HotFreeBooks.com
For Woman's Love
by Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

FOR WOMAN'S LOVE

A Novel

by

MRS. E. D. E. N. SOUTHWORTH

Author of "The Hidden Hand," "Only a Girl's Heart," "Unknown," "The Lost Lady of Lone," "Nearest and Dearest," etc.

New York and London Street & Smith, Publishers

1890



CHAPTER I.

A BRILLIANT MATCH.

"I remember Regulas Rothsay—or Rule, as we used to call him—when he was a little bit of a fellow hardly up to my knee, running about bare-footed and doing odd jobs round the foundry. Ah! and now he is elected governor of this State by the biggest majority ever heard of, and engaged to be married to the finest young lady in the country, with the full consent of all her proud relations. To be married to-day and to be inaugurated to-morrow, and he only thirty-two years old this blessed seventh of June!"

The speaker, a hale man of sixty years, with a bald head, a sharp face, a ruddy complexion, and a figure as twisted as a yew tree, and about as tough, was Silas Marwig, one of the foremen of the foundry.

"Well, I don't believe Regulas Rothsay would ever have risen to his present position if it had not been for his love of Corona Haught. No more do I believe that Old Rockharrt would ever have allowed his beautiful granddaughter to be engaged to Rothsay if the young man had not been elected governor," observed a stout, florid-faced matron of fifty-five. "How hard he worked for her! And how long she waited for him! Why, I remember them both so well! They were the very best of friends from their childhood—the wealthy little lady and the poor orphan boy."

"That is very true, Mrs. Bounce," said a young man, who was a newcomer in the neighborhood and one of the bookkeepers of the great firm. "But how did that orphan get his education?"

"By hook and by crook, as the saying is, Mr. Wall. I think the little lady taught him to read and write, and she loaned him books. He left here when he was about thirteen years old. He went to the city, and got into the printing office of The National Watch. And he learned the trade. And, oh, you know a bright, earnest boy like that was bound to get on. He worked hard, and he studied hard. After awhile he began to write short, telling paragraphs for the Watch, and these at length were noticed and copied, and he became assistant editor of the paper. By the time he was twenty-five years old he had bought the paper out."

"And, of course, he made it a power in politics. I see the rest. He was elected State representative; then State senator."

"Yes, indeed. You've hit it. And now he is going to marry his first love to-day, and to take his seat as governor to-morrow," continued the matron, with a little chuckle.

"Regulas Rothsay will never take his seat as governor," spoke a solemn voice from the thicket on the right of the road along which the party were walking to the scene of the grand wedding. All turned to see a strange form step out from the shelter of the trees—a tall, gaunt, swarthy woman, stern of feature and harsh of tone; her head covered with wild, straggling black hair; her body clothed in a long, clinging garment of dark red serge.

"Old Scythia," muttered the matron, shuddering and shrinking closer to the side of the bookkeeper, for the strange creature was reported and believed by the ignorant and superstitious of the neighborhood to be powerful and malignant.

"Regulas Rothsay will never take his seat as governor of this State!"

As the beldame repeated and emphasized these words, she raised her hand with a prophetic gesture and advanced upon the group of pedestrians.

"Now, then, you old crow! What are you up to with your croaking?" demanded Mr. Marwig. "Look here, Mistress Beelzebub! Do you know that you are a very lucky woman to live in a land where not only may a barefooted boy rise to the highest honors by talent and perseverance, but where a malignant old witch may torture and terrify her neighbors without fear of the ducking stool or the stake?" he demanded.

The beldame looked at him scornfully, and disdained to reply.

"Wait!" said a stout, dark, middle-aged, black-whiskered man, Timothy Ryland by name, and one of the managers of the "works" by state. "Wait, I want to question this miserable lunatic. She may have got wind of something. Tell me, old mother, why will not the governor-elect take his seat to-morrow?"

"Because Fate forbids it," solemnly replied the crone.

"Will the governor be—murdered?"

"No; Regulas Rothsay has not an enemy in the world!"

"Will he be killed on the railroad, or kidnapped?"

"No!"

"Will he be taken suddenly ill?"

"No!"

"What then in the fiend's name is to prevent his taking his seat to-morrow?" impatiently demanded the manager.

"An evil so dire, so awful, so mysterious, that its like never happened on this earth!"

"Arrest her, Mr. Ryland! She ought to be locked up until she could be sent to the asylum!" exclaimed old Marwig.

"I have no power to do so, my friend," replied the manager.

"Why, where is she?" inquired Mrs. Bounce, trembling. "Who saw her go?"

No one answered, but every one looked around. Not a trace of the witch could be seen. She had passed like a dark cloud from among them, and was gone.

It was a glorious day in June. A long, deep, green valley lay low between two lofty ridges of the Cumberland mountains, running north and south for ten miles, and near the boundary lines of three States. This lovely vale was watered by a merry, sparkling little river called the Whirligig, which furnished the power for the huge machinery of the great firm of Rockharrt & Sons, proprietors of the Plutus iron mines and the North End foundries, which supplied the mighty engines on the great lines of railroad from the East to the West, and whose massive buildings, forges, furnaces, store-houses and laborers' cottages occupied all the ground between the foot of the mountain and the banks of the river, on both sides of the Whirligig, at the upper or north end of the valley, where a substantial bridge connected the two shores.

This settlement, called, from its position, North End, was quite a thriving little village. North End was not only blessed with a mission church, having a schoolroom in its basement, but it was provided with a post-office, a telegraph, a drug store, kept by a regular physician, who dispensed his own physic (advice and medicine, one dollar), and a general store, where everything needed to eat, drink, wear or use (except drugs), was kept for sale.

On this bright June morning, however, the great works were all stopped. There was a general holiday, and as this was at the cost of the firm, it gave general satisfaction. All the people of North End, except the aged, infirm and infantile, were trooping down the valley, on the rough road between the foot of the West Ridge and the side of the river, to a fete to be given them at Rockhold on the occasion of the marriage of old Aaron Rockharrt's granddaughter, Corona Haught, to Regulas Rothsay, the governor-elect of the State.

It was a marriage of very rare interest to the workmen and their families. To the men, because the governor-elect had been one of their own class. The elders remembered him from the time when he was a friendless orphan child, glad to run the longest errand or do the hardest day's work for a dime, but also a very independent little fellow, who would take nothing in the shape of alms from anybody. To the women, because he was going to marry his first and only sweetheart, and on the very day before his inauguration, so that she might take part in the pageantry that was to be his first great success and triumph.

On one side of the river, at the foot of the East Ridge, stood Rockhold, the country seat of the Rockharrts, in its own park, which lay between the mountain and the river. The house itself was a large, heavy, oblong building of gray stone, two stories high, with cellar and garret. From the front of the house to the edge of the river extended a fair green lawn, shaded here and there by great forest trees. Under many of these trees, tables with refreshments were set, and seats were placed for the accommodation and refreshment of the out-door guests. In sunny spots, also, some white tents were raised and decorated with flags.

As a group of working men and women sat on the west bank of the river, waiting impatiently for the return of the ferryboat, they saw, from minute to minute, carriages drive up the lawn avenue, discharge the occupants at the main entrance of the house, and then roll off to the stable yard in the rear.

These seemed to come in a slow procession.

"Only the nearest relations and most intimate friends of the family are invited to the ceremony. There have only been five carriages passed since we have been sitting here, and I don't believe there was one come before we came, or that there'll be another come after that last one, which was certainly the groom's," said Old Marwig.

"Oh! was it, indeed? But how do you know?" demanded Mrs. Bounce.

"It is the new carriage from North End Hotel! And he and his groomsmen had engaged it. That's how I know! Here comes the ferryboat! Now for it!"

The boat touched the banks, and as many as could find room crowded into it, and were speedily rowed across the river and landed on the other side, where they found a few of the lawn party there before them.

"There is Mr. Clarence Rockharrt coming toward us!" said Mrs. Bounce, as the party walked up from the landing, and a medium-sized, plump, fair man of middle age, with a round, fresh face, a smiling countenance, blue eyes and light hair, and in "a wedding garment" of the day, came down to meet them, and shook hands with all, warmly welcoming them in the name of his father. Then he led them up to the lawn and gave them chairs among the unoccupied seats at the various tables.

"If you please, Mr. Clarence, is the groom in good health and sperrits?" meaningly inquired Mrs. Bounce.

"Mr. Rothsay is in excellent health and spirits, thank you," replied the gentleman, looking a little surprised at the question: an then moving off quickly to receive some new arrivals.

The guests for the lawn party were constantly arriving, and the ferryboat was kept busy plying from the shore to shore.

It is time now to introduce our readers to the house of Rockharrt.

