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Title: Sybil Chase - or, The Valley Ranche
Author: Stephens, Ann S. (Ann Sophia)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sybil Chase - or, The Valley Ranche" ***

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of the Digital Library@Villanova University
(http://digital.library.villanova.edu/))



  128 Pages.]      Published Semi-Monthly.      [Complete.


  BEADLE'S

  [Illustration: DIME NOVELS

  UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
  ONE
  DIME]

  No. 21.

  The Choicest Works of the Most Popular Authors.


  SYBIL CHASE;
  OR,
  THE VALLEY RANCHE.


  BY MRS. ANN S. STEPHENS.
  Author of "Malaeska," "Fashion and Famine," Etc., Etc.


  New-York and London:
  BEADLE AND COMPANY, 141 WILLIAM ST. N. Y.
  A. Williams & Co., 100 Wash. St., Boston


  Entered according to Act of Congress, in the Year 1861,
  by BEADLE AND COMPANY, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States,
  for the Southern District of New York.



AN ENTICING STORY.

Beadle's Dime Novels Number 22.

Will Issue Wednesday, May First,

THE MAID OF ESOPUS;

OR, THE

TRIALS AND TRIUMPHS

OF THE REVOLUTION.

BY N. C. IRON.


The era of the American Revolution is so fraught with romance that it
ever will prove a chosen one to novelists. In this present instance
the author has selected unusually stirring historic incidents, around
whose facts he has woven a most beautiful and enticing story of love,
devotion and patriotism. Such tales fire the love of our country in the
hearts of all, old and young; while they fill, in the highest degree,
the love for romance, which _all persons_ possess. The "Maid of Esopus"
is a _purely historical_ fiction, written with a thorough knowledge of
the men and women of those times which truly tried and tempered souls,
and embodies all the interest which attaches to that most eventful era.
It will be found not only unexceptionable as a novel, but _unusually_
good in its literary merits, as well as intensely exciting and
absorbing in its narrative. It will become a household favorite.

For Sale by all News Dealers.

  BEADLE AND COMPANY, Publishers,
  141 William St., New York.

[Illustration: THE VALLEY RANCHE.]



  SYBIL CHASE;
  OR,
  THE VALLEY RANCHE.

  A TALE OF CALIFORNIA LIFE.

  BY MRS. ANN S. STEPHENS.

  [Illustration]

  NEW YORK AND LONDON:
  BEADLE AND COMPANY, PUBLISHERS,

  141 WILLIAM ST., CORNER OF FULTON, N. Y.
  44 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON.



  Entered according to Act of Congress, In the Year 1861, by
  BEADLE AND COMPANY,
  In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the
  Southern District of New York.



THE VALLEY RANCHE.



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER I. THE BRIDLE-PATH.
  CHAPTER II. A FACE FROM THE PAST.
  CHAPTER III. HUSBAND AND WIFE.
  CHAPTER IV. TWO CONFEDERATES, IN COUNCIL.
  CHAPTER V. A SHORT RIDE AND A LONG WALK.
  CHAPTER VI. THE WELCOME THAT AWAITS RALPH HINCHLEY.
  CHAPTER VII. ARRIVAL OF THE GUEST.
  CHAPTER VIII. THE GAMBLER'S FATE.
  CHAPTER IX. A CANTER AND A FALL.
  CHAPTER X. THE GAME AT CHESS.
  CHAPTER XI. THE FEMALE IAGO.
  CHAPTER XII. MOTHER AND DAUGHTER.
  CHAPTER XIII. HIGHCLIFF.
  CHAPTER XIV. THE JAIL.
  CHAPTER XV. THE DUEL.
  CHAPTER XVI. THE BATTERY.
  CHAPTER XVII. THE VALLEY RANCHE.



CHAPTER I.

THE BRIDLE-PATH.


A small valley cutting through a range of mountains in California--a
green oasis that looked strange and picturesque in the midst of that
savage scenery. The cliffs rose in a solid wall on one side to the
height of many hundred feet. Dwarfed fir-trees and dead cedars were
scattered along the summit, stretching up their gaunt limbs and adding
to the lonely grandeur of the scene. Great masses of broken rocks,
which, in some conflict of the elements, had been wrenched from their
bed, projected from the rifted precipices and lay in great moss-covered
boulders in the lap of the valley. On the southeastern side a break in
the heart of the cliffs was covered with thrifty verdure, and, over the
rocks that obstructed it, a mountain torrent rushed thundering into the
valley, dividing that cradle of verdure in the middle, and abruptly
disappearing through another gorge, breaking to the open country
somewhat lower down, where it plunged over a second precipice with the
sound of distant artillery.

Just above the spot where this mountain stream cut the valley in twain,
a collection of huts, tents and rickety frame houses composed one of
those new villages that are so often found in a frontier country, and
half a mile above stood a small ranche, with its long, low-roofed
dwelling half buried in heavy vines that clambered up the rude cedar
pillars of the veranda, and crept in leafy masses along the roof.
Beyond this, great oaks sheltered the dwelling, and the precipice that
loomed behind it was broken with rifts of verdure, which saved this
portion of the valley from the savage aspect of the mountains lower
down.

The sunset was streaming over this picturesque spot; great masses of
gorgeous clouds, piled up in the west, were casting their glory down
the valley, turning the waters to gold, and, flashing against the
metallic sides of the mountains, changed them into rifts and ledges of
solid gems.

Standing upon the rustic veranda, and looking down over the beautiful
valley dotted with tents and picturesque cabins, the waters singing
pleasantly, the evening wind fluttering the greenness of the trees,
that mountain pass appeared so tranquil and quiet, a stranger could
hardly have believed the repose only an occasional thing. In truth, it
is the heavenly aspect of the valley that I have given you, and that
was truly beautiful.

Only a few miles off, still higher up among the rugged mountains, the
"gold diggings" commenced, and from this point, every Saturday night
of that beautiful summer, came down crowds of wild, reckless men with
their bowie-knives, revolvers, and the gold-dust which soon changed
hands either at the liquor-bar, set up in some log-cabin, or the
gambling-table, established in an opposite shanty.

Before the gold excitement, that pretty ranche had been the abode of
a quiet family, whose cattle were fed on the luxuriant herbage of the
valley; but the reckless adventurers that crowded there soon drove
the household into less turbulent quarters, and the dwelling changed
its occupants many times. Thus its quiet walls soon became accustomed
to scenes of strife and dissipation, which destroyed its respectable,
home-like appearance entirely; and the place that had originally been
a pleasing feature in the valley shared the general aspect of the
neighborhood. Still, nature will assert her rights; and, amid the wild
riot of the valley, vines grew luxuriantly as ever, flowers blossomed
in the turf, and the water fall sounded loud and clear above the shouts
of savage men, however turbulently they might be raised.

By one of the upper windows of this dwelling stood a woman, leaning
idly against the rude sill and looking down the sweep of the valley.

Hers was no attitude of expectation; there was no eagerness in the
great eyes that wandered slowly from one object to another, nor did
the glance betray any enjoyment of the beautiful scene. The woman was
evidently lost in deep and melancholy thought; each moment the lines
about her mouth deepened, and the cold sadness of the eyes settled into
a hard, bitter expression which gave something almost repulsive to the
whole face.

She looked very unlike the sort of woman one would have expected to
find in that solitary place. She was tall and slender, and her form
would have appeared almost fragile had it not been for a certain
flexibility and force visible in every line even in that attitude of
repose.

She was young still; but from her face it would have been impossible
to guess at her real age. At one moment it looked fairly girlish; the
next the shadow of some heavy thought swept across it and appeared to
accomplish the work of years upon the features.

It was evident that her fate had been very different from that which
met most of the women who followed husbands and fortune into the
Eldorado of the New World. The hand which lay upon the window-frame was
delicate and white; the colorless pallor of the cheek bore no evidence
of hardship or exposure.

She was plainly dressed, but her garments were made in a picturesque
fashion, and the few ornaments she wore were heavy and rich. Her long,
golden hair was brushed smoothly back from her forehead and gathered in
shining bands at the back of her head, and made the chief beauty of her
person. Only those who have seen the tress of Lucretia Borgia's hair,
preserved still in a foreign gallery, can form any idea of the peculiar
color which I desire to describe. I was wrong to call it golden; it was
too pale for that. In the shadow it had the colorless tint one seldom
sees, except in the locks of very young children; but when she moved,
so that the sun struck its loose ripples, it flashed out so brightly
that it crowned her forehead like a halo.

The sunset deepened, but still the lady remained leaning out of the
window and giving herself up to that gloomy meditation, which sometimes
seemed to deepen into absolute pain.

Suddenly a new object at the upper end of the valley attracted her
attention, and she gazed with more eagerness than she had before
manifested.

Leading by the place where the mountain torrent had cleft its way
through the rocks, there ran a bridle-path, worn by the miners' feet,
from the gold diggings down the valley. It was toward that spot the
lady's eyes were directed, as a small cavalcade wound slowly down the
rocky path and took the grassy plain which led toward the ranche.

An expression of displeasure disturbed the stillness of the woman's
face. She shaded her eyes with her hand and looked eagerly toward the
advancing group; but at that distance it was impossible to distinguish
more than that it consisted of three men mounted on mules, followed by
several persons on foot.

She moved quickly from the window and passed into another room; in a
moment she returned, carrying a spyglass which she directed toward the
procession. After the first glance she drew a heavy breath and muttered:

"It is not they! I shall have an hour more to myself, at all events."

She still continued to watch the slowly approaching group, and saw
that one of the equestrians was supported in his saddle by two of
the guides, while another led the mule by the bridle. The rider had
evidently met with some accident on the road.

Slowly the party moved on; they were in recognizable distance from
the house; by the aid of her glass, the lady could distinguish the
lineaments of each face.

Suddenly she grasped the glass hard in both hands and looked steadily
at the injured man. A great change passed over her; she trembled
violently and her face grew ashen. Her fingers shook so that she was
obliged to support the glass against the window-sill. At length her
hands fell to her side and a cry broke from her lips like the angry
moan of some wounded animal.

"Oh! I must be mad!" she exclaimed. "This can not be--I fancied it!
This is one of my wild dreams!"

With a powerful effort she controlled herself sufficiently to raise the
glass once more. Nearer and nearer the group advanced; her eyes were
fastened upon it with a look of unutterable fear and agony.

"Laurence!" she exclaimed again; "Laurence in this place! Oh! I shall
go mad! They are coming to the house--they mean to spend the night
here!" The words broke unconsciously from her lips; all the while her
strained gaze was fastened upon the group. "He has been hurt--he has
fainted!"

She dropped the glass and started to her full height, striking her
forehead violently with her clenched hand, as if searching for some
plan or device, which, in her agitation and terror, she could not find.

"Fool!" she muttered, bitterly. "Is this your strength? Does it desert
you now?"

She walked hurriedly up and down the room, flinging her arms about, so
overcome that any thing like connected thought was impossible.

"He must not see me--I would rather be hurled over the precipice! He
must not stay here. Oh! mercy--mercy! if Philip should come home!"

She cast one more feverish glance through the window and hurried out of
the room, nerved to action by the near approach of pain and danger. But
directly she came back again, looking wild and frightened, like a bird
coming back to the branch where it has been wounded. She took up the
glass again, steadied it firmly. She was evidently doubtful still if
she had seen aright.



CHAPTER II.

A FACE FROM THE PAST.


The party of strangers were slowly winding their way across the plain,
and had arrived within a short distance of the house. The woman gazed
on them through her glass till the man supported on his mule became
quite visible to the naked eye; she then dropped her hand heavily, and
drew a deep breath.

"How white he is! There has been violence. He has fainted. See how his
head falls on the guide's shoulder," she murmured, sweeping a hand
across her eyes as if some dimness had come over them.

The lady was quite alone in her dwelling. The Indian women who acted
as the household servants had gone to the hills in search of berries,
and thus she was compelled to descend and open the door, when a summons
was made by the party whose approach had given her so much anxiety. At
another time, knowing, as she did, the lawless nature of the population
around, she would have allowed the besiegers to knock unanswered, and
go away at their leisure; but now she descended the stairs, trembling
violently as she went. She had thrown a black silk scarf over her
head, thus giving her dress a Spanish effect, and, unclosing the door,
stood framed in the opening--and a more remarkable picture was never
presented in the wilderness of any country. It was not that the woman
was so beautiful, in fact, but the color of her hair and the wild
anxiety in her eyes gave that to her person which no artist could ever
have caught. The guide, who had come in advance of his party, stepped
back in amazement as she presented herself, for it was seldom that the
people of the region had obtained a glimpse of her person, and her
presence took him by surprise.

The party were now within a few minutes' ride of the ranche, and a
weary, travel-soiled band it was. The mules were stained far above
their fetlocks with yellow mud, through which they had floundered
all day long; and the travelers, in their slouched hats, rude, blue
flannel shirts, and heavy boots, engulfing the nether garments to the
knees, were liberally bespattered with the same compound. The mules
were huddled close together, for one of the riders was supporting the
wounded man on his saddle; the other had dismounted when the guide left
him, and was leading the sick man's mule, while his own tired beast
followed submissively in the wake of the party.

Before the guide had recovered from his astonishment sufficiently to
address the lady, who seemed perfectly unconscious of his presence, the
party halted in front of the veranda.

The two gentlemen sprung forward to assist their companion, who lay
helpless in his saddle, his head falling upon the shoulder of the man
that supported him. With the assistance of the guides he was removed
from the mule and carried up the steps of the veranda. They laid
him upon a bench under the windows, then the two companions of the
insensible man turned toward the lady.

She had not stirred; her eyes were fastened upon the motionless figure
over which the guides were bending with rough solicitude; the strained,
eager look in her face seemed to demand an explanation which her lips
had no power to frame.

The two gentlemen moved toward her, struck, even in that moment of
anxiety, by her appearance, and saluted her with the courtesy which
proved their station and high-breeding.

"We owe you a thousand apologies, madam," said the foremost, "for this
abrupt proceeding; but our friend here had a hurt."

She started at his words, instinctively drew the folds of the mantle
more closely about her face, and said, quickly:

"No apology is necessary; in this region strangers consider themselves
at home in every house."

"I thought you'd say so, ma'am," said one of the guides, approaching
and looking curiously at her. "I s'pose Mr. Yates ain't to hum."

"No; I believe he is at the mines," she answered; then added quickly,
pointing to the injured man: "Has he fainted?"

"You see he got a fall," answered the guide, before either of the
gentlemen could speak, "a-coming over that rough pass on the mountain;
but I think he's only stunted like."

"I am afraid his arm is broken," said the elder gentleman.

The lady hurried toward the injured man; her face was turned away, so
that none of the party could see how ghastly it became. She bent over
the still form, dextrously cut open the sleeve of his coat with a pair
of scissors which she drew from her pocket, and took the injured limb
between her trembling hands.

"It is only a sprain," she said; "the agony and the shock have been too
much for him."

"He bore it very well at first," said the gentleman who had followed
her; "but fainted quite suddenly, just as we got down into the valley."

The lady made him no answer; she directed the guides where to find
water and spirits. Going into the house herself, she brought out a
large napkin, which she saturated with water, and bound upon the
wounded arm.

While she was bending over him, the man gave signs of returning
consciousness. She started back, and shrouded her face completely in
the mantle.

"Laurence," called one of his friends, stooping over him, "are you
better?"

There was a faint murmur; the injured man raised his head, but it sunk
back, and he was insensible again.

"Is there no physician near?" demanded the gentleman. "I am very
anxious. He is not strong, like the rest of us."

"You will find one at Wilson's ranche," replied the lady.

"How far is that?"

"Good seven miles," answered the guide.

"It will take so long to get him here," exclaimed the first speaker.

"Your best way will be to go there," observed the lady, coldly.

The whole party turned toward her in astonishment; hospitality is the
chief virtue of wild countries, and it was an unparalleled thing in the
experience of those old guides, to hear a woman so coolly turning a
stranger, sick or injured, from her door.

"My dear madam," pleaded the gentleman, "he can not ride; it will be
dangerous--death, perhaps."

"He will come to himself, shortly," she answered. "I assure you I have
proposed the best mode. I do not mean it unkindly. Heaven knows how
sorry I am."

The eldest guide absolutely whistled, and the men stared at each other,
while she busied herself over Laurence, although her whole frame shook
so violently that she could scarcely stand.

"Can't you give us a bed for our friend?" asked the gentleman. "The
rest of us will sleep anywhere, or go away altogether."

"No--no," she replied, hastily; "you must ride on, I say."

"Wal, I'm shot if ever I heerd the beat of that!" muttered a guide.

"The road from here is very good," she continued; "your friend will
suffer little; these men can easily make a litter and carry him."

"He's coming to," whispered the other gentleman.

The woman stepped quickly back, and when she saw the injured man open
his eyes, retreated into the room.

"How are you now, Laurence?" asked his friends, bending over him.

"Better, I think; I am dizzy, but my arm isn't so very painful. Did I
faint?"

While they answered his questions, the guides held a grumbling
consultation, and finally summoned the elder gentleman to the
conference.

"What'll we do?" they asked. "It'll be pitch dark afore long, and that
fellar can't set his horse."

"I will speak to the lady again," he answered. "I am sure she can not
turn us out."

"It's a queer house," said the head guide, "and that's the fact. There
ain't a place in Californy I wouldn't ruther stop at."

"I s'pose that's Yates's wife," said the man who had first reached the
house. "As often as I've passed here, I never seed her afore."

"'Tisn't often she shows herself," replied the leader. "But will you go
and speak to her?" he added, turning to the gentleman.

"Certainly; of course she will permit us to stay."

He went into the house, but the lady was not visible. He opened the
door of an inner room, and there she stood, wringing her hands in
wild distress. She turned at the sound of his footstep, and demanded,
angrily:

"What do you wish more? I have done all that I can for your friend."

"I have come to urge you to give us one night's lodging," he said; "it
seems impossible for us to go on--"

"You must," she said, interrupting him passionately; "you must!"

"This is very singular," he said, so startled by her manner that he
was almost inclined to believe her insane. "In the name of humanity, I
ask--"

She stopped him with an impatient gesture, went close to him, and
grasped his arm.

"I tell you," she whispered, "this place is not safe for you; get on
toward Wilson's as fast as your mules can carry you."

"Surely you can not mean--"

"No matter what! Sir, I ask you, for my sake, a poor, defenseless
woman, to go! I have done all for your friend that is in my power; you
only endanger his life--mine too, by staying here."

He bowed, stupefied by her words.

"Certainly," he said; "after that I can not urge you."

"I knew you would not; only go--don't wait an instant!"

She spoke with feverish haste, and her whole appearance was that of a
person driven to the verge of distraction by fear and anxiety.

"I can give you food," she added, "or spirits--"

"Thank you; we have every thing with us that will be necessary."

"Then go! Your road leads by the river--keep that napkin about his arm
wet with water, and he will do very well."

She motioned him away with wild energy. He saw the insane dread in
her eyes, left the room without a word, and joined the party upon the
veranda.

"Do we stay?" demanded the guides.

The gentleman shook his head, and, without waiting to hear their angry
expostulations, moved toward his friend.

Laurence was sitting up, and, although still very pale, looked stronger
and greatly recovered.

"Could you ride a few miles further, Ned?" he asked.

"Possibly; but can't we stay here?"

"No--no; there's a deuced mystery about the whole matter! But we must
start, or I believe that woman will go crazy; don't let's wait a
moment, if you can manage to get on to your mule."

The lady's strange anxiety had infected him; he felt an unaccountable
eagerness to leave that quiet old house far behind, and would rather
have spent the whole night in the woods than again encounter the
frenzied pleading of her eyes.

In a few moments, their preparations were concluded. Laurence was
seated upon his mule in the most commodious manner that could be
devised, and the party rode slowly off down the valley, the guides
looking back with muttered execrations as long as the old house was in
sight.

From an upper window the woman watched them start, shivering and white,
with her hands pressed hard against her lips to keep back the moans
that shuddered from her heart.

As the cavalcade reached a turn in the road, and began to disappear
from her sight, she extended her arms with a low cry:

"Laurence! Laurence!"

The words were pronounced in a whisper, but to her affrighted senses
they sounded strangely clear. She cowered into a seat, and covered her
face with her hands. No tears fell from her eyes; she could not even
weep--could only sit there, trembling at every sound, looking eagerly
out to be certain that the travelers had indeed disappeared, then
glancing up the valley, as if expecting each moment to see some one
approach by the path which led from the mountains.



CHAPTER III.

HUSBAND AND WIFE.


Night had come on; the full moon was up, filling the valley with a
flood of radiance and lending a mysterious beauty to the scene. As
the silver beams shot against the mountain sides, the streaks of
quartz and glittering minerals emitted long rays of light that shone
so brilliantly the cliffs seemed encircled with flame. Above rose the
jagged trunks of the fir-trees, looking like wierd shapes holding
counsel upon the summit of the peaks.

At length sounds from without broke the stillness--the tramp of horses,
the loud, reckless conversation of coarse men. The watcher in that room
only cowered lower into her seat, as if those tones had deprived her
of the last gleam of strength which had been her support during the
previous hours.

There were voices from the room beneath--drinking songs chanted with
such energy that the words were distinctly audible where she sat--the
ring of glasses, rude toasts and the tumult in which heedless, hardened
men are wont to indulge in the midst of a bacchanalian revel.

Very soon there was a step upon the stairs, which made the woman spring
to her feet and throw aside the mantle in which she had been shrouding
her face. The door was pushed open and a man entered carrying a candle,
which flared uncertainly in the draught from the passage. He did not at
first perceive her, and called angrily:

"Sybil! Sybil! where the deuce are you, I say?"

"I am here," she replied, with a coldness and composure of which she
had appeared incapable a moment before. "What do you want of me?"

"What is a man likely to want when he comes home tired and hungry, I
should like to know?"

"The women are getting supper; it will be ready very soon."

"And what are you doing up here in the dark?"

"This is the room where I usually sit, and it certainly is not dark,"
she replied, quietly as before, although her hands trembled nervously,
and the expression of her eyes betrayed something akin to absolute fear.

"Sitting in the moonlight like a school-girl!" he sneered. "I should
think you might have got over your romance by this time."

She did not answer; he approached, and held the light close to her
face, with a sneering laugh.

"Who has been here to-day?" he asked. "Now, don't tell that lie you
have ready on your lips. I know there was a party of men here about
sunset."

"Some people who wished to stay all night," she replied.

"Why didn't you keep them?"

"I did not suppose you would like it, as I knew you would be back with
a party from the mines."

"How innocent she is!" he exclaimed, laughing again. "By the powers,
Sybil, I have made a mistake! I ought to have put you on the stage.
That sort of talent would have made a fortune for us both."

"It is not too late," she said, with a certain eagerness.

"Oh, isn't it? Well, we can talk about that some other time. Just now I
want to know what brought that Laurence here?"

She tried to look at him with astonishment, but, actress as she was,
her craft failed for once; the lids drooped over her eyes and her lips
refused to utter the words she struggled to force upon them.

"Now stop that," said he. "Just tell the truth, or I'll follow him, and
he shall have a taste of my bowie-knife before morning. What did he
want? Make a short story of it, for I am hungry."

