by a new route,' Mr. Vinton said to me,
turning the phaeton into a lonely, unfrequented road. In my joy at going
back to papa, I consented without a thought of the oddity of the words.
I only said to him: 'Do not make it a longer route, dear Leon. I am so
impatient to see papa again.'"

She was growing more excited now. She rose from her reclining position,
and sitting upright, looked at Sydney with scarlet cheeks and burning,
violet eyes. She was dazzlingly beautiful in this new phase.

Her fair, expressive face, and graceful, white throat rose from the rich
and somber setting of black velvet like some rare flower. Her voice
sounded like a wail of the saddest music.

"It was the cruelest lie a man ever told a woman, Sydney!" she went on,
clasping and unclasping her white hands together in passionate
excitement. "We never went near home. He never intended it. It began to
rain soon, and we had no cover to the phaeton. We were passing through a
thick wood, and he forced me to get out and stand under the trees under
pretense of seeking shelter. Then, oh, Sydney, Sydney, with the chilly
rain beating down upon us, and our feet half buried in the thick drifts
of autumn leaves, he told me--oh, Sydney, can you guess what horrible
thing that villain told me?"

The tears were falling down her cheeks like rain as she looked at her
sister, but she, conjecturing the truth at once, answered, promptly and
coldly:

"He told you that he had deceived you--that you were not his wife!"

"Yes, Sydney, that was what he told me," answered Queenie, with burning
cheeks. "He said that the minister who united us was no more a minister
than he was, and had only done it for a lark! He said he was tired of me
and did not intend to charge himself with my support any longer, and
that I might return to my father."

She stopped a moment and brushed away the tears that were coursing down
her cheeks.

"Oh! how can I go on?" she exclaimed.

"I am impatient," remarked Sydney.

"I was fairly maddened by that cruel revelation," continued Queenie.
"Oh, Sydney, may the dear Lord spare you from such suffering as was mine
in that terrible hour! I went mad! All the softness of womanhood died
out of me in the face of that cruel wrong! The instinct of the tigress
sprang into my heart. I thirsted for Leon Vinton's blood. I cursed him.
I rushed upon him and fastened my little, white fingers in his throat
and tried to kill the wretch who had betrayed me."

"A murderess!" exclaimed Sydney, recoiling.

"My hands were all too weak and frail to wreak justice upon the
villain," Queenie went on, heedless of her sister's ejaculation. "He
pushed me off, he swore at me, he strangled me with his strong, white
fingers, threw me down upon the earth and spurned me with his foot--aye,
trampled upon me! You saw the purple print of his boot-heel on my brow,
Sydney. It is here yet," she said, pushing back the fluffy waves of
golden hair from her brow and showing the livid scar.

"After that I remember nothing more for several hours," she went on,
seeing that Sydney made no answer, "and he must have thought that he
had killed me, for when I came to myself I was lying in a grave, a very
shallow grave. I was covered with fresh earth and dead leaves, which the
hard and steady rain had partly beaten aside, leaving my face exposed.
My murderer had not buried me deep enough. I sprang up out of the
shallow hole in which he had laid me, my heart beating wildly with
hatred and the thirst for revenge. All the hours of unconsciousness, all
the rain and cold that had chilled my body had not cooled the fire of
hate, the murderous instinct that possessed me. It seemed to me that
nothing could wipe out my wrongs except Leon Vinton's blood."

"And this is the innocent little child that used to be my father's pet!"
exclaimed the listener, with a shudder.

"Yes," said Queenie, mournfully. "It seems strange, does it not? I, who
only four years ago was the petted child of my father's heart--now I am
dead to all that once knew and loved me. I have gone wrong. I have
wandered into strange paths. I have buried peace and joy. I have broken
my father's heart--all for the sin of one man--_man_ did I say? Nay,
rather a devil in the guise of an angel of light!"



CHAPTER XXVI.


If Sydney's heart had been less hard than marble she must have pitied
the beautiful, unfortunate young sister so sadly rehearsing the story of
her terrible wrongs.

But she uttered no word of sympathy or pity, she did not take the golden
head upon her breast and weep over it as a loving sister would have
done. She only said, in her cold, hard, jealous voice:

"Go on, Queenie. You went home to papa then?"

"No, I did not. I went back to the beautiful cottage where I had lived
in a fool's Paradise one fatal year. Before I reached there I saw _him_
standing alone on the banks of the river. I told you I thirsted for his
blood. Nothing could have cooled the fire of my terrible hate but his
life-blood poured out in a free libation. His back was turned to me, he
neither saw nor heard me. I crept up behind him, I--oh, Sydney, do not
look at me so! Remember it was not little Queenie, but a woman gone mad
over her terrible wrongs. I could not help it. I put my hand on his
shoulder and pushed him down into the river!"

"You are even worse than I thought you, Queenie," exclaimed her sister;
"yet you--a Magdalen, a murderess--you dared to come back to us and to
marry Captain Ernscliffe!"

"I disclaim either of the hard names you have called me, Sydney," her
sister answered, defiantly. "I have been deeply sinned against, but I
have not sinned. I had no intention of evil when I eloped with Leon
Vinton. I thought I was his wife when I lived with him. When I pushed
him into the river it was a simple act of justice. If I had gone home to
papa and told him my wrongs, and he had killed Leon Vinton, society
would have applauded the act and any jury would have acquitted him. It
was right for me to punish him. I gloried in the deed."

Sydney made a gesture of abhorrence.

"The only pity," continued the actress, passionately, "is that I did not
succeed in my revenge. He rose upon the water once after I pushed him
in, and saw me on the bank. Then he shook his fist at me and shouted,
with his mouth full of water: 'If I live I will have revenge for this!'
Then he went under again, and I ran away and went home to papa."

"Then he was not drowned, after all?" said Sydney.

"No, he was saved from a watery grave, and forthwith began to dog my
footsteps again, though so cautiously that I never dreamed but that he
was dead. The night I was married I saw him looking in the window at me,
but I took him for a ghost or an illusion of fancy, never for a moment
as a living creature. But in the moment that I was made a bride he sent
me a bouquet. I inhaled the perfume and fell senseless. It was drugged
with a powerful sleeping potion. I was not dead, only asleep and
unconscious, when they buried me. Leon Vinton resurrected me that night,
and confined me as a hated prisoner at the cottage to which he had taken
me a happy, thoughtless young bride. That was his diabolical revenge. He
knew where I was all the time, but he waited until the full cup of
happiness was pressed to my lips, then dashed it away, and spilled the
precious wine forever."

She looked at her elder sister with a tearless agony in her pansy-blue
eyes, but Sydney only said, impatiently:

"I am anxious to hear how you happened to become such a noted actress."

"A few months after my supposed death, Leon Vinton was killed by the
outraged father of a young girl whom he had basely betrayed. In the
consequent excitement my prison door was left open, and I escaped and
went back to the city, toiling on through the stormy, winter weather as
though it was summer time, in my joy at the thought of going back to my
home again."

She wrung her jeweled hands and groaned aloud.

"Oh, Heaven! how little I dreamed of the changes that awaited me in the
home from which I had been carried a seeming corpse but a few months
before. Papa was dead, the rest of you were gone to Europe; there were
strangers in the house. Staggering blindly along, almost overwhelmed by
the shock of my father's loss, I went to my husband's home. Alas! he,
too, was traveling abroad. My last prop was swept from under me. I was
homeless, friendless, penniless and forsaken in the great, heartless
city, alone in the streets at night, beaten and tossed about by the wind
and storm."

"Oh, if she had but died then!" breathed Sydney, inaudibly.

"Sydney, try to put yourself in my place for a moment. You who have lain
in luxury's silken lap all your life--who have never known a sorrow.
Think of your wronged little sister alone and friendless in the dark and
dangerous streets of the city, buffeted by the wintery storms. Surely,
then, you will feel some pity for all that I have endured."

Sydney would not even look at the sorrowful face; her ears were deaf to
the tremulous, appealing voice.

"Go on with your story," she said, coldly. "These digressions are
wearisome. What happened to you then?"

But Queenie had thrown herself back on the divan, with her white hands
over her face, and for a moment a profound silence reigned throughout
the room. The little French pendule on the mantel was ticking the hours
toward noon, but neither of the two women, in their all-absorbing
interest in the present, seemed to remember that the actress had made an
appointment with Captain Ernscliffe at that hour. Presently Queenie
spoke in a faint and mournful voice.

"Sydney, I cannot go on now; I am too faint and exhausted. These painful
recollections have wearied and depressed me. Wait a little. I must
rest."

"You have come so near to the end of the story, surely you can finish it
now," objected Sydney, unfeelingly.

The actress did not speak for a moment; the small hands dropped away
from her face, and she lay still, with her long-fringed lashes resting
on her white cheek, a look of pain and exhaustion on her delicate lips.

Sydney rose and walked impatiently up and down the floor.

"Sydney," said her sister presently, "there is some wine and glasses on
the cabinet there. Will you give me a few drops? Perhaps it may rally my
fainting strength."

Sydney went to the cabinet and found a flask of port wine and delicate
little crystal glasses.

She poured a little into a glass and looked over at her sister.

Her eyes were still closed, and she looked death-like and pallid as she
lay there in her velvet dress and rich surroundings.

A terrible look came into Sydney's face. She put her hand into her bosom
and drew out a little vial, unstoppered it, and poured a few drops into
the wine.

Then she crossed the room to Queenie's side. Her eyes were burning with
some inward fire.

"Here, Queenie," she said, "drink your wine."



CHAPTER XXVII.


"Drink your wine, Queenie," repeated Sydney, in a slightly impatient
voice.

The beautiful actress struggled up to a sitting posture and looked into
her sister's face.

"Good Heaven, Sydney, what ails you?" she said. "You look positively
ghastly. This interview has been too much for you. I entreat you to
drink the wine yourself."

But Sydney shook her head, although she was trembling like a leaf and
her face was ashen white. She could scarcely keep from spilling the
wine, the glass wavered so unsteadily in her hand.

"I insist upon it," said Queenie. "You need a restorative as much as I
do. Drink that yourself and give me another glass."

A frightened look came into Sydney's eyes. Was it possible that Queenie
had been watching her from under the hands that covered her face?

"I--I assure you I do not need it in the least," she faltered; "you
looked so ghastly yourself, lying there, that I was frightened, but my
nervousness is quite over now. Pray drink it yourself. I am anxious to
see you revive enough to continue your story."

Queenie took the wine-glass in her hand and raised it to her lips.

Sydney watched her with parted lips and burning eyes. Her heart gave a
bound of joy as her unfortunate sister touched the fatal draught with
her beautiful lips.

They were so absorbed that they had not heard a rapping at the door.
Both were quite unconscious that the person seeking admittance had grown
impatient and recklessly turned the handle.

But little as they dreamed of such a thing, it was true. Sydney's
dreadful crime had had an unthought-of spectator. A man had stood just
inside the room and watched her with wild, astonished, horrified eyes.

As Queenie was about to drink the wine he rushed forward and violently
struck the glass from her hand. It fell to the floor, shattered into a
hundred fragments, the ruby wine splashing over the rich carpet.

The actress sprang to her feet and confronted the daring intruder.

"Lawrence Ernscliffe!" she gasped.

"Lawrence Ernscliffe!" echoed Sydney, in a voice of horror.

"Yes, Lawrence Ernscliffe," he answered, looking at Queenie.

He seemed to have no eyes for anyone but her, although his second wife
stood just at his elbow.

"Why are you here?" demanded the actress, haughtily.

The tall, handsome man looked at her in astonishment.

"Madam, you permitted me to call," he said, "and this is the hour you
specified. I knocked, but no one came; then I opened the door and
entered."

The pride and anger on the lovely face before him softened strangely.

"That is true, I had quite forgotten it," she said. "But then your
rudeness in striking the glass from my hand--how do you account for
that? What did you mean by it?"

Her beautiful eyes were looking straight into his--the dusky, pansy-blue
eyes of the lost bride whom he had worshiped so madly.

His reason seemed to reel before that wonderful resemblance, his heart
was on fire with the passion she roused within him; yet through it all
he had a vague feeling that he must shield Sydney, that he must not
betray her to the beautiful woman whom she had wronged.

His dark eyes fell before her steady gaze, his cheek reddened, his
tongue felt thick when he tried to speak.

Sydney's heart was beating almost to suffocation, while he stood thus
hesitating. She knew when he struck the glass from Queenie's hand that
he had witnessed her dastardly crime.

She wondered if his mad passion for the beautiful actress would lead him
to betray _her_--his wife!

In her terror and desperation she grasped his arm and looked up
pleadingly into his face.

Captain Ernscliffe looked down at her--oh! the withering scorn, the just
horror of that look.

She shrank back abashed before it, but he slowly shook his head.

She was safe--he could not forget that she bore his name, however
unworthily.

"I ask you again, sir," said the actress, in a voice that demanded
reply, "why did you strike the glass from my hand?"

"Madam, I--I--pardon me, I was excited, I knew not what I did!" he
stammered, not daring to meet her searching gaze.

Suddenly Queenie uttered a cry of grief and terror. A little pet dog had
left his cushion in the corner and lapped up the spilled wine from the
floor with its tiny, pointed tongue.

Now, after a few, unsteady motions, and two or three whining moans of
pain, it uttered one sharp, despairing yelp, rolled over upon the carpet
and expired.

After Queenie's one terrified cry a dead silence reigned throughout the
room.

Sydney dropped into a chair, trembling so that she could not stand, and
put her hands before her face. Her sin had found her out.

Queenie would certainly revenge herself now by revealing her identity.
What mercy could she expect from the sister she had hated and tried to
murder?

"I understand your reluctance to explain yourself now, sir," said the
voice of the actress, falling on her ears like the knell of doom. "You
would shield your wife!"

He did not answer. His head was bowed on his breast, his handsome,
high-bred face was pale with emotion. She went on coldly after a
moment's pause:

"I thank you, Captain Ernscliffe, for the ready hand that struck the
poisoned wine from my lips, although my life is so valueless to me that
it was scarcely worth the saving. But now will you withdraw and leave me
to deal with this lady?"

Sydney glanced up through the fingers that hid her shamed face. What did
Queenie mean to do? Was it possible that she would not reveal her
identity to her husband?

"Madam," he remonstrated, "you were willing to accord me an interview.
Surely you will not send me away like this. I cannot go until I have
told you why I am here!"

The resolution in his voice alarmed her. She stepped back a pace and
stood looking at him with parted lips and burning eyes, her face as
white as marble against the background of her rich but somber velvet
robe, her loosened, golden hair falling around her like a veil of light.

"We--I--that is--you can have nothing to say to me that I wish to hear!"
she panted. "Pray go--let us part as we met--strangers!"

He looked at her with a strange light in his dark eyes, a warm flush
creeping into his face.

Sydney watched him with wild, fascinated eyes. What would he say to this
speech of the actress?

"We have not met as strangers--we cannot part thus!" he answered firmly.
"Surely my eyes and my heart cannot both deceive me! La Reine Blanche,
you are my lost wife, Queenie!"



CHAPTER XXVIII.


You might have heard a pin drop in the room, so utter was the silence
that followed Captain Ernscliffe's bold declaration.

Sydney remained crouching in her chair, watching the two chief actors in
this drama in real life, with wild, fascinated eyes, feeling that her
whole future hung trembling in the balance on the answer that must fall
from her sister's lips.

Queenie seemed stricken dumb by the words of Captain Ernscliffe. She
stared at him speechlessly, her white teeth buried in her crimson lips,
her hands clenched tightly together.

"Queenie, you cannot deny it," he went on passionately, seeing that she
could not, or would not speak. "Although I thought you dead, although
the last time I beheld your sweet face it was under the shadow of the
coffin-lid, yet I could swear that the lost bride whom I deemed an angel
in Heaven, still walks the earth under the name of Reine De Lisle!"

Still she did not answer, still she stood there pale and statue-like,
all the life that was left in her seeming concentrated in the burning
gaze she fixed upon his face.

He ventured to come a little nearer, he touched the white, jeweled hands
that were locked so tightly together. He altogether forgot Sydney
crouching silently in the great arm-chair. He took up a long, curling
tress of the golden hair and pressed it to his lips.

"My darling!" he cried, "speak to me! Tell me by what strange mystery
you were resurrected and restored to my heart! Why have you remained so
long away from me?"

The touch of his hands and lips seemed to galvanize her into life. She
pushed him away and sprang to Sydney's side.

"Madam," she cried indignantly, "what ails your husband? Is he mad? Why
does he claim me as his wife?"

Sydney's heart gave one wild, passionate throb of joy. Queenie had
declared herself. She would renounce her husband! Taking the cue
instantly, she sprang up and fixed a pleading gaze on the beautiful
white face of the actress.

"Oh! Madame De Lisle, forgive him," she cried. "You are the living image
of his first wife, whom he adored, and who died at the altar. Your
perfect resemblance to her has driven him mad!"

He looked from one to the other--the dark, radiant brunette, the
lily-white blonde, each so perfect in her type--and his heart sank
heavily.

Had they conspired to deceive him, or was this wonderful resemblance to
his lost bride but a mere coincidence--a will-o'-the-wisp, an _ignis
fatuus_, to lead his heart and his reason astray?

"Cease, Sydney!" he said sternly. "She cannot deny it, she will not
utter such a stupendous falsehood. My heart is too true a monitor to
lead me astray! It never throbbed as it does now in the presence of any
woman on earth but Queenie Lyle!"