Old Aaron Rockharrt, the head of that house, was at this time seventy-five years of age and a wonder of health and strength. He was called the "Iron King," no less from his great hardihood of body and mind than from his vast wealth in mines and foundries. In size he was almost a giant, with a large head covered by closely-curling, steel-gray hair. His character may be summed up in a very few words:

Aaron Rockharrt was an incarnation of monstrous selfishness.

His manners to all, but especially to his dependants, were arrogant, egotistical and overbearing. He was utterly destitute of sympathy or compassion. There was no room for either in a soul so full of self. In his opinion there was no one on earth, neither king nor Kaiser, saint nor hero, so important to the universe as Aaron Rockharrt, head of Rockharrt & Sons.

Yet Aaron Rockharrt had two redeeming points. He was strictly truthful in word and honest in deed.

His wife was near his own age, a quiet, gentle, little old lady, small and slim, with white hair half hidden by a lace cap. If she ever had any individuality, it had been quite crushed out by the hard heel of her husband's iron will. Their eldest son and second partner in the firm was Fabian Rockharrt, a fine animal of fifty years old, though scarcely looking forty. He had inherited all his father's great strength of body and of mind, with more than his father's business talent; but he had not inherited the truth and honesty of his father.

Yet there is no one wholly evil, and Fabian Rockharrt's one redeeming quality was a certain good nature or benevolence which is more the result of temperament than of principle. This quality rendered his manner so kind and considerate to all his employes that he was the most popular member of his family.

Clarence, the second son, was much younger than his elder brother, and so diametrically opposite to him and to their father, both in person and character, that he scarcely seemed to come of the same race.

He was really thirty-five years old, but looked ten years less, and was a fair blonde, medium-sized and plump, with a round head covered with light, curling yellow hair, a round, rosy face as bare as a baby's and almost as innocent. He had not the satanic intellect of his father or his brother, but he had a fine moral and spiritual nature that neither could understand or appreciate.

There were yet two other exceptions to the family character of worldliness and selfishness. There were Corona and Sylvanus Haught, a sister and brother, orphan grand-children of Aaron Rockharrt, left him by his deceased only daughter. Sylvanus, a fine, manly young fellow, resembled his Uncle Clarence in person and in character, having the same truthfulness, generosity and sincerity, but with a mocking spirit, which turned evil into ridicule rather than into a subject of serious rebuke. He was three years younger than his sister. Corona was a beautiful brunette, tall, like all the Rockharrts, with a superbly developed form, a fine head, adorned with a full suit of fine curly black hair, delicate classic features, straight, low forehead, aquiline nose, a "Cupid's bow" mouth, and finely curved chin. This was her wedding-day and she wore her bridal dress of pure white satin, with veil of thread lace and wreath of orange buds. Hers was the very triumph of a love match, for she was about to wed one whom she had loved from earliest childhood, and for whom she had waited long years.

Here was Corona Haught's great victory. She had seen his opponents, her own family, bow down and worship her idol. Yet, at the culmination of her triumph, on this her bridal day, why did she sit so pale and wan?

From her deep, sad reverie she was aroused by the entrance of her six gay bridesmaids.

"Corona, love, good morning! Many happy returns, and so on!" said Flora Fields, the first bridesmaid, coming up to the pale bride and kissing her.

All the others followed the example, and then Miss Fields said:

"Cora, dear, 'the scene is set'—otherwise, the company are all assembled in the drawing-room. Grandpapa and grandmamma are in their seats of honor. The bishop, in his canonicals, is waiting; the groom and his groomsmen are expectant. Are you ready?"

"I know getting married must be a serious, a solemn, even an awful thing when it comes to the point. And most brides do look pale! But you—you look ghastly! Come, take some composing spirits of lavender—do!"

"Yes; you may give me some. You will find the vial on the dressing-table."

The restorative was administered, and then the "bevy of fair maids" left the chamber and went down stairs.

There, in the great hall, they met the bridegroom and his six groomsmen; for it was the custom of that time and place to have a groomsman for each bridesmaid. The bridegroom and governor-elect was not a handsome man—that was conceded even by his best friends—but he was tall and muscular, with a look of strength, manliness and nobility that was impressive. A son of the people truly, but with the brain of the ruler. The whole rugged form and face assumed a gentleness and courtesy that almost conferred grace and beauty upon him, as he advanced to greet his bride.

Why did she shrink from him?

No one knew. It was only for a moment; and happily, he, in the simplicity of a single, honest heart, had not seen the momentary shudder.

He drew her hand within his arm, looked down on her with a beam of ineffable tenderness and adoration, and then waited, as he had been instructed to do, until the groomsmen and bridesmaids had formed the procession that was to usher them into the drawing-room and before the officiating bishop. They entered the crowded apartment. The bishop, in his white robes, stood on the rug, supported by the Rev. Mr. Wells, temporary minister of the mission church at North End, and the ceremony began. All went on well until he came to that part where the officiating minister must read—though a mere form this solemn adjuration to the contracting lovers:

"'I require and charge ye both, as ye shall answer at the dreadful day of judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know just cause why ye may not be united in matrimony, ye do now declare it.'"

There was a pause, to give opportunity for reply, if any reply was to be made—a mere form, as the adjuration itself was. Yet the bride shuddered throughout her frame. Many noticed it, but not the bridegroom.

The ceremony went on.

"'Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?'"

Old Aaron Rockharrt, who stood on the right of the bridal party, stepped forth, took his granddaughter's hand, and placed it in that of the groom, saying, with visible pride:

"I do."

The rites went on to their conclusion, and the whole party were invited into the dining-room, where the marriage feast was spread, where the revelry lasted two full hours, and might have lingered longer had not the bride withdrawn from the table, and, attended by her bridesmaids, retired to her chamber to change her bridal robes for a plain traveling suit of silver gray silk, with hat and gloves to match.

There the gentle, timid, old grandmother came to bid her pet child a private good-by.

"Are you happy, my love—are you happy?" she inquired. "Why don't you answer?"

"My heart is full—too full, grandma," evasively answered Corona Rothsay.

"Ah, yes; that is natural—very natural. 'Even so it was with me when I was young,'" sighed the old lady, who detected no evasion in the words of her darling.

The bride went down stairs, where the bridegroom awaited her. There, in the hall, were collected the members of her family, friends, neighbors and wedding guests.

Some time was spent in bidding good-by to all these.

"But it is not good-by, really; for the majority of us will follow by a later train, and be on hand for the inauguration to-morrow," said old Aaron Rockharrt, who seemed to have recovered his youth on this proud day.

"And, grandpa, be sure to bring grandma. Don't say that she is too old, or too feeble, or too anything, to travel, because she is not; and she has set her heart on seeing the pageantry to-morrow. Promise me before I leave you," pleaded the bride.

"Very well; I will bring her," said Mr. Rockharrt, who would have promised anything to his granddaughter on this auspicious occasion.

"You will find your traps all right, Cora. They went off by the early train this morning," said Mr. Clarence.

"And I trust, Rothsay, that you will find my town house comfortably prepared for your reception," said Mr. Rockharrt.

The bridegroom handed his bride into the carriage that was to convey them to the railway station. The carriage crossed the ferry, and in a few minutes reached the other side, and rolled toward the railway station.

The road was at this hour very solitary, and the bridegroom and his bride found themselves for the first time that day tete-a-tete. He turned to her, and drew her head to his heart and whispered:

"Cora, speak to me! Call me your husband!"

"I—cannot. My heart is too full," the girl muttered evasively.

But his grand, simple, truthful spirit perceived no prevarication in her words. If her heart was full, it was with responsive love of him, he thought. He bent his face lower over her beautiful head, that lay upon his bosom, and kissed her.

Soon they reached North End, where all the aged, infirm and infantile who could not come to the wedding were seated at their cottage doors, to see the carriage with the bridegroom and bride go by.

Smiling and bowing in response, the pair passed through the village and went on their way toward the station which they reached at half-past one o'clock.

They had to wait about ten minutes for the train to come up. They remained in the carriage; for here, too, a small crowd of country people had collected to see the bride and the bridegroom, who was also the governor-elect.

The train from the East ran into the station. The bridal pair left the carriage and went on the cars, and the governor-elect and his bride set out for the State capital. It was a long afternoon ride, and the sun was low when the train drew in sight of the State capital, and slowed into the station.

An immense crowd had gathered to welcome the governor-elect, and as he stepped out upon the platform, and stood with his bride on his arm, the cheers were deafening. When these had in some measure subsided, the hero of the hour returned thanks in a simple little speech. Then the committee of reception came up and shook hands with the governor-to-be, who next presented them in turn to his wife.