"He had been traveling among the mountains with some friends, and got
hurt. They wanted to stay here, but I would not keep them and they went
away."

"So far so good! You was afraid I should kill him, eh?"

"Yes," she answered; "but more afraid that he would recognize me."

"Then you didn't speak to him?"

"No; he had fainted. I was not likely to make myself known to any of my
former friends," she added, bitterly.

"As Phil Yates the gambler's wife? No, I suppose not. Well, he is gone,
so let the matter rest. Come, you're a rather good girl. I want you to
dress yourself and come down to supper--look your prettiest."

"Who is there?"

"Oh, mostly our set of fellows."

"Then I shall not go down."

"Indeed! I haven't time to make a scene. There are a couple of young
chaps fresh from the mines with lots of gold-dust. Now will you come?"

"Will you promise to conduct yourselves like men?"

"Upon my word, she is making terms! Yes, I will. I tell you, Sybil, the
gold we win from them to-night will help to shorten your stay here.
Think of that, and come."

"I don't wish any supper. I will come down afterward."

"So be it. Put on the pink dress with all those flounces, that I
brought you from San Francisco, and look young, and do try and be
handsome again."

"Shall we be able to go from here soon, Philip?" she asked.

"Not a day before I please," he replied, irritated by the question.
"Show any anxiety, and you shall spend your life here. I promise you it
shall not be a pleasant one."

"Have I complained?" she demanded, sinking her voice to a tone of
singular sweetness. "Have I not clung to you as few women would have
done? Can you blame me for longing to have another home than this?"

"It is natural enough; but patience, Sybil, patience."

"I have had patience," she muttered, while a dangerous light shot into
her eyes, "so long--so long!"

"You are a great woman, Sybil, I always admit that; but you know very
well that if you left me I should have hunted you like a wolf--aha! my
bird!"

The gleam in her eyes died into a look of cold terror; she extended her
hand for the light, saying:

"Go down to your guests. I will follow very soon."

He gave her the candle, laughing again in that mocking way.

"Poor Sybil!" he said. "It is hard to have old memories stirred up as
they have come upon you this evening."

"Stop!" she said, with a quiet resolution. "You shall not worry my
life out, Philip Yates! You know there is a point beyond which I will
not bear a word or look. Reach it, and though you murdered me, I would
desert you!"

He gave her a glance of careless admiration, but did not annoy her
further.

Yates was a remarkable-looking man as he stood there in his rough
mountain dress, which was sufficiently picturesque in effect to atone
for the coarseness of its materials and make.

He could not have been over thirty-five--very possibly not so much; but
a life of reckless dissipation had long ago worn the youth out from his
face. He had once been handsome--was so still, in spite of his heavy,
undressed beard and the desperate expression of his features. He was
tall and remarkably well formed, with sinewy limbs and a full, broad
chest. The exposure and action which he had experienced in that wild
California existence had increased his manly beauty in strength and
proportion, to make amends for sweeping the delicacy and refinement
from his face. The eyes were gray, not prominent, usually half vailed
by the lids, with a cold, quiet expression which could warm into
eagerness or flame with passion, but were utterly incapable of any
thing like softness or sensibility. The lower part of the face was
hidden by the flowing beard of a rich chestnut brown; but the massive
contour of the under jaw, the firm-set mouth, betrayed enough to have
justified a physiognomist in ascribing to him the hard, reckless
character which in reality belonged to him.

Without again addressing his wife, he left the room. She heard him
whistling an opera air--some reminiscence of the old life--as he
descended the stairs, and the notes carried her back to the pleasant
existence which had been hers for a season, and from which that man had
so ruthlessly dragged her.

The light which kindled in her eyes was ominous; the expression of her
face, could he have seen it, might have awakened a deeper distrust in
his mind than had ever before troubled him. It would have justified a
fear for his personal safety. There was all that and more in the single
glance which she cast into the gloom.

No murmur escaped her; she did not even sigh, as a weaker or gentler
woman would have done; but, knowing her destiny, looked it full in the
face and went forward to meet it without a tear!

She took up the candle and passed into her chamber, proceeding to
change her dress and follow her husband's commands in the adornment of
her person.

She knew very well what was required of her--a part that she had
often before performed at his bidding, and one from which her
moral sensibilities did not always shrink. This woman had simply
to make herself pleasant and agreeable--to sit by and converse
sweetly while those two strangers were cheated of their hard-earned
gold at a card-table. She was to bewilder them by her smiles and
conversation--nothing more; and, as I have said, she did not always
shrink from this _rôle_.

Sybil Yates was not a good woman, and yet there was something in
her nature which, under other training and circumstances, might
have dignified her into a very different person. Her phrenological
developments would have puzzled the most devoted lover of that
unsatisfactory science. She was capable of great endurance and
self-sacrifice, not only to secure her own interests, but she was
earnest in the service of any one for whom she felt affection or
attachment. Her nature was essentially reticent and secretive; she had
a faculty which few women possess, that of waiting patiently and for a
long time, in order to attain any object which fastened itself on her
desire.

But it is useless attempting any description of the woman's character.
It will best develop itself in the course of this narrative, in which
it was her fate to act a prominent part.

That she must have loathed the life to which she found herself
condemned is certain. Sybil's heart was more depraved than her
intellect or her moral character, and any thing like coarseness or open
vice was essentially distasteful to her. It was this womanly refinement
which had made the presence of her husband a torment. Probably hatred
of this man had grown to be one of the strongest feelings in her
nature; yet she was kind and forbearing--every thing that even a good
and affectionate wife could have been in her domestic life. True, she
stood in mortal terror of him--base, physical terror, for he had become
degraded beyond belief, and had more than once raised his hand against
her in his drunken wrath.

Still she clung to him--put her old life resolutely aside, and looked
only forward to the time when he would take her from that dreary
wilderness and go out into the world where she had first keenly enjoyed
the sweets of refined life.

She had fine talents, a splendid education, and was well endowed for
any station in which destiny could have placed her. Let me do her the
justice to acknowledge that under better influences she would probably
have been simply a far-sighted, diplomatic woman of the world, reducing
all about her to obedience by the incomprehensible fascination which
made all men who approached her admirers or slaves. Satisfied with her
position and influence, the under depths of her nature would have been
so little excited, that in all probability she herself would have been
forever unconscious of the dark traits which lay hidden in her restless
heart.

But it was useless to speculate upon what she might have been. She
was--alas! for her--Philip Yates's wife, far from any who could have
aided her, even if she would have permitted the slightest interposition
in her fate. Doomed to obey his commands, she was apparently ready
enough to gratify him, and managed, even in that secluded spot, to win
all the pleasure and cheerfulness out of her life which it was possible
to obtain.

She dressed herself, according to her promise. When her toilet was
completed, it was astonishing to see how brilliantly she came out of
the cloud which had appeared to envelop her. Her face caught its most
girlish expression--the large eyes grew luminous--the smile about her
mouth was playful and sweet. Those tresses of billowy hair, woven in
luxuriant braids back of her head, would of themselves have relieved
her face from any charge of plainness.

This woman put out her candle and turned to the window. For many
moments she stood looking out into the glorious night and watching
every effect with the sensations an artist could have understood.

Then, in spite of herself, back into the past fled her soul, and
the chill waves of memory rushed over her. She flung her white arms
aloft, and cried out in her pain. Once more that man's name died on her
lips in a passionate echo, which frightened even herself: "Laurence!
Laurence!"

A burst of merriment from below recalled her to the present, and
the hard destiny which lay before her. With the strong self-command
acquired in her strange life, she banished from her features every
trace of care; the soft light crept into her eyes again, the pleasant
smile settled upon her lips.

She took from the table a thin blue scarf, and, flinging it gracefully
over her shoulders, as we see drapery in Guido's pictures, passed down
stairs toward the room where her husband and his guests were seated,
already, as she could detect by the broken words which reached her ear,
occupied with the fatal games which had driven so many men to ruin
within those very walls.



CHAPTER IV.

TWO CONFEDERATES, IN COUNCIL.


Philip Yates and his wife were sitting upon the veranda of their house
one pleasant evening, some time after the events described in the last
chapter.

He was in unusually good humor and fine spirits that night. Probably,
during the past weeks, his successes had been numerous; and however
much his wife might have deplored the cause had she been a woman to
feel the sin and degradation, she could but have congratulated herself
upon the effect which it produced.

He was smoking and talking at intervals to Sybil, who sat in a low
chair at a little distance, looking down the valley with the earnest,
absent gaze habitual with her.

"Sing me something, Sybil," he said, at last; "it's deuced dull sitting
here alone. I can't see what keeps Tom."

"Do you expect him back to-night?" she asked, indifferently, more as if
fearful of offending him by her silence than from any desire of her own
for conversation.

"I did, but it is growing so late I begin to think he won't come; it's
always the way if one wants a man."

"You have no business on hand?"

"Not to-night; I need him for that very reason. What's the use of a
man's smoking his cigar and drinking his glass all alone."

Sybil smiled, not bitterly even, with a sort of careless scorn, which
would have irritated the man had he seen it--but her face was partially
turned away; he saw only the outlines of her colorless cheek, which
took a singular grace and softness in the moonlight.

"Are you going to sing?" he asked, after a moment's silence, broken
only by a malediction upon his cigar. "How many times must one ask you
to do a thing before you condescend to pay attention?"

She made no answer, but began at once a Spanish song, in a powerful
contralto voice, which rung pleasantly through the stillness, as if a
score of birds in the neighboring almond thicket had been awakened by
the beauty of the night, and were joining their notes in a delicious
harmony.

When the song was finished she began another without waiting for him to
speak, and for a full half hour she continued her efforts to amuse him,
without the slightest appearance of distaste or weariness.

Suddenly, another sound came up through the night--the tread of heavy
feet and voices, evidently approaching the house.

"Hush!" said Yates, quickly. "Somebody is coming."

Sybil paused, with the words unfinished upon her lips, and both
listened intently.

"It must be Tom," exclaimed Philip; "nobody but he ever whistles like
that."

He listened for an instant longer, then called out:

"Hello, I say!"

The echo came back distinctly, then a human voice answered the
salutation.

"It is Tom," Yates said. "I hope to the Lord there's somebody with him.
I'm frantic to be at work."

Just then several figures became visible in a turn of the path; Yates
went down the steps and walked forward to meet them, while Sybil
leaned her cheek against the low railing and looked quietly down,
humming fragments of the air which her husband had so unceremoniously
interrupted.

Yates joined the party, and they stood for a few moments in
conversation; then the whole group moved toward the house, Sybil
watching them still with that careless yet singular expression which
few men could look upon without emotion.

There was no one with the new-comer, except two or three of the men who
were employed by Yates and his friend about the place, more probably by
way of making a security of numbers than from any actual necessity that
existed for their services. These men passed toward another entrance,
while Yates and his companion ascended the steps of the veranda.

"Good evening, Mrs. Yates," the man called out.

She answered his greeting civilly enough, but without changing her
attitude, and began even whispering the pretty song, as if she found
something soothing in the simple words.

"You haven't had any supper, Tom?" Yates asked.

"None, and I am hungry as a wolf."

Yates went to the house door and called vigorously:

"Yuba! Yuba! you old fool, get supper ready at once."

When an answering cry assured him that his summons had been heard and
would receive attention, he brought from the hall a japan tray, upon
which were placed several bottles and glasses.

"You may as well wet your throat, Tom, while you're waiting for supper;
it's deuced warm to-night."

The man assented with a guttural laugh, the two seated themselves
near the table on which Yates had placed the waiter, and filled their
glasses, clashing them against each other.

"Will you have a little wine, Mrs. Yates?" asked the stranger. "I know
how you like it mixed."

But she declined the offer, leaned her head still lower upon the
railing, and looked away across the valley where the moonlight played,
far off in the very center of the flat, lying so unbroken and silvery
that it had the effect of a small lake hidden among the great trees and
luxuriant vines.

As the two men sat opposite each other, tilted back in their great
wicker-chairs, it was curious to notice the resemblance between them.
They might have been taken for twin brothers, yet it was one of those
accidental likenesses which one occasionally sees in all countries.
There was no tie of blood between them, or any reason for this look
of consanguinity. The chances of their reckless lives had thrown them
together, a similarity of tastes and a series of mutual benefits
preserved the intimacy which had sprung up among the rank weeds of
human life.

Dickinson had not the claims to manly beauty which Yates had once
possessed, yet his features bore the same type of countenance on a
larger, coarser scale; but in form or movement they were so much alike,
that when their backs were turned, it would have puzzled even a person
who knew them well to have told one from the other.

While they conversed, Sybil did not appear to listen, yet not a word
escaped her vigilant ear, and sometimes she turned her face partially,
and flashed toward them that strange look which so entirely changed the
expression of her countenance.

"But I haven't heard what kept you all this while up at the diggings,"
Yates was saying, as Sybil turned again toward the table. "I know you
haven't been at work--you're too lazy for that, and too wise; fools
work, and cute men, like you and I, catch gold easier."

Dickinson laughed, and pulled out an old wallet, rattled the coins
which it contained, and held up to view a shot-bag, apparently
containing a large quantity of gold dust.

"All from a quiet game under a clump of myrtle bushes," he said, with
another laugh.

"But that hasn't kept you all this time."

"No; I was over to Sancher's ranche. I knew there was nothing going on
here, and we are apt to get cross when it is stupid--eh, Mrs. Yates?"

"Did you speak?" she asked, as if suddenly aroused by his voice.

"I say Phil and I are not two angels for temper in dull times; do you
think so?"

"Oh, yes," she answered, good-naturedly enough; "fallen angels, you
know, twice degraded."

The men laughed heartily, and Dickinson gave her a glance of honest
admiration; she was evidently a woman for whom he felt sincere
respect--the sentiment which a dull rogue has for a clear-headed, acute
person whom he is willing to acknowledge as his superior.

"Ah, it's of no use to clash tongues with you," he said. "I learned
that a great while ago."

Sybil rose from her seat, and walked slowly down the veranda toward the
door, paused an instant, flung back some mocking speech in answer to
his words and Philip's laugh, and passed into the house.

"That's a wonderful woman!" exclaimed Dickinson, when she had
disappeared through the doorway. "I tell you what, Phil, there ain't
three men in California with a head-piece equal to that on her handsome
shoulders."

"She's well enough," replied Yates, carelessly; "it would be odd if she
hadn't learned a few things since the time she married me, and took to
life."

"You be blessed!" retorted Tom. "Her head is a deuced sight longer and
clearer than yours. I tell you, a keen woman like that is more than a
match for any man."

"She had better not try any thing of that sort with me!" exclaimed
Yates, sullenly.

"Nonsense; she doesn't want to! I never saw a woman more devoted to a
fellow, or so ready to help him along in every way. I tell you, I'm not
very fond of chains or ministers, but I'd get married in a legal way
to-morrow if I could find a female like her to yoke myself to."

"Wait till she's my widow, Tom," Yates replied, with a laugh. "Sybil's
well enough, but she'd play the deuce, like any woman, if she dared.
She knows better than to put on any airs with me. If another sort of
man owned her, he'd see stars!"

"Oh, you're cross as a bear to her--I'll say that for you; and you
never had any more feeling, Phil Yates--"

"There, Thomas, that will do. Drink before supper never did suit your
head--so just hush up!"

"Nonsense; don't let's have any of your confounded sneers. A fellow
can't speak without being treated to something of the sort, and I hate
it!"

He set his glass down on the table with an energy that made the bottles
dance; but Yates only laughed, and Dickinson soon smoked himself into a
state of reasonable tranquillity.

Thus much of their conversation Sybil paused in the hall to hear. She
lifted her hand and shook it menacingly toward her husband, while the
fire kindled and leaped in her blue eyes, rendering them ten times more
cruel and ferocious than anger can orbs of a darker color. But, after
that momentary spasm of anger, she passed on; and, as she walked slowly
back and forth through the silent rooms, the coldness and quiet came
back to her face.

"I've a bit of news, Phil," said Dickinson, after a few moments, "and
it is worth hearing."

"Tell it then, by all means."

"This isn't just the place. Who knows how many listeners we may have?"

"Fiddlesticks! The men are busy eating, and the women looking at them.
There's nobody to listen unless it be Sybil--"

"She never takes the trouble," interrupted Tom. "If we tell her a
thing, well and good; if not, she never bothers her head about the
matter."

"I believe that is true. But what is your news?"

Dickinson rose and walked toward the hall, to be certain that there was
no intruder within hearing; then he returned to the table and drew his
chair close to that of his friend.

"It's that which kept me up at the diggings," said he. "I wanted to
hear all I could."

"Well?"

"There's a chap over at Scouter's Point that's come on from San
Francisco to attend to some claims for Wilmurt's widow. He's sold out
her right, and he's got the stuff in his pocket--a good round sum it
is, too!"

"Yes," Yates said, quietly, holding his glass up to the moonlight, as
if admiring the color of the liquor.

"He is coming on with his guide and servant to our diggings on some
business; and there's several chaps who know him mean to take that
opportunity to send away a lot of nuggets and dust."

Yates set the glass down quickly, and leaned toward his friend.

"Does he touch these?"

He made a motion as if shuffling a pack of cards; but Dickinson shook
his head.

"Not a bit of use. I saw a fellow that knows him well. He's a New York
lawyer that came out here on some business, and took up this affair
just for the fun of the thing, and so as to have a chance to see the
diggings."

"Then what's the use of talking about it," exclaimed Yates, angrily,
"if he won't drink or play?"

"I don't know," said Tom, artfully. "I told you of it because I thought
you would like to hear. You are always complaining that we never have
any adventure, and that you might as well be promenading Broadway for
all the sport there is to be found."

Yates whistled an opera air, from beginning to end, in the most
elaborate manner. At the close he said:

"When will he be at the diggings?"

"Day after to-morrow, at the latest."

"This is Monday, isn't it?"

"Of course it is."

"I wasn't certain. One fairly loses the day of the week in this
confounded desert. Monday be it. On Wednesday he will reach the
diggings."

"Yes; he means to stay there a couple of days."

"On Saturday, then, he will pass through the valley."

"Exactly so, Philip. Your arithmetic is wonderful."

"No doubt of it. I may be professor in a college yet!"

"He will have to stop here all night, for he can't leave the diggings
before noon. Old Jones asked me if I thought you would keep him."

"What did you say?"

"That you didn't keep a tavern, and that your wife was mighty
particular. But if he was a gentleman, I didn't suppose either you or
she would send him on after dark."

"No," said Yates; "oh no!"

"There'll be a crowd in the valley," continued Dickinson. "There's more
gold been dug these last days than there has in months, and they'll
be down to the tents and over here to get rid of it, you may bet your
life."

"So be it," returned Yates. "They couldn't dispose of it to more worthy
people."

Then they laughed immoderately, as if the words had covered an
excellent jest. Before the conversation could be resumed, a dwarfish
old Indian woman, who was a miracle of ugliness, appeared at the door
and announced that their supper was waiting.

"Come in, Tom," said Yates, rising with the utmost alacrity. "I
couldn't eat any dinner for lack of company. You know Sybil picks like
a sparrow--and I shall be glad of something myself."

They passed into the house, and, at Dickinson's request, Sybil was
summoned to grace the board with her presence. She complied with her
customary obedience; but during the repast no allusion was made to the
stranger or the ambiguous conversation which had been held on the porch
a little while before.



CHAPTER V.

A SHORT RIDE AND A LONG WALK.


Two days passed without any event worthy of record. Every thing at the
ranche went on quietly enough, and a stranger happening there might
have believed it an orderly and well regulated family as any that could
be found in the State.

The two men held long conversations in private. Even Sybil was not
made acquainted with their cause; and although she was too acute not
to have perceived that there was a secret from which she was excluded,
she betrayed neither interest nor curiosity, evidently quite willing to
allow affairs to take their own course, and await the pleasure of her
husband and his confederate to hear a disclosure of the scheme which
they might be revolving in their minds.

On the third day the two made preparations to go up to the mines. Yates
owned a claim which he did not work himself, for labor was not a thing
he actually enjoyed, but he had hired men to work it, being able, even
in that rage for gold which had taken possession of all, to find men
who preferred secure daily wages to the uncertainty of working upon
their own account.

Yates was in the habit of making weekly visits to the place, so that
Sybil received the information of the departure as a matter of course,
and supper was prepared before sunset, that they might make their
journey during the cool of the evening.

The mules were brought out, and Sybil followed her husband and his
friend out on to the veranda to see them mount and ride away.

"You will have a beautiful night," she said. "The wind blows cool and
refreshing."

"You had better ride a little way with us, Mrs. Yates," said Dickinson.

"I would, but I have a headache," she answered, sweetly.

"Now, why can't you be honest and say you are glad to see us start?"
returned her husband.

"Because I never tell stories," she replied, with her pleasant laugh;
"I was always taught to consider it wicked."

"What heavenly principles!" sneered Yates. "I declare, Sybil, you are
too good for this world."

"Well," exclaimed Tom, "she's needed in it, anyhow! Smart, handsome
women are too scarce for her to be spared."

Sybil swept him a courtesy, and Yates laughed outright.

"Tom waxes gallant," said he. "You ought to be grateful, Syb, for his
compliments. He isn't given to flattering you women, I can tell you."

"I am very grateful," she replied, giving Tom one of her flashing
glances. "Admiration is as rare a thing in this region as Mr. Dickinson
considers bright women."

Tom was quite abashed; like many another bad man, he was never at ease
in the presence of a well-bred woman--and that Sybil was a lady no one
could have denied; it was perceptible in every word and movement.

Yates had to go through his usual routine of maledictions upon his
servants and mules; then he mounted his own particular beast, blew a
kiss to Sybil, and called out:

"Come, Tom, are you going to stand all night flirting with my wife, I
should like to know?"

"What abominable things you do say!" exclaimed Tom, coloring like a
girl, and making all haste to get on to his mule, by way of covering
his confusion.

"Oh, Mr. Dickinson," said Sybil, "I would not have believed you so
ungallant!"

"As how?" questioned Tom.

"You said that it was an abominable thing to admire me. Really, I am
astonished!"

"That wasn't what I meant," he replied. "But you know I never can say
what I want to, I'm such a stupid fool of a fellow--always was, among
women folks."

"There, Tom, that will do! You have got out of the scrape beautifully,"
said Yates, lending his friend's mule a cut with his black whip. "You
have danced attendance on the Graces long enough for one day."

The mule started off with Dickinson, at a sharp canter, and deprived
him of an opportunity to reply even if he had wished it. Yates gathered
up his reins, nodded to Sybil, and prepared to follow.

"When shall I expect you?" she asked.

"To-morrow night, at the furtherest. I only want to see how the men get
on."

"Good-by, then, till to-morrow."

He rode away, and Sybil stood watching them for some time; but her face
had lost the sweet expression which possessed so great a charm for
Dickinson.

"How long must this continue?" she muttered. "Will there never be an
end? Oh, Sybil--Sybil! what a weak, miserable fool you have been!
This is the end of your art and talent--a home in the wilderness, a
gambler's wife! But it shall change--oh! it shall change, I say!"

She clasped her hands hard over her heart, gave one other glance toward
the retreating riders, and entered the house. She went up to her own
room, and remained there a long time.

At length she rose and glanced out of the window. The sun had set,
and the twilight would have been gloomy and gray but for a faint
glory heralding the moon which had not yet appeared in sight over the
towering mountains.