How noble and handsome he looked as he stood there, pleading for his
love with all his tender, passionate heart shining in his dark eyes.

The actress gave one look at him, then turned away and walked to the
further end of the room.

She could not bear the mute, agonizing appeal in his beautiful,
troubled, dark eyes. Sydney sprang to his side and clasped her hands
about his arm.

"Oh! Lawrence," she cried. "You break my heart! I tremble for your
reason. Oh! pray, pray, come away from here! Madame De Lisle is very
angry with you for your persistence in your strange mistake. You intrude
upon her hours for study and practice. Will you not come away with me?"

He looked down at her suspiciously, without stirring from the spot.

"Sydney, if indeed I am mistaken," he said, "why are _you_ here? If this
lady is not your sister, what have you to do with her? Why," he lowered
his voice slightly, "why did you seek to remove her from your path?"

Sydney dropped her eyes and turned crimson.

"Oh, Lawrence," she said, "she is not my sister, but she is my rival. I
know all that passed last night, I know that she has won your heart from
me."

"It was never yours, Sydney," he answered firmly. "I married you because
you loved me, and were unhappy without me; but you never held my heart.
I have never loved but one woman on earth. I told you that before I made
you my wife."

The listener's heart gave one great bound of joy. He loved her still--he
had never loved but her. Why should she sacrifice herself and him for
the doubtful good of Sydney's happiness?

A great wave of pity for herself and for her true, loyal husband swept
over her heart.

She made a quick step toward him as if to throw herself upon his breast,
then shrank back into herself, deterred by the agonised appeal in the
eyes of Sydney, who seemed to divine her purpose.

"Oh! Lawrence," entreated Sydney, "pray go away from here. Madame De
Lisle grows impatient."

The actress swept across the room, turned the handle of the door, and
held it open.

"Mrs. Ernscliffe is right," she said in a cold, hard tone, "I am both
weary and impatient. I can bear no more. This trespass on my time and
patience is inexcusable. Will it please you to go now, sir?"

Lawrence Ernscliffe advanced and stood before her in the doorway. She
could not bear the passionate pain and reproach in the beautiful eyes he
fastened on her face. Her gaze wavered and fell before his.

"Queenie," he said, slowly and sadly, "you have not deceived me! You
cannot deny that you are my own! Your soul is too white and pure to
suffer such a falsehood to stain your lips! Yet you will not let me
claim you, you are sacrificing your happiness and mine for a mere
chimera! I understand it all. Sydney has asked for the sacrifice and you
have made it. It is for _her sake_!"

He bent down, lifted a spray of white hyacinth that had fallen from the
lace on her breast to the floor, pressed it to his lips, and silently
withdrew.

Queenie closed the door upon his retreating form and turned back to her
sister.

"He was right," she said slowly, "I have sacrificed my happiness and his
for your sake, Sydney."

Sydney lifted her heavy eyes and looked at her without speaking. Queenie
went on slowly: "This is my revenge, Sydney: you have scorned and
insulted me, you have branded me with a cruel name, you have tried to
poison me--me, the little sister you loved and petted when we were
children at our mother's knee! Yet, for the sake of those old days, and
the love we had for each other then, I forgive you--nay, more, I make
the sacrifice you were cruel enough to ask of me. I resign the one being
whom I have sought for years--the one thing dear to me upon earth. I
give you the pulse of my heart, the life of my life, the soul of my
soul!"

Cold and white as marble in her sublime self-abnegation, she pointed to
the door.

"Go," she said, "I can bear no more!"

Sydney obeyed her without a word.

Then the beautiful queen of tragedy, the lovely woman who counted her
admirers by the hundreds, knelt down upon the floor, and lifted her
white, despairing face to Heaven.

"Oh! God," she moaned, "If indeed I am a sinner, as she said, surely
this great and bitter sacrifice for another's sake must win for me the
pity and pardon of Heaven!"



CHAPTER XXIX.


The three weeks of La Reine Blanche's London engagement were drawing to
a close.

She had achieved a brilliant success. Her beauty and her genius were the
themes of every tongue.

Her admirers were legion. She had a score of wealthy and titled lovers.
It was even said that a noble and well-known duke had proposed to marry
her, and met with a cold and haughty refusal.

The managers of the theater where she was playing tried to secure her
for another month. It would be worth a fortune to them, they said, and
they allowed her to make her own terms.

To their consternation she utterly declined a longer engagement and
announced her intention to retire from the stage.

The managers were astounded. What! retire from the stage in the zenith
of her fame, with all her gifts of youth, beauty and genius. It was too
dreadful. Yet in spite of their remonstrances she persevered. She
canceled at a tremendous cost an engagement she had made with a Parisian
manager. A whisper was circulated and began to gain credence that the
beautiful _tragedienne_ was about to enter a convent and take the veil
for life.

She did not deny it when people questioned her, but she would not tell
the reason why she was about to take such a strange step.

She only smiled sadly when they remonstrated with her, but she would
never tell why she was about to immure herself, with all her gifts of
beauty, youth and genius, in a living tomb.

But there was one thing that was palpable to all who saw her off the
stage and divested of the trickery of paint and cosmetics. La Reine
Blanche was fading like the frailest summer flower. The lily bloomed on
her cheek instead of the rose.

Under her large, blue eyes lay purple shadows, darker and deeper than
those cast by the drooping lashes. A look of patient suffering crept
about the corners of her lips and hid in her eyes. Her smiles were
sadder and more pathetic than sighs, her form grew slighter and more
ethereal in its perfect grace, her step lost its lightness and
elasticity. Some said that the beautiful actress was dying of a broken
heart, others said that she was falling into a consumption.

She heard these things and made no outward sign, but inwardly she said
to herself:

"They are both right and wrong. I am dying because I have nothing left
to live for. I have toiled and hoped for years. I have studied and
practiced to get money to carry me over the wide world in search of the
one true heart that was mine only, and now that I have found it I have
had to give it away. I cannot endure it; I am not strong enough. There
is nothing left me but to die!"

She thought of some sorrowful lines she had somewhere read and
mournfully repeated them:

    "Much must be borne which is hard to bear,
      Much given away which it were sweet to keep.
    God helps us all! who need indeed His care;
      And yet I know the Shepherd loves His sheep."

Those flying rumors and reports only served to make Madame De Lisle more
popular. She was the rage. She played to densely packed houses every
night.

Flowers rained upon her. The costliest gifts of jewels and rare
_bric-a-brac_ were sent to her from such unknown sources that she could
neither refuse nor send them back as she would otherwise have done.
There was always a great throng of people waiting to see her step into
the carriage every night.

But in all that throng La Reine Blanche never saw but one face. There
was one man who always held the same position beside her carriage door.
He never spoke to her, he never touched her, but stood there patiently
every night, thrilled to the depths of his soul if the hem of her
perfumed robe but brushed him in passing.

Some weird fascination utterly beyond her power of resistance always
impelled her to meet his glance, and the fire in his beautiful, dark
eyes; the passionate love, the terrible pain, the bitter reproach were
killing her slowly but surely.

And Lawrence Ernscliffe was going mad. He had no life, no thought, no
hope outside the beautiful woman whom he had claimed for his wife, and
who had so coldly denied him.

He haunted her like her own shadow. Go where she would she saw him, look
where she would she met only the eyes of the man she loved and to whom
she belonged by the dearest tie on earth.

He forgot Sydney utterly, or if he ever remembered her it was only with
scorn. Her terrible sin had placed her beyond the pale of his tenderness
forever. No reasoning, no sophistry could have convinced him that the
beautiful actress was not his own wife whom he had lost in the very
moment that made her his bride.

He could not have explained himself. He did not understand at all the
mysterious chance which had brought it about, yet he knew in his own
heart that the woman whom he had seen in her coffin once had been
restored to life again, and that the only bar to their happiness now was
Sydney, whom he had married through a simple impulse of pity.



CHAPTER XXX.


It was the last night of Madame De Lisle's engagement. She would make
her final appearance before the world in the beautiful tragedy of "King
Lear." To-morrow she would retire to the conventional cloister forever.

The theater was so densely packed that there was scarcely standing-room
on this her farewell night.

Lord Valentine and his wife and mother-in-law were in his box from which
they had scarcely missed a night of the three weeks.

Besides Mrs. Lyle's passionate love of the drama there was a subtle
fascination in Madame De Lisle's strange resemblance to her youngest
daughter that impelled her thither every night to gaze upon her with
eyes that never wearied in looking on her loveliness. She could not have
told why it was, but she was vaguely conscious of a troubled tenderness
about her heart whenever she looked at the fair young creature and heard
the talk of her going into a convent.

"She makes me think of poor Queenie," she whispered to Georgina that
night. "I cannot help feeling sorry for her, she is so like what she
was."

"The resemblance is startling, indeed," Lady Valentine whispered back,
"but don't let Sydney hear you, mamma. She does not like to hear about
it."

Sydney made no sign, but she knew very well what they were talking of.

She came to the theater every night, though she hated to be there.
Jealousy drove her to look on her rival's face every night that she
might also watch her husband.

Poor Sydney! She sat there pale and haggard, and wretched in her white
satin and diamonds, looking with jealous, suspicious eyes at the
beautiful and gentle "Cordelia," hating her for the fairness that
Lawrence Ernscliffe loved.

Queenie's sacrifice, made at so costly a price to herself, had utterly
failed to purchase her sister's happiness.

Captain Ernscliffe had a seat in another part of the house where Sydney
could watch his every movement. Her heart swelled with bitter pain and
passionate anger as she looked at him. He did not even seem to know that
she was there. His dark, melancholy eyes never once moved from the
graceful form of the unhappy "Cordelia" as she acted her part on the
stage. When the curtain fell he dropped his eyes and never looked up
again until his beautiful idol reappeared.

La Reine Blanche had never acted better. She gave her whole attention to
her part. She did not seem to see that one pair of eyes had watched her
with such wild entreaty and passionate love in their beautiful depths.

There was one box at which she never looked but once, and it was when,
in obedience to her husband's command, "Bid farewell to your sisters,"
she slowly repeated:

    "'Ye jewels of our father, with washed eyes
    Cordelia leaves you: I know you what you are;
    And, like a sister, am most loth to call
    Your faults as they are named. Love well our father:
    To your professed bosoms I commit him;
    But yet, alas! stood I within his grace,
    I would prefer him to a better place.
        So farewell to you both.'"

Everyone in the house saw her brilliant eyes fixed on Lord Valentine's
box as she repeated those words, but perhaps no one but the actress
herself saw that Sydney's eyes drooped in shame and confusion, while a
scarlet blush stained her cheek.

Ah, she, and no other, comprehended the bitter meaning of Queenie's
words as she fixed her blue eyes mournfully on the sister who had
wronged her so deeply.

"This is her last night," Sydney murmured to herself, "but is it true
that she will go into a convent? I must see her, I must know the truth
for certain. I will go round to her dressing-room and ask her."

When the act was over she complained of sickness and asked Lord
Valentine to take her down to the carriage.

Lord Valentine complied and left her sitting in the carriage, the
coachman mounting to his box.

But in a moment, before the two prancing horses had started, Sydney
slipped out of the carriage so noiselessly that the man drove on never
dreaming but that she was shut up within.

Then she ran round breathlessly to the private entrance of the theater.
She told the man who kept the door that she had an engagement with
Madame De Lisle and desired him to show her to that lady's
dressing-room.

Two minutes later she found herself alone in the small apartment where
the actress changed her costumes for the different acts and scenes.

Queenie had not yet come in. The manager had detained her a few minutes
and Sydney had time to draw breath and look about her while she waited
for her sister.

There was not much to see. The room was dingy and sparely furnished, as
the dressing-room of a theater is apt to be.

Costumes were laid over the backs of chairs, and the maid who should
have been guarding them was "off duty," gossiping, no doubt, with some
humble _attache_ of the place. There was little to interest one, and
Sydney grew impatient.

Suddenly she saw a letter lying carelessly on the toilet table. She took
it up and looked at it.

It was addressed to Madame De Lisle, and had never been unsealed.

"It has been left here during the first act, and Queenie has never seen
it," she said to herself. "It looks like my husband's writing. I will
see what he has to say to her."

Recklessly, desperately, she tore it open, and drew out the sheet of
note paper.

     "MY DARLING," it said simply, "meet me at the western door after
     the first act is over. I _must_ see you a moment."

No name was signed to the mysterious note, but Sydney felt sure that it
was her husband's writing.

"Queenie has deceived me," she said to herself, angrily. "She is in
collusion with Lawrence. I might have known she would play me false!"

She looked about her hurriedly. A long, black silk circular, lined with
fur, hung over a chair. She put it on over her white dress, caught up a
thick veil, winding it about her head and face, and hurried out to the
retired western door.

Outside in the darkness stood a tall, muffled form.

"Queenie, is it you?" he said in unfamiliar tones.

In a moment she realized her mistake. It was not her husband, but in the
hope of unearthing some fatal mystery, she said softly:

"Yes, it is Queenie."

These words sealed her doom. The man sprang forward and caught her by
the arm.

Something bright and slender gleamed an instant in his upraised hand and
then was sheathed in her heart.

As her terrible scream of agony divided the shuddering air, he turned
and fled from the scene of his crime.

But poor Sydney, the victim of her own misguided passion lay there
dying, with the deadly steel of the assassin sheathed in her jealous
breast.



CHAPTER XXXI.


That wild and piercing cry penetrated to many ears. The manager and the
actress heard it where they stood conversing together, and though
Queenie did not know that it was Sydney's voice, still she grew pale as
death, and an indefinable fear crept coldly around her heart. The
manager put her into a chair, for he saw that she could not stand.

"Stay here until I return," he said, "I will go and see what has
happened."

He hurried round to the western door from which the sound had seemed to
proceed.

A little knot of theater _attaches_ had preceded him. They were gathered
round the prostrate form, and one had unwound the shrouding veil from
her pale face and exposed it to the air and light. Her dark eyes were
staring upward with a look of pain and horror in their starry depths,
her face was ashen white, her lips quivered with faint, anguished moans,
and her white, jeweled hands worked convulsively at the hilt of the
dagger whose deadly blade was buried in her breast.

She looked up at the manager as he bent over her. A gleam of recognition
came into her eyes.

"I am dying," she said, in a faint, gasping voice. "Let someone go into
the theater and bring Captain Ernscliffe! Don't let anyone else know I
am here! Queenie--I mean--Madame De Lisle--must not know! Let the play
go on."

At that moment they brought a physician, summoned in haste from his seat
in the theater. He knelt down and tried to draw the dagger from her
breast, but desisted in a moment and shook his head ominously.

"Tell me the truth," she moaned. "How many minutes have I to live?"

The physician looked down at her with a grave pity in his kindly eyes.

"Only as long as the dagger remains in the wound," he answered, gently.
"When that is removed you will bleed to death in a minute."

She clasped both hands around the murderous steel as if to drive it
deeper into her heart.

"Let it remain there, then," she gasped, "I have something to say
before--I go hence!"

"Great Heaven! who has done this?" exclaimed a shocked voice.

They all looked around. It was Captain Ernscliffe who spoke. He knelt
down by his wife and looked at the murderous dagger whose hilt she
grasped, with eyes full of horror. The pain in her face softened. She
put out one hand to him, and he clasped it in his own.

"Lawrence--I have been--cruelly murdered!" she moaned. "Let someone take
my dying deposition."

The manager hurriedly produced pencil and paper.

"I went into Madame De Lisle's dressing-room," she began. "She had not
come in, and I waited a little while, wishing to speak to her. Have you
put that down?"

The manager replied in the affirmative.

"I saw a sealed letter lying on the table," she went on slowly and
painfully; "I was jealous of Madame De Lisle, to whom it was addressed.
I thought my husband had written it. I opened it--I--read it."

The physician stopped her a minute to pour a few drops of something
between her panting lips. Then she went on:

"It was only a line imploring her to meet him for a moment at the
western door. No name was signed, but I was foolish enough to believe it
was--my husband."

Her dark eyes lifted to his a moment with a mute appeal for forgiveness
in their dusky depths. He pressed her hand and murmured:

"My poor Sydney!"

She lay still a moment while great drops of dew beaded her white brow,
forced out by her terrible suffering.

"Can we do nothing to help her?" Captain Ernscliffe inquired anxiously,
as he pillowed the dark head gently on his arm.

The physician shook his head gravely.

"No--nothing," Sydney answered him herself. "Only stay by me--till the
last. Let me finish my story."

Captain Ernscliffe wiped the cold dews of death from her brow and she
continued:

"I took Madame De Lisle's cloak and put it over my dress, I tied her
veil about my head and face, and--and--went to the western door--myself!
Oh! God, this dagger, how it hurts my side!"

A few moans of terrible agony, then she went on, gaspingly:

"There was a tall, dark man outside the door--he said: 'Is it you,
Queenie?' Then I saw my mistake--it was not my husband! But
I--thought--I might learn--some fatal secret of hers--so I answered
yes."

She shuddered from head to foot and a groan of mortal agony broke from
her white lips.

"That falsehood sealed my doom! He sprang forward without a word, buried
this dagger in my breast, and fled. It was Madame De Lisle's enemy. I
know now. I received in my heart the stroke that was meant for hers."

