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Title: The Curse of Pocahontas
Author: Gilman, Wenona
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 "The Curse of Pocahontas" ***

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



  THE CURSE OF
  POCAHONTAS

  By WENONA GILMAN

  HART SERIES NO. 102

  Copyright 1895, by George Munro's Sons
  Copyright, 1912 by The Arthur Westbrook Co.

  Published by
  THE ARTHUR WESTBROOK COMPANY,
  Cleveland Ohio, U. S. A.



THE CURSE OF POCAHONTAS



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER I.
  CHAPTER II.
  CHAPTER III.
  CHAPTER IV.
  CHAPTER V.
  CHAPTER VI.
  CHAPTER VII.
  CHAPTER VIII.
  CHAPTER IX.
  CHAPTER X.
  CHAPTER XI.
  CHAPTER XII.
  CHAPTER XIII.
  CHAPTER XIV.
  CHAPTER XV.
  CHAPTER XVI.
  CHAPTER XVII.
  CHAPTER XVIII.
  CHAPTER XIX.
  CHAPTER XX.
  CHAPTER XXI.
  CHAPTER XXII.
  CHAPTER XXIII.
  CHAPTER XXIV.
  CHAPTER XXV.
  CHAPTER XXVI.
  CHAPTER XXVII.
  CHAPTER XXVIII.
  CHAPTER XXIX.
  CHAPTER XXX.
  CHAPTER XXXI.
  CHAPTER XXXII.
  CHAPTER XXXIII.
  CHAPTER XXXIV.
  CHAPTER XXXV.
  CHAPTER XXXVI.
  CHAPTER XXXVII.



CHAPTER I.


Mrs. de Barryos sat beside a window overlooking a dainty rose-garden,
the golden sunshine streaming over her, the balmly air lifting the soft
curls of dark hair that was artistically touched with gray. Her hands
were folded idly over a letter that lay in her lap--small hands that
looked as if they had never known the meaning of toil, they were pale
and thin, like the face of the woman to whom they belonged, for Mrs. de
Barryos was an invalid.

She had been pretty before her face acquired its present angles through
suffering; never beautiful, but pretty in a dainty, meaningless sort of
way; inoffensively pretty some people might have called her, for there
was no strength in it, nor character. Her eyes were innocent, wide-open
brown ones that were like those of an obedient child. Her chin was
decidedly weak, and about the mouth had grown with her age a sort of
querulous tremble, as if she felt that the world had used her unfairly,
and wanted all mankind to sympathize with and pet her because of it.

She was never known to miss an opportunity to tell people of all the
wretchedness that had been so bravely and uncomplainingly borne. She
had fancied for the past five years that death was imminent, that its
shadows lay across her threshold, and yet she was apparently as far
from it as she had been at the beginning of the five years.

There was another thing about Mrs. de Barryos' life of which she was
apparently as proud as of her illness and patience, and that was the
fact that she was a lineal descendant of the renowned Pocahontas, a
fact at which some people laughed; but it was an undisputed fact, all
the same, for the historical Indian maiden had given birth to one of
the grandfathers upon the maternal side, and the curling hair and
weakness of character had been inherited from the branch of the family
that should have imparted its strength.

And it was of that same ancestress that Mrs. de Barryos was thinking as
she sat there beside the window, her eyes mechanically following the
flitting movements of a graceful form in the garden that was bending
above the roses.

And surely the girl was beautiful enough to look upon.

It might have been easy enough to believe that there was the blood of
an Indian flowing through her veins, for the clear olive complexion,
the inky blackness of the hair, which still was not straight, the
touch of crimson in the cheeks, and the great velvet eyes might have
indicated it. There was a better explanation of it, however, in the
fact that her father was a Mexican.

After a little she came toward the window at which her mother sat, her
arms filled with the lovely crimson blossoms that fitted her dusky
beauty so royally, and seated herself upon the sill of the window,
dropping the roses about her in gorgeous profusion as she prepared to
bind them into a bouquet.

"Aren't they exquisite?" she asked, admiringly, her voice a full, rich
contralto that made music even of the most ordinary speech. "It seems
to me that I never saw them so fine before."

"I wish you would put them away!" exclaimed her mother, querulously.
"It seems to me, Carlita, that you are always working among the
flowers, and that I never get a moment in which to speak to you."

The girl threw one swift glance of blended astonishment and reproach
in her mother's direction, then rose quietly, gathered up her flowers,
entered the room, and placed them upon a table, then drew a stool to
her mother's feet and sat upon it.

"I am awfully sorry if I have neglected you, dearest," she said,
gently. "Was there anything special that you wanted to speak to me
about?"

"Yes, there is," returned the plaintive voice. "There is something I
want to tell you. I have just had a letter from--from Jessica."

"Well?"

"I--I wrote to her mother the other day. I know you don't like me to be
making preparations for my death, Carlita, but--"

"Oh, mother!"

"Well, what is a woman to do when she sees death staring her in the
face and no one will believe it?" cried the woman, fretfully. "I wanted
to make some provision for you, and--"

"My dear, my dear, if you knew how this pains me, I am sure--"

"If I don't know, it isn't because you haven't told me often enough,
Heaven knows!" exclaimed Mrs. de Barryos, with irritation. "You never
think of any one but yourself, Carlita."

For a moment it seemed as if the girl were about to utter a protest;
then she thought better of it, and contented herself with a little
gesture of deprecation and silence.

After a brief hesitation, her mother continued more quietly, soothed,
perhaps, by her daughter's submission:

"Your Aunt Erminie and I never agreed, and so I knew that you would not
desire to live there at my death, and so I have written to Jessica's
mother, who was my old school friend, asking if I might appoint her
your guardian. She has written today, through Jessica, to say that she
will be very happy to accept the trust. I have not seen Louise for a
very great many years; but I have always loved her, and I am quite sure
that she will be kind to my little motherless girl."

"Oh, mother! Why will you persist in saying such dreadful things?"

"Because I know the end is not far off, my dear, and--"

"You have said that same thing for five years."

"Then the end is five years nearer. I never can have any satisfaction
in talking to you, Carlita. You won't sit down and reason a thing out,
as other people do."

The girl leaned her exquisite face upon her hand and looked dreamily
through the window.

"I beg your pardon," she said, softly. "I will not interrupt again."

"I feel so satisfied," her mother continued, spreading out her hands
curiously; "now that Louise has undertaken your guardianship, I can die
quite contented. You will have Jessica for a companion, and--"

"I have never seen Jessica or her mother."

"There you go again! What difference can that possibly make? Louise
and I were the greatest friends as girls. I shall never forget how she
cried when I told her that I was going to marry your father.

"'My dear Dorindah,' she said, 'you will regret it to the last day of
your life. Jose de Barryos is a hot-tempered Mexican, and you know how
dreadful they are.'

"It was quite true, Carlita. I never knew a moment's happiness from
the time I married your father until the day he died."

The girl moved restlessly; there was intense pain depicted in her
countenance; but her mother continued as if she had not observed:

"He ruined my life, made me the wreck that I am--I, who was called one
of the greatest beauties of my day. I was never happy for a single
moment after I became his wife; but that is only what I might have
expected from the curse that rests upon me."

"The curse that rests upon you?" returned Carlita, looking at her
mother for the first time with a dawning interest. "Why, what curse
rests upon you?"

"It is that about which I wanted to talk to you, that about which I
wanted to tell you. My poor child, when you go into the world, at my
death, you will go with the same curse upon you that has spoiled my
life, and that must wreck yours."

"Mother, what do you mean?" asked Carlita.

"It is a curse of Pocahontas, child--the curse that falls, from
generation to generation, upon one girl child who shows the trace of
the Indian, and you are that one! I was the one of my generation, you
of yours."

"Mother, you are jesting."

"I am in most deadly earnest, Carlita. You know that we are descendants
of Pocahontas. She married a white man--John Rolf, if you remember--and
died a broken-hearted woman. She left one son, and upon her death-bed
she pronounced a curse--a curse that has never failed to fall. It was
that one girl descendant of each generation should suffer, through
her love, even as she had suffered. It was that she should know no
happiness; that if she dared to love, the most bitter misery should
fall upon her and the man of her choice. And the curse has never
failed, Carlita. It has never failed and it never can fail. Think!
You have heard the story of how, when your great-aunt and uncle were
coming from their wedding, the skiff in which they were crossing the
river capsized, and all within it were drowned--six of them! Your
great-grandmother went mad, and died a raving maniac, when her husband
was killed right before her eyes. Your grandmother died of a broken
heart when her husband wandered away, and no one ever knew whether
the Indians killed him, or he simply deserted her. He was never heard
of afterward. Your mother's pitiful history you know well enough; it
needs no repetition. I want you to know all this, and that the curse
has descended to you, in order that you may escape the misery and
heartache that has fallen upon the others of your race. If you would
save yourself from suffering and death, you must never love!"

The girl sprang to her feet, the crimson color passionately staining
her cheeks.

"Mother!" she cried, hotly, "what are you saying? Would you rob a
young life of all that makes it worth the living? Would you make of
me a hermit, shunning the whole world, and shunned in turn? Would you
deprive me of that sentiment for which God created me woman?"

The invalid stretched out her hands again deprecatingly.

"I have only told you the truth," she said, without the slightest
compassion for her daughter's suffering, because she could not
understand it. "I have warned you and done my duty. I shall not be
here to look after you and protect you, and all that I can do is to
warn you. The truth stands there, and you must recognize it. If you
love, if you wed, you will not only ruin your own life, but that of
the man who tempts you to marriage. You have that to keep before you
always--always. If I had done it I should not be the wreck I am today;
but I had no one to warn me against the fate I was preparing for
myself. Just keep these words ever fresh within your memory, and you
will be safe: 'The curse of Pocahontas rests upon me!'"



CHAPTER II.


Shortly after that, to the surprise of everybody, Mrs. de Barryos did
die.

People had expected that she was going to be one of those who lived
eternally, eternally complaining, and her death came in the nature of
a sort of shock to the community. Carlita was looked upon with general
favor, and there were those who, while they sighed, exclaimed to each
other consolingly:

"Well it is the first freedom of any sort the poor child ever had. She
will grieve, of course, but as soon as the first shock has worn off,
she'll be happier than she ever was in her life before."

But any kind of a mother is better than no mother at all, and there was
the sincerest sorrow in Carlita's heart. There was enough of the warm
Mexican blood in her veins to fill her with a passion that was beyond
the understanding of those colder, more northern folk, and she had
loved her mother very sincerely. She was frightened, too, at the time
of her mother's death by the remembrance of that curse which her mother
had impressed upon her many times before the end came, and felt that
shrinking sense of loneliness, of bitter oppression, of isolation from
all the world that is so hard to bear.

When Jose de Barryos died he left his fortune, and it was considerable,
equally to his wife and daughter, the daughter under her guardianship
and that of a brother who did not long survive him, so that at the
time of Mrs. de Barryos' death there was considerable interest felt as
to who she had appointed guardian of her daughter in her own place,
Carlita being still under legal age. Some said that she would appoint
her husband's sister, Mrs. Erminie Blanchard but there were others
who knew that there had not been sufficient friendship between the
two women for that, and there was a rustle of excitement felt when
two ladies in mourning arrived on the day of the funeral, two women
whom none of them had ever seen before, but who went at once to the
great de Barryos mansion, for it was nothing less in that country, and
established themselves in the house.

There was considerable talk among the neighbors, who stood off and
looked at them from a distance like frightened sheep, feeling somehow
an embarrassment that they were never known to exhibit before.

Both of them were large women, the elder inclined to be stout, with a
waist that was suspiciously small for the size of bust and hips. Her
hair was yellow--a brilliant, half-greenish yellow--that contrasted
oddly with her very dark eyebrows and black lashes. Her eyes were a
dark blue, and her complexion very white and very pink about the cheeks.

She was startlingly young-looking to confess to being the mother of the
young woman who accompanied her.

She--the daughter--was a curious contrast to her mother, while
following at the same time upon much the same lines. Her hair was
red--that glorious dark rich auburn--her eyes dark brown and rather
fine, her complexion singularly like that of her mother. She was not
beautiful--not even pretty--but there was a certain sort of dangerous
fascination about her that even inexperienced people recognized.

Carlita rather gasped when they bore down upon her suddenly the day
of her mother's funeral, their mourning was so heavy, so crisp, so
new, and they gushed over her in such a curious way, calling her "a
dear thing!" "darling!" and all the rest of it, which was quite new to
Carlita, and they took such absolute possession of everything. But she
explained it all to herself by remembering that letter which her mother
had received signed "Jessica," and tried to be satisfied.

When the will was read, the good people understood it all better.

Mrs. Louise Chalmers has been appointed guardian of the orphaned
heiress, and Mrs. Louise Chalmers was that rather large, rather showy,
rather overdressed, while yet in mourning, woman, and to her had been
left an income of eight thousand dollars a year so long as she remained
Carlita's guardian.

Her black-bordered handkerchief was pressed very closely to her eyes
during the reading of the will; but although an occasional sob was
heard by those who sat nearest to her, there wasn't an atom of moisture
on the handkerchief when it was removed. Her little, black King Charles
spaniel fidgeted and sneezed on her lap during the entire time, not
quite able to comprehend why he should be neglected for the first time
in all his absurdly spoiled life.

It did not seem quite appropriate to those plain Southern folks that
Mrs. Chalmers should hold a dog on her lap during the reading of her
old friend's will; but they rather forgave her when she went up to
Carlita, and, in a really very pretty way, put her arms about the young
orphan's neck, and said in her sweetest and most maternal voice:

"I can not take your mother's place, my darling, but I shall try to be
a second one to you. It is a very sacred trust that she has left me,
and I shall try with all my heart to be worthy of it."

And she immediately took the place of "second mother," taking the
direction of everything in her own hands with a clear sweep that rather
staggered Carlita. Her mother had been ill for five years before her
death, as has already been told, and the girl had been housekeeper
in entire charge, so that to be so completely swept aside in her own
domain was something which she had not calculated upon. Still, she
submitted, because there did not seem to be anything else to be done.

There were not many changes made in the house, because practically
there was no way of making them. The town was not full of
opportunities. The people were slow and inactive. Jose de Barryos had
owned a huge cotton plantation just outside the limits of the town, and
had been contented to have his dwelling-place there, though it must
be confessed that he had not spent much of his time at home. He and
his wife had not agreed sufficiently well to permit their living very
comfortably under the same roof for any length of time together. And
she had remained there after his death because she lacked the energy to
do anything else.

But it was not the sort of place in which Mrs. Chalmers could be long
content. She was not surprised, as she sat one evening upon the lawn
near the fountain, with the sweet southern air blowing lazily about
her, to receive a visit from her daughter.

The girl threw herself upon the grass and looked up indolently.

"I say," she exclaimed in a tone that was low, almost thrilling, "this
is dead slow! And I am tired of the whole thing. I don't think I could
stand it another week for all the fortune that black thing possesses!"

"Jessica!"

"Oh, bah! You are doing the delicately virtuous with a vengeance, and
it is that which adds to my ennui almost more than this enervating
atmosphere. Call a halt, can't you? One can't speak of that little
backwoods thing but you are up in arms!"

"She is beautiful!"

"Yes; but with about as much style as one of these buzzards that are
so disgustingly plentiful. Her big eyes are uncanny, and that chalky
complexion looks like the first indication of decay. She looks like one
of the mulatto girls that abound in these parts. I am seriously afraid
that some one will think that we've brought a negro home with us!"

"Jessica, for the love of Heaven, hush! If she should hear you, she
would never forgive you in the world!"

"And what an awful calamity that would be!" sneered the girl,
gracefully drawing a blade of long grass through her lips. "This place
will be good enough when this absurd time of mourning is passed and we
can fill it with guests; but until it is, for the Lord's sake, let's
cut it all and run. I can't stand it!"

"We can't leave her."

"Of course, we can't--worse luck--but surely you have not lost your
cunning in the development of romance. You can make her see the
absolute necessity for change of air and scene. You don't need a better
ally than that chalky complexion of hers. Get me out of it, or I shall
do something disgraceful."

"Where shall we go?"

"Anywhere. I suppose we've got to draw it mild on her pocket-book for
a while; but--well, the opera season has opened in New York, and there
will be something to live for. After that, we can go over the pond for
a while and--"

"Why don't you try to use a little less slang, Jessica?"

"Because slang is strictly in my line, Miss Virtuous. Look here! It is
quite sufficient to be on my p's and q's when our little mulatto is
around, without getting qualms and--and things. I say, when are you
going to propose the New York plan?"

"You really think it best?"

"Best or worst, it's going to be done. Great Scott! think of it! We've
been buried in this hole for three weeks now. Not a glass of champagne,
not the face of a man, not a single game of poker--nothing to relieve
the dread monotony. I'd be in a mad-house in three weeks more! Besides
all that, I'm dead tired of this black toggery."

"You mean to take it off when you get back to New York?"

"Take it off!" echoed the young lady, looking up in astonishment.
"Well, rather!"

"What will Carlita think?"

"What, in Heaven's name, do you suppose I care what she thinks? Did you
really believe that I intend to pass the rest of my life guarded from
evil by the fear of Carlita's displeasure? If such an idea has ever
disturbed you, put it away at once. She will very soon find her level
in my life, and in yours, if I mistake not. When will you speak to her
about our going?"

"Tomorrow, if you really wish it."

"You'd better make it tonight. There is no time like the present. I
shall sleep better if I know the matter is settled."

"And if she should refuse?"

The girl lifted herself upon her elbow and opened her eyes very wide.

"Refuse!" she exclaimed. "Heavens and earth! Whence did you acquire
this new-born submission? I'm positively afraid the mulatto is
affecting your brain. Is she your guardian, or are you hers? Go in
there and tell her that you are going, and that she is going with you.
It is quite enough. Just let that settle it. Don't begin with anything
like questioning her inclination, or you may have cause to regret it by
and by. Come, toddle along now, and I will wait for you here."

The girl lay indolently back upon the grass, and her mother arose,
albeit with a sigh.



CHAPTER III


"Thank Heaven for New York once again, to be free, to breathe without
the suffocation of those black things clinging about me, to get under
the bracing air of a Northern climate once more. I wonder if you could
command or persuade Carlita to leave off that dreadful placard of woe
and let us have a little music and laughter once again?"

Jessica Chalmers threw herself into an arm-chair, crossed her knees
upon each other, lifted her dainty foot to a graceful angle, and
glanced up at her mother with a smile upon her lips that was really
very pleasant to look at. She wore a negligee of pale blue and silver
that became her wonderfully well, and there was an expression of fond
admiration in the eyes of the mother that returned her smile.

"I don't think I would undertake it if I were you," she replied,
thoughtfully. "After all, it can make very little difference to you.
I am not anxious that Carlita should go much into society, as if she
marries before she reaches the age of twenty-one I shall be docked just
eight thousand a year. It isn't a fortune, I grant you, but it is a
tidy little sum for pin money. I think you have been rather blind to
the fact that Carlita is an exceptionally beautiful girl, and--and--"

She did not complete her sentence, and Jessica shrugged her shoulders
indifferently.

"She is welcome to it," she answered, indolently. "You know that is one
thing I never envied any one in my life. On the contrary, I think it
must be rather a bore to be continually thinking of it and fearing to
lose it. It is style that tells--chic--and Carlita hasn't an atom of
that. Don't fear; I shall not be in the least jealous of your pretty
protege. She and I are as far apart as the antipodes. She is the most
utterly namby-pamby little nonentity that I have ever met."

Mrs. Chalmers turned away and walked toward the window, looking down
into Fifth Avenue. She was silent for a moment, then, with her lips set
curiously, answered slowly:

"If she is, it will be the first half-breed Mexican and Indian that I
ever knew to be either a nonentity or namby-pambyish. You may be right,
my dear Jessica, but you will pardon me, I know, if I say that I don't
believe it."

A reply was prevented by the entrance of a maid bearing a card. She
did not take it to the mistress of the house, but straight to Jessica,
who looked at it, then sprang to her feet with a little exclamation of
delight.

"Leith Pierrepont, by all that's wonderful, and so soon!" she cried.
"Show him in, Marie!"

But almost before the order had been given a young man entered the
room. He was tall, singularly handsome, with the bearing of a West
Pointer. His eyes were a deep, luminous gray, shaded by lashes and
brows that were black. His hair was also black, with a suggestion of a
wave in it that was exceedingly attractive. It was brushed away from
a brow as fair and smooth as a girl's, but there was no weakness in
the face. Its strength was one of its greatest attractions, but it was
not in the least in harmony with the indolence of his movements, the
careless, nonchalant grace of his speech.

People said of him that he had never been in a hurry in his life, but
certainly no one ever accused him of being slow. He was as picturesque
as he was handsome, with a slow, rare smile that women loved.

He extended a large, white hand with artistic, tapering fingers, which
closed over Jessica's with a warmth of pressure that was infinitely
strength-giving, his eyes lighting with a pleasure he did not hesitate
to express.

"Halloo, Leith, old man!" cried Jessica, not loudly, not coarsely, but
with a fascinating slanginess of manner that no one under heaven could
ever imitate. "Thought you were in the jungles killing tigers. When
did you get back, and did you bring me that skin you promised? 'Pon my
soul, I'm glad to see you! Heard the news?"

"You always take my breath away, Jessica," he answered, with the
irresistible smile spreading over his face. "How do you do, Mrs.
Chalmers. What have you been doing to yourself? Time has been going
backward, the old traitor. I never saw you looking so well. It isn't
fair in the very least, robbing young girls of their rightful prey.
Is there any news, Jessica? I haven't heard any in so long that I can
scarcely believe it possible."

It was a long speech for him. He did not usually trouble himself to
such an extent, and when he had finished he threw himself into a chair
as if exhausted.

"News--well, I should say so!" exclaimed Jessica, her brown eyes aglow.
"When did you get back?"

"Yesterday."

"Then you haven't heard. We arrived this morning."

"Really? From where?"

"Louisiana. We've been having an addition to the family; but it's a
grown-up one. Mamma has another daughter."

"You don't mean it?"

"Yes, truly. What do you think of it?"

"How can I tell until I have seen her? You didn't take me for a
clairvoyant, did you? But really, for selfish reasons, I'm awfully
sorry. It will spoil the number and break up all our sport."

"Not much!" exclaimed Jessica, with conviction. "Rather than that I
should send her back to the savages that she came from. Did you bring
Olney Winthrop back with you?"

"Yes, poor old chap. He had rather a narrow shave with a panther, and
then was almost carried off with jungle fever. He will certainly not
remind you of the flesh-pots of Egypt when you see him. He is all
broken up, and insists that there is nothing that will restore him like
a little game. I have come to ask if you will have us this evening?"

"Well, rather!" exclaimed Jessica.

"My dear," said Mrs. Chalmers, dubiously, "do you think you had
better--so soon?"

"Rats!" cried her daughter, inelegantly, but without the slightest
indication of vulgarity. "Do you think I am going to be shut off from
the world because Carlita has come here? Come off! Come by all means,
Leith, and bring Olney Winthrop. We'll see if we can't bring a little
life back to his veins. And you might ask Redfield Ash, if you should
happen to run across him. Four is not a good number for poker, and
Redfield Ash is the most unlucky man alive. By the way, would you like
to see our savage?"

"I am always interested in anything or any one that concerns you."

Her eyes lighted pleasantly as she touched a bell and said to Marie:

"Ask Miss de Barryos to come here, Marie."

"What a very swell name. Is she a Mexican?" inquired Pierrepont.

"Her father was. Her mother was an old school friend of mamma's, and I
do believe mamma is afraid of this half-breed."

"Nonsense, Jessica."

"It is true, just the same. You never saw such a change in your life
since the savage came among us. I really think she expects to see the
scalping-knife in the girl's hand every time she comes--Oh, Carlita! I
sent for you to introduce one of our dearest friends, Mr. Pierrepont.
Miss de Barryos, Mr. Pierrepont."

Leith Pierrepont arose and looked into the girlish face. He knew from
the fire in the dark eyes and the crimson glow in the olive cheeks that
she had heard every word that had been spoken concerning her, and there
was an expression of sympathy in his eyes as he put out his hand.

Carlita did not take it. She stood there for a moment haughtily erect,
dumb with indignation, her fierce anger rising in bitter words to her
lips; but she repressed all sound, forbade herself the utterance of the
torrent of hot, wrathful words that arose to her lips, and bowed coldly.

Pierrepont withdrew his hand and placed it carelessly upon the back of
his chair, as if he had not observed the cut, and said quietly:

"It is a great pleasure to me to meet you, Miss de Barryos. Miss
Chalmers tells me that your father was a Mexican. I knew Juan de
Barryos. I met him in the City of Mexico a number of years ago. He was
the nephew of the Count of Regla, one of the old Spanish grandees, and
one of the most picturesque characters in Mexican history. Juan de
Barryos was an owner of mines of enormous extent, as was his uncle, the
more world-famous Count of Regla. Juan de Barryos was a relative of
your father?"

He asked the question curiously, half interrogation, half exclamation,
and she answered proudly:

"Juan de Barryos was my father's brother and my guardian until the time
of his death."

"Really! Then by my friendship for your uncle I ought to be allowed to
claim some sort of acquaintanceship with you, ought I not?"

"I never saw my uncle but twice," she returned, coldly. "His friends
were not mine."

Jessica crimsoned, half with anger, half amusement. She was not
anxious that Carlita should make a good impression upon this man, but
her reply was almost rude. Still Pierrepont was unruffled. He turned
indifferently to Jessica:

"I am afraid I have overstayed my time," he exclaimed. "May I call it
an engagement and bring poor Winthrop tonight?"

"Decidedly."

"Then good-afternoon. Miss de Barryos, I am very glad to meet Juan de
Barryos' niece, in spite of the fact that she knew him almost as little
as a stranger might. It was a great misfortune to you, for he was a
charming man. Good-afternoon, Mrs. Chalmers."

He shook hands with his hostess and was gone. But almost before he had
disappeared, Carlita had slipped away to her own room.

She stood there in the center of the room with her hands pressed
passionately upon her breast, allowing her fierce anger full play upon
her features.

"They hate me!" she cried, fiercely. "Hate me, because of that cursed
blood of the Indian that flows within my veins. They hate me! Oh, God,
if I could but open them and let it out drop by drop. If I could but
be like others are. They hate me and I have allowed them to see their
power to hurt me; but it shall not be so again. I will show them that I
am not the thing for which they have taken me. I will show this woman
and her daughter that I am not the weak, characterless thing that they
have thought. They shall regret their words. I swear that--I swear it!"

And in the meantime Leith Pierrepont walked indolently down the street,
musing dreamily.

"What a deuced pretty thing she is," he said to himself. "What eyes!
What a complexion! I don't believe I ever saw a woman in my life who
looked like her. My dear Jessica, I am afraid you have made a mistake
in allowing this addition to be made to your family. She is the very
most beautiful, wonderfully picturesque girl that an artist could
fancy. If she doesn't make a sensation, then I'm mistaken. Heigh-ho!
Leith, old fellow, if she plays such havoc with every man's heart as
she has with yours in this short time, I shall be sorry for the other
women. What a confounded shame it is that she has fallen in with the
Chalmers. I wonder how it happened? I believe for the first time in my
life I am curious. Carlita de Barryos! She's of a rattling good family,
if there is a trace of Indian in her--which I don't believe altogether,
and she's the most graceful person I ever met, and the highest-tempered
to have absolute self-control. God! wasn't she furious! Cursed little
vixen is Jessica, but fascinating. Carlita de Barryos! Upon my soul,
old fellow, I believe you've seen the first woman you ever saw in your
life that you'd like to make your wife! Funny, too, that I should meet
her there--there of all places. The longer a fellow lives the more
waggish the world grows for him."



CHAPTER IV.


To the surprise of both Mrs. Chalmers and Jessica, Carlita came into
the room before the arrival of their expected guests that same evening.

She was gowned in black, but it was black chiffon; the silk lining of
the waist cut low, her beautiful throat gleaming like marble under its
soft covering. Her hair was parted, and fell in great waves down to her
ear, from which it was drawn back to the nape of the neck, a few small
curls drooping upon the olive brow. The daintiest of bloom stained her
cheeks and lips, and there was an added light in the dusky eyes that
made her almost thrilling in her strange beauty.

For the first time Jessica looked upon her with a little start and
slight contraction of the brows. She had said quite truly that she
had never been jealous of the beauty of any woman, and yet she was
conscious of a distinctly unpleasant sensation as her mother's ward
stood before her. She had said that Carlita lacked style, and yet in
that moment she realized that there was something better than mere
style in the young girl's make-up; there was an individuality, a charm,
a wonderful grace, as if some exquisite conceit of one of the old
masters had suddenly stepped from its frame and stood there in flesh
and blood reality.

Jessica bit her lip. For the first time in her recollection she found
herself disconcerted. She could find nothing to say. She wanted to
invent some excuse to banish Carlita from the drawing-room, but could
make none. And before she could recover her accustomed aplomb, the
little maid Marie announced Mr. Pierrepont and Mr. Winthrop.

Carlita stepped aside and looked from one to the other of the two men.

She observed the magnificent proportions of the one whom she had met
in the afternoon, enhanced by a dress-suit which fitted him singularly
well, noted the slow grace of his perfect manner, and then turned to
the other one.

He was tall also, and slight almost to emaciation. His eyes were of
Saxon blue--honest eyes that were like those of a frank, generous boy
who loves life, loves the world, loves happiness, loves danger even,
but has never learned to dissemble.

He showed traces, even the presence, of a terrible illness; but there
was something that caught and held her interest and her sympathy in the
smile that he bent upon Carlita when Mrs. Chalmers had performed the
introduction.

"It is so delightful to meet you, Miss de Barryos," he said, genially.
"Leith told me that he had forestalled me this afternoon, and also
that you were something of a Mexican. I should have known it even if
he hadn't said so, and the inclination to call you senorita was almost
uncontrollable. I have been in Mexico frequently, and--oh, love it!"

"I don't know it at all," Carlita answered. "My mother was an invalid
for years, and we never traveled."

"Ah, you have so much in store," enthusiastically returned the musical
voice of the young man. "And there is no place under all God's sun
where the grass is so green, where the sunlight is so brilliant, where
the flowers are so gorgeous, and where the birds sing as they do in
Mexico. The brilliant, thrilling coloring is so magnificent that it
seems to fill one's veins to bursting with the very delight of living.
How you will love Mexico! You speak Spanish, of course?"

"My father taught me when I was a little child."

"And you have not forgotten?" he questioned, speaking the words to her
in Spanish as he smiled at her delightedly.

"I have not forgotten," she answered in the same tongue, the words
flowing in liquid beauty as English words never could flow.

"It is such a pleasure to be able to speak the language sometimes,"
he continued, still in Spanish. "And--will you pardon me if I say you
speak it exquisitely? Leith knows almost every other language under the
sun except Spanish, and it is really the only one I care a copper for.
Will you let me come sometimes and talk to you--some afternoon when
there will be no one else? You know I am an invalid now, and am doing
nothing but recuperate. I came near going off the other day with jungle
fever. It's a nasty thing, and leaves a fellow so infernally weak. It
would be a positive charity if you will let me come sometimes."

"I should be glad to have you," she answered, earnestly.

And then some one else was announced whose name she did not quite
catch--another man--and then she saw that Leith Pierrepont had taken
his friend's place.

She was conscious of a distinct shock that was almost anger. Her cheeks
grew hot. She was angry with herself, and lifted her eyes to his face
half in defiance, though of what she could not have told.

He was smiling down upon her with that rare smile that somehow she knew
already, though she had only seen him a moment that afternoon.

"Even if you do speak Spanish with Winthrop, you won't let him quite
monopolize you, will you?" he said to her in that dangerously low,
caressing tone he knew so well how to use. "I am afraid I didn't make
a good impression upon you this afternoon. I was unfortunate enough to
introduce some subject that did not meet with your approval altogether,
and--you don't like me. Is that true?"

She flushed again angrily, seeing the smile lurking behind his
magnificent eyes.

"I never presume to form opinions of strangers," she answered,
haughtily; and then could have bitten her tongue for making so childish
a reply.

She saw, however, at once that it had not ruffled him in the least, for
he replied, lightly:

"I am so glad you are not impulsive. Young ladies usually are. If you
had been, I should despair of ever winning your good-will; but as you
assure me it is not so, why, I shall hope to be one of your first
friends in your new home. Have you known Mrs. and Miss Chalmers long?
Are they related to you?"

"Oh, no! Mrs. Chalmers and my mother were school friends. They have not
met since then; but the old warm attachment was always maintained," she
replied, thankful to him for showing her a way to change the subject.

He looked over her head curiously, an expression of relief, she almost
thought, coming into his eyes.

"Oh," he returned, "I see."

"See what?" she asked.

He looked down quickly and straight into her eyes.

"Nothing," he said, slowly. "I only see as blind men do. Do you play
poker?"

"No. I have never seen it played; but I dare say I shall learn quickly
enough."

He leaned toward her, resting his elbow upon a convenient mantel-shelf.
His eyes were bent upon her, dark with meaning.

"Don't!" he said earnestly. "If you were an impulsive young lady who
had formed a swift friendship with me, I should entreat of you, by that
friendship, not to do it. It is a game which it would break my heart to
see--my sister play."

The words had barely been spoken, when Jessica touched him upon the arm
with her fan. There was an expression upon her face which no one had
ever seen there before. Her voice was light, and did not match it in
the least, as she exclaimed:

"Come! the table is waiting. Carlita, a novice at poker always wins.
Shall we lose all our money to you tonight? Will you take a hand?"

The words were meaningless to Carlita, but she hesitated. She wanted to
do that which would be in defiance of Pierrepont's wishes. She glanced
from Jessica to him; then, moved by an influence which she could not
combat, she answered:

"I will not play, thank you, Jessica."

Miss Chalmers bit her lip. With her fingers upon Pierrepont's arm, she
led him away, while Winthrop again took his place.

Mrs. Chalmers had seen the entire by-play, and a look of anxiety
crossed her brow.

"Great heavens!" she muttered, "Leith Pierrepont has fallen in love
with that girl, as sure as fate! Well, God help her when Jessica finds
it out beyond a doubt!"



CHAPTER V.


Redfield Ash came as they were about to sit down to the table, making
six for the game with Henry Fielding, who had arrived just before, and
with an eagerness which he rarely showed, Olney Winthrop turned to his
hostess.

"Will you excuse me, dear Mrs. Chalmers, if I beg off?" he exclaimed.
"Five is a much better number than six. Miss de Barryos and I will
utilize the time in rubbing up our Spanish together. It is such a
pleasure to meet some one who speaks it."

Jessica glanced swiftly toward Pierrepont, and noted all too clearly
the shadow of annoyance that crossed his brow. She even heard it in the
tone of his voice as he exclaimed rather suddenly for him:

"I thought this game was made especially for your benefit?"

At another time Jessica would not have allowed his withdrawal, but now
she cried with a sweetness of accent that attracted the attention of
her mother:

"By all means talk to Carlita, Mr. Winthrop. It is really very kind of
you. The next time you come I shall take special pains that she joins
our game."

She did not look at Pierrepont, but he glanced toward her coolly,
insouciantly, muttering mentally:

"The little fiend heard what I said. She is determined to ruin that
girl, but I swear she shall not! Let us see who is stronger, my dear
Jessica, you or I!"

But there was no man at the table apparently less interested than he.
He shuffled with a dexterity that baffled most men, talking lightly of
his stay in India and of Winthrop's narrow escape from the panther,
to all appearances oblivious of the fact that Winthrop and Carlita
had wandered from the room, she with her great dark eyes turned
interestedly upon Winthrop, in earnest conversation with the language
unintelligible to him.

"You are a stranger in New York, are you not?" Winthrop asked, as he
threw himself into a chair beside her in the library, leaning toward
her, a faint flush lifting the pallor of illness.

"Yes. We arrived this morning, and I have never been here before."

"Ah, there will be so much to see. The opera begins next week, and--"

"I am in mourning."

The voice was very soft, almost tremulous, and Winthrop started.

"I beg ten thousand pardons!" he exclaimed, gently. "And it is your
mother, too. It always seems to me the saddest thing under heaven when
a girl like you loses her mother. Mrs. Chalmers is your guardian, is
she not?"

"Yes."

"Of course I ought not to ask it, I who am a perfect stranger to you,
but somehow it does not seem to me that I am a stranger. There is
some sort of immediately established friendship that makes me feel an
interest that perhaps is not reciprocated, and you might resent it as
an impertinence."

There was something so frank and honest in the clear blue eyes that
Carlita felt herself insensibly warmed by the man's manner, and
answered cordially:

"I assure you I would not. I have not so many friends that I can afford
to decline an honestly offered friendship, such as I am sure yours is.
I am very grateful."

The words were simple enough, but there was something in her manner
that touched the young man deeply, and leaning forward, he lifted her
hand and pressed it ever so lightly to his lips.

"Thank you," he said, softly. "I shall appreciate the trust above
everything else in this world. Then I may ask if--if you--are
quite--quite happy here?"