"I must be gone!" she exclaimed. "I can not bear this any longer--I
should go crazy!"

She went to a chest of drawers that stood in a corner of the room,
unlocked them, and took out a small and richly mounted revolver--one
of those charming death trifles that Col. Colt has fashioned so
exquisitely. It was so elaborate in its workmanship, and so delicately
pretty, that it looked rather like a plaything than the dangerous
implement it really was. But, small and fanciful as it was, the weapon
would have been a dangerous instrument in the hands of that woman had
interest or self-preservation rendered it necessary for her to use it.

She loaded the several barrels with dexterity and quickness, which
betrayed a perfect knowledge of her task, locked the drawers again, and
hid the pistol in her pocket.

She put on a pretty gipsy hat, threw a mantle over her shoulders, and
went out of her room, locking the door behind her that any one who
chanced to try the door might suppose her occupied within. Down stairs
she stole with her quick, stealthy tread, passed through the hall,
and saw the men-servants at their supper in the kitchen, with the two
Indian women obediently attending to their wants.

She gave one glance, retraced her steps, hurried out of the front door,
and followed the path opposite that which her husband and his companion
had taken an hour before.

She was speedily concealed from the view of those within the house by
a thicket of almond-trees, and passed fearlessly and rapidly along
the path which she had trodden in many a long walk when the wretched
isolation of her life had become unendurable.

The night came on; the moon was up, giving forth a brilliant but fitful
light, for a great troop of clouds were sweeping through the sky and
at intervals obscured her beams completely, leaving only traces of
struggling light on the edges of the clouds.

The path was rugged and broken--a greater portion of the way led
through a heavy forest; but Sybil walked quickly on, disturbed by none
of the forest-sounds which might have terrified a less determined woman
from following out the end she had set her heart upon.

The wind sighed mournfully among the great trees over her head and
dashed the swaying vines against her face; but she resolutely pushed
them aside and forced for herself a passage. Lonely night-birds sent
forth their cries, so like human wails that they were fairly startling;
noisome reptiles, disturbed by her approach, slid away through the
gloom with venomous hisses; but still Sybil passed on, upright,
defiant, her hand clenching the weapon concealed in her dress with a
tight grasp, and her eyes flashing with the fearful enjoyment which
the scene produced upon her mind, to which excitement was necessary as
oxygen is to the air.

It would have been a singular study, the manner in which this woman's
determination overcame her physical cowardice when any cause for prompt
action was presented to her. Upon ordinary occasions nothing could
have induced her to enter that wood after nightfall; but, under the
influence of the insane desire which had been upon her for days, she
trod its recesses as untremblingly as the boldest pioneer who ever
crossed the Rocky Mountains could have done.

The greater portion of her way led along the bank of the stream, which
flowed in the woods after breaking through the heart of the valley and
forcing its way between the narrow of the mountains, that gave it an
unwilling egress. The waters rung pleasantly in the shadow, but Sybil
did not pause to listen, although her rare nature contained enough of
ideality to have led her away into many a romance, had she been thrown
among these picturesque shades when her mind was at rest.

It was a weary walk, but in her excitement Sybil thought little of the
fatigue. She reached the end of her journey, at length. It was the
ranche to which she had directed the party who came with that wounded
man to ask shelter of her. Sybil did not go directly to the house. At a
considerable distance from the dwelling was a rude hut where the family
of one of the workmen lived. Sybil knew the woman; she had once taken
a fancy to be very kind to a sick child of the poor creature, and that
favor had never been forgotten.

When Sybil knocked at the door, a querulous voice bade her enter, and
she went into the miserable abode. The woman was nursing her baby, and
two older children sat crouching at her feet, munching black crusts of
bread with the sharp appetite which follows a long fast. The room was
so bare that it could hardly be called untidy; but the appearance of
the female and her children was famished and miserable enough.

She started up--a haggard, raw-boned creature--with a cry at the sight
of her visitor, exclaiming:

"Mrs. Yates!"

"Hush!" said Sybil, motioning her back. "I want to ask you a few
questions, about which you are to say nothing to any living soul."

"I will," replied the woman. "You were good to my boy. I don't forget
that."

Sybil waved that claim to consideration carelessly aside, and went on:

"There was a party of strangers at the house one night last week?"

"Yes," said the woman; "I was up at the ranche when they come in; they
had been to your place, and said you wouldn't let them stop. I didn't
believe it."

"Go on," said Sybil, breathlessly; she had waited for nearly a week to
gain information--waited with the patience which was one of her most
remarkable characteristics; but now that the moment was at hand, she
could hardly give the woman time to speak.

"One of the gentlemen had a hurt--"

"Was the doctor here?"

"Yes; it wasn't nothing but a sprain."

"You are certain?"

"Sartin of it, ma'am. They staid here that night and the next; he was
quite well by that time, and then they went on--that's all I know about
them; I wish it was more, if it could oblige you."

"That is enough," said Sybil.

She appeared satisfied; she had walked five miles through the forest to
obtain those meager crumbs of information--braved dangers from which
even a man might have shrunk; but in that lonely, miserable life of
hers, it was something even to have gained those brief tidings.

A few more questions she asked: how the gentleman looked; if he had
quite recovered; if the woman had heard him speak.

"Pretty much, ma'am, and he seemed as full of fun as a boy; I guess he
didn't mind. Oh, them that's rich can afford to be funny, and folks say
he's got a mighty heap of gold."

Sybil made no answer to the woman's remark, but sat for a time in
silence, looking straight before her after her old fashion.

"I wish I could give you a bite to eat or drink," said the woman, "but
we hain't got a living thing."

Sybil roused herself at once.

"I am in want of nothing," she said; "I must go home now."

"Dear me, you ain't rested; it's a hard ride."

Sybil did not inform her that she had come alone and on foot. She
placed some money in the woman's hand, and said kindly, but with
emphasis:

"You need not say that I have been here."

"Nobody'll ask," replied the woman; "if they did, it wouldn't do no
good--I hain't forgot! Oh, ma'am, I ain't a good woman; I'm a poor,
ignorant, bad-tempered critter, that Joe often says would be better off
in my grave; but God bless you, that can't do you no harm, forlorn as I
be. God bless you, ma'am!"

Sybil hurried away to escape the wound these words gave her. Her better
feelings were aroused, and somehow that simple, uncouth benediction
jarred upon her ear; it made her more nervous than she had been while
threading her way through the lonely woods, and she hastened out into
the night once more.

A change had passed over the sky; great masses of heavy clouds were
piled up against the horizon and scattered over the heavens, through
which the moon rushed in frightened haste. The wind had fallen, and an
oppressive sultriness superseded the cool of the woods which had been
so apparent a few hours before. Once or twice distant peals of thunder
rolled afar off, and the jagged edges of the precipice of clouds were
colored with blue lightning.

Sybil struck into the path and took her way homeward. The feeling which
supported her had in a measure subsided, and the fears natural to a
place and scene like that began to force themselves on her imagination.

Since the day that Laurence and his party stopped at her house, she had
been half mad to learn if his injury had proved of little consequence,
and if he had been enabled to pursue his journey. There was no one at
the ranche whom she dared to trust; for well she knew, although he
had not again alluded to the subject, that her husband was watching
every movement, and that the slightest show of anxiety on her part
would be followed by a repetition of cruelties that since her marriage
and removal to that wild place had been of frequent occurrence. She
was afraid of this now, and fear took its usual result, craft and
concealment. She had borne her fears and suffering in silence up to
this time; but when Yates left home, so keen was her anxiety that she
could not have lived another hour without starting forth to obtain such
information as could be gathered; had the distance been quadrupled
she would have undertaken the journey, for in that mood no danger or
fatigue could have deterred her.

Long before Sybil reached the edge of the forest the clouds had
gathered force, and swept up to the very zenith; suddenly the moon
plunged down behind them, and the woods were buried in darkness. The
thunder pealed out again, rolling and booming through the heavens
like parks of artillery; terrible flashes of lightning ran like fiery
serpents through the clouds, and made every object fearfully distinct.
Every shrub and tree took spectral shapes. The path seemed to lose
itself in dizzy windings, and Sybil could only cover her face with both
hands and rush blindly on, terrified but still courageous.

Great drops of rain began to fall; the thunder increased in violence,
and the lightning flashes succeeded each other in such rapid succession
that the whole forest was wrapped in flame. Still Sybil hurried on,
panting for breath, half crazed with fear, and keeping the path more
from instinct than any thought or power of reason.

The storm grew stronger, gathered its mighty powers among the gorges,
and surged up into one of those fearful tempests which desolate
mountain regions so suddenly. The wind howled through the forest, the
thunder pealed and broke directly overhead, and renewed lightning
leaped and blazed before her very eyes till she was blinded and
stunned. There was no hope of shelter; the thickets which lined the
path might conceal wild beasts, frightened into seeking refuge within
their depths, but to her they threatened death; she could only totter
on, feeling her strength fail with every gust of the storm beat against
her. Many times her feet struck against fragments of broken rocks, or
became entangled in the rank vines, which brought her heavily to the
ground, tearing her garments and bruising her limbs; but in her fright
and anguish she did not heed the pain, and, catching at the branches
for support, would stagger to her feet again, and plunge on through the
darkness, growing more and more desperate each moment. Her drenched
garments clung about her form like a shroud--the cold touch made her
shudder; and when, in a sudden pause of the tempest, a great owl rushed
past her with his ill-omened cry, her senses almost forsook her in the
fright. She heard the cracking of branches, the thunder of giant trees,
as they came crashing to the earth, and their mangled boughs fell close
to her as she tottered on. Long briars, blown out into the road, tore
her face and pierced her arms; she shrieked with fear as she forced
herself away from their clutches, that were like the talons of wild
animals tearing at her life.

The tempest was of short duration; suddenly as it had sprung up the
wind died in the depths of the forest; the rain ceased; the black wall
of clouds tottered and crumbled against the horizon, breaking away like
mountains in a dream.

As Sybil left the wood, the moon soared up again from the prison of
clouds where it had been confined, and the night grew serene and quiet,
as if no blast had swept through it.

Feeble, weary and faint, Sybil toiled on until she reached her home.
The lights were out, the doors fastened, but she had means of entrance,
and made her way up to her chamber so stealthily that even the great
dogs who bayed and kept watch upon the veranda were not disturbed by
her tread.

Once in her room, and feeling that she was safe, the desperation that
had nerved her gave way, and she fell a dead weight upon the floor.
She had not fainted, but it was a long time before she could find
strength to rise; her limbs were stiffened--her very heart was chilled.
She could only lie there, staring out at the moon, while her troubled
senses heard still the roar of the tempest, and dismal shapes came out
of the gloom to torture her more sorely than the storm had done--cold
specters from the past that refused to lie quiet in their graves;
painful memories, blighted hopes--every sight and sound from which her
tortured soul strove to escape but had no power--she could only look
through her strained, glaring eyes, and watch the pale procession in
its course.

She shook off the weakness and that terrible fear, at last; struggled
to her feet, threw off her drenched garments, and crept into bed
chilled and trembling, only to renew in sleep the mournful images from
which she had tried to escape during her waking hours.



CHAPTER VI.

THE WELCOME THAT AWAITS RALPH HINCHLEY.


On the appointed day, Yates and his companion returned home. Sybil went
down to meet them as calm and smiling as though the season of their
absence had been fraught with no incident of interest, or no terrible
conflict had shaken her whole soul to its center. True, very little had
happened in acts; but the greatest changes of life occur when all is
still. Supper was over, and Sybil had gone up to her room, leaving the
two men smoking upon the veranda. There was a low, eager conversation
between them after her departure. At length Dickinson raised his voice:

"You had better go now and talk to her."

"Oh, these women," muttered Yates; "there's no telling how she may take
any thing."

"She'll take it as you would," replied Dickinson. "Be careful how you
tell your story--don't frighten her at first. Why, you may bring a
woman to any thing if you don't upset her nerves at the start."

"You are wonderfully wise," mused Yates.

Tom did not seem inclined to provoke a discussion, and after a little
hesitation Yates went into the house and mounted the stairs.

He entered Sybil's chamber abruptly, and found her, as usual, seated in
a low chair by the window.

"I want to talk to you a little," he said, "and I expect you to act
like a sensible woman."

"Let me hear," she answered.

"It's a short story," said he, bluntly. "To-morrow night, then, a man
will stop here loaded with money and dust enough to make us all rich
for the rest of our lives."

"Well?" The red lips lost their color, and shut hard together; that
cruel light shot into the blue eyes.

"It isn't well," retorted Yates, angrily. "He won't drink, and he
won't gamble; so what's to be done? Tom talks about taking the fellow
in hand."

"No, no," interrupted Sybil, putting up her hands as if to shut out
some horrible object. "I have not forgotten San Francisco--don't talk
of it, Philip."

"I knew that would be the way!" he exclaimed. "I was a fool to tell you
of it. No woman can be trusted when it comes to the pinch; but that
goose, Tom, said you would take it kindly, and be the first to hit on
some plan that would settle every thing."

"I will help you as I always have," she said, trembling violently; "but
not that--oh! heavens, no."

"There, there, you foolish child!" he replied, not ill-naturedly. "That
wasn't your fault or mine; the men got to quarreling in the house, and
we killed the other--"

"But it was so terrible; that dying man's face has haunted me ever
since--I can see his eyes glaring, and hear his breath struggling and
gurgling yet--see him clutching and tearing at the bed--"

"Don't, for God's sake!" he exclaimed, catching hold of her; "you'll
drive a man mad!"

She had risen from her seat, and was pointing wildly at the floor as
she spoke, but his voice seemed to recall her to herself. She sunk back
into her chair panting for breath, while Yates vainly endeavored to
conceal his own discomposure.

"You will go crazy in one of these abominable fits," he said, brushing
his hand across his forehead, and sweeping the great drops of
perspiration away.

"Then don't bring such memories back," she shuddered.

After all, the woman was the first to regain her usual manner, while
Yates walked slowly up and down the room, his mind divided between
the recollections her words had aroused and the plans which had been
arranged during the past days.

"So we must give it up," he said, at length, "and all for your
confounded folly."

"Do you call it folly?" cried Sybil, with a miserable specter of a
laugh.

"Yes, I do! There is one thing certain; your obstinacy and cowardice
will lengthen your stay here by ten good years."

"I am not a coward--"

"Call yourself what you please! I say, before we can afford to leave
this place, the youth will be gone out of your face, the brightning
from your eyes--you'll be an old woman, Sybil."

She did not appear moved by his threats, and, as was customary with him
when thwarted, he began to pass into a violent rage. She did not answer
the harsh words and maledictions which he heaped upon her; but once,
when he made a movement as if to give her a blow, as had often happened
before, she turned upon him with something in her face from which he
shrunk in spite of himself.

"Don't do that!" she exclaimed, in an awful whisper; "I warn you never
to attempt that again!"

The victory was more nearly won to her than it had been for many a day.
Yates dropped his hand and turned to go out.

"Well, let every thing slide," he said; "this comes of trusting a woman
with secrets! I must sit in my chair and see sixty thousand dollars
good slip out of my hands, and Ralph Hinchley go by without lifting a
finger."

Sybil sprung forward and clutched his arm; the face she bent toward him
was like that of a corpse.

"Speak that name again," she whispered; "speak it."

"Ralph Hinchley," he repeated, pushing her aside with a feeling like
absolute fear. "Confound you, what do you look like that for?"

Sybil still held him fast, and her voice rung out hollow and unnatural:

"Why, if you murder him, I will avenge it; so God help us both!"

"What is he to you? Do you know him?"

She forced back the whirlwind of passion, and stood up, cold and white.

"I never saw him," she replied; "but if you wish his money, I shall not
stand between you and him; his life you shall not take."

"Are you in earnest?"

She answered him with a look.

"But we have not settled on that; I propose to follow him--"

"Fools!" exclaimed Sybil. "To-morrow night the house and the valley
will be full of mad and drunken men. There may be half a dozen
robberies--will one more make any great difference?"

"What a woman you are!" exclaimed Yates, with that sort of admiring
dread with which a bad man watches a superior in coldness and courage.
"It will be impossible to say who did it! What a mind you have when it
works in earnest."

"There will be a score of people here wanting lodgings to-morrow night;
surely, your way is clear."

She waved him impatiently off when he would have pursued the subject.

"Go down stairs," she said; "I am tired of this. I am coming in a
moment."

He went out. She stood still in the gloom, while that terrible look of
ferocity came back to her face.

"Either of them, or both," she muttered; "I don't care! Hinchley is
Margaret's cousin--Sybil Yates will save him; but not till they have
gone far enough to prove the attempt. Then let them arrest Philip if
they will--oh! I am sick of this life, and do so loathe him."

She swept out of the room, cold and stern as a Nemesis, descending to
the presence of those men who sat together whispering of things which
they dared not speak aloud. They had excited themselves with drink; but
Sybil was not afraid to look the reality in the face--her resolve was
taken, she would not falter. If she reasoned with her conscience it was
thus: "The plan is not mine--I could not help it. These men are false
and desperate; I can guide but not defeat them. When it is done--oh,
how my heart beats; its chains are falling off. His petty sins shall
bind me here no longer."



CHAPTER VII.

ARRIVAL OF THE GUEST.


It was Saturday evening; the moon rose upon a scene which utterly
changed the whole aspect of the ranche.

Since early in the afternoon the road from the mines had been filled
with men, who poured down into the valley to seek relaxation after
their week's successful toil, and relieve themselves, perhaps, of every
ounce of the yellow dust which they had labored so hard to gain.

About the tents and cabins were grouped scores of men from every nation
of the civilized world. Long tables had been set out in the open air,
covered with such food as the owners of the huts could procure; barrels
of liquor were standing under the trees, ready broached, and moist at
the tap from frequent applications.

A great fire had been kindled near the cabins, at which quarters of
beef, joints of venison, and groups of wild game were roasting with
a slow success that filled the air with appetizing odors. In fact,
the whole valley took the appearance of a political barbecue or gipsy
encampment. The miners, in the slouched hats, red shirts, and muddy
boots, gave picturesque effect to the scene which a philosopher would
have condemned and an artist forgiven at the first glance.

The ranche had its full share of visitors; food and drink were
bountifully provided. Yates and Dickinson moved about among the men,
excited by liquor and evil passions, and urging them on to every
species of excess, like fiends seeking to drag down humanity to their
own base level.

Secure in her chamber, Sybil listened to the tumult and smiled quietly.
She really had something in common with Lucretia Borgia besides the
golden tint in her hair. She was neither shocked nor afraid; but had
grown so accustomed to such scenes that they no longer had any power to
affect her.

She was sitting by her window, and looking toward the path which led
from the mountains, so absorbed in thought that she scarcely heard the
shouts and hideous din which ascended from below.

At last she beheld two men on horseback coming down the declivity,
preceded by a guide. No trace of exultation lit up her features; the
face grew more hard and stern; the peculiar look which gave such age to
her countenance settled over its whiteness--that was all. She clenched
her hands on the window-sill, and watched their approach.

"Margaret's cousin," she whispered, once; "well, hereafter in my dreams
I shall be worthy her thanks--she was fond of him--shedding tears--yes,
yes, it is my turn now!"

The men rode slowly on, and as they reached the foot of the mountain,
and the demoniac scene, lighted by the moon and the glare of the
camp-fires, burst upon them, they simultaneously checked their horses,
and looked at each other in horrified astonishment.

"Great heavens, what a sight!" exclaimed Hinchley.

"It's like going down into purgatory," muttered the domestic. "Shall we
have to spend the night here, Mr. Hinchley?"

"You can't do no better," interrupted the guide; "it's the same thing
clear to Wilson's ranche. You'll do well enough at Phil Yates's; he
promised you rooms and beds to yourselves--you'd best come on."

The guide looked eagerly about as he spoke, his savage nature in a
state of pleasurable excitement, and anxious to join the desperate
crowds that were scattered through the valley.

"I wish we had stopped at the diggings," Hinchley said.

The guide had stepped away from them, and they conversed for a few
seconds in private.

"Luckily, nobody knows we've got the money and dust with us," said the
man.

"That is true. I dare say we are quite as safe in this crowd as we
should be alone with the people that live at Wilson's house. You must
keep a good look-out all night, Martin; I will see that our rooms are
close together. If we are assailed we must do our best."

There was no time for further conversation; the guide summoned them
impatiently, and they rode on toward the ranche, passing several
camp-fires about which were grouped evil-looking men drinking and
gambling, some upon the ground, some upon the newly-made stumps from
which the forest-trees had been cut.

Nobody paid much attention to them, and they passed on up to the house,
where Yates received them with a rough courtesy which was in a measure
reassuring, compared with the appearance of the crowds they had seen.

"You have hit on a bad night," he said, as he conducted them into the
house; "but I will give you rooms up stairs--you will be quiet enough
there."

"Show us to them at once," said Hinchley; "I am fairly sick with this
disgusting scene."

"I used to feel so," returned Yates; "but a man gets accustomed to any
thing in these regions."

He led them through the hall and up the stairs, the servant carrying
the saddle-bags and packages. They were shown into a comfortable room,
which, in comparison with the scene they had left, appeared like a
palace.

"You will do very well here," said Yates. "That next room is for your
man. I'll have some supper sent up to you. I don't keep a tavern, nay
how, but those rascals below would tear my house down about my ears if
I refused them admittance. It's nothing when you are acquainted with
California life."

"I'm blessed if I don't hope my acquaintance'll be a short one,"
muttered Martin.

Yates laughed as he left the room, and Hinchley threw himself into a
chair, wearied with many days' privation and hard riding.

"I guess we're safe enough here," said Martin.

"Oh, yes; I apprehend no danger at all."

While they waited for their supper, and listened to the horrible din
below, Yates went on to the room where Sybil was seated.

"They have come," he whispered, going close to where she sat.

"I know it," she replied, quietly.

"You don't feel afraid, Sybil? You won't draw back?"

"I?" she laughed, in her scornful way.

"Stop that noise!" exclaimed Yates, with a menacing gesture; "you laugh
like a ghost."

Mad as he was with liquor and evil passions, there was something so
unnatural in that sound that it half sobered him.

While they stood eyeing each other, the door opened, and Dickinson
reeled into the room.

"Come down stairs, Phil," he said; "there'll have to be another barrel
of whisky got out."

"You are drunk," said the other.

"A man needs to be," he shivered. "Good heavens, Mrs. Yates, how you
look!"

"Never mind that," she answered. "Go, both of you, and do your best to
keep that crowd of demons occupied."

"They are mighty good-natured with us," said Tom. "That idea of yours,
Sybil, of giving them the liquor, has set us up wonderfully; hark!
they're cheering Phil now."

Sybil flung up the window, and leaned over the sill, as shout after
shout arose like the yelling of fiends.

Dickinson pulled her hastily back.

"Don't let them see you--no woman would be safe! I have told everybody
you had gone down to Featherstone's."

"No, keep yourself close, Sybil," said Yates.

"Do not fear for me; go down stairs, both of you. I want to be alone."

"What time do you think--"

It was Dickinson who began to speak; she checked the broken utterance
with a look.

"At the time I appointed; half past one."