She paused, then repressing a groan of pain, said feebly:

"Have you written it all down?"

"Yes, madam," the manager answered.

"Very well. I want you all to go away now--I want to be alone--with my
husband. Don't let anyone else know I am here. The play must not be
stopped. Let him be all mine a little longer!"

They turned away in wonder at her strange words, and left her lying
there supported on her husband's arm--the beautiful woman with the
diamonds in her dark hair, and the dagger's hilt above her heart, her
white hand grasping it convulsively while she panted forth to him her
strange story in the briefest words she could find, for her strength was
ebbing fast, and her pain was becoming almost unendurable.

The manager went back to the actress and told her some plausible tale to
allay her fears, and, as Sydney had wished, "the play went on." The
foolish, fond old "Lear" ranted and raved his little hour, the cruel
sisters of "Cordelia"--even poor "Cordelia" herself--all died their
mimic deaths upon the stage--little dreaming that a tragedy in real life
had been enacted so close and so near, and that poor, erring Sydney lay
dead beneath the same roof where the vast throng of people wept and
applauded at the superb rendition of Shakespeare's grand creation, "King
Lear."

Yet so it was, for when Sydney had faltered out her mournful story, she
looked up at Captain Ernscliffe and said with a quivering sigh:

"I have done now, Lawrence, and the pain is so great I cannot bear it
any longer! Will you draw the dagger from my wound and let me die?"

But he shrank back aghast at her words.

"Oh, Sydney, don't ask me! Will you not see them all first, and say
good-bye--your mother, your sisters?'

"No, no, I want--none--but you," she moaned, "and, oh, my God, how
terrible the pain is! Yet, Lawrence--I will stay yet a little longer--I
will try to bear it still, if you will kneel down there and pray for me!
I am such a sinner, I am almost _afraid to die_!"

"Do you repent, Sydney?" he asked, gently.

"Do I?" she wailed; "oh, my God, _yes_! I am sorry for it all, now! Tell
her I tried to make atonement at the last. She will forgive me. Little
Queenie was always very tender-hearted. Pray for me now--ask God to
forgive me, too."

He bowed his head and prayed fervently for the welfare of the soul about
to be launched upon the shoreless waters of eternity.

When the low "amen" vibrated on the night air, she looked up and said
moaningly:

"Have you forgiven me, too, Lawrence?"

He bent and kissed the poor, pale, quivering lips.

"All is forgiven, Sydney," he answered, gently.

"Then call the physician," she moaned. "Let him draw this cruel steel
from--my breast! I cannot--bear it--any longer!"

But the physician recoiled as Captain Ernscliffe had done when she told
him what she wished him to do.

"I should feel like a murderer," he gasped. "You could not live a minute
after the blade was drawn out of your breast."

She turned away from him and put out her hand to the man she loved so
madly.

"Farewell, Lawrence," she said. "Think of me sometimes as of one
who--loved you--'not wisely, but too well!'"

Then, before they even guessed what she was about to do, she clasped
both hands about the dagger's hilt, and with a terrible effort wrenched
it from her breast and threw it far from her. Her heart's blood spurted
out in a great, warm, crimson tide over the bodice of her white satin
dress, she quivered from head to foot, and died with her dim eyes fixed
in a long, last look of love on Lawrence Ernscliffe's handsome face.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the play was over, and the beautiful actress was leaving the
theater for the last time, someone touched her arm and detained her. She
looked up into the pale face of Captain Ernscliffe.

"Nay, Queenie," he said gently, "you need not shrink from me now. Sydney
has confessed all."

She looked up at him in wonder as he drew her hand lovingly within his
arm.

"She has given you up to me, and you know _all_?" she repeated, like one
dazed.

"Yes, Queenie, I know all, and I am yours alone now, for--prepare
yourself for a great shock, my darling--your sister, Sydney, is dead!"



CHAPTER XXXII.


"Dead!" exclaimed Queenie, with a start of horror; "oh, no, that cannot
be! It is but a little while since I saw her living and beautiful under
this roof!"

"Her body is here still, Queenie, but her soul has fled to the God who
gave it," he answered solemnly.

She trembled like a leaf in a storm at that grave assurance.

"Queenie, let me take you back to your dressing-room," he said. "Stay
there a little while until I come for you."

Utterly unnerved by the shock of his revelation, she suffered him to
lead her back. He left her at the door of her room and went out to seek
Lord Valentine.

He had just put his wife and mother-in-law into the carriage, and stood
talking with the driver on the pavement.

"Yes sir," the man was saying, "you know you brought her out and put her
into the carriage yourself, and I jumped up on the box and drove right
off. But when I got to Valentine House, my lord, the carriage was empty.
Yet I could swear to you, my lord, that the carriage was never stopped
an instant between here and home."

"Come with me, my lord," said Captain Ernscliffe, in a whisper, as he
touched his arm, "I will explain the mystery."

"Very well. Let the carriage wait until I return," he said to the man as
he walked away with his brother-in-law.

Captain Ernscliffe led him back into the theater where Sydney lay still
and cold in death, watched by the manager and several of the theater
employes. They had lifted the body and laid it on a pile of silken
cushions, to remain until it had been viewed by the coroner, who had
been immediately notified of the terrible event.

At a whispered request the manager gave the paper containing the dying
deposition of Sydney into Ernscliffe's hands, and he in turn passed it
over to Lord Valentine.

"Great Heaven! this is terrible," he exclaimed, looking down at the
rigid form of his sister-in-law. "What is to be done? Who will break the
news to her mother and sister?"

They walked apart, and Captain Ernscliffe briefly told him the
truth--that Madame Reine De Lisle was his lost wife, Queenie, and that
Sydney's knowledge of that fact had maddened her with suspicion and
jealousy, and driven her into the fatal error that had cost her her
life.

"It is too wonderful to be true," said Lord Valentine. "I cannot believe
that the woman I saw lying dead in her coffin has been so strangely
resurrected. Surely, Ernscliffe, this beautiful actress has but traded
on her wonderful resemblance to your lost bride, and deceived you and
Sydney both. Have nothing to do with this beautiful siren."

Captain Ernscliffe looked at him half angrily.

"My Lord Valentine," he answered haughtily, "you charge her with that of
which she is not guilty. She has not deceived us. She did not seek us;
we sought her, and as long as Sydney lived she evaded the truth and
would not acknowledge her identity to me, because my second wife had
begged her to sacrifice herself for her sake. But come with me. Since
you doubt her identity let us see if she will recognize you. If you
appear as a stranger to her we may then afford to doubt her."

They went to Queenie's dressing-room and knocked on the door. She opened
it and bade them enter in a faltering voice, with her cheeks bathed in
tears, her blue eyes downcast and troubled.

"Queenie, look up," said Captain Ernscliffe. "Do you recognize this
gentleman?"

The actress lifted her lovely eyes, dimmed with bitter weeping and
looked at him. A gleam of recognition shone in her face.

"Yes," she answered, in her sweet, low voice. "It is Lord Valentine, who
was married to my sister Georgina the night you married me."

Captain Ernscliffe flashed a triumphant look upon his brother-in-law.

"You see she knows all about us," he said. "Now you cannot but admit her
identity. You must believe that she is my wife!"

Lord Valentine grew white and red by turns as he gazed upon the
beautiful, queenly woman.

"I admit madam's wonderful beauty, her grace and her talent," he said,
slowly, "and I will not deny her astonishing resemblance to your lost
bride; but, Ernscliffe, I will not believe this trumped-up story of poor
Queenie's resurrection. You are the victim of a monstrous fraud!"

Captain Ernscliffe's eyes blazed with anger.

"You deny that this is my wife?" he exclaimed, passionately.

Lord Valentine was silent a moment. After that brief pause for thought
he answered, firmly:

"Yes, I utterly deny it. I will not believe in so stupendous a fraud as
this one which is being perpetrated upon you. Madame De Lisle is a
beautiful woman, and a great actress; but she is not the wife you buried
years ago in Rose Hill Cemetery."

Queenie lifted her head and looked at him proudly, but she did not speak
one word in her own defense. She did not need to do so. She had an
eloquent defender by her side.

"Since you think thus," said Captain Ernscliffe, repressing his anger
and excitement by a powerful effort of his will, "pray go to your wife
and break the news of Sydney's tragic death to her and her mother. You
may tell them also all that I have told you, and we will see if they
will decide as you have done."

Lord Valentine bowed coldly and went away.

Captain Ernscliffe turned to the beautiful woman, who had fallen into a
seat and buried her face in her jeweled hands.

"Queenie," he murmured.

She looked up at his inquiringly.

"Can you bear to hear the circumstances of your poor sister's death?" he
asked, gently.

She bowed without speaking.

For answer he put into her hand Sydney's dying deposition, which Lord
Valentine had returned to him.

She read it silently through. It dropped from her nerveless clasp, and
she looked at him with a bitter pain in her white face.

"Oh, God, my poor, unhappy sister!" she moaned. "I have been the cause
of her death."

"Say rather her own reckless passion was her doom," he answered,
solemnly. "Do not accuse yourself, Queenie. _She_ did not blame you. She
was very sorrowful and repentant at the last. She wanted your
forgiveness."

"Oh, my poor Sydney! She went mad for love," said Queenie, weeping.

"As I had almost done," he answered. "For, Queenie, I have been nearly
beside myself these last few weeks. I knew you in spite of all your
denials, and the bitterness of it all nearly broke my heart. But now I
shall have my own again. Sydney wished it, dearest," he added, seeing a
look of hesitancy on her face.

She did not answer, and her blue eyes drooped away from his fond glance.

He moved nearer and took her unresisting hand in his.

"Darling, forgive me for pressing it now in your grief and trouble, but
tell me, shall it be as Sydney wished? Will you come back to my heart?"

"Perhaps you will not want me when I have told you all I have to tell,"
she answered, her sweet face crimson with painful blushes.

"There is nothing left for you to tell, my darling. Sydney has told me
all," he answered, quickly.

"And you do not blame me? You are not angry with me?" she said, lifting
her fair, troubled face with a look of wonder, mingled with relief.

"No, my sweet one. How could I blame you? It was like your sweet,
impulsive self," he answered. "But tell me now, Queenie if you will----"

But at that moment the shrill scream of a woman broke the silence of the
night, and Queenie sprang to her feet with a sob of grief and terror.

"It is your mother, dearest. She is there with Sydney. Can you bear to
go to her, Queenie? Perhaps it may comfort her to have one daughter
restored to her in the hour that she has lost another."

"Yes, yes, I will go," she moaned, turning toward the door. He drew her
hand into his and led her around to the fatal western door.

Mrs. Lyle was there, down on her knees by her dead daughter, weeping
and mourning, and Georgina stood apart, sobbing in her husband's arms.

Queenie rushed forward and threw herself down by the side of the
kneeling woman.

"Mamma, mamma," she sobbed, "let me comfort you a little. Sydney is
dead, but Queenie has come back to you to try to fill her place."

Mrs. Lyle shook off the white arm that had been thrown around her neck
and sprang to her feet.

"How dare you touch me?" she cried, "you whose siren wiles have wrought
my daughter's death? Go away from me, vile imposter that you are! My
daughter Queenie is dead."

"No, no, mamma, she lives; she was saved from death! Oh, let me tell you
all! I am your daughter Queenie!" cried the actress, in a voice of
passionate pleading, lifting her streaming eyes to her mother's face.

"Begone! You are no child of mine!" was the angry reply, as Mrs. Lyle
drew away from her, disdainful of her very touch. "Oh, go! go! You have
stolen Sydney's husband; you have caused her death; you cannot deceive
me also. Will not someone take her away?"

Queenie stood still, with clasped hands and streaming eyes, listening to
her mother's cruel words. Then she crossed over to Lady Valentine, who
stood within the clasp of her husband's arms weeping bitterly.

"Georgie," she said, in a tremulous voice, "won't _you_ speak to me?
Don't _you_ know me? Sydney recognized me and owned me for her sister,
even though I stood in her way. Surely you will not disown me!"

Georgie lifted her head and looked at the beautiful pleader a moment in
silence.

She was not a bad woman, this Lady Valentine, and for a moment an
impulse of pity stirred her heart and prompted her to believe this
strange story at which her husband had sneered, and which her mother
affected to disbelieve.

If she had been left to herself the better impulse in her heart would
have triumphed, perhaps. Even as it was a momentary tender remembrance
came into her heart as she recalled the night of her father's and
sister's death! She recalled his words:

"Georgie, forgive her; she was more sinned against than sinning. She
went mad and avenged the wrong. Remember that when she comes back."

"How did he know she would come back?" thought Lady Valentine to
herself, in wonder. "We all thought she was dead then. But perhaps dying
eyes can see more clearly than others. Poor papa, must I go against his
dying charge to me?"

Then she remembered what her husband had said to her a little while ago:

"Georgie, do not forget that you have married into a proud old family.
Think of the disgrace to us all if you should own this impostor for your
sister! True, she is beautiful and gifted, but what then? She is an
_actress_! The men and women of our race do not descend to such. They
amuse us on the stage--these clever people. We pay for our amusement,
and that ends all. We have nothing in common. Do not allow this clever,
deceitful woman to impose on you as she did on your brother-in-law."

Lady Valentine knew quite well what those words meant.

She was not to recognize the actress as her sister, no matter what she
thought.

So she strangled the thrill of pity at her heart, and answered in a
cold, hard voice, quite unlike her own:

"Go away, Madame De Lisle. You are no sister of mine!"

Queenie turned from her with a heart-wrung sigh and went back to her
mother.

"Mamma, let me kiss you once," she said, "only once, dear mamma, before
I go away! I have loved you so, I have hungered for you so these long
years while I have been away from you! Let me even kiss your hand,
mamma, and I will try to be content. Oh! surely you will show me a
little kindness if only for papa's sake, who loved me so dearly!"

But the mother's heart was turned to stone. She thrust away the clinging
hands, she spurned the tender, beseeching lips.

"Go away," she harshly reiterated, "you are no child of mine. My
daughter Queenie is dead and buried!"

The discarded daughter knelt down by Sydney's beautiful, lifeless clay
and took the cold hand in hers, then kissed the white, breathless lips.

"Good-bye, Sydney," she whispered against the icy cheek. "You were
kinder to me than they. You sought to kill my body, but they have broken
my heart!"

She rose, after one long look of grief and pain, and went back to
Captain Ernscliffe.

"I have only you left, Lawrence," she said, mournfully.

"I will be father, mother, sister, husband--everything to you, my
darling," he answered, fondly, as he drew her hand in his arm.

"Put me in the carriage now," she said. "I am very weary. I must go
home."

"You will have to be present at the inquest to-morrow. Did you know
that?" he said.

"Yes, I will be there. Good-night, Lawrence," she said, putting her hand
out from the carriage window.

He clasped and kissed it, then after watching the carriage out of sight,
went back to where the mourners kept their weary vigil by the side of
the beautiful woman who had loved him so fondly and fatally.



CHAPTER XXXIII.


All London rang with the romantic facts that were elicited at the
inquest over the body of poor, murdered Sydney, but though the
examination was conducted with the utmost strictness, and every
available witness was interrogated, no light was thrown upon the matter
that could lead to a conviction of the murderer.

Everyone who heard the tragic story of how Sydney came to her death,
thought that Madame Reine De Lisle's evidence would certainly furnish
some satisfactory clew to the enemy who had sought her life. To their
surprise and consternation, she declared herself utterly ignorant in the
matter.

The note which Sydney had read was found on the dressing-room floor but
Queenie did not recognize the writing and could not guess the writer.

"If I had found the note myself I should have thought precisely as she
did, that it was written by Captain Ernscliffe," she admitted, frankly.
"But I should not have gone to meet him, for I had promised my sister to
avoid him, and deny my identity to him. I have not an enemy upon earth
that I am aware of, neither a jealous lover who might seek my life. I
had an enemy once, who was cruel and vindictive enough for any deed of
darkness, but he is dead long ago."

They cross-examined her, they tried to trip her in every way, but she
never varied in her evidence, and never faltered in her reiterated
declarations, so at last they let her go, feeling convinced that nothing
but the truth had passed her lips.

So the mystery only deepened, and taken together with the romance and
pathos that clung about the story of the resurrected wife and her
brilliant career while seeking her husband, it created a perfect _furor_
of excitement.

The interested parties had tried to keep it a secret, but the facts had
leaked out in spite of them.

Everybody had heard that the great actress was Captain Ernscliffe's
first wife, who had died and been resurrected from the grave and
restored to life, kept a prisoner for months, then escaped, and been
cared for in her friendlessness and desolation by an old actor and
actress, who had found her dying in the wintery night when she had
escaped from her cruel jailers.

They had taught her their profession, and she had gone upon the stage to
earn money to seek her husband.

All this the world knew, and it knew also that the proud Lady Valentine
and her mother refused to recognize the actress, and branded her as a
lying impostor.

All these facts only added to the interest and admiration that had
followed La Reine Blanche wherever she moved.

And poor Sydney was laid away in her grave, while her cowardly murderer
roved at large, "unwhipped of justice."

One single clew to the criminal had been found. Captain Ernscliffe had
employed the most noted detective of the day to ferret out the mystery.

This man had been thoroughly over the ground of the murder, and had
found one trifling clew.

Yet he confidently told his employer that it was an important link in
the chain and might possibly convict the murderer.