She looked a little surprised for a moment, then the expression of the
blue eyes reassured her. She knew she could trust him, knew that he
meant her no harm. There was a curious feeling of perfect safety, of
implicit confidence in him that she had never felt toward any human
being in her life before. It affected her strangely, and there was just
a shadow of unshed tears in her eyes as she replied:

"I ought not to say that I am not happy, because I know Jessica and
her mother so little. I have been brought up in such a narrow circle.
My knowledge of the world is so limited. Papa died when I was a small
girl, and mamma was an invalid, as I told you. There were only the
neighbors, good people, but not much up in matters of the world, so
that it is all new and strange to me. I don't want to show that I am
ignorant; I want to do that which Jessica and Mrs. Chalmers tell me; I
don't want to appear a little Puritan idiot; but there are some things
that do not seem exactly right to me, and I have not learned yet to
reconcile myself to them. You see how I have trusted you."

She smiled a trifle wistfully, and he leaned a little further toward
her, as if protectingly, as he replied:

"And I shall try all my life long to show you how I appreciate the
trust. I understand so well how you feel. I would not alarm you for
all the world about your position here, but--but there are some things
that I--I would not have you learn. One of them is to play poker."

"And yet you came here to play with me?"

"I have never seen you. I did not know you. I would not sit down at a
poker-table with you now for--for my right arm."

He said it so earnestly, so sincerely that she started.

"Is it so wrong, then?" she asked, quickly. "Is it so great a sin?"

He appeared embarrassed.

"I hardly know how to answer you," he returned gently. "It is a sin
in a sense. It is gambling, and all gambling is sinful. I would not
have you understand me that Jessica or Mrs. Chalmers is doing anything
criminal, but--I should so much prefer that you would not join them."

"And yet you do it?"

He flushed crimson.

"My dear child, my little friend, you will learn that men are permitted
acts which the world does not allow to women. I am not going to argue
with you about the right or wrong of it. There is a law which is as
binding as the Christian oath, and that is the law of custom. The world
has a code of its own, and right or wrong, we must follow it. I will
promise you one thing, however, that is, that if you will never play
a game of poker, a game of anything that involves money, I never will
either. Will you do it?"

It never occurred to either of them that it was an extraordinary thing
for them to do upon the occasion of their first meeting. It is doubtful
if they remembered that it was their first meeting.

He extended his palm, and she placed hers in it with the confidence of
a little child.

"I promise!" she answered, earnestly. "It is not the slightest
sacrifice to me, but it will be a great one to you if you have learned
to like the game."

"Not if my giving it up will benefit you in the future," he answered,
softly. "I wish that you would remember our compact of friendship
tonight, and that if you ever need any one you will send for me."

"I am not liable to forget."

"And there will be so many evenings next week, next month even, when
Mrs. Chalmers and her daughter will be at the opera and you here of
necessity, perhaps alone. Will you let me come sometimes and keep you
company?"

"But you will be missing the opera yourself."

"That will be so little by comparison with gaining an evening with you.
May I come?"

"The promise means more to me than to you," she answered shyly. "I
am not overfond of my own society, but I am afraid you will not be
recompensed."

He smiled enigmatically.

"We will read together, if you will. I used to be called a good reader,
and I'm sure you are, from your voice. Do you sing?"

"A little. I have had no cultivation except what my mother gave me, and
that was not much."

"I'm sure your voice must be exquisite. It is contralto, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"That is charming. I am passionately fond of a good contralto. What
delightful evenings we shall have! I wish it were next week now.
What with our Spanish, our reading, and our music it will be simply
charming, quite as if we belonged together and were at home."

He looked at her curiously as he made the speech, and while she colored
slightly, she offered no objection.

"Are you fond of horses?" he continued.

"Very."

"Then perhaps you will let me come to take you to drive."

"If Mrs. Chalmers does not object."

"May I ask her?"

"If you like."

"It is so good of you. I don't think I ever felt so happy in all
my life as I do tonight. I have heard fellows speak of being drawn
irresistibly to one at a first meeting, but I could never quite
understand it before. I have been drawn to you by an impulse that I
have no more power to control than I have over the action of the heart.
I am egotistical enough to think you are not quite indifferent to me,
as you have accepted my friendship so generously. Isn't it true?"

"Quite true."

"I'm so grateful! I wonder if you know what it means to a lonely fellow
like me?"

"I ought. Am I not a lonely girl?"

"Yes; and it is so much harder for you than for me. I have knocked
about the country more or less for the last ten years, not knowing one
day what I should do the next. I've got an object in life now, and it
seems very sweet."

"What is it?"

He colored swiftly and laughed shyly.

"I wouldn't dare tell you now, for fear you might banish me; but some
day, when I have persuaded myself that I am more sure of attaining it,
I will tell you."



CHAPTER VI.


"Leith, what are you doing?"

Leith Pierrepont sat beside the window of the bachelor apartment which
he and Olney Winthrop had taken together. It was a handsome apartment,
fitted up with one reception-room, in which no one by chance was ever
received, a library the delight of a man's heart, two bedrooms, a
dining-room in which the breakfasts and dinners, if they wanted them,
were served by the caterer in the house, and a bath-room, perhaps the
most sumptuous and pretentious room in the apartment.

It was in the library that they were now, Winthrop stretched at full
length upon a huge couch, large enough for two to lie upon in comfort
without interference one with the other, a pile of pillows under his
head that might have satisfied a woman, and a meerschaum in his mouth
that was as black as ebony and quite as well polished. His hands were
clasped under his head, and his eyes were turned with great interest to
his chum, who, as has already been said, sat beside the window with a
cigar between his lips and a book in his hand.

Occasionally the cigar was rolled from side to side of the man's
handsome mouth, the eyes were thrown ceilingward, where they remained
for a moment or two, then returned with interest to the book.

It was after half a dozen of these performances that Olney Winthrop
put his question, which had to be repeated the second time before it
attracted the attention of the individual to whom it was addressed.

"Leith, what are you doing?"

"Studying."

The answer was given curtly enough, and for a moment Olney was silent;
but once again curiosity mastered him.

"Studying what?" he ventured to inquire.

"Spanish."

Another silence, this time much longer than the other. A change
had come over Olney suddenly. He took his hands out from under his
head, and looked toward the ceiling himself, as if he expected some
inspiration from that quarter. But evidently it did not come. He drew
on his beloved pipe for some moments thoughtfully, then arose to a
sitting posture and leaned his arms upon his knees.

"What the dickens are you studying Spanish for?" he demanded at last.

Leith Pierrepont turned his eyes in the direction of his friend and
looked at him absent-mindedly for a moment, then said, calmly:

"H'm?"

"I asked what the deuce you are doing that for?"

"Doing what?"

"Studying Spanish, of course."

"Why, to learn it, to be sure," returned Leith, indolently. "What did I
study French or German, or any of the rest of it, for?"

"You did that in French and German countries, and it was different. You
are doing this here in America, where no one speaks Spanish."

"It strikes me that you forget Miss de Barryos very readily."

Leith knocked the ashes from his cigar as he spoke, with the
nonchalance of a person absolutely indifferent to the subject upon
which he is speaking; but Olney happened to know him a little better
than to believe he felt as he appeared.

"She speaks English," he said, sententiously.

"I know, but she also speaks Spanish."

"And you are really learning it for that reason?"

"Certainly. What other?"

"Would you learn Chinese if Jessica were to happen to speak it?"

"Certainly not. The interest is not the same by any means."

Leith returned to his book, and Olney resumed his position upon the
couch. He did not look in the direction of his friend, but steadily
at the ceiling, or in a line with it, for there was such a cloud of
smoke between that he could not see it. He pulled at the pipe with
a steadiness and strength that argued well for the condition of his
lungs, then rose at last and laid it almost tenderly upon a table.

He thrust his hands into the pockets of his trousers and walked once or
twice nervously up and down the room; but Leith only kept on diligently
with his study, never glancing away from his book, except toward the
ceiling.

Olney could bear the silence no longer, and broke it himself by and by.

"What do you mean by it, Leith?" he asked at last, forcing himself to
speak quietly, though he was far from feeling it.

"Mean by what?" asked his preoccupied companion.

"Studying Spanish."

"My dear fellow," drawled Leith, "you really appear to think there is
something criminal in the fact of my learning a language. What is there
extraordinary about it?"

"I never knew you to do it before for any girl."

"You never knew any girl before that I had determined to make my wife."

Olney did not stare. A crimson glow crept from throat to brow, but he
did not cease in his walk for some time. The desultory conversation
stopped again for a time; then he paused in his walk, at no great
distance from Leith, and leaned his elbow upon the mantel-shelf.

"Dear old boy, this is the first time in all our histories that it has
ever happened," he said, somberly.

Once more Leith looked up from his lesson, this time with a faint show
of annoyance.

"Why will you persist in breaking out in that fashion, as if you
expected me to know in what groove your mind has been wandering for the
last half hour?" he asked, irritably. "It is the first time that what
has ever happened?"

"That you and I have fallen in love with the same woman!"

Leith looked at his friend for a moment, then put his book upon the
table, face downward, and threw his cigar into the cuspidor.

"I was afraid of that," he said, slowly.

"Afraid of it!" echoed Olney. "You must have known it."

"How should I? A fellow isn't always in love with the girl to whom he
pays attention."

"He is when the girl is one of the same kind that Miss de Barryos is."

"Perhaps you are right. I'm awfully sorry, old fellow."

"Sorry for what?"

"Sorry that you are in love with her."

"Why?"

"Because she can't be wife to both of us, and I mean to have her."

"Oh!"

"You see, Olney, you and I have been good friends for ten years
now, and ten years is a long time, as years go. We've never had a
disagreement in our lives, except that you have perhaps had a little
more energy than was altogether comfortable, and I'm as fond of you as
I could possibly be of a brother. You believe that, don't you?"

"I know it; and it is that which hurts me."

"But you can't expect me to give up the woman I love for you, can you?"

"Has she consented to be your wife?"

"No; I've never asked her."

"Then, you confounded, conceited cad, how can you presume so upon her
consent?"

There was no ill-temper in the remark. They frequently used such tender
epithets with each other; and Pierrepont only smiled as he answered,
with perfect good nature:

"Did you ever know me to set my heart upon anything that I did not
accomplish?"

"No, confound you!" returned his friend. "But I'll be hanged if you
shall succeed with this!"

"Why?"

"You can't expect me to give up the woman I love for you," returned
Olney, repeating his friend's words with a sort of sneer; "now, can
you? Well I propose to marry Miss de Barryos myself."

"Has she consented?"

"I have not asked her."

Pierrepont laughed.

"Then, so far, apparently, we are on a perfectly equal footing. All
right, old fellow. It is rather hard lines that we should have gone
a-foul of each other in this, of all things; but since it is so, let us
treat each other with perfect fairness. I tell you frankly that I mean
to marry Miss de Barryos."

"And my intention is equally strong that she shall be my wife."

"So be it," returned Pierrepont with more earnestness than he usually
showed, though there was still a smile clinging to his lips. "At least,
one is not deceived in the intentions of the other. I want you to
clearly understand me that I intend to marry her. People have accused
me of making love to women every time I speak to one; but I swear to
you that I have never uttered to any woman the words that I shall
speak to her, never asked a woman in my life the question that I shall
put to her. I am thirty-four years old, Olney, have never been balked
in a desire in my life, and I don't intend to begin with this which
means so much to me. It's a fair warning, old fellow."

Olney smiled.

"And forewarned is forearmed," he said, gravely.



CHAPTER VII.


"Oh, what a wretched ending! I positively hate to read a book like
that. It gives me the blues for a week afterward. I don't see why
writers can not have some respect for the nerves of their readers and
not upset them with a jar that echoes through every fiber of the body."

Carlita flung the book from her, crossed her pretty feet, and leaning
back in her chair, folded her hands behind her head and looked at Olney
Winthrop, who was spending one of many evenings with her while the
others were at the opera.

He smiled rather gravely.

"I don't see how else it could have ended. She couldn't have married
the Disagreeable Man, you know."

"Why not?"

"Oh, who would want to? A sickly, treacherous-tempered beast like that."

"He wasn't anything of the kind. Do you think a 'sickly
treacherous-tempered beast' could ever have written that exquisite
letter which he tore up? He was only fretted into irascibility by the
idiocy of others who had not sense enough to appreciate him. No man
could have been as fond of his mother as he was and not be genuinely
good. I don't see why he could not have been happy as well as any one
else."

"He was treacherous-tempered or he wouldn't have torn up the letter,
you see," argued Olney, mildly. "I don't see how she could have cared
anyway for a great, gaunt, sickly fellow like that."

"That is like you men. You never seem to think a woman can like any
one but a Hercules. For my own part, I perfectly detest the conceited
creatures who think they are gods of creation, and let you see it in
every word they speak, in love with themselves and unrivaled by any
woman in the universe, men like--like--well, Leith Pierrepont for
example."

Winthrop flushed eagerly, never observing the curious break in her
voice, then a sort of generous remorse took possession of him that he
had found pleasure in that unjust criticism passed upon his friend.

"Oh, really, you mustn't say that!" he stammered, helplessly. "It isn't
true of Leith, not the least in the world. I don't know a fellow more
lacking in conceit than he. He is as generous and--"

"Pouf!" exclaimed Carlita, with the freedom of a privileged friend. "Do
you think you can make me believe that? He thinks that every woman who
looks at him is ready to fall into his arms if he would but say the
word. There are times when I positively detest him, and--"

Singularly enough, she did not complete her sentence. She suddenly
realized with a surprise that was intense that there were tears in her
eyes, hot, angry tears, though why she should be angry, she had not the
remotest idea. She hated herself for her absurd weakness, and sprang
up swiftly and went to the piano, and rattled off a waltz that came
more nearly being without time or melody than anything she had ever
attempted in her life before.

She excused herself to herself by mentally asserting that the book,
"Ships that Pass in the Night," had upset her, and then turned into a
song that trembled upon her lips with a sweetness and pathos that her
voice had never contained before.

It was only an old song, such an old one, with the music entirely
unworthy of the exquisite words, but she sang it with a depth of
feeling that made it sublime.

    "How tired we feel, my heart and I,
     We seem of no use in the world;
     Our fancies hang gray and uncurled
     About men's eyes indifferently;
     Our voice, which thrilled you so, will let
     You sleep; our tears are only wet;
     What do we here, my heart and I?"

But the last words were not spoken. They ended in a little sob, a
little sob that would not be drowned by the power of the will. She
would have risen and escaped from the room, but that Olney caught
her about the waist, his face white and wistful and filled with
apprehension.

"Carlita," he exclaimed, his voice low and soft with tenderness, "what
is it? What has distressed you? You trust me--"

"It is nothing," she cried, endeavoring gently to free herself. "I am
too stupid for anything. I really believe I am hysterical over that
absurd book, and it is something new to me, too. You mustn't mind me,
Mr. Winthrop, for--"

"But I do," he interrupted, huskily. "Anything that pains you is
exquisite torture to me. I love you Carlita, love you so that I can not
conceal it as the Disagreeable Man did. I must tell you. It is so much
better than that I should keep it to myself until too late, if there
should be any hope for me. I am not conceited enough to think there
is--you mustn't believe that--but if love really begets love, as they
tell us it does, mine ought to meet with some return, for Heaven knows
it is great enough. I feel as if I were the Disagreeable Man myself, so
gaunt and wasted through illness, so unworthy of your sweet trust and
affection, and yet--Oh, Carlita, I don't want to wait as he did, when
there might be hope. I know you don't love me. I know I am the most
presumptuous man alive, that I can even speak upon the subject to you,
but--but won't you say something--something kind?"

She was standing and he sitting, holding her by one hand, his other
arm about her waist. He was leaning toward her with his face lifted--a
face so true, so honest, so sincere, so wistfully pleading, she almost
imagined there was a moisture in the frank blue eyes.

She didn't say anything. She was surprised, and stood there staring
down at him, her tears dried suddenly. It seemed to her that she had
never felt so strangely in her life. He was the first man who had
ever whispered that magic word in her ear. It moved her--moved her
peculiarly. She felt the strongest inclination to bend down and kiss
him, kiss him upon those blue eyes as she would a little boy. He looked
so pale and wan, so haggard through the illness which he did not seem
able to shake off. Sympathy quivered in her heart like the flutter of a
dove's wings, but she could not frame words to save her life, and stood
there staring down at him dumbly.

A great anguish arose in his eyes under her silence. A cold dew
gathered upon his brow and stood upon his mouth. He dropped his arm
from about her waist and bowed his head.

"Forgive me," he said, hoarsely. "I ought to have known, and not have
distressed you with a sentiment which I might have known you could
not reciprocate. I might have been satisfied with your generosity in
allowing me the privilege of your society without presuming upon that
generosity. I suppose now I am to be banished, but I deserve it for
my presumption. All the sweet, long evenings that have meant so much
to me must be at an end. I must go back to the old emptiness, the old
unrest."

"Why?"

The word escaped her unawares, but she was glad that she had spoken it
when she saw him fling up his head, saw the eager light that came to
his eyes, the flush that colored his pale cheeks.

"Carlita," he whispered, hoarsely, "that moment was like--hell!
Speak quickly! Can you be my wife? Could you find in your pure heart
toleration for a fellow such as I? I will worship you to the day I die!
Speak and relieve me of this awful suspense!"

"I have--have been very happy during these evenings that we have spent
together."

She never quite knew how she happened to say that either, whether it
was sympathy, whether it was that she loved him, or--Oh, yes, she was
quite sure she loved him when she saw that wild joy of expression. She
did not shrink from him in the very least when he arose suddenly to
his feet and drew her passionately to his breast. It was really very
comforting to think that she belonged to some one, and that some one
belonged to her, and--loved her.

It was even pleasant to be passionately, lovingly kissed, and as she
looked with a smile into his eager, craving eyes, she even lifted her
mouth to him of her own accord, and returned the caress while she
listened to the burning words that fell from his lips.

"My darling, my wife, I can scarcely believe in the reality of my own
happiness. I can scarcely believe it is true, that you love me, that
you are mine. It seems to me that I must be dreaming. My God! if it be,
let the dream last forever, forever!"

Jessica and Mrs. Chalmers returned before he left her, but there was no
announcement made to them that night. They said good-night formally
and separated, Carlita going to her room, and Olney returned to his
bachelor apartments.

He found Leith there before him, and went immediately to his old friend
and put out his hand.

"Congratulate me, old man," he said, with a grin which was half idiotic
in its happiness.

"Upon what?" inquired Leith, lazily.

"Miss de Barryos has promised to be my wife."

Leith did not even change color. He put out his hand and took that of
his friend cordially.

"Certainly I congratulate you, if you wish it," he said, with his
accustomed nonchalant indolence. "But what is the use? The marriage
will never take place."

"What do you mean?"

"What I say."

Olney laughed lightly, disbelievingly, but there was not the shadow of
a smile upon Leith's perfectly indifferent lips.

And Carlita had gone to her room, happy in the happiness she had given,
believing that she had answered to the dictates of her heart, and then
slowly the expression of content faded from her eyes, a white-lipped
horror drew the corners of her mouth. She looked into space dully,
hopelessly, stupidly.

She had suddenly remembered the curse of Pocahontas.



CHAPTER VIII.


There was something of a sensation created in the Chalmers household
when the announcement of Carlita's engagement was made.

Not that there was anything spoken in the presence of Olney Winthrop
but the sweetest words of congratulation; but when he had departed,
and mother and daughter were left alone, the latter stretched herself
out at a comfortable angle, with a cigarette between her lips, and
exclaimed, leisurely:

"It appears, to a man up a tree, that we are getting very little out of
this game that we have played. Do you propose to let Winthrop's pair
beat your full hand? It strikes me that you are losing your cunning
with a vengeance. Four weeks in that beastly hole in New Orleans; a
lot of sticky black garments clinging about one for the same length of
time, and making life a nightmare; a funeral to attend, and tears until
one could float a ship in them; acting a part from morning until night,
and even through the night, for what? The really good Samaritan work
of getting the little mulatto engaged and robbing us of eight thousand
a year, not to speak of the advantage of handling her money, and so
affording an abode 'fitted to her station in life,' as the idiotic
lawyers say. Rats! It isn't my line, I confess. What are you going to
do?"

Mrs. Chalmers pathetically fondled the ears of her ever-present dog.

"How should I know?" she answered, meekly. "I thought we were doing
the safest thing possible when we were keeping Leith Pierrepont away
from her. It never occurred to me that it could be possible that she
would fall in love with Olney Winthrop, though I knew he was head over
ears in love with her. I told you she was dangerous when we brought her
here, though you would not have it."

"What were we to do with her, pray? A school wasn't to be thought of at
her age, and an asylum wasn't possible, worse luck! But something must
be done. We can't commit highway robbery and deliberately pilfer her
estate. I confess it wouldn't go greatly against my conscience, for I
can see no earthly reason why she should have all and I nothing. But
there is that confounded hole Sing Sing to consider. Look here, the
blood in your veins has grown to milk and water recently. I wonder if
you would have the nerve to carry out an idea that has struck me?"

"What is it?"

Jessica threw away her cigarette and lighted a fresh one before
replying. When she spoke again, her voice had assumed a lower tone.

"You will agree, of course, that she is of a wildly, sentimental
nature, like all Mexican and half-breed Indians. She has proven that by
falling in love with Olney's white face. I don't think she cares the
snap of her finger for him, except that she pities him and--wants to be
loved. It is such a fine, beautiful thing. Pouf! Well, it is my belief
that if we could get him out of the way for awhile, she would discover
that fact, and jilt him."

"But how are we to get him out of the way?" inquired Mrs. Chalmers,
actually putting the dog aside once and lifting her suspiciously golden
head interestedly.

"I haven't quite prepared that side of my subject," answered Jessica,
calmly. "There has not been time to go into it in detail as yet. The
announcement is too new, and I confess it never occurred to me that she
could be such a fool. I am inclined to believe she might have made a
sensation if only she had been content to wait until she got rid of
that hideous mourning. Still, I have thought--"

"What?"

"Winthrop is largely interested in some Mexican mines."

"Yes, I know, I heard Leith Pierrepont speaking of it."

"He must be suddenly summoned there."

Mrs. Chalmers lifted her head and looked at her daughter admiringly.

"What a head you have, Jessica, to be sure! But how is it to be
accomplished?"

"That is the detail which I haven't quite mastered. Do you know where
your old friend Meriaz is located?"

Mrs. Chalmers colored. She hesitated a moment, then answered, slowly:

"Yes, I think so."

"That is good. Then we must utilize him. If he had had a little more
money, I should have urged your marrying him. As it is, he must think
you mean to recall him, and so be made to serve you."

"You forget--"

"No, I don't forget anything. I am peculiarly alive to the fact
to which you would have called my attention. We must insure the
co-operation of Meriaz."

"There will be no doubt of that. He will obey my instructions."

"Are you sure?"

"Perfectly."

"All right. You write to him at once, telling him where these mines are
and all the information which you remember Leith to have given. He can
arrange the details of the affair better than I can. If you wish, you
might tell him that I have fallen in love with the fellow, and that
you are anxious to get him out of the city on that account. Tell him
that Winthrop must be summoned at once, that time is valuable, and that
he must make the excuse for summoning him there a tremendously strong
one, else it will be of no avail. You understand just what I mean now?"

"Yes; and it strikes me as being a good one. It will give us a chance
to get abroad, if we see that there is no possibility of weaning her
from the attachment."

"Yes, and in the meantime give me an opportunity to look into her
finances, and see what is possible to be done. I haven't been down in
that God-forsaken country to be plucked of our game by Olney Winthrop,
I will tell you. Money doesn't grow on trees, and it rather strikes me
that men are getting rather shy of our poker-table. They don't seem
half as anxious to lose their precious ducats as they once did."

"Last night at the opera I heard a man in the next box ask Dudley
Maltby who you were and his answer was: 'The most inveterate little
gambler in New York, and the most unscrupulous.'"

"Dudley Maltby said that?"

"He did."

There was a dangerous expression in the brown eyes. For a moment the
lips were slightly compressed, then she arose and went to her desk
quite calmly.

"What are you going to do?" inquired her mother.

"Ask Dudley Maltby to dinner and to the opera Friday night. He shall
pay for that remark with every particle of his reputation."

"It strikes me that you are rather--rather neglecting Leith of late."

"Nonsense! That is something which I shall never do; but he is safe
enough. He is more in love with me than he ever was in his life
before."

Mrs. Chalmers looked a trifle uncomfortable. She hesitated a moment
while Jessica was selecting a pen, then said, forcing herself to speak
quietly:

"What makes you think so?"

"He told me tonight that I had neglected him cruelly, and that he felt
piqued and hurt. He said that there was no woman who had the power to
hurt him as I had."

"But--but he--he didn't tell you that he--he loved you, did he? He
didn't ask you to be his wife?"

"What do you mean?"

Jessica turned suddenly, her interest in the note abated.

"Nothing special," answered her mother, carelessly, "only--only that
he--well, he doesn't seem half so devoted to you as he did before he
went away."

"He called upon me almost within the hour of his return."

"Yes, I know he did, but--but he hasn't followed it up well, and--my
dear Jessica, I found a Spanish book in his overcoat pocket tonight."

It never occurred to Jessica to ask how she had found it in his
overcoat pocket, or what she was doing looking through the pocket. She
was accustomed to that, and thought nothing of it. It was the fact
which interested her. Her brows drew angrily.

"Do you mean to say that you think he is in love with Carlita?" she
asked, her voice tense and strange.

"Perhaps not exactly in love with her," answered her mother, uneasily,
"but very much interested in her."

"I would kill her first! I would kill them both!"

The words came through the set lips as if the speaker were perfectly
capable of carrying out her threat or any other dire calamity that
should suggest itself to her, and Mrs. Chalmers moved anxiously.

"Perhaps I shouldn't have said quite so much!" she exclaimed,
soothingly. "It may be only a desire to--to understand, but--but--"

"I shall watch! I shall see!" exclaimed Jessica, leaving her desk
and walking restlessly up and down the floor. "Do not fear but that
I should know how to revenge myself upon him as well as her. I have
rather suspected him. He has been so careful of all that he has said to
me since his return, so careful of who should see him in our box. He is
not too good to be there, but he doesn't want to be seen. I heard him
say to her upon the night of their first meeting, that it would break
his heart to see his sister play a game of poker."

"He said that?"

"He did! But I will teach him that he is playing with an edged tool
this time. I shall prove to him that I know how to take a revenge, and
it shall be a bitter one, if he dares to do this thing. Write your
letter to Meriaz. I am anxious to see this to the end."



CHAPTER IX.


"Aïda" was in progress at the Metropolitan, and Jessica never lost a
night at the opera. It was the first time in all her life that enough
money had found its way into her exchequer to purchase a season's box,
and she was making the very most of it that lay in her power.

Very many persons present had observed that no woman ever found her
way into that box, and that most of the men concealed themselves in
the rear, or even contented themselves with a visit to the anteroom.
But Jessica never troubled her head about that. She didn't like women,
didn't want women, and their absence affected her not at all.

Carlita was at home, as usual, beautiful as a dream in her soft chiffon
gown, the exquisite dark hair rippling from her forehead in great waves
that no hair-dresser's art could ever imitate.

She was standing before a huge soft-coal fire, looking down into it,
with a faint smile curving the corners of her mouth, as she waited for
Olney Winthrop--a smile which deepened as she heard the chime of the
door-bell.

There was not the faintest perceptible start at the sound, not an
increase of color at the knowledge of her lover's coming. She lifted
her head to welcome him, and started, quivering in every nerve in her
body, her face flushing crimson, as she saw who it was that had pushed
aside the heavy portière and stood there in her fiancé's place.

It was Leith Pierrepont.

He came forward with the easy, nonchalant grace that was peculiar to
him, the indolent smile upon his mouth, looking handsomer than he had
ever done in his life before, and a woman would of necessity have been
made of granite not to have seen it.

He put out his hand as he joined Carlita beside the fire, and because
she could not refuse, she put her fingers into it.

She noticed that his hand had closed over hers firmly, in spite of the
fact that she had only intended that he should touch it; and while he
did not retain it, he was in no hurry whatever to loosen his grasp of
the cold palm.

"Jessica and Mrs. Chalmers are not here," she stammered, angry with
herself that she could not keep her voice steady.

"I know it," he replied, indolently. "They are at the opera. Jessica
never misses 'Aïda.' It is a favorite of mine, too, and Nordica is
excellent in it."

"And yet you are not there?"

"There are some things that I prefer even to a well-rendered opera.
Olney will not be here this evening."

"Why?"

She flashed her great eyes up at him, as if he had given her a personal
affront. He smiled enigmatically, and she flushed with anger.

"He has a headache," Leith returned, leisurely. "You know he isn't
strong. That dose of jungle fever about knocked him out."

"I'm sorry he isn't feeling well. I'm--"

She strove to infuse the sentence with earnestness, but her voice had
never sounded colder in her own ears, and she found it impossible to
finish the speech. She paused uncomfortably, and after a moment Leith
said, with another smile that somehow made her feel that she hated him
more than ever:

"Won't you ask me to sit down? I never could stand with any degree of
comfort."

"Certainly, if you wish to sit," she answered. "I thought perhaps you
would be going to the opera."

"No; I told you I shouldn't," he answered, sitting down gracefully and
looking up at her carelessly. "I had much rather hear you sing."

"But I never sing."

"Oh, yes, you do. Olney has told me. He says that you have a singularly
lovely voice, and I have always considered Olney one of the few really
good judges of music."

"I am not a musician."

"You mean you don't play your own accompaniments. That makes no
difference. I will be very glad to do it for you. I am not in
particularly good practice, but I used to be called rather good at that
sort of thing."

She had seated herself, and as he spoke he rose as if he were going to
the piano; but, instead, leaned over the back of the chair and looked
down upon her. The look seemed to get into her veins and tingle through
her blood like living fire. His voice was low and musical as that of a
thrush, as he said, softly:

"Why will you, who are always so kind and gentle to others, be cruel to
me? What have I done to win your dislike? How have I sinned that you
withdraw your friendship from me alone of all the world?"

She bit her lip to keep the hot tears out of her eyes. She could not
understand her own emotion, and hated him that he had caused it.
She arose, not even glancing toward him, and threw out her hands
deprecatingly:

"You are making too much of the fact that I do not care to sing for
strangers," she replied haughtily. "If it will interest you, I will
try, but I assure you that I am the most inexperienced of amateurs.
What would you like me to sing?"

He did not reply to her. He was leaning against the piano, looking
at her, not impertinently, but curiously, as if he did not quite
understand her. She allowed her fingers to wander over the keys idly
for a moment, then played and sang an excerpt from "Gioconda," not with
her usual style and expression at all, but still with a sweetness and
depth of voice and a breadth of expression that was infinitely pleasing.

"You can't do a thing of that sort playing your own accompaniment,"
he said, when she had finished, not complimenting her at all upon her
beauty of voice or method. "Let me sit there, will you?"

She arose at once, a trifle nettled at his lack of praise, and he
took the stool she had vacated. His fingers touched the piano with
a tenderness that went to her soul. She loved music with a sort of
ravenous passion, if one may so express it, a wild longing that had
never been gratified, and she listened with an increased fascination
that held her speechless.

"Do you know 'Aïda'?" he inquired at last.

She nodded.

"Do you remember the duet in the tomb?"

"Yes."

His fingers wandered into it, then his glorious voice, sweet as the
lower tones of a harp, rang out full and rich. She joined him when her
time came, singing as she had never sung before, enthused by the genius
which she had never expected, enchanted by the magic of his touch.

When it was finished he turned to her.

"Who taught you?" he asked, quietly.

"My mother."

"Your method is faulty. I wish you would go to Arditi for a while. Your
voice is excellent, but you waste it deplorably. You have a warmth of
coloring and a breadth of expression rarely found, and would make a
superb singer if properly taught. Will you go to Arditi? Please do."

"Perhaps. I have never heard good singers, that is, none except my
mother, and she was not great. You have studied, of course?"

"Oh, yes; in Paris and Italy. Shall I sing something for you?"

"If you will."

He looked up at her. There was just the glimmer of a smile in his
eyes, such a curious smile, so wistful, almost beseeching, a pathetic
smile that made her heart tremble in spite of her hatred of him, that
extraordinary hatred which she had never been able to explain to
herself, and for which she could have found not the shadow of a cause
if she had dared to question herself upon the subject.

His hands continued to wander over the keys as if he were improvising,
and after a little time his voice, sweet, gentle, so low that it could
scarcely have been heard behind the portières that fell between them
and the hall, floated out:

    "'The solemn sea of silence lies between us;
        I know thou livest and thou lovest me;
      And yet I wish some white ship would come sailing
        Across the ocean, bearing word from thee.

    "'The dead calm awes me with its awful stillness,
        No anxious doubts of fears disturb my breast;
      I only ask some little wave of language
        To stir this vast infinitude of rest.

    "'Too deep the language which the spirit utters,
        Too vast the knowledge which my soul hath stirred;
      Send some white ship across the sea of silence
        And interrupt its utterance with a word.'"

He had never removed his eyes from her while he was singing, but she
had dropped hers. The crimson glow which she could not command had
crept into her cheeks. His voice fell almost to a whisper, and as
the last word left his lips, he lifted his hands from the keys and
imprisoned both of hers together, leaning toward her with his splendid
face uplifted.

"Do you know what that sea of silence is, Carlita?" he asked, his low
voice thrilling through her like old wine. "It is that great gulf that
lies between you and me. Shall I tell you more?

    "'I am oppressed with this great sense of loving--
        So much I give, so much receive from thee;
      Like subtle incense rising from a censer,
        So floats the fragrance of thy love round me.'"

She lifted her eyes, startled, wide with horror and alarm, and would
have drawn back but that he held her, his beautiful eyes dull with
passion.

"Did you think I did not know? Did you think I should not comprehend?"
he continued in the same tone. "Did you really believe that I should
allow another to steal you from me? There have been times when I almost
thought you did not realize that you love me. There have been times
when I have believed you fancied your heart given to that other to
whom you have promised yourself, and then the knowledge of how absurd
it all was comforted me. The knowledge that some day you would turn
to me helped me to bear it all, but the sea of silence is killing me,
Carlita, drowning me in my own desire. I love you--ah! you know that,
and the words are so weak. You know that I would let the blood drain
from my body through the ends of my fingers, drop by drop, for you. I
don't believe you realized it all when you promised to be another man's
wife; but it could not be concealed from you always. Won't you send
the white ship across the sea, my darling? Won't you speak some word to
comfort my waiting?"

He had not spoken the words in the headlong, pell-mell fashion of
impassioned youth, but with a feeling that held her spell-bound until
the sound of his voice had ceased, and then things looked black and
swam before her eyes as if she were suddenly affected with vertigo.
She staggered, and would have fallen but that he arose, and, placing
his arm about her, held her closely. His warm breath aroused her, and
tearing herself from him, she sprang aside.

"False friend! Craven! Coward!" she panted. "How dare you? How dare
you speak the words to me that you have uttered? How dare you say
that I love you--you--you, the man who has played the friend to Olney
Winthrop, who has pretended to love him as a brother does? You come
here in his absence, like the coward that you are, to steal that which
belongs to him--only to him; but it is beyond you, thank God for that!
I hate you--hate you as I have never hated a human thing in my life
before--hate you for the cunning coward that you are! I shall tell
Olney Winthrop of this, and--"

Pierrepont was leaning against the piano, all his nonchalance, his
graceful indifference returned, listening to her as if she were
speaking to him only the pleasantries of the drawing-room. She burst
into tears before she could complete her sentence, and he moved for a
moment restlessly, but naturally and calmly as he usually spoke, said:

"There will be no necessity for you to take that trouble. I shall tell
him myself before I sleep tonight."

"I hope that Heaven will spare me the insult of ever looking upon your
face again!" she cried as she started from the room.

She was forced to pass him in order to reach the door, and as she would
have done so, he stepped before her almost indifferently. There was the
smile still upon his mouth, his eyes were brilliant now, and his voice
as slow and drawling as ever.

"I just want to say a word before you go," he said, quietly. "There
will come a time when you will wish to recall what you have said, when
you will yearn for the love which you disregard now. When it comes,
send for me. You need not fear that I shall harbor any resentment for
your cruelty. When you send, I shall be ready to respond, even if your
message should reach me at the other end of the earth. You are the only
woman whom I have ever loved, and some day you shall be my wife!"

He said the words with gentleness and perfect respect, but her face
crimsoned with anger.

"Never!" she cried, fiercely.

He smiled.

"I have never failed to keep my word, particularly when the promise was
made to myself," he answered, lightly. "Neither heaven nor earth, nor
life nor death, nor yet eternity itself, could stand between us!"

He stepped out of her way, not a particle of excitement visible in his
manner--on the contrary, he was calmer, more careless than usual--and
she looked into his face for one moment, then fled by him and up the
stairs to her own apartment.

Then she locked the door and threw herself upon the bed, in a passion
of tears--tears such as she had never shed, not even at the death of
her mother; but they were so different--hot, angry tears; and yet--yet
there was some grief in them, too, though she could not have told why.

It was almost daylight when Jessica and her mother returned, and yet
she was still lying there, never having removed her clothing.