She looked from one to the other, but neither of those hardened men had
the nerve to meet her eyes. They shrunk out of the room in silence,
without another word being spoken, and once more Sybil was alone.

The riot and confusion increased. Men rushed about like demons,
singing, shouting, and clashing their cups together. The veranda and
grass in front were covered with poor wretches, who had fallen there
in their intoxication, and were recklessly trampled upon by their
companions. Yells and shrieks went up, shot after shot was fired,
knives gleamed in the starlight, more than one fierce contest occurred,
but through it all that woman sat at her window and waited, appalled
neither by the horror of the scene, nor the fearful thoughts which
surged through her soul.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE GAMBLER'S FATE.


It was long past midnight, and something of quiet had stolen over the
valley; yet that very stillness, taken in connection with the scene,
was more impressive than the riot and tumult had been.

The lower rooms of Yates's dwelling were in a state of confusion
beyond description. Glasses, dishes and broken food had been swept to
the floor to give place to cards and dice, which began the instant
the wolf-like appetites of the men had been satisfied. The floor was
covered with broken bottles and saturated with liquor and costly wines;
here and there darker stains gleamed in the moonlight, betraying where
some deadly fray had ended just short of murder. Men lay stretched upon
the tables in heavy slumber, huddled among the chairs and under the
benches, either asleep or so deeply intoxicated as to be unconscious
of their degradation. Here and there scattered gold shone out from the
stains and pools of wine, and a few wretches groped about picking up
stray nuggets or scraping together the saturated gold-dust and hiding
it in their garments.

In some of the rooms groups of men were still busy over the cards, but
even these had relapsed into quiet; nothing was heard but the rattle of
the dice or an occasional oath from the lips of some ruined gambler.

Out of doors the scene was still different. The whole length of the
valley could be commanded in one view--the smouldering camp-fires;
men lying stretched upon the trampled grass; poor wretches, wounded
in the quarrels, who had dragged themselves under the shadow of the
great trees to bind up their wounds or seek the slumber of exhaustion
and spent passions. Over all shone the moon, pouring down a cloud
of silvery radiance upon the repulsive scene, and rendering it more
horrible from the pure contrast.

At one of the card-tables Yates was still seated, while Dickinson
hovered about, unable to remain quiet for a moment, and, in spite of
his partial intoxication, haggard and pale at the recollection of the
deed yet to be performed.

A meaning glance from Yates sent him out of the room. Very soon his
confederate flung down the cards, and, relinquishing his place to some
other sleepless desperado, made his way among the forms huddled upon
the floor, and passed into the hall.

No one was watching; the stillness deepened each instant. Up the stairs
passed the two men, and entered the room where Sybil awaited them.

Few words passed among them, but the woman was much less shaken than
either of those bold men. They stood for a short time conversing in
broken whispers; then Yates turned quickly aside, moved to the end
of the room where a tall wardrobe was placed. A single touch upon a
secret spring, and the heavy piece of furniture swung noiselessly out,
affording admittance to the chamber beyond.

Ralph Hinchley started from a troubled dream to feel a strange
oppression upon his chest--a sweet, sickening odor pervading the
atmosphere--and to see through the open door Martin lying upon the bed
with a man bending over him and pressing a napkin close against his
face.

He started up in bed, unable to realize whether it was real or only
another wild vision. A blow from an unseen hand dashed him back upon
the pillow; but as he fell, with a smothered cry, he saw a white face
bending over him, and in the doorway a woman enveloped in a mantle,
which concealed her features and most of her person, uttering cries for
help.

He started up again with frantic violence, shrieking out his servant's
name:

"Martin! Martin!"

He heard a cry from the woman:

"Help! help!"

Then his assailant sprung upon him. Hinchley grappled him with all the
fury of desperation, and the two rolled over and over in deadly strife.
The man who had kept guard by the servant's bed escaped at the first
tumult; but those two men continued that fearful conflict. Hinchley
was a brave man; the belief that his life was at stake gave him the
strength of a tiger. He shrieked for help in a voice which rung through
the house and roused even the intoxicated sleepers below.

There was a sound in the halls of eager voices and rapid feet.
Hinchley's assailant tried to dash him to the floor and escape; but
those long, slender arms seemed made of iron, and held him pinioned.

At that moment the servant woke from the stupor, which had only taken a
partial effect upon his senses, and sprung up with a mad cry.

"Help, Martin, help!" shrieked Hinchley, feeling his strength begin to
fail. "Come, I say!"

Half stupefied as he was, the man comprehended his master's danger,
rushed upon their foe, and hurled him back upon the floor just as he
succeeded in escaping from Hinchley's hold.

This instant the door was broken open, and a crowd of infuriated men
rushed into the chamber, roused by those shrieks for aid.

A few quick words explained the whole affair. The troop pushed Hinchley
and his servant back, seized the man and dragged him toward the window.
The moonlight fell broadly on his terror-stricken face.

"It's Phil Yates!" exclaimed a score of voices.

The wretch had ceased to struggle; he felt that his doom was sealed,
and lay panting and passive in their clutches.

"This accounts for his good-nature," resounded on all sides. "This
explains the general treat. He meant to stupefy us and then shirk the
murder on some one."

"Where's Tom?" called one of the number.

A rush was made through the rooms, but the confederate had escaped.

"At least we will serve this fellow out!" cried a hoarse voice.

"Ay! ay!" they shouted, "down stairs with him! There's a blasted pine
back of the house--just the thing!"

They gathered about the shuddering man like wild beasts scenting their
prey. Hinchley in vain attempted to speak a word which might gain the
miserable man a reprieve. They pushed him rudely aside, dragged their
victim down the stairs and out upon the veranda, the throng parting
right and left, allowing those who held him free passage.

In an instant the whole valley seemed aroused, and hundreds of fierce
faces glared on the hapless creature as he hung powerless over the
shoulders of his captors.

There was a hurried consultation among those nearest the criminal;
terrible words broke from their lips which were echoed in husky
whispers by the whole crowd.

"Hang him! hang him!"

Again the crowd parted, and four stalwart men dragged the half
insensible creature round a corner of the house and moved toward a
shivered pine-tree that stretched out its blasted limbs between the
dwelling and the precipice.

"We want a rope," some one said.

A man rushed out of the house, carrying a long crimson scarf, which he
fluttered over the heads of the crowd.

"This will do famously!" he called. "It belonged to his wife--she was
huddling it over her face."

"Where is the woman?" they yelled. "Let's exterminate every snake in
the nest!"

"She isn't on hand--twisted herself out of my hold like a cat, dashed
off to the precipice, and the last I saw of her she was dragging
herself up by the bushes."

"Dickinson is gone, too."

"No matter; we have this one safe. Gracious, how limpsy he is!"

"Make short work of it, then, before he shows fight."

"Never fear!" shouted one of his captors. "Say a prayer, you villain;
it's your last chance."

The hapless wretch only moaned; fear had drawn him beyond the power of
speech. Closer gathered the crowd--he felt their breath hot upon his
cheek; hundreds of fierce eyes glared into his own; innumerable voices
roared out his death-sentence. It was a terrible scene.

They seized the scarf and twisted it fiercely about his neck; scores
of ruthless hands forced him toward the skeleton tree; the shouts and
execrations grew more fiendish, and over all the sinking moon shed her
last pale luster, lighting up that work of horror.

The man had spoken truly. Sybil Yates had fled to the hill. With the
first cries of Hinchley, she had attempted to escape from the principal
entrance. But the valley was sprinkled with camp-fires which must
betray her. In front of the house, lanterns swung from the knotted
cedar-posts, and cast their unsteady light on a crowd of fierce men
swarming toward the cries that still rung through the dwelling. One of
these men saw her, and, leaping up the stairs, tore the scarf from her
head, bringing a flood of hair down with it. She wrenched herself from
the grasp he fastened on her arm, plunged down a back staircase, and,
darting by the blasted pine, made for the precipice.

The face of this rocky wall was torn apart near the base, and the
fissure, which slanted across the face of the precipice, choked up with
myrtle-bushes, grape-vines and trees, stinted in their growth from
want of soil; but it was deep enough to hide that poor human creature
flying for her life. She ran toward the broken line which betrayed the
fissure, and, crushing through the sweet myrtle-bushes, fastened her
foot in a coil of vines, and crept upward with that scared face turned
over her shoulder, unable to tear her eyes from the crowd of men that
came sweeping round the house and surged up to that gaunt pine-tree.

They carried lanterns, and torches of burning pine, throwing a red
light all around and illuminating the very foot of the precipice.
Sybil crowded herself back into the fissure and dragged the vines over
her. Then, shuddering till the foliage trembled around her, she looked
through it, ghastly with fear but fascinated still. There was the man
who had been her fate, the cruel tyrant whose breath had made her
tremble an hour ago, lying across the shoulders of his late friends,
already half lifeless, yet shrieking faintly from dread of the death to
which they were lighting him.

The woman was seized with dizzy terror. The lights flowed before her
eyes in a river of fire. The specters of a thousand gaunt old trees
danced through it, and among them swung a human form to and fro, to
and fro, as it would sway through her memory forever and ever. She was
pressed against the rock, her foot tangled in the coiling vines, her
hands clenched hard among the tender shrubs--but for that she must have
fallen headlong to the broken rocks beneath.

All at once the tumult ceased; a frightful stillness came over that
dark crowd; men shrunk away from its outskirts into the darkness,
frightened by their own demon work. She clung to the vines, and looked
down dizzily; a feeling of horrible relief came over her. She turned
her face to the rock, and held her breath, listening, as if his voice
could still reach her.

It was near morning before the crowd around that tree dispersed. Then
she crept feebly down the rocky fissure, and stood trembling on the
trampled grass. One glance upon the pine, and she turned away, sick at
heart. A fragment of her own red scarf fluttered there--and--and--

Shutting her eyes close, Sybil staggered on toward the house, entered
the back-door, and descended the cellar-stairs. She took a lamp and
some matches from a niche in the wall, and passed on into the cellar.
She had been there once before within the last forty-eight hours, and
every thing necessary for her flight was prepared.

Connected with the cellars was a small natural cave, which had been
used as a place to keep liquor-casks. Sybil and her husband alone knew
of the real use to which this place was put.

Only a few moments after, Sybil stood in that cave so metamorphosed
that she might have passed unquestioned, even by her best friend.

She was attired in the dress of a Spanish sailor, her delicate skin
dyed of a rich, dark brown, her golden hair concealed under a slouched
hat, beneath which were visible short, thick curls of raven hair.

There was still other work to be done. Carefully shading her lamp from
the draught of air, the woman moved toward a corner of the vault,
pulled away several heavy casks, which it would have seemed beyond her
power to lift, raised one of the flat stones with which a portion of
the vault had been paved, and disclosed the lid of an iron chest.

She unlocked it, flung up the top lid, and the lamplight struck upon a
quantity of gold-dust and money which had been concealed there.

Yates had collected that store without the knowledge of his
confederates; even Sybil had discovered his secret by accident.

"Oh!" she muttered, impatiently, "there is a fortune here. I can not
carry it. No matter, it is safe--only let me escape this spot. Some
other time. It can not be found. Some other time."

She took out as many pieces of gold as she could manage to bestow about
her person without encumbering her flight; but even in her distress and
danger, her judgment and reason were capable of action. It was better
to leave the money in safety, and return for it at some future time,
than to overload herself so much that her flight would be impeded. She
might become so weary of the weight as to be forced to fling it aside.
Thus the woman reasoned only a few hours after that death scene.

She closed the chest, locked it and replaced the stones, piled the
empty boxes in their former position, and crept away. She extinguished
the little lamp, flung it into a dark corner of the cellar, and bent
her steps toward the opening, which was so overgrown with weeds that it
was entirely hidden.

She managed to raise herself along the broken wall, and forced her way
through the narrow aperture into the open air. Her face and hands were
bleeding from the wounds she had received against the sharp stones, but
she felt no pain.

She was completely hidden from the view of all those about the house by
a dense thicket of cactus and flowery shrubs, which formed a thick wall
for a considerable distance. Her pony was tied to a tree where she had
herself stationed him early in the evening. For the first time a look
of exultation shot into her face--she was safe now!

Before mounting her horse, she crept along the edge of the thicket to a
spot from whence she could command a view of the house.

The crowd was still rushing wildly about--she could hear their murmurs
and execrations. The moon had set, but the cold dawn cast a gray light
over the landscape.

Sybil turned her eyes toward the dwelling. She saw the pine-tree--that
one projecting branch from which a fragment of the silk scarf fluttered
yet.

After that momentary glance she started up, mounted her pony, and rode
rapidly away through the forest.

So the day broke, still and calm. The first glow of the sun tinged the
mountain tops, leaving the valley still in deep shadow. The excited
throngs moved restlessly about, and at length group after group started
away from the house, anxious to escape the sickening sight which met
their eyes; now that their fury was satiated, they turned in dread away.

The sun mounted higher in the heavens, shot dazzlingly against the
sides of the mountains, colored the noisy torrent, and played softly
about the old house.

Not a living thing was in sight. The sun played over the grass, rustled
the vines, and there, in the silence and amid the shadows, hung that
still form, swayed slowly to and fro by the light breeze that struck
the branches.

An hour passed, but there was no change!

Afar through the forest rode the fearless woman, seeking a place of
shelter. The last fetter which had bound her to that horrible life was
severed. Across the dark sea she could seek a new home, and make for
herself another existence, untroubled by a single echo from the past.



CHAPTER IX.

A CANTER AND A FALL.


It was a lofty, well-lighted apartment, fitted up with book-cases,
yet, from its general arrangement, evidently occupied as much for a
sitting-room as a library.

The easy-chairs were pushed into commodious corners, the reading table,
in the center of the floor, was covered with newspapers and pamphlets;
but they had been partially moved aside to afford place to a tiny
work-basket, an unstrung guitar with a handful of flowers scattered
over it, and various other trifles--all giving token of a female
presence and occupations, which alone can lend to an apartment like
this a pleasant, home-like appearance.

It was near sunset; two of the windows of the library looked toward the
west, and a rich glow stole through the parted curtains, from the mass
of gorgeous clouds piling themselves rapidly up against the horizon.

But at the further end of the room, the shadows lay heavy and dark, and
two statues gleamed out amid the gloom, like ghosts frightened away
from the sunlight.

In that dimness a woman walked slowly to and fro, her hands linked
loosely together, her dress rustling faintly against the carpet, and
her every movement betraying some deep and engrossing thought.

For a full half-hour she had indulged in that revery, all the while
moving slowly up and down, the fixed resolution of her face growing
harder, and her eyes turned resolutely toward the shadows, as if there
was something in the cheerful radiance at the other end of the room
which caused her pain or annoyance.

In that dim light, the countenance had an expression from which one
entering unperceived would have shrunk instinctively; yet a portrait of
the face, painted as it appeared among the shadows, would hardly have
been recognized by those daily accustomed to a view of the features.

Perhaps it was the gloom around which gave the face that look--cold,
hard, unrelenting force--and lent the eyes that subtle, dangerous gleam.

Some noise from without disturbed her reflections; she dropped her arms
to her side, and passed quietly toward the middle of the room. As she
stood for an instant by the table, the rosy light of the approaching
sunset played full upon her face; it scarcely seemed possible it could
be the one which looked so dark and cruel among the shadows only a
moment before.

An erect, well-proportioned figure, rather below the medium height,
yet so graceful and elegant that at the first glance one would have
pronounced her tall. She was still quite young, out of her teens
possibly, but no one would have judged her twenty-one--in the twilight
her face had appeared ten years older at least.

The features were finely cut, the lips a trifle too thin, perhaps, but
the complexion was wonderfully delicate; rich masses of light brown
hair, which in the sunlight took a golden tinge, were brushed in wavy
folds back from the smooth, low forehead, underneath which the gray
eyes looked out as calm and cold as though deep emotion had never
brought shadows or tears into their depths.

It would have been a very acute observer that could have read that
pale, secretive face. One might have lived years in daily intercourse
with her, and never believed her any thing but a quiet person, yielding
herself good-naturedly to the plans or amusements of others, and
finding sufficient content therein.

While she stood by the table, the tramp of horses sounded upon the
gravel sweep without; she moved to the window, and remained watching
the groom as he led a couple of saddle-horses up and down before the
side-entrance of the house.

Very soon there was a sound of opening doors, and a man's voice called
from the hall:

"Margaret! Miss Waring!"

The lady started at those clear, somewhat imperative tones, but the
summons was evidently not intended for her; after that involuntary
movement, she resumed her former attitude, leaning against the
window-sill with her eyes fixed absently upon the changing sky.

In a moment the door of the library opened, and a gentleman advanced
a step or two beyond the threshold, looking around as if in search of
some one. When he saw the young lady standing there, he said, hastily:

"I thought Margaret was here."

She turned as if for the first time conscious of his presence.

"I beg your pardon; what did you wish?"

"I am looking for Miss Waring; I heard George bring up the horses
several moments since."

"I believe she is in her room; shall I call her?"

"Pray do not trouble yourself, Miss Chase. I dare say she will be down
immediately."

"Here I am now," said a voice from the stairs, and a young lady very
pretty and _petite_ entered the room dressed in a riding-habit. "I hope
I have not kept you waiting, Mr. Laurence."

"I am only just ready," he replied, carelessly.

Miss Chase half turned from the window; the sunset rays fell upon her
hair and forehead, and, partially shut in by the folds of the curtains,
she made an exceedingly striking picture.

Margaret was buttoning her gauntlets, but Laurence caught the effect,
and was pleased, as any one with the slightest artistic taste must have
been.

"You have not put on your habit, Miss Chase," he said. "Don't you ride
with us?"

"I made my excuses to Miss Waring an hour ago," she replied, in the
sweet, calm voice habitual with her.

"She has a bad headache," said the young lady mentioned, looking up
from her task, "and is bent on a solitary walk in hopes of curing it."

"I thought you were never troubled with such pretty little female
ailments," returned Laurence, pleasantly.

"It very seldom happens," answered Miss Chase, indifferently, turning
more toward the window, as if she did not wish any conversation to
deprive her of a view of the sunset.

"It seems a little selfish for us to leave you to a lonely walk," he
continued.

"So I told her," added Margaret; "but she would not be persuaded."

"I would not prevent your ride for the world," she said, in precisely
the same unmoved tone. "I shall only walk to the gates and back."

"I am sorry you can not accompany us," Laurence said. "I suppose that
wretched headache will prevent me taking my revenge at chess to-night."

"Hardly, I think; it will go off in the cool of the evening."

"You are very obliging--"

"Oh, she means to beat you unmercifully," interrupted Margaret; "don't
you, Miss Chase?"

"If I can, of course," she replied, with a little deprecatory gesture,
as if the attempt were likely to prove a hopeless one.

"We shall see," returned the gentleman. "Come, Margaret, the horses
will get restless. A pleasant walk, Miss Chase."

She bowed, and watched the pair out of the room; when the door closed,
she took her old station, saw them mount and ride swiftly down the
avenue.

Very quiet and still she stood there--there was no pulsation strong
enough even to stir the lace upon her bosom. One hand fell at her side,
the other was pressed hard against the marble sill, and once more the
cold, fixed resolution crept slowly over her countenance.

It must have been a full half-hour before she in turn left the
apartment. She went up to her room, came down with her bonnet and shawl
on, and walked out upon the broad veranda which ran the whole length of
the house.

She did not follow the avenue which led from the dwelling down to the
highway, but took one of the numerous paths which wound among the
shrubberies. Sometimes in the full glory of the waning sunset, anon
a darker shadow among the other shadows that lay under the trees,
she passed, walking rapidly, as if anxious to find quiet in bodily
fatigue--then forgetting her purpose, if it had been present to her
mind, and moving slowly along, deeply engrossed in thought as when she
stood in the library an hour before.

It was already twilight when Sybil Chase reached the ponderous iron
gates which gave entrance from the road to the grounds. She seated
herself upon a stone bench a little off from the avenue, and gazed
quietly around with that observing eye which never lost the most minute
particular.

The air was soft and warm, the moon was already coming up and
dispelling the dusky shadows sufficiently to distinguish objects at a
considerable distance. The murmur of a little brook that traversed the
grounds and came out of the thicket back of her seat was pleasantly
audible, and the deafened cry of a whippowill sounded through the
distance. The moon rose higher, the repose of the spring evening
increased, and through the distance Sybil's quick ear detected the
tramp of horses, faint but rapidly approaching nearer.

She rose from the bench and looked up the road. She saw Margaret and
Mr. Laurence cantering gayly over the nearest hill. While she looked,
the girl's horse shied at some object by the road--started so violently
that his rider, evidently taken by surprise, was thrown to the ground.

Sybil Chase pressed her two hands hard together, a quick breath broke
from her lips, and her eyes looked out large and wild; but she made
no effort to go forward--never stirred from her attitude of strange
expectancy.

Before Mr. Laurence could dismount and go to his companion's
assistance, a man rode rapidly up behind them. Sybil saw him stop,
spring from his horse, and hasten with Mr. Laurence toward the lady.
Before they reached the spot, Margaret had risen; through the stillness
Sybil caught the echo of hurried exclamations, a gay laugh from the
young girl, which seemed to give assurance that she had suffered no
injury.

At that sound the lady whispered a few words to herself; then, after an
instant of hesitation, hurried toward the gates, pushed them open, and
ran with all her speed toward the foot of the hill.

Before she reached the first rise, the three had mounted and were
riding toward her; she was plainly visible to them in the moonlight,
toiling rapidly up the ascent, and apparently so overcome by agitation
that nothing but a desire to be of service preserved her strength.

"Are you hurt?" she called, wildly.

"Not in the least," Margaret answered, while Laurence waved his
riding-cap gayly in the air.

Sybil clasped her hands, as if in involuntary thanksgiving, and sunk
down upon the bank.

They rode toward her; as they reached the spot, she rose and called
again:

"You are not hurt, Miss Waring?"

"Not in the least, I assure you."

"Not even frightened, I believe," added Laurence.

"I thought she was killed," exclaimed Sybil. "Oh, that dreadful shying
horse! Don't--don't ride him again, Margaret."

The party drew rein near her.

"He meant no harm, poor fellow," returned Margaret.

"He might have killed you, nevertheless," said Sybil, with a sort of
reproachful anxiety.

She spoke rapidly, and appeared much alarmed; nevertheless, she found
time to steal a quick glance toward the stranger who accompanied her
friends. As her eyes fell upon him she gave a slight start, and her
face grew pale; but, with a strong effort, she mastered the emotion,
and turned indifferently away.



CHAPTER X.

THE GAME AT CHESS.


A few more words passed, then Margaret said:

"Miss Chase, let me present Mr. Hinchley to you."

The lady bowed slightly in return to the stranger's salutation, looked
keenly from under her long eyelashes, and turned again toward Miss
Waring, who, in spite of her assertions, was greatly terrified and
shaken, as Sybil plainly detected through all her forced spirits.

"By the luckiest chance in the world, Hinchley rode up at the very
moment Margaret fell," said Laurence.

"I was very fortunate in being so opportune in my arrival," replied the
young man.

"We have not even asked how you happened to get here so unexpectedly,"
said Margaret.

"I saw Dr. Thorne in town this morning, and he told me that Uncle
Gerald had been quite ill again, so I took the late train up--luckily,
Smith, at the depot, had a horse to lend me."