At last the pair were allowed to enter the carriage that was in waiting to convey them to the town house of Aaron Rockharrt. Other carriages containing members of the committee attended them. They passed through the main street of the city.

The procession of carriages passed until it reached the Rockharrt residence, opposite the government mansion, where the committee took leave of the governor-elect and his bride, who entered their temporary home alone, to be received and attended by obsequious servants.

There we also will leave them.

Visitors to the inauguration were arriving by every train.

Among the arrivals from the East came Aaron Rockharrt, with his wife, his two sons, Fabian and Clarence, and his grandson, Sylvan, the younger brother of Cora.

The main door of the mansion was open, and several gentlemen, wearing official badges, stood without or just within it.

"By Jove! we are just in time, and it has been a close shave! That is the committee come to take him to the State house!" exclaimed old Aaron Rockharrt as he stepped out of the carriage, and helped his feeble little wife to alight. He led her up the steps, followed by the other three men of his party.

"Good morning, Judge Abbot. We are just in time, I find. We came up by the night train, and a close shave it has been. Well, a miss is as good as a mile, and we are safe to see the whole of the pageant," said the old man, speaking to a tall, thin, gray-haired gentleman, who wore a rosette on the lapel of his coat.

"Yes, sir; but here is a very strange difficulty—very strange, indeed," replied the official, with a deeply troubled and perplexed air, which was shared by all the gentlemen who stood with him.

"What's the trouble, gentlemen? Is the chief justice ill, that his honor cannot administer the oath, or what?"

"It is much worse than that—if anything could be worse," gravely replied one of the committee.

"What is it then? A contested election at this late hour?"

"The governor-elect cannot be found. No one has seen him since eleven o'clock last night. He is missing."



CHAPTER II.

A LOST GOVERNOR AND BRIDEGROOM.

"Missing!" echoed old Aaron Rockharrt, drawing up his huge frame to its fullest height, and staring with strong black eyes in a defiant and aggressive manner. "Missing! did you say, sir?" he repeated sternly.

"Yes, Mr. Rockharrt; ever since last night," replied Judge Abbot, chairman of the committee, in much distress and anxiety.

"Impossible! Never heard of such a thing in the whole course of my life! A bridegroom lost on the evening of his marriage! A governor lost on the morning of his inauguration! I tell you, sir, it is impossible—utterly and entirely impossible! How do you know, sir, that he has not been seen by some one or other since last night? How do you know that he cannot be found, somewhere, this morning?"

"All his household have failed to find him. Our messengers have been sent in every direction without discovering the slightest clew to his—fate," gloomily replied the judge.

Mr. Rockharrt turned to the porter, who was still in attendance at the door, and demanded:

"Where is your mistress?"

The man, a negro and an old family servant of the Rockharrts, replied:

"The young madam is in the back drawing room, sir; and if you please, sir, I think she would be all the better for seeing the old madam."

"Who is with her now?" shortly demanded Mr. Rockharrt, ignoring his servant's suggestion, although Mrs. Rockharrt looked nervously anxious to follow it "There is no one with her, sir."

"Alone! Alone! My granddaughter left alone on the morning after her marriage? What do you mean by that? Where is your master?

"Show me in to your mistress at once. I will get at the bottom of this mystery, or this villainy, as it is more likely to prove, before I am through with the matter. And if my granddaughter's husband is not to be found before the day is out, I will have all concerned in the plot arrested for conspiracy!" exclaimed Mr. Rockharrt, with that utter recklessness of assertion to which he was addicted in moments of excitement.

The dismayed negro lowered his eyes and led the way. Aaron Rockharrt strode on, followed by his timid and terrified old wife, his stalwart sons, his mocking grandson, and the members of the committee. But the old man, not liking such an escort, turned upon them, and said, with sarcastic politeness and dignity:

"Gentlemen, permit me. It is expedient, under existing circumstances, that I should first see my granddaughter alone."

The members of the committee bowed with offended dignity and withdrew to the front of the hall.

Meanwhile Aaron Rockharrt sent back the members of his own family, and strode solemnly into the drawing room, which was half darkened by the closed window shutters.

"Now leave the room, sir; shut the door after you and stand on the outside to keep off all intruders," commanded Mr. Rockharrt to the servant who had admitted him.

When the door was closed upon him, Aaron Rockharrt discerned his granddaughter, who sat in an easy chair in a dark corner of the back drawing room, which was divided from the front by blue satin and white lace portieres. Her deadly pallid face gleamed out from the shadows in startling contrast to her jet black hair and the black dress which, against all precedent, she wore on this the morning after her marriage.

The old man of iron went up and stood before her, looking at her in silence for a few moments.

"Corona Rothsay," he began, sternly, "what is the meaning of this unparalleled situation?"

"I—I—do not know."

"You do not know where your husband is on the morning after his marriage and on the day of his expected inauguration?"

"No; I do not know."

"You seem to take this desertion or this death very quietly."

"What would be gained by taking it any other way?" she murmured, though indeed she was not taking the situation quietly, but controlling herself.

"How dare you say so to me?" severely demanded the old man, scarcely able to control his wrath, though at a loss to know against whom to direct it.

"You ask me a direct question. I give you a truthful answer."

"Answer me, truly!" rudely exclaimed Aaron Rockharrt, giving way, in his blind egotism, to utter recklessness of assertion, to gross injustice and exaggeration. "What have you done to him, Corona? Tell me that!"

She started violently and looked up quickly; her face was whiter, her eyes wilder than before.

"What—have—you—done to him?" he sternly repeated, looking her full in the deathly face.

"I? Nothing!" she answered, but her voice faltered and her frame shook.

"I believe that you have! You look as if you had! I have seen the devil in you since we brought you home from Europe against your will; especially within the last few days!"

Having hurled upon her this avalanche of abuse, he turned and strode wrathfully up and down the room until he had got off some of his excitement. Then, he came and stood before his granddaughter.

"How long has your husband been missing?" he abruptly inquired.

"Since last night," in a very low tone.

"When did you see him last? Tell me that!"

"I have already told you—last evening."

"Tell me all that has occurred from the time you both left Rockhold to the time you entered this house which I placed at your disposal and to which I sent you, to save you from the noise and bustle and excitement of a crowded hotel, and to give you rest and quiet and seclusion. Yes! and this the result! But go on and tell me. From the time you left Rockhold to this time, mind you!"

"Very well, sir, I will tell you. Our journey, a series of ovations. Our reception in this city was a triumph. We were met at the depot by a great crowd, and by the committee with carriages, and we were escorted to this house by a military and civil procession with a band of music. They left us at the gate.

"We entered, and were received by the servants. As soon as I had changed my dress we went down to dinner. After dinner we went into the drawing room. A gentleman was announced on official business connected with the ceremonies of to-day. He was shown into the library, and my husband went to him. Many callers came. They talked with Mr. Rothsay in the library. I remained in this room. At last the crowd began to thin off, and soon all were gone. Mr. Rothsay came into this room—and sat down by my side. We talked together for an hour or more. Then a card was brought in. Mr. Rothsay took it, looked at it, and said:

"'I will see the gentleman. Show him into the front room.'

"Mr. Rothsay arose and went into the front room to receive his visitor. It was late, and I was very tired, so I went up stairs to my chamber and retired to bed. I have never seen my husband since."

And Corona dropped her face upon her hands and sobbed as if her heart would break. She had utterly broken down for the first time.

"Good heavens! I don't understand it all! Had you had a lover's quarrel now in that hour when you talked together in this parlor?" inquired the old gentleman, his insane anger being now merged in wonder. "Had you reproached him for spending so much time with his political friends while you were waiting here alone?"

"Oh, no, no," replied Corona, between her convulsive sobs.

"Good heavens!" again exclaimed the old man. "When did you first miss him?"

"When I came down in the morning. I thought then that he had been kept up all night by his friends, and that I should meet him at breakfast. He did not appear at breakfast. The servants searched for him all over the house, but could not find him. I waited breakfast until I was faint with fasting and suspense. Then I took a cup of coffee. On inquiry it was found that Jasper had been the last to see him, and that he had not seen him since he showed the visitor in. He did not show the visitor out. He waited some time to do so, and fell asleep. When he awoke the visitor had gone, and the drawing rooms were empty. The man supposed that Mr. Rothsay had seen his friend to the door, and had then retired to bed. And so he shut up the house and went to his room. No one discovered that Mr. Rothsay was missing until this morning. When the inaugural committee came two hours ago, the servants told them all that I have just told you."

"Who was the last visitor? He might throw some light upon this dark, evil subject. Who was he?" abruptly demanded Aaron Rockharrt.