She got up then, in a shamed sort of way, and undressed herself; but it
was of the man she hated that she dreamed, not the man she loved; it
was the gray eyes into which she looked, not the blue; and she rose in
the morning unrefreshed, and with eyes still swollen from weeping.



CHAPTER X.


Olney Winthrop was detained away for four days on account of illness,
but on the fifth he came again.

He was pale and haggard, and about the mouth there was a wistful
expression that touched Carlita in the old, fond way. She went up to
him and placed her hand upon his shoulder with a loving gesture.

"You have been ill," she said; "but I did not dream that it had been so
bad. Why did you not let me come to you?"

"You would have come?"

"Can you ask?"

She looked pathetically into his eyes and allowed him to kiss her. It
brought a flush to his pallid cheeks and a warm light to his worn eyes.

"I wonder if man was ever blessed with so sweet a love as I?" he asked,
more of himself than of her, his voice low with emotion. "Carlita,
if I should lose you, death, by any means whatever, would be a happy
release. You love me, darling? Say it once again. It is not that I
doubt, but only that I adore the sound of the words from your exquisite
lips."

She shivered slightly, some of the bright color fading from the olive
cheek.

"What is it?" he questioned, with tender solicitude.

"I have so often meant to tell you," she answered, her eyes not upon
his, but fixed absently upon a distant object which yet was unseen,
"but have not had the courage. It seems almost like stabbing a living
thing to the heart to speak of it to you; and yet--and yet--"

"Tell me, dear heart. Is there anything with which you would not trust
me?"

"It is only that I would not distress you. There is an old curse in the
family; such a foolish thing, you will think, for nineteenth century
people to believe in, and I don't--really I don't; and yet it makes my
blood freeze in my veins sometimes when I remember it. It is the curse
of Pocahontas, Olney. Have you heard what it is?"

"No."

"It descends to the dark girl child of each generation--the child that
shows the trace of the Indian in her unfortunate veins. It is a curse
put upon her love, that unhappiness, misery may follow the giving
of her heart, and--Olney, what a fool I am to alarm you with this
absurdity!"

He had started and grown a shade paler, then caught her hands in a grip
that would have hurt her had she been more alive to physical emotions.

"Why do you listen to such things?" she continued, laughing half
hysterically.

"It was so strange," he returned, huskily--"so strange that you should
have mentioned it at this, of all times."

"Why?"

"Because I have received a summons which takes me away from you for a
time--upon a perilous journey, perhaps."

"Where? Why?"

She was breathless, and returned the pressure of his hands with a
strength of which she was unaware.

"To Mexico. My whole fortune is involved, and it is necessary that I
should go."

She leaned toward him eagerly.

"Don't!" she whispered, hoarsely. "Something tells me that you will not
return. I have a presentiment of evil--a horrible presentiment! It is
the curse in reality. Don't go, Olney. My fortune will be enough for
both."

But he had recovered himself, and smiled reassuringly, though feebly.

"We are foolish, my darling, both of us. I could not be a dependent
upon the bounty of my wife. You must understand that, love. However
much one we may be, I could never consent to feel myself a burden.
Don't ask it of me, dearest. It would only make the temporary parting
all the harder to bear, and you must have strength to bolster up my
weakness."

"Oh, Olney!"

"If you had never heard of that foolish curse, you would think
nothing of it; and if I had not been ill and weak mentally as well as
physically, it would not have impressed me in the least. Remember that
you yourself called it an absurdity."

"But you are not well enough to go--not strong enough to stand the
test."

"The warmth of the climate will benefit me as nothing else could. I
shall not die, Carlita. The thought of your love will give me every
courage. Besides, I shall have one near who cares for me as a brother."

"You mean--"

"Leith."

She sat there for a moment, dumb, stunned, never raising her eyes, but
Olney was watching her narrowly; then she drew a trifle closer to him,
and with bowed head, whispered:

"There is--something that--I must tell you. It is about--about--"

"Leith?" he questioned, gently.

"Yes," she returned in a voice which he did not remember.

"I know," he said, softly.

"He told you?"

"Yes."

"And yet you--trust him?"

"As I would my brother," he returned, simply.

Her hand closed over his with a violence that made him wince.

"God help you!" she returned, heavily. "I loathe the man as I would a
coiling reptile. There can no good come of it. Remember that I have
told you this. God help you and help me, for the curse has fallen, as I
felt that it must when I dared to love!"



CHAPTER XI.


It was a very lonely time for Carlita, those weeks that followed.

Of course she had Olney's letters, letters filled with loving promises
and words of hope for the future; but letters are a poor substitute for
the presence of one we love. Still, they are infinitely better than
nothing. They came every day at first, filled with all those messages
so dear to a girlish heart; then when he had gotten further down into
Mexico, where the mail service is so deplorably bad, of course they
became fewer. She had understood that that must be so before he went.

He told her in many of them of the utterly uncivilized state of the
country, almost as uncivilized as if millions of miles existed between
it and our own United States, of the long-cloaked, dark-browed,
sombrero-crowned men who either walked or slunk through the streets
when there were any, or roads when there were not, of the strange,
wild, brilliant, many-hued country, that still had its inthralling
fascination for all its repulsiveness.

"I almost wish that I had persuaded you to come with me, to give me
your sweet companionship, for I am sure that in spite of all the
hardships, you would enjoy it all," he wrote in one of his many
letters. "Even granting its barbaric state, there is an unconscious
poetry in it all that I am sure would delight you, a tropical,
luxurious, brilliant beauty that gets into one's veins like wine, or
the seductive bewilderment of opium. I am not quite sure but that you
would never leave, but live on and on, content, like these people, with
only the joy of living, the mere halcyon pleasure of existence--a
lotus-eater. And yet there are parts of it so wild, so superbly
barbaric almost that the very danger enchants one. I am growing well
and strong under the excitement of it all and the desire to get back
to you--the craving to feel the touch of your dear lips, to feel the
warmth of your beautiful presence. Let us come here on our honeymoon,
will you? To the home of your own people. Ah, there is romance enough
in the very atmosphere, in the gorgeous color, the song of the birds,
the picturesque buildings and customs and country, to make one die from
excess of loving."

But after that, as has been said, the letters became less frequent, and
there was nothing to do but sit beside the window and watch for the
postman--the postman who went to others with his messages of happiness
or pain, as it might be, but passed her by. She continued to write,
though, every day, just as if she had received her daily effusion.

But never once had Leith Pierrepont's name been mentioned in it all.

It was very lonely. There were times when it seemed almost as if Mrs.
Chalmers and Jessica had forgotten her very existence.

They rarely breakfasted before one o'clock in the afternoon, and then
Carlita had had her luncheon and had gone out for a walk in the park or
downtown to amuse herself by looking in the shop windows--not a very
profitable pastime; but what was the poor child to do? By the time
she returned they had gone for their drive, an excursion upon which
she was never asked, although it was her money that paid for the new
luxury of a victoria and pair, not to speak of the sumptuous coachman
and footman; but she did not know it and therefore thought nothing of
the omission. Unless there was a dinner party, which she never thought
of attending, Mrs. Chalmers and Jessica sometimes condescended to
dine with her; but that was not often; and if there was no opera in
the evening there might be a theater party, with a dinner afterward--a
really superb little dinner served by their new French chef, which
was practically the greatest attraction the house offered since its
reputation for "extraordinary" poker had been established.

For every night, whether there had been an opera or no opera, there
was a poker game in progress, and always enough people willing to lose
their money to make it profitable as well as interesting.

A few women had joined their ranks, women who rouged their faces and
blackened their eyebrows and wore peroxide of hydrogen hair strangely
like Mrs. Chalmers' own.

Carlita had seen the party once when the noise was so great that she
could not sleep. She crept downstairs, concealed herself from sight,
of course, and watched them for a little while, but her disgust was so
great that she never did it again, but often covered up her head with
the bedclothes in order to keep the sound out.

It was more lonely often than if she had lived all alone, and so no
wonder she thought of Leith Pierrepont's words at last and of--Arditi.

She hated the very name of the man at first, because Leith had asked
her to study under him, and then by degrees the thought became less
repulsive to her, and she finally concluded that in sheer self-defense
she would go and see him anyway, just to satisfy herself as to whether
she had any voice or not, and to relieve the awful monotony of
existence.

She found him--the great artist--in his studio, and he listened
kindly to her words and then tried her voice. It was really a superb
voice, filled with color and feeling, and a breadth of tone that was
wonderful. He was delighted--as who would not have been?--and accepted
her as his pupil gladly, almost joyfully.

After that the work fascinated her, and she toiled faithfully, making
marvelous strides, assisted perhaps by the very ache in her heart, for
there is nothing under heaven that develops the soul like sorrow. I
doubt whether a person has any very great amount of soul cultivation
until grief has brought it there. And Carlita certainly suffered.

The letters had ceased altogether.

She was not particularly surprised at first, because Olney had told her
of the wretched condition of the railroads, and consequently of the
mail service; but it couldn't have been quite so bad as all that, to
give her no letter in five long, apparently endless weeks.

But she covered up the hurt in her devotion to her new art, and Mrs.
Chalmers and Jessica watched her curiously.

"Who could wish for anything better than this?" Jessica asked of her
mother one day, as they heard the strains of the piano from the room
which, at her request, had been set apart for her own particular use.

"No one--if it could only last," returned Mrs. Chalmers, with a little,
only half-suppressed sigh.

But of course it couldn't, and that was the horrible pity of it all.

The music lessons continued, and Arditi forgot the time in his devotion
to his new pupil.

"She is a genius!" he said, ecstatically; "the only one that I have
discovered in years. She sings because she can't help it. She is like
a bird in the forest, except that there is a note of sadness which the
bird never acquires, because it has no soul. Some day she will show the
world what an artiste is!"

And the full rich tones were floating out one day, glorious as the
minor strains of an organ, when suddenly the tone failed, the hands
fell upon the key-board with a crash, the lovely face, flushed with
devotion to its new master, whitened, and a little cry fell from the
drawn lips.

She did not speak--it seemed as if she could not--and after a moment of
silence the man who had caused her alarm went forward and put out his
hand.

She hesitated a moment, half drew back, then, impelled by some strange
power, placed her cold palm in his.

"I am afraid I startled you," he said, in that beautiful voice with
which no male voice that she had ever heard could remotely compare. "I
asked for Jessica and Mrs. Chalmers, but the servant said they were in
the park; then I heard you singing, and begged to be allowed to come
here. I see you have taken lessons of Arditi, as I asked you. It was
very good of you."

"How--how do you know that I have?" she stammered.

"Ah, who knows the method so well as I? There is not another teacher in
America that could do it, and you have put your whole heart and soul
into it. God! what a voice it is!"

She threw out her hands deprecatingly.

"What matters it?" she cried, huskily, breathlessly. "Tell me, when did
you come? And where is he--Olney? Why does he allow you to come first?"

There was the bitterest pain in her voice--pain, humiliation. Leith
half put out his hand, then withdrew it, as if he were not quite sure
of what it was that he would do. There was a new light in his eyes--a
curious light which she could not quite comprehend. There seemed to be
sorrow in it--sorrow for her--and yet it glowed with passion and--and
something else--she could not quite make out what, but it frightened
her. She drew back and pressed her hands upon her breast.

"Is Olney with you?" she asked, whispering her question in this new
fear that had come upon her.

He shook his head.

"You have--left him there," she stammered, helplessly--"left him in
that awful place he wrote me of--deserted him--when he needed you?"

The hollow tone of his voice as he replied was not like that with which
he had greeted her.

"There was nothing else to do," he answered, simply.

She stared at him for a moment in a silence that was uncanny, then
said, hoarsely:

"What is it--you mean? He--he is not--"

"Dead?--yes," he said, completing the sentence for her.

She stood there, just a moment, all the color gone from her
countenance, all the light from her eyes, and then she fell forward; it
would have been at his feet but that he caught her in his arms.

He turned the white face upward and gazed into it long, lingeringly,
lovingly. There was a wistful, yearning look about his mouth, a
twitching at the corners that spoke of a suffering to which he had
never given expression, and which was no longer to be endured, and
then--he couldn't help it, perhaps--he bent his head and pressed his
lips upon hers.

She would never know; she was unconscious, he told himself; but as he
lifted his head with the wild, passionate expression of self-loathing
burning in his eyes, he saw Jessica and her mother standing in the
door-way.



CHAPTER XII.


Perhaps of the three conscious ones, Jessica was the first to recover
herself.

A sort of fear that seemed to turn her cold from feet to brow oppressed
Mrs. Chalmers, and she stood there white-lipped, stunned, in presence
of that unnamed terror, while her daughter went forward, a smile that
was almost playful making her treacherous lips beautiful.

"Leith, really Leith!" she cried sweetly. "What man but you ever could
turn up in this most unexpected fashion, or this most welcome one? Was
it your sudden coming that has upset Carlita? These Southern women are
so easily affected. Mamma, can't you ring for Carlita's maid? Here is
poor Leith holding her in his arms as if she were a china doll, which
he feared to drop lest it should break. Has she really fainted, or
is it only one of her pretty affectations because of the picturesque
comfort of the position?"

"I am afraid I was a little abrupt in breaking some startling news to
her," answered Leith, quietly, thankful for once for the incessant flow
of Jessica's words. "Poor little girl! I am very sorry for her."

"Really? What was it?"

"Wait a moment."

Carlita had stirred ever so slightly in his embrace but he was
painfully alive to every movement. It seemed to him that it would be
impossible for him to look into her clear eyes then, eyes lighted with
hatred and loathing for his despicable act, and it was with a feeling
of absolute relief that he resigned his precious burden to her maid,
who, with the assistance of Mrs. Chalmers, took her from the room.

"Do tell me!" cried Jessica, making not the slightest pretense of
interest in her mother's ward. "I am consumed with curiosity. Is it
about Olney?"

"Yes."

"He is ill?"

"Worse than that."

"Worse! Not--dead?"

"Yes."

"Good heavens!"

There was a desperate sort of silence that lasted she could never quite
remember how long, but her mother's touch aroused her, her mother's
voice speaking in her ear in a low, strained tone, which seemed unreal
and ghastly to her.

"Olney is dead, Jessica. Do you hear me, child? Olney Winthrop is dead."

The girl shook off the hand and lifted her white face.

"Yes, I know," she answered, hoarsely, almost gruffly. "What is
the good of making a scene about it? Many of--of our friends have
died suddenly who appeared less like it than he. What was it,
Leith--typhoid? Mexico is such a beastly hole for typhoid."

Her mother heard and understood all the bravado in the tone, and a
shiver passed over her that added to her pallor under all the ghastly,
artificial red. But she forgot it in listening to Leith's reply.

"No," he said, heavily, "it was not fever."

"Then what?"

He glanced away from her, even shot a half-nervous glance in the
direction of the door, which was something he had never done before in
his life.

"What was it?" she repeated, unable to control her impatient
excitement. "Not--"

"Yes, murder!"

There was none of the old, graceful nonchalance in the voice as he
spoke that word. It was strained, husky, tense, like that of a man who
is putting the most violent restraint upon some wild passion.

Mrs. Chalmers uttered a little cry, a cry that could not be described
in its terror, suspense, she knew not what, of horrible presentiment;
but Jessica's head was flung up, her nostrils dilated, her eyes wild
and filled with a curious expression which her mother could not fathom,
even had she been in a mental condition to try.

And then Jessica repeated that awful word, repeated it in a voice which
contained a note of triumph--hideous triumph--that shot through her
mother's weaker soul with renewed terror:

"Murder!"

There were volumes in the mere utterance. She stood looking at him for
just a moment, then deliberately sat down and crossed her hands between
her knees, looking up at him curiously. Mrs. Chalmers leaned against
the mantel-shelf for needed support.

"How horrible!" exclaimed Jessica. "And that it should be some one we
all know--actually engaged to Carlita! It reads quite like a story
book, doesn't it? Do sit down and tell us all about it."

But Leith did not sit. He passed his hands across his brow as if his
head ached.

"I can't," he answered, heavily. "It is getting late, and I am worn
out. I haven't slept for--I can't remember just how long, but I
feel seedy and in need of rest. I think I'll go now, and come again
tomorrow, if you'll let me."

"But at least you'll tell us the main facts!" cried Jessica. "It won't
take a minute. Who murdered him?"

She seemed to delight in the mere utterance of the grewsome word, and
Leith shivered, though his answer was filled with passion:

"I wish to God I knew!"

"Then you don't?"

"No."

The words were uttered so peculiarly that even Jessica was silent for a
moment, then said, with sudden, swift meaning:

"Then you were not with him?"

"No."

"And there was no inquiry made, no effort to discover the murderer?"

Leith lifted his shoulders wearily.

"Oh, yes," he answered. "But what does inquiry amount to in a place
like that? There is no law, and a man's importance is measured by the
value of his hat and saddle, and the number of men he has slain."

"Then you have no suspicion?"

"None." But he stooped to pick up a handkerchief he had dropped as he
spoke the word. "I really must go now," he said when he had regained
it. "I am dead tired, and--"

"But you saw him after he was dead?" she persisted, observing that his
hand trembled, in spite of his efforts to prevent it.

"Yes, I saw him," he stammered.

"Was he shot?"

"Yes."

"Where?"

"Directly through the heart."

"Ah! then he did not suffer much. You should be glad he was killed at
once, and--"

But it seemed to Pierrepont that he could bear it no longer. His
accustomed indifference had already deserted him, and he felt that all
his courage was as rapidly following. He cried out passionately, more
passionately than she believed possible for him, even after the kiss
she had seen him press upon Carlita's lips:

"Glad! Glad, when it left not a moment for preparation to meet that God
whom he feared! when it left not a moment for a word of farewell to the
girl whom he loved! Glad! Good God! I had rather suffer a life-time of
anguish than to die like that--a rat in a trap!"

"And you buried him down there?" his pitiless interlocutor continued.

"Yes," he answered, half sullenly. "What else was there to do?"

"Why not bring him home to the girl he loved, and who loved him?"

"Like that! It were a thousand times, ten thousand times, better that
she never saw him again. Besides," managing by a superhuman effort
to control himself somewhat, "there was no way. It was awful getting
through, myself, and it would have been impossible with him. There
were miles and miles that had to be done on mule-back, and miles and
miles more, even after we reached the railroad, that had to be done on
a hand-car. Then there were land-slides that had to be walked over and
the car carried. Oh, it would have been impossible, quite impossible,
even if--if--"

"If what?"

"If I had desired to," he blurted out, hastily, hoarsely. "I will come
again tomorrow--tomorrow--when, I hope, Miss de Barryos will be better.
Good-night."

He bolted from the room, snatched up his hat and coat in the hall, and
rushed into the street.

Already the lamps were lighted, flickering brilliantly in the deadened
gray of the gloaming that was so rapidly fading into night. Pedestrians
were hurrying homeward, their faces cut to crimson by the sharp, frosty
air.

The sting of it was pleasant to Pierrepont. He opened his mouth and
drank it into his lungs with the same relish that a thirsty man drinks
water.

"God, what a relief!" he exclaimed, his step growing more elastic.
"She knew how she was torturing me, saw it in every word that I spoke;
and I, fool that I was, was betrayed into weakness and cowardice by
a woman whom I despise! I felt myself a criminal striving to avoid
the accusation of my crime. I think if she had cried out: 'You are
the guilty one! 'Twas your hand fired the shot that killed poor Olney
Winthrop!' I would have sunk upon my knees and begged for mercy.
Pouf! how all this cursed affair has upset me! I wonder if I shall
ever be myself again? I wonder if I shall ever be able to shake off
the influence of all these lies I have been forced to tell, and shall
be forced to tell from this time henceforth? God! it's the old story
retold of Adam and Eve, without the Garden of Eden. A woman's beautiful
face makes cowards of us all. And I, who so despise a liar, who never
told a lie in my life until--"

He did not complete the sentence, but flung up his head with a gesture
of repugnance and abhorrence.

A slow, pitiless, scornful, malignant laugh fell from Jessica's lips
as she heard the outer door close upon him. She got up, went to the
window, and watched him as he disappeared down the street; then, quite
as calmly as she had moved the day before, returned to the mantel and
laid one hand upon it, while with the other she lifted her dress and
placed her foot upon the fender before the fire. Then, after a pause:

"Why do you look at me in that uncanny sort of way?" she exclaimed,
half fretfully to her mother, without even glancing in her direction.
"You make me feel creepy all up and down my back. Why don't you say it
out and have done with it?"

"Say--what out?" stammered Mrs. Chalmers, her voice as stiff, as
heavy, as full of terror as her face.

"What you are thinking."

"I--I don't believe I--could. It seems to--me that I--must have
been asleep--and had a--horrible nightmare. I--think I must have
been--wondering--what you--thought."

Jessica lifted her head. In the mirror she saw leaning against the
door-jamb a figure clothed all in black, the white hands crossed upon
its breast as if to hush the wild throb of the passionate heart. The
beautiful face looked deathly in its pallor. It was Carlita.

Jessica turned her eyes upon her mother as if she had not seen, then
answered slowly, her voice vibrating with intense meaning:

"What I think of the murder of Olney Winthrop? You mean whom do I
believe to be the murderer? I am quite sure there can not be two ideas
upon that score. The ball that entered Olney Winthrop's heart was fired
by the hand of Leith Pierrepont, none other!"



CHAPTER XIII.


"The ball that entered Olney Winthrop's heart was fired by the hand of
Leith Pierrepont!"

Over and over again, like the insistent surge of the waves, or the
maddening repetition of some wild, fantastic melody, those words kept
repeating themselves in Carlita's reeling brain.

She had crept away noiselessly when she had heard them spoken, crept
away and almost crawled up the stairs to her own chamber, where the
gathering darkness lay in somber shadows. She closed the door and
turned the key, leaning against it in a weak, half-relieved sort of
way, like the criminal who has gained a moment of respite from his too
close pursuers.

But the haunting memory of those ghastly words aroused her again, and
she pressed her hands upon her breast, her great eyes peering into the
gloomy shadows, the words she had heard standing out before her in
letters of glaring fire.

"It can't be--it can't be!" she panted, leaning forward as if she were
speaking her passionate cry into some listening ear. "It can't be!
Olney Winthrop murdered, and--Leith Pierrepont his--No, no, no! It
can not be true! My God! I will not believe it! There is some awful
mistake! Some hideous blunder! But then--but then--"

She paused and moistened her stiff lips, her eyes opening and closing
curiously. She did not continue that monologue, but catching hold of
a chair, then the foot of the bed, a table, then another chair, she
dragged herself to the fireside, which had burned itself to little more
than dull gray ashes.

She knelt upon the white bear-skin rug, and taking the poker tried to
stir it into a blaze again; but the faint flicker made her shiver. She
dropped the poker from her cold fingers, and burying her white face
upon her knees crossed her arms around them.

Her grief for her betrothed seemed to be swallowed up in the awful
sense of horror that oppressed her. It was not so much of Olney
Winthrop murdered that she thought, as of Leith Pierrepont murderer.

And then the shadows lengthened and dusk faded into night. The poor
fire died entirely and lay gray and passionless upon the hearth. The
cold flash of an electric lamp shone through the window, over which the
shade had not been drawn, and lay in a line of light across the floor,
beyond which were ponderous caverns made of shadow.

It was ghoulish, eerie.

She would have thought it strange that her maid had not come to prepare
her bath and bed if she had been in a condition to consider ordinary
subjects, but matters of daily moment and time ceased to exist for her
during those hours.

Once or twice she moved uneasily, and a hoarse moan left her lips as if
some horrible thought, too heavy to be borne in silence, weighed upon
her heart.

And then at last she lifted her head. The eyes burned like living
coals, but the face was gray and passionless, like the dead ashes upon
the hearth. It was a curious, uncanny contrast.

Her neck was stiff and sore from its long continuance in one position,
but she did not seem to be conscious of it. Her fingers were still
interlaced about her knee. Her mental faculties seemed to return to her
suddenly.

"He told me that he loved me, that whether I desired or not, I should
be his wife," she said in a low, hoarse tone that fitted the scene
with curious horror, the "he" referring to Leith Pierrepont. "Knowing
that I was the betrothed wife of his friend, he came in that friend's
absence and made his dastardly proposal to me. Can it be that he has
done this thing for--that? For that? In order that he might carry out
this hideous desire? Good God! No human thing with the dim shadow of
blood in his veins could do a thing so vile. And yet--God of Heaven,
I will know! I must know! I will avenge you, Olney! I swear it! Do
you hear me, sleeping there in your lonely grave? I swear that I will
avenge you, and that I will bring your murderer to justice, let it cost
me what it will of womanliness, of self-respect, of life itself even.
My moment of weakness is passed, and the work shall commence at once."

She arose, feverishly stiff and cramped from her long, sorrowful vigil,
and walked with a step that was almost firm to the door.

It never occurred to her to consider the time, but turning the key in
the lock, she opened the door and went into the hall.

All was dark, the house strangely still.

"It is out of respect for--Olney," she whispered to herself, with a
little catch in her voice like a sob. "It was kind of Jessica! After
all--"

She didn't finish the sentence, but walked unsteadily up the hall. Her
weakness seemed to come again with her knowledge of the darkness.

She paused before Jessica's door and hesitated for a moment, then she
saw a faint gleam of light beneath the door. It gave her courage. She
did not knock, but turned the knob gently. It yielded, and the door
swung back.

The brilliant gleam of light blinded her for a moment, and then she
saw Jessica standing beneath the chandelier. She was clothed in a long
gown of shimmering greenish satin, the décolleté bodice finished with
a fall of lace that somehow made her look like a serpent which trails
his long, singularly graceful body in the moonlight. About her handsome
throat was a string of diamonds, and in the clustering coils of auburn
hair a crown of diamonds that scintillated and flashed with defiant
glitter.

And there was something in the cold look of the brown eyes that matched
them strangely--a look that hardened as it rested upon the girl at the
door.

She observed the expression of surprised contempt in Carlita's burning
eyes all too clearly, but it only served to intensify her hatred.

"I--I didn't know you had--been out," Carlita stammered. "I half feared
I should find you in bed. The house was still and dark. Is it late?"

"No, early--in the morning," Jessica answered, with a short laugh.
"Haven't you been to bed? It is almost three. There! the clock is
striking now."

"I had no idea--" returned Carlita, in an uncertain and indefinite sort
of way, as if she didn't quite know what she wanted to say. "May I come
in for a moment?"

"As well come in and close the door as stand there and have the draught
blow on one," answered Jessica. "It has been a very stupid evening,"
stifling a yawn. "Calve was not in voice, and Jean de Reske didn't sing
at all. It seems to me abominably like a swindle to announce at the
last moment that some one whom you especially went to hear 'has a cold,
and So-and-so has kindly consented to take his place.' Even the poker
game afterward was stupid--insufferably stupid. Carlita, what a fool
you are, that you don't cut all the Puritan idiocy of your bringing up,
and try the gaits with me! You'd have twice the friends, live twice as
long, and have a thousand times the fun."

Carlita shivered slightly, as her eyes traveled over the figure before
her.

"I suppose you are right," she said, half stupidly; "but somehow it
doesn't seem to be in my line."

"Pouf! You can do anything you like. What's the good of making a
sepulcher of one's life--of living for death, so to speak--when you
have so little of life and so much of death? You make a constant sermon
of yourself, and people hate sermons. That's why they go to sleep in
church. You never see any one go to sleep at a poker-table. There are
people who talk against it, I know--'wouldn't have their sisters play
for their right arms,' and all that rot--and then turn round and kill
their best friend!"

She laughed shortly, heavily, hatefully, and again Carlita shivered,
while she moved uneasily.

"It is inconsistent," she said, in a stony sort of way; "but so few
people are consistent. I wanted to ask you about--him. You know--the
man whom--"

"Leith Pierrepont?"

"Yes."

"What about him?"

"What did he tell you about--Olney? I fainted, or--or something--and
after that he had gone."

She was suffering too acutely to observe the gleam in the red-brown
eyes, and there was nothing in the voice to attract attention.

"Olney is--dead. You know that?"

"Oh, yes; he said that. But how?"

"Shot through the heart."

Carlita moistened her lips, and then continued her grewsome questioning.

"And they buried him--?"

"Out there."

"Was there an effort made to--to discover the murderer?"

"Effort? Oh, yes; I suppose so. But, after all, what does 'effort'
amount to in a place like that? His murderer might have been standing
right beside the coffin, and no one would have made an 'effort' to
arrest him. Leith Pierrepont himself says that man's importance is
measured there by the number of men he has slain."

"Good heavens! He said that?"

"Yes."

"The dastard!"

"It is doubly pitiful for poor Olney," Jessica continued, volubly,
"because he was so alone in the world. There is no one to take his
case for him--no one to see that justice is done. The murder was
committed out of the country, and so the murderer will go scot-free,
deceiving other people, his polluted body in contact with that of
innocence--perhaps even marry a pure young girl."

"No!" cried Carlita, her voice tragic in its suppressed
passion--"never! Olney is not without an avenger. I have sworn before
Heaven a solemn vow that I will bring his murderer to punishment for
his cowardly crime; and I will keep that vow, let it cost me what it
will of happiness, of life, or even honor. All the world shall know
and scorn him for the thing he is, and God Himself shall put upon him
the brand of Cain. I have sworn an oath to Olney dead, and may I stand
accursed before Heaven if I fail to keep it!"

She went swiftly from the room, and Jessica closed the door behind her,
her low, strident laughter filling the room with unmusical sound.

"I shall have my revenge upon both," she said, with sardonic
triumph--"my sweet revenge!"



CHAPTER XIV.


It seemed to Carlita that the dawn of morning would never come. As well
have undertaken any other impossible feat as to sleep, and so she sat
beside the window watching eagerly, first for the cold, gray break of
light in the heavens, and next for some movement in the other world to
tell her that mankind was astir again.

She was up, had had her bath, and dressed herself when her maid
arrived, pale, but with a fierce burning in the dark eyes that made one
forget the circles round them.

"All dressed, Miss de Barryos!" exclaimed her maid in some surprise.
"You did not ring for me?"

"No, Ahbel," she returned, feverishly. "I couldn't sleep, and there was
no necessity of disturbing you."

"But it is nine, and I have been up since seven. You are too thoughtful
for others and too little so for yourself always, Miss de Barryos. And
you were ill last night? There was bad news?"

"Yes, from Mr. Winthrop."

"I know. Miss Chalmers' maid told me. We are all so sorry, Miss de
Barryos, sorry for you as well as that misfortune should have befallen
the young gentleman."

"It is very kind of you, Ahbel," returned Carlita, choking back a
tearless sob which the tone of sympathy in the voice evoked.

"And such a dreadful thing!" continued the girl. "You can bear those
things so much better when one dies of a fever, or of something in
one's bed. It is so much more natural like. But to be--murdered!"

The girl interrupted herself with a little shiver, but Carlita neither
shrank from the word nor moved. She stood stonily, gazing with those
burning eyes into the street.

"It was very dreadful!" she said, dully.

"And do they know who did it?" continued the girl.

"No."

"But there must be some way of finding out. I have heard such a lot of
those people, Mexicans, you know--worse than brigands. They don't want
to find out who did it; but a good smart Yankee detective would ferret
it all out quickly enough."

For the first time Carlita started.

"A detective!" she repeated.

"Yes'm. A good detective could go down there and get at the bottom of
facts in no time."

"Do you know a good detective, Ahbel?"

"Indeed I do, ma'am."

"You are quite sure he is a thoroughly reliable man?"

"Quite sure, ma'am. He is considered one of the very best in New York,
and his word goes further with the superintendent than any of them."

"Do you know where to find him?"

"Yes'm. He is my uncle. I was at his house last night to see his
daughter, my cousin. I came to ask your permission, but Miss Chalmers
said you were not to be disturbed, and that if you required anything,
her maid could attend you."

But Carlita seemed not to have heard the latter part of the speech.

"Would he be at home now?"

"Yes'm. He finished a case only yesterday, and said he would take a few
days' rest; but I know he would do this for you, Miss de Barryos. He is
like an old war-horse, anyway. The mention of a new mystery to solve is
like the sound of a trumpet to a horse. He gets restless in a moment."

"And you think he would be willing to risk the danger of that country?"

"A good detective don't know the meaning of danger, miss, any more than
a good soldier does. He won't stop to think of that."

"How soon can you fetch him here?"

"In an hour--perhaps less."

"Let it be less, if possible, and go at once."

"Yes'm."

"And you may bring him here upon your return. Unless it should be
necessary, you need say nothing to any one of his presence here."

"I understand, miss. Shall I wait to bring your breakfast?"

"No; tell Jawkins to serve it in the breakfast-room."

At least, it was something with which to occupy the time until Ahbel's
return. But a very poor occupation it proved. Mental excitement and a
sleepless night are not conducive to excellence of appetite, so that
she did poor justice to the delicious meal that was served her.

She returned to her own room when she could bear the over-decoration
of the breakfast-room no longer, and waited restlessly, counting the
apparently endless moments as they passed. And then, at last, she heard
a quick step in the hall, a light tap upon her door, and Ahbel stepped
inside, followed by a man, before Carlita had time to bid them enter.

It was such a curious sensation that oppressed her as she glanced from
her maid to her maid's uncle--a breathless excitement, subdued by a
sort of repulsion which was indefinable in her present mood.

Ahbel's cheeks were crimson, her eyes sparkling, under the excitement
and an unusually brisk walk; but it was toward the man that Carlita's
most inquiring glances were bent.

He was rather small of stature--small and wiry--with a smoothly shaved
face, through which the incipient black beard showed, making the
skin look blue. The hair was thick and very black, contrasting oddly
with the half-sunken cheeks. But it was the eyes that gave him his
extraordinary appearance. They were deep set and small, gray as to
color, but so piercing, so penetrating, as to make a comparatively
innocent man tremble as he looked into them.

He bowed profoundly as Ahbel introduced him to her mistress.

"Miss de Barryos, this is my uncle, Edmond Stolliker."

"Won't you sit down, Mr. Stolliker?" asked Carlita, pointing toward a
chair, and speaking to her maid's uncle as if he were "to the manner
born"--well, perhaps, because a something about him, unnamed but still
apparent, compelled it.

He bowed again and took the chair she indicated quietly and without any
apparent awkwardness.

She seated herself opposite him, a table between them, and nervously
handled some of the ivory and silver toilet articles that littered it.

"I have sent for you to--"

"Pardon me, Miss de Barryos," he interrupted, speaking for the first
time in a low voice which had a curiously distinctive carrying power.
"Is it your desire that your maid should be present during this
interview?"

Carlita started slightly; but after the faintest possible hesitation,
turned to Ahbel, of whom the detective had spoken as if she were the
most absolute stranger to him.

"You may go," she said, gently. "If I should need you I will ring."

"Yes, miss."

She left the room without even a backward glance, and when the door
closed, Carlita began again:

"I suppose your niece told you of why I have sent for you, and--"

"She said something of the death of your fiancé, which was thought to
be murder; but I never like to accept even the most apparently trifling
detail from one so little interested as a maid. If I am to be retained
in this case, Miss de Barryos, I must receive all my data from you
personally until I can discover for myself."

"You understand, then, that this case will necessitate a visit to
Mexico?"

"Your maid told me as much."

"To the wildest and most uncivilized parts?"

Edmond Stolliker smiled. It warmed and genialized his face wonderfully.

"Fortunately, I speak several patois of Spanish," he returned, by way
of reply.

"Then you are willing to undertake it?"

"Quite."

"Then I will tell you the story, though the details are meager
enough--merely bald facts, I am afraid. My fiancé, Mr. Olney
Winthrop, was summoned to Mexico concerning some mines in which he
was interested. He went, accompanied by a friend of his, Mr. Leith
Pierrepont. At first his letters to me were filled with courage and
hope; then suddenly they ceased. Five or six weeks later--yesterday, in
fact--Mr. Pierrepont returned and announced his death."

"From what?"

"Shot through the heart."

"Ah! Under what circumstances?"

"I don't know. I fainted when Mr. Pierrepont told me, and on my
recovery he had gone. The few facts I have learned were through Miss
Chalmers, daughter of my guardian."

"But there is some one whom you suspect of this murder?"

Carlita did not reply at once. Her dark eyes blazed, her lips were
scorched and parted, and through them her hot breath came in little
gasps; yet when she could control herself sufficiently to speak, she
cried out passionately:

"Have I the right to speak suspicion?"

The detective leaned forward, almost touching the small table between
them, holding her spell-bound by the strange gleam of his piercing
eyes, which seemed to be searching her very soul.

"Shall I tell you whom it is that you accuse in your own heart, Miss de
Barryos?" he asked, in a tense half-whisper. "It is Leith Pierrepont!
But why? That is the question which I am most anxious to have answered."

A crimson flush overspread her face from throat to brow. She shrank
backward in her seat, but the detective leaned even further forward,
touching the table now with his long, slender fingers.

"Miss de Barryos," he continued, after a brief pause, "if I am to
do anything for you, you must not begin by blindfolding me and then
telling me to see. A detective occupies much the same position toward
his client that a lawyer or doctor does. He must be trusted all in all,
or not at all. I am not here through curiosity, but at your desire."