"Uncle Gerald is better," Margaret said.

"I am glad to hear it; those attacks get so much worse that I was quite
alarmed."

"He seems very much shaken by this one," Laurence said; "but the doctor
thinks he will soon get better; the warm weather is coming on, and that
always agrees with him, you know."

"You will stay a week or so, Ralph," Margaret said.

"As long as I can; it depends on my news from town."

"Miss Waring looks pale," interrupted Sybil, whose head was still
averted from Hinchley.

"Are you really hurt, Margaret?" asked Hinchley.

"Not in the least," she replied; but her voice trembled a little.

"She is frightened, of course," said Sybil; "who could help it? I am
sure she will not ride again this season."

"I think she is cured of such fears," returned Laurence.

"Oh yes," answered Margaret, hastily. "But let us ride home; it is
getting late, and uncle will want to see Ralph before going to bed."

The three rode through the gates, which Miss Chase had left open, while
that lady followed at a little distance.

"We are leaving her all alone," said Margaret, in a low voice, to
Laurence.

"That is true; and it scarcely looks civil," he replied. "Ride on to
the house, Margaret, with Hinchley, and I will walk with her."

"Very well," Margaret said, unable longer to conceal her nervousness,
and not sorry that she could have an opportunity to recover herself
before again enduring her betrothed husband's somewhat impatient
scrutiny.

The pair rode on; Mr. Laurence dismounted from his horse, and stood in
the avenue as Miss Chase approached.

"You look in this moonlight pale and melancholy as a knight-errant,"
she said, playfully.

"I am waiting for you," he replied.

"Indeed, there was no necessity."

"Does that mean you prefer to walk alone?"

"I am not much given to incivility, you know; I did not wish to detain
you from your friends."

"Oh, they will take care of each other," he replied. "I wonder you
don't say something about him--you are less susceptible than most young
ladies. Hinchley is a great favorite."

"Please do not slander my sex, Mr. Laurence, or we shall quarrel at
once."

"And you will conquer me, as you always do at chess! But at all events,
you can not be offended at my saying that you are different from
youthful females in general; almost any other would have asked twenty
questions in a breath about the stranger."

"But Mr. Hinchley is hardly a stranger," she replied.

"Oh, that is true; but I believe you have never met him before."

"No; but I have heard Miss Waring talk so much of her favorite cousin,
and Mr. Waring is always sounding his praises."

"He is almost like a brother to Margaret; I wonder you never saw him
when you were here before."

"He was in Europe," replied Sybil, indifferently. "I am sorry Margaret
received that fright."

"I wish she had a little of your courage."

"I have been accustomed to ride from childhood--"

"And are the best horsewoman I ever saw."

"I ought to deny it, but shall not. At all events, I am not in the
least afraid of Robin Hood nor of Sir Charles here;" as Sybil spoke,
she offered the horse one of the roses she held in her hand. "That is
a treat which the baronet appreciates," she added. "He isn't often fed
with roses."

"What a waste of sentiment," he replied, "to feed a horse on what any
man would covet."

"He is grateful for them, at all events."

"Perhaps his master would be more grateful still; you have not tried
him."

She laughed, selected a beautiful bud from the bunch, and looked at it
for a moment. When he reached forth his hand, she drew back the flower
with a gesture too pretty to be called coquetry.

"No; Sir Charles shall have that, and Miss Waring will like the rest."

He was a little annoyed; any man would have been treated with this
seeming indifference whether he cared for the person or not.

"You are determined never to be friends with me," he said.

"On the contrary, I have to thank you and everybody here for a great
deal of kindness."

"I am sure both Margaret and Mr. Waring feel much obliged to you; her
health is so delicate, that the house would have been in hopeless
disorder except for your attention, and the old gentleman considers you
perfection."

"It is very pleasant to be appreciated," she answered, gayly. "At
least, you ought to thank me; I kept Miss Waring from dying of regret
during your absence."

"Margaret would never die from any such feeling," he replied,
impatiently.

"I think where she loves, all her feelings are centered."

"Ah, Miss Chase, romance fades rapidly during a long engagement."

"So all engaged people tell me," she answered; "I shall take warning
from this experience of others. But we must walk faster; Miss Waring
will think us lost, unless Mr. Hinchley is charming enough to make her
forget our absence."

"I think Margaret does not care much for the society of gentlemen."

"Not in general, I believe."

"Nor in any particular case, I should hope," he said, quickly. "We
quarrel a great deal, as you know, Miss Chase, but I have never thought
coquetry among her faults."

"Nor I."

"Hinchley is greatly admired by young ladies," pursued Laurence; "but
he seems to care very little about it."

"He is very handsome--"

"Why, you hardly looked at him."

"I was quoting Miss Waring--incorrectly, however."

"What did she say?"

"That he had a very noble face--something above mere beauty."

"She was quite eloquent," he said, dryly.

"Oh no; but we were alone, and could not be silent."

"And so you talked of Ralph Hinchley?"

"Naturally enough, as he is her nearest relative. Are you blaming Miss
Waring or me?"

"Neither, I assure you."

"Mr. Hinchley is dependent upon his profession, I believe."

"Yes; I fancy he is not rich at all."

"There I can sympathize with him."

"Have you come to that?"

"Don't make me appear silly! If Margaret were here, I should say
something that you might construe into a compliment."

"You have never paid me one--"

"I never do compliment people whom I respect; that may account for it."

"But what would you have said?"

"That the men I have been in the habit of meeting since I came here
have made me difficult to please, so that quite young gentlemen seldom
strike me favorably."

"Oh, that is flattery--"

"It would have been to Miss Waring."

"How so?"

"A compliment to her taste in selecting you as a husband."

By that time they had reached the veranda, and as she spoke the last
words, Miss Chase ran up the steps, humming a song, and entered the
hall just as Margaret descended the stairs, after having exchanged her
habit for a dress more suitable to the house.

"Are you better?" Sybil asked.

"Yes; but I was terribly frightened, though I would not have Mr.
Laurence know it for the world--my timidity annoys him so much."

"He is coming," whispered Miss Chase.

"Please come and make the tea," said Margaret; "my hands shake yet."

Mr. Laurence joined them in the hall.

"Well, you are not frightened, now it is all over?" he asked.

"No, not much; anyway, I am unhurt."

Miss Chase threw back the hood of her cloak, and accompanied them into
the library; a glance at the hall-glass had convinced her that her
appearance was picturesque. She stood a second in the door, took off
the pretty blue mantle and laid it on a sofa; the breeze had given her
a color, and her hair an added wave, particularly becoming.

Margaret ensconced herself in an easy-chair near the fire, which had
been kindled to give an appearance of comfort to the room, although the
night was too warm to render it necessary. Miss Chase seated herself by
the tray, while Laurence turned to Margaret:

"Where is Hinchley?"

"Gone up to see uncle; he will be down in a moment."

The gentleman entered as she spoke. Sybil Chase was occupied, and did
not look up. He gave her a quick glance, started, and a perplexed look
passed over his face as if he fancied that he had seen her before, and
was trying to remember where; then it faded, and he sat down near his
cousin.

"Uncle has gone to bed," he said; "he looks very ill to-night."

"But he is better, I am sure he is," she replied, anxiously.

"I hope so," he answered; and, remarking her agitation, changed the
subject at once. "Have you been trouting, Laurence?" he asked. "I
remember your old passion."

"I was out the other day, but we will go again--an expedition for the
ladies. Are you fond of trout-fishing, Miss Chase?"

"Yes; I must plead guilty to the weakness and cruelty."

"And you, Margaret?"

"I shall like to go; but I never have any success."

"And you think it wicked, I believe?" he replied, carelessly, and with
a little irony, such as was often apparent in the conversations between
the two lovers.

"No matter what I think," she replied, smiling pleasantly enough,
although displeased at his manner; "I will not force my private
convictions upon any of you."

"But you will have a cup of tea?" said Miss Chase.

Mr. Hinchley went to the table, and taking the cup from Sybil, carried
it to his cousin.

"Hester has treated us to marmalade," said Laurence, laughing, as he
approached the table.

"Which I am morally certain you will spill on the carpet--won't he,
Miss Waring?"

"Of course; do keep him at the table, for the sake of the new carpet we
both admire so much."

"Then the whole dish of marmalade will be in danger," said Laurence.

"Miss Chase will wisely move it," added Hinchley.

"I think I must," added Sybil, "but there, you shall have a very large
spoonful; it is better than roses."

She put the conserve upon his plate, took up her flowers that lay on
the table, and added:

"I picked these for you, Miss Waring; they are from your favorite bush."

She gave them to Hinchley to carry to Margaret; Mr. Laurence ate his
marmalade and looked a little vexed.

"They are beautiful roses," Hinchley said.

"Very," Margaret replied, putting them carelessly in her hair; "you
shall have a bud to reward you for not having purloined the whole
bunch."

She selected a half-open rose and handed it to him. Miss Chase smiled
imperceptibly.

"May I have a cup of tea, Miss Chase?" asked Laurence, adding, as he
bent toward her: "You were over fastidious, you see."

Not a word answered Sybil--just the slightest elevation of her
eyebrows, the least possible expression of surprise about her mouth;
yet, by that mere nothing, she contrived to show that she disapproved
of the innocent and thoughtless act, but meant to keep any such feeling
to herself.

The evening passed pleasantly enough. Mr. Laurence forgot his momentary
vexation, the cause of which he could scarcely have told. He challenged
Miss Chase to a game of chess, and she consented.

While the two played, Margaret and Mr. Hinchley sat by the fire, and
talked of their uncle, the pleasures of old times, new books, and the
thousand other trifles, about which people who have no deep feelings in
common converse together.

Miss Chase lost the game, because she had made up her mind to be
defeated; but the next she won. Still, during the whole evening her
attention was not sufficiently fixed upon either board or moves to
prevent her hearing and seeing every thing that passed around her.



CHAPTER XI.

THE FEMALE IAGO.


The engagement between Laurence and Margaret Waring had been a family
affair, brought about principally by the romance of a maiden aunt, with
whom the young man was a favorite.

Edward had been under this relative's charge after the death of his
parents, which occurred during his childhood, and she had petted and
spoiled the boy as only a spinster could have done.

Mr. Waring, the uncle of Margaret, was one of Miss Laurence's nearest
neighbors, and the girl had been almost as great a favorite with the
spinster as her own nephew. Indeed, it was said that Mabel Laurence had
loved Margaret's father in her youthful days; but how that might be
nobody really knew, for the old maid wisely kept her own secrets, as
women, after all, are apt to do when there is nothing to gratify the
vanity in them.

But it happened that the boy and girl were reared almost like brother
and sister, and the two houses were almost equally homes to both.
Mr. Waring was a confirmed invalid, whose life seemed to hang upon a
thread, and Miss Laurence had always been in yearly expectation that
the girl would soon come entirely under her charge.

People are generally mistaken in such calculations, and Miss Laurence
was no exception; for when Margaret Waring was sixteen, the spinster
died in her arms after a short but violent illness.

Edward, then a youth of twenty, was traveling in Europe, and by one
of the old lady's last commands was to remain there at least a year
longer. When the will was opened, it was found to contain a singular
clause--one common enough in novels, and as the spinster had been an
insatiable devourer of light literature, it is quite probable that she
derived from thence the idea which was expressed in her testament.

Her fortune, which was a very large one, was divided equally between
her nephew and Margaret Waring, on condition that they became husband
and wife; otherwise, no provision was made for Margaret, a small
annuity was left Laurence, and the rest of the property was to be
employed in founding a hospital for old maids.

Now, I am not drawing upon my imagination for these details; this
was the will as it was actually written. Miss Laurence was convinced
that Margaret and her nephew had loved each other from childhood, so
that she believed herself acting for their happiness; besides, she
had English blood in her veins, and could not resist the true British
desire to display her own power and authority, even after death.

The year passed. Edward Laurence returned home when Margaret was
seventeen; the engagement had been regarded as a settled thing. The
young people loved each other--there could be no doubt of that; but,
after a time, the very certainty that their destinies had been settled
for them in a fashion so compulsory, led to all manner of disagreements
and quarrels.

Two years before the commencement of this record, Mr. Waring had been
obliged to go South for his health, and it was necessary to provide a
companion for Margaret during his absence. Some friend had introduced
Sybil Chase, and she spent the winter in the family. From the time of
her entrance into that house could be dated the first real unhappiness
of the young pair.

Sybil had been brought up by a bad, unprincipled mother, educated far
beyond what the woman's means seemed to permit, and for what end only
her own erratic mind ever knew. Soon after she left school, the young
girl quarreled with her mother, and for several years earned her own
living as best she might. We will not inquire too closely into the
records of that Bohemian life. It is sufficient for our story that she
at length took up her residence with Margaret Waring, just as that
young lady's engagement to young Laurence became known.

How it came about, Margaret could never have told; but before she
had been many weeks in the house, Sybil Chase had made herself of the
utmost importance there. She quietly relieved Margaret of every duty;
she read to her, she talked with her--not at all with the manner of a
dependent, which, in a certain sense, she was not, but as an equal and
friend.

When Margaret had time to think, she felt a certain unaccountable
repugnance to Sybil; yet in her society there was a charm which few
people could have resisted. Against her better judgment, contrary to
her principles and her common sense, Margaret acquired a habit of
talking freely with her. Sybil knew all the disagreements and troubles
which disturbed the house, understood perfectly Margaret's character,
and had studied Laurence himself with still more subtle criticism.

With all the wild fervor of her passionate youth, Sybil Chase became
fatally attached to young Laurence; yet so firm was her self-command,
so deep her powers of duplicity, that she gave no sign of the passion
that consumed her. In the depths of her soul she was resolved that the
man she loved should never fulfill his engagement; but just as she was
beginning to weave her meshes around him, Mr. Waring came home, broke
up his establishment, and proceeded with his daughter on a long tour
through the West Indies and Southern States.

Once more this singular young creature was thrown back upon her
mother's support. An imperfect reconciliation took place between them,
and she sunk gradually into her old life, which became more and more
irksome from contact with persons so unlike those with whom she had
been recently associated.

While her mind was in this restless state, she heard that young
Laurence had followed his betrothed to Cuba, in which place the
marriage had taken place. The news stung her to madness. In the first
paroxysm of wounded affection and mortified pride, she fell in with
Philip Yates, married him privately, and went away.

In two years she came back to her mother again, but to be the
protector, not the dependent, now. She had money, which was shared
generously with the old woman; but, in a short time, this constant
companionship with an unrefined and evil-minded woman became
unendurable. Sybil was in no state of mind to accept the dull life
presented in this companionship. She had rested long enough, and now
felt that keen hunger for excitement which follows prolonged inaction.

While this fever was strong upon her, she met Laurence in the street.
Little suspecting the passion that drove the blood from her cheek, or
that they had met before in far distant mountains of the golden State,
he upbraided her kindly for keeping aloof from her old friends, spoke
regretfully of Mr. Waring's still infirm health, and of Margaret's
protracted feebleness.

She choked down the passion that swelled in her throat, and inquired
kindly if his wife had been seriously ill.

Laurence laughed. "Wife?" he answered, coloring a little. "Oh, Maggie
and I are not married yet. The old gentleman says that we are young
enough to wait."

Sybil's heart bounded in her bosom. Her eyes flashed--she could not
altogether conceal the triumph of her joy.

"Are you never coming to see Margaret?" he said.

"Margaret--Margaret Waring? Oh yes."

"The old gentleman is seriously ill again. You ought to come. He often
says no one ever proved so good a nurse as you."

"The good old man. I will go to him."

She went to Waring's house the next day, and stayed there. Mr. Waring
was ill and selfish; he would not let her go away. She yielded with
apparent reluctance, and quietly commenced her work. By her soft words,
broken sentences, and subtle looks, Margaret and Laurence had become
almost completely estranged, and nothing but the persuasions of mutual
friends prevented their breaking the engagement which bound them. Sybil
looked on and waited, fostered their difficulties, and watched for the
moment which should secure the victory to her love.

She was greatly aided by the manner in which their betrothal had been
brought about, the consequences of which had been exactly those a wise
person would have anticipated. The romance of an involuntary engagement
wore rapidly away. Both were pained, and each blamed the other for
things which were at once the fault and the misfortune of a forced
position.

Margaret was proud and exacting, morbidly sensitive, and her high
spirit revolted at the idea of submission, often prevented her yielding
to her lover's wishes when she knew herself to be in the wrong. These
feelings rendered her fearful of betraying her fondness, and in
numberless ways brought pain to her own heart and that of the man who
loved her.

On the other hand, Edward was as passionate and imperious as she could
possibly be; his temper was violent, and when that was roused, he
gave way to every reckless word that anger could suggest, forgetting
them entirely when his temper cooled. Margaret could not forget; she
remembered them all, treasured up every cruel word, every scornful
sneer, like poisoned arrows wherewith to pierce her heart anew in her
lonely hours.

The young girl grew cold and unsympathetic, careless of exciting his
rage, but often taking refuge in an icy impassibility, which excited
him more than any recrimination would have done. A stubborn, obstinate
will developed itself in her character, against which the waves of her
lover's passions beat in vain; but that very resolution separated them
still further.

All this had been the growth of Sybil's subtle influence. For the
first period of their engagement they had been very happy. What
caused their first quarrel, neither could have told; the source was
probably as slight as it usually is in such cases; the effect had been
fraught with many evil influences, such as are apt to follow similar
misunderstandings.

They had reached a point where each looked back on the past with angry,
defiant feelings. It was like gazing across a troubled sea upon a fair
landscape--to glance from the present back into the beautiful past.

Had they been older and wiser, both parties might have done much toward
changing the state of things. A single honest effort would have swept
aside the heavy clouds which loomed darkly in the future. But neither
of them understood this, or would have made any effort of the kind had
it been pointed out. So they quarreled openly and avowedly, and the
fact that in each heart lay a great well-spring of affection, made
their quarrels more bitter and implacable.

Margaret was made to believe that her lover had ceased to care for her,
and wished to continue his engagement only that he might tyrannize
and command. Her health had become more delicate than ever, the bloom
of early girlhood was fading, and although still very lovely, she
had learned to think her beauty gone, and decided that with it all
affection had departed from the heart of her betrothed. Those feelings
and suspicions made her colder and more unyielding, until Edward
wondered he could ever have thought her winning or gentle. He was
irritated by the indifference with which she treated every attempt at a
reconciliation, and the violence of his temper increased in proportion
to the pain of his position.

They suffered greatly, those poor, blind creatures! Daily the cloud
which had descended upon their home grew blacker and swept them still
further apart. Indeed, they had reached that point where it would need
but a little thing to bring the tempest down in its wild fury--the
terrible tempest which should wrench from them all hope of happiness or
peace, which must desolate their after lives, and leave them stranded
upon a desert with no hope left, no memory unstained, no love in the
future.

The marriage of this young couple had been deferred from various
causes, the principal ones being Mr. Waring's frequent illnesses and
the delicate state in which Margaret's health had fallen during the
past year.

Laurence almost made his home at the house, and as he had no profession
or settled business, he found more time than was requisite for making
himself miserable, and gave way to all manner of repinings.

During her former residence at Mr. Waring's house, it had chanced that
Hinchley had never seen Sybil Chase, and her very existence was almost
unknown to him, before that agitated introduction on the hill-side.
Thus she had no fears of a recognition, or that her face would bring
back to him that fearful night in the valley ranche. With her heart
thus at rest, she went down stairs on the morning after his arrival,
according to her usual habit since the pleasant June weather had come
in. No members of the family were stirring except the servants, for
Margaret was inclined to gratify the indolence arising from ill-health,
and the family breakfast-hour was always a late one.

With her cheeks fresh as the roses, Miss Chase descended the stairs,
went forth to the garden, and proceeded into the rose thickets, looking
beautiful and bright as the dewy scene that surrounded her. Indeed,
as she stood there in her gipsy bonnet and muslin dress, a prettier
picture could not well be imagined.

She had a basket on her arm, a pair of scissors in her hand, and
daintily snipped off the stems of such blossoms as pleased her; she
pressed the gathered roses to her red lips till they were wet with dew,
took the fresh scent of each in turn, and dropped one after another
into her basket. While pursuing her task, she sung snatches of pleasant
tunes in a clear soprano voice that floated richly on the air.

Occasionally, in the midst of her employment, Miss Chase glanced toward
the upper windows or the hall-door. The first person who appeared
was Mr. Laurence. He saw Sybil and walked toward her. Miss Chase was
greatly occupied just then, and gave no attention to his approach.

"Good-morning," he said; "are you talking so sweetly with those roses
that you can neither see nor hear?"

"I am trying to steal their color," she replied, with an honest sort of
frankness that was very captivating. "Look at this bud, Mr. Laurence;
did you ever see any thing more beautiful?"

"Lovely, indeed; you perceive you were over fastidious about giving
away your flowers last night. Margaret did not prize them as highly as
you expected."

"What proof have you?"

"She gave one to Hinchley."

"Oh yes, so she did; but he is a relative, remember. I need not
offer you flowers in your own garden. I am certain it was the merest
thoughtlessness which made Margaret bestow the roses on your guest last
night."

"Who ever supposed it was any thing else?"

"Oh, I thought--that is, from the way you spoke--"

"What did you think?"

"That you were not pleased, if I must say it."

"I thought very little about the matter. I have no fancy for setting up
as a pale-faced Othello."

"Oh dear, I should hope not; there would be nobody but me to play
Emilie, and I should certainly run away, instead of standing by poor
Desdemona. But I have to beg your pardon for my absurd mistake."

"What do you mean?"

"For thinking you were displeased. I might have known you had more
sense, but I have seen men who would have pouted for a week over a
trifle of less consequence."

"Did you think it wrong?"

"Good heavens, no; but I am not a proper judge. I suppose every wife
ought to be exceedingly careful; but then, is a woman to be deprived of
every bit of sentiment or romance?"

"I don't think Margaret addicted to either. I should be sorry to
believe it."

"And I too. But I must take my basket of flowers into the house; don't
stand here fighting shadows, Mr. Laurence."

"I am not aware that I have been doing battle with any such
unsubstantial thing," he answered.

Miss Chase turned toward the house; he followed, but with a new train
of thought awakened in his mind. He began to wonder if he really had
been displeased at this trifle; certainly, he was not jealous, but he
would permit no impropriety. Had there been any? The simple giving of
a flower--she had done nothing more than that; and yet--well, he had
not thought much of it at the time, but Miss Chase had in a measure
convinced him that he was more impressed than he had believed. If
Margaret was going to add coquetry to her numerous other faults, his
life would be irksome enough!

He accompanied Sybil into the breakfast-room, helped her arrange the
flowers, and in the process they fell into a pleasant conversation. It
was a full half-hour before Hinchley or Margaret made their appearance.
A great deal can be done in that length of time, especially when
economized with as much wisdom as Sybil Chase was capable of employing.



CHAPTER XII.

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER.


Soon after breakfast, Hinchley and Laurence rode over to a neighboring
town upon some business for Mr. Waring, leaving the two ladies alone.

Miss Chase and Margaret still sat in the breakfast-room, the latter
pretending to read the paper, from very weariness and disinclination to
talk, while Sybil held some embroidery in her hand, and, under cover of
that employment, watched her companion with keen scrutiny.