"I do not know. No one seems to know. Jasper says he never saw him before, nor ever heard his name."

"Couldn't he see it on his card?"

"Jasper cannot read, you must remember."

"Where is that card? Let me see it!"

"It cannot be found."

"Conspiracy! Treason! Murder!" interrupted Aaron Rockharrt. "The governor-elect has been decoyed away from the house by that last caller, and has been murdered! And the people in the house may not be as innocent or ignorant as they pretend to be. I will go out and take counsel with the committee," he said, and he turned and strode out of the drawing room.

When he reached the hall, however, he found that the officials had gone to pursue their search for the missing man elsewhere. The men of his own party were nowhere to be seen. The porter, Jasper, was the only occupant of the hall, and Aaron Rockharrt opened the hall door and walked out. The military and civil escort were still on parade before the house, waiting for the governor-elect.

Mr. Rockharrt's carriage was standing before the door. He entered it and ordered the coachman to drive to police headquarters.

The hour for the inauguration of the new governor was approaching. The procession to the State house should have been in motion by this time. The people on the sidewalks, at the doors and windows, on the balconies, and on the roofs, all along the line of march, were beginning to be weary of waiting.

The officials who had the ceremonies of the occasion in hand waited until three o'clock in the afternoon, and then, as the governor-elect was nowhere to be found, as the necessity was imminent, the inaugural procession was ordered to begin its march.

"Where is he? Where is Rothsay?" demanded the spectators one of the other.

No one knew. No one had seen him. No one could, therefore, answer.

When the procession reached the State house, the lieutenant-governor, Kennelm Kennedy, was sworn in, and the military companies and the civic societies and the spectators all dispersed.

But where was the governor? That was the question of the hour. Why had he not been inaugurated? was asked by everybody of everybody else. The secret of his total and unexplained disappearance had not, indeed, been closely kept. His intimate friends, his household servants and the public officials knew it, but the general public did not.

The next morning the news came out, and the papers had sensational head-lines and long accounts of the sudden and mysterious disappearance of the governor-elect on the eve of his inauguration and of a bridegroom on the evening of his wedding day.

Also there were rewards offered for any intelligence of Regulas Rothsay, living or dead, and for the identification of the unknown visitor who was supposed to have been the last to have seen him on the night of his disappearance.

Days passed, and nothing came in answer to the advertisements. The public at length reached in theory this conclusion: that the governor-elect had been decoyed from the house by his latest visitor, and had been secretly murdered in some remote quarter.

The Rockharrts did not return to Rockhold, but remained in town through all the heat of that hot summer, because Aaron Rockharrt thought he could best pursue his investigations on the scene of the mystery. But he sent his sons to North End to look after the works.

Corona would see no one save the members of her own family. She kept her room, and grieved without ceasing. On the ninth day after the disappearance of her lover-husband she made an effort and came down into the drawing room, to please the gentle old grandmother.

She sat there with the old lady, reading to her, until Mrs. Rockharrt was called out by her tyrant to get something, it might be a book or a paper, a cigar or a pipe, that he himself or a servant might have got just as well, except that Aaron Rockharrt liked to have the ladies of his family wait upon him.

What happened during the hour of the old lady's absence from the drawing room no one knew, but when she returned she found her granddaughter in a swoon on the carpet. In great alarm she called the servants to her assistance. The unconscious girl was laid upon a sofa, and all means were taken to restore her to her senses. Corona recovered her faculties only to fall into the most violent paroxysms of anguish and despair.

From her ravings and self-reproaches Mrs. Rockharrt gathered that the unfortunate girl had heard, or in some way learned, some fatal news.

She sent all the servants out of the room, locked the door, administered a sedative to her child, and then, when the latter was somewhat calmer, questioned her as to the cause of her distress.

"I have nothing to tell—nothing, nothing to tell! But take me away from this place! Take me home to Rockhold, where I may be alone!"

"I will do all I can to comfort you, my dear," said Mrs. Rockharrt. "I will speak to Mr. Rockharrt when he comes in."

No one but the snubbed, brow-beaten and humiliated wife knew all that she engaged to suffer when she promised to speak to her lord and master.

Corona, soothed by the sedative that had been given her, and consoled by the love and sympathy that had been lavished upon her, grew more composed, and finally fell into a deep sleep from which she awoke refreshed. But a rumor went through the house that the young lady had got news which she did not choose to communicate.

Later in the day Mrs. Rockharrt deferentially proposed to the domestic despot that they should return to Rockhold, as the weather was so oppressive and the town house was so obnoxious to dear Corona, which was quite natural under the trying circumstances.

Aaron Rockharrt glared at her until she cowered, and then he told her that he should direct the movements of his family as he thought proper, and that any suggestions from her or from his granddaughter were both unnecessary and impertinent.

So they both had to bend under the iron will of Aaron Rockharrt.

At length, however, something happened to relieve them.

Mr. Rockharrt had not been neglecting his own business, while looking after the missing governor-elect, nor had he been leaving it to his sons and partners, whom he refused to trust. He had been corresponding with his chief manager, Ryland. This correspondence had not been entirely satisfactory, so at length he wrote to Ryland to come to the city for a business talk. It was about the middle of August that the manager arrived and was closeted with his chief. After two hours' discussion of business matters, which ended satisfactorily, the manager, rising to leave the study, observed:

"This is a bad job about the governor, sir!"

"I do not wish to talk of this matter," said Mr. Rockharrt.

"Very well, sir, I am dumb," replied the manager, taking up his hat to leave the house.

"Do you go back to North End by the night train?" inquired Mr. Rockharrt.

"Yes, sir! I must be at my post to-morrow morning, in order to carry out your instructions."

"Quite right," said the head of the great firm. Then with strange inconsistency, since he had declared that he wished to talk no more on the subject of the lost governor, he suddenly inquired:

"What do the people of North End say about the disappearance of Governor Rothsay?"

"Some say he was beguiled away by that man who called on him late at night, and that he was murdered and his body made away with. But I beg your pardon, sir, for repeating such dreadful things."

"Go on! What else do they say?"

"Well, sir, one says one thing, and one another; but they all agree that Old Scythia could tell something if she chose."

"Old Scythia? And what has she to do with the loss of the governor?"

"Nothing that I know of, sir. But the people at North End say that she has."

"Why do they say it?"

"Because, sir, on the day of the wedding, and the eve of the inauguration, she did foretell, in the hearing of a score, that Mr. Rothsay would never take his seat as governor."

"What! Absurd! Preposterous!"

"Of course it was, sir! Yet she did say that, sir, in the hearing of twenty or more of us, and it was a strange coincidence, to say the least, that her words came true. She said it in the presence of many witnesses on the day before the intended inauguration, and when there seemed no possibility of her words coming true. And strange to say, they have come true."

Old Aaron Rockharrt mused for a few minutes and then replied:

"There is no such thing as divination, or soothsaying, or prophesy, or fortune telling in this world. It is all coarse imposture, that can deceive only the weakest mortals. You know that, of course, Ryland. It follows, then, that this old woman could have had no knowledge of what was going to happen unless she was in league with conspirators who had planned to kidnap or murder the governor-elect."

"But, sir, if Old Scythia had been in league with any conspirators, would she have betrayed them—beforehand?"

"No; unless she was too crazy to keep their secret. But—she may have got wind of their plots in some way without their knowledge."

"Yes, sir," said Manager Ryland, who agreed to every opinion advanced by his chief.

"Well, then, I shall go down to Rockhold to-morrow, and investigate this matter for myself. In my capacity of justice of the peace I shall issue a warrant to have that woman brought before me on a charge of vagrancy, and then I shall examine her on this point. But, Ryland, you are to be careful not to drop even a hint of my intention."

"Of course I will not, sir," replied the manager, and then, as there seemed no more to do or say, he took his leave.

Old Aaron Rockharrt strode into the drawing room where his wife and granddaughter sat, and astonished them by saying:

"Pack up your things this afternoon. We leave for Rockland by the first train to-morrow morning."

He deigned no explanation, but turned and stalked off.

The three reached North End at noon. As their arrival was to be a surprise, no carriage had been ordered to meet them. But the large, comfortable hack from the North End Hotel was engaged, and in it they rode on to Rockhold, where they pulled up two hours later, to the astonishment and consternation of the household, who, be it whispered, had almost as lief been confronted with his satanic majesty as to be surprised by their despotic master.

Leaving his womenkind to get domestic affairs into order, the Iron King went to the little den at the end of the hall, which he called his study, and there made out a warrant for the arrest of Hyacinth Woods on the charge of vagrancy. This he directed to William Hook, county constable, and sent it off to the county seat by one of his servants. He waited all the rest of the day for the return of the warrant with the prisoner, but in vain.