"You are right, and I all wrong," she cried out; "but the subject is
so hateful a one that I must needs shrink from it. There is a reason
why I suspect--the man whom you have mentioned. He has dared to speak
to me of love, knowing that I was the betrothed wife of the friend
who trusted him as a brother. He swore in my presence that, let what
would happen, I should be his wife. He is a man whom I have never
trusted--whom I despise; and I believe he has done this cowardly thing
in order to carry out the vile oath that he swore."

The detective was watching her narrowly. She had arisen, her face grown
white again with passion, her fingers clinched, a fierce gleam in the
dark eyes, which even he, with all his long experience in the art of
reading men, could not fathom.

"And so--he loves you!" Edmond Stolliker said, musingly.

"If you would so desecrate the holy name."

"And when Mr. Winthrop was summoned to Mexico this man went with him?"

"Yes."

"Why? Were his mining interests also jeopardized?"

"He had none there."

"Ah! That is a significant fact, certainly. Did Mr. Winthrop write you
anything of the condition in which he found his affairs there?"

"His last letter stated that he had not yet discovered why he had
been summoned at all, as matters seemed to him in a more prosperous
condition than they had ever been."

"Umph! Will you let me see that letter?"

She hesitated a moment, unwilling to trust so sacred a thing to
other hands; then remembering her oath, she went feverishly to her
escritoire. As she was selecting it, a knock sounded upon the door, and
Ahbel entered.

"Mr. Pierrepont, Miss de Barryos," she exclaimed, striving to calm the
excitement of her tone.

Carlita turned like a tigress, the precious letters dropping from her
hands to the floor about her.

"Tell him," she cried, passionately, "that Miss de Barryos is not at
home to him, neither now nor ever!"

Edmond Stolliker was upon his feet in a moment.

"Wait!" he exclaimed, in command, to the maid; then crossed the room
suddenly and stood facing Miss de Barryos. "If we are to discover the
murderer of your fiancé, Miss de Barryos," he said, earnestly, "you
must be my unfailing ally. You must obey me absolutely. This man must
suspect nothing whatever of your intentions. He must suppose that you
believe every word that he speaks. He must even believe there might
come a time when you would not be unfavorable to his suit. You must see
him whenever he calls; keep him near you at whatever cost. If you would
discover the murderer of your fiancé, you must be an actress as strong
and subtle as Bernhardt herself, forgetting your own inclinations and
hatreds, and thinking only of Olney Winthrop dead, and needing an
avenger. You feel yourself capable of this?"

"Of anything that will insure justice to the dead and to the living!"

"Ahbel, say to Mr. Pierrepont that Miss de Barryos will be down at
once," the detective said, quietly. "Is there any convenient cover from
which I could hear a conversation between you?"

"Yes; the conservatory."

"Good! Let no detail escape. Ask him every question that you can put
with safety, without allowing him to suspect that it is for greater
cause than your natural interest. You can do this?"

"For Olney's sake."

Her eyes were lifted, her hands pressed upon her bosom as if she were
communing with her dead lover. Her lips moved for a moment, and then
she left the room.

Edmond Stolliker gathered up the letters she had dropped, thrust them
into his pocket, and followed.

In the hall he met Ahbel.

"Take me to the conservatory, quick!" he commanded, briefly.



CHAPTER XV.


Carlita had never in her life undertaken anything so difficult as her
entrance into that room. She was forced to stop outside the door in
order to gain some control over her trembling lips, that she might
speak the name and meet the eye of the man whom she felt she hated with
all the strength of her soul.

It gave Edmond Stolliker time to gain his position in the conservatory,
and enabled him to witness the greeting.

He could have desired nothing better.

She entered quietly, her long black robe trailing after her girlish
figure in fascinating contrast, and Stolliker observed all too clearly
the whitening and compression of Pierrepont's lips as he went toward
her in the old indolent, graceful fashion.

"I half feared you would not receive me, that you might be ill," he
said, putting out his large, beautifully shaped white hand to take her
cold fingers. "It was very good of you."

"I wanted--so much to know--all--you know--all that concerns--him,"
she faltered, in exactly the tone Stolliker would have had her use
had he been able to suggest it. "I don't believe I have been in bed
since--since you were here, and--"

"I was a brute," he interrupted, not looking at her--a fact which
Stolliker observed, "to tell you so abruptly. I wanted to ask your
forgiveness. There are times, you know, when a man forgets--everything,
and is almost pardonable."

He had placed a chair for her before the fire, and she had sat down,
her eyes fixed upon the blaze. She felt that a glance into his face
would have dispersed all her courage, and she dared not risk it. But
she knew that Stolliker would lose no point.

Leith did not sit. He stood with his elbow upon the mantel-shelf, his
head supported by his closed hand, looking into the fire also. Once he
glanced toward her, moved nervously, and allowed his eyes to return to
the fire again.

Stolliker grunted a curious "Umph!"

The silence grew unbearable at last.

"Won't you--go on?" Carlita asked, wistfully. "Won't you tell me
without--without questioning? It is so hard, so hard!"

"You loved him--so--then?"

"Yes, I loved him," she answered, with quivering passion.

He glanced toward her again, but Stolliker could not quite determine
what the expression in his quickly averted eyes could have been;
whether pity, sorrow, remorse, or all three blended, but he distinctly
saw the shiver that passed through the magnificent frame.

"I wish I could help you, but it is too late for that," he said,
heavily. "Poor little girl! After all, Olney is to be envied, for at
least you have loved him."

"You saw him--die?" she interrupted in a choking voice, utterly unable
to keep silent and listen longer.

"No; he was--dead when--when I reached his side."

He had drawn himself up, stiffened, so to speak, as if nerving himself
for a terrible trial.

"Then he left no message for me? Spoke no word?"

Pierrepont moved uneasily.

"He--he could not," he answered, hoarsely. "There was no time."

"He was shot--Jessica told me that."

"Yes."

"And through the heart?"

"Yes."

"I shall always hate them--my people--that they should have done so
vile a thing, committed so causeless a murder. And there was no reason,
was there?"

She lifted her eyes for the first time and saw the crimson flush that
glowed upon his cheeks, the flush of shame. He hesitated for a moment,
then answered heavily:

"None."

For a moment it seemed to her that she must cry out, that she must
brand him "murderer;" but she subdued the wild desire by a wilder
effort. She interlaced her fingers on her lap, and held herself closely
for strength, then she summoned all her histrionic powers, as Stolliker
had instructed her, and leaned slightly toward him.

"You have been--his friend--my friend, though I have been foolish
enough not to recognize it until now," she said, loathing herself for
the deception and yet continuing it. "But you will forgive me for all
that and help me, will you not? You will be my friend in future as you
were his in the past?"

He turned toward her eagerly, but controlled himself suddenly, and
answered quietly, but with deep emotion:

"It is greater happiness than--I deserve."

"And you do forgive me?"

"If there were anything to forgive, with all my heart; but it is I who
have always been the offender, not you."

"I am so alone, and--and he was all--I had!" she exclaimed, repressing
a sob, which was, nevertheless, very audible.

"Do you think I did not understand that?" he cried, passionately. "Do
you think there was a single word or act of yours that I did not
comprehend? Why--There! Forgive me. I don't quite know myself of late.
I am like some foolish, hot-headed boy, the yielding tool of every
emotion. I wish I could make you understand how I appreciate the sweet
trust of your generous friendship."

He took a step toward her, and placing his hand upon the back of her
chair, bent downward until his lips almost touched her hair--not quite.

A tremor passed throughout her body, but she did not move.

"You accept it?" she asked, her voice little more than a whisper.

"As I would a pardon from God."

She started ever so slightly, but controlled herself again.

"And you will help me?" she asked in the same low tone.

"In all things so far as in my power lies."

"Thank you! thank you!" she murmured, lifting her intertwined fingers
from her lap to her breast, and shrinking downward away from him just a
trifle. "You will understand how I feel. You do not wish, any more than
I, that he should sleep out there--in that lonely grave. You will help
me to bring--his body here, and--and to find his murderer?"

Stolliker caught his breath hard as he watched the man--watched the
cold, gray loam overspread his face--watched the stiffening of the
joints and the slow lifting of the graceful form to an upright position.

The gray eyes were bent upon the dark head with an expression of horror
which it was not necessary he should conceal, as she was not looking;
but Stolliker observed that he pressed his hand above his heart, as if
he feared she might hear its beating.

"I--I can't promise--that," he stammered helplessly. "It is
so--useless. Of course, I will do all I can; but you can't
understand the--the condition of the railroads there. It would be
impossible--simply impossible--now, at least."

"Then--then later, when the--the condition of the country--has
improved?" she gasped, hoarsely; and for a moment Stolliker feared she
was going to faint.

"Yes, later," he assented, huskily.

"But--but the other?" she cried, almost fiercely. "You will help me
with the other--you will help me to find his murderer?"

There was another silence, long and ominous. Somehow, Leith was leaning
upon the mantel-shelf again, though neither Stolliker nor Carlita could
have told how he got there.

"You don't know what you are asking," he said at last, in a dull, tense
voice. "The place is so wild, so unreal. Wait for awhile. Wait until
you have got over the first shock--the first horror of it all. Then, if
you wish it, I will help you."

And with that she was apparently content.

"I may come again?" he asked shortly afterward, as he was leaving; and,
mindful of Stolliker's words and her own oath, she answered:

"Yes, you may come again."

He pressed her hand and left her silently, passing out into the hall
and out of the house without seeing Jessica's mocking face at the
head of the stairs, though he might not have understood the scornful,
triumphant smile upon it, even if he had.

He wearily closed the hall door upon himself, and as he slowly
descended the stoop, he lifted his hat and pushed the damp hair back
from his forehead.

"God!" he muttered, half aloud, "if I had suspected half how hard it
would be, I should never have undertaken it even for her. Ay, verily,
'whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.'"

Stolliker watched him down the street, then joined Carlita upon the
hearth-rug.

"I have to congratulate you upon playing your part superbly!"

"You heard--"

"Everything."

"Bah!"--with a shiver of repulsion--"it was a hateful part, a
despicable part--"

"But one that is absolutely essential if you would discover and bring
to justice the murderer of your betrothed husband."

"Then you think--"

"Pardon me; detectives have no right to 'think.' They must know. You
have given me a clew, and it is worth working out; that is all. In the
meantime, your part in the drama is to keep this man beside you as much
as possible, night and day. Watch his most minute act, his lightest
word, and report them all to me--everything. Let nothing escape. Don't
trust your memory for a single day, but write everything down the
moment he has gone. Take care that no act or word of his shall betray
you into any exhibition of suspicion; and, above all, don't reject too
much his overtures of affection. That part you must play with great
care and finesse, neither being too quickly won nor too cold in your
demeanor. You think you can assist me so far?"

"I will do it--that, or anything that may be required of me to bring
this man to a punishment of his foul crime."

"Good!"

"And in the meantime, you--what will you be doing?"

"I? Oh, I shall start for Mexico by the first train that goes. These
letters will give me all the data for that that I shall require."

"You have them--Mr. Winthrop's letters?"

"Every one, I think."



CHAPTER XVI.


Before leaving for Mexico there was a long, detailed conversation
between Stolliker and Carlita, a conversation in which he fully
outlined to her the part it would be necessary for her to play--a line
of action to which she offered no word of objection, though her whole
soul rebelled against such duplicity.

There was also a telegraph code agreed upon, by which cipher telegrams
could be sent; a method used before, but always comparatively safe.
A book was mutually agreed upon, in this instance "The Adventures of
Sherlock Holmes," by Conan Doyle. The word, counting from the bottom
of the page, was to be indicated by the first number, the page itself
by the second; so that to read it would be impossible, unless the
reader knew to what volume the numbers referred, as well as the edition
selected.

They understood each other perfectly when Stolliker left to catch his
train, and in his own mind there was not a doubt but that he should be
able to prove Pierrepont's guilt with almost greater ease than he had
ever settled a case before.

"It's too pretty a neck to be bound by a halter," he mused, as he took
his seat in the train. "Adam lost Eden because of a woman--a woman who
loved him; but this man will lose more than that, if I mistake not. He
will lose not alone his life, but his soul as well, and for a woman
who loves him not! It is a queer world, and man is the queerest animal
in it. Instead of conscience making cowards of us all, passion makes
brutes of us all, and we forget conscience and cowardice, too, under
the intoxicant of a woman's smile."

After Stolliker had gone, the excitement which had seemed to brace
Carlita for the emergency suddenly wore itself out, and for several
days she was confined to her room, with a nearer approach to fever than
she had ever had in her strong, healthy young life before.

It was during those few days that a strange change came over Jessica.

She developed a sudden affection for her mother's ward that touched
that poor, friendless young thing to the heart. She even refused to go
to the opera the night that Carlita was threatened with delirium, and
sat beside the bed, holding Carlita's hand while the physician was in
the room, and bending over the patient once or twice with tenderest
solicitude when there was a murmur of a name upon those rambling lips
which she did not wish the doctor to hear.

And Jessica learned much in those few days, much that it would have
been a thousand times better if she had never known; but Carlita was
unaware of that.

She lifted the girl's hand to her cooling lips, and pressed it there
passionately when she realized who it was that had nursed her so
carefully.

"How shall I thank you?" she murmured, faintly. "I don't think I have
ever appreciated before how good you are!"

"Perhaps we have never quite understood each other before," returned
Jessica, in that low, melodious voice which none knew better than she
how to assume.

"Ah, yes, it is that," answered Carlita, eagerly. "But now that I know
how tender your friendship can be, you will not withdraw it from me?
I am so alone, so pitifully alone in all the world! There is not one
creature that belongs to me, not one that cares whether I live or die,
not one to whom I could stretch out my hand for help, no matter what
my needs may be. It seems to me sometimes that my heart will break
from the heaviness of its loneliness and isolation. Let me love you,
Jessica! Let me love you!"

There was a peculiar smile upon the Judas lips, a smile filled with
fascination--a fascination which she was exerting upon that helpless
girl as she had upon so many men, luring them to eternal ruin, and then
she bent and pressed a Judas kiss upon Carlita's tremulous lips.

"You silly little sentimentalist!" she exclaimed, laughingly. "I should
always have been your friend if you had not repelled my advances
with such determination. There now"--moving the pillows into a more
comfortable position--"we won't talk about it any more. You are weak
and nervous. The first thing I know you will cry, then I shall cry, and
then I shall never forgive you as long as I live for making my nose
red. Did you ever read in a novel about how beautiful the heroine looks
when she cries? That is the baldest kind of rot! I never saw a girl
in my life who looked pretty when she cried. I am not presentable for
hours afterward."

It was a charity in its way, this new friendship, for in spite of its
odious treachery on one side, it kept Carlita from going mad in those
first days, and later gave her courage to play the part which Stolliker
had mapped out for her.

At the end of the fifth day Stolliker reached the City of Mexico. He
telegraphed from there, but there was nothing beyond the statement of
his arrival.

On the seventh Carlita was up and about again, very wan, very haggard,
but still on the road to recovery.

She felt that there was no longer any time to be lost in carrying out
Stolliker's injunctions; and so, when Leith Pierrepont's card was
brought to her two days later, she arose and went wearily downstairs.

"How you have suffered!" Leith exclaimed, as his eyes fell upon her.

Her own burned fiercely, and her lips trembled so that she could find
no words in which to answer him.

He pressed her hand in silence, and led her to the same chair she had
occupied that day when Stolliker was in the conservatory.

"It is so good of you to receive me," he continued, after a painful
pause. "In memory of our compact of friendship, I have called every day
to ask after you.'"

Her heart gave a great passionate bound, a mad bound of anger, at his
presumption, she told herself; but her tone was calm, even serene, as
she replied to him:

"Really? I was not told. Perhaps it was forgotten. It was very good of
you to take so much trouble. Every one has been singularly kind and
just, when I was fancying myself so cruelly alone, too."

"Never alone so long as you will consider me your friend."

"That is two I have now."

"Two? Who is the other?"

"Jessica."

"Oh!"

A shadow of disappointment crossed his brow, a disappointment which he
made no attempt to conceal.

She laughed nervously.

"Jessica tells me that I have been such a fool," she said, in a tone
that was quite new to her.

"Indeed? How?"

"She calls me 'little Puritan,' and says that my absurd morality has a
Plymouth Rock cast. She has told me the reason I have but two friends."

"Has she? What is it?"

"It is because I am too intense for this day and generation. People
don't like it. Frivolity and lightness of heart are much more to their
taste."

"But what of your nature? Does that count for nothing? Is that not to
be taken into consideration?"

"One's nature is a matter of education, nothing more. If that has been
faulty, it should be rectified as quickly as possible."

"May I ask how she proposes that you shall rectify these defects of
education?"

"Why, simply by imitating other people at first."

"Herself, for example?"

"Certainly."

"By playing poker after the opera, you mean?"

"Perhaps, though not necessarily. You do not approve?"

"I approve of a woman or man following the bent of her or his own
particular predilection," he answered, evasively. "If you approve of
playing poker, I have nothing to say."

"But--"

"But--I should be very sorry," he said, sadly.

"You would--withdraw from that compact of friendship?"

"No; I should feel that you needed me all the more, and I should be in
constant attendance, lest the moment should arrive in my absence when
you might want my services most."

She looked up at him with a faint smile, into which she would have
thrown more archness had the power to do so been given her, and
exclaimed, playfully:

"You offer inducement rather than opposition."

He flushed and drew back slightly, something in word, or tone, or
glance jarring upon his emotion. Somehow he preferred her coldest
disdain to the remark that she had made, and yet there was nothing in
it to give offense to any man.

He walked to the other side of the fire, behind her chair, and changed
the subject suddenly.

"When shall you be able to take up your music again?" he asked,
irrelevantly.

"Soon, I hope," she answered, but with a little shiver.

He saw it, and his conscience smote him. He believed that he had
wronged her.

"Carlita!" he cried, unconscious that in his pain he had used her first
name. "Carlita, don't allow a morose and morbid desire to conceal your
real emotions make you false to yourself and all those higher and
better attributes with which God has blessed you. You have sustained
a terrible shock. Don't let it turn the very beauties of your sweet
nature into a curse. You want something to turn to in your hour of
trouble. Let it be your music. God gave you a talent which He intended
as a comfort and sustaining power. Call upon it now. May I play to you?"

She did not reply, she could not; but already he had wandered toward
the piano. He sat down absent-mindedly and passed his hands over the
keys.

It reminded them both of that other evening when he had played for her,
and they sang together, that evening when he had told her of a love of
which he had no right to speak, which had no right to exist. A great,
wild, turbulent passion rose up in his heart against himself, numbing
his fingers.

For the first time within his remembrance the keys beneath his hands
gave forth a discordant sound.

He stood up suddenly and looked at her.

She too had arisen.

Her eyes were fierce, burning with raging passion. He thought he knew
what thoughts were at work in her brain, and cried out feverishly:

"God! How can a man live to curse himself for a momentary yielding to
madness! Do you believe there is any forgiveness for it? Do you believe
there is forgiveness for any sin, when the person against whom you have
sinned is dead, when he can no longer hear you cry out your passionate
remorse?"

She did not reply. She rose ghastly in her horrible pallor, and stood
there shaking and trembling as if an awful ague had fallen upon her.
She was striving to loosen her cleaving tongue when Jessica came into
the room suddenly, with a swish of skirts and a bound that startled her.

"Halloo, Leith!" she exclaimed, in the old slangy way. "Glad to see you
back again. The house has been like a funeral. Look at Carlita! Like
a ghost, isn't she? And you tiring her out by allowing her to stand
in this way. If you had been either a good physician or a good nurse,
you would have drawn up that couch and have her comfortably bolstered
up with pillows. Now, I'm going to send her upstairs, just because you
have been so thoughtless."

"I'm afraid I deserve the punishment," he answered, meekly. "But if I
promise not to do it in future you won't banish me, will you?"

"Not to any alarming extent," she returned, laughing. "Here you are,
Ahbel! Take our patient upstairs, see that she is nicely tucked up and
has a good rest. And now, sir, give an account of yourself. Where have
you been this last week?"

But Carlita did not hear his reply.

Ahbel had led her from the room to her own, where she suddenly sat down
beside the window.

"Leave me, Ahbel!" she cried, nervously. "I'll ring if I want you, but
I couldn't lie down now. I must think! I must think!"

She didn't even know when the girl left the room, but, with her hands
clinched in her lap, sat looking half frantically out of the window.

What was it, she was asking herself, that he would have told her when
Jessica entered? Could it have been a confession of his guilt? Would
a guilty man have so spoken? What was it he meant? Was he innocent or
guilty?

And, as if in answer to her unspoken question, a knock came upon
the door, quick, incisive, as if the seeker for permission to enter
realized the importance of her errand.

It was Ahbel.

"A telegram, miss!" she exclaimed, half breathlessly.

Carlita received it and tore it open hastily. It looked ordinary enough
as it trembled in her hand, and yet there was something sinister in the
array of figures as she flashed her eyes over them:

  "2, 75, 107, 29, 12, 35, 18, 134; 24, 23, 18, 11, 126, 29, 23, 22,
  55, 10, 324, 51, 23, 50, 135, 114, 45, 116, 19, 97, 17, 78, 4, 97."

Scarcely able to control her excitement, she sped across the floor
to her escritoire, and snatched up the volume of "Sherlock Holmes"
concealed there.

With trembling fingers she turned the pages and slowly counted out the
words, horrible, ghastly in their import:

  "The gentleman to whom you were engaged was not shot as you were told.

                                                               E. S."



CHAPTER XVII.


Breathless, with alternate flashes of heat and cold traveling over her
with such rapidity that unconsciousness was threatened, Carlita sat
there staring at the words represented by the numbers in that telegram,
understanding all the horrible import of it, yet unable to think
connectedly after the first shock, until finally she flung up her hands
and covered her wretched face passionately.

"Why should it affect me like this?" she cried, as if some awful hatred
of herself were at work in her heart. "Why should it affect me like
this? I knew that Leith Pierrepont was guilty of murder--knew it as
well before as I know it now--and yet--and yet hope must have been at
work within me, for this additional proof of his guilt is maddening.
Why should he lie, if it were not he that committed the crime? Why
should he wish to deceive me as to the manner of Olney's death? Good
God! it seems impossible that a human creature, one of Thine own
creation, could be so base; and yet it must be so--it must be so!"

And yet, for all her self-assurance, she snatched up the book again and
once more toiled through the numbers, counting them out more slowly,
more carefully, than she had done before, and feeling the hideous
depression creeping over her with renewed horror as she realized that
she had made no mistake.

And then, trembling so that she could scarcely hold the volume, she
compiled a telegram to Edmond Stolliker in reply:

  "I don't understand your message. Have you had body disinterred, and
  what does the knowledge imply? Answer at once if you have reason
  still to believe the man whom we suspect to be guilty."

She felt better when it had been dispatched by Ahbel, with the
injunction to the telegraph operator to be sure there should be no
mistake made in the numbers; still she could not rest, but walked up
and down the room, up and down, like the tigress that chafes against
confining bars.

Half an hour afterward Jessica entered, her smile more fascinating than
ever.

"Not lying down, as I commanded, you naughty girl!" exclaimed the
female Judas, playfully taking Carlita by the shoulders and forcing her
into a chair. "I actually feel inclined to dismiss your careless maid.
What's the matter? You look in a fever of excitement."

"I'm afraid I am," admitted Carlita, with a wan smile. "I wish you'd
let me go out for a little drive or--or--something. I feel as if the
house were suffocating me!"

"A drive? Why, certainly; and I'll go with you, if you'll have me. I'll
order the carriage at once," suiting the action to the word and ringing
the bell. "What has upset you like this? Some news since you left the
drawing-room? Ah, I see! a telegram. May I read it?"

She lifted the paper without waiting for permission, and made a little
wry face.

"Great Scott!" she exclaimed, laughing. "What's all this algebra about?
No, that's wrong; for, in algebra, letters stands for figures, and here
figures must stand for letters. What does it mean, dearie?"

Carlita had arisen and stood facing her, her great burning eyes fixed
upon the calm ones before her. Her cheeks were crimson with the
excitement that seemed consuming her, and, leaning forward, she placed
her hot fingers upon Jessica's cool wrist.

"I wonder if I dare trust you?" she whispered, feverishly. "I wonder if
I dare tell you what that telegram contains?"

Jessica smiled again. It was such a curious smile. It might have
startled, and would have certainly puzzled, Carlita had she been in an
analytical frame of mind; but she was too much upset mentally to think
of that.

"Trust me!" exclaimed Jessica in a tone that simulated offense
admirably. "If you have any doubts upon the subject, perhaps you had
better not."

"Oh, forgive me!" cried Carlita, regretfully. "I am in too great
distress to consider my words carefully, and I thought you would
understand. We have grown to be so much to each other in these last few
days--or weeks, is it? Let me tell you, will you not, dear Jessica? You
know the solemn oath that I have sworn, and you will help me?"

"You mean about Olney?"

"Yes."

Jessica did not reply. A knock came in answer to her ring just then,
and pushing Carlita back into her chair again, she answered the
summons, then drew another chair up in front of her mother's ward.

"You startle me," she said, gently.

"I, too, am startled--frightened," answered Carlita, shivering. "Here
is the translation of those figures--read it."

Jessica took the paper into her hand, and read aloud:

  "The gentleman to whom you were engaged was not shot as you were
  told."

The paper fluttered from her hand. She lifted her eyes and allowed
them to rest upon Carlita's, heavy, dull with apprehension. She was a
magnificent actress.

There was a long, dense silence between them, then Jessica's lips moved
slowly.

"What does it mean?" she gasped, hoarsely. "What under heaven could
have induced him to lie?"

Once again Carlita leaned forward, her scorching fingers touching
Jessica's wrist in an uncanny sort of way that made the latter shiver.

"The truth is not upon the lips of--a guilty man," she answered, in a
hollow, unnatural tone. "Forgive me, Jessica, but I heard your words
the night he came with his awful story of Olney's--death. I heard you
accuse--him to your mother. I know that you, too, believe him guilty."

She paused, but Jessica did not speak. She waited for her to continue,
and after a moment the hollow voice went on:

"I went down to see him, hoping to hear more, and I heard you instead,
accusing him to your mother. It has been a bond of sympathy between us.
I have loved you because I knew you must hate him as I do."

"And yet you continue to receive him!" exclaimed the arch-hypocrite,
half reproachfully.

She was scarcely prepared for the excitement her words provoked.
Carlita sprang to her feet and walked hastily up and down the room, her
hands clasping and unclasping, her cheeks crimson, her breath coming in
little gasps.

"I know that you will hate me even as I hate myself for the despicable
part that is forced upon me, but it is only to prove his guilt that
I have undertaken it. It is only to bring him to a punishment of his
dastardly crime; and, despise myself as I will--let the whole world
despise me if it must--I shall play the part to the bitter end!"

She was at the other end of the room and could not see the hateful,
cunning smile that lurked about the corners of Jessica's mouth as she
said, quietly:

"Then you know that he loves you?"

The beautiful, majestic head was bowed for a moment in shame, as the
quivering voice replied:

"Yes, I know it."

"He told you--"

"Before Olney left for Mexico."

"He asked you to--be his wife?"

"Yes."

There was the old gleam of the serpent in the brown eyes, the greenish
glare that Carlita must have understood had she been looking; but she
was not.

Neither of them spoke for some moments. Carlita had paused, and was
looking, in a distracted way, through the window, seeing nothing of the
world that was stretched out before her.

Jessica arose and stood beside her before she was conscious of her
approach. The curious tone of the hissing voice caused her to shrink
away in a sort of nameless terror as the words reached her:

"And you want to prove his guilt; is that it?"

She hesitated for a moment--it seemed so ghastly, so unreal, so
impossible--and then her voice came in a hoarse whisper:

"Yes, that is it."

"I will help you!" cried Jessica, in a voice filled with a desire for
revenge so strong that it could not be subdued. "I will help you! I
know a man down there, an old friend of the family. He will assist
us. You think you have not a friend. I can see more clearly than you,
because I--do not--suffer. You were right when you said that I believed
in his guilt, and we will punish him--you and I--as man was never
punished before. Meriaz will help us."

"How can I ever thank you!" cried Carlita, grasping the hand that was
not withdrawn from her.

Jessica smiled enigmatically.

"I do not care for thanks. Only let me help you," she answered in the
same tone, that somehow sent a chill to Carlita's heart.

Then she turned away to answer a knock at the door.

"The carriage is ready, Miss Chalmers," the servant announced, "and a
telegram for Miss de Barryos."

She had the telegram in her hand and the door closed almost before the
sentence had been completed.

Carlita flew across the room and seized it, her cheeks glowing more
crimson than ever, then fading to ashen white.

"Help me!" she gasped. "There is the book. Count the words from the
bottom of the page while I read the numbers aloud to you."

And placing both her weapons and ammunition in the hands of her
deadliest enemy, they translated together the words:

  "Body disinterred. Murder committed by suffocation. Everything points
  to person suspected. The necessity to play your part with consummate
  skill is greater than ever. Take care, and trust no one.     E. S."

But the warning had come too late.



CHAPTER XVIII.


The shock of the telegram seemed to impart to Carlita the strength she
required for action.

She felt a new vitality, new courage pouring through her like the
false, effervescent strength from wine, but she did not recognize its
falsity. She felt herself capable of anything to bring Leith Pierrepont
to justice, to bring to the gallows the craven coward that had robbed
Olney Winthrop of life.

"The carriage is here; let us go out!" she cried feverishly to Jessica.
"I can be ready in five minutes."

She arose and placed the two telegrams with their translations in her
desk, together with the volume of "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,"
and locked it carefully, while Jessica went away to her own room.

To her surprise she found her mother standing there, her hands pressed
upon her breast, her haggard eyes wild with fear.

"What are you doing here?" cried Jessica, roughly, now that there was
no longer a necessity to oil her treacherous tongue. "You look like a
fright! Ever since that milk-sop, Olney, was reported murdered, you
have gone about like an uneasy ghost. You've even neglected your hair
until there is a black stripe as wide as my fingers down the middle of
your head. For the Lord's sake, pull yourself together, and stop acting
like a frightened school miss who has found a mouse nibbling at her
bread and butter. Go and color your hair!"

"Jessica, have you no heart at all? What is it that you intend to do?
Oh, I wish to God I had never consented to allow the child of another
woman to come into our household. I wish--"

"Oh, let up!" interrupted her respectful daughter, carelessly. "You've
done it, and there is no use in grieving over spilled milk. We've got
her money, and I'll have a darned sight more of it before I get through
with life, or I'll miss my reckoning."

"Jessica! Jessica, for the love of Heaven! what is it that you mean to
do?"

"Oh, rot! Don't stand there wringing your hands and whining like a
whipped cur. If you had any blood in your veins you would help me,
and not make difficulties the greater. What do I mean to do?"--her
face darkening cruelly--"I mean to have the deepest and most complete
revenge upon those two that woman ever planned. I have thought it all
out carefully and well, and the best of it is, that she shall execute
my every wish. I mean to ruin her body and soul. And as for him--well,
his punishment shall remain my secret. And now there is something that
I want you to do."

"Oh, Jessica, I can not! I--"

The girl turned swiftly and caught her mother by the wrist, her fingers
closing upon it like bands of steel. Her eyes, burning in their fierce
wrath, looked into those shrinking ones, and her voice came in a heavy,
hoarse whisper:

"You will obey me, do you hear? You will obey me, or--"

She did not complete the threat. It was not necessary. The haggard eyes
had dropped. A slow shiver had passed over the elder woman. She looked
suddenly bowed and broken, and, for the first time in her life, old.

Jessica dropped her wrist, and turned away, a low exclamation of
disgust dropping from her lips.

"I want to send for Meriaz!" she exclaimed, contemptuously.

"He is--here," stammered Mrs. Chalmers, helplessly.

"Here!" exclaimed Jessica, turning quickly, her interest returning.

"Yes."

"And you never told me?"

"I came to tell you now."

"And you beat about the bush in this whining way? Heavens! I sometimes
wonder how it is that you can be my mother! Where is he?"

"At the Holland."

"Send for him. Let him be here in my room at seven o'clock this
evening."

"He--wants--money," faltered Mrs. Chalmers.

"Money? I thought to have to pay a higher price for his services
than that. Certainly he can have money--Carlita's money," she added,
maliciously. "Give him all he wants, but have him here at seven. I am
going out to drive with your ward. Look here! There'll be a game of
poker here tonight. It'll be a rattler, too, and don't you forget it!
I want you to have your wits about you, and not go wool-gathering.
Carlita will play."

"Carlita!"

"You look as shocked as if I had told you I intended to murder her. She
must win. Win heavily, you understand?"

"She has consented to play?"

"No; but I mean that she shall before the evening is over. Take care
that the supper afterward is exceptionally nice, and make sure that
there is plenty of champagne."

"You mean that she shall drink that?"

"I do. I know her hot Southern temperament. There will be no half
measures with her when she has once learned her lesson. A useless waste
of time might be fatal to my plans, and I do not propose that there
shall be a moment lost. I don't want you to come down there tonight
looking as you do now. Clear up your lugubrious countenance, get that
black stripe out of your hair, and come down as your old smiling self.
If you fail me, you know well enough that there will be another added
in my list for vengeance."

"Is it possible that you are human, Jessica?"

"And your daughter, my lady!" she added, with a mocking bow. "Bah!
One would think that you were an angel! Don't forget that I know your
life. Posing is not becoming to you. You are detaining me from my sweet
friend. Au revoir!"

Ten minutes later she was tucking the robes around Carlita in the
victoria with as much tenderness as a loving sister could have shown,
and as they were driving through the park she carefully broached the
subject upon which she had spoken to her mother.

"Look here, Miss Priscilla," she began, half laughing, in her boyish,
fascinating way, "the time has come for you to get out of this Madonna
life you are leading. I am going to take the reins in my hands. Do you
know what I have done?"

"No! What?"

"I have made arrangements to have a great blowout at the house tonight,
and you are to be the principal attraction."

"I?"

"Yes. Did it ever really come home to you with great force, Carlita,
that you are a wonderfully beautiful girl?"

"Flatterer!"

"Not at all: it's the solemn truth. If you are really serious in
desiring to work out the end you have in view about Olney, you
must bring Leith Pierrepont to terms as quickly as you can. There
is absolutely nothing that will do it like feeling that you need a
protector. In spite of the crime that he has committed, he is really a
great prude himself, or poses as one, which is quite the same thing. He
will not like to have the woman whom he wishes to make his wife playing
poker, and it will bring him around more quickly than anything. Come,
now; will you join us tonight?"

It never occurred to Carlita to look into the logic of the speech. She
was restless, nervous. She wanted to do something that would help
her to forget for even such a short time, and Jessica's victory was
infinitely easier than she had any idea it would be.

"Yes, I will join you," she answered, feverishly, feeling a sudden
elation in knowing that she would be doing something to which he would
object. "But I don't know how to play."

"You know the cards?"

"Oh, yes."

"Then that will be quite sufficient. You'll learn the rules of poker
in five minutes, and that is about all of the game that two-thirds of
the people know who play it, particularly those who consider themselves
experts. I told mamma to have a supper prepared. We'll have a lark, and
don't you forget it. We shall accomplish your object sooner than you
anticipated."

"How shall I thank you for your help?"

"Wait until it is done, and your object is attained, then, perhaps, you
may see a way. What have you got to wear tonight? It must not be black."

"I have a white gown."

"We can make that answer with flowers. Suppose we drive to the
florist's, and then on home, to make sure that everything will be in
readiness?"

"I am willing."

A gleam of color had sprung already to Carlita's pale cheeks, in
anticipation of the evening. She had determined that the old reserve
should be thrown completely aside, and that she would be the gayest
of the gay. She was comforting her shrinking, sickening soul by the
reflection that it was for Olney's sake--to discover Olney's murderer.

And so they returned to prepare for the evening, both of them in a
whirl of excitement, though for far different reasons.



CHAPTER XIX.


It seemed to Carlita that it was impossible that so much could have
been accomplished in the few short hours that had been allotted to the
florist; and yet, when she descended to the drawing-room, the mantels
were banked with flowers and the rooms were decorated as if some grand
ball were in progress.

Her gown had been rearranged by the deft fingers of Jessica's own maid
until it seemed impossible that it could have been one of the last
year's fashioning. The bodice was décolleté and over the back and
across the shoulders a fall of magnificent old lace had been arranged,
falling in jabots from the front of the shoulders. A soft old piece of
"the cloth of silver" was laid in cross plaits over the front, after
the fashion of an old fichu, and fastened at the waist with superb
diamond buckles which had belonged to her paternal grandmother. On the
shoulders, fastening the lace, were diamond butterflies, their wings
raised as if they had but alighted for the moment, and were even then
ready to wing their way again. The broad, round belt was caught with a
diamond arrow in the back, while in the hair a beautiful bow knot of
the same gems caught the rolls of blue-black hair together.

Her throat and arms were bare save for a row of diamonds about the
wrists.

It was really a picture of superb beauty that she presented as she
stood there in the door of that artistically decorated apartment, and
one that no man could look upon unmoved.

There was a glitter in Jessica's eyes as she observed--a glitter of
malicious hatred--and for a moment the small teeth closed upon the
crimson underlip.

"Curse her!" she muttered, in voiceless hatred--"curse her! She shall
rue the day that she robbed me of Leith Pierrepont's love! There is
nothing so sweet in life as vengeance!"

But she went forward with a bewilderingly fascinating smile upon her
lips.

"Ah, chèrie, how lovely you are," she exclaimed, clasping her arms in
delight. "If I were a man, I should commit any folly, any madness to
win you. I even think I might emulate the young Lochinvar and steal you
away bodily. I can almost find it in my heart to forgive the man who
would commit a crime in order that he might possess you."

"Hush!" exclaimed Carlita, with a slight shiver. "I never felt such a
sneak in my life. My courage almost fails me at times. Have I the right
to do evil that good may come?"

Jessica shrugged her shoulders slightly.

"You must be the judge of that," she answered, lightly. "It is your
lover who has been murdered, not mine. It was the man who was to have
been your husband who lies out there, treacherously lured to his death,
given no chance for self-defense, suffocated like a rat in a hole, not
even given an opportunity for escape. It was your--"

"For the love of Heaven, hush!" cried Carlita, all her lovely
color forsaking her. "You are right--you are right. I should be a
coward--worse than that, an accomplice--did I fail to make him pay the
penalty of his crime."

"Take care. There is the bell."

She took Carlita by the arm and led her quickly into the conservatory,
in order that she might have time to recover herself, speaking to
her in the old, soothing voice, knowing her power as well as did the
treacherous sirens of old.

An hour later there were two tables for poker formed in the
drawing-room. At one of them Jessica and Carlita sat with Redfield Ash,
Dudley Maltby and Hugh Beresford. At the other there were six persons.

"We are to teach Carlita tonight!" exclaimed Jessica, gayly, to the men
at their table. "I assure you she will be an apt pupil, though it is
her first attempt. I spent a whole hour this evening giving her points
on the game. Don't be surprised if you all lose your good ducats, for
you well know the luck of a beginner. How many cards, Carlita?"

"Two, please."

"Three of a kind already? I shall be very careful, I assure you, how I
go up against your hands. There you are! Now, Dudley, open the ball and
make it lively."

"Not on a pair of deuces," he answered, with a short laugh, throwing
down his cards. "I'm afraid Miss de Barryos has robbed the pack."

The betting was really very small, the limit being one dollar, and no
one with a hand worth much except Carlita. The pot was finally awarded
to her without seeing her hand, and once more the cards were dealt.

This time she called for one, and a groan went around the table.

"What is it?" asked Jessica, laughing. "A flush or a straight?"

But Carlita only smiled and held her cards closely.

There were some rather good ones against her this time, and the betting
became lively; but as she raised the bet again and again one backed
down and then another, until she finally proved herself the victor once
more.

"Let me see what you had!" exclaimed Jessica. "Just as a matter of fun,
you understand, though it's not in accord with the rules of the game. A
bob-tail flush, as I live, and full a hundred to the good!"

There was a shout of laughter from the men at the wisdom of their new
opponent, and the capital manner in which she had won their money, and
as the noise continued, the name of the new arrival which the servant
announced was drowned:

"Mr. Pierrepont!"

It gave him an opportunity to pause at the door. For a moment he did
not recognize Carlita in her white gown, flashing as she was with
diamonds, the flush of excitement coloring her lovely cheeks to the hue
of the wild rose, and when he did an expression of such pain darkened
his eyes as must have attracted the attention of every one who observed
him. But no one did except Jessica, and he had had ample time to
recover himself before the laughter had subsided.

He went forward in the old debonair manner and stood behind Carlita's
chair.

"Who won a hundred with a bob-tail flush?" he asked, carelessly.

"Carlita!" answered Jessica, putting out her hand to welcome him. "And
she did it with the coolness of a man who had spent his life in the
business. I predict she will become one of the best players in New
York. Come and join us. Here is a chair for you."

"Thanks, no," he answered, after a slight hesitation. "I don't feel up
to it tonight. I'll watch you for a moment, and perhaps you'll let me
play something for you on the piano later. No, don't urge me, Maltby. I
really couldn't. Do you like the game, Miss de Barryos?"

There was something almost wistful in the question, but Carlita threw
up her head with a sort of defiance and answered in a tone that
contained a metallic ring:

"Very. It is fascinating. I really think I shall never want to do
anything else."

Leith sighed slightly.

He was silent, striving to account for the sudden and mysterious change
in her, and yet for some reason unfathomable he dared not ask her the
cause. He watched them for a few hands, and then wandered to the piano,
playing a few selections in which there was so little heart that it
wearied him.

Once or twice he got up to go, but some invisible power seemed to chain
him to the place. He could not leave.

It was not until eleven o'clock, when supper was announced, that he got
an opportunity of saying a word alone to Carlita.

"And so you are trying to unlearn Puritanism," he said to her, with
a little wistful smile upon his lips that made him so singularly
handsome. "Do you think you will like the change from saint to satyr?"

"I was never a saint, and there is no reason why I should be a satyr,"
she answered, forcing herself to smile in return. "Puritanism must be
an awfully trying thing to one's friends."

"Not to the friends who love you."

"Our friends never love us unless we are interesting to them."

"Friends who love you because you entertain and amuse them are not
worth having. They desecrate the name. And friends who would degrade
you are demons in disguise, who are tempting you to eternal ruin,
branding your soul with the crest of Satan in order that you may make
them laugh."

For a moment Carlita glanced up with a mocking smile upon her lips. Ah,
verily was this the "devil quoting scripture." A murderer--the murderer
of her lover, prating to her of her soul!

"You ought to go into the Salvation Army," she cried, compelling her
tongue to speak lightly. "Are you without sin that you are willing to
cast a stone?"

"God knows I am not; but is a future denied to man because of a
blackened past? Heaven knows I would give all the years to come if I
could cleanse my soul of sin and stand before you and my God for one
brief hour a pure man."

A wild light gleamed in her eyes. She bent forward away from him, not
daring to look at him. Her voice was scarcely more than a whisper, and
yet he heard the words:

"You have sinned so deeply, then?"

He paused, lifting the heavy hair from his white brow, as if its weight
oppressed him.

"Yes," he answered.

"How?" she panted.

Another pause, then slowly:

"I can not tell you now, but some day I will. Some day when--"

"When what?" she whispered, breathlessly.

He leaned forward and whispered in her ear:

"When I know that you love me, even as I love you!"



CHAPTER XX.


Carlita's heart was beating so that Pierrepont's words were almost
drowned in the sound. It seemed impossible for her to reply. She had
grown dizzy and blind suddenly, and it was with a relief that was
almost hysterical that she welcomed a young man who interrupted the
tete-a-tete.

She knew perfectly well that that was not what Stolliker would have had
her do, that she was losing an opportunity that she might never be able
to regain; but she could not help that, and when one of the men who had
played at the other table bent over her to inquire how she had enjoyed
the game, she looked into his face with an interest, an animation, that
caused Pierrepont to turn away with a weary sigh.

The supper was of the best; but when she left the table, it would
have been impossible for Carlita to have told one thing that had been
served. It seemed to her that she had passed the time in a state of
hypnotism, living, moving, acting while her senses were governed by
some other power than her own.

And yet she jested with a blithe merriment that brought again the
old expression of cynicism to Pierrepont's countenance. Jessica had
reserved the seat beside herself for him, and he slipped into it when
there was nothing else to do.

"Is not our little Puritan charming tonight?" she asked, with an
animated smile. "I never imagined that Carlita could be so bewitching.
I fancy that half the men in the room are in love with her. Did you
ever see her so beautiful?"

"Never so beautiful," he answered, with affected lightness; "but much
more charming many times."

"You approve of the Puritan type, then?"

"I am the strongest believer in individuality, and she has lost hers
tonight. She is as out of place as--as--you would be in the role of
Priscilla."

"I am not quite sure whether you intend that as a compliment or the
reverse," returned Jessica, laughing; "but analysis is such a stupid
thing. At all events she gives promise of being one of the best poker
players I have ever seen, and while that may not be altogether a
recommendation for a woman to the clerical class, it certainly is to
the persons whom Carlita is liable to meet. But let us talk about
yourself. Do you know, I fancy you are not looking well."

"It is all fancy, I assure you."

"No, it is not. You are pale, dark under the eyes, and disturbed
looking."

"Biliousness, I give you my word."

"No. I'm afraid you got a germ of some sort of disease in Mexico. You
have never been yourself since you returned from there."

He was eating a deviled kidney, sandwiched between two broiled
mushrooms, but pushed it away from him as she spoke. The faintest
perceptible frown gathered between his eyes.

"Imagination!" he answered, with a short laugh.

"You liked Mexico, then?"

"I loathe it!" he returned. "I wish to God I could never hear the name
mentioned again. I wish to God I had never seen the place!"

There had been a lull in the conversation, and the words, low as they
were spoken, were heard from one end of the table to the other. Carlita
glanced up. A ghastly whiteness overspread her countenance. For a
moment it seemed to Jessica that she was going to faint, but young
Beresford handed her a glass of champagne which she drained before
taking it from her lips.

Jessica's small teeth set angrily.

"If she believes him to be guilty," she muttered, mentally, "why does
this new evidence of his guilt upset her like this? Curse her! She
thinks she can deceive me; but she shall see--she shall see!"

But she only smiled above her wrath, and turned again to Pierrepont.

"How you are changing from the indifferent, nonchalant man you used to
be, whom nothing could arouse from the even tenor of his way. There are
absolutely traces of passion in your speech nowadays."

He bestowed a smile upon her which sent the blood tingling through her
veins, and said in the old drawling, indolent way:

"There have always been traces of passion in my nature."

It was just such a speech as in the old days had convinced her, without
further declaration from him, that he loved her; and as memory returned
of those times, she was forced to bite her lip to keep the angry,
bitter tears from her eyes. She saw now how little there had ever been
in it, saw how little he had ever really cared, and a fierce hatred of
him leaped to life in her breast, a hatred that was all the more savage
because its very essence and flame was the wild, passionate love for
him which she had not the least power to control.

"What frauds you men are!" she exclaimed, forcing herself to speak
lightly, though her heart still ached poignantly. "There is so little
in your words and so much in your manner of saying them. No wonder you
break our hearts, and then still your conscience by making yourselves
believe that you were not in fault, that you had said nothing by which
your honors were compromised."

"Do you believe that hearts break?" asked Leith, mockingly.

"Not the heart of the 'new woman,'" answered Jessica, laughing. "She is
too familiar with the genus homo."

"The 'new woman' has no heart. She is all brain."

"Then you acknowledge that woman has, until recently, had a 'corner on
heart,' so to speak, and that man for all time has been without one,
being a creature simply of brain?"

"Did I say so?"

"Practically, as the 'new woman' is only taking her place in the front
walks as man's intellectual companion."

"Perhaps you are right; I don't know. It seems to me sometimes as if
men, and women, too, would be better off without hearts. It has caused
more sin than it ever prevented a thousand times, and has created more
misery than happiness a million to one. For my own part, if I could
dispense with the very necessary organ, it would give me the greatest
relief possible."

"Does that mean that you are in love, Pierrepont?" questioned
Redfield Ash, with his mouth rather too full of food to be altogether
intelligible.

"Did there ever live a man worthy of the name who was not in love?"
returned Leith, gallantly. "I love all women."

"For the sake of one?" asked young Beresford, with a sentimental glance
toward Carlita.

Before Leith could reply, Jessica was on her feet.

"This is not a confessional!" she cried, lightly. "Now, we are going to
award you gentlemen just thirty minutes for your wine and cigars. At
the end of that time we shall expect you promptly in the drawing-room."

"It is too much!" exclaimed Beresford. "I for one am willing to forego
the cigar in this occasion."

Jessica hesitated a moment, then, with a half glance at Carlita,
exclaimed:

"If Miss de Barryos does not object, you may have the men in the
drawing-room. Does smoke nauseate you, Carlita?"

Carlita laughed.

"I used to light my old friend the gardener's pipe, and I am sure he
never had a new one oftener than once in five years."

The men followed at once, and Jessica paused only long enough to give
instructions to the butler. When she reached the drawing-room, Carlita
was already seated at the piano.

Her voice was a trifle weaker, from lack of practice, than it had been
the last time Leith heard her sing, but it was infinitely sweet, and
was greeted with a vociferous round of applause which neither one nor
two songs would still; and then, stepping to the piano, Leith asked her
if she would undertake the duet from "Aïda," which she had sung with
him on one occasion.

She hated him for the request, and yet nothing under heaven could have
caused her to decline. There was almost defiance in her eyes as she
arose and yielded her place upon the stool to him.

It was a magnificent thing, sung with wonderful depth of feeling and
power of expression, and was a vast surprise to those present. Carlita
wondered afterward how she had ever been able to complete it, but she
heard his words of praise above all the rest, though they were fewer
and spoken scarcely above his breath.

"What an artiste you will make--what an artiste you are! God! it is
enough to make a Christian of a man to listen to you. And how you have
improved since we sang that together the last time. I wish you would
let me sing with you often. It is like being permitted a glimpse into
paradise."

He had risen, and was standing with his back to the piano, looking down
at her. The others were all around them; but suddenly they seemed to
separate, no one knew how or why. They had heard no announcement of a
new arrival, but as they stepped apart they realized that Jessica was
standing there, her fingers touching the arm of a dark-visaged man
whose aspect certainly was not pleasant.

There was a tremulous smile upon her lips, half expectant, half
triumphant. She seemed to have forgotten them for the moment, but went
forward straight up to Leith, who was not looking toward her, but down
at Carlita.

"Mr. Pierrepont," she exclaimed, speaking rather louder than usual, "I
want to introduce you to a gentleman from Mexico. Senor Meriaz, Mr.
Pierrepont!"

Leith glanced up. There had been a flush upon his cheeks, brought there
by the pleasure of singing with Carlita, but as his eyes rested upon
the man before him, his color vanished, and from brow to throat a
ghastly pallor overspread his face, that the least observant could not
fail to marvel at.

He caught at the edge of the piano, then recovered himself almost as
suddenly as he had lost his self-control.

But it was Meriaz who replied to the introduction, Meriaz whose voice
alone was heard.

"Senor Pierrepont and I have met before!"

Then deliberately the dark-browed Mexican, who possessed not an element
of refinement or gentlemanliness in his entire make-up, turned his back
upon the elegant man of the world.



CHAPTER XXI.


There was a sensation in the drawing-room over which Mrs. Chalmers
presided.

They were not looking at that lady, or they might have seen her pallor
under all the artificial color of her complexion, and would certainly
have noticed the nervous interlacing of her long fingers as they twined
themselves about each other, and the little gasping breath that came
through her parted lips.

Carlita alone seemed to retain her absolute composure.

Not a detail of the situation had escaped her, not even the angry
compression of Leith Pierrepont's lips as Senor Meriaz turned his back
and calmly sauntered to the other side of the room.

Young Beresford laughed constrainedly, feeling that something must be
done to lighten the situation.

"'Pon my soul, Pierrepont," he said, in a stage whisper, "if looks were
poniards, you wouldn't be alive at this moment. Evidently you didn't
hit it off with your friend from Mexico. What was it? One of your
usual escapades with a beautiful senorita? His daughter, perhaps?"

Leith had never come so near having a downright affection for the
light-headed individual in his life.

"I never had the pleasure of an acquaintance with Senorita Meriaz,
though I have met her," he said, nonchalantly; "but I am not fond of
her father."

"It seemed almost as if your dislike extended to all things Mexican,"
said Carlita, lightly, marveling at her own coolness.

"Not to all things," he exclaimed, gallantly. "I believe you are partly
Mexican."

"We must all adore angels," said Redfield Ash, with a bow to Carlita,
"whether they be Mexican, Hindoo or heathen Chinee, and such you have
proven yourself tonight by the beauty of your exquisite voice, Miss de
Barryos. Won't you sing for us again? or are you weary?"

Carlita could never tell what impulse moved her, nor how she happened
to yield to it, but she looked up into Pierrepont's face wistfully, and
said, slowly:

"Will you accompany me? Your playing would convert a linnet to a
nightingale."

He smiled the pleasure he felt, and seated himself at once; but his
mind seemed preoccupied, for while he played the notes of the selection
she placed before him, there was not the spirit--the exquisite coloring
that usually characterized his playing, Carlita observed, watching with
ceaseless intent.

Suddenly she seemed to have forgotten to hate herself for the
despicable part she was playing--to have forgotten everything in the
interest that surrounded the central figures in her little drama. She
was like the detective who forgets he is a spy, under the excitement of
a human chase.

After the song was finished, there was another call to the tables for
the poker to begin again, but neither Pierrepont nor Meriaz joined
them. Leith retained his seat at the piano for a time, then suddenly
rose.

The game was progressing hilariously. No one seemed to observe the fact
that he had left the piano. Meriaz was seated a trifle back of Carlita,
watching her hand, and as she glanced up she saw Pierrepont look at
him. There was a slight uplifting of the eyebrows and the faintest
movement of the head toward the door, and then he turned and went out.

Five minutes afterward, Meriaz arose leisurely, and after walking about
the room quietly, looking at statuary and dainty objects of virtu, he
followed in the direction Leith had indicated.

Apparently Jessica had been oblivious of the by-play, but Carlita
looked toward her imploringly.

"I wonder if you could excuse me for a very few minutes?" she
questioned, her excitement making her voice low and strained.

"Why, certainly," answered Jessica, sweetly. "Is the heat of the room
too much for you?"

"I--I don't know; but I will not be long absent. You can play without
me?"

"Oh, yes!" answered Jessica, laughing. "Perhaps some of your luck will
flow over to my side. My chips are getting pitifully low."

She did not even glance up as Carlita left the room; but there was a
curious twitching at the corners of her mouth when she saw Carlita
leave by the same door by which Leith and Meriaz had made their exit.

Carlita did not pause to think. She was keeping her oath to the dead.
She did not remember that what she was about to do was dishonorable,
unwomanly. She had sworn that she would put all consideration of self
behind in this search for the murderer of her lover, and she was doing
it.

She was in time to see Meriaz walk calmly into the library, through the
open door of which she had seen Leith, and then the door was closed
upon them.

She hurried swiftly through the hall and lifted a portière at the back
end, through which she passed into the adjoining room, separated from
the library only by a Japanese portière. The light was out in the
room that screened her, and was burning brilliantly in the room that
contained them, so that she could see and hear everything without fear
of being seen.

"What has brought you here?" she heard Leith demand, indignantly, of
the repulsive-looking Mexican who stood before him.

It was rather a change from his shrinking and the bold manner of the
Mexican when they had been presented in the drawing-room, and she
listened breathlessly for the answer.

"To see you!" returned Meriaz, his black, cunning eyes fixed greedily
upon Leith's face.

"What for?" demanded Leith, towering over the short, bulky Mexican in
his majestic rage.

"You know perfectly well," answered Meriaz, with a hateful grin. "I've
come to find out the whole of the situation that made you so anxious
that none of the story of young Winthrop's death should ever get to
this section of the country."

"And you have found out?" questioned Leith, proudly.

"Oh, yes! You know me well enough to know that it doesn't take long
to do that. You are in love with Miss de Barryos, the fiancé of the
murdered man."

"May I ask who gave you this information?"

"It was not necessary that any one should. I'm not blind. But, anyway,
you know how perfectly you are in my power."

"In what?" cried Leith, forgetting himself for a moment, and thundering
the word out so that Meriaz lifted his hand warningly.

"There is no use in your giving the snap away until that becomes
necessary," he said, with despicable cunning. "I am not going to peach,
provided you make it to my interest to keep quiet."

"What the devil do you want?"

"Money."

Leith hesitated. Even under his mustache both Carlita and Meriaz saw
how his lips were twitching, how white they had grown.

"Pouf!" exclaimed the Mexican. "Why do you hesitate? You got all of his
money, and you can surely give up that for protection."

Carlita half expected to see Pierrepont throttle the wretch before
him, but instead he turned away and sat down before the writing-desk,
leaning his elbow upon it and shading his eyes with a hand which
trembled.

"I suppose you are right," he said, dully, after a long pause. "How
much do you want?"

"Five thousand--now."

"And when you have got it, do you promise to take yourself back to
Mexico or any place out of my sight? Do you promise that this cursed
business shall be buried between us?"

"Yes, I promise; but you will leave me your address so that I can write
to you occasionally."

"You know the address well enough without my giving it to you. There is
one thing more. Will you answer a question?"

"If I can."

"How did you happen to know Miss Chalmers?"

A curious expression crossed the face of the wily Mexican.

"I knew her when she was a child," he answered, evasively. "I knew her
father. It was quite natural that I should come to call when I came to
America."

"But not natural that she should bring you into her drawing-room to
introduce you to her friends," returned Leith, forgetting that he was
not very complimentary. "Have you told her anything of this story?"

"Not a thing."

"You swear it?"

"I swear it!"

There was another short pause, then Leith threw out his hand
deprecatingly.

"All right," he exclaimed. "There is my card with my address. Come
there tomorrow at twelve and I will give you the five thousand. And
now, go back to the drawing-room and I will follow you as quickly as
possible so as not to attract attention."

The Mexican left the room without another word, and feeling old and
stiff, Carlita crept away from her position beside the door.

She had seen Leith's head bowed upon his arms which rested upon the
desk, and somehow there was a great lump in her throat which she felt
would burst into hysterical sobbing if she stood there watching him.

The last doubt was gone now, but there was no triumph in the convincing
proof of his guilt.

She went out upon a little side balcony and stood there with the cold
night air blowing upon her heated face. She never knew how long she
stayed there, but she was aroused at last by a mild flood of tears that
came pouring uncontrollably from her eyes and hearing her own voice in
her ears sounding strange and eerie to her strained senses:

"My God--my God! if it were only I who had died--if it were only I!"



CHAPTER XXII.


It was a marvel to Carlita ever afterward how she had the strength to
drag through the apparently endless hours of that evening, and yet
after that outburst of passion there alone under the pitiless stars,
she was to all appearances calm as a stoic.

She said good-night to Pierrepont as smilingly as to the others, and
even permitted him to clasp her cold fingers for a moment as he took
his leave.

"Do tell me everything!" exclaimed Jessica, when they were alone. "I
have been feverishly anxious for them to go for two hours, because I
knew there was so much that we should wish to talk about."

But she only shook her head and pressed the hand of her Judas wistfully.

"Not tonight," she answered, barely able to keep the sobs out of
her voice. "I am nervous and tired. Tomorrow. Wait. You shall know
everything then, and you will help me to decide what I am to do."

And Jessica, who knew all that would be told to her on the morrow as
well then as she ever could know, put aside her curiosity gracefully.

"Of course, you poor, little tired child!" she exclaimed, soothingly.
"I should have had more care for you and have put them out long ago.
Come to your room and let me be your maid. I'm going to give you a nice
soothing bromide, and tomorrow you will be as good as new."

She would listen to no denial, but dismissed Ahbel, and did not leave
her charge until she was well tucked up in bed with the bromide
swallowed, then she turned out the light and left the room softly.

Once outside the door, she paused and looked back with a sneering smile.

"You poor little fool!" she muttered. "You poor little fool! I know
you already a thousand times better than you know yourself. I could
tell you things about the state of your own heart that would surprise
you, I fancy. At all events, it is something which you must not suspect
until my plot has been worked to the end. Upon my word, matters are
shaping themselves to my will better even than if I had planned the
circumstances of it all."

But whatever may have been her intention in the matter, her bromide
worked to a charm, and the following morning Carlita arose refreshed
from a profound sleep. Her cold plunge quite restored her, and she
descended to the breakfast-room as bright and beautiful as if nothing
had ever marred the serenity of her young life.

After breakfast she and Jessica talked long and earnestly in the
privacy of the boudoir, a conversation in which she detailed to Jessica
what she had purposely overheard the evening before, and then they
conferred upon what course had best be pursued for the carrying out of
their plan.

"You see!" exclaimed Jessica, when she had been appealed to for advice,
"the conversation which you overheard has proven to you that this man
Meriaz can be bought. Now, the question is, are you willing to give
more for this information than Pierrepont is for his silence?"

"I would give my fortune to the last farthing!" cried Carlita,
excitedly.

"Well, don't be foolish and give that away to Meriaz, or he would
be just hog enough to demand it. My own opinion is that he has come
down rather light on Pierrepont, and when he has pocketed that five
thousand, with no evidence in the hands of Pierrepont that it has been
given over, he may be willing to sell his story to you for another
five, if you drive your bargain hard, or ten at the outside. It isn't
a good plan to squander money on a scoundrel like that when you can
prevent it. You say that his appointment with Pierrepont is for twelve?"

"Yes."

"Then I will write asking him to be here at two. It is eleven thirty
now," looking at a little Dresden clock upon the mantel-shelf. "If my
opinion is worth anything, I should say that you are very nearly at the
end of your dilemma, and I certainly think you have gotten out of it
very easily."

Carlita did not reply, but sighed wearily. There was no elation in her
success, on the contrary her heart ached as it had not done when she
had been informed of Olney's death, and a mist stood before her eyes as
she sat beside the window that prevented her seeing the objects in the
street.

And yet she took the note when Jessica had completed it, and sent it by
her own maid to the address upon the envelope.

It seemed to her that the hours would never pass between twelve and
two, and yet when the announcement was made to her that Senor Meriaz
was awaiting her in the library, she could not go down and face him.
She loathed him with a passionate repulsion, and her whole nature
rebelled at the interview that must follow, yet she nerved herself to
it, and was stately in her calmness as she entered the room where he
waited.

"You sent for me, senorita?" he said, bowing to her with the innate
politeness of even the lowest Spaniard.

"Miss de Barryos," she corrected, calmly.

"Was I mistaken, or did Miss Chalmers tell me that you also were
Mexican?"

"My father was a Mexican, not I. I do not know the country," answered
the girl, who but a few short months ago had loved to hear tales of
travel there, and had spoken the liquid, musical language with such
delight. "I sent for you, Senor Meriaz, upon a most unpleasant errand."

"I can imagine nothing unpleasant connected with--Miss--de Barryos," he
answered, watching her shiver curiously.

She took no notice of his words, but continued, even more coldly than
before:

"By design, senor, I overheard the conversation between you and Mr.
Pierrepont in this room."

"By design, senorita?"

"Yes," she answered, haughtily. "I was a witness of your presentation
to him; I saw him motion to you to follow him from the drawing-room,
and a moment afterward I followed also. I was behind that portière
there when your conversation took place."

"Well, senorita?" he said, coolly.

"I must ask you once more not to call me that."

"I beg your pardon. Custom causes me to use it unaware."

She inclined her head slightly, and continued:

"Senor Meriaz, you are aware, as you informed Mr. Pierrepont in that
conversation, that I was the betrothed wife of Mr. Olney Winthrop, five
thousand dollars of whose money was paid you today to conceal some
secret concerning his death."

She paused, but Meriaz only bowed with profound indifference.

"You must understand," she went on, when she saw that he did not intend
to assist her, "how very much interested I am in discovering everything
connected with the death of my fiancé, and it was to induce you to tell
me this secret that I asked Miss Chalmers to send for you today."

"What inducement do you offer, seno--Miss de Barryos?"

She hesitated a moment, then said, slowly:

"What inducement do you require, Senor Meriaz?"

"Well," he exclaimed, greedily, passing his mottled tongue over his
still more mottled lips, "it is quite true that Mr. Pierrepont paid me
the five thousand today to preserve the secret; will you double that
amount if I break my word and return his five thousand to him?"

"No. In the first place, the money did not belong to him. It belonged
to the man who has been murdered, and whose murderer I intend to bring
to the gallows, as he would desire. As his affianced wife, I tell you
that you may keep the money, and to it I will add another five thousand
if you tell me the story Leith Pierrepont wished concealed, if you will
tell me how Olney Winthrop came to his death; but not a dollar will I
add to that amount."

For a moment Meriaz hesitated, then leaning forward, with his beady
eyes fixed upon her, he exclaimed:

"I may trust you?"

"I give you Miss Chalmers as my reference," she answered, coldly.

He leaned further forward, placing his arms upon his knees. He reminded
her of some treacherous animal about to spring upon his helpless prey,
and somehow she felt as she imagined she would if she were alone in a
forest, the victim of some repulsive beast.

"You want to know how Olney Winthrop came to his death," he said,
speaking in a half-hoarse whisper, whose effect he had counted,
"and you offer me five thousand dollars to tell you the story Leith
Pierrepont would have concealed?"

"I do."

"Very well; I consent. Listen: Olney Winthrop was suffocated in a
deserted mine. He was pushed down by some one with whom he was walking
along the lonely road."

She had risen slowly, her hands pressed upon her breast, her eyes wild
with terror.

"And the person with whom he was walking," she cried, heavily,
pantingly, "was--"

"Leith Pierrepont," he answered, sullenly.

She uttered a little half-strangled cry.

"You are sure," she gasped; "sure?"

"I saw it all," he said, slowly. "I saw them walking, saw them approach
the mine, saw the shove, heard the fall and the awful cry as Winthrop
reached the bottom. There was no possible way to save him, and
Pierrepont knew that when he threw him to his death."

She stood there stonily, the quiet of death growing upon her.

"Can you prove this?" she asked, dully.

"Every word," he returned, cunningly, "if you offer
sufficient--inducement. That was not included in the bargain."



CHAPTER XXIII.


Carlita stood there for some moments resembling nothing so much as
some magnificent statue, her countenance just as stony, her face
just as colorless, her form just as rigid. If she felt anything
whatever--any emotion of horror, contempt, or triumph--there was no
evidence of it--not even in the tones of her voice when she spoke at
last.

"I have no objection to paying you for the proof which I shall demand
that you furnish," she said, quietly; "but you must understand that it
must be convincing--it must mean conviction. Accomplish this, and I
will add ten thousand to the amount already agreed upon; fail, and you
receive nothing beyond payment for your secret. Is this satisfactory?"

She must have been unobserving, indeed, not to have seen the greedy
roll of his beady eyes, the miserly clutching of his grimy fingers, as
if he already felt the beloved gold in his too affectionate clasp.

And yet he bowed almost coldly, in his absolute control over himself.

"I have no fear of failure, senorita. Get him back to Mexico, and leave
the rest to me," he said, indifferently. "I shall not regret to see him
suffer for his crime, but a man must look to his own interest first."

A slight shiver of repugnance and contempt passed over her, but
vanished quickly in the utter apathy that seemed to possess her.

She interrupted him almost before he had completed his sentence.

"Until after the--the trial, I shall expect your time to be mine, your
services constantly at my disposal. I shall expect you to remain in New
York until I tell you to go to Mexico, and to give all information that
may be required."

"I understand that to be in the bargain, senorita," he returned,
formally. "You will not find me shirking any of the responsibility I
have undertaken."

"Very well. Leave your address upon that table, I shall send for you
when I need you."

It seemed to her that it would have been impossible for her to stand
there watching him until he had written it out and left the room. The
very sight of him nauseated her--oppressed her with terrible loathing.
She turned from him and left the room with that stately dignity which
was so recently acquired a characteristic, and slowly mounted the
stairs to her room, feeling worn and weary, as if some new and hideous
affliction weighed upon her, instead of the accomplishment of a
cherished revenge.

She had scarcely deserted the library when, through the portière
through which she had listened the evening before to the conversation
between Meriaz and Pierrepont, Jessica glided with the grace of a
shining serpent. She went straight up to Meriaz and smiled into his
face with as singular a fascination as she had been wont to use upon
her victims in society.

"Well," she exclaimed, half caressingly, "you have accomplished it?"

He laughed slightly--not a pleasant sound; but she did not shrink from
it in the least.

"You put a good job in my way, little one," he said, familiarly.
"Twenty thousand ain't picked up every day in the week. It was a lucky
stroke for me the day I started for New York, but that walk down by
the old Donato Mine was a still luckier one. It ain't safe for us to
talk too much here, for I have found that walls have ears just as often
as little pitchers, and this room is a particularly good place for
eavesdroppers. But there is one thing I want you to do for me, little
one."

"What is it?"

"I want about five minutes' conversation with your mother."

"What about?"

He smiled.

"That is my secret--and hers," he answered.

"She has no secrets from me."

"Perhaps not, but I don't mix up my affairs in that promiscuous way.
She may tell you, afterward, if she likes. Will you arrange it so that
I can see her?"

For just a moment Jessica hesitated, and then said, quietly:

"Come with me; I'll take you to her boudoir."

And, knowing how her mother detested the man, knowing how she feared
him, Jessica led him upstairs, and without seeking permission, ushered
him into her mother's presence.

She did not wait to overhear that conversation, but went at once to
Carlita's room.

Carlita did not hear her knock, did not hear the door open; but Jessica
found her seated beside the window, her head resting upon the back
of her chair, her eyes closed, her hands upon her lap, every muscle
seemed to be relaxed save those of the hands, but these were so tightly
compressed as to give ample indication of the terrible mental strain
which had well-nigh exhausted her.

There was time for Jessica to observe her closely before Carlita became
aware of her presence, and a smile of absolute hatred was changed
quickly to one of tenderest solicitude as the dark eyes suddenly opened
and rested upon her face.

She went forward quickly and knelt by Carlita's side, clasping her
waist with both arms.

"I thought you were sleeping," she said, gently, telling her lie as
sweetly as if it were unvarnished truth.

"Sleeping!" returned Carlita with a little shiver, her voice heavy and
dry and expressionless. "Oh, no! I don't feel as if I should ever sleep
again."

"Then it is--true?"

"God! So cruelly true that it seems impossible! Why is it that fact is
so much more ghastly in its horror than fiction?"

"He can prove it?" asked Jessica, allowing the question to go
unanswered for want of knowledge to meet it.

"Yes," cried Carlita, with the first semblance of passion in her tone.
"Prove it the most dastardly crime in all the annals of criminal
records. Oh, my God! that man could be so false, so craven a coward!"

"But the act is not what you have to think of now," exclaimed Jessica,
feverishly, "it is its punishment. What are you going to do?"

"I have not thought. It seems to me that I am incapable of thought."

"But there is no time to be lost. If he should discover in any way that
we suspect him, he would make his escape, and your opportunity would be
forever lost. You must act at once."

"But how?" asked Carlita, hoarsely, her interest at piteously low ebb.

"Telegraph to Stolliker that you have the proof."

"Will you write it out for me? I feel so incapable, so helpless."

Jessica did not wait for any instructions, but went at once to the desk
and wrote rapidly:

  "Have every proof you seek of guilt of man we suspect in my
  possession. Obtain extradition papers at once, and return here
  without loss of time. Let me hear when this is received."

And then with only the assistance from Carlita of setting down the
numbers in an apathetic way on a telegraph blank as she hunted them
out, Jessica prepared it for transmission.

She did not leave Carlita alone after that, but tortured her with
ways and means of completing her revenge, until it seemed to the
poor, unhappy child that she should go mad under the sound of the
well-modulated, musical voice. And yet she would not have been left
alone for worlds. It seemed to her that in solitude madness lay, while
longing for it with all her heart.

If you have ever suffered from some terrible shock, you will perfectly
understand such inconsistency.

It was almost twelve o'clock that night when Stolliker's answer
arrived, and even to send it then he had been forced to bribe the
operator to open the office.

Carlita's fingers trembled so that she could not hold the volume to
search out the meaning of the figures, but once more Jessica came to
her aid.

  "Send necessary affidavit at once. Even then much money will be
  required. Shall be forced to bring officer with me. Be sure suspect
  knows nothing of your movements and keep him near you as constantly
  as possible. If you lose sight of him, everything will fail."

And the reply was sent before either of the two girls slept:

  "Call upon me for all money necessary, and spare no expense. Will
  send affidavit tomorrow morning. Your instructions shall be fully
  carried out."

And then Carlita found herself alone.

Where was the triumph over the murderer of her betrothed husband? Where
was the exultation in bringing to justice so dastardly a criminal?
Where was the wild joy in the fulfillment of an oath to the dead?

Was it expressed in the tight clasping of those interlaced fingers?
Was it displayed in that passionate outburst of bitter, uncontrollable
weeping?

God knows alone; for the heart of women is beyond human understanding,
but after hours of groveling in the most exquisite anguish which she
had ever known or ever dreamed of, she arose and crept into bed,
turning out the light before she had undressed, because she was ashamed
to face herself, ashamed to think of the bitterness of her agony, and
yet understanding it no more than a child would have understood.

The curse of Pocahontas was following her with relentless severity.



CHAPTER XXIV.


The next morning Carlita was feeling far from well. Her head ached, and
there were dark circles under her eyes. She awoke with a sense of utter
weariness of living, of the absolute desolation of life. There was a
choking sob in her throat with returning consciousness with taking up
the thread again and continuing in the old way that fate had marked out
for her.

She felt a pity for herself that was not in keeping with her
understanding of the situation, but she was too utterly miserable to
think of analyzing sensations or emotions. She could fully appreciate
the mental condition of the man who seeks oblivion at any cost to
himself.

Before she had an opportunity to arise, Jessica entered, and, in her
sweet, insidious way, persuaded Carlita that she was in reality ill,
a thing which Carlita was by no means loath to believe, and with
the tenderest solicitude soothed her into quiet, promising that she
herself would attend to the affidavit which was necessary to forward to
Stolliker, and that no point should be missing and no time lost.

And poor Carlita allowed herself to be made to believe that she was
quite satisfied with the arrangement, and kissed Jessica gratefully
that she was willing to undertake so much for her.

She even turned her face from the light and tried to go to sleep again
when Jessica had gone upon her mission, but the sleep of the last few
hours had been induced only through physical exhaustion. A pair of
dark-gray eyes were looking reproachfully into her own, and a deep,
tender, wistful voice kept repeating:

"I will tell you when I am sure that you love me even as I love you."

And then she heard again all the tones of his voice, all the sweet,
pathetic music of that duet from Aïda in the tomb, and gasping,
half-hysterical sobs arose in her throat again, and she hid her face in
the pillows for very shame as she had shut herself in the darkness the
night before.

It was two days after that before she left her room.

Jessica brought her the affidavit before it was sent upon its mission
to Stolliker, and she read it with a renewed sinking of the heart, but
there was not a word uttered to prevent its going. On the contrary,
she was feverishly anxious until it was on its way, even asking
Jessica's advice about sending some one with it as messenger instead of
intrusting it to the mails.

And then, after those two days, Leith's card was brought to her.

She shrank away from it, and a little cry of torture arose to her lips,
but she repressed it bravely and arose, compressing her lips firmly.

"Can I be false to the dead as well as to the oath I have sworn?" she
muttered to herself. "It is necessary that I should play this part
through, and I will do it! You may trust me to avenge you, Olney, even
if I die of self-loathing and contempt!"

"You are not well again!" Leith exclaimed, placing a chair for her as
she entered the room. "You have been suffering."

"Only from neuralgia and sleeplessness," she replied, forcing herself
to smile. "Insomnia is an old enemy of mine."

"And a most bitter foe," added Leith earnestly. "You need change of
air. You ought to take a little trip abroad. Why don't you ask Mrs.
Chalmers to take you? They talked of going a short while ago."

"Perhaps I shall, later on, but not now. I am really not ill; you must
not think it."

"You have never been yourself since--since Olney died. Do you know,
I have been half afraid sometimes that--that I remind you of him,
because--well, you know, because we were such good friends, and because
of--of some things I was traitor enough to say to you. I can't keep
silent when I am near you, when I see you, and I have no right to speak
when you are in this distress--when I know that you do not care for me,
and for that reason I have thought it better that I should not see you
for awhile. I have come to say good-bye, Carlita."

He had not dared to look at her during the speech lest his courage
should fail him, but he had stammered through it like a blind man
groping through an unknown world. He had not seen her growing pallor,
the expression of dismay, fear, misery--what was it?--that darkened
her eyes. He only heard the quiver of her voice, that dear voice whose
every intonation was like a throb in his own heart, when she repeated:

"Good-bye!"

Even then he would not look at her; dared not, because of that weak
courage, but answered swiftly:

"Yes. It will only be for a time, until I can see you and not blurt out
the story of my love at every breath, a story which could not but be
hateful to you. But you will let me come back then, will you not? You
will still let me be your friend?"

She did not reply, she could not. Stolliker's words were dancing before
her excited vision in letters of fire:

"If you lose sight of him, everything will fail."

Was she to keep her oath to her dead lover, or was she to let this man
escape? She knew but too well that everything depended upon her.

For one moment her heart cried out madly:

"Why should you sacrifice everything that is womanly and honest in your
nature because of your revenge?" And then she understood that she was
lying to herself, deceiving her own soul in order to save herself from
her own loathing.

And all that time he was standing there staring through the window,
thinking of what he was giving up, of the loneliness of life when he
should be able to see her no longer, and of the necessity that demanded
it. He did not even hear her rise, did not see the awful, strained
pallor of her countenance as she approached him, step by step, as if
each one were attached with the most ghastly pain, but he did feel the
touch of her fingers upon his arm, did hear the sweet tones of her
lovely voice, hoarse and dulled as it was:

"It is necessary that you should go--until I--send you?"

He turned and caught her in his arms, pressing kiss after kiss upon
her lips; but she beat him back from her, crying out her awful torture
wildly:

"Don't! Don't! For the love of God, don't touch me! Can't you see what
I am? Don't you understand all the treachery of it? Doesn't something
tell you that I am taking advantage of your love to lure you to ruin
and death?"

"Carlita! Carlita, what are you saying?"

He had dropped his arms from about her and staggered back, white to the
lips.

The sound of her voice seemed to recall her as suddenly as his kisses
had driven her mad. She pressed her icy hands over her mouth and
groaned.

"I don't know," she moaned. "It is treachery to Olney, I think. It
is--"

But he did not allow her to complete the self-accusation.

"Oh, it is only that!" he exclaimed, "he would desire you to be happy.
I know him so well, none better. He was so generous, so noble; neither
living nor dead would he stand between you and happiness. Listen to
me, Carlita, and then if you tell me to go, I will go, and if you tell
me to stay, I will stay, God knows how gladly. You are alone in this
world, pitifully alone. More alone than if you were in the heart of the
forest; for even those by whom you are surrounded are not your friends
and are striving to ruin you. I could not remain and witness it. I love
you! Love you with the whole strength of my heart and soul! There is
nothing I would not do to win you! I know that only a short time has
elapsed since the death of your fiancé, but if he could speak, he would
tell me to do what I have done, to protect you with my love, to save
you from the ruin of both soul and body that threatens you. Carlita is
it go, or stay?"

She hesitated only a moment, wondering in her heart which she hated
most, herself or him, and then the word came in a gasping whisper:

"Stay!"

He caught her hand, but she shrank back in but too evident torture.

"Not yet!" she cried, breathlessly. "Not yet! It is too soon
after--after his death. You would not wish it--yet. Whatever I may
feel--oh, surely you understand! And yet--I can not--can not let
you--go!"

He actually smiled soothingly.

"And I shall not ask it until you yield it of your own will. Heaven
knows I never expected so much, that I am the most undeserving yet the
most grateful wretch alive. You have made me the happiest man under the
sun, and though you have forbidden excess of expression, you will not
deny me the right of an accepted lover beyond that. Carlita darling,
look in my face and read, if you can, the pure and holy joy you have
given me."

She glanced at him for only a moment, then passionately covered her
eyes with her hands.

"It is almost as--he looked," she groaned.

He smiled again indulgently.

"Poor little hysterical girl," he murmured, tenderly, without touching
her, "you will overcome all this in time, but it is enough for me now
to know that you love me. Heaven knows it is possession enough for the
best of men. You will let me tell Mrs. Chalmers?"

"Oh, no, no, no!" she cried, huskily. "No one at all--yet!"

"As you will about that," he returned, gently, "but at least you must
allow me to guide you in some things. You must yield especially in one.
No more poker for my affianced wife. And you are that, my darling; let
the story be told or remain a secret between us as you will, you are my
affianced wife."



CHAPTER XXV.


Carlita was trembling so that neither affirmation nor protest was
possible.

She would have run away, perhaps, and have hidden herself for very
shame, but that the ability was denied her. She stared at him
helplessly, hopelessly, a wild insane longing to tell him everything
taking possession of her; but she shrank from the desire even more
than from the lie she was enacting. She hated herself for wishing to
be false to her oath, more than for the despicable treachery of her
conduct.

It was a curious sensation, and intensified as she found herself
thinking how handsome he was, how magnificent in his princely bearing,
his grave face lighted with a smile, so tender, so wistful, as to
transform his masculine beauty almost to pleading.

She suddenly forgot that he was a murderer, after having that thought
uppermost in her mind for weeks, forgot that his hands had taken a life
in the most cowardly way that life ever had been taken, and of her own
accord she put out her icy fingers and allowed him to clasp them in his
warm throbbing palm.

Jessica, through the door-way of the conservatory, saw her, and an
expression of fiendish malice left her lips, so illy suppressed as to
almost betray her presence there; but both Carlita and Pierrepont were
too absorbed to hear.

Leith did not draw her to him--he was too much a gentleman to offer an
unwelcome caress--but pressed the little cold hand tenderly.

"You promise, my darling?" he whispered, so gently that Jessica ground
her teeth in rage.

"Whatever happens," gasped Carlita, hoarsely, "I will promise you that
I will not play again, and I will keep my word as sacredly as if the
pledge were made to God!"

The impassioned speech, filled with fierce suffering, reached Jessica,
and a cruel smile shot across her mouth.

"Ah, surely, it is a complete revenge!" she muttered, triumphantly.
"What more can there be to be desired? Fool--fool! even she does not
realize it all--yet!"

"I wish I could tell you how happy you have made me," returned Leith;
the quiet joy in his beautiful voice thrilling through Carlita like
some sweet strain of exquisite music. "It is not exactly the kind
of betrothal which I had hoped for, which I had prayed for, but I
understand how you feel so well, and I am so grateful. The absence from
you would have been harder to bear even than death itself, but I would
have borne it, rather than have distressed you with my presence. You
have saved me that, love, and I think I appreciate the trust you have
shown in me a thousand times more even than if you had opened your dear
arms to receive me. Would you prefer that I should keep silent for the
present, darling, and go on just as we were before, apparently, save
that I shall have the precious knowledge of your love in my heart?"

"Yes, oh, yes," she moaned, covering her face with her hands.

"Your will shall be my law," he answered. "But you will not punish me
if I forget occasionally and say some word that you had rather would
have remained unspoken, will you, sweetheart?"

He could not hear the words that came in stifled whispers through her
fingers, but going closer to her side, he passed his hand across her
hair caressingly.

"There. You are distressed and upset," he murmured, with infinite
tenderness. "I will go now. Tomorrow you will be more yourself, and we
will talk the matter over quite calmly together. I can scarcely realize
that the dream of my life is to be a reality. I can scarcely credit the
fact that this great happiness is mine at last."

He paused and hesitated like a bashful boy, the debonair man of the
world grown timid in the presence of this mastering passion, then said
in a tone so low that it scarcely reached her:

"Will you not say 'God keep you, Leith,' before I go?"

She could scarcely control the cry that was wrung from her heart. She
could not lie with the name of God upon her lips. She was doing evil
that good might come, but she could not go so far as that.

She looked up at him with an anguish which he could not comprehend. Her
white lips trembled piteously. Her hands were twisted about each other
in a manner which he had never seen before, and for a moment he was
frightened. And then he found himself listening intently to her mumbled
words, almost inaudible, incoherent:

"Ask nothing of me today, Leith. I can not--say--Oh, my God, have pity
upon me, and go!"

She flung out her hands passionately, and he caught them in his
tenderly, and pressed his lips upon them.

"Remember," he said, softly, "that my love is as steadfast as the
grave. There is no demand you can make which it would not yield. Rest,
my love, and have a little pity upon yourself. Your sensitiveness, your
conscientiousness is too great, if such God-given gifts can come in
superabundance. Little one, go pray to the Blessed Mother to help you
and to show you the right way in this trouble, from which I am shut
out."

He had been holding her hands in a close, warm clasp, and as his voice
ceased he lifted them again and kissed them, without passion, but with
the tenderness of incalculable love, and then he passed out, leaving
her standing there like some crushed autumn rose.

The accepted lover, the betrothed husband, worshiping at the shrine
that had apparently blessed him with the greatest favor that he had
ever prayed for, went down the stoop with a sigh upon his lips, instead
of the smile of exultant joy, and the girl who had promised herself
in marriage sank down upon the floor in the place where he had stood,
sobbing in that tearless way that echoes through a broken heart.

It was a long time before Jessica could sufficiently control herself
to venture to her side, but when she did she put her arms about the
shrinking girl and lifted her as gently as a sister might have done.

"What is it?" she questioned, as if she had not been a witness of that
scene. "What has happened to upset you like this, dear one? Has--he
been here?"

"Oh, don't touch me!" gasped Carlita, struggling to her feet. "I am the
greatest sneak on all God's earth, a greater criminal even than he! I
have prostituted the noblest of Heaven's sentiments. I promised to be
the wife of a murderer, allowed him to kiss my hands--and all to lure
him to ruin and death--to ruin and death! Will not God Himself turn
from me in loathing for my treachery? Have I the right to sin that
punishment may come to another? Has not He said, 'Vengeance is mine! I
will repay?'"

It was with the greatest difficulty that Jessica concealed her hatred
and disgust. She stepped back slightly and folded her arms curiously
across her breast.

"You should have thought of all that before you began
this--investigation," she said, calmly, "before you swore the oath that
bound you soul and body to the dead. The laws of your country tell you
that murder is punishable with death."

"And yet Christ Himself repealed the old Mosaic law of 'An eye for an
eye, and a tooth for a tooth.'"

"I am not going to argue with you on the religious side of your
position; I did not even know you considered that at all when you bound
yourself to your vengeance of the dead. At all events, you have gone
too far now to withdraw from the stand you have taken. The affidavit
of an eye-witness of his crime has gone on its mission to your own
detective. In a fortnight at most, he will be here with the papers
of extradition which you yourself have ordered"--watching her victim
shiver with a delight that was fiendish. "You have even notified him
that no expense was to be spared in the punishment of the criminal,
and I don't see how it will be possible for you to withdraw from the
position now."

"And you think it is right?" she groaned. "You do not think that I have
sinned beyond pardon?"

"I think you would sin beyond pardon if you were to allow the murderer
of your betrothed husband to escape!" exclaimed Jessica, speaking the
words in a curious, sibilant way that gave them a horribly discordant
sound. "Do you know what you would force the world to believe--for
matters have gone too far now for concealment from the world?"

"No; what?"

"Remember, you compel me to do this. I would spare you if I could."

"Go on!"

"You would force the world to believe that you allowed the murderer of
your affianced husband to escape--because of a guilty passion--because
you had fallen in love with him."

Not a sound escaped Carlita. She drew herself up, and a fierce pang
like death shot through her heart and eyes. Even then she did not
realize the full force of the awful truth that had been so cruelly
thrust before her.

She looked Jessica straight in the eye for one moment, then said,
stonily:

"It is enough! The world shall not say that, for Olney's sake! I will
see the ghastly play through to the bitter end!"

Then she turned and walked out of the room as steadily as if she had
not been bent and broken with grief less than ten minutes before.

Jessica watched her go, allowing her scornful smile full play as she
realized that she was alone.

"That shot told in more ways than one," she said, sneeringly. "I think
her suffering will be all that even I could desire. Was ever vengeance
so perfect and complete as mine?"



CHAPTER XXVI.


Carlita was sleeping fitfully.

The morning had broken brilliant and balmly, as an indolent day in idle
spring, with the usual inaccuracy of our unstable climate. Through the
neglected slats of her shutters the sun crept in delicious defiance,
and after a time awakened her. She arose and opened the shutters wide,
then lay back upon the bed, her arms stretched out like those of an
infant in his idle longing to clasp the golden beam. She had forgotten
the old ache in her heart for the time, but life was suddenly recalled
to her by the gentle opening of her door and the entrance of her maid.

"Good-morning, Ahbel," she exclaimed, lazily. "Is the morning as
glorious as it looks, or is poor humanity deceived by the brilliancy of
the sun?"

"It is like a perfect day in summer," answered the maid; "it is even
more beautiful than it looks. Here is a letter for you. It is so early
that I feared to bring it lest I should disturb you; but the messenger
is waiting, and insisted that you should receive it at once. There is
also one for Miss Chalmers."

Carlita raised herself upon her pillow and took it, an expression of
interest in her dark eyes. She broke the seal, and as the first words
met her eye, would have flung it from her but for the presence of her
maid. As it was, she compressed her lips angrily, and read it calmly:

  "DARLING CARLITA: I arose with the lark this morning, my breast too
  small a space for the confinement of my great joy, and find the day
  so superb that I have planned a little excursion in which I know
  you will be interested. You have never seen my yacht, the 'Eolus.'
  I have her now at the yacht club pier at the foot of Twenty-sixth
  Street--ordered out of winter quarters for the trip I expected to
  take, but will not, thank Heaven!--where she is rocking in the
  gentlest breeze of the year, longing to welcome the presence of her
  sweet mistress. Won't you come out for a little cruise? It will be
  indescribably beautiful today. I have written to Jessica, asking her
  and Mrs. Chalmers, and shall find Redfield Ash or Dudley Maltby,
  and perhaps Colonel Washburn for Mrs. Chalmers, if you will only
  consent. Of course you can come back any time that you may get tired
  of it, if you are not a good sailor; but I assure you that the day
  is too fine for danger from _mal de mer_, even if you are the worst
  on record. Don't disappoint me, darling. If you consent, I will send
  up for you at ten-thirty, so that you can be at the pier at eleven,
  sharp. It will be impossible for me to come myself, as there will be
  considerable that will require my attention. The bay is magnificent.
  Anticipating a day of elysium,

                                   "Yours faithfully unto death,

                                                             "LEITH."

The very sight of the name distressed her, bringing back all the horror
and suffering, the very mental exhaustion of the evening before. She
hated him still more that he had intruded upon her forgetfulness, her
happy oblivion of the moment, and sprang from the bed, intending to
pen a hasty refusal.

Her escritoire stood in the corner by the window, and as she sat down,
the sun streamed through, touching her shoulder with a warmth that was
caressing.

She paused, with the pen poised in air, and looked out.

How smilingly beautiful nature was!

She saw the bay, in imagination, smooth as a mirror, scarcely a ripple
marring its surface. There were white sails dotted here and there
fluttering in the soft breeze. Further off was the brown, beaten shore,
in happy contrast with the indolent life upon the water, and over all
the golden sun streaming down in unforbidden splendor.

The imaginative picture was too attractive to be resisted.

As she sat there, still hesitating, Jessica came in with her note open
in her hand. She had flung a negligee over her night-dress, and while
her hair was disheveled, the dancing light in her eyes made her almost
beautiful.

"Of course you'll go!" she exclaimed, breathlessly. "Leith says that he
has written to you. I have already awakened mamma, and she is getting
dressed now. Won't it be delicious? I never saw a finer day in March,
and it would be simply sinful not to take advantage of it."

"You think I ought to accept?" asked Carlita, wistfully.

"Think? Great heavens! you hadn't thought of declining?"

"Certainly."

"Then put such madness out of your head at once. Leith Pierrepont has
one of the nicest yachts afloat. It isn't the largest, and it isn't the
fleetest, but I'll venture to say that none of them can surpass her in
luxuriousness. Write your note and accept for all of us."

Carlita hesitated again.

"Oh, I can't!" she exclaimed. "I can't write it. You do it, won't you,
dear?"

"Of course, I shan't!" cried Jessica. "You must do it yourself!"

Once more Carlita's eyes wandered out to the sunlight, she who had
lived under its scorching rays for the greater part of her life, and
loved it, then she turned wearily to her desk and again dipped the pen
in ink.

What should she say to him? How begin a note of acceptance to this
man? She shivered, and then became conscious that the ink had dried
upon her pen again. She thrust it back into the well, realizing that
thought would accomplish nothing, in this instance; she must trust to
inspiration.

  "So charming an invitation could not be refused on a day like this,"
  she wrote, hastily. "I love the sea. Expect us promptly at eleven.
  I accept for Mrs. Chalmers and Jessica as well as myself. With
  gratitude for the thought that suggested so delightful an excursion,

                                                            CARLITA."

She dispatched it to the messenger, and then the details of costuming
was begun, Jessica almost like a child in the delight of anticipation.

And very _chic_ they looked in their pretty gowns as they stood upon
the old pier below the Bellevue Morgue, the breeze almost too light to
even wave the skirts of their dresses.

Dudley Maltby, Colonel Washburn and Leith were waiting for them, with
the pretty bright dory at the foot of the stairs swaying gently on the
water, manned by two sailors in fresh, artistic costume.

"How good of you to come!" exclaimed Leith in a low tone, as he pressed
Carlita's hand. "I was so afraid you wouldn't, that it seemed to me
the messenger was gone a week. Come, let me put you in the dory. Take
care. That step is wet and may be slippery. There is the 'Eolus' lying
over there. Doesn't she look proud of the trust I am putting in her
today by allowing her to carry so precious a life?"

"She is very--handsome," stammered Carlita.

In spite of the brilliancy of the day, she was wishing with all her
heart that she had not come; but as her eye caught sight of the yacht
she sighed with a pleasure which she would have been more than human
not to feel.

As Jessica had said, she was not so large as some, but to a practiced
eye would have appeared about one hundred and seventy-five feet over
all, a length that precludes the possibility of cramped quarters for a
small party, so trimly built, so dainty and tasteful a little craft,
that the most unappreciative could have regarded her with nothing but
pleasure.

As Carlita ascended the lowered steps, carpeted gayly in brilliant red
Axminster, attended by her careful knight, she saw the fittings of the
luxurious deck, great deep chairs, huge broad couches, upholstered with
a richness of material that seemed extravagance even in a man of great
wealth, with pillows strewn about that were artistic enough to have
occupied a place in the most costly _boudoir_.

Nor were the saloon, sleeping apartments, drawing-room and library
behind in point of attraction, and Carlita clasped her hands in delight
as one suite, of unusual beauty, was shown her.

"I am going to have this refitted for you," Leith said, as he bent
above her dark head caressingly. "I have in my mind now just what the
draperies shall be, worthy of the goddess they will surround."

"It is already fit for a princess!" exclaimed Carlita, forgetting all
about the past and the future in her present pleasure.

"But not comparable to what it will be. I am so glad you like it."

"The greatest of Sybarites must necessarily do so."

"Let us go on a long cruise in her for our wedding-trip, will you? Or
should you grow tired of so close a companionship with me?"

The question broke the spell again.

Suddenly the atmosphere seemed to grow hot and stifling to her. The
smile upon her lips drew to a worn line of suffering and care. She
pressed her hand upon her heart and answered faintly:

"Let us get into the air. It is close and--and oppressive. Where are
the others?"

He looked at her curiously, wistfully, just a trifle reproachfully,
then exclaimed contritely:

"What a selfish brute I am! Always forgetting my promises in the light
of my own desire. Forgive me, won't you? I promise not to offend again
today. Come. The others have all seen the yacht and are on deck. We
will join them. You are quite sure that you have forgiven me?"

She looked up at him with a little smile, but it was very pitiful,
so filled with misery that it cut him to the heart. His fingers had
wandered toward hers, that rested lightly upon his arm, but they
dropped at his side, unable to touch her.

In silence they went up the companion-way and on to the deck.



CHAPTER XXVII.


With as much majestic grandeur as a small craft can exhibit, the
"Eolus" steamed down the river and out into the bay.

The water was not quite so smooth as Carlita had pictured it, but
rippled and danced in the sunlight, reflecting the opal tints in
blinding splendor. White sails were dotted here and there over the
inviting surface, while along the gray, winter-worn shore the golden
rifts were piled up, lending a fictitious beauty that was entrancing.

It would have been sufficient to fill an artist's soul with rapture
just to lie idly at full length on one of those superb couches, living
in the exquisite loveliness of Dame Nature, and Carlita stood gazing
about her in a sort of rapt wonder, her eyes wandering slowly from
the superbly appointed deck--with Mrs. Chalmers sitting over next
the starboard rail, with old Colonel Washburn bending over her in a
cavalier devotion, and Jessica to the port, with Dudley Maltby sitting
facing her--to the water, and on down the bay out to where a white line
of sand stretched alluringly, sparkling like myriads of scintillating
diamonds.

An absolute silence seemed to infold the scene, broken only by the
gentle caress of the water upon the sides of the tiny ship--a silence
that made it all appear like that mythical experience of Ulysses when
he listened to the seductive voices of the sirens. Carlita clasped her
hands in breathless delight.

"I will be happy today," she murmured, a trifle hysterically. "I will
put all past and future away, and be happy for this one little day as
if there had been no yesterday and would be no tomorrow. This day shall
encompass time, and I will feel the full joy of living once!"

As if in answer to her, a voice spoke in her ear:

"Come and let me make you comfortable. See, I have placed a couch for
you where the sun will shine upon you, but will not be in your eyes,
and I have brought some books to read to you. Will you come?"

She turned at once and obeyed, half defying her own sensitiveness in
her efforts to yield to that determination to be happy.

It was a broad, long couch, upholstered luxuriously in a magnificent
dark green that contrasted perfectly with the tones of the sea. She
threw herself upon it, allowing her delight almost passionate play in
her features, and permitted Leith to pile pillows under and about her
in gorgeous profusion; then, when she looked as comfortable as even he
could desire, he drew up to her side a very low chair and took a volume
out of his pocket.

"Are you fond of Tennyson?" he asked. "If you have a favorite, name it.
I believe most of them are in the library."

"Is it Tennyson you have there?"

"Yes."

"I know my favorite so well, let me hear yours. Read me what you like."

She said it so sweetly, so tenderly that he flushed with pleasure.
It was so different from her manner of late that it touched him. He
might have been still more impressed if he had been able to read that
passionate cry in her heart that kept repeating itself over and over
again:

"I will be happy for this one little day--I will be happy."

At first she could scarcely hear the sound of his voice for the cry in
her own heart, but gradually it ceased under the soothing influence of
his tone, and as if in answer to a prayer for mercy, the awful future
was shut out completely, pitifully hidden in the idly passing present.

He turned the leaves of the book for a moment, then came to that sweet
old poem that has stirred the heart of every lover of Tennyson with
sympathy, "Locksley Hall," and read it as only a man with a voice
like his can read. When he came to the last line, he thought she was
sleeping, she had grown so quiet, so motionless; but after a moment of
silence she stirred slightly and said in a low, dreamy tone:

"Do you believe that--that which you read:

    "'Can I think of her as dead, and love her for the love she bore?
      No; she never loved me truly. Love is love for evermore?'"

He thought he saw the trend of her thoughts, and answered, softly:

"Who can say? We are so often mistaken in the language of our hearts.
How should we know, when we listen to it for the first time, whether
the love is that of admiration, of sympathy, of the loneliness of
our own souls, of the desire to be loved, or of such love as that to
which Tennyson refers? When that love comes, Carlita, the 'love that
is love for evermore,' the least comprehensive of us will know, will
understand, though we may have erred on former occasions."

She did not reply, but lay there silent, motionless, her eyes almost
closed, but looking out from under the lids dreamily at the gently
changing world, her beautiful hand lying palm upward on one of the sofa
pillows like a rose-leaf that has turned toward the sun.

If he had not loved her before, his artistic soul would have loved her
then for the very unconscious grace, the poetical charm of her lovely
person.

He feared that he had saddened her, and so turned to something in
lighter vein, his well-modulated voice making music with the waves.

"What a poem life would be if all the days were like to this," she said
when he had finished.

"It would lose its charm through lack of contrast," he returned,
smiling. "How glaring the sun would grow if there were no shadow.
How dull the water would appear if there were no land beyond. How
oppressive the silence would become if the hum of wider, broader,
busier life were stilled forever. And, over all, how palsied and
colorless would the whole world be if there were nothing beyond,
nothing but the limited stretch of a few brief years, with no hope
of the marvelous universe to come, governed by the supreme power of
Perfect Love. We have learned something beyond lotus-eating in this
kindergarten in which God has placed us, and we love the languid hour
of absolute repose, because we have been so long in the schoolroom,
learning the lessons which He has set for us, lessons of bitterness and
strife, as well as those of contentment and love. Life without contrast
would be as dull, as inartistic, as cloying as a picture of sunshine
without a shadow, as a poem without a strain of sadness."

Her eyes wandered toward him, seeing all the earnestness of his
countenance, all the absolute belief in the future that his words
implied. She turned them away again, out over the water, but even there
she saw him reflected in her imagination, his yachting cap pushed back,
his face flushed, his eyes gravely earnest, as handsome a picture of
perfect manhood as the hand of Divinity had ever painted.

Not long afterward they were summoned down to luncheon, a merry meal
enjoyed by all; but it was with a sense of relief and rest that Carlita
wandered back to her couch again as soon as she could leave the others.

The afternoon was waning. Already a hazy red was beginning to glow
in the western sky, that had changed from gold to pink in opalescent
splendor. The wind was freshening with the dying sun, and the caress of
the waves licked higher upon the dainty craft.

Leith went below and had wraps brought in profusion; but about Carlita
he placed them himself, tucking them in carefully that she might not
feel the influence of the breeze.

"You will not care to get home too early?" he asked, caressingly. "The
moon will be superb, and there will be no roughness to speak of. You
will remain a while?"

"I wish it would never end," she returned, dreamily.

He smiled with the delight of a lover, that slow, sweet smile for which
she had begun to watch with pleasure.

"You don't know what happiness your words give me when I remember that
I have been your only companion," he said softly. "How beautiful you
are as you lie there with that crimson glow just touching you! You are
a tropical plant, Carlita, and should be grown in a tropical country.
Warmth suits you. The bewildering delight of flaming colors make you
like some superb bird of plumage. You will love Italy with a sort of
savage delight, I fancy. You have never traveled?"

"No."

"What a world of pleasure there is in store for you, what almost
rapture! Our own country, while beautiful, has none of the mythological
and historical memories that make other countries a constant poem.
One gets so weary of the newness and glitter of it all, just as we
should have grown of that gorgeous old sun but for this Heaven-sent
gloom. There is a greater element of romance in most of us than
practical, particularly we who are removed from the sordid compulsion
of living-getting. We want to fancy ourselves once in awhile as knights
of the olden time, performing deeds of valor for our Helens of Troy.
See! The sun is going out. He has illuminated the old brown shore to
positive glory with his good-night kiss. Do you remember the sweet old
poem of Percy Shelley?"

He leaned forward, with that beautiful smile in his eyes, and repeated
it in his musical voice:

    "'The fountains mingle with the river,
        And the rivers with the ocean;
      The winds of heaven mix forever,
        With a sweet emotion.
      Nothing in the world is single;
        All things, by a law divine,
      In one another's being mingle--
        Why not I with thine?

    "'See! the mountains kiss high heaven,
        And the waves clasp one another;
      No sister-flower would be forgiven
        If it disdained its brother;
      And the sunlight clasps the earth,
        And the moonbeams kiss the sea--
      What are all these kisses worth,
        If thou kiss not me?"

He was looking down at her still with the smile in his eyes, the
light of incalculable love, and she was looking up at him, totally
unconscious of the expression upon her tremulous lips and in the depths
of her beautiful eyes, totally unconscious of the wistful permission
that expression contained.

And then suddenly--how, neither he nor she could tell--as the laughter
of the others below reached them, he leaned forward and his lips were
pressed upon hers, gently, yet lingeringly, lovingly, and then he
lifted his head--unrepulsed!



CHAPTER XXVIII.


And still Carlita did not move. She lay there staring up at him, as if
some intoxicant had got into her veins, paralyzing motion and emotion.
She was not conscious of sensation, and yet she saw the light of
unutterable happiness in his eyes, and understood it perfectly.

He put out his hand and clasped hers with reverent devotion. His lips
moved, and she heard him whisper:

"Thank God! my darling, I know that you are mine at last!"

His lips touched the pink palm as it lay upturned in his, then, with
a shiver of returning consciousness she realized that the others were
coming upon deck.

She rose swiftly, nervously.

"Let us go back at once--at once!" she exclaimed, hoarsely. "I--I think
I am--ill!"

But, for all the assurance of illness, she went hastily toward the
others and greeted them with almost hysterical lightness.

Leith looked after her in some surprise, then an indulgent smile
flitted over his handsome mouth.

"Poor little girl!" he murmured. "She is trying to be so loyal to
Olney, and Heaven knows I admire her for it! Perhaps I should be less
generous if I were not so sure that she never loved him. God bless her,
my beautiful one!"

He went below and gave the order to the captain, then returned to his
guests on deck.

The wind had grown very fresh, with the usual variableness of late
March, and they soon found it necessary to go below; but, even there
the greater part of their pleasure was over, for the yacht was pitching
considerably as the force of the wind and waves increased.

Leith observed that Carlita was nervous almost to the border of
hysteria; and to cover her condition from the others, he sat down to
the piano and tried to play; but the effort met with no great degree of
success, and he turned upon the stool and monopolized the conversation
for a time.

He observed, too, that a sort of constrained silence had fallen upon
Dudley Maltby, and that he looked toward Jessica with a curious
expression, which faltered and fell as her eyes were cast in his
direction.

"Halloo!" muttered Leith, below his breath. "Has that poor little devil
been getting his wings singed? I wonder what the little Chalmers is
up to now? Poor Dud! He is really too good a fellow to get under that
domination. I wish to the Lord I had not asked him."

And then before his soliloquy was ended, he heard young Maltby say to
her softly:

"Come into the library. There is a book I want to show you."

The look she cast upon him was not lost upon Leith.

"Good heavens!" he muttered. "What has the poor chap done? She's not in
love with him, that's certain, but that she has got it in for him for
some reason is equally certain."

But he could not follow, even if he had so desired, as Mrs. Chalmers
was addressing some questions to him; but he saw Jessica stagger
against her young cavalier as the yacht lurched, saw him place his arm
about her, and then--they disappeared.

Had he been able to penetrate behind that portière, he might have seen
the wretched boy holding her hands in an impassioned clasp, his eyes
strained and blood-shot as he gazed into her smiling ones.

"It is utter folly, utter madness," he was saying. "I can't give you
up. I tell you I love you. Pouf! How empty the word sounds. I feel like
a man drunk with opium in your presence. Jessica, you must be my wife!"

She smiled daintily, charmingly.

"Your wife!" she exclaimed, lightly. "You can't mean that, when you
once said that it was as much as a man's reputation was worth to be
seen in my box at the opera."

He dropped her hands and flushed crimson.

"How do you know that I did?" he inquired doggedly; then, as he
realized that he had practically acknowledged the truth of her
statement, he cried passionately: "I was the greatest cad under heaven,
and I am willing to give the lie to my words by making you my wife in
face of all the world. Jessica, I love you! Will you not listen to me?"

"Even if I were willing to forgive you, think of the folly of it all,"
she said, laughing at his earnestness. "You know the terms of your
father's will. You would have less than ten thousand a year if I became
your wife."

The poor imbecile did not pause to inquire how she had found that out
but cried eagerly:

"But surely that would be enough. It would not be what we have been
accustomed to, but with love at the helm, surely we could steer our
little craft!"

She laughed aloud lightly, but still not without a certain fascination.

"Oh, Dudley!" she exclaimed, "you are not a nineteenth-century boy
at all. You belong to mediæval times, and have been born at least a
hundred years too late. Come and let us go back to the others. This
yacht is pitching dreadfully. We have quite a sea on, and I am not the
best sailor that ever lived, by any means. Oh, I say, come off! You are
a magnificent Knight of the Doleful Countenance. Do you want to give
away to all those people the nonsense you have been saying to me? Now
smile and look happy, like a good boy. Just try to imagine that I have
made you every promise you can possibly desire. Who knows but that I
may, some day?"

He took heart from her chaff and returned with her to the others,
because he felt that he could persuade her to remain no longer.

Leith, Colonel Washburn and Mrs. Chalmers were carrying on a heated
discussion, while Carlita sat apart at a table looking listlessly
through a book of engravings, not a subject of which could she have
told a moment later.

"Do you think we are going down?" asked Jessica, lightly, as she joined
them. "It would be too disastrous a termination to our charming day."

"Not much danger, I fancy," replied Leith; "though it has grown too
rough to be pleasant. It is rather tempting the fates to venture out at
this season."

"Oh, but how perfect the day has been!"

"But for the wind, the evening would have been more so. We shall not
be late getting in, however. The captain assures me we shall be at the
pier by nine o'clock."

"It will be rather dangerous landing in the dory, won't it?" asked
Colonel Washburn, who was old enough to think of his personal comfort
above all else.

"The tide will be high enough for us to go up to the pier," replied
Leith. "We are due there just about the change."

"That's luck," somebody murmured.

But it seemed to Carlita that the time would never pass. The day had
been so short, so piteously short, and those hours of the evening so
endless! It seemed to her that she would have given all the world for
five minutes alone, and yet she dared not leave them, knowing that
Leith would follow her.

Even yet she had not confessed to herself the awful secret that was
harrowing her soul, and there before them all she dared not think.

It seemed to her that the happiest moment of her life was when some one
announced the fact that they had arrived at the pier, and Leith came to
conduct her on shore.

But for the wind, the night would have been magnificent. The moon was
full, the cold, white rays glinting over the waves in soft, almost
phantom beauty.

Out in the stream were numbers of vessels buffeting the wind and tide,
which was at rapid ebb, and on either side the twin cities lay, their
lights twinkling like millions of brilliant stars.

Leith stepped upon the pier and lifted Carlita beside him. Then, as
the others would have followed, the shrill scream of a childish voice
reached them, swept by the wind from the end of the pier, a cry that
sounded like the death-call of some wild bird of the forest:

"Papa! papa! I've waited almost an hour, and mamma is dying! They
sent--"

But the end of the sentence was never reached. There was a splash, and
then:

"Good God!" exclaimed a man upon the end of the pier. "He's fallen
over."

Quicker than thought both Leith and Carlita had dashed forward just in
time to see the tiny dark form swept out by the cruel tide, his little
head just visible above the crest of the wave.

Singularly enough, none of the men upon the yacht seemed to have heard
the scream, and not a hand was extended toward the boats.

And yet there was not an instant to lose.

"The boat; quick, captain!" Leith shouted hoarsely. "A child overboard!"

But the wind seemed to sweep the voice away down the stream instead of
toward the lurching craft.

The small head was nothing but a speck now in the moonlight, and then
it disappeared altogether.

Before any one could realize it, there was another splash, and Carlita
knew the next moment that Leith's coat and vest were lying at her feet,
that Leith himself had already gone in pursuit of that drowning child;
and then a woman's shriek rose wild and clear upon the night air.

She bent forward eagerly, and distinctly heard the man next her exclaim:

"Take care, lady, or you'll be over next!"

But what cared she?

She was watching the dark head in the moonlight, watching the progress
he was making, saw the small speck beyond as it arose again to the
surface, and then--who can compute time in instants like that--she
knew that Leith had seized the child!

Already he had turned again, and was coming toward the pier, but wind
and tide were too strong against him.

An agony of wild, intolerable fear arose in her heart. She knew nothing
of what was going on around her, further than the knowledge that
centered in the danger of those two, and that, she realized with a
horrible anguish that was past all understanding.

She saw him struggling, struggling, saw the white face lifted in the
moonlight as if beseeching assistance; and once more her voice rang out
clear as a liquid bell under her ghastly fear:

"A thousand dollars--five thousand dollars to the man that saves his
life!"

But already the boat was launched, and, as her last words fell upon
their ears, it shot out from under the end of the pier and made
straight toward the hapless pair.



CHAPTER XXIX.


It was the work of moments after that.

There were strong, willing hands at the oars, and the tiny boat leaped
the waves like a bird on its errand of mercy.

But even when Carlita had seen them drag Pierrepont, with his tiny
burden, into the boat safely, even when she saw it approaching her
again, valiantly struggling against the swiftly ebbing tide, she could
not remove her strained, haggard eyes from it, could not loosen the
clutch of her rigid fingers from the bosom of her gown just above her
heart.

She did not seem to realize that he was safe until he stood upon the
pier beside her in the moonlight, dripping wet, yet smiling happily
while he deposited the half drowned child into the arms of his father,
who had grown as hysterical as a woman, and turned to her.

She was looking up into his face, her own cold and gray as if frost had
touched her very soul, and there was something in it that frightened
him.

He forgot how wet he was, and before all those people he threw his arm
around her and drew her to him.

"Carlita, darling!" he exclaimed, anxiously. "Are you frightened? See!
We will neither of us be the worse for a little wetting."

"Thank God, you are safe!" she cried, and then--her face was hidden
against something wet, and her tears flowed.

When she recovered her composure sufficiently to know what was going on
about her, she heard something of how it all had happened.

The child was the crippled son of the chef on board the "Eolus." His
mother had been ill for days, and was taken rapidly worse toward
nightfall; so bad, in fact, that when the doctor was summoned he gave
no hope beyond the hour.

Knowing where the anxious husband was, a neighbor had sent the boy to
the pier to await the return of the "Eolus," in order that there might
be no delay in his arrival; but the minutes passed, and as the boy grew
more anxious and tearful, his hysterical unrest increased, so that when
the "Eolus" really did arrive, he could control himself no longer,
and the accident resulted through his too anxious desire to reach his
father quickly.

"You should have told me your wife was ill," Leith said to the man,
kindly. "Pleasure is not so essential that we can purchase it at such a
cost to others."

"I feared to lose my place, sir," the chef answered sadly. "And they
are not so easy to obtain. I could not afford it."

"Have I been so stern a master?"

"The best and kindest, sir. What gentleman but you would have risked
his life, as you have done, to save a servant's crippled boy? I owe you
his life, and I shall not forget it!"

"Nonsense! Some one else would have saved him if I had not. You'd
better get the poor little fellow home as quickly as you can. I fancy
he has a very uncomfortable load of salt water."

"He's got rid of most of it, I think, sir."

"But there is cold to avoid. Take one of the rugs and wrap him up well.
I hope you'll find it better with your wife than you anticipate."

"Thank you, sir."

And then Leith remembered himself, and slipped into his coat and
overcoat, wrapping it about him snugly.

"Ugh! This wind doesn't make the water warmer," he exclaimed, lightly.
"Ladies, I regret that my condition won't allow me to drive you home;
but I'm sure Maltby will take my place. Old fellow, I'm trusting you
with a very precious burden. Miss de Barryos has promised to be my
wife."

"I congratulate you with all my heart!" exclaimed Maltby, shaking his
hand heartily. "I thought I had discovered a secret when I heard her
offer five thousand dollars to the man who would save your life."

"You did that, Carlita?"

But her choking reply, if there was one, was drowned in the sound of
congratulations that followed.

"It was absolutely necessary that I should tell him that," Leith
explained to her as they walked down the pier together, he still
leaving a trail of water behind him. "I kissed you before them all, and
held you in my arms, you know. You are not angry, darling?"

She did not reply, only looked at him, but he seemed to be satisfied
with the look, for he smiled with that ecstatic sort of grin that comes
only to the happy lover's countenance.

It was a silent drive homeward. Even Jessica leaned in her own corner
of the carriage, oblivious of Maltby's remarks, until he, too, ceased
to make an effort at conversation. Mrs. Chalmers' face was so white and
drawn that it reminded him of the return home from a funeral, and he
was glad when the carriage stopped before their door and he had said
good-night.

The day had ended disastrously for all except poor Leith, who was
living in the Fool's Paradise, and the three women entered the house,
going at once upstairs without exchanging a word.

At Carlita's door Jessica paused, but the unhappy girl exclaimed
pleadingly:

"Not tonight, dear. I feel as if I should go mad to face any one
tonight, even my own conscience."

"As you will," Jessica murmured calmly.

She stood there until the door had closed, shutting Carlita in, and
then a cold, scornful, half-triumphant laugh escaped her.

Her mother caught her arm in a grasp like iron.

"For God's sake, come away!" she gasped. "What is this thing that you
have done? What is this vengeance that you are planning?"

"That I have almost accomplished," corrected Jessica, looking into her
face with a fiendish sort of chuckle. "Never mind. I shall not tell
you. With your white-livered cowardice you might ruin it at the last
moment, and it shall not fail. Oh, go away, with your eternal whining!
Do you think that I will forgive her for winning his heart away from
me? Do you think I will forgive him for playing fast and loose? I hate
them both as fiercely as you know I can hate, and they shall feel the
fang of it to the last day of both their lives!"

Carlita's maid followed her to her apartment almost at once, and placed
in her hand one of those little yellow envelopes that turned her faint
and sick even before she had broken the seal.

"You may go, Ahbel," she exclaimed, wearily. "I shall not need you this
evening."

"But the back of your jacket is quite wet, Miss de Barryos. At least
you will let me remove that."

Carlita allowed herself to be divested of it rather than speak, then
watched her maid with wistful longing as she left the room. When she
was alone she looked at the telegram in her hand, hesitated, even put
her fingers to the seal, then flung it upon the table, far from her.

"I can't--tonight," she gasped. "I am so tired--so tired that I can not
look out the numbers. They would make me dizzy and--and--"

She ceased her excuses suddenly and flung herself in a chair beside
the window, then seeing the moon, she arose and turned down the gas,
opening the shutters that it might flood the room. She sat still
feeling strangely warmed by the cold rays. She was looking backward
through a little time, at that dark head upon the crest of the waves,
risking life to save a crippled child whom he had never seen before.
She was living through her own torture again with a curious, gentle
thrill of ecstatic pleasure, and then her heart gave a great, wild
throb as she saw him beside her upon the old pier, and--felt his wet,
cold, but still impassioned, kiss upon her lips.

She hid her face as she remembered that--the face that had suddenly
flushed there under the silent, never-betraying presence of the old
moon, but, strangely enough, it was not with shame but thrilling,
unacknowledged joy. There was a smile upon her mouth as she removed her
hands, and putting out her hands swiftly, she caught the damp jacket
from the back of the chair where Ahbel had hung it to dry, and pressed
her lips again and again upon the place where his arm had touched.

And then an expression of wild dismay sprang to her eyes. The smile
fled from her lips. A hoarse cry arose in her throat.

"It can't be--it can't be!" she moaned; "that what she said is true. My
God! it can't be that a curse like that has been sent upon me!"

She paused breathlessly and suddenly, with the jacket still clasped
in her hands, her eyes raised to the face of the moon; she went back
further in memory, and saw herself lying upon the couch on the deck
of the yacht, heard his softly murmured words as he repeated Percy
Shelley's poem, felt the touch of his lips, warm and sweet upon her own
again--and then, for the first time, understood it all.

All the desire for happiness that one day, all the wild longing to
forget the past, all the breathless sweetness of those moments alone
with him, the heavenly joy of that unrepulsed caress, the agony of
terror when his life was threatened, the exquisite happiness that was
almost pain when he was safe once more beside her, with his arms,
wet and dripping about her--Dudley Maltby said she had offered five
thousand dollars for his life. God! she would have given her whole
fortune and have gone through life a beggar for every one of the after
years, if they had numbered a thousand, to know that he was safe.

She laughed aloud, such a strange, unfathomable laugh, and staggered to
her feet.

"Five thousand!" she cried, still laughing, though there were
glistening tears in her eyes that seemed to blind her. "Five thousand!
Let it go at once--at once! I will draw the check and send it to the
captain of the 'Eolus,' to be filled in with the name of the man who
did it. Five thousand! I wish it were every cent that I possess! I
wish--"

She turned swiftly, excitedly, and turned up the gas, then as she would
have approached her escritoire, her eye fell again upon the yellow
telegram lying there like a sentinel.

She took it up recklessly and tore off the envelope, defying the
figures to harm her; but it was not in cipher. The cold, plain,
torturing words flashed before her eyes:

  "Everything ready to leave the moment papers arrive. No fear of
  failure now.

                                                         "STOLLIKER."



CHAPTER XXX.


"No fear of failure now--no fear of failure now!"

The words danced before her eyes in living, piercing flame of scorching
fire. "No fear of failure now!" and her heart just awakened to the
fact that she loved this man whom she had hounded to destruction. "No
fear of failure now!" What was that small, weak blundering affection
she had borne Olney Winthrop compared with this maddening, anguished
passion that was tearing her very soul to despair? What was that
frail, misunderstood liking, that sympathy that was almost pity, to
this swirling, eddying tumult of adoration that filled her breast to
bursting?

And Stolliker had assured her, with a note of triumph in the words
which not even the electric transmission had had power to destroy, that
there was "no fear of failure now."

She had told herself in those first days that she hated him; but
now she understood it all, cruelly, bitterly--understood that she
had deceived herself because she had heard those hateful words of
Jessica's about her birth; had heard his light laugh, and that it was a
scorching, searing jealousy that had tormented her--nothing else. And
now she was punished--punished!

If she had but allowed herself to acknowledge the love that Heaven had
sent her, she might have saved him the crime that he had committed;
and, oh, pitiful God, how well she understood that, too, now! She had
loved him from the beginning--from the beginning! No other love had
ever for an instant occupied her heart. And this was her punishment!

It was she who had fixed the crime upon him; she who had set the
blood-hound of the law upon his track; she who had paid thousands of
dollars for his conviction! And now it was too late to undo that which
she had done--too late to withdraw that evidence which she would have
walked blind and barefoot over the whole world to destroy.

And God had sent this bitter grief, this awful despair upon her because
she had presumed to take His authority in her own erring, human hands.
It was but just; and she loved him--she loved him!

She acknowledged it with a ghastly delight that brought sickening
anguish to her very soul. She loved this murderer!

But what was she that she should judge him? Surely she had been
punished enough for sitting in judgment.

And now, what should she do?

Let him go to the ruin and death to which she had betrayed him? Lift no
finger to prevent the crisis which she had wrought?

The thought maddened her.

The telegram was clutched between her fingers. Never pausing to
consider, she turned and fled from the room down the hall to Jessica's
door. She tore at the knob and flung it open.

Jessica was alone, fastening her white negligee at the throat. She
turned, but was not kept long in suspense by her visitor.

"For the love of God, look--look!" Carlita cried, as she thrust the
telegram before the eyes of her supposed friend.

And taking it calmly from the shaking hand, Jessica read it aloud:

"'Everything ready to leave the moment papers arrive. No fear of
failure now.'

"Well," she exclaimed, making no attempt to conceal her smile of
triumph, "surely you could desire no more?"

"Desire no more!" repeated Carlita, hoarsely. "You don't understand;
you can't--you can't! For God's sake, think for me! This must be
stopped at once--at once!"

"Are you mad?" demanded Jessica, coldly. "What are you talking of?"

"Of this hideous crime that I have brought about!" gasped Carlita.
"Those papers must never reach him--reach Stolliker. It must be
prevented at the cost of my very life, if needs be! We must give up
everything to purchase silence from Meriaz. Oh, Jessica, for the love
of Heaven, help me!"

"Help you defend a murderer? Help you protect a criminal?"

"Don't--don't! You don't understand, I tell you. It was I who drove
him to it--I who should be punished, if punishment must come to any
one! He loved me. I did not know the meaning of the word then, but I
know now--my God, so cruelly well! Jessica, listen, and then comprehend
all my humiliation, if you can. I--I, who was the betrothed wife
of Olney Winthrop--I, who swore that infamous oath to the dead--I,
who have mercilessly hounded a fellow-creature to the very jaws of
perdition, love him so well that I would take his crime upon my own
shoulders--yes, upon my own soul, and stand in the presence of God,
stained and branded, to save him! I am ready to stand your contempt,
your loathing, if you will but help me! Pity me--oh, merciful God, pity
me!"

She had fallen upon her knees at Jessica's feet, her head bowed in her
hands, her suffering too deep for tears. But the woman witness did not
offer to touch her; she stepped back and folded her hands coldly.

"You are too late," she said, with rigid cruelty. "The papers will be
in Stolliker's hands early tomorrow morning."

A cry of horror left Carlita's lips.

"Tomorrow!" she groaned. "Tomorrow! It can't be true--it can't be true!"

"It is," replied Jessica, in that hard, pitiless tone. "And even if
it were not, what would there be for you to do? When Meriaz made the
affidavit purchased by you, the testimony went into the hands of the
law. Do you think the law will wilfully see a murderer go unpunished
because you--love him? You must abide the consequences of your own act.
You have bought the proof of his guilt, you have practically brought
him face to face with the hangman's noose, and it is too late for you
to withdraw from the position you have taken. You said you would see
the play through to the bitter end, and there is no course left for you
but to do it."

"But I did not understand!" Carlita groaned. "I did not know!"

"Did not know that this guilty passion lurked in your breast? Did not
know you had fallen in love with the murderer of one lover? Verily, it
is worthy reason!"

"Do you think I mind your contempt? The very lash brings some ray of
comfort to my soul. Go on! I know now I deserve it all. Say everything,
only find some means to help me."

"There is no help--none earthly and I would not if I could. I am not
aiding and abetting criminals. I have fallen in love with no branded
Cain. If you can save those papers from reaching their destination, and
then close the mouth of Manuel Meriaz for all time to come, you may
hope to save this scoundrel lover, but until you do his fate must lie
in the hands of an outraged law."

But Carlita seemed not to have heard the latter part of the sentence at
all. Her hands had suddenly dropped from before her face, and into the
despairing eyes there leaped a ray of hope that irradiated her whole
countenance. She appeared for a moment to be thinking deeply; then
arose without a word, and was hurrying toward the door, when Jessica
started forward and caught her by the wrist.

"Where are you going?" she demanded, huskily, her excitement showing
itself in her usually clear voice.

"To him!" cried Carlita, passionately. "To him--to tell him the whole
foul story of my contemptible sin--to warn him of his danger and
beseech him to fly!"

Jessica laughed--the hatefulest sound, perhaps, that had ever issued
from those handsome lips. She dropped Carlita's wrist, and placed her
back nonchalantly against the door.

"Do you think that I will let you go?" she demanded, coldly, calmly.
"Do you think that I shall let you leave this room?"

"You would not prevent me? What revenge have you to win?"

A crimson flame seemed to lick out from the brown eyes, and a dull red
glow flashed into the oval cheeks. She stretched her arms across the
door and bent her head toward her victim.

"What revenge have I to win?" she repeated, allowing all the hatred
of her nature full expression. "What revenge have I to win? Listen
and you shall hear. Before you came into our lives, he--Leith
Pierrepont--loved me. But for you I should have been his wife. I loved
him. Pouf! what do you know of love? What is your paltry, pitiful
affection for him compared to what mine has been? But he turned from me
to you--overlooked my love for your toleration--passed me by, forsook
me, and I determined that he should pay for it with the last drop of
blood in his body! I hated you both, and from the very first I have
seen how it would be. Did you think I did not know of your love for
him? Do you think I should have left you so long alone, had it not been
to allow it to grow until you should suffer all that I had in store for
you? Did you think I meant that you should rob me of everything that
made life worth living, and then escape my vengeance? You do not know
me!"

A sneering sound like a laugh left her lips--hard, cold--sending the
blood tingling through Carlita's veins with stinging rapidity. She had
drawn herself up, all the Mexican fire of her nature aroused and in
action. The pleading anguish had all vanished, and only stern command
remained.

"Stand aside!" she exclaimed in a voice as clear and ringing as it had
been hoarse and supplicating before.

"Where are you going?" asked Jessica, imitating the tone.

"To Leith Pierrepont," answered Carlita, ignoring subterfuge.

Again Jessica laughed.

"You must be mad!" she replied. "Do you think I will be robbed of my
revenge in the eleventh hour?"

"Let me pass!" Carlita commanded again, going a step toward her.

"Never!"

For one dramatic moment the two determined women faced each other, and
then began a physical struggle for mastery.

There was not a sound, not a cry until they both tripped over a small
embroidered footstool and fell, Carlita's head striking the sharp edge
of a table.

Jessica arose at once, panting, flushed, but Carlita lay there, still
as death, her face upturned, but expressionless.

With fiendish hatred Jessica looked down upon her, even touched her
with the toe of her slipper, but there was no movement to show that it
had been felt.

Calmly, deliberately, Jessica regarded herself in the mirror, saw that
her gown was in order, then walked to her mother's door, and throwing
it open, said with cool distinctness:

"You'd better come into my room for a moment. Carlita tripped over a
stool and has hurt herself."



CHAPTER XXXI.


"How is Miss de Barryos?"

Manuel Meriaz was standing facing Mrs. Chalmers who had risen to
greet him, endeavoring to conceal her expression of repugnance, and
succeeding poorly, a smile upon his coarse lips which was far from
attractive, though he endeavored to make his voice gentle, even human.

"All right again, I fancy," replied Mrs. Chalmers, wearily.

"Still a prisoner?"

She made a gesture of deprecation.

"Jessica seems to have gone mad these last few days," she answered.
"She must realize how impossible it is for this to go on longer, but
she will listen to no reason, hear no argument. She will confide
nothing to me, but is like a wild creature if I attempt to speak to
her."

"Let her alone," advised Meriaz, indifferently. "Stolliker will be
here tomorrow, and it will all come to an end quickly enough then."

"Stolliker here tomorrow? Who told you?"

"Jessica."

"Then she has talked to you?"

"No; nothing further than that. He telegraphed from Washington
yesterday that he would stop off in New York while the Mexican officer,
with an interpreter from the office here, would go on to Albany for the
signature of the governor to those papers. By tomorrow night, or the
next at furthest their bird will be landed, and then I fancy Jessica
will let your beautiful ward take her own course."

"Shall you return to Mexico with them?"

"Certainly. That is necessary in order to pocket the rest of the money."

Mrs. Chalmers could not quite control the sigh of relief that bubbled
through her lips in spite of effort.

Meriaz smiled.

"You will go with me, Louise?"

"I?" she stammered.

"Yes. You have always told me that it was a question of money that kept
us apart. With the start I shall have when this trial is over I should
have to be a poor financier indeed, if I could not make my fortune."

"But you will--wait until you have made it?

"Ah, no! You will give me the encouragement of your presence."

She looked up at him helplessly, like a bird under the influence of
a serpent, and saw the expression of his countenance. It was almost
diabolical in its fiendish intent.

She shrank backward, and he sat down opposite her.

"My dear Louise," he said slowly "you and I have played at this game
long enough. There was a time when I was fool enough to believe in
you. There was a time when you led me on, inducing me to do your
bidding, let that be what it might, merely for a word in recompense,
flung at me like a bone to a starving dog; but I have learned something
different now. I am grateful to you for my education. No one to look
at me would believe that there was a time when I was a gentleman, when
people called me handsome, when I was a dashing man of the world,
who might have captured the richest senorita in all Mexico. You are
responsible that I did not, my dear Louise. I loved you then, and there
is nothing under heaven that you might have commanded which I would not
do. You knew your power, and you used it. Well, Louise, the tables have
turned. I don't love you now. Perhaps I have grown too old to love.
Perhaps I have forgotten how; but I know my power over you now, and I
mean to use it."

"What are you going--to do?" she stammered, hoarsely.

He leaned toward her, fixing her with his beady eyes, and answered
calmly:

"Marry you--and give my daughter her honest name!"

"For God's sake, hush!" she exclaimed, springing up and glancing about
her in alarm.

He put his hand upon her arm, and forced her gently into her seat again.

"Any one would think I had proposed a crime," he said, quietly, "from
your frightened tone and exclamation. I don't call it a very bitter
revenge, do you, that I propose to make you my wife? I don't call it a
great hardship, that for the first time in all your life you will be
able to face yourself and the world as a legal wife, bearing the name
of a husband that is willing to claim you before all the world!"

"What do--you mean?" she gasped, her voice almost uncontrollable in its
tremulousness.

"Don't imagine that you can deceive me!" he exclaimed, contemptuously.
"I am quite aware that Bertram Chalmers was a myth. I know your life,
Louise, year by year, day by day, almost hour by hour, from the time
you were a school-girl, and even before. There is not an incident
that I could not repeat to you with such exactitude as to be almost
startling. I doubt if you could recite it so well yourself. But
there are only a few years with which I have to do. You were young,
beautiful, when you came to Mexico, where your little one was born. It
was in your way, poor little morsel, and you abandoned it. What did you
care whether it was brought up in the hut of a peon, or left to die in
the sun-scorched swamps? I saw you then and loved you, in spite of your
heartlessness, for we know little of sin in Mexico. It is only love
that affects us. I was the only person about that attracted you then,
and you yielded to me your smiles for the time, only, as I afterward
discovered, to make me your tool, to force me to do that which you
could not do yourself. I became your dupe, your accomplice at cards--no
matter what. I do not regret a single sin that I ever committed for
you, a single folly. If you had loved me, you would have found that I
knew better than most men how to be a devoted slave, but you didn't.
And after a time you returned to America. What became of your abandoned
little one? I know, Louise!"

"You--know?"

"Yes."

"She lives?"

"It can't be that you are interested after all these years!" he cried,
mockingly. "Yes, she lives."

"Where? For Heaven's sake, tell me!

"In Mexico, known as--my daughter. Ah! you see I loved you better even
than you thought. She has grown to be a beautiful woman, but not like
her mother. Your hair in those days was dark, Louise, though your eyes
were blue. Her eyes are dark. Her hair black as night. Brought up in
that tropical climate, she possesses all the attributes of a Mexican,
even to the hot, ungovernable temper--tender and impulsive as a child
under love's direction, but a fury, a very fiend, when opposition
comes. She wants to know her mother, Louise."

"You--you have--told her?" the dry, stiff lips questioned.

"Everything! She even knows the secret of Jessica's birth, the--"

"Ah!"

"Did you think I did not know that?" he questioned calmly in answer
to her little, inarticulate cry of horror. "I thought I told you that
everything was an open page to me? Shall I tell you what it was I told
her, Louise?"

No answer came, only the anguish in the burning eyes. He went on
pitilessly:

"I told her that Jessica is--my daughter. Great God, woman! did you
really think you could deceive me? Did you really believe I did not
know? I have only bided my time, waiting, waiting, because, as you said
neither of us had a sou with which to bless ourselves. With all your
swindling and lying and cheating you did not make enough even for your
own support, and I had nothing to add to it to speak of. But now things
are different. I shall have a start. It will enable me to work the
mines, which are of great promise, and I want my daughter to bear her
proper name."

"You mean to tell Jessica this story?"

Meriaz shrugged his shoulders indifferently.

"You are an expert at manufacturing stories. If you can invent one that
will deceive her and still induce her to do my will, I shall have no
objection to you telling it. Otherwise, she must know the truth."

"Have you no mercy?" moaned the woman, wringing her hands together
helplessly.

"What mercy had you upon me? What mercy had you upon that poor little
helpless child whom you abandoned? Why is it that it is always the
person who has done most harm in the world that is always crying out
for mercy? Did you think you should be allowed to go through the world
scot-free, you who have worked so much harm, you who have driven so
many men to desperation, and broken the hearts of countless wives? I am
not taunting you with your sins; why should I? Heaven knows I have no
stones to cast; but when my time comes I shall face my punishment with
as much indifference as I have committed crime. And, after all, what
is it that I am offering you? Is it so great a shame to be the wife of
any man, you who have borne no name that was justly yours since you
wilfully dropped the one your father gave you? Louise, when will you be
my wife?"

"You must give me time!" she groaned.

He bowed.

"I have already given you twenty years in which to consider it," he
returned, lightly. "I suppose another day will make no difference.
I give you, then, until tomorrow, when Stolliker returns. I go as a
member of that party, remember, and you must accompany me. We shall
be a happy family; you united to your long-neglected child, I to my
daughter whom I have allowed you to keep during all these years. I
shall expect your answer when Stolliker returns to take his prisoner."



CHAPTER XXXII.


Carlita was seated beside the window in her own apartment, her hands
folded listlessly over the folds of her white negligee gown, her head
resting against the back of her chair as if she suffered from physical
as well as mental exhaustion.

She seemed to have grown old in those few days. There were heavy lines
about her mouth, and under her eyes dark circles that gave her a
curious expression of dumb anguish. She had lost in flesh, until her
cheeks appeared hollow and gaunt.

She glanced up when the door opened suddenly; but there was neither
wonder nor interest in the look--scarcely even intelligence.

It was Jessica who had entered, and behind her was Edmond Stolliker,
the detective. Miss Chalmers went forward and leaned indolently against
the corner of the dressing-table, looking coldly at Carlita; but
Stolliker stopped short, scarcely believing his patroness to be the
same beautiful girl who had engaged him upon a murder case so short a
time before.

He was too good a detective, however, to allow his surprise long
expression, but listened with interest while Jessica said:

"Carlita, this is Mr. Stolliker, your detective. I told him that you
were ill, but he insisted upon seeing you, or delivering his message to
no one. Tell him he may speak out plainly in my presence."

The last sentence was almost a command and Stolliker saw the white,
almost transparent hands drawn closer together in the lap, the
colorless face showing a dawning interest, a strange light creeping
into the leaden eye.

"Miss de Barryos," he exclaimed, taking a step toward her and stooping
suddenly, "I very greatly regret that you are ill!"

"It is nothing," she returned, no trace of the old musical voice
noticeable in the hoarse, expressionless tones.

"I am sure what I have to tell you will aid in your recovery.
Everything that you most desired has been accomplished. Even before
the papers arrived bringing the affidavit of Manuel Meriaz, I had
an officer prepared to start at once, the only thing required being
the signature to our requests for extradition. We stopped over in
Washington and secured the consent of the Secretary of State; then I
returned here at once, while Carpano, the Mexican officer, with one of
the interpreters from our office, went on to Albany for the signature
of the governor. I expect him to return this evening. We shall make our
arrest as quickly as possible after the papers are in my possession.
Presumably, therefore, it will take place tonight, as Pierrepont will
be most liable to be found in his rooms at that time, and we want no
error now that we have succeeded so far."

Carlita did not speak. But for that curious, dull light in her eyes,
Stolliker might have doubted that she heard him at all. He waited for a
moment, then continued:

"With your permission, I will wait upon you tomorrow morning, after he
is in custody, to make a full and complete report before we return to
Mexico with our prisoner and Manuel Meriaz, the witness who is of such
vital value to us."

She merely inclined her head ever so slightly; and feeling more
uncomfortable than he had ever done under the most trying of
circumstances, Stolliker glanced toward Jessica.

He observed the smile of triumph and contempt which she could not
conceal.

"I think that is all, Miss Chalmers," he said, carelessly.

She led the way from the room; and as they were passing through the
hall, Stolliker caught sight of Ahbel, his niece. He made a quick deft
sign to her, which she answered simply by a glance.

"You say this arrest will be made tonight?" Jessica questioned, before
he left her.

"I think so."

"At what hour? You need not be afraid to trust me. I am absolutely in
the confidence of Miss de Barryos. She and I have sent the telegrams to
you together, and translated yours in return. I know the development of
this case step by step. Manuel Meriaz was an old friend of my father."

Stolliker bowed.

"It will be impossible for me to say the exact hour that the arrest
will be made," he returned. "The train from Albany is due about nine
o'clock. Good-afternoon, Miss Chalmers."

He left by the front door, but two minutes later was admitted
noiselessly by the servants' entrance.

"What's up?" he asked of Ahbel, when they were secure from interruption.

"I don't know," she returned. "I can't make out."

"Then you are a poor assistant for a detective. How long has Miss de
Barryos been ill?"

"Only a few days."

"What caused it?"

"She tripped over a stool in leaving Miss Chalmers' room and hurt her
head. She was unconscious for so long that the doctor feared concussion
of the brain; but she seems to have avoided that extremity, though she
is not in the least like herself. There are times when I think she has
lost her mind. She rarely ever speaks, but sits by the window doing
nothing, apparently not even thinking."

"Humph!" muttered Stolliker, remembering the suddenly dawning interest
in the sunken eyes.

"How long has this been going on?"

"It was a week ago yesterday that the accident happened."

"She and Miss Chalmers were great friends?"

"Yes; but what struck us all as strange was that Miss Chalmers did not
go near her when the accident happened, nor for two days afterward,
though it occurred in her room."

"Humph! Does Pierrepont come here now?"

"He has been here every day to inquire for Miss de Barryos, most days
twice."

"Who sees him?"

"Miss Chalmers."

Stolliker lifted his eyebrows slightly.

"How long does he remain?"

"Not long. He has seemed dreadfully depressed since Miss de Barryos'
illness."

"Is there anything else?"

"I don't think so."

"The whole case strikes me as a very singular one," said Stolliker,
musing. "My own opinion is that we shall have another one to ferret out
as soon as Pierrepont is safely off our hands. I want you to help me,
Ahbel. You think you can?"

"I can try."

"Keep your eyes on Miss Chalmers and notify me of everything she does.
If she enters Miss de Barryos' room, be sure you hear the conversation
that takes place, and send me a detailed account of it at once. I'll
have Tommy Ferris opposite. If you want him put that scarlet geranium
in the window and he will come at once. If there is anything that you
can do for Miss de Barryos, be sure you do it. My opinion is that she
is a prisoner in her own room."

"A prisoner?"

"Yes. Now that I have suggested the idea, is there anything you can
remember that would confirm the suspicion?"

"Yes, there is, but I should not have thought of it. Unless Miss
Chalmers is in her room the nurse never leaves, not for a single
moment. She even sleeps there at night and watches me when I am in the
room like a cat would watch a mouse. She even refused to allow me to go
in at all for a time."

"Ah! I thought so. Bide your time, and if you get a chance, go in
there when Miss de Barryos is alone. You might manufacture some excuse
for getting the woman out for a moment. My own opinion is that Miss
de Barryos is suffering from some terrible mental trouble, and this
apparent apathy is simply feigned to carry some point she has in view.
You must help to discover whether I am right, or whether her accident
and the worry over this case has caused the dreadful change in her.
Remember, I depend upon you."

"I will do what is possible, for her sake, I know she was in some
terrible trouble; but the night of the accident she seemed in better
spirits than for a long time."

Stolliker did not wait to hear more, but slipped out of the house as
noiselessly as he had entered, only pausing to whisper one sentence
into his niece's ear:

"Be sure you inform me of everything Miss Chalmers does."

She smiled without reply and closed the door upon him, then went slowly
upstairs, wondering how she was to obey his injunction and what there
would be to report. It was her first experience in detective work, and
she was naturally excited.



CHAPTER XXXIII.


Jessica stood alone in her room reading a note which a messenger had
just left. The hand that held it trembled slightly, and she walked
nearer to the window to read, although the light was still good, as it
was not late.

  "MY DEAR JESSICA"--she read--"I will be unable to call this
  afternoon, on account of a matter of grave importance, but shall
  be most anxious about Carlita. You are so good to me--have been so
  good during all this distressing illness of hers--that I am sure you
  will not think it too much trouble to send me a line concerning her
  condition, which will reach me upon my return at eight o'clock this
  evening. Please let it arrive as near that hour as you can, so that I
  may receive the latest news, and know if any change has taken place.
  Yours gratefully and affectionately,

                                                  "LEITH PIERREPONT."

She read it through the second time, then crushed it in her hand,
smiling grimly.

"Eight o'clock," she mused. "And Stolliker said the train from Albany
arrived about nine, with the Mexican officer on board. I wonder if you
would have written in a hand so firm if you had been aware of the sword
that hangs above your head, my dear Leith? I wonder if the consuming
tenderness of this great affection will receive a shock when you hear
the truth tonight? How little we know in the morning the climax of the
day!"

During all the remaining hours of the afternoon she sat quite still,
thinking, thinking, planning, only once going to Carlita's room, but
returning to her own when she saw that all there was as it had been.
She even locked the door upon her mother, and would allow no entrance.
She denied her maid admission, but going to the door, exclaimed:

"A cup of tea--that is all. But strong, strong--strong, mind you!"

She took it with her own hands, locked the door, drank it without
either sugar, cream, or even lemon, and then with steady hand began to
dress herself.

She had never been so careful in the arrangement of her hair, never so
particular in the selection of her costume, never so dissatisfied with
herself when the operation was completed.

It was a street-gown she had donned, but not the tailor-made which
she ordinarily wore on such occasions. It was a little French thing
in tan and cerise, with a tiny violet bonnet that sat jauntily upon
her well-poised head, and to one less exacting than herself had never
appeared to better advantage. She was really more than beautiful, more
than fascinating as she turned from the mirror and looked at the clock.

"A quarter to eight," she muttered. "I shall be waiting for you when
you arrive, my dear Leith, instead of the note you expect."

She drew on her gloves, and then alone and unattended left the house.

She had not ordered her carriage, but when she reached the corner
called one and gave the address to the coachman. She dismissed him at
the door of Leith's apartment. The hall-boy looked at her curiously
when she requested to be directed to Leith's apartments, but showed her
there without a word, and Leith's valet admitted her to his presence.

"Mr. Pierrepont is at home," he answered in reply to her question. "He
came in not five minutes ago."

Leith turned and came swiftly toward her when he saw who it was that
had entered, taking both her hands in his and pressing them softly, as
some of the color brought by the cutting March wind receded from his
cheeks.

"What is it?" he asked swiftly. "Something must have happened to bring
you. Carlita! How is she?"

A little curl of scorn flashed over Jessica's lips. Carlita! Always
Carlita! She was risking her reputation in coming to him, yet his first
thought was of Carlita!

She paused to draw off her gloves before replying, he watching her
breathlessly. He placed a chair for her, but she motioned him aside
and stood leaning against the mantel-shelf, as she had often seen him
do in happier times. When she spoke, there was a repressed, nervous
hoarseness in her tone that gave a sort of uncanny earnestness to her
words.

"I have not come about Carlita," she said, "save incidentally. It is
something connected with--you, with your own vital interests, that has
tempted me to brave the censure of the world--to risk my reputation."

Leith smiled.

"It is not quite so bad as that," he said, soothingly. "My reputation
is not so dreadful that your own is compromised by coming to my rooms."

"There isn't time to stand on trifles," she interrupted, dropping
her arm from the mantel and going a step nearer to him. "Moments are
precious, and yet I find it very difficult to say that which I must.
You are standing in the most deadly peril! At any moment it may be too
late to save yourself--and I have come to warn you!"

"What can you mean?" asked Leith, the smile fading.

"You are accused of the murder of Olney Winthrop!"

"I? Are you mad?"

"Heaven knows I wish I were, but it is too infamously true. Even now
the detective, with an officer from Mexico, are here to arrest you and
return you there. And the woman whom you have loved, the woman you
would have made your wife, the woman in whose pretended illness you
have shown such interest, is the person who has hatched the plot, who
has bought your conviction, who has won the contempt and loathing of
all men by promising to become your wife in order to betray you to the
gallows!"

She had gone up to him and was looking up into his eyes, which had
become glassy and blood-shot, but after a moment's awful pause he
turned from her with a little gesture of disbelief.

"Good God!" he muttered. "To accuse--her--of that!"

"It is true! I swear to you it is true!" cried Jessica, desperately.
"It was she who accused you to the detective whom she sent to discover
proof of your crime. She told him that you loved her, that you had
killed your best friend in order that you might steal his promised
wife from him. She sent Edmond Stolliker there, had the body of Olney
Winthrop exhumed, and discovered that you had lied, that he had not
been shot, but had been suffocated in a mine!"

Pierrepont groaned.

She paused just long enough to allow her words full force, then
continued rapidly:

"She detained you by her side by every means at her avail until
Stolliker should obtain such proof as was necessary for your
conviction, and while he was there seeking it, paying thousands of
dollars for it if necessary, for she had put her entire fortune at
his command, Manuel Meriaz came here. You remember the evening at
our house? You and he left the drawing-room together. She left the
poker-table and followed. She listened to your conversation from behind
a portière that screens the library from an anteroom, and the following
day she sent for Meriaz. She purchased from him a story, bought it
with gold, of how you had gone for a walk with Olney, and when you
were in a lonely and deserted place, you had pushed him down the old
Donato Mine, where he was suffocated with the gases before any one
could go to his assistance. She had him make affidavit to this, and
sent it to Stolliker in Mexico. On this story he has obtained papers of
extradition, and will arrest you tonight."

"And Carlita has done this?"

"She has."

"But less than a week ago she offered five thousand dollars to the man
who would save my life!"

"It was in order that she might not lose her cherished revenge at the
last hour. She promised to be your wife to keep you here. She loathes
you with all the fierce hatred of her Mexican nature."

Pierrepont groaned. There were so many things that he remembered in
that moment. Her desire that their engagement should not be announced,
her cry to him: "Can't you see that I am only doing it to betray you to
ruin and death?" Was not that confirmation of what Jessica had said? He
groaned again.

"And she believes me guilty of this crime!" he cried, covering his
suffering face with his hands. "She believes that I killed Olney, and
in this dastardly way!"

His back was toward Jessica. She crept up to him, and before he
was aware of her intention her arms were about him, those shining,
seductive arms that she knew so well how to use.

"Ah, Leith," she murmured, softly, "if she had really loved you, she
would have known you never did it; but the toils are about you so
strong that Hercules himself could not break them. There is but one
way, dear, and that lies in my power. I can save you, Leith. I have
thought day and night since all the details of this sickening story
came to me, and I have found the way. I--oh, Leith, you will forgive
me in an hour like this, will you not?--I love you! So well, that not
even your indifference has had power to kill that love! I would go
through life your too willing slave but to be permitted to love you,
to be near you, to serve you. You have thought me hard and cold and
cruel sometimes; reckless, too, and careless of what I did, but it has
only been because of this indifference of yours which has been killing
me! Look in my face and read the truth, Leith! See! I have lost all
shame, all fear! It is swallowed up in my great love. I can save you,
dear, and I will, and all I ask in return is that you let me love you.
I do not even ask for yours in return, now, because I know when you
have seen the depth and strength of my devotion, it will come in time!
Leith--darling--will you let me save you?"

"Save me from what?" he questioned, stonily.

"From the cruel death that she has prepared for you! From the shame and
humiliation she would heap upon you! I tell you she has bought your
conviction with her gold!"

"And what is it that you propose to have me do?" he asked, his voice
hard and cold as iron.

"Fly with me!" she exclaimed, breathlessly. "Only until such time as
this story can be proved in all its falsity. Show her that you do not
care. Show her that she has not hurt you with this foul lie that she
has concocted. Leith, come with me!"

He laughed aloud, his mouth rigid and drawn while the grewsome sound
escaped, and loosened her fingers from his neck.

"No!" he cried, heavily. "I will await the officers she has sent here.
I will stand the trial she has prepared."

"But there will be no possibility of escape for you. I tell you that,
innocent or guilty, there will be no possibility of escape!"

"Then I will die upon the gallows!"

"Leith, you must be mad! Is the thought of life with me so hard to
bear? Is death at her hands preferable to life and love at mine?"

"Yes," he cried savagely, fiercely, "it is! If she has purchased my
ruin, she shall have it. If she wishes me to stand trial for this crime
I will do it!"

"For God's sake, listen to reason!" Jessica panted. "You can't know
what you are doing. You can't realize what those people are."

"Do you think I would fly from a crime I never committed?"

"But they will give you no opportunity to prove your innocence. They
will lock you up in one of their awful prisons, from which there will
be no escape but death. What care have they for life? What is a soul to
them? If they would kill you for a coat, they would betray you to the
gallows for less than a hundred dollars. For the love of Heaven, listen
to reason! Hark! There is a ring at the bell. It must be Stolliker and
the officer. Leith, the last moment is here! Think quick, and answer
me! Will you let me save you?"

"No!"

"Oh, Leith, Leith I love you! It is life with me or death for her and
without her. Listen: they are in the hall. For God's sake, come!"

He did not speak. His face was white and set as marble. His lips were
compressed to a straight line; his eyes burned fiercely. He threw his
arm about her and led her quickly to a side door. She thought he had
yielded to her entreaties, but he thrust her inside the room without
even a murmured word of thanks for her effort to save him, closed the
door and turned the key in the lock, then faced the other door through
which his visitor must enter.

Already it had been flung open.



CHAPTER XXXIV.


"Carlita!"

The name escaped him in a hoarse, gasping cry as she staggered across
the room toward him, her frail strength almost exhausted in her effort
to reach him. She would have fallen there at his feet, but that he
caught her in his arms, and as he would have placed her in a chair she
caught the lapels of his coat and held herself close to him by the very
strength of despair.

"No!" she gasped. "Give me courage by the strength of your touch to
tell my awful story. If you turn from me I shall die before it is
finished, and then all will be lost! I told you that I was betraying
you to ruin and death, but you would not believe me, would not listen.
Great God, Leith, it was so hideously true! Do you know what I have
done? Will you despise me, when you have heard, as I despise myself?"

He looked down at her. Knowing what he knew, he still could not keep
his arms from supporting her. Knowing what he knew, he could force his
lips to say no word of blame.

"Let me hide my face while I tell you!" she cried, concealing it in his
bosom. "I have betrayed you! I have sought your ruin! I discovered that
you had killed Olney Winthrop--see? I can say it without so much as a
shiver now--and I have put you in the hands of the law with every chain
of the ghastly story complete. They are coming even now to arrest you.
There is not a moment to lose. You must go at once!"

He held her back from him and strove to look at her downcast face.

"Why have you come here to tell me this?" he asked hoarsely. "Now that
you have about accomplished your revenge, why do you warn me of the
danger?"

It never occurred to her to wonder at his apparent knowledge of it all.
She only cried out in an agony of remorse:

"Why, don't you understand without my telling you? Don't you see it
all? I love you! Surely you know that. Surely you have read it from
the beginning, even when I was so hideously unconscious. I have loved
you from the first, best of all, and I love you now as it never seemed
possible that any human thing could love. I would give my life, my very
soul itself to undo this awful thing that I have done!"

"And yet you believe me guilty of this crime?"

"What right have I to judge you?" she cried, feverishly, endeavoring
to remove her face from his gaze. "What do I know of your temptation?
Oh, just God, it is that which has cursed me! I shut my eyes to the
sweetest sentiment He ever put into a human soul, and set myself up to
usurp His authority--to avenge! This is my punishment. See, Leith, I do
not endeavor to conceal my face. I do not try to hide my shame. If you
go to the gallows, I go too, for the crime is half mine. I have striven
not to lose my reason during these last few, awful days when I was kept
a prisoner in my own room, from which I have only now escaped in order
that I might know all that was taking place, in order that I might die
with you!"

"Wait, Carlita! You are speaking so wildly that I don't quite follow
you. You say--"

"There isn't time!" she gasped. "There isn't time! They may be here
at any moment, and you must make your escape before they come. I will
find some means of throwing them off the track--of preventing their
following you until your escape is assured. But you must go at once--at
once!"

He looked at her curiously, a strange expression crossing his face.

"With you?" he asked.

"I will follow you, if you wish it!" she cried, desperately. "You can
find some means of communicating with me--of letting me know where you
are--and I swear I will come to you when you send."

"Believing me to be a--murderer?"

She shivered.

"We will never mention that between us," she groaned. "We will begin a
new life--a new life in a new country--and forget. Oh, Leith, there is
no more time! For God's sake--for my sake--go!"

He smiled and kissed her.

For some reason the ghastly whiteness had disappeared from his
countenance. He held her very closely in his arms, observing that she
did not shrink from the embrace. He lifted her face so that her lips
rested close to his own, as he said gently:

"How great must be the strength of love when innocence does not turn
away appalled at guilt. Darling, suppose I should tell you that I do
not fear the coming of these men? Suppose I should tell you that I do
not fear the investigation of all the world, because I am innocent of
the crime with which I have been charged--because I was not even by
when Olney was pushed into the Donato Mine?"

She staggered back from him, her face growing whiter, more sunken than
it had been before. She did not touch him then, but as he would have
taken her again in his arms, motioned him back, passing her hands
across her eyes to clear her vision.

"I thought to spare you and--and him," Leith cried swiftly, hurrying
through the tale, because he saw how she was suffering; "but I have
realized now that nothing under heaven will justify a lie. That was my
sin, Carlita; but nothing beyond that, I swear to you. Half an hour
ago I would have scorned to justify myself in your eyes, but such love
as yours does not come into the lives of many men. Listen, darling.
Even in those old days when you scorned me, I loved you so well that I
wished to spare you any pain that it lay in my power to save you from.
I knew your pure white innocence and the suffering it would entail
upon you to discover that the lover you had chosen in preference to
me was not the man you had pictured him. Carlita, a woman's idea of a
man--particularly a young girl's brought up in the untarnished school
you were--and a man's idea of a man are not the same. You demand purity
of him as he demands it of you, and while Olney was my friend--while
I loved him like a brother--I wished to save you from a knowledge
of--his past. Two years ago, when Olney was in Mexico he met a girl
with whom he thought he fell in love. She was a hot-blooded Mexican,
who loved him in return, but with a sort of savage ferocity. She was
the daughter of Manuel Meriaz. When Olney left Mexico there was some
kind of an understanding between them--a relationship with which I
would not offend your pure ears. But Olney forgot her in a short time.
When he went back to Mexico, I believe he had ceased to remember her
very existence; but she had not forgotten him. She and her father were
at the mines. She reminded Olney of his old promise to marry her. She
even pleaded with him to keep his word. She loved him fondly, and--well
Carlita, he should have made good his broken troth, because there was
a--a little infant in Mexico--a tiny dead child, upon whose tomb there
was no name."

"Great God!"

"Olney could not be brought to see the justice in her claim, because he
loved you, and one day, after a violent scene, in which she besought
him to make good the old promise, for their dead baby's sake, there,
under the desolation of the forsaken mine, where she had summoned him
for a rendezvous, she pushed him to his death. I swear to you that I
do not believe she meant to kill him, and so, in pity for her blighted
life, I tried to save her from the punishment of her crime--to save him
from the shame of public infamy, and you from the bitter knowledge of
it all. Manuel Meriaz knew this story. He cared little enough, Heaven
knows, for the disgrace of the poor girl, so long as he could gain
money through it, and so I bought his silence, which he had discovered
was of value to me because of my affection for Olney and my love for
you. Carlita, before God, this is all the truth!"

They were both so interested that they had not heard the opening of the
front door again, nor the low-spoken words in the hall, for Carlita had
fallen upon her knees at the feet of the man she loved.

"Father in heaven, the punishment is greater than I can bear!" she was
crying aloud, in her agony. "Innocent! Innocent, and I have--"

But already she was in his arms, the wild words hushed by his
passionate kisses.

"Darling," he whispered, "my full forgiveness is measured by the
magnitude of your love. I should have told you--I should have trusted
you."

And then, as he lifted his head, he saw two men standing already inside
the door--Stolliker and the Mexican officer in uniform.



CHAPTER XXXV.


In all his experience as a detective, it is doubtful if Edmond
Stolliker was ever so surprised as at the tableau that faced him as he
entered Leith Pierrepont's room.

He stood there dumb, stunned, too bewildered to speak, and it was Leith
himself who came to his assistance.

He put Carlita aside, gently placing her in a chair, where she
sat rigidly upright, her eyes fixed upon the two men helplessly,
hopelessly, in spite of her belief now in Leith's innocence, her hands
clasped tightly, then he stepped forward.

"Gentlemen," he exclaimed, proudly, though as nonchalantly as he had
ever spoken in his life, his handsome head flung up, not defiantly, but
inviting examination, "I know why you have come here; have just heard
it from the lips of this young lady--my affianced wife, and I am ready
to go with you. It would be useless for me to assert my innocence of
this infamous charge to you, as I know you are compelled to do that
which your commanding officers have instructed you to do, but I hope
there will be no scene about the arrest whatever. I will accompany you
quietly wherever you desire, only stipulating that I be granted a few
minutes' conversation with Miss de Barryos, in your presence if needs
be, though I confess I should prefer not."

It gave Stolliker time, and he managed to catch his breath.

"It is not at all necessary, sir," he said, recovering from his
half-dazed stupidity. "The fact is, that Carpano has just received a
telegram from his chief which makes it unnecessary for you to return
with us to Mexico at all."

"What!"

Carlita had sprung to her feet, a tide of crimson color surging through
her cheeks, brow and throat, a wild light had sprung to her eyes, and
the exclamation was little more than a hoarse cry of gladness wrung
through her white, tortured lips.

Leith stepped quickly forward and placed his arm about her for much
required support. Stolliker smiled.

"The fact is, sir," he continued, "the telegram announced that a
search of the Donato Mine revealed a scrap of paper which Mr. Winthrop
had torn from a note-book before the gases of the mine overcame him,
upon which he had written something to the effect that he had fallen
there purely by accident, and that no one was responsible but his own
carelessness. But it seems from the meager details we have been able
to gain so far, that when the contents of the scrap of paper became
known, Senorita Meriaz fell into violent hysteria, claiming that he
had written it to screen her, for she had pushed him there to his
death, intending to kill him. She testified to the statement, before
witnesses, and then--it may be that her heart broke, poor girl, for the
telegram contains the further information that she died less than an
hour afterward."

For all the fact that Carlita's arms were about his neck, in spite
of the presence of those two supposedly unsympathetic men, and that
Carlita's tears were flowing freely in wildest happiness, a shadow of
regret lay in Leith's grave eyes.

"It is the happiest fate that could have overtaken her," he said,
gently. "Heaven knows I am sorry for her, and would have shielded her
had the power been left me, but her own misery was too great to be
borne. And now may I ask how it happened that you came to tell me this?"

"It seems rather a peculiar story to me, sir," Stolliker answered,
"understanding as little of it as I do, but you or Miss de Barryos may
be able to supply all that I can not tell. When I went this morning
to call upon Miss de Barryos, the manner of my reception and the fact
that I was denied admission into her presence until I had declined to
take a report at all, aroused my suspicions. Then when I was conducted
to her apartment, Miss Chalmers remained there refusing to allow me a
moment alone with my patroness. I was forced to tell the details of the
situation to her, she apparently being as familiar with the history
of the case as I was, perhaps more so. I observed that while Miss de
Barryos was evidently listening intently to all that I was saying,
she was suppressing all evidence of it, therefore betraying to me the
fact that she did not wish Miss Chalmers to share her feeling upon
the subject, and further, that she was evidently striving to appear
more ill than she really was, though Heaven knows it was bad enough. I
concluded, therefore, that her quiet was the result of acting in the
presence of Miss Chalmers."

"Which it was!" cried Carlita, earnestly, turning toward him again.

"I therefore concluded that, as I had been denied admission and then
permitted to see her under Miss Chalmers' espionage, that Miss de
Barryos was kept a prisoner."

"A prisoner!" cried Leith, a flash in his gray eyes that was dangerous.

"It is quite true!" exclaimed Carlita, excitedly.

"It does not take a detective long to jump at a conclusion under those
circumstances," said Stolliker, with a smile. "I then questioned my
niece, Ahbel, who is Miss de Barryos' maid, and had my suspicions
confirmed. I instructed her that she was to closely watch Miss
Chalmers, and report to me, through a medium which I named to her, any
movement made by Miss Chalmers. Before that, however, Miss Chalmers
insisted upon knowing what time the train from Albany would arrive, and
what time the arrest would be made. As I did not trust her, naturally
I did not tell the exact truth. At ten minutes before eight I was
notified that Miss Chalmers had left the house. At eight, I knew that
she had entered this one."

"This one!" gasped Carlita. "Jessica has been here?"

"Yes," answered Leith. "I will tell you everything in a moment. Go on,
Mr. Stolliker. Your story interests me."

"I had instructed my niece, Ahbel, that she was to induce the nurse
to leave Miss de Barryos alone with her for a moment, using any means
that lay in her power, and this injunction also she carried out. She
had Miss Chalmers' own maid summon her, then when Miss de Barryos was
alone, Ahbel went into the room. Miss de Barryos knows the rest. She
told her maid that it was a matter of life and death that she should
leave the house at once, and instructed by me, that Miss de Barryos
was to carry out any wish she might express, Ahbel quickly threw a
dress over her negligee, and--Perhaps you can tell the sequel of the
story better than I can, Mr. Pierrepont," exclaimed the detective,
with a merry twinkle in his penetrating eye. "At all events, when this
telegram was received, I knew where to find her, though I confess I
thought she had come for the purpose of thwarting some scheme of Miss
Chalmers', and I wanted no harm to befall her."

Leith extended his hand, and with cordial warmth the detective took it.

"I thank you!" he exclaimed in the old way that charmed men and women
alike. "You might have worked great harm to me, but you did it in her
interest. You have been her friend, and I can harbor nothing against
you after that, even if I would. She has had few enough of them, poor
child."

"I am glad to have served her, and still more glad that I have been
saved the unhappiness which this cruel mistake would have given me if
it had gone further. If I may be permitted to congratulate you both,
sir, I will retire. May I have a few minutes' conversation with you in
the morning? There is the treachery of Meriaz to be considered. Perjury
is no light offense in this country, particularly when a foreigner
plots against the life of a United States citizen."

"Very well. In the morning at ten. It will give us both time to think
the matter over. If you will have the kindness to send Miss de Barryos'
maid here with a satchel containing the requisites of a lady's toilet
you will add to the favor you have already done."

"It will give me pleasure," returned Stolliker, shaking the hand
Carlita extended.

Then he and the Mexican officer, who had been a silent and
non-comprehensive witness of the scene, left the room together.

Leith opened his arms and Carlita flew into them.

"My darling," he whispered, "the clouds lasted but a few moments with
me, and yet I seem to have suffered for years. What must not all this
cruel time have cost you? Sweet one, believing me a murderer, how is it
possible that you could have loved me?"

"Don't ask me!" she cried, shivering in his embrace. "Don't ask me.
How is it possible that you could love me after all my treachery? I
accepted you, held you near me, allowed you even to kiss my lips, in
order that I might betray you to the gallows. Was it not the kiss of
Judas?"

"The kiss that weakened through love," he answered, drawing her even
closer. "Ah, darling, in spite of all, even the treachery you aver,
you could have offered me no greater proof of your love than you have
done tonight. Do you think that I can ever forget that you would have
sacrificed all the years of your life in order to bring forgetfulness
to a murderer? Do you think I can forget that you would have shared
my exile, with the promise that no word of unfaith should ever escape
you? The Good Book says: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that he
give his life for his friend.' But that was more than life, Carlita. It
was hope and honor and life as well. What suffering would I not have
endured to know you love me like this?"

She allowed him to soothe her and kiss her trembling lips to quiet,
murmuring as he did so:

"Thank God you did not die the night you saved the child from drowning
before I had obtained your forgiveness. I should have gone mad through
grief and remorse if I had heard this story too late."

"Then you really offered that five thousand for my life in order that
you might have me punished, as you thought I deserved?"

"No! Upon my soul, no! I was not so bad as that. It was the first time
I had fully realized the strength and breadth of my love for you.
It was the first time I knew that all my whole being was infolded in
yours, and it was for my own life I offered the reward, as well as
yours. It was not of vengeance that I thought then, but only love--only
love!"

"My darling!" he murmured, tenderly. "Then it was not all truth she
told."

"She? Who?"

"Jessica."

"She is here?"

"Yes."

"Where?"

With his arm about her, he crossed the room, turned the key in the
lock, and threw open the door, behind which Jessica stood.



CHAPTER XXXVI.


Did you ever observe the devilish glare in the eyes of a caged
hyena, the fiendish, cat-like grin upon his repulsive mouth when he
knows he is denied the prey he covets? There is no other animal in
captivity or out that has the same expression of countenance, the same
half-cringing, diabolical treachery both in face and the sidelong
movement of his body.

Just such an expression Jessica wore when Leith threw open the door
which separated him from her. There was no other egress from the room
than through that door or he would not have found her there; but she
came forward after a moment of profoundest silence throwing up her head
defiantly, the hateful grin receiving sound in a discordant laughter.

"Well," she exclaimed, lightly, approaching the mantel-shelf carelessly
and taking up the gloves she had thrown there, "I have played--and
lost. Others have done so before, better players than I, too, perhaps.
You think you will escape the crime you have committed? Ha! ha! A
forged telegram to a minion of the law is not a difficult thing, and
I shall know how to discover the forgery. My hand is not quite played
out, you see. Because Miss de Barryos loved the murderer of her former
lover is no reason why he should escape the punishment of his crime.
She has evidently been as anxious to pay out her money to have him
escape as she once was to secure his conviction, but even forged
telegrams are traceable, and I shall know where to find him when I want
him."

"You will not have far to look," said Leith quietly.

"If it were to the ends of the earth, I should find you and your
half-breed wife, your--"

"Silence!" exclaimed Leith, the first gleam of anger coming to his
eyes. "Not a word of disrespect to her. As for myself, I do not care.
You are so powerless as to be almost pitiable. I understand perfectly
the detestable part you have played--the false friend, endeavoring to
poison the mind of innocence, the serpent creeping through the grass at
nightfall in your effort to work harm and ruin. I have known all along
that you were striving to harm Miss de Barryos, from the very first day
that I met her under your disreputable roof."

Jessica laughed aloud--a laugh that would have slain had the power been
given her.

"You were not loath to visit it, in spite of its being disreputable!"
she exclaimed, sneeringly. "You never neglected an invitation. Where
was the first place you went upon your return from India? In whose box
did you linger longest at the opera? At whose side were you content to
sit from morning until night, until she came with her cursed Indian
beauty? Your vaunted virtue is of very recent birth! Do you forget
that I know the story of Lena Moore?"

"How dare you mention that name--here!" thundered Leith, the passion
of his tone frightening her. Then, remembering himself, he continued,
more quietly: "As you said but now, my dear Jessica, you have played
and lost. Why not retire gracefully from the table? You have done all
the harm you can. Even the shameless story you would have repeated but
now would not shake the faith of my promised wife--would not kill the
love she bears me. But I do not propose that you shall pollute her pure
ears with the story of a folly long since dead--the folly of a mere
boy in the hands of a designing woman--but one which ended before harm
was done. And now, go! Say to your mother that her ward is under the
protection of her betrothed husband, and safe. I should be inclined to
pity you but for the wrong done to this sweet and inoffensive child."

Jessica's lips curled scornfully.

"Pity me!" she repeated. "Why? Because you think I love you? Upon my
word, your vanity blinds you, indeed! It was only your money that I
craved--only the wealth with which you could surround me--only the
position in which you could have placed me. After all, it is not so
flattering to a man's vanity that it need incite his pity."

"And you would have married a murderer--gone into voluntary exile--for
wealth and position?"

It was rather a mean thing for him to say, when he knew so well that it
was only the excuse of a baffled woman; but it was very human, and he
was only that. There was a half-amused, half-disgusted smile upon his
lips that angered her more than a volume of words could have done. She
bit her lips to prevent the flow of demoniacal fury that possessed her,
then calmly drew on her gloves.

"Good-evening!" she exclaimed, carelessly. "When you have convinced
Carlita of the truth of your statement regarding Lena Moore, and have
succeeded in convincing the world that the forged telegram from Mexico
was genuine, then, perhaps, I may congratulate you; but until then I
shall reserve my good wishes for your future. It will not strengthen
the story you wish to palm upon the public that my mother's ward left
her roof for the shelter of yours before she became your wife, and that
privilege my mother will contest, as you may remember Carlita is not
yet of age."

Without so much as a glance toward Carlita, but with a stately bow in
Leith's direction, she opened the door from behind and stepped out
closing it upon herself.

Then she went downstairs swiftly, not waiting for the elevator, and
into the street, her eyes blinded, her brain in a seething whirl of
torturing madness.

Her turn had come at last!

She hailed a carriage and gave the address to the coachman
incoherently, then sprang in and closed the door upon herself, eager to
shut out the very sight of the world.

"Balked!" she muttered, fiercely. "Baffled just when success seemed
within my grasp! Curse them--curse them both! I have plotted and
planned for nothing. I have betrayed my unhappy mother into the power
of that wretch Meriaz, and what have I gained? Nothing! Nothing except
that he loves her more than ever. I have proven to him the very depth
and power of her love while striving to demonstrate mine. I have placed
her upon the very pinnacle I would have given my soul to occupy. And
what have I gained? His hatred--his contempt--his bitter loathing! I
have shut myself out from his presence eternally! And I loved him so!
My God! I loved him so!"

She covered her face with her hands, and a wild storm of weeping burst
from her, so overpowering that she did not know when the carriage had
stopped, did not know when the coachman climbed down from his box and
spoke to her, did not hear until he touched her lightly upon the arm.

She scarcely remembered afterward how it was she got into the house;
but she found her mother standing in the hall upon her entrance,
looking like a wraith, in her white gown, with her still whiter face
gleaming above it.

"Meriaz has come for his answer," she groaned, speaking the words
almost before the door had been closed upon her daughter--"Meriaz has
come for his answer! For the love of Heaven, tell me what I am to say?"

"Tell him," cried Jessica, bending forward, and curiously speaking
the words through her set teeth--"tell him that he lied! That Leith
Pierrepont is not guilty of murder! Tell him that news has come from
the South, and Leith is free! Tell him that which he knows but too
well, that it was his own daughter who was the murderess!"

No cry from the lips of woman ever equaled in mortal anguish that which
fell from Mrs. Chalmers. She staggered back against the wall, her eyes
wild in their insane rolling.

"His daughter!" she gasped. "Muriel Meriaz!"

"If that is her name," returned Jessica, sullenly. "You appear to
know her better than I. Yes, she is the murderess. But what is that
to you, or me, that you should turn the hue of death itself? What is
that to you, or me, that you should gasp and moan as if you yourself
were facing the gallows? We have lost our game; but I don't see why you
should agonize over the daughter of a scoundrel like that--a creature
whom you never saw; a--"

She was looking so intently at her mother that she did not see a man's
form come into the hall, did not know of his presence there until his
hard, iron fingers closed upon her arm; then she turned and looked
into the scowling face of Manuel Meriaz.

"Shut up!" he commanded, brutally. "You don't know what you are talking
about, my fine lady. I'll teach you some day to call your own father a
scoundrel. I'll teach you--"

"What are you saying?"

"That which is true. You never heard the story, did you? You thought
only that I was familiar with a small slice of the past history of
your family, but it never occurred to you that the Mexican whom you
detested, in spite of all your expressions to the contrary, was in
reality your own father. And this girl whom you have called a murderess
is your sister! Do you hear that, my girl?"

"You are mad--mad!" panted Jessica.

Meriaz laughed aloud.

"Look in your mother's face and see if I am mad. Look in her face and
ask her if I have lied. Look in her face and bid her tell you that I
am not your father. Aha! you dare not, because you know I have spoken
the truth. You are my daughter, and as such I propose that you shall be
regarded in the future. You understand?"

But Jessica did not reply. She stood there for a moment, looking
straight at him in a stunned, stupid silence; then, with never a word,
she walked by him and up the stairs without a glance in her mother's
direction, without a word of sympathy, without a thought for any one
save herself, and up to her own room.

She closed the door behind her, and stood with her back against it for
some time, then with a defiant gesture threw up her head and walked
swiftly to her writing desk. She sat down and wrote hurriedly:

  "MY DEAR DUDLEY,--A week ago you asked me to be your wife--swore you
  could not live without me. If it was the truth you spoke, if you
  meant the vows you swore that day, answer this note in person. I
  must see you at once.

                                               "Ever faithfully,

                                                           "JESSICA."

She sealed it, the smile half triumphant, half defiant still lingering
upon her lips, called a messenger, and dispatched it at once to Dudley
Maltby.

"Tomorrow morning," she muttered, "the papers shall contain the
announcement of my marriage to the scion of one of the noblest houses
in all America. Leith Pierrepont shall see that his power to hurt me
was not so great as he thought, and I shall be saved from that beast,
Meriaz."

She did not consider what was to befall her mother, did not think
of her future at all, never even remembered her, but consumed the
time of the messenger's absence in planning what she should say to
Dudley Maltby, her lips curling with scorn as she imagined his joy at
receiving her message.

She smiled grimly as she saw the messenger returning with a note in his
hand, and received it with the calmest indifference, dismissing the boy
with a haughtily murmured:

"That will do!"

Then, when he had gone, she tore the envelope from the missive, pausing
to light a cigarette nonchalantly before she read it. She looked at it
quite calmly, but the expression of her face changed curiously as she
read:

  "MY DEAR JESSICA,--You were wiser that day than I. I allowed my
  passion to carry me away, never pausing to think of the future,
  after the manner of all hot-headed lovers; but with your usual
  clear-sightedness and brilliancy of intellect you foresaw what the
  future would hold for us with barely ten thousand a year to drag us
  through a monotonous existence, and you laughed at my earnestness.
  You were quite right. Don't think for a moment that I am upbraiding
  you. On the contrary, I realize that you have done us both a great
  service, that the proposition I made would have been sheerest
  madness. Of course I understand that pity for me prompted your kind
  note, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart, but it is much
  better that I should not see you just at present. Thanking you for
  many happy hours in the past, believe me,

                                          "Very cordially yours,

                                                     "DUDLEY MALTBY."

She tore it up without any show of indignation whatever, and threw it
into the waste basket, then rang for her maid.

"Is Manuel Meriaz still here?" she asked.

"No, ma'am," her maid replied. "He left half an hour ago, and--and--"

"Well?"

"He was arrested as he went down the stoop."

"Umph! I am going to my mother. She is in her room?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"You may pack my clothing for a rather long absence, and tell Mathilde
to do the same for my mother. We leave on Wednesday for Paris."

Her maid's exclamation of surprise was lost upon her. She was looking
mechanically through the window.

"At least one fortunate thing has happened," she was musing. "But for
the arrest of Meriaz we might have had difficulty in getting away. Now
it will be quite easy. I shall require my mother's services, and so
silence concerning the past is best, I suppose. I shall only tell her
of the death of--of--this girl. If Dudley Maltby, my last hope, had not
failed me, I need never have seen her again, but now--"

A shrug of the shoulders, intended to convince herself of her
indifference, but failing signally, completed the sentence.



CHAPTER XXXVII.


The transferment of the guardianship of Carlita from Mrs. Chalmers to
Pierrepont was not a difficult thing, and he lost no time in making the
application for it.

Nor was there loss of time in the matter of their marriage.

She had no friends whatever in that section of country, and so they
were married quietly with only Dudley Maltby as best man and Ahbel and
Stolliker as witnesses, and left, while April was yet in its infancy,
for a long cruise upon the "Eolus," accompanied only by Ahbel and
Leith's valet, besides the crew.

Carlita is a great favorite with the men, one reason being, perhaps,
that she divided five thousand dollars between the two who brought
Leith and his little half-dead burden safely back to her when death was
threatening both.

The child did not die, nor yet did the mother in whose interests he had
received his wetting, but there is a man upon the "Eolus" who would
sacrifice his life at any time for its owner, who risked his own for a
crippled boy.

They are very happy. So happy that a little anxious cloud gathered
between Carlita's brows as she lay in her favorite nook upon the deck,
her couch being the one she had used upon the day of that momentous
little cruise that occupied less than one brief day, and yet seemed to
have turned the current of all her life.

"What is it, sweetheart?" Leith asked, no shade of expression upon that
lovely face lost to him.

"I was only thinking of the old days," she answered, looking up in
his face with a devotion that would have banished the most unhappy
memories. "Of some words my mother spoke to me before she died, of a
curse--"

"A curse!" interrupted Leith, lightly. "How very romantic! Do let us
hear all about it."

"You needn't laugh," returned Carlita, allowing him to draw her very
closely in the shelter of his arms. "It was serious enough, Heaven
knows! It was the curse of Pocahontas. Jessica told you once that I was
half Indian. While the component parts weren't exactly correct, the
essence of the statement was true. There is the blood of the Indian
girl in my veins through the maternal side."

"And a very noble girl she was," exclaimed Leith. "I'm sure John Smith
the first would bear me out if he were here to speak for himself."

"Her marriage to John Rolfe, you know, was most unhappy. The only issue
of the marriage was a son, but on her death bed, Pocahontas pronounced
a curse upon his female descendants who should bear the trace of the
Indian in her appearance."

"How very thoughtless of her. When it was John Rolfe who made her so
unhappy, why couldn't she have made it the male descendants?"

"History sayeth not," returned Carlita, her humor lightened in spite
of herself. "But it is a matter of fact that every dark member of my
mother's family has suffered through that curse."

"But I have not heard what it was yet?"

"And I can't tell you the words; but the meaning was that if she dared
love she should suffer ruin and death, either she or the man whom she
cursed with her devotion. I told that curse to--Olney, Leith, when he
was leaving for Mexico."

"And you really believe that is what caused your suffering and his
death?"

She did not reply, but looked out dreamily over the water.

"What nonsense, darling wife!" he said, gently. "You don't suppose that
God would grant a mere foolish, wretched woman the power to curse the
innocent of future generations, do you? You don't suppose that He would
bring a helpless infant into the world for predestined misery because
some half-crazed creature in her blind ignorance uttered a speech that
was superinduced perhaps by a grief too great to be borne in silence?
Where would be the justice, and mercy, and wisdom of that? And what is
your idea of God if not inseparable from those qualities which form His
divine attribute?"

"You make me ashamed."

"Not ashamed, love, because you never really believed in it. It was
only that the foolish repetition made you anxious. There is no channel
without its turning point, dear, no life without its sorrow, and when
yours came, you saw in it the curse which that poor, wretched woman
uttered, and which others were foolish enough to repeat, that was all.
In our love and belief in the goodness of God, we can afford to laugh
at such nonsense as that, my darling. Promise me that you will forget
it."

She gave the promise with her lips upon his, belief and faith and
perfect love casting out fear.

Nevertheless, when her own little one was born, less than two years
after, and she was told that it was an exquisite girl, her first
question was:

"What is her complexion?"

"As fair as a lily," the nurse replied. "Her eyes are porcelain blue,
her hair is like the sun."

And the sweet face upon the pillow flushed with pleasure and relief as
she gazed up into the eyes of her husband, and murmured faintly:

"Thank God, Leith, there is no trace of the Indian there!"


THE END.



Transcriber's Notes:


Italics are represented with _underscores_.

Added table of contents.

The copy of the book used to produce this electronic edition was
missing the back cover, which most likely would have contained an
advertisement listing other titles from the Hart Series.

Normalized "Aïda," "fiancé" and "portière" to consistently include
accent marks throughout the text.

Changed four instances of "to-night" to "tonight" for consistency.

Some questionable spellings (e.g. "balmly") have been retained from the
original.

Page 8, changed "you" to "your" in "ruin your own life."

Page 15, changed "To-morrow" to "Tomorrow" for consistency with all
other occurrences of the word in the text.

Page 23, changed "Leigh" to "Leith" in "Leith, old fellow."

Page 26, changed "under the son" to "under the sun."

Page 29, changed "rathed" to "rather" in "exclaimed rather suddenly."
Changed "wth" to "with" in "with a sweetness."

Page 30, changed "which" to "with" in "earnest conversation with the
language."

Page 50, changed "eles" to "else" in "else it will be of no avail."

Page 69, added missing quote before "the only one that I have."

Page 74, corrected typo "utterence" in "volumes in the mere utterance."
Added missing comma after "I can't."

Page 85, changed "is is nine" to "it is nine."

Page 86, corrected typo "Barroys" in "do this for you, Miss de Barryos."

Page 89, corrected "patios" to "patois." Changed ? to . after
"announced his death."

Page 96, changed "is" to "it" in "it was not necessary."

Page 108, changed "while" to "with" in "with the injunction."

Page 113, corrected "Adventure" to "Adventures" in second appearance of
"Adventures of Sherlock Holmes."

Page 117, added missing end quote to "I have a white gown."

Page 118, changed "at" to "as" in "as if some grand ball."

Page 128, changed "through" to "though" in "though they were fewer."

Page 138, changed "that" to "than" in "more coldly than before."

Page 140, changed "fore" to "for" in "for some moments resembling."

Page 146, changed "chocking sob" to "choking sob."

Page 150, removed duplicate "let" from "can not let you."

Page 152, changed "musculine" to "masculine."

Page 153, added missing quote after "happiness is mine at last."

Page 157, changed "strethed" to "stretched" in "arms stretched out."

Page 187, removed unnecessary quote before "She looked up at him
helplessly."

Page 193, changed "accomplised" to "accomplished" in "has been
accomplished." Corrected typo "evere" in "he had ever done."

Page 197, added missing comma after "with her own hands."

Page 208, changed "stod" to "stood" in "stood there dumb."

Page 215, changed "It" to "If" in "If it were to the ends of the earth."





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