"I am seized with a fever," she said, suddenly.

Margaret looked up and smiled a little.

"What is the name of it," she asked.

"One common enough to us poor, weak women--I want a new spring dress.
If it were not for leaving you alone, I am half inclined to run into
town and make a purchase."

"Do not let me detain you," returned Margaret, feeling so ill at ease
with herself and every thing and person around her, that she was
pleased with this prospect of solitude.

"I suppose the gentlemen will soon return."

"I am sure I do not know," she answered, indifferently.

"You will not feel lonely if I go?"

"Pray, do not think me so foolish."

"You know I like to sit with you, Miss Waring."

"But to-day, go to town and shop if the mania has taken possession of
you. By the way, if you see any pretty pink organdy, you may purchase
it for me, and leave it at Mrs. Forrest's to be made up. I remember
now, a new dress is the very thing I want."

"I had better dress at once; let me see: the train starts at eleven. I
shall be in town at two o'clock."

"George will drive you over to the depot; you have just time to dress
and get there. You will be back to dinner?"

"Oh yes; before, perhaps."

After a few careless words, Miss Chase went up to her room, and as she
passed down stairs ready to go, opened the door of the breakfast-room,
where Margaret sat in the same dreary solitude.

"Have you any other commands?" she asked, pleasantly.

"None, thank you; what a fine day you will have."

"Oh, lovely; good-morning."

Margaret returned this farewell, and Miss Chase took her departure.

There the unhappy girl remained, and let the hours float on while she
gave herself up to a thousand bitter reflections. The bright spring
morning had no charm for Margaret, the merry carols of the birds upon
the lawn had lost their sweetness to her ear; she could only gaze upon
the dark shadows of her life, and mark how, day by day, it drifted into
deeper gloom. Her strength seemed to fail daily, and that of itself
would have been sorrow enough for one of her age; but she had sterner
troubles still.

How the promise of her girlhood had cheated her! The affection which
she had believed was to brighten all coming years, was rapidly fading
from her life.

Let it go! She would make no effort to recover either the hopes or the
love that she had lost. Laurence might take his own course; she would
not try to recall his wandering fancies. She believed that her heart
was strong enough to despise his love if again offered. There Margaret
made the mistake which all young persons fall into when the proud,
untried heart falls into its first love-sorrow.

While Margaret indulged in that mournful revery, Sybil Chase was on
her way to the city, smiling and pleasant, affable to every one that
came in her way; even the servant, who drove her over to the station,
thought to himself what a different lady she was from his silent,
haughty mistress; and the farmers who rented portions of Mr. Waring's
estate, and among whom she had made herself a very popular person,
smiled pleasantly as she rode by.

Cheerful and handsome she looked, sitting in the train, and being
whirled rapidly along the pretty route on her way to town. She reached
the city even earlier than she anticipated, and went about her
errands at once, with her accustomed straightforwardness. Nothing was
forgotten. Margaret's indifferent message was punctually fulfilled, and
in a manner which must have satisfied a much more difficult person than
Margaret.

When she had completed her purchases, Miss Chase took her way to a
retired and somewhat unpleasant part of the town. She had her vail
drawn, and hurried along as if anxious not to be observed by any chance
acquaintance.

She stopped before a decent looking tenement-house, ascended the
steps, glanced about with her habitual caution, to see that no one was
watching her, and entered the hall. She mounted the weary staircase,
which appeared interminable, passed through several dark entries, and
at length knocked at one of the doors which opened into a passage
nearest the roof.

Twice she knocked, the second time imperatively and with impatience;
then a querulous voice called out:

"Come in, can't you; the door isn't locked."

So Miss Chase turned the knob, opened the door, and entered a small,
plainly furnished room, yet bearing no evidence of the extreme poverty
which often makes the tenement-house so dreary.

A woman was seated near the little window, in a stiff-backed chair,
dividing her attention between a half-finished stocking and a number of
some weekly newspaper of the cheapest class, full of wonderful cuts and
more wonderful stories.

She looked up quickly as Miss Chase entered, gave out an evil, wicked
glance, which appeared natural to her, although the general appearance
of her face was quiet and commonplace enough.

"So you've come," was her only salutation.

"Yes; did you expect me?"

"I expected you three days ago."

"I was constantly occupied; it was impossible for me to get away until
now."

"You needn't lie," returned the woman, curtly.

"I won't," said Sybil, serene as ever.

She seated herself opposite the female and untied her bonnet-strings,
looking placid and at home, as she invariably was in all places and
under all circumstances.

The woman glanced keenly at her, and a strange sort of affectionate
look crept over her face.

"You're brooding mischief," she pronounced suddenly and emphatically,
as if she would permit no contradiction.

"What makes you think so?" Sybil asked.

"'Cause you grow good-looking; when you get that bright, contented
look, I always know there's something in the wind."

"You are very wise," replied Sybil, evincing no displeasure at the
accusation, which would have struck many persons unpleasantly.

"Yes; I ain't blind; I've generally kept my eyes open going through
this world."

"That is the only way, if one does not wish to run against the wall."

"As you did once," retorted the woman, with a chuckle; "you know you
did that, cute as you think yourself."

"I have not forgotten it," replied Sybil, coolly; "the hurt taught me
to keep my eyes open too."

"Learned you to look before you leap," said the woman. "Well, I guess
you owe a good deal to my lessons."

Sybil did not answer, but shrugged her shoulders slightly, and gazed
out of the window, occupied with her own reflections.

"Now don't act as if I was a log of wood," said the woman, fretfully;
"there's nothing makes me so mad."

"I was waiting to hear what you would say next."

"What did you come for?"

"To see you, of course."

"Well, look at me; I don't charge any thing for the sight! I used to be
worth the trouble of turning round to see, I did; I was better looking
than you are or ever will be--but that's all over. Just say what you're
after now."

"I came because I thought you wanted something."

"You should have brought me money three days ago; I hate to be
behindhand with my rent."

"Surely you ought to have had enough for that; you know how little
money I possess...."

"Fiddle-de-dee! Ask that Laurence for some."

"I can not do that; you must see how impossible it is."

"There's nothing impossible where money is concerned. But no matter,
take your own way."

"It is growing clear now," said Sybil.

"Time it did; you've made mistakes enough."

Sybil did not appear desirous of pursuing the conversation. She took
out her purse, counted several gold pieces into her palm, while the
woman watched her with covetous eyes.

"That will serve you until I come again," she said, extending her hand.

The woman clutched the money eagerly, counted it twice to be certain
there was no mistake, then rose from her seat and went to an old bureau
in a corner of the room. After fumbling in her pocket for a while,
and pulling out a heterogeneous mass of things, a dingy red silk
handkerchief among the rest, she produced a small key, unlocked one of
the drawers, and put the gold carefully away in a buckskin bag; then
she locked the bureau again, and returned to her seat.

"That is safe," she said, more complacently; the touch of the money
had evidently mollified her feelings. "Now, let's talk about something
else--about your plans, say."

"I can not answer your questions; every thing is dark yet--a few months
will decide."

"Don't you get careless, you know."

"There is no fear; I am not a child."

"No; and you've learned by the hardest."

"Don't ever speak of the past; I can bury it now--I have buried it."

"Wal, it's a dead friend I guess you ain't sorry to be rid of."

Sybil looked white; her eyes had a strained, unnatural expression, and
her hands clenched together with the old force and tightness.

"It is all over--all over."

"Nothing to be afraid of, I s'pose, unless you believe in ghosts or
such things."

Sybil's face changed; she dropped her hands; the color came back to her
cheek--she laughed outright, a defiant, mocking sound.

"Not at all; no ghost will trouble me--not even _his_."

"Tell me a little how things go on."

The woman drew closer to her visitor, and inclined her head to listen
attentively. Sybil talked for many moments in a voice sunk almost to
a whisper, as if dropping hints to which she dared not give utterance
aloud.

Her companion noted every word and movement, while a bad, malignant
expression crept over her face, till it seemed impossible that it
should ever have looked comely or pleasant. Sometimes she nodded her
head approvingly; once she laughed outright. Sybil put up her hand
to check the merriment, which would have grated harshly upon a less
well-attuned ear than hers.

"I must go now," Miss Chase said, at last; "I shall not get back by
dinner-time as it is."

"I ought to be there," the woman exclaimed; "there is so much I could
do."

"I know that, if you would only manage to control your temper."

"Never you fear me; I can do that easy enough when there is any thing
to be gained by it."

"One never knows what may happen. Always keep yourself in readiness to
obey my summons."

"I could start at any moment."

"We shall be obliged to wait; an opportunity may arise by which I could
introduce you to the house."

"Make the opportunity; a smart woman can always do that."

"Ah! you have not my prudence."

"I guess you learned it lately; but we won't quarrel. If you want me, I
will come."

"You would not care in what way; you would not mind the occupation?"

"Lord bless you, no; I'm good at any thing--general housework, cooking;
it's all fish that comes to my basket."

"Good-by, now," said Sybil; "I shall miss the train if I stop another
moment."

The woman followed her to the door, whispered some added parting
advice, and watched her disappear down the stairs. Then she returned
to the room and set about preparing herself a cup of tea, chuckling
occasionally in a sharp way, like a meditative macaw, and looking
altogether so unpleasant that a timid person would have been reluctant
to remain alone in the chamber with her.

As Miss Chase predicted, dinner was over when she reached Mr. Waring's
residence. She quietly disposed of her own repast which the housekeeper
had condescended to set aside for her, and then, after changing her
dress, went down into the library.

Mr. Laurence was sitting there alone, looking sullen and discontented
enough; but he brightened somewhat when she entered, and greeted her
cheerfully.

"I am glad you have come; I began to think I should have to spend the
evening by myself, as Hinchley is busy with his uncle."

"Where is Miss Waring?" Sybil asked.

"In her own room, pouting or crying, according to the stage her
ill-humor has reached."

Sybil sighed and shook her head.

"Are you blaming me?" he asked. "It was not my fault that we quarreled,
but Margaret would provoke a saint! I could not tell to save my life,
what the disturbance began about. I think I said one could not breathe
in this room for the flowers; with that she worked herself into a
violent rage, as if I had committed some unpardonable enormity."

"You should be patient," said Miss Chase.

"I know my temper is bad, but she seems to do every thing in her power
to excite it. Why should you always blame me?"

"Am I blaming you?" she asked, softly. "It is not my place to express
any opinion upon your differences with Miss Waring."

"I don't see why; both Margaret and myself regard you as a friend.
I know she tells you all her troubles freely enough; why should you
refuse to listen to my part of the story?"

"I do not refuse," she answered, sighing heavily; "but it pains me to
know that you disagree so terribly."

"Disagree is a mild word; I admire your politeness; you know we quarrel
like two hawks in a cage."

Miss Chase sighed again. This deep breath expressed as much sympathy as
words could have done, and was far safer just there.

"The truth is," exclaimed Laurence, suddenly, "Margaret does not love
me; there is the foundation of our troubles."

"Are you not judging hastily?"

"No; I have felt it for a long time; I am certain of it now. Tell me:
do you believe any woman who loved a man would act as she does? Do you
consider that she conducts herself as an engaged person should?"

"You must not ask me such questions; it would be wrong in me to answer."

"At least you can say if you think she loves me?"

Miss Chase hesitated.

"Speak the truth," said he, violently.

"No," returned Sybil, in a low whisper.

"Every one sees it," continued Lawrence; "I knew you did. She is
hard-hearted and ungrateful."

"Do not be harsh--"

"How can I help it," he interrupted; "she has wrecked my life--turned
it into a curse. I have no hope--not a friend."

A tear fell from Sybil's downcast lashes, and rolled slowly down
her cheek; she stole one glance, full of beautiful sympathy toward
him--that was all.

"I believe you pity me," he said; "of late I have begun to hope it. You
will be my friend; say, will you not try to help me?"

"So far as it is in my power, heaven knows I will. But I am a woman; I
must be so cautious. Indeed, I would not incur Margaret's displeasure
or that of Mr. Waring for the world."

"She would hate any one who feels kindly toward me!" He broke off
abruptly, and gave himself up to a gloomy train of thought which took
him far away from his companion; it did not suit Sybil to have it
continue.

"You have had no tea," she said; "shall I order it brought up?"

"If you will stay and take it with me."

"First, let me inquire if Miss Waring will come down."

"Leave her where she is; I have had contention enough."

But Miss Chase kept her worldly wisdom in view. She went up stairs and
found Margaret lying on the bed, but the unhappy girl could not be
induced to rise.

"I don't wish any tea," she said; "I am going to sleep."

"Then I will have mine in my room."

"Please go down," said Margaret; "some of those tiresome people from
the village will be certain to call, and if you are not ready to
receive them, I shall be dragged out. I shan't take the trouble for
Ralph or Mr. Laurence."

Willing to oblige, Miss Chase consented, and returned to the angry
lover, only to exasperate his discontent.

No one did call that evening. Hinchley did not appear, and the two
spent it in sad, earnest conversation. Edward Laurence retired to
his room more than ever offended with Margaret, and convinced that
Sybil Chase was the only person in the world who understood or pitied
him--a high-minded, clear-sighted woman, whom he respected, and
whose friendship appeared better worth having than the deepest love
of ordinary women. Sybil sat pondering over the fire. In all the
mischief which she had wrought, there was no possibility of tracing
her influence; she had told no bungling falsehoods to be covered up or
explained away; had committed no little feminine indiscretions at which
the mistress of a household could cavil. Indeed, nothing could be more
quiet and respectable than her whole conduct. She was very kind and
useful in every respect. She made the house far more comfortable than
it had ever been before, and was always ready to mediate in a quiet
way between the lovers in their quarrels, regretting, in a Christian
manner, her inability to check them altogether; but with all her
precautions, she had a difficult part to act, and it caused her much
anxiety.



CHAPTER XIII.

HIGHCLIFF.


Of course that last quarrel between Laurence and Margaret was put
aside after a time, as so many previous difficulties had been; but it
left a more hurtful impression upon the minds of both than any former
disagreement had ever been able to produce.

A party of guests, invited several months before, were staying at the
house for a week, and in the general gayety, both Laurence and Margaret
almost forgot their troubles. There was nothing approaching confidence
between them; they were civil and polite, but avoided explanations. In
the haughty sensitiveness of young hearts, neither party was in a mood
for taking the first step toward a reconciliation.

Parties and expeditions of all sorts were planned and carried out,
into which Margaret entered with a feverish excitement which increased
her lover's anger; he could not understand that her gayety was a vexed
foam, rising and frothing over the deep wretchedness within.

Ralph Hinchley was still at the house, and his quick perceptions made
him understand, more clearly than any one else, the state of feeling
between the unhappy pair.

He was an honorable, high principled man, and not for the world would
he have been guilty of an act which could produce new discord with
those already divided hearts. But he pitied Laurence, and his sympathy
for Margaret made him unusually kind and gentle. But Miss Chase watched
every movement or word with her lynx-eyes, and turned each into the
shape that best suited her purpose.

Laurence made Sybil his confidant now with the most perfect freedom; he
told her all his suspicions, his unhappiness and fears; she gave him
back the most touching sympathy, and such advice as proved satisfactory
to his feelings in every respect.

Margaret was too much preoccupied to observe any thing of this.
Miss Chase was so wary and prudent, that she would have averted the
suspicions of a much more jealous person than her young hostess.

Edward Laurence, even in his anger and wretchedness, would have shrunk
from any deliberate wrong to Margaret; but, day by day, Sybil's
influence over him increased--day by day her wiles produced their
effect, and placed him more completely in her dangerous power.

They were conversing one morning in the breakfast-room before any
one else was down--for Miss Chase persevered in her habit of early
rising, and many long talks and rambles were taken with an unexpressed
understanding of which no one in the house had the slightest idea.

They were talking of Margaret; she was often the subject of their
conversations, while she lay in her darkened chamber, trying to forget
her ills in broken slumber, which the dreary watches of the night had
refused to give.

"How much Miss Waring enjoys society," Sybil said; "I am glad that
these people happened to come just now--she was miserable before."

"Then you pity her for the misfortunes she has brought upon herself?"

"I pity her all the more on that account."

"I am not so charitable."

"At all events, she is gay and happy now," pursued Sybil.

"Yes; she can be pleasant to all the world except me," cried Laurence,
bitterly.

"I will not permit you to be unjust," returned Miss Chase.

"You can not deny that she is heartless and capricious; you admitted as
much the other day."

"Did I? Then it was very wrong in me."

"Ah, you have no sympathy with my misery."

"Do not reproach me in this way; you know it is unjust."

"But did you not own you considered her cold and hard?"

"No; I admitted that she was capricious."

"But not heartless?"

"Not at all; I believe her capable of strong, even intense feeling."

"I have never witnessed any exhibition of it."

"I hope she will always remain in ignorance of it herself."

"Why?"

"Because it would place her in a very unhappy position. I pity any
woman who is liable to make the discovery of such feelings when it
is too late--when she can but sit down in passive submission to her
destiny."

"Margaret is too impetuous for that."

"Nay, you can not believe that she would fail to resist such feelings,
when marriage made them a sin."

"I have never thought. I do not choose to contemplate the possibility
of a thing like that."

"It is much wiser not."

The words grated unpleasantly on Laurence's ear; he could not tell why,
but a vague suspicion in regard to Margaret woke in his mind--once
roused, no power could thrust it aside.

"We go to Highcliff to-day, I believe," Sybil said, after a pause, too
wise ever to push a conversation one step too far.

"Yes; that was decided last night," he answered, moodily. "I wish these
people were gone; I am tired of bustle and confusion. My own stay in
the country should terminate at once, only the old gentleman won't hear
of it."

Miss Chase expressed her entire participation in his weariness, and
noticing that the hands of the clock had crept round to the hour at
which people might be expected to make their appearance, she went out
of the room and did not appear again until several of the party were
gathered in the breakfast-room.

Soon after noon they started upon the expedition to Highcliff, a lofty
mountain that towered over a river which flowed through the valley in
which Mr. Waring's property lay, and was accessible to the summit by
persons on horseback.

It was a large, merry party; Margaret was recklessly gay, conscious
that her lover was watching her, and growing more excited and
determined to appear careless and unconcerned on that account.

When they reached the top of the mountain, the horses were left in
care of the servants, and the people wandered about at their pleasure,
dividing into little groups and enjoying themselves as best suited
their peculiar idiosyncracies.

Late in the afternoon, Sybil Chase, who had been talking first with one
group then with another, looked about and missed Margaret and Hinchley;
it seemed proper to her, in her wisdom, that their movements should be
watched, and she flitted hither and yon among the trees in search of
them.

Margaret had gone with Hinchley and a young girl, who had her own
object in seeking that part of the woods, in search of a spring that
broke out from the hollow of a charming little dell near by, filling
the woods with its crystalline music. The hollow was celebrated not
only for its spring of fresh water, but for the bird-songs that rung
through it from morning to night, making the place, in more senses than
one, a paradise.

The friends walked on, enjoying the shadows and sunshine that played
through the branches. Margaret had, really, no thought of avoiding any
of her party; but after Laurence left her side, she had little care
about time or place.

As they came near the dell, Margaret's young friend changed her mind,
as girls of sixteen sometimes will, very unaccountably. She had seen
a certain young gentleman flitting through the distant shadows, and
as his supposed presence there had brought her toward the spring,
a glimpse of his movements in another direction checked her desire
for a drink of cold water on the instant. But she was seized with an
overpowering hunger for young wintergreen, and that always grew best on
slopes which the sunshine visited occasionally--never in hollows.

She mentioned this craving wish with some hesitation, but Margaret only
smiled and said:

"Nonsense, nonsense; time enough for that when we have seen the spring."

They moved a few paces and came in sight of the dell, a beautiful
hollow shaded with hemlocks, dogwood and wild honeysuckles.

Fragments of rock lay in the bed of the hollow, through which a crystal
brooklet, born at the spring, crept and murmured caressingly, sending
up its tiny spray, and clothing its friends, the rocks, with the
brightest moss. Water-cresses shone up through the waves, and speckled
trout slept under the fern-leaves.

It was a delightful place, cool and heavenly; but the young lady of
sixteen saw that figure moving away through the distance, and grew
frantic from fear of snakes. Copperheads and red-adders, she protested,
were always found in just such places--she saw one then, creeping
around the foot of that hemlock. So with pretty expostulations and
divers shrieks loud enough to arrest the young man in his covert, she
darted off toward the open glades, where that shadowy figure was soon
busy on his knees gathering young wintergreens for her benefit.

"Shall we go on?" Margaret asked, when the young lady had retreated.

"If you are not tired," Hinchley answered. "I should like to go down
very much. The dell is the prettiest spot I ever saw, and the water
delicious."

"Oh yes, it is a lovely spot," Margaret said. "Some day I intend to
make a sketch of it. Let us select the best view."

They went down the descent and stood by the spring, which rushed out
from among the rocks with a pleasant, bell-like murmur, and cast its
tiny shower of spray-bubbles over the violets that fringed it.

"How still it is," Margaret observed.

"Yes; it is refreshing to escape from all that chatter. How constantly
people do talk."

"Yet if one is silent, it is to be considered stupid."

"But stupidity would be a relief sometimes."

Margaret did not answer; she was busy with her own thoughts. When
Hinchley spoke again it was of other things. He had been shocked at
finding so much changed at the homestead, for the old gentleman now saw
no visitors and seldom left his room, and Ralph felt that he ought to
make Margaret understand how little hope there was that she could much
longer have her uncle's house as a place of protection.

Margaret wept bitterly; but when he attempted to speak of Laurence, or
allude to her marriage, she only turned passionately away, with bitter,
haughty words that made Ralph fear both for her and his friend.

While they stood talking by the spring, Sybil Chase moved softly
through the underbrush and looked down at them. After a moment's silent
watch, she went back toward the place where she had left Laurence
conversing with a group of persons who had become tired of wandering
among the trees.

She remained a little way off from the party, and very soon he took
occasion to join her. They began to converse, and gradually walked down
the hill. Sybil did not appear to be leading him to any particular
spot, but was walking as absently along as himself. She paused on
a rise of ground which commanded a view of the dell. Sybil watched
Laurence, but stood with her face turned from the spring. He caught
sight of the pair standing in the dell--gave a quick start, while the
color shot up to his forehead.

"Are you ill?" Sybil asked, gently.

"Look down there," he replied, pointing to Margaret and Hinchley, who
were absorbed in conversation, Ralph holding his cousin's hand, while
she wept unrestrainedly.

"It is Margaret," said Sybil.

"And Hinchley."

"They have come to see the spring."

"I perceive, Miss Chase;" he spoke bitterly.

"Nonsense, Mr. Laurence--you are not jealous? He is her cousin."

"No--I am displeased."

"It means nothing at all."

"But it does not look well. I can see you think so.

"It may be a little imprudent, but you know Margaret is very impulsive.
Shall we go down?"

"We will not disturb them."

"Don't look so stern, Mr. Laurence; you really frighten me."

"There is no cause for alarm. The moment Margaret convinces me that she
is a flirt, I shall feel only contempt for her."

"I am sure she is not in fault," returned Sybil. "I never saw her
encourage the slightest attention from any gentleman before."

"True--I had not thought of that."