The next day, in the afternoon, Constable Hook made his appearance before the magistrate without the prisoner, and reported:

"She cannot be found. I went first to her hut on the mountain, but it was in ruins. It had fallen in. I searched for the woman everywhere, and only found out that she had not been seen by anybody since the day of the grand wedding here," replied the officer.

"The old crone is lost on the same day that the young governor was missing, eh? Very significant. I want you to take a paper for me to the Peakeville Gazette. I will advertise a thousand dollars reward for the discovery of that woman. She knows the fate of Rothsay."



CHAPTER III.

A MOUNTAIN IDYL—THE GIRL AND THE BOY.

On a fine day near the end of October, several years before the opening of this story, the express train from the southwest was speeding on toward North End. In one of the middle cars, which was not crowded, nor, indeed, quite full, sat a girl and a boy—both dressed in deep mourning, and both in charge of a tall, stout gentleman, also in deep mourning. These children were Corona, aged seven, and Sylvanus, aged four, orphans and co-heirs of John Haught, a millionaire merchant of San Francisco, and of his wife, Felicia, only daughter of Aaron and Deborah Rockharrt, of Rockhold. They had lost their parents during the prevalence of an epidemic fever, and had been left to the guardianship of Aaron Rockharrt. They were now coming, in charge of their Uncle Fabian—who had been sent to fetch them—to their grandparents' house, which was to be their home during their minority.

In front of these children sat a man of middle age and a boy of about twelve years. They seemed to belong to the honorable order of working men. Their clothing was old, worn and travel-stained. They had been picked up only at the last past station, and looked as if they had tramped a long way—weary and dejected. Each wore on his battered hat a little wisp of a dusty black crape band. This was a circumstance which much interested the little girl, Corona, who had a longer memory than her baby brother, and had not yet done grieving after her father and her mother, and she wanted to speak to the poor boy, and to tell him how very sorry she was for him, but was much too timid for such a venture. Neither the boy nor the man looked behind them, and so the children never saw their faces during the ride to North End. Both parties got out at the station. The Rockhold carriage was waiting for Fabian and his charges. Nothing was waiting for the tramp and his son. Mr. Fabian looked at them, and took in the whole situation. He put his nephew and niece into the carriage, told the coachman to wait for him, and then went up to the tramps.

"Looking for work?" he said, addressing the elder.

"Yes, sir," replied the latter, touching his old hat. "I have come a long way to look for it, and I am bound now for Rockharrt & Sons' Locomotive Works. Could you be so kind as to direct me where to find them?"

"About three miles down this side of the river. You cannot miss them if you follow this road. Stay—I am one of the firm. We have rather more men than we want just now, but I will give you a line to our manager, and he will find a place for you, and the boy, also," said plausible, good-natured, lying, dishonest Fabian Rockharrt, as he drew a card from his pocket and just wrote above his name:

"Take the bearer and his boy on."

Then on the opposite side of the card he wrote the superscription: "Timothy Ryland, Manager North End Foundries."

He gave this to the tramp, who touched his hat again, and led off his boy for their long walk to the works.

Fabian Rockharrt, with his nephew and niece, reached Rockland two hours later.

Aaron Rockharrt and his younger son, Clarence, were absent, at the works; but little Mrs. Rockharrt was at home.

Little Cora became the constant companion of the grandmother, who found her well advanced in learning for a child of seven years. She could read, write a little, and do easy sums in the first four simple rules of arithmetic.

A school room was fitted up on the first floor back of the Rockhold mansion. A nursery governess was found by advertisement.

She was a young and beautiful girl of the wax doll order of beauty, and of not more than sixteen years of age. In person she was tall, slim and fair, with red cheeks, blue eyes and yellow hair. Her very name, as well as her presence, was full of the aromas of Araby the Blest. It was Rose Flowers.

Rose smiled and bloomed and beamed on all, but most of all on Mr. Fabian, who was at that time a very handsome and fascinating man of no more than thirty, and to do her justice, she brought her young pupils well on in elementary education.

No more was seen or heard of the tramp and his boy, who had come to seek work at the foundries. They seemed to have been forgotten even by the little girl whose sympathies had been touched by their appearance on the train with their own party.

But early in February a catastrophe occurred which brought them back most painfully to, her memory. There was an explosion in the foundry, by which the man was instantly killed.

"Uncle Clarence," asked Cora of that person, "where is the boy belonging to the poor man that was killed? You know they came in the cars with us to North End Station. Oh! and they were so poor! Oh, and the boy had a bit of old crape on his old hat! Oh, and I know he had no mother! But I don't know whether the man was his father or his uncle. But, oh, Uncle Clarence, dear, where is the boy?"

"I don't know anything about the boy, little one, but I will inquire and tell you. I think the little chap has two more friends left, dear. You are one. I am the other."

"Oh, Uncle Clarence, you are a dear ducky-ducky-darling! And when I am a grown-up woman, I will marry you."

"Oh! well, all right, if you remain in the same mind, and—"

"I will never, never change my mind. I love you better than I do anybody in the world, except Sylvan and grandma, and Miss Flowers and Tip!"

Clarence kept his word with the child about making inquiries as to the fate of the boy in whom she was interested.

The boy was motherless, and, by the death of his father, had been left utterly destitute. He had found a home with Scythia Woods, an eccentric woman, who lived in a hut on the mountain side, half way between North End and Rockhold, and he supported himself in a poor way by running errands and doing little jobs about the works.

Little Cora Haught listened to this account of the poor, friendless, self-reliant lad with the deepest sympathy.

"Uncle Clarence," she pleaded, "you are so rich. Why don't you give that poor boy clothes, and shoes, and hats, and all he ought to have?"

"My good little girl, nothing would give me more delight, but that fellow would see Rockharrt & Sons swallowed up by an earthquake before he would take a cent from them that he had not earned."

"Oh, I like that—that is grand! But why don't you take him on and give him good pay?"

"But, my dear, he is a boy, and cannot do regular heavy work. He is quite uneducated, and cannot do any other except what he does."

Two months later, one lovely spring day, she saw him again for the first time since their meeting on the train six months previous. He came to Rockhold one Saturday afternoon to bring a letter from the manager to the head of the firm. He came to the back door which opened from the porch. He sent in his letter by the servant who came at his knock, and he said he was to wait for an answer. Cora, in the back parlor, saw him, recognized him, and ran out to speak to him.

Perhaps the tiny lady had some faint idea of the duties and responsibilities of wealth and station. So she spoke to the boy.

"Are you Regulas Rothsay?" she inquired, in a soft tone.

"Yes, miss," replied the boy.

There was an awkward pause, and then the little girl said slowly:

"You won't let anybody give you anything, although you have no father nor mother. Now, why won't you?"

"Because, I can work for all I want, all—but—" the boy began, and then stopped.

"You have all but what?"

"A little schooling."

"Here's the answer, Rule! You are to run right away as fast as you can and take it to Mr. Ryland," said a servant, coming out upon the porch and handing a letter to the boy.

It was a week after this interview with the lad before Cora saw him again.

He was on the lawn in front of the house. She was at the window of the front drawing room. As soon as she espied him she ran out to speak to him, and eagerly begged that she might teach him to read.

The boy, surprised at the suddenness and the character of such an offer, blushed, thanked the little lady, and declined, then hesitated, reflected, and then, half reluctantly, half gratefully, consented.

Cora was delighted, and frankly expressed her joy.

"Oh, Regulas, I am so glad! Now every afternoon when I have done my lessons—I am in Comly's first speller, Peter Parley's first book of history, and first book of geography, and I am as far as short division in arithmetic, and round hand in the copy book—so as soon as I get through with my lessons, and you get through with your work, you come to this back porch, where I play, and I will bring my old primer and white slate, and I will teach you. If you get here before I do, you wait for me. I will never be long away. If I get here before you, I will wait for you," she concluded.

The Iron King, Mr. Fabian, or Mr. Clarence, passing out of the back door for an afternoon stroll in the grounds, would see the little lady seated in one of the large Quaker chairs, her feet dangling over its edge, busy with her doll's dresses, and furtively watching her pupil, who, seated before her on one of the long piazza benches, would be poring over his primer or his slate.

As time went on every one began to wonder at the earnestness and constancy of this childish friendship.

So the lessons went on through all the spring and summer and early autumn of that year.

Before the leaves had fallen Regulas had learned all she could teach him.

Then their parting came about naturally, inevitably. When the weather grew cold, the lessons could no longer be given out on the exposed piazza, and the little teacher could not be permitted to bring her rough and ragged pupil into the house.