It seemed a very trifling thing to Captain Ernscliffe, who had not
learned by grave experience what simple things might lead to great
results.

It was only a woman's handkerchief of plain white linen that he had
found outside the western door, wet and soiled where it had lain on the
damp earth all night.

Only a woman's handkerchief, but it was marked in one corner with a
name--the simple name of "Elsie Gray."

Queenie started when she heard what the detective had said about the
handkerchief. She sent for him immediately.

"Do you believe that there was a woman in complicity with the man who
murdered my unfortunate sister?" she inquired.

"Madam, I cannot tell you," he answered. "She may have been in
complicity with him or she may have been a chance witness. Anyhow I am
bound to find Elsie Gray."

"I can give you this much information about her," was the startling
reply. "Elsie Gray was my maid, and she has been missing ever since the
hour of the murder."

"Elsie Gray your maid!" exclaimed the detective. "That throws new light
on the matter. Can you account for her disappearance?"

"Not at all. She was in the habit of going to the theater every night
with me to help me to change my costumes for the different scenes. She
went with me that night, but when I went to my room after the first act
she was not there. I have never seen her since."

"Had she any grudge against you?"

"None that I am aware of. She was a good-natured, middle-aged woman, and
appeared to be attached to me."

The detective took out pencil and paper.

"Will you describe her appearance to me, Mrs. Ernscliffe?" he said,
courteously.

Queenie started and blushed at being addressed by her husband's name.
She had not yet decided whether she would return to him again or not,
but she complied with the detective's request and minutely described her
maid's appearance.

He carefully noted it down, bowed and withdrew. He reported what he had
learned to Captain Ernscliffe, who bade him go ahead and spare neither
pains nor expense until he had discovered the murderer.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the meantime the wide-spread notoriety of the whole affair was very
distressing to Mrs. Lyle and the Valentines, and to Queenie and Lawrence
Ernscliffe as well. They could not bear to remain in London.

Lord Valentine took his wife and mother-in-law to Italy for an
indefinite sojourn.

Lawrence Ernscliffe begged his wife to let him take her back to America
to the beautiful home he had prepared for her reception three years
before.

"It does not seem right to return to you and be happy after--after that
terrible tragedy," she objected.

"Queenie, it was not your fault nor mine. Surely you will not doom me to
wretchedness for such a scruple as that. You made every sacrifice she
asked of you while living, and she would not wish you to immolate our
mutual happiness upon her tomb, now that she is dead."

Her own heart seconded his pleading so fully that she could not say him
nay.

"I had meant to fulfill my resolve to retire into a convent for life,"
she said, "but I cannot keep down my heart's rebellious throbs. I will
go with you, my husband."

So it chanced that two weeks later the strangely-reunited husband and
wife stood on the deck of a steamer just leaving her moorings for
America, and as Queenie turned away from her last look at old England's
fading shore, she saw a gentleman hastening toward her--a gentleman so
like her poor, dead father, that her heart leaped into her throat.

"Uncle Rob!" she cried, springing forward with her hands extended.

"My little niece, Queenie!" he exclaimed, taking the two little hands
warmly into his own.

"This is my Uncle Robert Lyle," she said, presenting him to her husband.
"You see, Lawrence, _he_ does not disown me!"

The old gentleman looked down fondly into her sweet face.

"Oh! how could they disown you?" he exclaimed. "You have changed but
little since I saw you last, and that change has only made you more
lovely. I should have known you anywhere, though it is five years since
I saw you last. I have heard your sad story, my dear, and I do not doubt
its truth for an instant. I would have hastened to you at once, but I
was ill and unable to travel."

She flashed a look of silent gratitude upon him from her dusky eyes.

"And by the way," he said, "I owe you a scolding, little Queenie, for
your failure to come abroad with your mother and sisters four years ago.
It was a great disappointment to me when they came without you. I did
not enjoy the year we traveled together half so well as I should if my
little pet had been with us."

Queenie stood silent, growing white and red by turn. Captain Ernscliffe
stared from one to the other in blank astonishment.

"Surely, Mr. Lyle, I have misunderstood your meaning," he said, "Queenie
certainly went to Europe that year with her mother and sisters!"



CHAPTER XXXIV.


For a moment there was a blank silence. Robert Lyle stared silently at
his niece's husband as though he doubted his sanity, and after a pause
Captain Ernscliffe gravely repeated his words:

"Surely I have misunderstood your meaning sir. Queenie certainly went to
Europe that year with her mother and sisters."

"If she did I was certainly not aware of the fact," Mr. Lyle answered
dryly, for he felt just a little nettled at the other's persistent
contradiction.

Captain Ernscliffe looked around at his wife. He started and uttered a
cry of alarm as he did so.

She had fallen back against the deck-rail, grasping it with both hands
as if unable to stand alone; her cheeks and lips had blanched to an
ashen hue, her eyes were wild and frightened.

"Queenie," he said, with an unconscious accent of sternness, "do I speak
the truth or not?"

"Lawrence," she gasped, in a frightened voice, "I thought you knew--did
not Sydney tell you? you said she had told you _all_!"

"I meant she had told me all that had transpired between you two in the
last six weeks," he answered; "she did not refer to the past only to say
that you had been resurrected from the grave by a disappointed suitor
who hated you and kept you for weary months a prisoner. What more is
there to tell, Queenie?" he inquired, in a voice rendered sharp by
suddenly awakened suspicion that as yet took no tangible form.

Through the wild chaos of conflicting feelings that rushed over her she
was conscious of a new feeling of tenderness and respect for poor,
erring Sydney.

"She kept my terrible secret after all," she thought. "I believed she
had told him everything, but in her desire to atone for her cruelty to
me she kept back all that dreadful story, and died in the fond belief
that my happiness was secure. She was nobler than I thought. But, oh!
what an awful position I am placed in. I thought he knew all and had
forgiven me. I meant to tell him everything before I came back to him,
and would have done it but for that dreadful mistake. But now, oh, how
can I?"

"Uncle Rob is right, Lawrence," she said, speaking with the calmness of
despair. "I did not go to Europe with mamma. I meant to go, but at the
very last my heart failed me and I begged to remain at home with papa.
She gave me my will, though very reluctantly, and I staid behind.
Afterward I went out of town on a visit."

"And yet," he said, with a heavy frown, "it was supposed--you allowed
everyone to believe that you had been in Europe. Why was that?"

Great crimson waves of color swept into her cheeks at his half-angry
words.

"Mamma permitted it," she stammered. "She was so angry and ashamed
because I remained behind, and I was, too, after I saw how silly I had
been. So when people spoke of it we simply never contradicted it. But
you may have noticed that I would never speak of that continental
tour--that I always turned the subject when anyone named it."

"Yes, I do remember that," he said. "But you should, at least, have told
me, Queenie. It is very strange that you made a secret of such a
trifle."

"I am very sorry," she answered, sadly; "I intended to tell you about it
before--before I came back to you, but you said when I spoke of it
that--that Sydney had told you _all_. I am very, very sorry."

Her eyes fell and rested on the blue waves of the ocean. Her head felt
dizzy with the motion of the ship and the waves. It seemed to her as if
she could scarcely stand. She seemed to be whirling round and round. Mr.
Lyle came forward and took her hand.

"My dear little Queenie," he said. "I am very sorry that my careless
words have exposed your foolish, girlish little secret. But forgive me,
my pet, and do not look so sad. Captain Ernscliffe, you must not be
angry with my little girl. She was very willful and thoughtless in those
days, but she has told you she was sorry and meant to tell you all about
it."

One gentle, appealing look from her blue eyes did more to melt the heart
of the angry husband than all her uncle's words.

His moody brow unbent; he came back to her side, and, as no one was
looking, bent down and kissed away the pearly tears that trembled on her
delicate cheek.

"There, I forgive you," he said; "but you must have no more secrets from
me, little one."

She shivered slightly, but made no answer, and for this one time the
threatened cloud in the sky of their happiness blew safely over, and all
was peace between them. Yet the heart of the wife lay like lead in her
breast.

Day and night she thought of the terrible secret she was jealously
guarding from the eyes of her husband. But after a calm and lovely
voyage, in which she had been most tenderly cared for by her uncle and
her husband, she found herself once more in the beautiful city where she
had been wooed and wedded.

"Uncle Robert, you will go home with us?" she said, as they were getting
into the carriage on the wharf.

"Not now," he answered. "You know I told you that it was bad news
regarding some of my property here that brought me over to America. I
must go to my lawyer's at once and see what can be done. I will come to
you in a day or two and see how you like housekeeping," he added, with a
laugh.

"We shall certainly expect you," answered Captain Ernscliffe, heartily,
as the carriage drove away to the beautiful mansion he had prepared for
his bride years ago.

A cablegram from England to his housekeeper had instructed her to
prepare the house for the reception of himself and wife.

Now, as they drew up before the grand marble steps, the front door
opened as if by magic, and the cruel woman who had turned Queenie away
homeless and friendless years before, appeared in the hall, richly
clothed in fine black silk, and smirking and smiling upon her master and
his beautiful bride as they came up the steps.

Queenie had told him of that cruel deed, and he looked sternly and
coldly upon the woman as she came up to them.

"Mrs. Purdy," he said, haughtily, "this is my wife. Look well at her,
and tell me if you have ever met her before?"

The housekeeper looked searchingly at the beautiful face, whose blue
eyes flashed lightning scorn upon her. In a moment it all rushed over
her mind.

That face was too lovely to be lightly forgotten. She grew pale, and
commenced to stammer forth incoherent apologies.

"Ah! I see that you remember me," said Mrs. Ernscliffe, curling a
scornful lip.

"Madam, I--pardon me," stammered the crestfallen woman, "you were not
then his wife. I thought you a stranger, a----"

"Silence!" thundered Captain Ernscliffe. "She was my wife then as she
is now. There is no excuse for your infamous conduct. She might have
died but for the kindness of strangers--she, my unfortunate wife, turned
from her own house without shelter for her friendless head. Go, now, and
never let me see you again. Even as you drove her out I will drive you!"

"No--no," exclaimed Queenie, for she saw how utterly the proud,
overbearing woman was abashed. "No--no; I was very angry, but I forgive
her now, for I see how she is humbled at remembrance of her fault. Let
her stay, and this incident may teach her in future to be guided by the
golden rule."



CHAPTER XXXV.


"Queenie, are you ready for your drive?" called her husband from the
foot of the stairway. "The phaeton is at the door."

A bright, bewitching face peeped down at him from above--a face as sweet
as a rose--with coral lips, and softly-tinted cheeks, and eyes as
brightly-blue as violets.

Directly she came fluttering down the stairs, and paused, with her
slender, white-gloved hand upon his arm.

"I am ready," she said. "Come, Lawrence, let us go. It is too lovely a
day to remain indoors."

"Darling, how lovely you are," he cried. "Let me kiss you once before we
start."

She smiled, and linked her arm fondly in his as they went down the
marble steps together.

"Lawrence," she said, half-gravely, half-fondly, "I almost begin to
believe in my happiness now. At first it seemed such a precious thing,
and I held it by so frail a grasp that I feared I might lose you again
and fall back into the terrible gulf of despair. But now months have
elapsed and nothing has happened to part us, so that it seems possible
for me to breathe freely and look forward to a happy future with you."

"Darling, these trembling fears of yours have always seemed strange and
unnecessary to me. What could happen to part us now?" he said, as he
handed her into the lovely little phaeton, with its prancing gray
ponies, and sprang in beside her.

"I do not know. Nothing, I hope," she answered, with a quick little
sigh, as she took the reins into her hands and touched up the spirited
ponies. "Where shall we drive, Lawrence--in the park?"

"Yes, if you like," he answered, leaning back luxuriously.

It was a beautiful day in May, the air so balmy and delicious that it
was a luxury to breathe it.

As they flashed along the shady drives in the park many eyes followed
them admiringly, for Mrs. Ernscliffe was conceded by all to be the
fairest woman in the city.

To-day she wore a wonderful dress of mingled blue and cream-color, and a
hat of azure satin, with a streaming white feather set coquettishly on
her waves of golden hair.

The colors suited her bright blonde beauty exquisitely.

Her dark, handsome, dignified husband thrilled with pleasure and pride
as he noted the many admiring glances that followed his beautiful and
dearly-beloved wife.

"I have had news from England, Queenie," he said, presently.

"From England?" she said, and her delicate cheeks grew white. "Oh,
Lawrence, have they found out who murdered Sydney yet?"

"Not yet, dear, but the detective is very hopeful. He is on the
villain's track."

"Who was he? What is his name?" she asked, eagerly.

"I do not know. He writes very meagerly, though hopefully. He merely
says that he has found your maid, Elsie Gray, and that she has put him
on the track of the murderer."

"It is not possible that Elsie Gray was concerned in the murder of my
sister!" she exclaimed.

"Oh, no, she was a witness to the deed only--at least I gather that much
from his letter. I think she has been pursuing him ever since. The
detective says that we may expect startling developments soon."

"God grant that the cowardly criminal may soon be discovered and
punished for his awful sin!" she exclaimed, shuddering.

"Queenie," he said, musingly, "have you ever thought that but for the
sin of this unknown man we should never, perhaps, have been reunited in
peace and happiness? To-day you might have been in the lonely convent
cell, while I, perhaps, should have raved in the chains of a lunatic,
for, Queenie, I was going mad with the horror of losing you again."

"I have thought of it often," she said, gravely, "and I have thought
again and again that it was almost wrong to accept happiness that was
bought at so fearful a price to my poor Sydney. Her death lies heavy on
my heart."

"Queenie, we both did what we could to insure her happiness while she
lived. I married her because one very near to her hinted to me that the
poor girl was dying of a broken heart for my sake. I did not love her,
but I sacrificed myself to save her, as you afterward sacrificed us both
at her request. And yet those mutual bitter sacrifices of ours availed
very little to secure the end she sought. I begin to believe that such
terrible self-abnegations are wrong and unjustifiable, and that they
never work out good to any."

"It may be true," she answered, thoughtfully, and relapsed into silence,
her eyes downcast, her lips set in a half-sorrowful line, while she
unconsciously checked the speed of the horses and allowed them to walk
slowly along the drive.

Absorbed in thought she did not observe a handsome, fashionably-dressed
man coming along the side-path toward them, airily swinging a natty
little cane.

"I hope and trust, darling, that you will not allow any weak and morbid
fancies regarding Sydney to sadden and depress you," continued Captain
Ernscliffe. "I know she would not wish it to be so."

Queenie looked up at him gently with the words of reply just forming on
her lips.

But they died unspoken, and she uttered a low cry of fear and terror
commingled, while her whole form trembled violently.

She had caught sight of the man in the road who had just come abreast of
the phaeton.

At that moment the man, who had been observing her for some moments,
looked at her with a sardonic smile, lifted his hat, bowed deeply, and
murmuring familiarly:

"Good-evening, Queenie," passed insolently on.

Captain Ernscliffe grew ashen white. Something like an imprecation was
smothered between his firmly-cut lips.

"Good Heaven, Queenie!" he exclaimed. "Is it possible that you know that
man?"

She did not speak, she could not. She only stared at him speechlessly,
her lips parted in terror, her breath coming and going in quick gasps
like one dying.

"Do you know who and what that man is?" he reiterated, hoarsely.
"Queenie, it is Leon Vinton, the most notorious gambler and _roue_ in
the city! And he dared to speak to _you_! What did he mean by it? You
surely do not know him. Tell me?"

Still she did not speak. It seemed to her that her tongue clove to the
roof of her mouth.

She had thought that her enemy was dead--had she not seen him lying cold
and still, with his heart's blood staining the snowy earth? Yet there he
walked, smiling, evil, triumphant. The horror of the sight struck her
dumb.

"You will not answer me," passionately cried her husband. "Very well. I
will wring the truth from that insolent villain! I will know why he
dared bow and speak to _my_ wife. Drive on home, madam; I will follow
the villain and make him retract the insult!"

He sprang from the moving phaeton at the imminent risk of his neck, and
followed Leon Vinton with a quick stride down the road.

Like one in a fearful dream, Queenie gathered the reins in her trembling
hands and drove recklessly homeward through the beautiful sunshine.



CHAPTER XXXVI.


The angry husband followed Leon Vinton's leisurely steps, and quickly
overtook him.

Placing one hand on the villain's shoulder with a grasp like steel,
Captain Ernscliffe whirled him round face to face.

A malevolent sneer curved the lips of the handsome scoundrel as he
recognized his assailant. He tried to shake himself free from that
painfully tight grasp, but it was useless. He seemed to be held in a
vise.

"Unhand me, sir," he said, in a voice of angry expostulation.

"Villain!" exclaimed Captain Ernscliffe, in a low, deep voice of
concentrated passion. "How dared you speak to my wife? Apologize
immediately for the insult."

Leon Vinton's face assumed a blank stare of astonishment.

"Does _she_ consider it an insult to be recognized by an old friend?" he
inquired, in a voice of mocking courtesy.

Captain Ernscliffe's brow grew as dark as night. He shook the sneering
scoundrel by the shoulder as though he would have shaken the life out of
him.

"How dare you claim her as an old friend?" he thundered. "You whose
acquaintance is a disgrace to any woman. You, the most notorious and
unprincipled villain in the city. Retract those words before I kill
you."

"Come, come," answered Vinton, coolly and maliciously, "I am but
speaking the truth. As for killing, let me remind you that two can play
at that game. I have a pistol in my pocket, and I believe I am a better
shot than you are. But your wife, as you call her, is not worthy the
shedding of an honest man's blood! I will keep my weapon in its place,
and all I ask you is to confront me with the lady whose honor you are so
zealously defending. I think she will not dare to deny that once she
claimed me as her _dearest_ friend!"

Captain Ernscliffe drew back his hand to strike him in the face, but
something in his enemy's words and looks seemed to stagger him. He
hoarsely exclaimed:

"I will not pollute the pure air she breathes with your foul presence.
As for you, _liar_, beware how you assert things that you cannot prove."

"Hard words break no bones," laughed Leon Vinton, seeming to take
downright pleasure in tormenting the other. "I'm determined not to be
angry with you, for I do not think the lady we are discussing is worth
the trouble. I can prove all that I assert, and more besides."

"How? How?" exclaimed Ernscliffe, in sheer amaze at his unparalleled
effrontery.

"I _could_ prove it by the lady herself, but since you refuse to admit
me to her presence, come with me to my home, a few miles from the city,
and my housekeeper shall show you the elegant rooms Mrs. Ernscliffe
occupied when she was my dear friend and guest for a year."

The cool, insolent assertion fell on Captain Ernscliffe's ears like a
thunderbolt. He staggered back and stared at the calm, smiling villain
in wonder mingled with indefinable dread.

"My God!" he muttered, half to himself, "you would not make such an
assertion unless you could prove it."

"I can prove every assertion I have made," was the confident reply.
"Queenie Lyle ran away with me the day her mother and sisters went to
Europe. She lived with me nearly a year. I can prove this, remember."

"You married her!" gasped his adversary, his eyes starting, his face as
white as death.

Leon Vinton looked at that pale, anguish-stricken face, and laughed
aloud, the mocking laugh of a fiend.

"Married her?" he asked, sneeringly. "Oh, no, I am not one of the
marrying kind. She knew that, but she loved me, and was content to live
with me on my own terms."

There was a blank silence. Captain Ernscliffe dimly felt that the agony
he was enduring was commensurate with the pains of hell.

Leon Vinton enjoyed his misery to the utmost.

"We lived together a year," he went on, after a moment. "At first we
were very loving and very happy, but well--you know how such cases
always terminate--we wearied of each other. She was a spit-fire and a
termagant. She pushed me into the river and tried to drown me. She
thought she had succeeded, and ran away home. Her family kept her fatal
secret, and married her off to you."

"This is horrible if true!" ejaculated the listener.

"Come," said Leon Vinton, "go home with me. My carriage is outside the
gate. I merely chose to saunter in the park. You shall see her letters
to me, you shall hear what my housekeeper knows about the matter."

"I will go with you," said Captain Ernscliffe, rousing himself as from a
painful dream. "But if I find that you have lied to me, Vinton, I will
kill you!"



CHAPTER XXXVII.


"My poor Queenie, my poor child, you erred greatly in the deception you
practiced in the beginning. It was wrong to desert your home and family
as you did, but I cannot upbraid you now. Your punishment has been
bitter enough. May God help you, my little one!" said Robert Lyle,
smoothing the golden head that lay upon his knee with a gentle, fatherly
caress.

Queenie had come back from that ride which had begun so happily and
found her Uncle Robert waiting for her in the drawing-room. He had
declined her invitation to make his home with her, and taken quarters at
a hotel, but there were very few days when he failed to visit her.
To-day when she came staggering in, looking so fearfully white and
death-stricken, he saw at once that some fearful thing had happened to
her, and started up in alarm.

"Queenie, my dear, what is it? Are you ill?" he exclaimed, going to her,
and taking her cold, nerveless hand in his.

She looked up at him, and Robert Lyle never forgot the tearless despair,
the utter agony of her white face and wild, blue eyes. They haunted his
dreams for many nights after. Yet she tried to smile, and the smile was
sadder than tears.

"I--I--yes, I believe I am ill," she said, dropping down into a great
arm-chair. "I will sit here and rest, Uncle Rob! I shall be better
presently."

"Let me get you some wine," he said. "It will revive you."

"No, no, I will not have anything!" she said. "Nothing could help me."

The tone made his heart ache, it was so hopeless.

He bent over her and removed her hat and gloves as deftly and tenderly
as a woman could have done.

His anxious looks, his tender solicitude made her think of her father.

The tender recollection broke down the barriers of stony calm she was
trying to maintain. Bowing her face on her hands she wept and sobbed
aloud.

Mr. Lyle was greatly shocked and distressed at her vehement exhibition
of grief. He brought a chair, and sitting down beside her, put his
kindly old arm about her heaving shoulders.

"Tell your old uncle what grieves you, pet," he said. "Perhaps I can
help to set it right."

And after a little more passionate weeping she answered, without looking
up:

"It is one of those troubles that nothing can set right, Uncle Rob, but
I will tell you the truth, for perhaps you may hear it from other lips
than mine soon."

She stole one hand into his and nestled her bright head against his
shoulder.

"Promise not to hate me, Uncle Rob," she whispered through her tears. "I
have only you now. Father, mother, sisters, husband--I have lost them
all. In all the wide world I have but you to love me!"

"My dear, you talk wildly," he said, in wonder. "It is true that your
mother and sister have shown hearts harder than the nether mill-stone to
you, but you have the noblest and most loving husband in the world!"

"He will not love me any longer when he has heard all that I am going to
tell you, Uncle Rob," she murmured through her choking sobs.

And then she told him the shameful story of that missing year of her
life as she had told it to Sydney a few months before; but it was not so
hard to tell now, for instead of her sister's scornful looks and cruel
words, she had a listener as tender and pitying as her own father had
been--a listener whose tears fell more than once on the golden head
bowed meekly on his shoulder.

And when it all had been told and the weary head had slipped down to his
knee, he had no reproaches for the suffering young heart that had
already been so cruelly punished. He could only repeat:

"My poor little one, my poor little one, may God help you!"

"And you'll not desert me, Uncle Rob--not even if--if _he_ does?" she
murmured.

"No, never," he answered, fondly. "I'll stand by you, Queenie, if all
the world forsakes you. You never meant to do wrong, I know that, and I
will not scorn you because a devil in human shape has made desolate the
fair young life that opened with such sweet promise. If Lawrence deserts
you, we will go away together--you and I, pet--and wander around the
world, restless and lonely, and yet not altogether desolate, for we
shall still have each other for comfort and support."

"But, oh, Uncle Rob, I love him so, I love him so. How can I give him up
now, when I have been so happy with him? It is more than I could bear.
He had as well plunge a knife into my heart and lay me dead before him
as to leave me now," cried the wretched young wife, giving way to a very
abandonment of grief.

Uncle Rob could only say:

"My poor Queenie, my poor darling, let us hope for the best!"

He did not know how to comfort her, for he could not tell what course
Captain Ernscliffe would pursue after hearing Leon Vinton's garbled
version of Queenie's early error. He hoped for the best; but he feared
the worst.

He could not bear to leave her in her sorrow, so he remained with her
until the luncheon hour, hoping that Captain Ernscliffe might return
while he--her uncle--was present, that he might defend her from his
possible reproaches. But the hours passed slowly by, and dinner was
announced, yet he failed to come.

They made no pretence at eating--these two sorrowing ones. They remained
in the drawing-room alone, talking but little, and both on the alert for
Captain Ernscliffe's coming. But the lovely, starry night had fallen,
and the lamps were lighted before a strange step ran up the marble
steps, and a letter was handed to Queenie.

"It is from Lawrence," she said, tearing it open with a sinking heart.

"MADAM," her husband wrote, "I have heard the whole disgraceful story of
the year you were supposed to have been absent in Europe from the lips
of Leon Vinton and his housekeeper. I need not ask you if he told the
truth. Your looks when you met him to-day were sufficient corroboration
of his story. No wonder you looked so ghastly at the reappearance of the
man you thought you had murdered. Oh, God! to think of it. You whom I
have loved so madly, whom I thought so true and pure--you, a sinner,
with a soul as black and unrepentant as a fiend in Hades!

"To-morrow I shall institute proceedings for a divorce. I can no longer
lend the shelter of my name to one who has so basely deceived and
betrayed me!"



CHAPTER XXXVIII.


The letter dropped from Queenie's shaking hand, and she fell heavily
into a seat, her slender form trembling with great, tearless emotion.

"Oh, God!" she moaned, "it is indeed a bitter cup that is pressed to my
lips! A disowned daughter and sister, and a divorced wife!"

"What does he say, Queenie?" inquired her uncle, pausing in his weary
march up and down the room.

She silently pointed to the letter that lay upon the carpet, where it
had fallen from her hands.

He picked it up and read it, then turned his kindly blue eyes upon her
with an expression of pity and distress.

"The scoundrel Vinton must indeed have traduced and maligned you to have
elicited such a scathing letter from your devoted husband. Let me go and
bring Lawrence to you, Queenie, that you may vindicate yourself."

But she shook her head sorrowfully yet firmly.

"No Uncle Rob; he asks for no defense from me; he tacitly accepts all
that Vinton has told him as the truth. He will hear nothing from you or
me. There is nothing left me but to hide myself somewhere in the great
cruel world and die," she said, with inexpressible bitterness.

"Queenie, let me entreat you not to throw away your happiness thus. Let
me explain everything to Lawrence as you have told it to me. He could
not be hard upon you then. He would see how cruelly you had been
wronged, and how much you had suffered for it. If he loves you as much
as he has seemed to do he could not but forgive you."

She took the letter from his hand and glanced over its brief contents
again.

"No, no, his love must have been dead indeed before he could write to me
so cruelly as this. Let him think what he will, Uncle Rob. The best is
bad enough; so why should I try to vindicate myself? He shall have his
freedom since he wants it so much."

"But, my dear, surely you will not permit the divorce without contesting
it? Think what a terrible thing it would be to remain silent in such a
case. A divorced woman is always a disgraced woman in the eyes of the
world, no matter how unjustly the verdict was given against her. It must
not be permitted. We must engage a lawyer to defend your case. I do not
believe that your husband could obtain a divorce from any court in the
land if the truth of the matter were rightly known."

"Do you think that I would belong to him and bear his name against his
will?" she exclaimed, with all the passion and fire of tone and gesture
that had won her fame and fortune on the tragic stage. "No, never,
_never_! I will not raise my hand to stay the divorce. I will be silent,
whatever they lay to my charge. His quick unkindness, his readiness to
believe evil against me, has been the bitterest of all to bear, but I
will not speak one word to let him know it. My heart shall break in
silence!"

He gave up the point, seeing that it was utterly useless to urge it upon
her.

"Since you are determined to sacrifice yourself thus on the altar of
Vinton's fiendish revenge," he said, "tell me what I can do for you, my
poor child. You will not wish to remain at Ernscliffe's house, of
course?"

"Of course not," she answered.

Then after a moment's thought, she said, abruptly:

"Why, Uncle Rob, I shall have to go upon the stage again. I had
forgotten until this moment that I am poor, that I have nothing at all
to live upon. When I gave up my theatrical career and returned to my
husband, I deeded away, with his consent, all my earnings on the stage
to build a free church for the poor of London."

"You shall never go upon the stage again with my consent," he answered.
"I have enough for us both to live in luxury all our lives. It is true I
have lost a few thousands recently by the failure of a bank, but that is
a mere nothing. I am a very wealthy man yet. You shall be my dear and
honored daughter so long as I live, Queenie, and my heiress when I die."

She thanked him with a silent, eloquent glance.

"And now," he continued, "it will not do for you to remain in
Ernscliffe's house any longer than to-morrow. Let your maid pack your
trunks for you to-night, and to-morrow I will take you away to some
health resort--the mountains or the seashore--anywhere you like, so that
I get you out of this city."

"And I shall never see my husband again," she said, clasping her hands
with a gesture of despair. "Oh, how fleeting and evanescent was my dream
of happiness! How can I live without him now, when I have been so happy
with him?"

Uncle Robert took her tenderly in his arms, and kissed her white
forehead.

"It is hard, dear," he said, "but we learn after awhile to do without
the things that have been dearest to us on earth. I lost the darling of
my heart many years ago. It was very hard to bear at first, but after
awhile I learned patience and resignation."

"You have loved and lost?" she said, looking at him in great surprise.

"Yes, pet. Did you think I was a crusty, forlorn old bachelor from
choice? No, no; I was betrothed to a sweet and lovely girl in my early
youth, but she went away to live with the angels, and I have been true
to her memory ever since."

"Poor uncle! I did not know you had so sad a secret in your life," she
said, with the dew of sympathy shining in her beautiful blue eyes.

"Every heart knoweth its own bitterness," answered the kind, old man,
sadly.

The next day he took her away to the seashore, hoping that the change of
air and scene might divert her mind from its sorrows.

It was a vain hope. Her terrible trouble was too deeply graven on her
mind. She became ill the day they took possession of their cottage, and
for several weeks lay tossing with fever, closely attended by a skillful
physician and two careful old nurses, while Mr. Lyle veered to and fro,
his gentle heart nearly broken by this unexpected stroke of fate.

But at length, when they had almost begun to despair of her recovery,
her illness took a sudden turn for the better.

She began to convalesce slowly but surely, and one day she turned the
nurses out of the room and sent for her Uncle Robert.

"I want to ask you something," she said, putting her feverish, wasted
little hand into his strong, tender clasp.

"I am listening, dear," he answered, kindly.

"Has--has that divorce been granted yet?" she inquired, flushing
slightly.

"Oh, no, my dear. Your husband has applied for it, but they have been
waiting since your illness to know what steps you will take in the
matter--whether or not you would engage a lawyer and contest the
divorce. I would not give them any satisfaction while you were sick, for
I thought you might change your mind."

"I _have_ changed my mind, Uncle Rob," she said. "I mean to contest the
divorce. There is a reason now" (she blushed and drooped her eyes from
his perplexed gaze) "why I should try to save my fair fame as much as I
can. Not that I wish to live with Lawrence again, whether there is a
divorce or not, but I wish to defend my own honor and leave behind me as
pure a name as I can. You will secure an able lawyer for me, will you
not, Uncle Robbie?"

"Yes, darling, you shall have the best counsel that money can procure,"
he answered, deeply moved at her earnest words.



CHAPTER XXXIX.


Captain Ernscliffe sat alone in the spacious library of his elegant
mansion.

The windows were raised, and the rich curtains of silk and lace were
drawn back, admitting the bracing October air.

The playful breeze lifted the dark, clustering locks from his high,
white brow, and wafted to his senses the delicate perfume of roses and
lilies that filled the vases on the marble mantel.

The evening sunshine lay in great, golden bars on the emerald-velvet
carpet.

But none of these beautiful things attracted the attention of the master
of this luxurious mansion.

He sat at his desk with an open book before him, and a half-smoked cigar
between his white, aristocratic fingers; but the fire had died out on
the tip of his prime Havana, and the idle breeze turned the leaves of
his book at its wanton will.

He sat there, perfectly still and silent, in his great arm-chair,
staring drearily before him, a stern, sad look on his handsome face, the
fire of a jealous, all-consuming passion smouldering gloomily in the
beautiful dark eyes, half veiled by their sweeping lashes.

He had been trying to read, but the strange unrest that possessed him
was too great to admit of fixing his attention on the author, yet now he
slowly repeated some lines that caught his eye as the light breeze
fluttered the book leaves:

    "Falser than all fancy fathoms, falser than all songs have sung."

"Ah! she is all that, and more," he exclaimed, bitterly, showing by
those quick words where his thoughts were.

A slight cough interrupted him. He looked up quickly and saw Robert Lyle
standing within the half-open door. The old man moved forward
deprecatingly.

"Pardon my abrupt entrance, Captain Ernscliffe," he said; "I knocked
several times without eliciting a reply, so I ventured to enter through
the half-open door."

Captain Ernscliffe arose and shook his visitor's hand with a cordiality
tempered by an indefinable restraint.

"Pray make no apologies, sir," he said. "They are quite unnecessary."

He placed a chair for the visitor, then resumed his own seat, gazing
rather curiously at the pleasant-looking, kindly old gentleman, who
reminded him so much of his wife's father.

What had brought him there, he wondered, with some slight nervousness at
the thought.

Mr. Lyle looked a little nervous, too. He wiped the dew from his fine
old forehead, and remarked that it was a warm day.

"I suppose so," assented the host in a tone that seemed to say he had
not thought about it before.

"I have come on a thankless mission, Lawrence," Mr. Lyle said, with
some slight embarrassment. "At least on an unsolicited one. I wish to
speak to you of--of Queenie."

Captain Ernscliffe flushed crimson to the roots of his hair, and then
grew deathly pale.

"I must refer you to my counsel, then," he answered, after a pause. "I
have nothing to say about her myself."

"Lawrence!"

The gently rebuking tone in which the one word was uttered made the
hearer start. He looked up quickly.

"Well, sir?"

"Do you know that you are treating my niece very unfairly in this
matter. It is cruel to condemn her with her defense unheard."

"She condemned herself, Mr. Lyle, without a word from anyone else. Her
guilt and shame were written all too legibly on her face the moment she
looked upon Leon Vinton."

"Let us grant that she had reason to be ashamed of his acquaintance,
Lawrence. Still may there not be some extenuation for her fault?"

"None, none! The more I think of it the blacker her dreadful sins
appear. Oh, my God, to think of her with her face as lovely as an
angel's, and her heart all black with sin! To think how I trusted and
loved her, and how basely she repaid my confidence! How cruelly she
deceived and betrayed me!" exclaimed the outraged husband, rising from
his seat and pacing the floor excitedly.

"I cannot effect any compromise, then?" said Mr. Lyle, irresolutely.
"You are bent on a divorce, I suppose. A separation would not content
you?"

"Did _she_ send you to ask this?" angrily exclaimed Captain Ernscliffe,
pausing in his restless tramp to glare furiously at the would-be
peacemaker.

"No, Lawrence, I told you I came on an unsolicited mission. Queenie
knows nothing of my coming, and would not thank me for having asked that
useless question. She asks no favors from you, but she means to defend
her honor, and fight the divorce which would brand her with shame."

"My counsel and hers will settle that affair. In the meantime, why this
useless dallying for long months on the pretence of illness? Why does
she shirk appearing at court in answer to the summons? If not guilty,
why does she not hasten to protest her innocence?"

"Queenie is ill, Captain Ernscliffe--has been ill for months. But we
hope now that she may soon be able to appear at court and confront her
accusers."

"Why does she not instruct her lawyer to manage the case without her if
she is unable to be present herself? This suspense is unendurable. If
this delay is continued much longer, I shall endeavor to push the matter
without her. I am tired of this dilly-dallying!"

They looked at each other a moment in silence. Then the elder man said,
with a repressed sigh:

"That is one thing I came to ask you, Lawrence. Grant us this much
grace, my poor, unfortunate Queenie, and her fond, old uncle. Do not
push the matter for a little while. Wait until she can come into court
and tell her own story before her fiendish accusers."

"But, Mr. Lyle, I am growing too impatient to wait longer. I chafe at
the bonds that bind me to that beautiful deceiver."

"They will not bind you much longer," Mr. Lyle answered, sadly. "Either
death or the law will soon sever your hated fetters."

Captain Ernscliffe started and looked at the speaker wildly.

"Death," he said, with an uncontrollable shudder. "Why do you talk of
death? What is this mysterious illness that has held her in its chains
so long? She used to be strong and well. She never talked of weakness."

"I cannot tell what ails her, Lawrence," said Mr. Lyle, rising as if the
conference were ended, "but I have the word of her physician to tell you
that within a month she will either be able to appear in court, and do
what is necessary to defend her rights, or she will be in her grave. In
either case you will be free."

The words fell coldly on Lawrence Ernscliffe's hearing, chilling the hot
and passionate tide of resentment that hurried through his heart.

He thought with an uncontrollable pang of all that bright, fair beauty
he had loved so long and so fondly lying cold in the grave--those lips
that had kissed him so tenderly sealed in death, the white lids shut
forever over the heaven of love in those soft blue eyes.

"Will that content you, Lawrence?" asked the old man, wistfully, pausing
with his hat in his hand. "A month is not so very long."

"That depends on the mood one is in," was the unsatisfactory reply.

"But you will wait?" Mr. Lyle said, almost pleadingly.

There was a minute's pause, and then the answer came, coldly:

"I will wait."

"Thanks--and farewell," said Mr. Lyle, passing silently out of the room.

The outraged husband was alone once more, the red glow of the sunset
shining into the room and touching with its tender warmth his pallid,
marble-like features.

He could not rest. Mr. Lyle's words re-echoed in his ears, turning his
warm blood to an icy current that flowed sluggishly through his benumbed
veins.

"In a month she may be in her grave--oh! the horror of that thought," he
said, aloud.

Yes, it was horror. He thought he hated her--she had deceived him so
bitterly--he thought he was anxious to sever the tie that bound them
together; he thought he never wished to look upon her beautiful, false
face again.

And yet, and yet those words of Mr. Lyle's staggered him. He reeled
beneath the suddenness of the blow. He asked himself again as he had
asked Mr. Lyle:

"What is this mysterious illness that holds her in its chains?"

He did not know, he did not dream of the truth. If he had known it, he
must surely have forgiven her and taken her back. He could not have
hated her longer, even though she had sinned and deceived him. For he
had loved her very dearly, and she was his wife.

But he said to himself:

"Why should I care if she dies? She deceived me shamefully. She can
never be anything to me again. In either case, as that old man said, I
shall be free. What will it matter to me, then, if she be dead or alive;
I shall never see her again!"

And then when he began to understand that she might die before her
testimony was given before the court in her own defense, he became
conscious of a vague feeling of disappointment. He knew now that he had
been very anxious all along to hear what his wife would say when she
stood face to face with her accuser. Perhaps, after all, she could
vindicate herself. If not, why was she so anxious to make the attempt?

"Have I wronged her?" he asked himself, suddenly. "Should I have
condemned her without hearing her version of that villain's story? Ah!
he would not have dared deceive me!"



CHAPTER XL.


Suddenly a serving-man entered with a card in his hand.

"A gentleman to see you, sir," he said.

Captain Ernscliffe took the bit of pasteboard in his hand and looked at
it.

He started with surprise as he did so.

"C. M. Kidder," was the name he read.

It was the famous London detective whom he had employed to hunt down
Sydney's dastardly murderer.

"What is he doing here in America--in this city?" thought Captain
Ernscliffe, in surprise.

"Show the gentleman into this room," he said to the man.

Mr. Kidder came briskly in a moment after.

He was a shrewd-looking little man, well-dressed and gentlemanly.

"You are surprised to see me here," he said, after they had exchanged
the usual greetings.

"Yes," admitted the host. "Do you bring news?"

The little man's black eyes sparkled.

"The best of news," he answered, blithely. "I have run the game down."

"That is indeed the best of news," said his employer, his face lighting
up. "But I don't quite understand why you are here, in the United
States."

"You don't?" said Mr. Kidder, with a good-natured laugh. "Well, I am
here because my man is here. I have followed him across the seas."

"Is it possible?" exclaimed the listener, with a start.

"Yes, it is true. I have had a weary hunt for him, but I have unearthed
him at last, thanks to Elsie Gray."

"Elsie Gray! Ah, yes, I remember, she was my wife's maid who
disappeared so strangely the night of the murder. You say she helped
you. Where is she now?"

"She crossed the ocean with me. She is here in this city, and will be
the chief witness in the prosecution. She witnessed the murder, and
recognized the criminal at that moment as a former lover of your present
wife. She pursued him, and was on his track when I found her."

"It has been almost a year since that dreadful night," said Captain
Ernscliffe. "He must have been very clever to evade justice so long."

"He was a cunning, accomplished villain," said Mr. Kidder. "I followed
him for weary months, but he managed to elude me every time when I began
to think I had run him to earth. I lost him altogether for awhile, and
then I discovered that he had left the country and sailed for the United
States. I at once secured my witness, Elsie Gray, and followed him."

"But he may elude you here as he did in Europe," said Captain
Ernscliffe, looking disappointed.

"It is not at all likely," said Mr. Kidder, laughing, "for I have
already had him arrested and lodged in prison. No, do not thank me," he
added, as his employer poured out a torrent of praises and thanks.
"Rather thank Elsie Gray. But for her indefatigable exertions, and the
valuable information she gave me, I might never have succeeded in my
undertaking."

"She shall have my thanks, and something more substantial beside. The
reward shall be doubled, and she shall share it equally."

"She has already promised to go shares with me," said the detective, so
significantly and demurely that Captain Ernscliffe could not fail to
understand his meaning.

"So she will marry you?" he said, smiling, and then, gazing curiously at
the happy, little man, who was not more than thirty years old, he added:
"Pardon me, but you are quite young, and Mrs. Ernscliffe's maid was
quite middle-aged, was she not?"

"Oh, no, she was quite young and pretty," said the detective, laughing
his happy, good-humored laugh.

"But surely----" began the listener.

"Mrs. Ernscliffe's maid was in disguise, both as to name and
appearance," said Mr. Kidder, interrupting him. "Perhaps a bit of her
history might interest you, sir, seeing that she has served you a good
turn."

"I should like to hear it," said Captain Ernscliffe. "But wait a moment,
Kidder, until I ring for lights. It is growing dark."

When the gas was lighted, and the curtains dropped over the windows, he
turned back to his visitor and said:

"Go on, Kidder, let me hear Elsie Gray's history."

"Well, sir, Elsie Gray's true name is Jennie Thorn, and she is not more
than twenty years old.

"She was a poor farmer's daughter when this man whom she has tracked to
his doom deceived and ruined her under a pretense of marriage.

"The poor girl went home to her parents, but her honest father drove
her away with curses when he discovered her condition and learned her
sad story.

"Her mother secretly befriended her, and found her a place to stay in
hiding until her child was born.

"Fortunately for the poor girl it was born dead, and then she set out
upon a mission which she had sworn to accomplish--her revenge upon the
man who had betrayed her.

"In the meanwhile her enraged father had shot the deceiver, and thinking
him dead had fled the country.

"But the wicked deceiver was proof against his enemy's bullet. He was
born to be hung, you see, sir, and he was proof against anything else.

"So he got well, and was clear out of the country before poor Jennie was
on her feet again. She was sorely disappointed, but she bided her time."

Captain Ernscliffe began to look as if he took an interest in the
history of the farmer's pretty daughter.

"She sought for him everywhere as far as her money would carry her,"
went on the detective, "but she never saw or heard of her enemy.

"At length her mother came to the city with her, and together they
continued their unrelenting quest, for they both had sworn to take a
terrible revenge upon the destroyer of innocence."

He paused a moment, and Captain Ernscliffe, half forgetful of his own
troubles in this sorrowful story, exclaimed:

"Go on, Kidder. I am very much interested in Jennie Thorn's sad story."

"One night they went to the theater," continued the detective, "and
there they saw upon the stage the beautiful lady that is now your wife."

"Ah!" exclaimed Captain Ernscliffe, with a start.

"Yes, sir; you begin to get an inkling of things now," said Kidder.
"Well, to go on, Jennie Thorn recognized the lady. She had seen her
before, and knew that the man who had wronged her was an enemy of Madame
De Lisle. She knew that they hated each other, and that he had sworn to
take a terrible revenge upon her. Well, sir, in that minute Jennie Thorn
began to see what would be her own best chance to find her betrayer
again."

Captain Ernscliffe was growing too excited to keep his seat. He rose and
paced up and down the room, his arms folded over his broad breast, his
burning gaze fixed on the detective's shrewd, intelligent face.

"She knew that the man would follow Madame De Lisle like her evil
genius, and she determined to keep near the beautiful actress. The next
day she disguised herself as an elderly woman, changed her name, and
went into your wife's service as her maid."

Captain Ernscliffe gazed at him silently. He began to comprehend now.

"There's little more to tell, sir. Jennie left her mother in the United
States and followed Madame De Lisle across the ocean.

"At first the actress had an old couple of actors with her--the same
that adopted her and taught her their profession--but they both died.

"The old man sickened first and died, and his wife soon followed him to
the grave.

"Then the actress grew attached to Jennie, and would not have parted
with her for anything.

"Her middle-aged appearance was a protection to the young lady who was
so beautiful and so lonely, and she never suspected that her elderly
maid was other than what she seemed.

"Jennie was contented to remain with her; but though she followed her
like a shadow she never saw her base betrayer until the night of the
murder.

"That night a small boy came to the dressing-room with that fatal
letter.

"It was so unusual an occurrence that Jennie stealthily followed him out
and saw where he had gone.

"Hidden behind the curtains of a window, she watched the man outside the
western door.

"Almost at the moment that she recognized him she saw him spring to the
door.

"She parted the curtains and saw the steel flashing in his hand, to be
buried the next moment in the heart of the woman coming up to him."

He paused a moment at Captain Ernscliffe's hollow groan; then continued:

"Jennie told me that the wild scream of anguish that rose the next
moment nearly broke her heart.

"She thought it was her dear, kind mistress whom he had killed, and she
was filled with the fury of the tigress.

"She sprang over the fallen body, and followed the murderer, who was
hurrying away.

"She caught him by the arm, and fastened her teeth in his arm.

"He shook her off and ran away. She sprang after him.

"She followed him to a house, but he escaped from it, or eluded her
somehow, and she took quarters in the vicinity, and was watching the
place when I found her.

"With the information she gave me I succeeded in tracing him further,
and finally we tracked him down.

"He is at this moment in prison, and if he gets his dues he will swing
from the gallows right speedily. A blacker-hearted villain never walked
upon the earth."

There was silence for a time, and then the detective added:

"When I landed herein this city, with Jennie in my charge, we found that
her mother was dead.

"The poor girl has not a friend on earth, and she has promised to marry
me to-day, and after the trial is over she will return to England with
me.

"She is a good, sweet, true girl, and I don't bear any grudge against
her because she has suffered from the arts of a villain through her too
confiding innocence."

"You have my congratulations, my fine fellow," said Captain Ernscliffe,
heartily. "But do you know that you have forgotten to tell me the name
of the man who murdered my poor Sydney?"

"Why, really, have I neglected to mention his name? You must excuse me,
Captain Ernscliffe, for it is one of the traits of my profession to be
chary of mentioning names. The man belongs right here in this city, and
is a notorious gambler and rogue. He is as handsome as a prince, as
wicked as the devil, and his name is Leon Vinton."



CHAPTER XLI.


"If there be any whom you have not yet forgiven; if there be any wrong
you yet may right, let not the sun go down upon your wrath, my son, for
verily, you must forgive as you would be forgiven. Upon no less terms
than these can you win the pardon and absolution of Heaven."

It was the voice of the solemn, black-robed priest, and he stood in the
gloomy cell of a convicted murderer, who, before the sunset of another
day was to expiate his terrible sin by a felon's death.

Even now from the gloomy prison-yard outside could be heard the awful
sound of the hammers driving the nails into his scaffold.

Upon the low, cot bed reclined the handsome demon whom we have known in
our story as Leon Vinton.

Wasted and worn in his coarse prison garb and clanking fetters, there
was still much of that princely beauty left that had lured youth and
innocence to their deadly ruin.

But the reckless, Satanic smile was gone from his pallid, marble-like
features now, and a glance of anguished terror and dread shone forth
from his hollow, black eyes.

Like many another wretched sinner in his dying hour, Leon Vinton was
afraid of the vengeance of that God whom he had despised and defied all
his wicked life.

All day the priests had been with him, praying, chanting, exhorting, and
now the chilly, gloomy December day was fading to its close, and the
long, dreary night hurried on--his last night upon the beautiful earth,
through which he had walked as a destroying demon, scattering the
fire-brand of ruin and remorse along his evil pathway.

    "And now he feels, and yet shall know,
      In realms where guilt shall end no gloom,
    The perils of inflicted woe,
      The anguish of the liar's doom!
    He hears a voice none else may hear,
      It bids his burning spirit pause;
    It bids thee, murderer! appear
      Where angels plead the victim's cause!"

Almost a year had passed since the tragic death of unhappy Sydney Lyle.
Now outraged justice was about to avenge her death.

Conviction had followed swiftly upon the murderer's arrest and
imprisonment.

When he had left poor Jennie Thorn, his betrayed and ruined victim,
fainting upon the floor, with his demoniacal words ringing in her ears,
he had little dreamed how and when he should meet her again.

Perhaps he thought she would pass silently from his life as other
wronged ones had done, and never be seen or heard of again.

Not the slightest premonition of evil had come to tell him that the
hatred he had stirred to life in her once loving heart would pursue him
to the scaffold.

Yet so it was, and Jennie Thorn had stood up in the witness-box and
given, under oath, the testimony that had cost him his life--had given
it gladly, triumphantly, without one thrill of pity or regard for the
man she had once loved and trusted.

Well, it was all over now--the trial was a thing of the past--to-morrow
the sentence of the law would be carried out and his neck would be
broken upon the scaffold.

Many a time when he thought of it now with a sick and shuddering horror,
he recalled the angry words that Queenie Lyle had spoken to him years
ago:

"_They cannot be drowned who are born to be hung._"

His reckless, wicked career was over. He had cheated men of their
substance at the gaming-table, he had robbed women of what was dearer,
their peace and honor, without a thought of the retribution that would
fall on him from the God he had offended.

But now when the priest came to him and told him solemnly and sadly what
terrors awaited him if he died unrepentant, remorse and terror struck
their terrible fangs into his guilty heart.

"I have done many wrongs that nothing can ever set right, father," he
said humbly to the meek priest. "But there is one black falsehood
hanging heavy on my heart, one sin I may in some little way atone for.
Will you send Lawrence Ernscliffe to see me to-night? I will tell him
how cruelly I wronged the lovely woman he married and how pure and
innocent she was then and ever. And Jennie Thorn, father. Will you ask
her to come and see me? I will beg her to forgive me."

"I will send Captain Ernscliffe to you, my son, if he will come, but
Jennie Thorn--that is impossible!"

"Is she so bitter and unrelenting, then!" said the prisoner, sadly.

"Let us hope not," said the gentle priest. "But she is gone away, my
son.

"Immediately after your trial and conviction she left the United States
and returned to England as the wife of the detective who effected your
arrest."

The prisoner sighed and bent his head.

The priest bowed over him a moment, murmured a benediction and passed
out through the heavy iron door that shut Leon Vinton in forever from
the busy, beautiful world.



CHAPTER XLII.


A few hours later the heavy iron door was unlocked, then clanged
together again, shutting Lawrence Ernscliffe in alone with the condemned
prisoner.

They looked at each other in blank silence for a minute, then the
visitor said coldly:

"You sent for me?"

"Yes, I sent for you," said the prisoner, eagerly. "I have wronged you
and would make reparation before--before to-morrow."

The fire of rage and hatred that flared up in the listener's eyes was
dreadful to behold.

"You lied to me--how dared you do it?" he exclaimed, hoarsely. "Did I
not say I would have your life if I found you out?"

"The few hours of life that remain to me are not worth your vengeance,"
was the quiet reply. "Sit down, Captain Ernscliffe, I would speak to you
of your wife."

He pointed to a chair, but the visitor shook his head.

"No, I prefer standing. I can scarcely breathe the same air with you,
Leon Vinton! Speak quickly."

"Do not look on me as your enemy now, Captain Ernscliffe," said the
prisoner, deprecatingly. "I stand apart from my fellow-men as a
condemned criminal about to be executed.

"Think of me as a wretched sinner trying to make peace with those whom I
have wronged that I may plead for pardon before my offended God."

Captain Ernscliffe bowed silently, and the angry flash in his dark eyes
faded out at the melancholy tone and air of the frightened and wretched
criminal.

"I lied to you when I told you that I did not marry Queenie Lyle," said
Leon Vinton, looking down and speaking in a low, hoarse voice.

"The day she ran away with me I married her, and the certificate was
placed in her hands.

"She thought she was my wife, but the pretended minister who performed
the ceremony was only a boon companion of mine who had served me before
in such an accommodating manner.

"It was the merest farce, but Queenie thought she was my legal wife.

"She would not have gone with me else. She was as pure and innocent as
an angel."

He paused a moment, but he did not look up. He could not bear to meet
the tiger glare in the eyes of the man before him. Clearing his throat
nervously, he continued:

"I lived with her a year, and then we mutually wearied of each other.

"Her keen intuition soon showed her that she had been deceived in me,
and that I was far different from the ideal which she had placed on a
lofty pedestal and worshiped for awhile as a god among men.

"She scorned me then, and I hated her because she had found me out. In
my rage I told her the truth, and then I tried to kill her."

"My God!" Captain Ernscliffe muttered, clenching his hands as though he
would have torn the villain limb from limb.

"I thought I had killed her," pursued Vinton. "I strangled her with both
my hands.

"I threw her down and trampled upon her beautiful face that had been her
ruin.

"I hurriedly dug her a shallow grave, covered her over with the wet
earth and leaves, and hastened back to the cottage by the river where we
had lived together."

"Fiend!" thundered Captain Ernscliffe, springing furiously upon him.

The prisoner, chained as he was, could offer no resistance to his
infuriated assailant. He did not even utter a cry.

But all in a moment Captain Ernscliffe remembered himself, and drew back
before he had struck the fatal blow he had meditated. He would not harm
a defenseless man.

"I will not kill you," he said, hoarsely, "but finish your story
quickly. I can scarcely bear your presence."

"It was the first murder I had ever attempted," said the prisoner, after
a long-drawn breath. "Naturally enough, I felt nervous over it.

"I walked up and down the river-bank for hours in the rain, trying to
excuse myself to myself.

"Then all of a sudden she came up behind me, and pushed me in, and ran
away.

"It was then that she went home to her parents. They took her back, kept
her terrible secret, and married her to you.

"If I had let her alone then, all might have gone well," pursued the
prisoner, "but I hated her for her maddened blow that dark, rainy night.

"I swore revenge. It was I who sent her the bouquet of flowers that
caused her seeming death at the altar that night.

"I resurrected her, and made her a prisoner. She escaped the day that
Farmer Thorn shot me.

"She thought I was dead, but as soon as I recovered from my wound I
started out upon her trail again, still pursuing my hellish scheme of
vengeance.

"But she escaped me for years, and I never met her again, until the
night that I murdered her sister.

"I had just reached London that night, and went into the theater, full
of idle curiosity to see La Reine Blanche, the beautiful idol of the
hour.

"The moment she came upon the stage I recognized in the great actress
the lovely girl I had treated so inhumanly.

"In an instant I conceived my diabolical plan of revenge. I hurried out
of the theater, sent that note to her dressing-room, and waited at the
western door.

"The woman who came had the voice, the form, the step of Queenie, and I
plunged my dagger in her heart. I killed Sydney, but the blow was meant
for Queenie."

He stopped, and there was silence in the gloomy prison-cell, while the
criminal waited for Ernscliffe to speak.

"You are telling me the truth?" he demanded, hoarsely.

"As God is my judge, and on the word of a dying man. Let Queenie tell
you her story and she will corroborate my words. I have pursued her
pitilessly, remorselessly. I have wronged her beyond all reparation, yet
she is as pure, and true, and innocent to-day as she was that fatal hour
when I first met her, a happy, thoughtless girl, selling her painted fan
to buy her simple ball-dress. My terrible sin against her is enough of
itself to drag my soul down to the lowest depths of perdition!" added
the prisoner, with a hollow groan.

"You have indeed sinned fearfully, and God will punish you," said
Captain Ernscliffe, turning to go.

"A moment longer," pleaded the unhappy wretch. "Say that you forgive me
before you go."

"Never in this world or in the next!" cried Captain Ernscliffe,
furiously.

The grated door unclosing, let in the priest who was to spend the night
with the condemned man.

He caught their parting words.

"My son, my son," he said, laying his withered hand on Ernscliffe's arm,
"forgive the poor soul; he is almost beyond your resentment. Think where
his soul will be to-morrow night. Give him your hand in token of
pardon."

"No, no," said the listener, shuddering; "I will not touch his hand,
but--but"--with a great effort--"I will forgive him."

"Tell _her_ to forgive me, too," said Leon Vinton, looking at him with
his wild, frightened face. "Tell her I am sorry--tell her that I repent.
She is an angel. She will forgive me."

The door closed upon the retreating form, and the gentle priest knelt
down and began to pray for the guilty soul so soon to be launched into a
dread eternity.



CHAPTER XLIII.


Captain Ernscliffe found that it was almost midnight when he reached
home after his visit to the condemned murderer.

He was too excited for sleep, and going to the library he turned up the
dimly-lighted gas and prepared to spend the remaining hours of the night
among his books.

A pleasant warmth pervaded the luxurious apartment, and the fragrance of
some white hyacinths, blooming in vases on the marble mantel, filled the
air with sweetness.

They were Queenie's favorite flowers. He remembered the one she had worn
on her breast the day he had come upon her in her strange interview with
Sydney.

Breaking off a beautiful spray he pressed it to his lips, then pinned it
on his coat.

"I wonder where she is now?" he said to himself, with a heavy sigh, as
he drew up a chair to the table and laid his head down upon his folded
arms.

Something rustled under his touch as he did so, and he looked up
quickly.

There was a sealed letter lying upon the table, addressed to himself in
an unfamiliar writing. It had been laid there by a servant while he was
absent.

Mechanically he tore it open and glanced at the bottom of the page for
his unknown correspondent's name.

"Robert Lyle," he read, aloud, with a suddenly quickened heart-beat.

Yes, it was from Robert Lyle--a brief note, coldly and curtly written.

     "CAPTAIN ERNSCLIFFE," it simply ran, "I arrived in this city to-day
     with your wife. She is now quite well and prepared to defend her
     case at any time the lawyers agree upon--to-morrow, if necessary."

That was all. It was brief, cold, and to the point. Yet the reader's
heart thrilled with sudden joy.

"She is here in this city; she is well," he said to himself. "Oh, how
can I wait until to-morrow?"

But he waited, nevertheless, though burning with anxiety and impatience,
and at the earliest permissible hour he was shown into Robert Lyle's
private parlor at the hotel where he was stopping.

Mr. Lyle was sitting cozily over his morning paper and cigar, his
slippered feet on the fender, his gorgeous dressing-gown wrapped
comfortably around him.

He rose in some surprise as his unexpected visitor was ushered in.

"You did not expect me," said Captain Ernscliffe, as they shook hands.
"I received your letter at midnight, sir, and came this morning as early
as propriety would allow. I want to see my wife, Mr. Lyle," he added, in
a trembling voice. "Will you take her my card and see if she will admit
me to her presence?"

Mr. Lyle looked at him curiously a moment. He saw that he was struggling
with some unexplained agitation, and that he had not come with any
hostile intent.

He pointed toward a side door that stood slightly ajar.

"She is in there," he said; "there is no need of formalities. Go in and
see her."

With a faltering step Captain Ernscliffe advanced and passed through the
partly open door.

He found himself in a beautiful little dressing-room, with hangings of
pale-blue silk, exquisitely furnished and pervaded with the delicate
perfume of white hyacinth.

Before the bright fire burning in the polished grate a lady was sitting
in a low rocker of cushioned blue satin.

He advanced toward her, then started back. He thought he had made a
mistake.

For the beautiful woman sitting there in her elegant morning-robe of
quilted blue satin was looking down and smiling at something that lay on
her arm, nestled close and warm against her breast.

It was the pink face of a very tiny baby, wrapped in costly robes of
embroidered flannel, and lace and cambric.

Captain Ernscliffe was going out quite precipitately when a low,
startled voice cried out:

"Lawrence!"

He turned back and looked more closely.

Yes, it _was_ Queenie--but then--_that_ baby--where on earth--and at
that stage of his cogitations something flashed across his mind.

This, then, was the cause of that long, mysterious illness. What a fool
he had been not to suspect it before.

He rushed to her side, and kneeling down upon the carpet, put his arms
around the beautiful mother and child.

"My darling," he murmured, in a voice so broken by emotion that he could
scarcely speak at all. "My precious Queenie, my own sweet wife, shall we
mutually forgive and forget all that is past?"

One stifled sob of joy, and then the woman dropped her face upon his
shoulder in silence.

One moment of rapturous stillness while she rested in the close clasp of
his strong arm and then he whispered, with his lips against her warm
cheek:

"Darling, you will forget my cruelty and come back to me--you and the
little one?"

Then she lifted her head and looked at him with a happy, little laugh
and a very bright blush.

"Lawrence, kiss our little boy," she said, putting the little bundle in
his arms. "Is he not a pretty babe? I call him Robbie, for my uncle, who
has been so good and kind in all my trouble."

"While I have been so cruel and unkind," he said, remorsefully.

"But that is all past now," she said, hopefully. "Oh, Lawrence, I
thought you would never return to me again! What caused you to forgive
me?"

"That villain--whom I cannot curse now because he was hung this
morning--confessed all to me last night. My darling! you were cruelly
wronged, and I was mad and blind to believe all the lies he told me at
first."

"The best he could tell you was bad enough," she said, remorsefully. "It
was wicked, it was terrible of me to have encouraged that clandestine
acquaintance and secret love, deserting my home and loved ones for a
stranger of whom I knew nothing, except that he was handsome, and that
his romantic wooing took my foolish heart by storm.

"Oh, the bitter consequences that have followed that act of girlish
folly!

"My own deep disgrace, my father's death from a broken heart, poor
Sydney's dreadful murder, mamma and Georgina's everlasting alienation
from me?"

She clasped her hands, and tears stood bright as dew-drops in her soft,
blue eyes.

"Yes, darling," he said, as he laid his little son back in her arms,
"your youthful folly has, indeed, worked out a terrible retribution. If
your tragic story could be written it might teach many parents to guard
their daughters more carefully, and many a thoughtless girl might grow
wiser and profit by your dreadful experience. The fitting text for such
a mournful story might be, 'Girls never keep a secret from your
parents!'"

"Am I _de trop_?" asked Uncle Robert, putting his gray head and smiling
face into the room at that moment.

"Never, Uncle Robert. You are one of us now, and always," said Captain
Ernscliffe, bringing him in and giving him a cordial pressure of the
hand.

Queenie looked up with the bright tears still shining in her eyes.

He kissed her fondly, then bent over the little babe to hide the dew of
tenderness that dimmed his kindly blue orbs.

"I shall have to give up my little pet now," he said, a little sadly.

"No, you shall not, Uncle Robbie. You are to come home with us, and live
with us always. You shall not live alone any longer," said Queenie,
tenderly and gratefully.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three years later, when Robbie was the loveliest and most mischievous
little, dark-eyed lad that ever delighted a parent's heart, they all
went abroad again.

Captain Ernscliffe, who was the fondest and most devoted husband in the
world, had taken an absurd fancy that Queenie's roses were fading and
that a European tour would improve her health.

So one bright, sunny morning in the month of roses, they found
themselves registered as boarders at a famous health resort in Germany.

But after Captain Ernscliffe had smoked his cigar on the balcony, he
came into his wife's airy room with a frown on his dark, handsome face.

"I shall have to take you away to-morrow, my dear," he said. "I have
found out that your mother and sister are staying here. Of course it
would be embarrassing to all parties if we remained."

"Yes, we must go away," she said, but she sighed as she spoke.

It had been a bitter cross to her that her mother and sister would not
recognize her.

She loved them still, for the ties of kinship were very strong in her
heart.

Now her own motherhood had made her even more gentle and loving than
before.

She would have loved dearly to be friends with those proud ones who had
discarded her, and to have shown her beautiful little son to his
grandmother.

"Yes, we will go away to-morrow," she repeated, brushing away a
quick-starting tear. "We must not trouble their peace."

But that evening, when her husband and her uncle had gone out for a
walk, and she was alone with Robbie, she heard a timid and hesitating
rap at her door.

"Enter," she said, looking up in some surprise.

The door opened, and Lady Valentine came abruptly into the room.

She was paler and graver than of old, and her stately form was draped in
the gloomy sables of a widow.

"Georgina!" exclaimed Mrs. Ernscliffe, starting up.

Lady Valentine rushed forward, and threw her arms about the trembling,
hesitating figure.

"Little Queenie, my sweet, wronged sister!" she cried, "will you forgive
my cruelty to you, and love your Georgie again?"

"I have never ceased to love you, Georgie," was the answer.

Lady Valentine pressed a dozen kisses on the sweet lips and wavy, golden
hair.

Queenie put her gently into a chair, and then she saw a little,
dark-eyed lad looking at her with a great deal of wonder.

"What a lovely boy!" she said, "and it is yours, Queenie, I know, for he
looks so like your husband."

"Yes," answered Queenie, proudly; then she led her little son up to her
sister.

"Robbie, you must kiss your aunt," she said.

Lady Valentine stayed a long while with Queenie, and many mutual,
touching confidences were exchanged by the long-parted sisters. At last
she rose to go.

"May I have Robbie a little while?" she asked.

"You may go with your aunt, my dear," said Queenie, kissing the child.

Lady Valentine took his hand and led him away to a room where a
gray-haired lady was sitting alone in the fast-falling twilight with a
grave, rather sad expression on her handsome old face. Georgie lifted up
Robbie and placed him on the lady's knee.

"Grandmother," she said, half-laughing, half-crying, "kiss your
grandson."

"It is Queenie's child!" cried Mrs. Lyle, pressing him to her heart, and
kissing him, then crying over him in her womanly joy and excitement.

"We must take him to his mother now," said Georgie. "Come, mamma," and
Mrs. Lyle followed her without a word.

So when Captain Ernscliffe and Mr. Lyle returned from their walk they
found them all together, Queenie's fair face perfectly radiant and every
one very happy in this touching reunion.

They were never parted afterwards. When Mr. Lyle and the Ernscliffes
returned to the United States Mrs. Lyle and Lady Valentine went with
them. Mrs. Lyle had conceived such an affection for her little grandson
that she could not bear to be separated from him. Georgina had no ties
to bind her to England, so she followed them also. Many years of calm
happiness came to Mrs. Ernscliffe afterward, but she never forgot the
terrible secret that had almost desolated her life.

She had one daughter, a sweet and lovely girl, who bore the name of one
long dead, and sometimes when she kissed and caressed her, Captain
Ernscliffe would hear her say, sweetly and gravely:

"Sydney, my darling daughter, you must never have any secrets from your
papa and mamma!"


[THE END.]



The Bertha Clay Library

_THE ONLY COMPLETE LIST OF BERTHA M. CLAY STORIES ::: MANY OF THESE
TITLES ARE COPYRIGHTED AND CANNOT BE FOUND IN ANY OTHER EDITION._

PUBLISHED EVERY MONTH


       To be Published During May

  263--A Modest Passion                      By Bertha M. Clay

       To be Published During April

  262--Suffered in Silence                   By Bertha M. Clay

       To be Published During March

  261--True to His First Love                By Bertha M. Clay

       To be Published During February

  260--Love's Twilight                       By Bertha M. Clay

       To be Published During January

  259--When Woman Wills                      By Bertha M. Clay

       *       *       *       *       *

  258--Withered Flowers                      By Bertha M. Clay
  257--The Love He Spurned                   By Bertha M. Clay
  256--Tender and True                       By Bertha M. Clay
  255--Her Heart's Victory                      By Bertha Clay
  254--Love's Debt                              By Bertha Clay
  253--For Old Love's Sake                   By Bertha M. Clay
  252--Love's Conquest                       By Bertha M. Clay
  251--A Blighted Blossom                    By Bertha M. Clay
  250--The Wooing of a Maid                  By Bertha M. Clay
  249--Mistress of Her Fate                  By Bertha M. Clay
  248--The Flower of Love                    By Bertha M. Clay
  247--A Cruel Revenge                       By Bertha M. Clay
  246--Two Men and a Maid                    By Bertha M. Clay
  245--Baffled by Fate                       By Bertha M. Clay
  244--Two True Hearts                       By Bertha M. Clay
  243--Her Noble Lover                       By Bertha M. Clay
  242--For Lack of Gold                      By Bertha M. Clay
  241--In Defiance of Fate                   By Bertha M. Clay
  240--A Wild Rose                           By Bertha M. Clay
  239--An Exacting Love                      By Bertha M. Clay
  238--Her Heart's Hero                      By Bertha M. Clay
  237--The Unbroken Vow                      By Bertha M. Clay
  236--Love's Coronet                        By Bertha M. Clay
  235--A Woman's Part                     By Mrs. Alex. Frazer
  234--Kitty's Father                         By Frank Barrett
  233--On the Altar of Fate             By Mrs. Edward Kennard
  232--The Dawn of Love                      By Bertha M. Clay
  231--Lorimer and Wife                        By Margaret Lee
  230--A Dangerous Suitor        By Gertrude Franklin Atherton
  229--Margaret Byng                          By F. C. Philips
  228--A Vixen's Love                        By Bertha M. Clay
  227--The Courting of Mary Smith            By F. W. Robinson
  226--Divided Lives                        By Octave Feuillet
  225--Sybil Ross' Marriage                   By F. C. Philips
  223--Unfairly Won                 By Nannie Power O'Donoghue
  222--The Girl in the Brown Habit      By Mrs. Edward Kennard
  221--Little Mrs. Murray                     By F. C. Philips
  220--The Secret of a Heart                 By Bertha M. Clay
  219--Marrying and Giving in Marriage      By Mrs. Molesworth
  218--A Broken Life                            By Mary Cruger
  217--A Question of Time        By Gertrude Franklin Atherton
  216--What Dreams May Come                       By Frank Lin
  215--An Artful Plotter                     By Bertha M. Clay
  214--My Sister's Husband               By Patience Stapleton
  213--A Terrible Crime                 By Emma Garrison Jones
  212--The Man She Cared For                 By F. W. Robinson
  211--In Love's Bondage                By Mrs. Edward Kennard
  210--Hester's Husband                      By Bertha M. Clay
  209--Out of Eden                             By Dora Russell
  208--Keep My Secret                          By G. M. Robins
  207--A Country Maid                   By Mrs. Campbell Praed
  206--As Fate Would Have It                    By Evelyn Gray
  205--Her Bitter Sorrow                     By Bertha M. Clay
  204--The Lover's Creed                   By Mrs. Cashel Hoey
  203--Her Father's Sin                      By Annie A. Gibbs
  202--The Siren's Triumph                   By Genevieve Ulma
  201--Love's Temptation                By Mrs. Edward Kennard


By BERTHA M. CLAY

  200--Fair as a Lily.
  199--Strong in Her Love.
  198--A Heart Forlorn.
  197--A Soul Ensnared.
  196--Her Beautiful Foe.
  195--For Her Heart's Sake.
  194--Sweeter Than Life.
  193--An Ocean of Love.
  192--A Coquette's Victim.
  191--Her Honored Name.
  190--The Old Love or the New?
  189--Paying the Penalty.
  188--What It Cost Her.
  187--A Poisoned Heart.
  186--True Love's Reward.
  185--Between Love and Ambition.
  184--A Queen Triumphant.
  183--A Heart's Worship.
  182--A Loveless Engagement.
  181--The Chains of Jealousy.
  180--A Misguided Love.
  179--A Supreme Sacrifice.
  178--When Hate and Love Conflict.
  177--The Price of Love.
  176--A Wife's Devotion.
  175--The Girl of His Heart.
  174--A Pilgrim of Love.
  173--The Queen of His Soul.
  172--A Purchased Love.
  171--An Untold Passion.
  170--A Deceptive Lover.
  169--A Captive Heart.
  168--A Fateful Passion.
  167--From Hate to Love.
  166--Her Boundless Faith.
  165--On With the New Love.
  164--Lost for Love.
  163--Glady's Wedding Day.
  162--An Evil Heart.
  161--His Great Temptation.
  160--The Love of Lady Aurelia.
  159--The Lost Lady of Haddon.
  158--The Sunshine of His Life.
  157--Love's Redemption.
  156--A Maid's Misery.
  155--Every Inch a Queen.
  154--A Stolen Heart.
  153--A Tragedy of Love and Hate.
  152--A Bitter Courtship.
  151--Lady Ona's Sin.
  150--The Tragedy of Lime Hall.
  149--A Wife's Peril.
  148--Lady Ethel's Whim.
  147--The Broken Trust.
  146--Lady Marchmont's Widowhood.
  145--A Sinful Secret.
  144--The Hand Without a Wedding Ring.
  143--How Will It End?
  142--One Woman's Sin.
  141--The Burden of a Secret.
  140--A Woman's Witchery.
  139--Love in a Mask.
  138--The Price of a Bride.
  137--A Heart of Gold.
  136--A Loving Maid.
  135--For Love of Her.
  134--The Sins of the Father.
  133--A Dream of Love.
  132--A Woman's Trust.
  131--A Bride from the Sea, and Other Stories.
  130--The Rival Heiresses.
  129--Lady Gwendoline's Dream.
  128--Society's Verdict.
  127--A Great Mistake.
  126--The Gambler's Wife.
  125--For a Dream's Sake.
  124--The Hidden Sin.
  123--Lady Muriel's Secret.
  122--Dumaresq's Temptation.
  121--The White Witch.
  120--The Story of an Error.
  119--Blossom and Fruit.
  118--The Paths of Love.
  117--A Struggle for the Right.
  116--The Queen of the County.
  115--A Queen Amongst Women and An Unnatural Bondage.
  114--A Woman's Vengeance.
  113--Lord Elesmere's Wife.
  112--His Wedded Wife.
  111--Irene's Vow.
  110--Thrown on the World.
  109--A Bitter Reckoning.
  107--From Out the Gloom.
  106--Wedded Hands.
  105--A Hidden Terror.
  103--Two Kisses, and The Fatal Lilies.
  102--Dream Faces.
  101--A Broken Wedding Ring.
  100--In Shallow Waters.
  99--For Life and Love, and More Bitter Than Death.
  98--James Gordon's Wife.
  97--Repented at Leisure.
  96--The Actor's Ward.
  95--A Woman's Temptation.
  94--Margery Daw.
  92--At Any Cost, and A Modern Cinderella.
  91--Under a Shadow.
  90--In Cupid's Net, and So Near and Yet So Far.
  89--A Coquette's Conquest.
  88--If Love Be Love.
  87--Beyond Pardon.
  86--Guelda.
  85--A Woman's Error.
  84--Lady Latimer's Escape, and Other Stories.
  83--A Fatal Dower.
  82--A Dead Heart, and Love for a Day.
  81--Between Two Loves.
  80--The Earl's Atonement.
  79--An Ideal Love.
  78--Another Man's Wife.
  77--A Fair Mystery.
  76--A Guiding Star.
  75--A Bitter Bondage.
  74--Thorns and Orange Blossoms.
  73--Her Martyrdom.
  72--Between Two Hearts.
  71--Marjorie Dean.
  70--A Heart's Bitterness.
  69--Fair But Faithless.
  68--'Twixt Love and Hate.
  67--In Love's Crucible.
  66--Glady's Greye.
  65--His Perfect Trust.
  64--Wedded and Parted, and Fair but False.
  63--Another Woman's Husband.
  61--The Earl's Error, and Letty Leigh.
  60--A Heart's Idol.
  59--One False Step.
  58--Griselda.
  57--Violet Lisle.
  56--The Squire's Darling, and Walter's Wooing.
  55--Golden Gates.
  54--The Gipsy's Daughter.
  53--A Fiery Ordeal.
  52--Claribel's Love Story; or, Love's Hidden Depths.
  51--For a Woman's Honor.
  50--A True Magdalen; or, One False Step.
  49--Addie's Husband, and Arnold's Promise.
  48--Her Second Love.
  47--The Duke's Secret.
  46--Beauty's Marriage, and Between Two Sins.
  45--Lover and Husband.
  44--The Belle of Lynn; or, The Miller's Daughter.
  43--Madolin's Lover.
  42--Hilary's Folly; or, Her Marriage Vow.
  41--A Mad Love.
  40--A Nameless Sin.
  39--Marjorie's Fate.
  38--Love's Warfare.
  37--Weaker Than a Woman.
  36--On Her Wedding Morn, and Her Only Sin.
  35--A Woman's War.
  34--The Romance of a Young Girl; or, The Heiress of Hilldrop.
  33--Set in Diamonds.
  32--Lord Lynne's Choice.
  31--Redeemed by Love; or, Love's Conflict; or, Love Works Wonders.
  30--The Romance of a Black Veil.
  29--A Woman's Love Story.
  28--A Rose in Thorns.
  27--The Shadow of a Sin.
  26--A Struggle for a Ring.
  25--A Thorn in Her Heart.
  24--Prince Charlie's Daughter.
  23--The World Between Them.
  22--The Sin of a Lifetime.
  21--Wife in Name Only.
  19--Two Fair Women; or, Which Loved Him Best?
  17--Lady Castlemaine's Divorce; or, Put Asunder.
  16--His Wife's Judgment.
  15--Lady Darner's Secret.
  14--A Haunted Life.
  13--Evelyn's Folly.
  12--At War With Herself.
  11--For Another's Sin; or, A Struggle for Love.
  10--One Against Many.
  9--Her Mother's Sin; or, A Bright Wedding Day.
  8--Hilda's Lover; or, The False Vow; or, Lady Hutton's Ward.
  7--A Dark Marriage Morn.
  6--Diana's Discipline; or, Sunshine and Roses.
  5--The Mystery of Colde Fell; or, "Not Proven."
  4--Lord Lisle's Daughter.
  3--A Golden Heart.
  2--Dora Thorne.
  1--A Bitter Atonement.



  EAGLE SERIES  A weekly publication devoted to good literature  NO. 426
                                  July 25, 1905


"Get Acquainted With Smith's"

The Big Three

[Illustration: MRS. GEORGIE SHELDON]

[Illustration: MRS. MARY J. HOLMES]

[Illustration: CHARLES GARVICE]

You are now looking at the three most popular authors in America. Ten
million copies of their novels have been sold and they are now
exclusively engaged to supply =Smith's Magazine= with all their new
work.

Get a copy of the current number and look it over. It's the best
published at
     =TEN CENTS=

SMITH PUBLISHING HOUSE, _NEW YORK_



Transcriber's Notes:


Some missing punctuation has been added without being noted below when
the original text has extra spacing suggesting that the error could have
been caused by light inking of the plates rather than incorrect
typography.

Some inconsistent hyphenation has been retained (e.g. "woodwork" vs.
"wood-work").

A table of contents has been added.

Some archaic spellings ("hightened", "vender") have been retained.

Carets are used to denote superscript text (e.g. M^cVEIGH). Underscores
(_) denote italics. Equals signs (=) denote bold.


_Front Matter_

Added period after "Alex" in listing for "253--A Fashionable Marriage."

Removed unnecessary period after "By" in listing for "207--Little
Golden's Daughter."

Removed unnecessary period after "(Barclay North)" in listing 176.

Removed unnecessary period in "(A Wilful Young Woman)" in listing 70.


_Bride of the Tomb_

Page 2, changed "weath" to "wreath."

Page 4, removed "an" from "an another."

Page 5, added missing period after "testily."

Page 9, changed "ye you" to "yet you" and changed question mark to
period after "fair Necropolis of the dead."

Page 19, changed ? to ! after "it was all for you." Changed "Lillie" to
"Lily."

Page 27, changed "shubbery" to "shrubbery."

Page 28, added missing comma after "revive."

Page 36, changed "eat" to "ate."

Page 38, changed "pedling" to "peddling."

Page 39, changed "spring" to "sprang."

Page 41, changed "they not the heart" to "they had not the heart" ("had"
is missing from Street & Smith edition but was present in original
Family Story Paper appearance--thanks to Deidre Johnson for confirming
this).

Page 49, capitalized 's' in "She tore off the bed-covers."

Page 53, changed "thererefore" to "therefore" and "terrible" to
"terribly."

Page 55, changed "Good-nigh" to "Good-night" and "Lilly" to "Lily."

Page 60, removed unnecessary comma after "well" in "I may as well go
then."

Page 61, changed "leige" to "liege."

Page 62, moved misplaced end quote in sentence beginning "No, I won't."

Page 71, changed double quote to single quote before "And have you lost
your heart?"

Page 72, changed "oblivous" to "oblivious."

Page 77, changed "necessrry" to "necessary."

Page 79, removed stray quote after "the old house with the stone wall."

Page 80, added missing period at end of page.

Page 81, changed "queston" to "question."

Page 84, moved close quote in quoted poem to correct position.

Page 85, changed single quote to double quote after "win him from me!"

Page 87, changed "mein" to "mien."

Page 92, changed "reconnoisance" to "reconnoissance."

Page 93, added missing period to end of second paragraph.

Page 95, changed single quote to double quote after "I have not tasted
food for two days!"

Page 96, changed "Colvilie" to "Colville."

Page 98, changed "Lilly" to "Lily."

Page 102, changed "braggadocia" to "braggadocio."

Page 106, changed "deamed" to "dreamed."

Page 107, changed "The" to "They" in "They had lived their evil life."

Page 109, added missing close quote after "home to your mother."

Page 112, changed "frienzied" to "frenzied."

Page 114, added missing quote after "Perhaps so."

Page 119, changed "drectly" to "directly."

Page 120, changed "disorered" to "disordered." Changed "she" to "he"
after "Pray explain yourself."

Page 121, changed "Whan" to "What."

Page 124, changed "Collville's" to "Colville's" and "familar" to
"familiar."

Page 133, changed "detect-tive" to "detective."

Page 138, added missing period after "her yearning look."

Page 143, changed "happest" to "happiest."


_Queenie's Terrible Secret_

Page 3, changed "which to" to "to which" and rearranged final sentence
in paragraph beginning "No, indeed." It was scrambled in the original
edition.

Page 7, changed "meantim" to "meantime" and "Erscliffe" to "Ernscliffe."
Added missing quotes to separate "so sweet a flower" from "Doubtless
you."

Page 10, added missing open quote before "now I begin."

Page 12, added missing period after "perplexing mystery."

Page 13, added missing open quote before "Why, Papa." Changed "Sidney"
to "Sydney" and "Georgiana" to "Georgina."

Page 15, changed "Sidney" to "Sydney."

Page 16, changed period to question mark after "wronged you."

Page 18, changed "confied" to "confined."

Page 19, changed "Au contrairie" to "Au contraire."

Page 23, added missing quote before "my head whirls" and changed
"cologue" to "cologne."

Page 26, added missing close quote after "about my sister." Changed
"stilled crowned" to "still crowned."

Page 27, changed "distaught" to "distraught."

Page 30, changed "CHAPTER IX" to "CHAPTER XI" and "endeaver" to
"endeavor."

Page 33, changed "?" to "!" after "Au revoir, Mrs. Ernscliffe." Changed
"?" to "." after "screams and cries."

Page 34, changed "sudder" to "shudder."

Page 35, changed "?" to "!" after "touch me."

Page 37, changed "?" to "!" after "declare to gracious."

Page 40, changed "?" to "." after "blushed deeply."

Page 41, changed "Hold you peace" to "Hold your piece."

Page 42, added missing quote after "demented little sister."

Page 46, added missing quote after "I don't blame you."

Page 48, the "h" in "sharply" is accidentally inverted in the original
book. Added a missing period at the end of the page.

Page 49, changed "?" to "!" after "I don't know what you mean."

Page 50, changed "?" to "!" after "for this cruel sin." Added missing
period after "hundred dollars."

Page 52, changed "quite" to "quiet."

Page 53, Removed duplicate "she" from "she she said to herself" and
added missing close quote after "will not tell her."

Page 55, changed "!" to "?" in "Who killed him?" and changed "te" to
"to" in "in time to see."

Page 56, removed extraneous ", or" from sentence that originally read
"walk, or at a slower and more reasonable gait."

Page 57, changed "idenity" to "identity."

Page 63, added missing open quote before "Ah, Captain Ernscliffe."

Page 64, changed "." to "?" in "Will you take me home?"

Page 67, changed "ligh" to "light." Changed "were" to "where" in "hotel
where La Reine Blanche." Changed "pearl-handed" to "pearl-handled."

Page 71, joined erroneously split paragraph (starting "I could not
wait") and changed single to double quote after "husband!"

Page 77, changed "did I say!" to "did I say?"

Page 80, changed "dusk" to "dusky."

Page 82, added missing quote before "what ails your husband?"

Page 84, changed "you lips" to "your lips" and "were she was playing" to
"where she was playing."

Page 92, removed duplicate "the" from "told him the the truth."

Page 93, removed unnecessary quote before "Queenie lifted her head."

Page 96, changed "availabe" to "available."

Page 99, changed "CHAPTER XXXVI" to "CHAPTER XXXIV."

Page 107, added missing "to" to "not so hard to tell." Changed "?" to
"!" after "hope for the best."

Page 108, removed comma from "great cruel, world."

Page 115, added missing close quote after "share it equally."

Page 119, changed "condemed" to "condemned."





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