He frowned, black and angry, bit his lip and reflected.

"You meant something then which I did not comprehend," said Miss Chase.

"I was reflecting. I never saw Margaret on such friendly terms with any
man before. It makes me think the more seriously of this."

"Great heavens, Mr. Laurence, you can not suspect her! Hinchley is her
cousin. They have been dear friends from childhood."

"She is my betrothed wife. She has no right to make herself a subject
of comment."

"Come away!" she exclaimed, quickly; "come away!"

She took his hand and drew him back into the path.

"It is nothing," she repeated several times. "I am convinced that you
are angry without cause."

"I believe so," replied Laurence--"I must believe it! But Margaret had
better take care. I have borne a great deal. She shall not, by her
folly or her vanity, make me ridiculous, nor will I be made a dupe."

"Such words, Mr. Laurence!"

"I mean them! As for Hinchley, if he make trouble between Margaret and
me, I shall hold him guilty as if she were my wife."

Sybil sighed heavily.

"Of what are you thinking?" asked Laurence.

"I hardly know--I can not tell."

"I see that you are troubled," he said, violently. "Sybil, you have
called yourself my friend; answer me: do you believe that Hinchley
loves Margaret?"

Sybil hesitated; her head was averted, as if she could not bear to meet
his earnest gaze.

"I have ceased to believe that she cares greatly for me. Tell me if you
think Hinchley is more to her than a cousin and friend."

"Do not ask me; mine are only vague suspicions. I can not be the one to
destroy your last hope of happiness."

"I am answered," he said, gloomily.

"No, no; I will not--I can not answer! Look for yourself, Mr. Laurence.
I may be wrong. I have very strict and, what people might think,
singular ideas. Oh! don't mind what I have said."

"I will see for myself," he answered, recklessly. "Let me once be
convinced, and I shall leave her forever. Oh, Sybil! you are my
friend--the only one to whom I can turn for sympathy."

Sybil buried her face in her hands and burst into tears; but when he
attempted to question her, she broke from him.

"Let me go!" she exclaimed. "I blush for my own weakness. Let me go,
Edward Laurence!"

She hurried away, leaving him bewildered and troubled. For the first
time he felt dimly that Sybil loved him, and the consciousness
brought a host of inexplicable feelings to his heart. She looked so
lovely in her distress--her gentleness, in contrast with Margaret's
violence and ill-temper, was so touching, that her image lingered in
his imagination--the only ray of light in all the blackness which
surrounded him.

As Hinchley and his cousin passed up the hill, they saw Sybil Chase
conversing with a little group of friends.

"I have a horror of that woman," said Ralph.

"Yet she seems a quiet, sensible person," replied Margaret. "I have
allowed myself to become prejudiced against her; but when I am in her
society I forget it all."

Hinchley did not answer. The remembrance of that terrible night in
California came back, as was always the case, when Sybil Chase came in
sight. Her figure started up instead of the woman he had but half seen,
and he turned from the thought with self-abhorrence--it was wicked to
indulge it even for an instant.

While they stood together, Laurence approached, pale and agitated, like
a man under the excitement of wine.

"Edward!" Hinchley called out, cheerfully. "Laurence, is it not almost
time to go home?"

"I suppose you are at liberty to choose your own time," replied
Laurence, insolently.

Margaret colored scarlet; an insult to her cousin seemed given to
herself.

"What is the matter?" asked Ralph, in surprise.

"Oh, pay no attention," interposed Margaret, before Laurence could
reply. "It is only a slight specimen of Mr. Laurence's civility. He is
not satisfied with being rude to me, but must extend his bad manners to
my relatives."

"You are at liberty to put any construction you please upon my words or
manner," returned Laurence. "I shall not account to either of you."

"To me it is a matter of perfect indifference," said Margaret,
haughtily.

Ralph looked from one to the other in pain and astonishment, at a loss
what to say or do.

"Now don't quarrel like children," he exclaimed, trying to laugh.
"Come, shake hands and be friends."

"Miss Waring's conduct proves how sincerely she desires to be friends,"
answered Laurence, with a harsh laugh.

"I do not wish it," she exclaimed, greatly irritated by his manner.

"Margaret! Margaret!" pleaded Ralph.

"Oh, don't check her," sneered Laurence.

"He can not," returned Margaret. "I am weary of this rudeness--weary of
you."

"Say and do what you please; I will leave you in more agreeable
society," said Laurence, hurrying away.

Hinchley tried to expostulate with her, but words were thrown away.
During the ride home, and the whole evening, Margaret and Laurence did
not speak. Ralph kept near her, anxious to soothe her anger, while
Laurence and Sybil Chase watched every movement and look.

Thus, with her proud spirit up in arms, and her heart aching with
wounded tenderness, the poor girl rushed into the snare so insidiously
laid beneath her feet.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE JAIL.


In one of the interior towns of California there stands a jail, by
no means striking in appearance, or remarkable for its solidity or
strength, yet possessing the horrible fascination which any place
connected with tragic deeds fastens on the mind.

Within that prison many notable criminals had been confined; murders
had been committed there by hardened men, daring every thing in a
struggle for liberty; many a reckless criminal had gone from thence
to the gallows; even youths, with the freshness of boyhood on their
cheeks, had gone out from those walls to a violent death, incited to
evil doing and crime by the very lawlessness and sin about them.

In one of the cells upon the upper floor, a single occupant was seated,
crouched down upon a bench, and his eyes moodily fixed upon the small
grated window which looked out upon a sort of paved court around which
the jail was built.

The prisoner might have been a man of thirty-five, but in that dim
light, with his unshaven beard, and face pale from inactivity and
confinement, it was difficult to judge accurately of his age.

The countenance was harsh and unpleasant, but the expression was
rather that of reckless passion than revealing any stern, sinister
determination. His frame was large and muscular, the veins were knotted
and swollen upon his pale hands, and it was indeed pitiable to see so
much physical strength wasting in the gloom of a prison.

Sometimes his lips moved; the restless flashing of his eyes betrayed
the brooding thought within his mind. At last he rose suddenly, took
the bench upon which he had been sitting, and lifted it, as if anxious
to test his strength. He held it extended upon the fingers of his right
hand in a manner which required no inconsiderable force. Then he set it
down upon the floor, abruptly as he had raised it, and laughed a low,
smothered laugh.

"Not quite a baby yet," he muttered--"not quite! I can do it, and I
will. I have got out of worse scrapes than this--fudge, what's this
place compared to Australia?"

A low imprecation finished the sentence, then he resumed his seat, and
began his meditations anew. But quiet seemed impossible to him in the
mood into which he had worked himself.

He rose again, carried the bench to the window, and, standing upon it,
managed to leap high enough to grasp the gratings. There he suspended
himself, with his whole weight resting upon his hands, and looked out.
When he had finished his survey, he loosed his hold and dropped lightly
upon the bench.

"It's all right," he whispered to himself. "I know the place. It can be
done, and I am the man to do it."

It was then somewhat after midday, and, as the man resumed his seat,
there was a tread without, a sound of keys grating in their lock, then
the door opened and the jailer entered, carrying a sparse meal, which
he set down near the prisoner.

The man looked up and nodded good-naturedly enough.

"I thought you didn't mean to let me have any dinner," he said.

"Oh, I don't want to starve you," returned the jailer. "Eat and make
yourself comfortable."

It was no unusual thing for the prisoner to engage this man in
conversation, and if he was in the mood he answered readily and with
sufficient kindness.

"What day of the month is this?" asked the man, preparing to attack the
repast set before him.

"The twelfth."

"How a fellow loses his count in this miserable hole," returned the
prisoner.

"Don't slander your quarters, there's worse in the world; ten to one
you've been in 'em."

"Maybe so and maybe not. I say, California sheep get pretty tough, now
don't they?" he continued, tearing vigorously at the baked mutton which
had been placed before him.

"Makes a man strong to eat tough mutton," replied the jailer.

"Think so?" and the prisoner smiled a little, unseen by his companion.

"I'm sure of it," said the jailer.

"Perhaps you've had your turn at it," observed the man.

"Can't say I ever did, and don't want to."

"You needn't; still it's not so bad that one can't bear it."

The jailer prepared to retire.

"You're a cheerful, good-natured fellow, any how," he remarked.

"Yes, that is my way."

"And a good deal better than being so cantankerous as some chaps we
have here; they only get harder treatment."

The prisoner agreed with him completely, and with some other careless
remark, the jailer left the cell.

When the door closed, and he heard the heavy bolts clang into their
sockets, the prisoner muttered:

"If I have to throttle you to-night, you won't think so well of my
good-nature."

He laughed again, as if there had been something amusing in the
thought, and finished his meal with as much dispatch as if some
important business awaited its completion.

But when all was done, he had only to resume his silent watch, varying
it by pacing up and down the narrow cell, and performing a variety
of gymnastic feats, which seemed an unnecessary waste of muscle and
strength.

So the afternoon wore by. The sunset came in; its faint gold streamed
across the floor, and attracted the prisoner's eye. He rose, stretching
out his hands as if to grasp it.

"This looks like freedom," he muttered. "It's a warning."

The superstition appeared to gratify him, and he remained in the same
position until the brightness faded, and the gray shadows of twilight
began to fill the room.

"It's gone," he said; "so much the better; I shall follow all the
sooner."

He sat down again and waited. His restlessness and impatience had
disappeared; a strong determination settled upon his face. He looked
prepared for any emergency, and was ready to catch at any chance,
however desperate, which might aid his plans.

The lamp in the corridor had been lighted while he sat there; the light
struggled through the grating over the door, and played across the room
among the shadows cast by the bars.

There he sat, listening to every sound from without with the stealthy
quiet of a panther that sees his prey and is prepared to spring.

An hour might have passed before the jailer's heavy tread again sounded
upon the pavement; he was whistling a merry tune, that rung strangely
enough among those gloomy corridors and darkened cells.

When the prisoner heard the step pause before his door, he took from
his bed the thick woolen blankets which lay upon it and, grasping them
in his hand, crept quietly behind the door.

The key turned in the lock, the heavy door swung upon its hinges with a
sound so mournful and ominous, that had the man who entered been at all
imaginative, he might have taken it for a warning. But he passed on,
interrupting his song to call out something in a cheerful voice, but
the prisoner did not answer.

"He must be asleep," muttered the jailer. "Well, well, poor chap, he
hain't much else to do!"

He moved toward the bed, saying:

"Here, wake up, lazybones, and eat your supper before it gets cold."

The door swung slowly to its latch, but he did not heed the warning; a
step sounded behind him, but before he could turn or cry out, the heavy
blanket was thrown over his head, almost smothering him in its folds,
and an iron grasp crushed him down upon the floor.

"Lie still, or I'll murder you," whispered a stern, hard voice.

The jailer's only response was a half-choked gurgle in his throat;
whatever his courage or strength might have been, he was entirely
powerless.

The prisoner continued his preparations with the utmost quiet; bound
the unfortunate man to the iron bedstead, and so completely enveloped
him in the blanket, that there was not the slightest hope of his
extricating himself.

Stealthily the prisoner moved to the door, and looked down the corridor
dimly lighted by a lamp at the further end. No one was stirring; at
that hour the people employed in the jail were at their supper, as the
man well knew, so that he found little risk of being observed.

He locked the door behind him, put the keys in his pocket, to be flung
away when once beyond the walls, and walked rapidly but silently down
the passage.

He was perfectly familiar with every winding and outlet of the prison,
and moved hurriedly along through the shadows, down the stairs, along a
back passage, where no guard was stationed as it communicated directly
with the kitchens, and reached the outer door.

There he paused an instant, to be certain that he had made no mistake,
looking about with as much composure as though he had been already
beyond the danger of pursuit.

He had been in more terrible positions than that; had listened to the
infuriated shouts of a mob thirsting for his life; had seen the body of
a companion swung from a tree before his very eyes; and yet, amid all
the horror and terror, had preserved his courage and presence of mind
sufficiently to make his way among the very men who were hunting him
down with the fury of bloodhounds.

An hour passed. The jailer in the dark cell had managed, with his teeth
and nails, to enlarge a rent in the blanket sufficiently to extricate
his head. His feet were pinioned, but he crept along the pavement to
the door, and beat heavily against the bars to summon assistance from
without; but nothing answered, save the echo of his frantic cries and
the sharp blows upon the barred oak.

Away out upon a little eminence, that still from the distance commanded
a view of the prison, stood the escaped criminal, casting a last glance
back upon the weather-stained walls. He lifted his hand with a gesture
of mockery and exultation, plunged down the hill, and was lost amid the
dense woods that spread out for miles beyond.



CHAPTER XV.

THE DUEL.


Mr. Waring's old housekeeper was ill--a most unusual misfortune to
befall her, and one which she could not at first either realize or
believe. She struggled against this sudden malady with all the energy
and obstinacy of her nature; but she was at length forced to take to
her bed and let the fever have its course, while she grumbled and
snarled at every mortal who approached, and gave the poor girl who was
obliged to take care of her a precious life indeed.

But while the old lady lay snapping and rabid with fever, affairs in
the house did not go on smoothly at all, and nervous Mr. Waring nearly
fretted himself into a fever which almost equaled that which had taken
such sharp hold of his rebellious housekeeper.

Margaret was busy with her own troubles; and, besides, she was affected
with that horror of domestic matters, which, I am sorry to say, is
so common among my youthful country-women, and entirely neglected to
interest herself in the domestic annoyances that beset them.

In the mean time the servants ran riot below stairs, and, as several of
them were new-comers, belonging to the Celtic race into the bargain,
they took such advantage of the housekeeper's absence that it soon
became doubtful whether they would condescend to prepare meals for any
portion of the family except that which reigned in the kitchen.

Mr. Waring sent for Miss Chase to his room for consultation. The lady
was all sweetness and affability, declared her willingness to do every
thing in her power to restore the household to order, but more than
hinted that Margaret would not permit her to interfere.

Of course the old gentleman was in a sad way, but poor Meg's health had
become so delicate that he did not venture to speak with her upon the
subject; and the only thing he could do was to listen favorably to any
proposal which Miss Chase made.

"I will go down to town this very morning," she said, "and I am very
certain that I shall return with a woman perfectly competent to take
charge of your household."

When she saw how Mr. Waring brightened at that information, she added
another touch of comfort:

"I have the address somewhere of a woman who once lived for a time with
Mrs. Pierson. If I can find her, she will suit you admirably."

The matter was satisfactorily arranged. Mr. Waring began to look upon
Sybil as a sort of guardian-angel; and she bade him good-morning with
her sweetest smile to make preparations for her expedition.

Sybil returned from the city that night accompanied by a respectable
elderly female, who set about her duties in such a quiet, understanding
way that everybody was delighted and something like peace restored.

Of course the old housekeeper grumbled more than ever, and was prepared
to consider the stranger the most abominable of her sex; but no one
paid much attention, and, as every spasm of rage only increased her
fever, and she was quite incapable of controlling her temper, there
seemed every probability that placid Mrs. Brown would hold the reins
of government in her chubby fingers for some time to come.

And now events began to thicken about that once cheerful house on the
river, and those miserable young beings were urged forward to the last
act of anger and injustice which should consummate their misery. The
net which Sybil had woven had been slowly and securely drawn about
them, and now the opportunity was offered which completed the work she
had so skillfully arranged.

The estrangement between Laurence and Margaret was daily gaining
strength. Laurence began really to believe that he hated her, and the
fascination which Sybil had thrown about him became enthralling. He
came to the house now merely to hold long, confidential conversations
with her, and from every one he retired more completely bewildered and
enslaved.

He had quarreled with Hinchley, although the young man remained at the
house as his uncle's invited guest. He was deeply pained by the state
of affairs, and still hoped to reunite his cousin and friend.

It might have been a fortnight after the installation of Mrs. Brown
when Sybil and Laurence were walking in the shrubbery at some distance
from the house.

They saw Hinchley pass down a neighboring path in full view of the
spot where they stood, although he was unconscious of their presence.
Laurence muttered bitter execrations against the intruder; and while
Sybil was soothing him, they saw the new housekeeper go cautiously down
the path and join Hinchley. She gave him a note and stole away again.

"I understand now," whispered Laurence. "She is made a medium of
communication between that man and Margaret. She shall tell me the
truth, or I will annihilate her."

He drew Sybil forward and stood directly in the path as Mrs. Brown
approached. When she saw them, the woman started back with every
evidence of fear and confusion; but Laurence grasped her roughly by the
arm.

"You gave that man a note from Miss Margaret," he said.

The woman began to cry at once.

"Oh, sir, don't make me lose my place! I couldn't refuse the young
lady! Do speak a word for me, Miss Chase. I mean to be faithful. I
didn't mean any harm."

"And you have carried notes between them before?" demanded Laurence.

"I didn't know it was wrong--indeed I didn't. Tell him I am an honest
woman, Miss Chase."

"Go into the house, Brown," said the lady, coldly. "I am disappointed
in you."

Laurence released her arm, and she darted away wringing her hands in
sad distress. Laurence made a step toward the place where Hinchley
stood reading the letter with a look of doubt and astonishment.

"Stop," whispered Sybil. "What are you going to do?"

"Take that letter--know the truth."

She attempted to plead with him, but he pushed her aside and strode
toward Hinchley. The young man looked up, startled at his unexpected
approach, and made a movement to conceal the note in his hand.

"Give me that letter!" exclaimed Laurence, in a hoarse voice.

"A very singular demand, sir," returned Hinchley, coldly.

"I will have it--the proof of your treachery and hers--you miserable
coward!"

He sprung forward, seized Hinchley in his infuriated grasp, and a short
but severe struggle took place. At last, Laurence flung his opponent
back and seized the note.

"Scoundrel!" exclaimed Hinchley. "Give back that paper."

"Never! I will read it!"

Sybil saw that she must interfere, or Laurence would not be permitted
to open the sheet; so she hurried up with hysteric sobs, and threw her
arms about Hinchley.

"No violence!" she sobbed. "Oh, don't quarrel, Mr. Hinchley, don't."

While he vainly tried to extricate himself from her hold, Laurence tore
open the letter and read it. He would hardly have been human had he not
given way to the storm of fury which swept over him.

The writing was Margaret's, the letter signed with her name, and it
revealed the story of her wretchedness, her desire to free herself from
her engagement, and her belief that she was loved by Hinchley. The note
went on to say that he need have no scruples about seeking her hand,
as she was determined never to marry Laurence.

The young man dropped the letter with a groan.

Sybil released Hinchley, whose anger seemed to have changed to pity at
the sight of his former friend's distress.

"She never wrote it, Laurence," he exclaimed. "I would pledge my life
on it."

"Who then?" he answered. "Is there another woman on earth brazen enough
to have written it?"

"How can I tell? But I would stake my life that it is a forgery."

He glanced at Sybil; something in her attitude brought back his old
suspicions, but they were so vague, her innocence in the present matter
so apparent, that it would have seemed madness to have spoken of them.
Again Laurence turned upon him most furiously, and hurled such terrible
epithets and charges against him, that no man of courage could have
endured them.

Sybil Chase left the two men pale with wrath, and rushed away, not
frightened at what she had done, but believing it wiser for her to
escape from the scene; for language had been employed on both sides
that could only end in apologies or deadly violence. Hinchley was
wrought to a pitch of frenzy nearly equal to that which convulsed
Laurence.

He grasped eagerly at a defiance which fell from his opponent.

"When you will," he answered. "You will find me always ready to
vindicate my honor."

"So be it," returned Laurence. "Before sunset to-night, let your life
or mine pay the forfeit; we can not breathe the same air another day."

Before they parted it was settled--angrily settled--that two school
friends, men who had been intimate and loving as brothers, should stand
face to face, each opposed to his murderer. This is the true word.
Call duelling the only resource of wounded honor if you will; it is
murder, after all--murder the most atrocious, from its very coolness
and premeditation.

Hinchley broke away abruptly, after having regained possession of the
fatal letter, and Laurence rushed toward the house to find Margaret,
and overwhelm her with his knowledge of her weakness and treachery.

It had been a dark, wretched day to the girl, passed between the sick
chamber of her uncle and that of the old housekeeper. Mr. Waring had
been seized with one of his violent attacks, and was lying dangerously
ill. Exhausted with watching, Margaret found an opportunity to rest,
and went down stairs to the library, meeting Sybil Chase in the hall.

"Will you go and sit with my uncle for a while, Miss Chase?" she asked,
wearily.

"Certainly," replied Sybil, somewhat flurried after her escape from the
garden, but concealing her emotion with her usual success. "You look
quite worn out; it would do you good to sleep."

Margaret passed on without vouchsafing a reply; her dislike of the
woman had grown into absolute aversion during the past days, and it was
with difficulty that she could force herself to receive her advances
with common civility.

Margaret entered the library, closed the door and threw herself upon a
couch, hoping for a time to forget her distress and bitter feelings in
slumber. She fell asleep at once, and was aroused from an incoherent
dream by the violent opening of the door, and a hoarse voice called out:

"Margaret--Margaret Waring?"

She started up, confused by the abrupt awakening, and with a vague
impression that her uncle had been taken suddenly worse; but she saw
Laurence standing before her, livid with passion. Margaret rose at
once, and coldly said:

"Mr. Laurence, you will please come into a room which I occupy,
somewhat less boisterously."

"I grieve exceedingly to have disturbed your delicate nerves," he
replied, with a hoarse laugh; "but I have that to say which will
possibly shock them still more."

She gave him a haughty glance, which roused his fury to still greater
violence.

"Nothing you could do would shock me," she said. "I am prepared for any
thing."

"Then you are prepared to hear that I have discovered your falsehood
and treachery! Miserable, cowardly girl, why did you not come frankly
and tell me the truth?"

Her pride rose to meet the passion which flamed in his eyes.

"Mr. Laurence," she exclaimed, "I have borne a great deal from you; but
you shall not insult me in this house!"

"Why did you not say to me frankly--I detest this marriage?" he
continued. "Do you think I would not have freed you at once?"

"I do not know what you mean," she answered, trembling with angry
astonishment at his words. "But let me tell you now, I do dread
it--loathe the very thought of it."

"So this you wrote to him," he exclaimed. "I have seen the letter! Why,
shame on you, Margaret Waring! I would not have believed you thus lost
to all womanly pride. What! tell man unsought that you loved him? and
you honorably bound to another."

She stared at him in angry surprise--her lips apart, her wild eyes full
of scornful incredulity.

"You have been dreaming, or you are crazy," she said.

"Neither the one nor the other; but I know every thing."

"I do not understand you," she replied, relapsing into the haughty
coldness which always enraged him more than any bitter words that she
could speak.

"Oh, do not add another falsehood to the list!" he exclaimed. "Haven't
you perjured your soul enough, already? I tell you that I read the
letter you wrote to Ralph Hinchley. I have watched you for weeks; I
know the whole extent of your shameful duplicity."

"Stop!" cried Margaret. "I will endure no more! Leave this house, Mr.
Laurence, at once, and forever! While we both live, I will never see
your face again; my uncle decides this night, between you and me;
either he confirms what I now say, or I will leave his house."

"So be it; do not think I regret it! Why, I came here only to expose
and cast you off. Your uncle shall see that letter. I will have it, or
tear it from Hinchley's heart. When Waring has read that, we shall see
what he thinks of his dainty niece."