Cora begged of her kind Uncle Clarence some of his old school books, which she knew to be among the rubbish of the garret, which was her own rainy-day play room in summer, and offered the books to the boy as a loan from herself, because she dared not offer the lad a gift.

Later, she loaned him a "Boy's Life of Benjamin Franklin." It was that book, perhaps, that decided the boy's destiny. He read it with avidity, with enthusiasm. The impression made upon his mind was so deep and intense that his heart became fired with a fine ambition. He longed to tread in the steps of Benjamin Franklin—to become a printer, to rise to position and power, to do great and good things for his country and for humanity. He brooded over all this.

To begin, he resolved to become a printer.

So, when the spring opened, he came to Rockhold and bade good-by to his little friend, and went, at the age of fourteen, to the city to seek his fortune, walking all the way, and taking with him testimonials as to his character for truth, honesty, and industry.

There were at that time three printing offices in that city. Rule applied to the first and to the second without success, but when he applied to the third—the office of the Watch—and showed his credentials, the proprietor took him on.

He and his little friend corresponded regularly from month to month.

No one objected to this letter writing, any more than to the lesson giving. It was but the charity of the little lady given for the encouragement of the poor, struggling orphan boy.

* * * * *

It was nearly four years after the departure of Rule from the works at North End to seek his fortune in a printing office of the neighboring city. He had never yet returned to see his friends, though his correspondence with Cora had been kept up.

In the four years that Rose Flowers had lived at Rockhold she had won the hearts of all the household, from the master down to the meanest drudge. She was, indeed, the fragrance of the house. All admired her much and loved her more, and yet—

And yet in every mind there was a latent distrust of her, which seemed unjust, and for which all who felt it reproached themselves—in every mind but one.

The Iron King felt no distrust of the submissive, beautiful creature, whom he continually held up to other members of his family as the very model of perfect womanhood.

He did not see, he said, why she should now, when it was finally decided that Cora should be sent to the young ladies' institute, at the city, why Rose should leave the house. She might remain as companion for Mrs. Rockharrt. But when this was proposed to Miss Flowers, the young governess explained, with much regret, that, not anticipating this generous offer, she had already secured another situation.

With tears in her beautiful eyes, Rose Flowers took the old man's hand and pressed it to her heart and then to her lips as she bent her head and cooed:

"I will remember all you have told me—all the wise and good counsel you have ever given me, all the precious acts of kindness you have ever shown me. And when I cease to remember them, sir, may heaven forget me!"

"There, there, my child. You are a baby—a mere baby!" said the Iron King, as he patted her on the head and left her.

This interview occurred a few days before Christmas.

It was now Christmas morning, nearly four years after the departure of Rule Rothsay. It was a fine clear, cold day. Bright with color was the village of North End, where all the houses were decorated with holly, and the people, in their Sunday clothes, were out in the streets on their way to the church, which had been beautifully decorated for the occasion.

The Rockharrt family—with the exception of old Aaron Rockharrt, who did not choose to turn out that day, and Miss Rose Flowers, who stayed home to keep him company and to wait on him—came early in their capacious and comfortable family carriage. They had a large, square, handsomely upholstered pew in the right-hand upper corner of the church.

When they were all quietly settled in their seats and the voluntary was going on, the elders of the party bowed their heads to offer up their preliminary prayers. But Cora, girl-like, looked about her, letting her glances wander over the well-filled pews, and then up toward the galleries. A moment later she suddenly gave a little start and half-suppressed exclamation of delight.

Mrs. Rockharrt, who had finished her prayer, looked around in surprise at the girl, who had committed this unusual indecorum.

"Oh, grandma, it is Rule! Rule, up there in the boys' gallery—look!" Cora whispered, in eager delight.

The old lady raised her eyes and recognized Regulas Rothsay—but so well grown, so well dressed, and well looking as to be hardly recognizable, except from his strong, characteristic head and face. He wore a neatly fitting suit of dark-blue cloth; neat woolen gloves covered his large hands; his hair was trimmed and as nicely dressed as such rough, tawny locks could be.

At length the beautiful service was finished, and the congregation filed out of the church into the yard, where all immediately began shaking hands with each other.

Presently Cora saw the youth come out of the church, look earnestly about him until he descried her party, and then walk directly toward her.

"Oh, Rule, I am so glad to see you! When did you get here? Why didn't you come straight to Rockhold? Why didn't you write and tell me you were coming?" Cora eagerly demanded, as she met him, and hurrying question upon question before giving him time to answer the first one.

The youth raised his cap and bowed to the elder members of the party before answering the girl. Then he said:

"I did not know that I could come until an hour before I started. I came by the midnight express, and reached here just in time for church. I have not seen, or I should say, I have not spoken to, any one here yet except yourself.

"Last evening, being Friday evening, we were at work very late on our Saturday's supplement, and a Christmas story in it. Very often we have to work on Christmas night, if the next day is a week day; and every Sunday night—that is, from twelve midnight, when the Sabbath ends—we have to work to get out Monday morning's paper."

"Oh, yes; of course," said Fabian.

"Well, I never have had a whole holiday since I have been in the Watch office; but last night, about half-past ten, after the paper had gone to press, the foreman came to me, paid my wages up to the first of January, and told me that I need not return to the office at midnight after Sunday, but might have leave of absence until Monday morning, so as to have time to go and spend Christmas with my friends if I wished to do so."

Just then Clarence Rockharrt joined them and said, anxiously:

"Mother, dear, I think you had better get into the carriage. It is very bleak out here, and you might take cold."

Mrs. Rockharrt at once took the arm of her youngest and best-beloved son and let him lead her away to the spot where the comfortable family coach awaited them.

Mr. Fabian started to follow with Cora.

"Come with us to the carriage door, Rule," said the girl, looking back and stretching her hand out toward the youth.

"Yes! Come!" added pleasant Mr. Fabian.

Regulas touched his hat and followed. Fabian put his niece in the seat beside her grandmother, and then turned to the youth and inquired:

"What are you going to do with yourself to-day?"

"I shall go down to my old home, sir, Mother Scythia's hut."

"Oh! Ah! Yes; I remember. You are going to stop there?"

"Yes, sir; but I shall try to see all old friends to-day or to-morrow, and I should like to go to Rockhold to thank all the friends there who have been kind to me, and to tell Mrs. Rockharrt and Miss Cora, who were kindest of all, how I have got on in the city."

"Certainly! Certainly, Rule! Come whenever you like! And see here! It is a long, rough road from here to old Scythia's Roost, which is right on our way to Rockhold. Sorry we cannot offer you a seat in the carriage but you see there are but four seats and there are already five people to fill them."

"Oh, sir, I should not expect such a thing," said the youth.

"But I was about to say if you will mount to a seat beside the coachman, you will be heartily welcome to what used to be my own 'most favoryte' perch in my younger days. And we can set you down at the foot of the path leading up to old Scythia's hut," concluded Mr. Fabian.

"Oh, do, Rule! Please do!" pleaded Cora.

Regulas, with his sturdy independence of spirit, would most likely have declined this favor had not the girl's beseeching face and voice persuaded him to accept it.

"I thank you very much, sir," he said, and promptly climbed to the seat.

Three miles down the road the carriage was pulled up at the foot of the highest point of the mountain range, and Rule came down from his perch beside the coachman, stepped up to the carriage window, took off his hat, thanked the occupants for his ride, and then drew a neat, white inch-square parcel from his vest pocket, and holding it modestly, said:

"I hope you will accept this, Miss Cora."

The girl took it with a smile, but before she could open her lips to express her thanks, the youth had bowed, turned from the carriage, and was speeding his way up the rough mountain path, springing from crag to crag up to the ledge on which old Scythia's hut stood.

Cora opened the parcel and found an inch-square little casket of red morocco. She opened this with a spring, and found a small gold heart reposing in a bed of white satin.

"How pretty it is!" she said softly to herself, as she took the trinket from its case. "Look, grandma, what Rule has brought me for a Christmas gift! A little gold heart! A pure gold heart! His is a pure gold heart, is it not?" she added, earnestly, as she placed the trinket in the lady's hand.

Mrs. Rockharrt looked at it with interest, and then passed it on to her eldest son.

The ride was continued, and presently the carriage was driven off the boat and up the avenue leading to the house. As the vehicle drew up before the front doors, a pretty picture might have been seen through the drawing-room windows.