"Of all this passion I do not comprehend one word; but it wearies me.
Go, sir."

"Do you dare deny having written to Ralph Hinchley that you loved
him--that you were ready to abandon your engagement and marry him?"

"Oh!" groaned Margaret, almost fainting from a sharp recoil of outraged
feeling, "is there no man living who will avenge me on this libeler?"

"He may, perhaps, avenge you; why not?" retorted Laurence; "but answer.
You shall answer and confess this duplicity, or blacken your soul with
another lie. Did you write to Hinchley?"

"I did," said Margaret; "a note of three lines, asking him to pay a
bill for me at Desmond's."

"Margaret! Margaret! this effrontery only makes it more unbearable," he
cried. "I will expose you to the whole world."

"Do what you please--say what you choose, but leave this house, and
never let me see you again."

"I go willingly. Farewell forever, Margaret! I do not curse; time will
do that, and I can wait."

He dashed out of the room, pale and fierce with contending passions,
and hurried from her presence.

Margaret stood upright until the door closed, then her hands fell to
her side, a low moan broke from her lips, and she dropped senseless
upon the couch.

It was near sunset when she came to herself again; Sybil Chase was
bending over her, bathing her forehead and using words of tender
solicitude, while a little way off stood the new housekeeper,
apparently quite overcome with distress.

Margaret pushed Miss Chase away, and would have left the room without
a word, but Sybil caught her arm, while a strange light shot into her
eyes.

"I must detain you a moment," she said. "Your uncle has been seized
with a frightful attack; the physician is with him now."

"What caused it?" demanded Margaret.

"Mr. Laurence was with him," faltered Sybil.

Margaret turned upon her with cold scrutiny.

"Miss Chase," she said, "I believe on my soul that you are at the
bottom of all this trouble. I desire you to quit the house at once."

Sybil pleaded, wept, and demanded an explanation, but Margaret broke
from her, and hurried out of the room.

"What is to come now?" whispered the woman, going close to Sybil, who
stood looking after Margaret, and smiling as only women like her can
smile.

"She has done exactly what I desired," she answered. "I shall leave
this house in an hour; you will go with me."

"But the duel?"

"Oh! that drives me frantic; but I believe Hinchley will be the
sufferer--I should go mad else! Pack my things, and meet me at the
station in an hour."

She hurried away, without giving the woman time to speak, and left the
house at once.

Sybil took her way rapidly through the grounds, crossed the high road,
and ran through the fields until she reached a lofty ascent, from
whence she could command a view of the broad sandy plain beneath.

She was only just in time; there she stood, and gazed below with the
same expression her face had worn upon the night when she watched her
husband's frightful death in the wilds of California.

Only a few paces from each other stood Laurence and Ralph Hinchley;
each held a pistol in his hand, and even as Sybil looked, one of the
seconds gave the word.

There was a simultaneous report, a blinding flash, and when the smoke
cleared away, Sybil saw Hinchley stretched upon the ground, the two
assistants bending over him, and Laurence standing in his old position.

She heard one of the men say:

"Save yourself, Laurence;" then Hinchley called out:

"Not yet--not yet; it is only my arm; there is no danger. Edward,
believe me, Margaret never wrote that letter. Keep her name out of this
quarrel. It will yet be explained."

Laurence only replied by a gesture of dissent. The seconds raised the
wounded man, bore him to a carriage which was stationed a little way
off, placed him upon the seat, and the party drove away.

Laurence stood like a statue, gazing moodily upon the pistol he grasped
in his hand.

Sybil hurried down the bank, calling out:

"Laurence! Laurence!"

He turned at her approach, flung the pistol away, and caught her in his
arms.

"I am revenged," he said. "I have nothing left in the world but you,
Sybil Chase. Oh, say that you love me!"

The long expected moment had arrived, and, regardless of the sins by
which that painful bliss had been purchased, Sybil Chase folded her
white arms around his neck and gave passionate expression to the wild
love that had burned in her heart for years.

Now the great object of her misguided life was attained. She was
free from the man who had been a terrible barrier between them. The
engagement was broken by her own arts. With all this, why was there so
much pain left in her heart? Why did she tremble so violently in the
first clasp of his arms?



CHAPTER XVI.

THE BATTERY.


Several days passed, and more miserable ones never dawned upon the
household at Brooklawn.

Gerald Waring was dead. The excitement into which he had been thrown by
Laurence's insane story, the passionate denunciations of Margaret, and
the unaccountable departure of Sybil Chase had brought on a recurrence
of his disease more violent than any sufferings that had preceded, and
before noon the next day he was a corpse.

Margaret sat alone in her room, desolate and almost maddened by the
events of the past days. Her uncle was dead, and now she stood in the
world utterly alone. He was the last of her family, the only human
being upon whom she had the slightest claim of kindred save the slight
clue of blood that bound her to Ralph Hinchley.

Waring's property, never very extensive, had been heavily mortgaged
to gratify his expensive tastes and invalid caprices. Brooklawn must
be sold, and after that painful event Margaret must go forth into the
world homeless and desolate. Selfish and thoughtless as Waring was, he
would have made some provision for his niece, but that he was confident
of her marriage with Laurence, by which she would be placed in a
position far beyond all need of assistance. Thus assured, the weak man
dismissed the matter entirely from his mind, and thought only of his
present comforts.

Margaret had seen Hinchley and learned every thing from him. The truth
only aroused her pride more forcibly. There was no relenting in her
purpose; though broken, miserable, and beset with poverty, she would
have rejected Laurence had he knelt before her pleading for pardon. Her
proud heart had been more revolted at the fact that he could doubt her
truth than by all the cruelty of his conduct.

Gerald Waring was buried. He had lived in small things, and his life
was of little value to any human being, except Margaret. She, poor
girl, mourned him greatly; and as the days passed into weeks, and it
became necessary for her to think of another home, her loneliness and
desolation increased into absolute dejection.

When Hinchley recovered from his wound sufficiently to go out, he
visited Margaret several times; but was quite unable to throw any light
upon the mystery which surrounded them, save the bare facts of the
quarrel and separation.

Sybil Chase had settled herself in comfortable lodgings in New York,
and there Laurence visited her daily. With each day his wounded pride
grew more sensitive, and his condemnation of Margaret increased. Sybil
knew how to strengthen the infatuation which bound him within the spell
of her influence, and thus her control became supreme.

Hinchley could not meet Laurence--he knew the utter folly of any
attempt at reconciliation. His own feelings toward the unhappy man were
those of profound pity. He was certain that Edward loved Margaret--that
the only hope of happiness for either in this world lay in a cordial
understanding of the truth. Thus he determined to spare no pains in
clearing up the utter darkness which enveloped their lives, and in
restoring them to the brightness of that early dream which had made
life so beautiful to both while it lasted.

Still, though the weeks passed and the beautiful spring deepened
into summer, nothing occurred which could give Hinchley the least
clue. In his own mind he fairly believed Sybil Chase the author of
all that terrible unhappiness, and with these thoughts there came
back a recollection of that night in California, when his life was so
nearly sacrificed. He reproached himself for connecting her with those
images, but could not drive the fearful thought away. Always, when he
recalled that awful struggle, the chamber in the old house, and the
quick retribution dealt to his assailant, there rose before him the dim
figure of that woman in the distance, and always behind the shrouding
shadows he saw the features of Sybil Chase.

Watching and waiting, he neglected all business and every personal
interest. He walked the streets, meditating upon those inexplicable
occurrences, haunted every spot that Sybil Chase frequented, but all
without result; when the day was over he could only return to Margaret,
and find her pale, ill, and heart-broken as he had left her.

Some errand connected with that all-engrossing affair carried him, one
day, into a street which led to the Battery; he had obtained a clue to
the residence of Mrs. Brown, and was following it up with a hope that
she might be bribed or frightened into some revelation which would tend
to make his course more clear.

A California steamer had just arrived at its wharf, and the eager crowd
came surging up the street along which Hinchley was slowly sauntering
in a painful revery. He looked with idle curiosity from face to face of
the motley throng, glad of any event which would for a moment take his
thoughts from the mournful subject which had so long engrossed him.

Suddenly he beheld upon the other side of the way a face which brought
him to an abrupt pause, while an exclamation, almost of terror, broke
from his lips. After the first glance of uncertainty, the firm, severe
look natural to his features passed over them.

The man who had disturbed him so walked by, unconscious of his
scrutiny. The face was pale from sickness or confinement, the long
beard had been shaven, the dress was altered, but through all the
change Hinchley recognized him. That image was too closely connected
with the most fearful era in his life ever to be forgotten.

After the first instant of horror and surprise, his active mind
centered upon itself; the opportunity at least of identifying Sybil
Chase with the woman he had seen was offered. What might follow he
dared not think of--the hope was too great and joyous in the midst of
so much suffering.

He turned and followed the man swiftly; came up to him in a narrow
and almost deserted street and laid his hand upon his shoulder. The
stranger started like an escaped prisoner who felt the grasp of his
pursuers upon him; but when he saw Ralph Hinchley's face, he uttered a
cry and endeavored to break away. But the young man held him fast, and
a few rapid words reassured the fugitive so much that he walked quietly
by his side and listened to him doubtfully, glancing around like a wild
animal in fear of pursuit, and ready at the slightest sound to take
flight.

"It is useless to deny what I say," was the conclusion of Hinchley's
hasty address. "I mean you no harm. Only answer my questions, and you
may go."

"Speak out then," returned the man, sullenly; "though I don't know why
the deuce I should let a man I never saw before come up and question me
in this way."

"You remember me, and did from the first," replied Hinchley, regarding
him with keen decision. "Your eyes waver--you are pale, too. This is
cowardly. Come, man, you need not be afraid; for any thing I shall do
you are safe enough. What I want is the truth, and not even that about
yourself."

"Well," replied the man, laughing in a reckless way, "the truth is not
difficult to tell about other people, though I am out of practice."

After a little more persuasion, he followed Hinchley on to the Battery,
and, sitting down under a tree, they conversed eagerly. Very soon
all doubt and fear left the man's face, a stern passion and fierce
exultation lit every feature, while from Ralph Hinchley's faded the
shadow and gloom that had clouded his countenance for weeks.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE VALLEY RANCHE.


Sybil Chase was sitting in the apartments which she had taken on
leaving Mr. Waring's residence.

Her dress, always simple and elegant, was even more studied and
elaborately delicate than usual; the face wore its lightest, fairest
look, and one seeing her as she sat gazing down the street, evidently
in momentary expectation of some person not yet in sight, would have
thought that no anxiety or stern thought had ever found a resting-place
in her bosom.

That for which she had toiled and plotted, treading ruthlessly over the
hearts and happiness of all who stood in her way, had been gained--in
one week she would be the wife of Edward Laurence.

Sybil was expecting him then; he spent the greater portion of each
day in her society, and the influence which she had gained seemed
constantly to increase.

While she waited there was a low knock at the door. Sybil started up
with a beautiful smile of welcome, which changed to a look of surprise
when the door opened and only a servant appeared, saying:

"There's a gentleman, ma'am, who wants to see you."

"I am engaged. I told you to admit no one but Mr. Laurence."

"I know it, but he would have me come up; he says he won't keep you a
moment."

"Be quick, then," she answered, impatiently.

The man went out and closed the door; but while Sybil was considering
who her visitor might be, it was flung open, and Ralph Hinchley stood
before her.

She stepped forward with an angry gesture.

"Why have you come here?" she asked. "I do not desire your visits, Mr.
Hinchley."

"Nor is it at all probable that I shall ever pay you another, madam;
but this one you will have the patience to endure."

"Mr. Laurence will soon be here," she said, haughtily; "possibly you
would prefer not to meet him."

"I desire to see him--it is part of my business here; but first, I wish
to introduce an old acquaintance of yours."

He went to the door, flung it open, and Sybil beheld a form which she
had believed long since cold in the grave, the old cruel light in the
eyes, the mocking smile upon the lips--her husband.

She started back with a cry of dreary pain.

"Don't be alarmed, Sybil," he said, quietly advancing toward her. "Of
course you are glad to see your 'own, own Philip.' That used to be the
term, I think."

"Keep off--keep off!" she shrieked, insane with fear and the suddenness
of the shock. "Philip Yates is dead. I saw him hanged. You saw him,
also, on the blasted pine, Ralph Hinchley."

"Excuse me," returned Yates; "I ought to know, and I assure you that
I am as much alive as either of you. Tom Dickinson, poor fellow, they
hung him in my place. He managed to steal my clothes from the wardrobe,
hoping the men would take him for me, and help him off. So you really
thought it was me they swung up; poor Sybil, what a disappointment!
Well, it was natural. Tom and I did look alike, especially when he was
on good behavior; but there was a certain manner he never could catch.
Still, the people mistook him for me more than once. He was so proud of
it, poor Tom. But I wouldn't have thought it of you, Syb--not know your
own husband! My darling, that is not complimentary."

She answered by a groan so despairing that it might have softened any
heart less steeled against her than those of the two men who looked
quietly on.

"No, no, Sybil," he continued; "while Tom was doubling like a fox, and
you screaming for some one to pounce on me, I slipped away through the
cellar, and into the bush. Why, bless your soul, I was perched just
above you on the precipice all the time, and, if you hadn't made off
with the horse, should have got clear, instead of being caught among
the rocks like a rat in a trap."

Sybil sunk slowly into a chair while he was giving these revolting
details, and, covering her face with both hands, interrupted him
only with her faint moans. While she sat thus abject and wounded,
Edward Laurence entered the room. He stopped short on the threshold,
astonished at the presence of those two men. He looked from one to
the other in amazement. Then turning on Hinchley, demanded in stern
wrath how he had dared to enter that dwelling. Sybil heard his voice,
and made a wild effort to shake off the terror which was crushing her
to the earth; but, as she attempted to unvail her face, the smiling
look with which Yates stood regarding her made every nerve in her body
shrink and shiver.

Laurence glanced at her, and once more turned on Hinchley.

"Why are you here, sir, and who is that man?"

"Hush, hush!" returned Ralph, mournfully. "You will have enough to
repent, Edward; be silent now."

Before Laurence could speak, Yates stepped toward Sybil, seized her by
the arm, and forced her to stand up.

"Come," he said, "you and I are going away from here."

"I will not move," she moaned, desperately. "Let me go, I say."

Laurence started forward, trembling with indignation, but the man
pushed him rudely aside.

"Don't interfere between husband and wife," he said, coldly. "I warn
you it won't be safe. You know that, Syb, of old."

"What do you mean?" said Laurence. "Great heavens, Sybil, who is this
man?"

She did not answer; in that moment all her duplicity and art failed;
she could only moan and turn away her frightened face.

"I am Philip Yates, her husband," answered he. "I have brought my
marriage certificate on purpose to prove it."

He took a paper from his pocket and gave it to Laurence, who read it
with a confused idea of its import. At last he lifted a hand to his
forehead.

"I must be insane," he faltered.

"No," returned Hinchley, "you are just coming back to your senses. That
woman, Laurence, is the female I saw in California upon the night when
I so narrowly escaped from the Valley Ranche with my life."

"Never you mind that story," interrupted Yates; "that's all gone by.
Well, Mr. Laurence, you don't seem to believe us yet; Sybil shall
answer for herself."

"I will not speak," she cried. "You may kill me, but I will not open my
lips."

"Kill you, my pet? why, I expect years of happiness with you still.
We are going back to California, my dear. It will take a long time to
repay your loving kindness that night."

"Sybil! Sybil!" groaned Laurence.

"You shall speak," continued Yates. "Tell him your real name; do it, I
say!"

He transfixed her with his terrible glance; the old fear and dread came
back. She was like a person magnetized against her will.

Without glancing toward Laurence, without being able to move her eyes
from that fiery glance, she answered in a low, strange voice.

"I am Sybil Yates. I was his wife--I am his wife."

"Bravo!" exclaimed the gambler, exultingly. "Now, Mr. Laurence, I hope
you are satisfied."

The young man did not answer; he could only stand, horror-stricken,
upon the brink of the abyss down which he had so nearly plunged.

Hinchley went to the door, and led in the woman who had served for a
time as housekeeper at Brooklawn.

"This person," he said, "has a story to tell; luckily, circumstances
have placed her quite in my power."

Sybil sprung again to her feet.

"Don't speak!" she cried; "don't speak!"

"I must, my dear," replied the woman, sobbing. "They'll never let me
alone if I don't."

"Who wrote the letter Mr. Laurence saw you give me?" demanded Hinchley.

The woman pointed to Sybil.

"It is false!" she exclaimed. "Margaret Waring wrote it."

"Nonsense, Sybil," returned Yates. "What's the good of keeping this
up? You're found out, and that's the end of it. You thought I was dead,
you wanted to marry Mr. Laurence--always did, for that matter--and laid
your plans beautifully. Upon my word, I honor you! But, you see, I am
inconveniently alive; your old mother has been frightened into telling
the truth for once, so there's nothing for it but to get away to the
Valley Ranche. The miners have forgot that little affair, and we shall
find something brighter than potatoes in the cellar. You know that."

She looked at him with her frightened eyes.

"Don't take on so," he said, with a gleam of feeling. "I always loved
you better than you believed."

Sybil shuddered.

"So we'll forget and forgive. I don't mind it if you did bring the
vigilance committee down on us that night; Tom and I were both hard on
you--it wasn't work for a lady. As for Mr. Hinchley, he ought to go
down on his knees and fill your lap with gold. If it hadn't been for
her, I tell you, old fellow, you never would have seen daylight again.
After all, that woman's a trump. I wouldn't give her up for all the
gold in California."

"Sybil," said Laurence, in a grave, low voice, "is this thing true?"

She struggled for voice, and replied, very faintly:

"It is true! God help me, it is true; but I thought he was dead. It was
night, and I so terrified that the face was not clear. Oh! if it were
only death that he brings instead of these bonds."

Laurence looked on her distress with heavy eyes.

"And Margaret."

She started as if a viper had stung her, then broke into fresh moans,
rocking to and fro on her chair.

"If we wronged her--if that letter was not genuine, tell me, that I may
offer the poor atonement in my power."

She looked up into his eyes with such anguish, that even Yates seemed
troubled.

"Speak the truth, Sybil," he said, "speak the truth, I say; did the
young lady write that letter they were talking about?"

Sybil shook her head, murmuring, under her breath, words that no one
could understand.

"Speak, Sybil."

"I wrote the letter."

"That's enough--that's like you, Sybil," said Yates, triumphantly,
forcing her cold hands from her face, and kissing them till she
shuddered all over. "Now you can go, gentlemen. I should like a little
private conversation with my wife."

Ralph Hinchley took Laurence by the arm, and led him gently from the
room.

       *       *       *       *       *

A year after this scene, when Yates had gone to California in search
of the gold left buried at the ranche, Laurence and Margaret, all the
wiser for the bitter experience of the past, stood before the altar
of the pretty church near Mr. Waring's homestead, which was to be the
resting-place of their future lives. It had been a happy place to them
once, and now, with all the painful associations buried in perfect
confidence, they turned to it with renewed affection.

Surely, that little country church never witnessed a happier wedding,
or sheltered a lovelier bride. In the flush of unchecked love, Margaret
had bloomed into something more attractive than mere beauty. The
heavy sadness had left her eyes, to be filled with gentle sunshine,
her cheek was flushed as with wild roses, and the soft radiance of
a heart at rest fell around her, pure as the silvery cloud of her
bridal vail which swept over the snow of her garments, clothing her
with whiteness from head to foot. The newly married pair went quietly
to the home which now became sacred to them both. The ceremony which
united their once estranged hearts had endowed them with wealth, and
thus it had been in their power to keep that fine old place from the
hammer. In after years, the voices of merry children rung through
the rose-thickets where Sybil Yates had woven her snares, and a
fine-looking couple might have been observed, any fair day, walking
arm-in-arm along the walks which that artful woman had once shared with
the gentleman; but he had forgotten her in the tranquil happiness of
a peaceful life, and her name was blotted out from all his thoughts,
for he could not force such company on the gentle image that filled
his heart of hearts. On the very day of this wedding, a wild scene
was being enacted at the Valley Ranche. Yates and Sybil had that day
entered their old dwelling--he elated with the success of his disguise,
which had carried him through vigilance committees and wild groups of
gold-seekers, and she a weary, subdued woman, who had outlived even the
power of wishing, and this while her hair was bright, and her cheeks
smooth with youth. She was aware that Edward Laurence was to be married
that day, but even that knowledge failed to disturb the leaden apathy
which lay upon her.

The ranche was desolate--an old Indian woman, who remained in the
kitchen, received them with more of terror than welcome.

"Don't be frightened, old woman," said Yates. "We shan't stay long to
trouble you; only get some supper for Mrs. Yates, and find me some kind
of a lamp. I don't like the look of things here."

The old woman went to the other end of the kitchen, in search of a
lamp. In passing the window, she saw a crowd of human faces looking in,
but said nothing, as hands were uplifted threateningly, and wild eyes
glared a warning upon her.

Yates went out, shading the lamp with his hands. He took a large
leathern sack from some luggage which had been cast down in the hall,
and went cautiously into the cellar. Entering the inner cave, he
removed the barrels, and, opening the iron chest, gathered up handfuls
of gold and packages of dust, which he crowded roughly down into the
bag. He was busy with a larger package than had yet presented itself,
when a hand was laid heavily on his shoulder. Yates started back,
dragging the leather sack with him into the midst of a crowd of armed
men who filled the cellar. Some of these men had been watching him all
day, and now he was in their power--utterly, hopelessly.

It was horrible, the stillness of that moment. Those fierce men spoke
in whispers. They dragged the victim forth in silence, but the tramp
of their feet fell horribly on the night. Half an hour after Yates
received that lamp from the trembling hands of the Indian woman,
exulting in his safety, a branch of the blasted pine bent low with a
second victim, and Sybil was indeed a widow.

At this day, the Valley Ranche is inhabited by the solitary woman,
who, with her Indian servant, lives alone in the old house. She still
sits by the chamber-window, and looks out upon the bridle-path leading
from the mines, but with the dull apathy of a spirit which has lost
every thing. Gray hairs have crept thickly into those rich, golden
tresses, and the remnants of her beauty are mournful to look upon. One
thing is remarkable. She never receives a letter, and never asks a
question about any one in the Atlantic States. Sybil Yates is indeed a
widow now.


THE END.



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Transcriber's Notes:


Added table of contents.

Italics are represented with _underscores_, bold with =equal signs=.

Replaced oe ligature with oe in "Richard Coeur de Leon" for text
edition; ligature retained in HTML version.

Retained questionable spellings (e.g. "wierd," "brightning") from the
original.

Page 11, moved quote from after "she answered;" to after "he is at the
mines."

Page 14, added missing quote after "can not urge you."

Page 29, removed duplicate "the" from "through the the valley."

Page 39, changed "except" to "expect" in "I expect you to act like a
sensible woman."

Page 57, added missing quote after "would not be persuaded."

Page 105, added missing quote before "I shall leave this house."

Page 113, added missing quote after "Waring wrote it."

Beadle's Dime Biographical Library ad, added missing period after
Trafalgar.

Immortal Crockett ad, changed "Almo" to "Alamo."

Beadle's Dime Books / Beadle's Dime Novels ad, normalized punctuation
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