A bright fireside, an old man reclining in his luxurious arm-chair; a beautiful girl seated on a hassock at his feet, reading to him, and at intervals lifting her lovely blue eyes in childish adoration to his face. They might have been grandfather and granddaughter, but they were, in fact, old Aaron Rockharrt and Miss Rose Flowers—Merlin and Vivien again, except that the Iron King was rather a rugged and unmanageable Merlin.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, Regulas Rothsay had climbed the rugged mountain path that led to Scythia's hut. On the back of the broad shelf of rock on which the hut stood was a hollow in the side of the precipice. Scythia had cleared out this hollow of all its natural litter. Before this apartment she had built another room, with no better material than fragments of rock found on the spot, and filled in with earth, moss and twigs. She had roofed this over with branches of evergreens piled thick and high, to keep off rain and sun. A heavy buffalo robe, fastened with large wooden pins at its top to the roof of the hut, served for a door. There was no window. In the inner or cavernous apartment she had built a rude fire-place and chimney going up through a hole in the rock. A pallet of rough furs and coarse blankets lay in one corner of this room, and a few rude cooking utensils occupied another. In the outer room there was a rough oak table and two chairs.

Up before the edge of this natural shelf on which the hut stood appeared the tops of a thicket of pine trees that grew on the mountain side fifty feet below. Up behind this shelf arose other pines, height above height, until their highest tops seemed to pierce the clouds.

When Rule reached this shelf, he found the tops of the pine trees, the ground, and the hut all covered with snow.

"Good morning, mother! A merry Christmas to you!" said Rule, gayly.

"I hope you have made yourself as comfortable as possible in this place," said the youth, anxiously.

"Yes, Rule! always as happy and as much at ease as my past will permit."

"Oh! what is—what was this terrible past?" inquired the youth—not for the first time.

"It was, it is, and it ever will be! This past will be present and future so long as I live on this earth. And some day, when time and strife and woe have made you strong and hard and stern, I will lift the veil and show you its horrible face! But not now, my boy! not now! Come in."

As the weird woman said this she led the way into the hut, where the rude table stood covered with a coarse white cloth and adorned with two white plates and two pairs of steel knives and forks. Here the Christmas dinner was eaten, and afterward the two began a close conversation.

"Mother," said the youth, "I shall have to leave here to-morrow night. I should go away so much more contented if I could see you living down in the village among people. Here you are dwelling alone, far from human help if you should require it. The winter coming on!"

"Rule! I hate the village! I hate the haunts of human beings! I love the wilderness and the wild creatures that are around me!"

"But, mother, if you should be taken ill up here alone!"

"I should get well or die; and it would not in the least matter which."

"But you might linger, you might suffer."

"I am used to suffering, and however long I might linger, the end would come at last. Recovery or death, it would not matter which."

"Oh, Mother Scythia!" said the youth, in a voice full of distress.

"Rule! I am as happy here as my past will permit me to be. I abhor the haunts of the human! I love the solitude of the wilderness. The time may come when you too, lad, shall hate the haunts of the human and long for the lair of the lion! You will rise, Rule! As sure as flame leaps to the air, you will rise! The fire within you will kindle into flame! You will rise! But—beware the love of woman and the pride of place! See! Listen!"

The face of the weird woman changed—became ashen gray, her form became rigid, her eyes were fixed, her gaze was afar off in distant space.

"What is it, mother?" anxiously demanded the youth.

"I see your future and the emblem of your future—a splendid meteor, soaring up from the earth to the sky, filling space with light and glory! Dazzling a million of eyes, then dropping down, down, down into darkness and nothingness! That is you!"

"Mother Scythia!" exclaimed the youth, in troubled tones.

The weird woman never turned her head, nor withdrew her fearful, far-off stare into futurity.

"That is you. You are but a poor apprentice. But from this year you will soar, and soar, and soar to the zenith of place and power among your fellows! You will be the blazing meteor of the day! You will dazzle all eyes by the splendor of your success, and then, 'in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye,' you will drop into night, and nothingness, and be heard of no more!"

"Mother! Mother Scythia! Wake up! You are dreaming!" said Rule, laying his hand on the woman's shoulder and gently shaking her.

"Oh, what is this? Rule! What is it?"

"You have been dreaming, Mother Scythia."

"Have I?" said the woman, putting her hands to her forehead and stroking away the raven locks that over-shadowed it.

And gradually she recovered from her trance and returned to her normal condition. When Rule was quite sure that she was all right again, he said:

"Mother Scythia, I am going to Rockhold to see the friends there who have been kind to me. But I will come back to spend the night with you."

"Well, lad, go. Why should I try to hinder you? You must work out your destiny and bear your doom," she said, wearily, with her forehead bowed upon her hands, as if she felt the heavy prophetic cloud still over-shadowing and oppressing her.

"Mother Scythia, why do you speak so solemnly of me, and I only in my nineteenth year?" gravely inquired the youth, who, though he had been accustomed to the weird woman's strange moods and stranger words and deemed them little less than the betrayals of insanity, yet now felt unaccountably troubled by them.

"Yes; you are young, but the years fly fast; and I—I see the future in the present. But go, my boy! enjoy the good of the present—your best days, lad!—and come back this evening and you shall find your pallet of sweet boughs and soft blankets ready for you," she said.

Rule stooped and kissed her corrugated forehead and then left the hut.

The sun was setting behind the mountain, which threw a dark shadow over Scythia's Ledge and Rule's path, as he ran springing from rock to rock down the precipice to the river's side. It was dark when he reached the spot. But the lights from the windows of Rockhold on the opposite shore gleamed out upon the snow with splendid effect.

Every window in the front of the building was shining with light that streamed out upon the snow; for the shutters had been left unclosed on purpose, this Christmas night.

Rule crossed the ferry and went, as he had been used to go, to the back door, opening on the back porch, where, four years before, Cora used to keep school for her one pupil. He rapped at the door, and Sylvan sprang up and opened it. He was warmly welcomed, and spent a pleasant evening. The rest of his vacation was spent in a way equally pleasant, and at seven a.m., Monday, Rule was at work, type-setting in the Watch office.

On the third of January following that Christmas there were three departures from Rockhold. Miss Rose Flowers went East to enter upon her new engagement. Corona Haught, in charge of her grandmother and her Uncle Clarence, went West to enter the Young Ladies' Institute, in the capital, and Master Sylvanus Haught went North, in the care of his Uncle Fabian, to enter a boy's school.



CHAPTER IV.

A RETROSPECT.

It was near the close of a cold, bright day early in January, that Mrs. Rockharrt and Corona Haught, escorted by Mr. Clarence, stepped from the train at the depot of the capital city of their State—which must, for obvious reason, be nameless—and were driven to the Young Ladies' Institute, where the girl was left, and as the adieus were being said it was explained to Cora that discretion and social conventionality dictated that her correspondence with young Rothsay should cease. Clarence stated that he would write to the youth and explain that the rules of the school, also, forbade such a correspondence.

"I will also tell him that he can continue to send the Watch to you, with his own paragraphs marked as before," said Corona's uncle. "There can be no law against that. I will correspond with Rule occasionally, and keep you posted up as to how he is getting on. There can be no school law against your uncle writing to you."

Cora Haught graduated when she was eighteen. In all these years she had not seen Rule Rothsay. She only heard from him through his letters to her Uncle Clarence, reported second hand to herself. She knew that in these five years Rule had risen, step by step, in the office where he had begun his apprenticeship; that he had risen to be foreman, then sub-editor, and now he was part proprietor and one of the most powerful political writers on the paper.

The workingmen's party wished to put him up as a candidate for the State legislature. What a power he would have been for their cause in that place! but when the subject was proposed to him, he admonished the spokesman that he was, as yet, a little less than of legal age for an office that required its holder to be at least twenty-five years old.

After Cora's graduation the Rockharrt family spent a week in their town house, preparatory to a summer tour through the Northern States and Canada.

One morning, while the whole family were sitting around the breakfast table, old Aaron Rockharrt suddenly spoke:

"Fabian! Now that my granddaughter has left school, she will want a companion near her own age. Miss Rose Flowers would suit very well. Have you any idea where she is?"

"Miss Rose Flowers, my dear sir, is now Mrs. Slydell Stillwater, the—"

"Married!" interrupted all voices except that of the Iron King, who bent his heavy gray brows as he gazed upon his son.

"Stuff and nonsense! How did you know anything about her marriage?" demanded old Aaron Rockharrt.

"In the simplest and most natural way, sir. I saw it in the newspapers, about three years ago. And, in point of fact, I forgot it and should never have thought of it again but for your inquiries about the young woman this morning. Her husband is Captain Slydell Stillwater, captain and half owner of the East Indiaman Queen of Sheba," replied Mr. Fabian.

"Poor child! To be parted from her husband more than half her time. Is Captain Stillwater now at sea?"

"I think he must be, sir, as there has hardly been time for his return since he sailed soon after his marriage."

"Do you know where Mrs. Stillwater lives?"

"I do not, sir; but I might find out by inquiring of some mutual acquaintance."

"Do so. And, Mrs. Rockharrt," the King added, turning to his little old wife, "you will write a note to Mrs. Stillwater, inviting her to join our party for a summer tour, and as our guest, remember. Fabian, you will see that the note reaches the lady in time."

"I will do my best, sir," said Mr. Fabian.

"Very well," said the wife.

The note of invitation to Mrs. Stillwater was written. Mr. Fabian used such dispatch in his search for the lady that his efforts were soon rewarded with success. A letter came from Mrs. Stillwater, postmarked Baltimore, in which she cordially thanked Mrs. Rockharrt for her invitation, gratefully accepted it, and offered to join the Rockharrt party at any point most convenient to the latter. This answer was communicated to the family autocrat, who thereupon issued his commands:

"Write and say to Mrs. Stillwater that we will stop at Baltimore on our way, and call for her at her hotel on Friday; but say that if she should not be ready, we will wait her convenience."

This letter was also written and sent off.

Three days later the whole family left the capital for Baltimore, which they reached at night. They went directly to the hotel where Mrs. Stillwater was staying, and engaged rooms for their whole party.

They scarcely took time enough to wash the travel dust from their faces and brush it from their hair, and change their traveling suits for fresher dresses, before they hurried down stairs to their private parlor, whence Mrs. Rockharrt sent her own and her granddaughter's cards to Mrs. Stillwater's room.

A few minutes after, the young siren appeared.

"Heavens! how beautiful she is! More beautiful than before! Look, Cora! Was there ever such a perfect creature?" said Mr. Clarence, under his breath.

Cora looked at her former governess with a start of involuntary wonder and admiration. Rose Stillwater was more beautiful than ever. Her exquisite oval face was a little more rounded. Her fair complexion had a richer bloom on the cheeks and lips. Her hair was darker in the shade and brighter in the light; her blue eyes were softer and sweeter; her graceful form fuller. She was dressed in some floating material that enveloped her figure like a cloud.

She came, blooming, beaming, smiling, into the room, where all arose to meet her. She went first to Mr. Rockharrt, and bent and almost knelt before him, and raised his hand to her lips as if he had been her sovereign; and then, before he could respond—for she saw that he was slightly embarrassed as well as greatly pleased by this adoration—she turned and sank into the arms of old Mrs. Rockharrt, and cooed forth:

"How sweet of you to remember your poor, lonely child and call her to your side!"

"Why didn't you tell me you were going to be married, my dear?" was the practical question of the old lady.

"It was shyness on my part. I dared not obtrude my poor affairs on your attention until you should notice me in some way," she meekly replied, and then she gracefully slipped out of Mrs. Rockharrt's embrace and went and folded Cora to her bosom, murmuring:

"My own darling, how happy I am to meet you again! How lovely you are, my sweet angel!"

"Oh, why did you not write to me that you were going to be married? I should have so liked to have been your bridesmaid!" complained Cora.

"Sweetest sweet, if I had dreamed such honor and happiness were possible for me, I should have written and claimed them with pride and delight. But I dared not, my darling! I dared not. I was but a poor governess, without any claims to your remembrance, and should not now be with you had not the dear lady, your grandmamma, kindly recalled her poor dependant to mind and brought me into her circle."

"Oh, Rose, do not speak so! I should hate to hear even the poorest maid in our house speak so. You were never grandma's dependant, or anybody's dependant. You were one of the noble army whom I honor more than I do all the monarchs on earth," said Cora earnestly.

With remembrances and delightful chat the evening was wearing away, and it was time for the party to retire to rest.

Two days after this the Rockharrts, with Cora Haught and Mrs. Stillwater, left Baltimore for the North, en route for Canada and New Brunswick.

The party went first directly to Boston, where they stayed for a few days, to attend the commencement of the collegiate school at which Master Sylvanus Haught was preparing himself to become a candidate for admission to the military academy at West Point; but where, as yet, he had not distinguished himself by application to his studies.

On promising to do better, Sylvan was permitted to accompany his friends on their summer tour.

The party spent the season in traveling, and it was not until the 15th of September that they set out on their return South. They reached Baltimore late in September, yet found the weather in that latitude still oppressively warm, and roomed at a hotel.

Here it had been tacitly understood from the first that Mrs. Stillwater was to remain, while the rest of the party should proceed on their journey West.

But the family despot had become so habituated to the incense hourly offered up to his egotism by Circe, that he felt her society to be essential to his contentment. So he issued his commands to his wife to invite Mrs. Stillwater to accompany the family party to Rockhold for a long visit.

The old lady very willingly obeyed these orders, for she also desired the visit from the fascinator, whose presence kept the tyrant in a good humor and on his good behavior. So she pressed Rose Stillwater to accompany them to their mountain home.

Rose Stillwater raised her beautiful soft blue eyes, brimming with tears that ever came at will, gazed sorrowfully, penitently, deprecatingly, into the lady's face and cooed:

"I feel as if it were a sin to refuse you! You who have been a mother to me. And, oh! how dearly I should love to stay with you and wait on you forever and forever! I could not conceive a happier life! But duty constrains me to deny myself this delight, and to wrench myself away from all I love."

"Duty? What duty, my dear girl? I do not understand that. You have no children to take care of, no house to look after, no husband to please, for Captain Stillwater is at sea. What duty, then, can you have which is so pressing as to keep you away from your friends?"

"The Queen of Sheba was spoken and passed by the Liverpool and New York ocean steamer Arctic on Saturday, within three days' sail of land. And he may arrive here any hour. I must wait to receive him."

"Indeed! I did not know that. My dear, I congratulate you on your coming happiness. I can urge you no more, of course. It is a sacred duty as well as a sweet delight for you to remain here and meet your husband. So, of course, we must resign ourselves to our loss; but I hope, my dear, that you and your husband will come together at an early date and make us a long visit."

"I hope so, too, dearest lady!"

When, a little later in the evening, the Iron King heard the result of this interview, he was—as his wife had feared—dreadfully disappointed, and consequently in one of his morose and diabolical tempers, and sullenly set his despotic will against the reasonable wishes of everybody else. He announced that they should all set forward the next day. It was high time they should all be at home looking after house and business. So it was settled.

As the party needed rest, they retired very early.

That night Cora Haught had a rather strange adventure, to relate which intelligibly I must describe the situation of their rooms.

The suite occupied by the Rockharrt party was on the third floor of the house, and consisted of five rooms in a row, on the left hand side of the corridor, from the head of the stairs. The front room, overlooking an avenue, was tenanted by Mr. and Mrs. Rockharrt, the next one was occupied by Cora Haught, the third room was the private parlor of the suite, the fourth room was that of Mrs. Stillwater, and the fifth, and largest, was a double-bedded room, tenanted jointly by Mr. Fabian and Mr. Clarence. All these rooms had doors communicating with each other, and also with the corridor, all or any of which could be left open or made fast at discretion.

Cora's room, between her grandparents' bed-chamber and their private parlor, was the smallest, the closest and the warmest of the suite. That September night was sultry and stifling. Scarcely a breath of air came from without.

The girl could not sleep for the heat. Anathematizing her room as a "black hole" of Calcutta, she lay tossing from side to side, and listening for the hourly strokes of a neighboring clock, and praying for the night to be over. She heard that clock strike eleven, twelve, one.

At length Cora thought that she would go into the private parlor next her own room to get a breath of fresh air. She felt sure that there she should be perfectly safe from intrusion, as she knew that the door leading from the parlor into the corridor was secured from within by a strong bolt, and the other two doors led, the one into her own little room, and the other, on the opposite side, into Mrs. Stillwater's. So that she would be as secluded as in her own chamber.

She slipped on a thin, dark blue silk dressing gown, thrust her feet in slippers, opened the door and passed into the parlor.

The room was very dark, still and cool. The two side windows overlooking the alley were open, and a rising breeze from the harbor blew in. Cora went and sat down in an easy chair in the angle of the corner between an open side window and her own room door.

The room was pitch dark. The darkness, the coolness, and the stillness were all so soothing and refreshing to the girl's heated and excited nerves that she sank back in her high, cushioned chair and dozed off into sleep—into such a deep and dreamless sleep that she knew nothing until she was awakened, or rather only half awakened, by the sound of a key turning in a lock and a door creaking upon its hinges. The sound seemed to come from the direction of Mrs. Stillwater's room; but Cora was still half asleep, and almost unconscious of her whereabouts. As in a dream, she heard some one tiptoe slowly across and jar a chair in the deep darkness. She heard the bolt of the door leading into the corridor grate as it was slipped back. This awakened her thoroughly. She was about to call out:

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse