The Great Detective Story.
MADELINE PAYNE, THE DETECTIVE'S DAUGHTER.
LAWRENCE L. LYNCH,
(Of the Secret Service.)
Author of "Shadowed by Three," "The Diamond Coterie," "Out of a Labyrinth," etc., etc.
Chicago: Alex. T. Loyd & Co. 1888.
Copyright, 1883, Donnelley, Loyd & Co., Chicago.
Copyright, 1883, Alex. T. Loyd & Co., Chicago.
Copyright, 1884, Alex. T. Loyd & Co., Chicago.
I. MAN PROPOSES 9 II. THE OLD TREE'S REVELATIONS 16 III. THE STORY OF A CRIME 25 IV. THE DIE IS CAST 44 V. A SHREWD SCHEME 54 VI. A WARNING 64 VII. A STRUGGLE FOR MORE THAN LIFE 75 VIII. THREADS OF THE FABRIC 98 IX. GONE! 104 X. BONNIE, BEWITCHING CLAIRE 113 XI. A GLEAM OF LIGHT 121 XII. A MESSAGE FROM THE DEAD 130 XIII. MISS ARTHUR'S FRENCH MAID 137 XIV. WHEELS WITHIN WHEEL 143 XV. CORA AND THE FRENCH MAID MEASURE SWORDS 155 XVI. FACE TO FACE 167 XVII. GATHERING CLUES 184 XVIII. THE HAND OF FRIENDSHIP WIELDS THE SURGEON'S KNIFE 191 XIX. A DUAL RENUNCIATION 203 XX. STRUGGLING AGAINST FATE 215 XXI. HAGAR AND CORA 229 XXII. TO BE, TO DO, TO SUFFER 239 XXIII. SETTING SOME SNARES 244 XXIV. A VERITABLE GHOST 251 XXV. SOME DAYS OF WAITING 257 XXVI. NOT A BAD DAY'S WORK 265 XXVII. CLAIRE TURNS CIRCE 272 XXVIII. THE CURTAIN RISES ON THE MIMIC STAGE 279 XXIX. A STARTLING EPISODE 291 XXX. WAITING 299 XXXI. MR. PERCY SHAKES HIMSELF 303 XXXII. A SILKEN BELT 310 XXXIII. CROSS PURPOSES 316 XXXIV. A SLIGHT COMPLICATION 322 XXXV. "THOU SHALT NOT SERVE TWO MASTERS" SET AT NAUGHT 332 XXXVI. MR. LORD'S LETTER 337 XXXVII. "I HAVE COME BACK TO MY OWN!" 341 XXXVIII. CORA UNDER ORDERS 356 XXXIX. MYSTIFIED PEOPLE 367 XL. DAVLIN'S "POINTS." 378 XLI. THE DAYS PASS BY 385 XLII. A STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM 389 XLIII. THE DOCTOR'S WOOING 397 XLIV. A FRESH COMPLICATION 403 XLV. MRS. RALSTON'S STORY 409 XLVI. CORA "STIRS UP THE ANIMALS." 416 XLVII. THE BEGINNING OF THE END 423 XLVIII. THE SWORD OF FATE 427 XLIX. AS THE FOOL DIETH 442 L. "AND THEN COMES REST." 447
THE DETECTIVE'S DAUGHTER.
"H'm! And you scarcely remember your mother, I suppose?"
"No, Lucian; I was such a mere babe when she died, I have often wondered what it would be like to have a mother. Auntie Hagar was always very kind to me, however; so kind, in fact, that my step-father, fearing, he said, that I would grow up self-willed and disobedient, sent her away, and procured the services of the ugly old woman you saw in the garden. Poor Auntie Hagar," sighed the girl, "she was sorely grieved at our parting and, that she might be near me, bought the little cottage in the field yonder."
"Oh!" ejaculated the man, more as if he felt that he was expected to say something, than as if really interested in the subject under discussion. "Ah—er—was—a—was the old lady a property holder, then? Most discharged servants go up and down on the earth, seeking what they may devour—in another situation."
"That is the strangest part of the affair, Lucian; she had money. Where it came from, I never could guess, nor would she ever give me any information on the subject. It was a legacy—that was all I was to know, it seemed.
"I remember," she continued, musingly, "how very much astonished I was to receive, from my step-father, a lecture on this head. He took the ground that my childish curiosity was unpardonably rude, and angrily forbade me to ask further questions. And I am sure that since that one instance of wonderful regard for the feelings of Aunt Hagar, he has not deigned to consider the comfort and happiness of any, save and always himself."
As the girl's voice took on a tone of scornful sarcasm; as her cheeks flushed and her eyes flashed while memory recalled the many instances of unfeeling cruelty and neglect, that had brought tears to her childish eyes and pain to her lonely heart—the eyes of Lucian Davlin became bright with admiration, and something more; something that might have caused her honest eyes to wonder and question, if she had but intercepted the glance. But her thoughts had taken a backward turn. Without looking up, perceiving by his silence that he had no desire to interrupt her, she proceeded, half addressing herself:
"I used to ask him about my mother, and was always informed that he 'didn't care to converse of dead folks.' Finally, he assured me that he was 'tired of seeing my sickly, ugly face,' and that, as I would have to look after myself when he was dead and gone, I must be educated. Therefore, I was sent to the dreary Convent school at M——. And there I studied hard, looking forward to the time when, having learned all they could teach me, I might breathe again outside the four stone walls; for, by my step-papa's commands, I was not permitted to roam outside the sisters' domains until my studies should reach an end. Then they brought me back, and my polite step-papa called me an 'educated idiot;' and my good old Hagar cried over me; and I made friends with the birds, and the trees. Ever since, always avoiding my worthy ancestor-in-law, I have been wondering what it would be like to be happy among true friends, in a bright spot somewhere, far away from this place, where I never have been happy for a day at a time, even as a child."
"Never, little girl?" The eyes were very reproachful, and the man's hand was held out entreatingly. "Never, darling?"
She looked up in his face shyly, yet trustfully, and then putting her hand in his, said: "Never, until I knew you, Lucian; and always since, I think, except—"
She hesitated, and the color fled out of her face.
"Except when I think that the day draws near when you will leave me. And when the great world has swallowed you up, you will forget the 'little girl' you found in the woods, perhaps."
A smile flitted across the face of the listener, and he turned away for a moment to conceal the lurking devil gleaming out of his eyes. Then, flinging away his half finished cigar, he took both her hands in his, and looking down into her clear eyes, said:
"Then don't let me go away from you, beauty. Don't stay here to make dismal meditations among the gloomy trees. Don't pass all the weary Winter with Curmudgeon, who will marry you to an old bag of gold. Come with me; come to the city and be happy. You shall see all the glories and beauties of the gay, bright world. You shall put dull care far behind you. You shall be my little Queen of Hearts, to love and care for always. Sweetheart, will you come?"
He was folding her close now, and she nestled in his arms with perfect trustfulness, with untold happiness shining in her bright eyes. She was in no haste to answer his eager question, and he smiled again; and once more the lurking devil laughed out of his eyes. But he held her tenderly to him, in silence for a time, and then lifted the blushing face to meet his own.
"Look up, Aileen, my own! Is it to be as I wish? Will you leave this place with me to-morrow night?"
The girl drew back with a start of surprise. "You—you surely are not going to-morrow, Lucian," and the gentle voice trembled.
"I must, little one—have just received a letter calling me back to the city. Your sweet face has already kept me here too long. But I shall take it back with me, shall I not, love; and never lose it more?"
The girl was silent. She loved him only too well, and yet this peremptory wooing and sudden departure struck upon her naturally sensitive nerves as something harsh and unpleasant. She would not leave behind much love, would be missed by few friends, and yet—to leave her home once was to leave it forever, and it was home, after all. She looked at the man before her, and a something, her good angel perhaps, seemed, almost against herself, to move her to rebel.
"Why must I go like a runaway, Lucian? I can't bear to bid you go, and yet, if you must, why not leave me for a little time? My father will never consent, I well know, but let me tell him, and then go openly, after he has had time to become familiar with the idea."
"After he has had time to lock you up! Recollect, you are not of age, Aileen. After he has had time to force you into a marriage with your broken-backed old lover. After he has had time to poison your mind against me——"
"Lucian! as if he could do that; he, indeed!" The girl laughed scornfully.
It is not difficult to guess how this affair would have terminated. The man was handsome and persuasive; the girl trustful, loving, and, save for him, so she thought, almost friendless.
But an unexpected event interrupted the eloquence flowing from the lips of Lucian Davlin, and set the mind of the girl free to think one moment, unbiased by the mesmeric power of his mind, eye, and touch.
They were standing in a little grove, near which ran the footpath leading into the village of Bellair. Suddenly, as if he had dropped from one of the wide spreading trees, a very fat boy, with a shining face and a general air of "knowingness," appeared before them.
"I beg pardin, sir," proclaimed he, "but as you told me if a tellergram come for you, to fetch it here, so I did."
And staring at Madeline the while, he produced a yellow envelope from some interior region, and presented it to Lucian Davlin, who tore open the cover, and took in the purport of the message at one glance. His face wore a variety of expressions: Annoyance, satisfaction, surprise, all found place as he read. He stood in a thoughtful attitude for a brief time, and then, as if he had settled the matter in his own mind, said:
"All right, Mike. Go back now, and tell Bowers to prepare to leave to-night. I'll come down and send the required answer immediately. Here, take this."
Tossing him a piece of money, Lucian turned to Madeline, over whose face a look of sorrowful wonder was creeping.
"'Man proposes,' my dear! Well, I am 'disposed of' for a time. It is only one night sooner, and, after all, what matter? Will you decide for me at once, Maidie? Nay, I see you hesitate still, and time just now is precious. Think till to-night, then; think of the lonely days here without me; think of me, alone in the big world, wishing and longing for you. I could not even write you in safety. Think fast, little woman; and when evening comes, meet me here with your answer. If it must be separation for a time, dear, tell me when I shall come back for you."
The girl drew a breath of relief. He would come back—that would be better. But seeing his anxiety to be gone, she only said: "Very well, Lucian, I will be here."
"Then, good-by till evening."
A swift kiss, and a strong hand clasp, and he strode away.
Trampling down the wayside daisies and tender Spring grasses; insensible to the beauties of earth and sky; smiling still that same queer, meaning smile, he took the path leading back to the village. Reaching the site, where the woody path terminated in the highway, he turned. Yes, she was looking after him; she would be, he knew. He kissed his hand, lifted his hat with a courtly gesture, and passed out of her sight.
"Gad!" he ejaculated, half aloud, "she is a little beauty; and half inclined to rebel, too. She won't go with me to-night, I think; but a few weeks of this solitude without me, and my Lady Bird will capitulate. The old Turk, her step-father, won't raise much of a hue and cry at her flight, I fancy. Wonder what is the secret of his antipathy to Miss Payne."
He paced on, wrinkling his brow in thought a moment, and then whistling softly as his fancies shaped themselves to his liking. Suddenly he stopped, turned, and looked sharply about him.
"I'll do it!" he exclaimed. "Strange if I can't extract from a broken down old woman any items of family history that might serve my purpose. I'll call on the nurse—what's her name—to-night."
He glanced across the meadow to where stood the cottage of Nurse Hagar, and, as if satisfied with himself and his brilliant last idea, resumed his walk. Presently his pace slackened again, and he looked at the crumpled paper which he still retained in his hand, saying:
"It's queer what sent Cora to the city for this flying visit. I must keep my Madeline out of her way. If they should meet—whew!"
Evidently, direful things might ensue from a meeting between Madeline Payne and this unknown Cora, for after a prolonged whistle, a brief moment of silence, and then a short laugh, Davlin said:
"I should wear a wig, at least," and he laughed again. "I wonder, by Jove! I wonder if old Arthur's money bags are heavy enough to make a card for Cora. Well, I'll find that out, too."
THE OLD TREE'S REVELATIONS.
Meanwhile, strange feelings filled the heart, and troublesome thoughts the head, of Madeline Payne.
She looked about her sorrowfully. The leafy wood seemed one of her oldest, truest friends. Since her mother's death, she had lived, save for the faithful regard of old Hagar, an unloved life. In the only home she knew, she felt herself an object of dislike, and met only cold neglect, or rude repulsion. So she had made a friend of the shady wood, and welcomed back the birds, in early Springtime, with joyful anticipation of Summer rest under green branches, lulled and soothed by their songs.
Wandering here, the acquaintance between herself and Lucian Davlin had begun. Here six long, bright weeks of the Springtime had passed, each day finding them lingering longer among the leafy shadows, and drawing closer about them both the cords of a destiny sad for one, fatal for each.
Standing with hands clasped loosely before her, eyes down dropped, and foot tapping the mossy turf, Madeline presented a picture of youth and loveliness such as is rarely seen even in a beauty-abounding land. A form of medium height which would, in later years, develop much of stately grace; a complexion of lily-like fairness; and eyes as deep and brown, as tender and childlike, as if their owner were gazing, ever and always, as infants gaze who see only great, grand wonders, and never a woe or fear.
With a wee, small mouth, matching the eyes in expression, the face was one to strike a casual observer as lovely—as childishly sweet, perhaps. Yet there was something more than childishness in the broad brow, and firm chin. The little white hands were shapely and strong, and the dainty feet pressed down the daisies softly yet firmly, with quiet but steady movement.
Many a man has been mistaken in baby mouth, and sweetly-smiling eyes. And whoso should mistake Madeline Payne, in the time to come, for "just a child and nothing more," would reckon unwisely, and mayhap learn this truth too late.
Madeline sat down upon a fallen tree, where she had so often talked with her lover. She looked up into the wide spreading branches overhead. There was the crooked bough where she had, often and often, in past days, sought refuge when troubled by her father's harshness, or haunted by dreams of the mother she had hardly known. It looked cool and inviting, as if she could think to better purpose shrouded by the whispering leaves. She stepped upon the fallen trunk, and springing upward, caught a bending limb, and was soon seated cosily aloft, smiling at the thought of what Lucian would say could he see her there. Long she pondered, silent, motionless. Finally, stirring herself and shaking lightly an overhanging friendly branch she exclaimed:
"That will be best! I'll stay here for the present. I'll tell step-papa that I love Lucian, and will never marry his friend, Amos Adams, the old fright! I'll try and be very calm, and as dutiful as maybe. Then, if he turns me out, very well. If he shuts me up—" Her eyes flashed and she laughed; but there was little of mirth in the laughter—"Why, then, I would lead him a life, I think! Yes, I'll bid Lucian good-by, for a little while, and I'll try and not miss him too much, for—Oh!"
She had been very busy with her own half-spoken thoughts, else she must have sooner discovered their approach, for now they were almost underneath her, and they were no less personages than her step-father, John Arthur, and her would-be suitor, Amos Adams.
Madeline was about to make known her presence, but her ear caught the fragment of a sentence in which her name held prominent place. Acting upon impulse, she remained a silent, unsuspected listener.
And so began in her heart and life that drama of pain and passion, sin and mystery, that should close round, and harden and blight, the darkening future of Madeline Payne.
A more marked contrast than the two men presented could scarcely be imagined.
John Arthur might have been, evidently had been, a handsome man, years ago. But it did not seem possible that, even in his palmiest days, Amos Adams could have been called anything save a fright. He was much below the medium height. His head was sunken between his shoulders, and thrust forward, and each feature of his ugly face seemed at war with every other; while the glance of his greenish gray eye was such as would cause a right-minded person involuntarily to cross himself and utter, with perfect propriety, the Pharisee's prayer.
"The mischief fly away with you, man," said Mr. Arthur, seating himself upon the fallen tree, and striking at the ground fiercely with his cane; "what is my dead wife to you? Madeline makes my life a burden by these same queries. It's none of your business why the departed Mrs. Arthur left her property to me during my life, and tied it up so as to make me only nominal master—mine to use but not sell, not one acre, not a tree or stone; all must go intact to Miss Madeline, curse her, at my death."
"Um-m, yes. Does the girl know anything of this?"
"If she did, your chances would be slim," said the other, scornfully. "No; I have taken good care that she should not. She has a vixenish temper, if she should get waked up to imagine herself 'wronged,' or any such school-girl nonsense. I shall not live many years—this heart disease is gaining on me fast; and if the girl is your wife, in case of my death the fortune is as good as yours, you know. I want to have peace while I do live; and for this reason, I say, I will give you my step-daughter in marriage, and you shall give me the note you hold against me for that old debt, the payment of which would compel me to live like a beggar for the remainder of my days, and the sum of ten thousand dollars."
"It's making a wife a rather expensive luxury," quoth old Amos, seating himself; "but the girl's a beauty—no disputing that point; and—"
"Of course she is," broke in Arthur, impatiently; "worth that, and more, to whoever wants her, which, fortunately for you, I don't; she is only a kill-joy to me. If you want the girl, take her, and be blessed—I'll give away the bride with all the pleasure in the world—and 'live happy ever after.'"
There was not much room for argument between these two. It was simply a question of exchange, and when old Amos had decided that he was not paying too dearly for so fair a piece of flesh and blood, they came to terms without more ado, and being agreed that "it's always best to strike while the iron is hot," Mr. Arthur suggested that his friend return with him, accept a seat at his hospitable board, and hear himself announced formally to Miss Madeline, as her future lord and master. John Arthur had ever exacted and received passive obedience from his step-daughter. He had little fear of rebellion now. How could she rebel? Was she not dependent upon his bounty for her daily bread, even?
Old Amos troubled his ugly head little if any on this point. He recognized no higher potentate than gold. He had bought him a wife; he had but to pay the price and take possession of the property.
* * * * *
Madeline Payne sat long on her leafy perch, thinking fast and hard, the expressions of her face changing rapidly as she revolved, in her mind, different phases of the situation. Surprise gave place to contempt, as she eyed the departing plotters from her green hiding-place. Contempt merged into amusement, as she thought of the wonderful contrast between the two wooers who had proffered their respective suits, in a manner so very different, beneath that self-same tree. A look of fixed resolve settled down upon her countenance at last, and uncurling herself, she dropped lightly upon the ground.
Madeline had made up her mind. That it would be useless to say aught of Lucian, she now knew too well. That she could never defy her father's commands, and still dwell beneath her father's roof, she also knew. She hesitated no longer. Fate, stronger than she, had decided for her, she reasoned. Her mind once made up, she gave in it no place to fears or misgivings. The strength of will and the spirit of rebellion, that were dormant in her nature, began to stir into life, roused by the injustice that would rob her of her own. She not only had a way of escape, but that way her own inclinations lured her. With never a fear, never a thought of the days to come, she turned from her mockery of a home, from her parent, unnatural, unloving, and unloved, to an unknown, untried world, which was all embodied in one word—Lucian.
The past held for her many dark shadows; the future held all that she craved of joy and love—Lucian.
In her outraged heart there was no room for grief. She had heard her dead mother scorned, and by him who, more than all others, should have cherished her memory and honored her name. She had heard herself bartered away, as a parcel of goods, and her very life weighed in the balance as a most objectionable thing. Her happiness was scoffed at; her wishes ignored as if without existence, and contrary to all nature; even her liberty was menaced.
Slowly she turned away, and very thoughtful was her face as she went, but fixed in its purpose as fate itself: and fearless still as if life had no dark places, no storm clouds, no despair.
Oh! they were lovely, innocent eyes; and oh! it was a sweet, sweet mouth! But the eyes never wavered, and the mouth had no trace of weakness in its dainty curves. You have reckoned without your host, John Arthur. It is no commonplace school-girl with whom you have to deal. Madeline Payne possesses a nature all untried, yet strong for good or evil. Intense in love or hate, fearless to do and dare, she will meet the fate you bring upon her—but woe to those who have compassed her downfall! If your hand has shaped the destiny of her life, she will no less overrule your future and, from afar—perhaps unrecognized, unseen—mete out to you measure for measure!
The grand old tree is sighing out a farewell. The sunlight is casting fantastic shadows where her foot, but a moment since, rested. The leaves glisten and whisper strange things. The golden buttercups laugh up in the sun's face, as if there were no drama of loving and hating, sin and atonement, daily enacted on their green, motherly bosom. And Madeline Payne has put her childhood behind her, and turned her face to the darkness beyond.
THE STORY OF A CRIME.
Nurse Hagar was displeased. She plied her knitting-needles fiercely, and seemed to rejoice in their sharp clicking. She rocked furiously backwards and forwards, and sharply admonished the cat to "take himself away," or she "would certainly rock on his tail." She "wanted to do something to somebody, she did!" She looked across the fields in the direction of Oakley, and dropping her knitting and bringing her chair to a tranquil state, soliloquized:
"It's always the way with young folks; they don't never remember that old uns have feelings. They run away after a new face, and if it's a young one and a handsome one, they turn everybody out of their thoughts; everybody else. Not that I think that city fellow's a handsome chap; by no means," she grumbled; "but Maidie does; that's certain sure. And she won't let me say a word about him—oh, no; I'm a poor old woman, and my advice is not wanted!"
Hagar resumed her knitting and her rocking with fresh vigor. But her face relaxed a measure of its grimness as, looking up, her eye rested on a dainty nosegay, tossed in at the window only that morning, by this same neglectful young girl.
"She don't mean to forget me, to be sure," she resumed. "She is always kind and gentle to her old nurse. She is lonesome, of course, and should have young company, like other girls, but—" here the needles slacked again—"drat that city chap! I wish he had stayed away from Bellair."
"Goodness, auntie, what a face! I am almost afraid to come in."
Madeline laughed, despite her anxiety, as Aunt Hagar permitted her opinion of the "city feller" to manifest itself in every feature.
"Get that awfully defiant look out of your countenance, auntie," continued Madeline; "for I'm coming in to have a long talk with you, and I must not be frightened in the beginning."
The lovely face disappeared from the open window, and in a moment reappeared in the doorway.
To permit herself to be propitiated in a moment, however, was not in the nature of Dame Hagar.
"I s'pose you think it's very respectful to pop your saucy head in at an old woman's window, and set her all of a tremble and then tell her, because she is not grinning for her own amusement, that she looks awfully cross, and that you are afraid she will bite you. You are a nice one to talk of being afraid; you, who never showed an atom of fear of anything from your cradle up. If you were a bit afraid, when you were out in the woods, for instance, and meet a long-legged animal with a smooth tongue, and eyes that ought to make you nervous, 'twouldn't be to your discredit, I think. Of course, I don't mean to say that you don't meet him quite by accident; oh, no! And I don't say that he ain't a very nice, respectable sort of chap, whatever I may think. You are just like your poor mother, and if this fellow with a name that might as well be Devil, and done with it—"
"There, now, auntie—" Madeline's face flushed, and she put the cat down with sudden emphasis; "I won't let you say bad things of Mr. Davlin, for I think you would be sorry for it afterward."
She drew a low seat to the side of the old lady, and looking her full in the face, spoke in a voice low, intense, full of purpose.
"Auntie, it is time you told me more about my mother. You have evaded, my step-father has forbidden, my questioning, but if I am ever to know aught of my dead mother's history, I intend to hear it from your lips to-day."
Surprise for a time held the old woman speechless; a look of sorrow and affection drove the querulousness out of her face and voice.
"What ails you, child?" she said, wonderingly. "Do you want to make Mr. Arthur hate me more, and keep you from me entirely? Don't you know, dearie, how he swore that the day I told you these things, he would forbid you to visit me; and if you disobeyed, take you away where I could not even hear of you?"
Tears were in Hagar's eyes, and she held out her wrinkled hands imploringly. "Don't tease your old nurse, dearie; don't. I can't tell you these things now, and they could not make you any happier, child. Wait a little; the time will come—"
"So will old age, auntie; and death, and all the knowledge we want, I suppose, when it is too late to make it profitable. Well, auntie, I will tell you something in exchange for my mother's story, and to make it easier for you to relate it. But first, will you answer a few questions?—wait, I know what you would say," as the old woman made a deprecating movement, and essayed to speak. "Hear me, now."
Hagar looked at the girl earnestly for a moment, and then said, quietly:
"Go on then, dearie."
"First," pursued Madeline; "my father dislikes me very much; is this the truth?" Hagar nodded assent.
"He dislikes you because you were always good to me." Here she paused, and Hagar again nodded.
"Because you were attached to my mother." Again she paused, and again the old woman bowed assent.
"And because"—the girl fixed the eyes of the old nurse with her own,—"because you were too familiar with my mother's past, and his, and knew too well the secret of his hatred of me!"
Hagar sat silent and motionless, but Madeline, who had read her answer in the troubled face, continued: "Very good; I knew all this before, and I'll tell you what else I know. I know why Mr. John Arthur hates me!"
Hagar opened her mouth, and shut it again quickly.
"He hates me," pursued Madeline, "because my mother left him her fortune so tied up that he can only use it; never dispose of it. And at his death it reverts to me."
Hagar still looked her amazement, and Madeline condensed the remainder of her force into one telling shot.
"If I would be kind enough to die, he would consider it a great favor. But as I evidently intend to live long, he desires, of course, to see me happy. Therefore he has bargained me in marriage to Amos Adams, for the splendid consideration of a few thousand dollars, and the promise of a few thousand more if I die young!"
Still the bewildered look rested upon the old woman's face, and still she gazed at the young girl before her. Suddenly, she leaned forward, and taking the fair head between two trembling hands, gazed long at her. As if satisfied at last with her scrutiny, she drew a deep, sighing breath and leaned back in her chair.
"It's true," groaned Hagar; "it's too true! She has found it out, and my little girl has gone away;—my Baby Madeline is become a woman! There was never a coward in all the race, and a Payne never forgave! It has come at last," she wailed, "and now, what will she do?"
Madeline lost not a look nor tone; and when the old woman ceased her rocking and moaning, she suggested, with a half smile:
"Hadn't I better marry old Adams, auntie, worry them both into untimely graves, and be a rich young widow?"
Hagar gazed at her in silence. And Madeline, taking her hand in her own, said: "Shall I tell you how I discovered all this, auntie, dear?"
"Yes, child; go on." And she bent upon the girl a look of attention.
Madeline drew close to her side, and briefly related what had transpired while she sat in her favorite tree; not stating, by the bye, how it occurred that she was in the grove at that very opportune time. Hagar's indignation was unbounded, but she continued to gaze at Madeline in a strange, half fearful, half wondering, wholly expectant way, that the girl could not interpret.
"And now, Aunt Hagar," pursued Madeline, seriously, "I want to understand this matter more fully, and I will not say a word of my plans until you have told me what I came to hear. I shall not come to you again for this information; it is surely my right, and time now is precious."
Madeline half rose, seeing that her nurse still rocked dismally and looked irresolute. "I can bide my time, and fight my battles alone, if need be," she continued, coldly. "I won't trouble you again, nurse," turning as if to go.
"Stop, child!" cried Hagar; "let an old woman think. I'll tell you all I can; all I know. Don't turn away from your old nurse, dearie; her only thought is for your good. Yes; you must not be left in the dark now,—sit down child; sit down."
Madeline resumed her seat, and old Hagar, after another season of moaning and rocking, proceeded to relate, with many wanderings from the point, and many interpolations and opinions of her own, the brief, sad story of Mrs. Arthur's married life and early death. Bereft of Hagar's ornamental extras, it was as follows:
Madeline Harcourt, an orphan, and the adopted daughter of a wealthy bachelor uncle, had incurred his displeasure by loving and marrying Lionel Payne, handsome, brave to a fault, with no other wealth than his keen intellect, his unsullied honor, and his loving, manly heart.
Lionel Payne had entered upon the study of law, but circumstances threw in his way certain mysteries that had long been puzzling the heads of the foremost detectives, and the young law student discovered in himself not only a marked taste for the study of mysteries, but a talent that was remarkable. So he gave up his law studies to become a detective. He rose rapidly in his new profession, giving all the strength of his splendid ability to the study of intricate and difficult cases, and became known among detectives, and dreaded among criminals, as "Payne, the Expert."
He had lived two happy years with his young wife, and been six months the proud father of baby Madeline, when he fell a victim to his dangerous pursuit, shot dead by a bullet from the hand of a fleeing assassin.
John Arthur had been a fellow law student with Lionel Payne, and he had followed the career of the young expert with curious interest, being, as much as was possible to his selfish nature, a friend and admirer of the rising young detective. And Lionel Payne, open and manly himself, and seeing no trace of the serpent in the seeming disinterestedness of Arthur, introduced him proudly into his happy home. Arthur was struck by the beauty of the young wife, and became a frequent and welcome visitor.
One day, there came to the office where John Arthur earned his bread reluctantly, as a salaried clerk, the uncle of Madeline Payne. He had come to make a will, in which he left all his possessions to his beloved niece, Madeline, and her heirs forever after. This was several months before the sudden death of Lionel Payne.
Ten months after she became a widow, Madeline's uncle died. Left alone with her little child, and with no resources but her own efforts, Madeline's mother struggled on, ever the object of the kind watchfulness and unobtrusive care of John Arthur, who professed to adore the child for the sake of the father, and through the baby Madeline, gradually won his way in the mother's esteem. Mrs. Payne was deeply grateful, and her mother's heart was touched by the devotion of Arthur to her little child. So it came about that, after a time, she gave him her hand, and all of her heart that was not buried with Lionel. A little later she learned that her uncle was dead, and she became mistress of a handsome fortune.
Soon came the knowledge that her husband's heart was not all gold, and the suspicion, as well, that her uncle's will and its purport had long been no secret to him. But, partly from force of habit, and partly because he was not yet quiet hardened, John Arthur kept up his farce of affection for the child. And while his wife awoke to a knowledge of many of his short-comings, she always believed in his love for her little one.
The two elements that were strongest in the nature of John Arthur were selfishness and pride. From his youth up his idols had been gold and self. Born into the world minus that "golden spoon" for which he sighed in youth, and schemed in later years, he had ever felt towards said world a half-fledged enmity. As he reached the age of manhood, his young sister was formally adopted by the only surviving relatives of the two; and becoming in due course of time and nature sole possessor of a very nice little fortune, afterwards held her head very high. Later, in consequence of some little indiscretions of her brother at the time when he was set free in the world—the result of the popular superstition held by him that "the world owed him a living,"—she held herself aloof from and ignored him completely.
By degrees Mrs. Arthur's eyes became opened to the true character of the man she had married. Moments she had of doubting, and then of fearing that she wronged him too deeply, for her nature was a just one. It was in one of these latter moods that she made her will, before she had become aware that even his love for her little girl was only a well acted lie; believing her secure of love and care during his life, she made sure that, at his death, her darling should be supplied with all that money could give. She had long been in the fatal toils of that dread destroyer, heart disease, and suddenly, before she had found opportunity for securing her little daughter further, as she had since begun to realize it was needful to do, she was seized with a paroxysm that snapped the frail cord of life.
A short time before her death, she had given into the keeping of old Hagar, a package, to be delivered to little Madeline when she should become a woman, and with the express wish that, should John Arthur prove a kind guardian meanwhile, she would burn the journal it contained, unread.
Old Hagar now placed in Madeline's hands the package, which was found to contain her mother's most valuable jewels, and the tear-stained journal, which the girl seated herself to peruse, with sorrowful awe.
The last page being turned, and the sad life of her mother fully revealed, Madeline bowed her head and wept bitterly, heedless of the attempt of old Hagar to comfort her, until the name of her step-father upon the old woman's lips brought her suddenly to her feet, the tears still on her cheeks, but her eyes flashing, and on her countenance a look that might have been a revelation to John Arthur, had that gentleman been there to see. Taking the old woman's hand, and holding it tightly in her own, the girl said:
"Thanks, auntie, for recalling me. I have no time for tears now. Listen, and don't interrupt me. My poor mother died with a heart filled with fears for my future, left to that man's keeping. At the time of her death, he believed himself her unconditional heir. She feared for her life with him, and her sickness was aggravated in every possible manner by him, and I fully believe that, in intent if not in deed, John Arthur is my mother's murderer!"
The old woman's face expressed as plainly as words could do, that she shared in this belief. The girl went on, in the same rapid, firm tone:
"He killed the mother for gold, and now he would sell her child. He will fail; and this is but the beginning. As he drove my mother into her grave, I will hunt him into his! He shall suffer all that she suffered, and more! I know where you obtained your independence now, Aunt Hagar; and he hates you doubly because my mother's love provided for you a home, and for her child a haven in time of need. It was well. Keep the old cottage open for me, Aunt Hagar. Keep an eye on John Arthur, for my sake. Never fear for me, whatever happens. Expect to hear from me at any time, to see me at any moment. Don't answer any questions about me. A thousand thanks for all your love and kindness, auntie; good-by."
Before the old woman could recover from her astonishment, or utter a word, Madeline had kissed her, swiftly taken up the precious package, and was gone! Hagar hastened to the door, but the girl was speeding swiftly down the path, and was quickly lost to view.
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" moaned Hagar, seating herself in the doorway; "her father's passion and her mother's pride! Sorrow and trouble before her, and she all alone; dark, dark, dark; the world against her! Sorrow and trouble—it's in the blood! And she'll never give it up! She'll fight her wrongs to the bitter end. Oh, my precious girl!" and she buried her head in her apron and wept.
The sun's last ray had faded from the highest hill-top. The little birds had folded their wings and hushed their warblings. Dark clouds came sweeping up from the west, and one, heavy and black, passed above the roof of Oakley, bent down, and rested there. Hagar, still sorrowing in the doorway, saw and interpreted. Dark days to come to the master of that overshadowed house. Dreary days and bitter nights—ah, how many, before that cloud should be lifted from over it, or light hearts beat beneath its roof.
"I beg pardon, madame, you appear in trouble; perhaps I intrude?"
It was Lucian Davlin's soft, lazy voice, and that disagreeable half smile lurked about the corners of his eyes and mouth.
"I've had more welcome visitors," said the old woman, with more truth than politeness, and rubbing her eyes with the corner of her apron, "what do you want?"
"Only a small matter of information, which I believe you can give me."
"Well," said Hagar, testily.
"I want to make a few inquiries about Mr. Arthur of Oakley."
"About Miss Madeline, I suppose you mean. I won't tell you a word—"
"My dear, good woman, I don't ask nor wish any information regarding that young lady—my inquiries solely concern the father. He is said to be wealthy!"
"What is John Arthur or his money to you?" she questioned, eying him with much disfavor.
"Nothing whatever," he indifferently replied. "I merely inquire on behalf of a friend."
"I'll throw him off the scent if he does mean Madeline," thought the old woman.
"Well, Mr. whatever your name is, if it will satisfy your friend to know that Mr. John Arthur is master of Oakley, and everybody knows there's no finer property in the State, and that he has a yearly income of ten thousand or more, why, tell him or her so. And you may as well say, at the same time, that he is too stingy and mean to keep the one in repair, or spend decently the other. And when he dies"—here she suddenly checked herself—"well, when he dies, his heirs, whoever they may be, will inherit all the more because of his meanness."
"And who, pray, may be his heirs?"
"How should I know who a stingy old reprobate will choose to inherit after him? I think he has a sister somewhere, but I don't know."
"H'm, thank you—for my friend. Good-night."
Smiling that same Mephistophelian smile, Lucian Davlin sauntered away, apparently satisfied with himself and what was passing in his mind.
"He'll do," he muttered; "and she'll do him. It will be a good thing for her, just now, and very convenient for me into the bargain. Cora's a marvellously fine woman, but little Madeline is fresh as a rose, and a few months of the city will make her sharp enough. Only let me keep them apart; that's all." Satisfaction beamed in his eye and smiled on his lip. "Pretty Madeline will be the envy of half the boulevard."
Now he has neared the trysting tree. "I think I'll just smoke here, and wait for my pretty bird; this is the place and almost the time."
He smoked and he waited; the time came, and passed; his cigar expired; the shadows deepened—but still he waited.
And he waited in vain. No light form advanced through, the gathering night; no sweet voice greeted him.
The time was far past now, and, muttering an oath, the disappointed lover strode away, and was lost in the night.
Madeline was standing in her own room, the threshold of which John Arthur had never crossed since the day when a silent form was borne from it, and laid in that peaceful home, the churchyard. She had just received the summons, for which, only, she lingered—the command of Mr. Arthur to attend at the altar of hospitality, and pour, for Mr. Amos Adams, the tea.
She was attired in a neat dark garment which was vastly becoming. She had made her toilet with more than usual care, as if, perhaps, to do honor to her ancient suitor—at least so thought Mr. Arthur, when she presented herself before him.
She had put her chiefest treasures in a little, a very little, travelling bag. And now she threw across her arm a large cloak, took her hat, veil, and bag, and descended softly to the hall below. It was faintly lighted from the lower end, and Madeline deposited her belongings in a darkened niche near a door, peeped put into the night that had come on cloudy and starless, and entered the room where waited the two conspirators, and supper.
John Arthur was more bland and smiling than Madeline had ever before known him, while as for old Amos, he nearly lost himself in a maze of grins and chuckles, but displayed a very unloverlike appetite, nevertheless, and divided his attention pretty evenly between the beautiful face of Madeline, and the viands on the table.
Madeline betrayed no sign of surprise at her step-papa's unwonted cordiality, and no annoyance at the ogling and chuckling of her antiquated suitor. In truth, she favored him with more than one expressive smile, the meaning of which he little guessed, as she contrasted him once more with handsome Lucian Davlin, and smiled again at the picture of his coming defeat.
The meal was partaken of in comparative silence, all apparently quite satisfied with their own thoughts—ah, how different! It was not until old Jane, the servant, had been dismissed that Mr. Arthur drew his chair a trifle nearer that of his friend, and leaning his arms upon the table, looked across at Madeline, and said:
"My dear, I believe you are aware of the honor this gentleman desires to confer upon you? I think I have hinted at the truth upon one or two occasions?"
Madeline veiled her too expressive eyes behind their long lashes, but made no reply.
"It is my desire," he continued, surveying with satisfaction the appearance of humility with which his words were received, "and the desire of Mr. Adams as well, that we should come to a satisfactory understanding to-night. We will, therefore, settle the preliminaries at once:—this is your desire, I think, Mr. Adams?"
"Oh, certainly! Oh, yes, yes," ejaculated old Amos, in a transport of grins.
"And this will, I trust,"—he was growing more stately and polite every moment—"this, of course, is satisfactory to you, Miss Madeline?"
"Perfectly." She looked him full in the face now, and somehow her glance slightly impaired his feeling of dignity and security.
"Very good; and now having formally accepted the proffered hand of Mr. Adams—"
"Pardon me, sir, you are too fast. Mr. Adams has not offered himself."
"Nonsense,"—Mr. Arthur suddenly forgot his politeness—"haven't I just stated his offer?"
Madeline leaned back in her chair, and looked from one to the other with a tranquil smile.
"Perhaps; but unfortunately there is a law in existence which prohibits a man from marrying his grandmother, and likewise objects, I believe, to a young woman's espousing her step-papa, however much adored. And as you can't marry me, my dear parent and guardian, why I object to listening to a proposal from your lips."
John Arthur gazed in angry consternation upon the girl's still smiling face, but before the impatient words that he would have uttered could find voice, old Amos, who had interpreted her smiles as being favorable to himself, came gallantly to the rescue.
"Right! quite right," he chuckled. "Of course, you know, Arthur—Miss Madeline, ahem—that's what I meant, you know. It's the proper way," he gasped; and the general expression of his countenance did not tend to make his observations the more lucid—"I meant, you know—ah, well—will you honor me Miss Madeline—by—by your hand, you know?"
This effort of oratory was received with smiling attention by the girl, who now addressed herself entirely to him, without heeding the effect of her words upon her step-father, or his interpolations, as she proceeded.
"Mr. Adams;"—she spoke in a low, even tone, and gradually permitted the real feelings that were seeking for expression to show themselves in her every feature—"Mr. Adams, I think I appreciate as it deserves the honor you desire to bestow upon me; believe me, too, when I say that I am as grateful as it is proper I should be. But, Mr. Adams, I am only a mere girl, and you might pay too dearly for me."
"What the deuce does the fool mean?" growled Mr. Arthur.
"I don't dispute the fact that I am a perfectly marketable commodity, and it is very right and proper that my dear step-papa—who dotes on me, whose idol I have been for long years—should set a high valuation upon my unworthy head. Yet this little Arcadian transaction is really not just the thing for the present century and country. And so, Mr. Adams, I must beg leave to thank you for the honor you proffer, and, thanking you, to decline it!"
For a moment no one spoke; there was neither sound nor movement in the room. John Arthur was literally speechless with rage, and old Amos was just as speechless from astonishment; while Madeline gazed from one to the other unmoved. As soon as he could articulate, John Arthur confronted her, and taking her roughly by the shoulder, demanded:
"What do you mean, you ungrateful jade? What are you talking about?"
"About your contract in flesh and blood, Mr. Arthur. About your very worthy scheme for putting money in your pockets by making me this man's wife. If I am to be sold, sir, I will make my own bargain; be very sure of that; and this is not my bargain!"
"Don't talk to me of bargains, you little idiot! Do you think to defy me? Do you dare to defy me?"
His rage passed all bounds. She put the width of the table between them and surveyed him across it, mockingly.
"Listen, girl, I am your lawful guardian; you shall obey me!"
"Really, now, don't, step-papa; you are actually purple in the face! You might die, you know; think of your heart, do, and take a glass of water."
Old Adams collapsed in the remote corner whither he had fled. The miser was not at home in a tempest, and this was already beyond his depth. He gasped in speechless amaze and affright. Was this the girl he had thought to mold as his wife, this fearless, defiant creature? Already he began to congratulate himself upon his lucky escape. "She would murder me some day," he thought, shuddering.
For the time being, John Arthur was a madman. Defied, mocked, by this girl who had been a burden to his very life! He raged, he raved, he cursed; and so raging and raving, he cursed her, and then in vile, bitter words hurled his anathema at her dead mother's memory.
Then the mocking smile was gone, the taunting voice changed its tone; and as it changed, old Amos, cowering in his corner, shuddered afresh. Her whole face underwent a transformation. Her form dilated, she sprang before her step-father and the ring of her voice checked the imprecations on his lips.
"Stop," she cried; "don't add the last drop to your already overfull measure! Don't double the force of the thunderbolt that will strike you some day! Is it not enough that you have hated me all my life through; that you have loaded down my childhood with unkind words, curses, and wishes for my death? Not enough that you follow me with your hatred because my mother's own will be mine at your death? Not enough that you would barter my life—yes, my life—for gold, sell my heart's blood for your own ease and comfort? And now must you pollute the name of my mother, as you polluted her life? Never breathe her name again; never dare to name her! I, her daughter, tell you that for her every tear, every heart pang, every sigh, you shall pay dearly; dearly! I will avenge my mother's wrongs, some day; for you are her murderer!"
John Arthur gazed in speechless amaze into the space before him—but she was gone! The stern, vengeful, set face was no longer there. The proud, ringing voice was no longer sounding in his ear. The uplifted, warning, threatening hand menaced him only in memory. And before the might of her purpose, and the force of her maledictions, he stood as in a trance.
When he had so far recovered himself as to think of her sudden disappearance, he went out quickly. The entrance door stood wide open; the dim light flickered on an empty hall and stairway; the sky was black with clouds, and never a star; the wind moaned about the house; and across the meadow came the doleful howl of old Hagar's watch-dog.
But Madeline was not to be found.
Always, in the days to come, he remembered her face as it had looked on him that night. Often in dreams he would start and cry out, haunted by the sound of her scornful voice, the spectre of her threatening hand.
THE DIE IS CAST.
Lucian Davlin paced the platform of the Bellair depot, in a very unpleasant frame of mind.
His companion,—half servant, half confederate, wholly and entirely a rascal,—discerning his mood and, as ever, adapting himself to it, had withdrawn to a respectful distance. Only the shine of his cigar, glowing through the darkness, betokened his proximity, or the fact that the dark platform was not in the sole possession of the sullen man who paced its brief length, and questioned the Fate in which he trusted, and which, for once, had played him a sorry trick.
He had been deceived by a mere school-girl. She had not even deigned him a farewell word. He had lost a fair prize.
"Gad!" he muttered, biting viciously at his cigar, "to be baffled like this; to lose that little beauty; to be foiled like a moon-struck idiot and never know how or why! I can't write her, with that cursed old step-father to interfere. I can't return again very soon. And she is such a little beauty!"
He paused at the end of the darkened platform, and looked down the track; in the direction of the grove where they had met, and of Madeline's home. It was almost time for the train. At the upper end of the platform, the station master flashed his lantern, tumbled the luggage closer to the track and examined the checks critically; while the Man of Tact came out from his retirement and overlooked the proceeding.
Something was coming down the track, swiftly, silently. He could just discern a shape moving toward him. It came nearer, and he moved up a few paces, and turned again where the lantern's rays fell upon him. It came nearer yet and paused in the shadow. It was a woman's form, and it beckoned. He approached carelessly.
"Lucian!" She came close to him, and placed her hand upon his arm, drawing her breath hard and quick.
He drew her farther into the shadow and clasped his arms about her. "Little one! You have walked fast,—how your heart beats! I had given you up. Is it 'good by,' dear?"
She silently held up the little chatelaine, which he felt rather than saw, and took from her hand. In the darkness, he smiled again the old exultant smile not good to see, and pressing her closer in his arms, said:
"Don't try to talk, sweet one; see, yonder comes our fiery horse and soon we will be far on our way. Take my arm, little one, and trust him who loves you. Look your last at the scene of your past loneliness,—to-morrow comes the gay world."
Rattling and shrieking, the train approached. Lucian hurried his companion upon the rear platform; and neither his comrade, who entered the smoking car without looking about him, nor the station master, busy with his trunks and valises, observed that a third passenger quitted Bellair station on the night express.
About them, the passengers nodded, yawned or slept. Outside, swiftly passing darkness. And every moment was hurrying her farther and farther away from all familiar scenes and objects, out to a life all untried, a world all new and strange. But she never thought of this. She was not elated, neither was she cast down. She felt no fear;—and, afterwards, she remembered that she indulged in no bright visions of the future during her swift flight.
She had prepared herself to relate her story, to describe the scene she had just passed through, to tell him all. But he had other things to occupy his mind, and bidding her to rest and save all she might have to relate until the morrow, he relapsed into silence and thought, only now and then gently speaking a word, and looking after her comfort with a happy grace possessed by few, and so powerful in the winning of a woman.
On, on, through the black night—youth and age, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, good and evil; on together through the night; on, on. Near to the great city; near to the welcome, dark or bright, awaiting the journey's end. Blacker grew the night, wilder shrieked the wind in angry protest against the defiant, fiery, resistless monster upon whom its rage fell impotent. Now pausing; now rushing on with a shriek and a roar; nearer, nearer to the scene of the new life, dawning grimly upon the fair girl, all unconscious, unheeding.
They halted at a wayside station—just one of those little hamlets only a few miles removed from, and really a part of the great city. One passenger came on board, sauntering down the coach's length listlessly, wearily. He threw himself into a reversed seat in a half reclining attitude, and so his careless, wandering gaze fell first upon Madeline, seated opposite and very near.
She sees him just as she sees the rest, vaguely. She remembers, later, that he had a good face and that she had thought it then. But confused and wearied in mind and body, she feels no inclination to observe or think. So they were hurried on, and no whisper of her heart, no quickening of the pulses, or sensation of joy or fear, warned her that she was sitting under the gaze and in the presence of the good and the evil forces that were to compass and shape her life.
Open your eyes, oh, Madeline, before it is too late. See the snare that is spreading beneath your feet; read aright the bright glance that shines on you from those handsome, fateful eyes. Interpret truly the smile turned on you now. Alas! what woman ever saw guile in the eyes of the man she loved? Never one, until those eyes have ceased to smile upon her, and her fate is sealed. What one ever yet recognized the false ring of the voice that had never, as yet, addressed her save in honeyed tones, that seemed earth's sweetest music to her ears? None, until the voice had changed and forgotten its love words; none, until it was too late.
What Madeline saw, was a man who was to her the embodiment of all manly grace, her all of joy and love, of truth and trust. And, sitting opposite, just a young man with fair curling hair, and frank blue eyes; with a fine manly face, and an air of refinement. A very nice young man; but not like her hero.
Not like her hero? No, thank heaven for that, Madeline, else your way would have been far more drear, else your life might have known never a ray of sunlight, in the long days to come.
On, on; nearer and yet nearer the long journey's end. Both thinking of her, but how differently!
One pityingly, sadly, fearing for her fate, longing to save her from the precipice which she could not see and still wear that look of sweet trustfulness.
One triumphantly, as of a fair prize gained; a new tribute to his power and strength; another smile from Chance; one more proof that he was a favored one of Fortune, and that life ever gave him good things from out the very best.
They are very near their journey's end now, and Lucian Davlin whispers briefly to Madeline, and lounges out to give some necessary directions to the neglected companion of his wanderings.
Hastily the young man opposite rises, and crossing to Madeline bends over her, speaking hurriedly.
"Pardon me, madame, but are you a stranger to the city?"
"Yes." After giving her answer she wonders why she did it, remembering that it is from a stranger the question comes, and that it is therefore an impertinence.
"I thought as much!"—the blue eyes look troubled, and the manly voice hurries on. "The time may come, I hope it will not, when you will need a friend. If so, this card bears my address,—take it, keep it, and believe me, I speak from honest motives and a desire to serve you."
He drops a card in her lap, and as she makes a gesture of repulsion, he says, entreatingly: "Take it; in the name of your mother I ask it."
She snatches up the card impulsively, and looks for one moment straight in his eyes. Then drawing a long sighing breath says, simply, "I will," and turns away as she puts it in her pocket, never so much as glancing at it.
"Thank you." He lifts his hat, and resumes his seat and his former attitude just as Lucian reappears.
Now all was bustle and confusion, the journey's end was reached; and through the hurrying, jostling crowd, past flickering lamps, and sleepy guards, they went under the dusky arches of the mammoth city station, out among the bawling 'bus drivers and brawling hackmen, past them, until a carriage, that seemed to be in waiting for them just beyond the noisy crowd, was reached. Stepping into this, they were about to drive away when, in the shadow, and very near them, Madeline discerned the form of the Unknown of the railway train. Then Lucian gave the order from the carriage window, and they rolled away.
The man in the shadow heard, and stepping into the nearest carriage, repeated the order given by Lucian the moment before, adding: "Quick; don't lose a moment!"
And thus it was that a carriage passed swiftly by that which contained Davlin and his companion, and the flash of their vehicle's lamp showed Madeline the face looking from its window.
Again that face seen in the shadow—how strange, thought she; but her lover was speaking and she forgot all else.
"Darling, I must leave you soon. I came up to-night on a matter of business, and to meet a friend who will leave to-morrow early. I must therefore keep my appointment to-night, late as it is; or rather this morning, for it is midnight and past. You will not be afraid, dear, left alone for a little while in a great hotel?"
"I am not afraid, Lucian, but—"
"But lonely; is that it? Well, sweetheart, it's only for a little while, and to-morrow I will come for you, and all shall be arranged. We'll have no more separations then. Rest well and at noon to-morrow be ready; I will be with you then. Meantime, your every want will be supplied, and let the morrow find my little treasure bright-eyed and blooming."
"Oh, Lucian, Lucian! how strange this seems. I can't realize it at all."
He laughed lightly. "Not afraid, little one?"
"Not afraid, Lucian, no; but I can't explain or describe my feelings. I suppose I need rest; that is all."
"That is all, depend upon it; and here we are. One kiss, Madeline, the last till to-morrow."
He folded her tenderly in his arms, and then sprang lightly from the carriage.
Up and down, far as the eye could see, the street lamps glittered, and as Madeline stepped from the carriage she observed another roll away. High above her loomed the great hotel, and after midnight though it was, all here was life and bustle. The scene was novel to the half bewildered girl. Clinging to her lover's arm, she entered the reception-room and, sitting opposite the door, saw a form pass in the direction Lucian had taken, as he went to register her name and order for her "all that the house could afford."
"I did not give your real name, because of your step-father, you know," said Lucian, upon his return. "I registered you as Miss Weir, that name being the first to occur to me."
She looked a trifle disturbed, but said nothing. A few words more and a servant appeared.
"To conduct you to your room," said Lucian.
Together they moved towards the door; there he lifted his hat, with profound courtesy, and said in a very audible tone: "Good-night, Miss Weir; I will call to-morrow noon; pleasant dreams."
"To-morrow noon," she echoed.
As she watched his retreating figure, another passed her; a man who, meeting her eye, lifted his hat and passed out.
"He again!" whispered the girl to herself; "how very strange."
Alone in her room, the face of this man looked at her again, and sitting down, she said, wearily: "Who is he? what does he mean? His name—I'll look at the card."
Taking it from her pocket, she read aloud: Clarence Vaughan, M. D., No. 430 B—— street.
"Clarence Vaughan, M. D.," she repeated. "What did he mean? I must tell Lucian to-morrow; to-night I am too weary to think. Search for me, John Arthur; find me if you can! To-morrow—what will it bring, I wonder?"
Weary one, rest, for never again will you sleep so innocently, so free from care as now. Sleep well, nor dream!
She slept. Of the three who had been brought into contact thus strangely, Madeline slept most soundly and dreamed the brighter dreams.
It was the last ray of her sunlight; when the day dawned, her night began.
A SHREWD SCHEME.
An elegant apartment, one of a suite in a magnificent block such as are the pride of our great cities.
Softest carpets, of most exquisite pattern; curtains of richest lace; lambrequins of costly texture; richly-embroidered and velvet-covered sleepy-hollows and lounging chairs; nothing stiff, nothing that did not betoken abandonment to ease and pleasure; downy cushions; rarest pictures; loveliest statuettes; finest bronzes; delicate vases; magnificent, full length mirrors, a bookcase, itself a rare work of art, containing the best works of the best authors, all in the richest of bindings—nothing here that the most refined and cultivated taste could disapprove, and yet everything bespoke the sybarite, the voluptuary. A place wherein to forget that the world held aught save beauty; a place for luxurious revelry, and repose filled with lotus dreams.
Such was the bachelor abode of Lucian Davlin, as the glowing gas lights revealed it on the dark night of the arrival of this gentleman in the city.
Moving restlessly about, as one who was perfectly familiar with all this glowing richness, only because movement was a necessity to her; trailing her rich dress to and fro in an impatient promenade, and twisting recklessly meantime a delicate bit of lace and embroidery with plump, white fingers—a woman waited and watched for the coming of Lucian Davlin.
A woman, fair of face, hazel-eyed, sunny-haired, with a form too plump to be quite classical, yet graceful and prepossessing in the extreme. A very fair face, and a very wise one; the face of a woman of the world, who knows it in all its phases; who is able, in her own peculiar manner, to guide her life bark successfully if not correctly, and who has little to acquire, in the way of experience, save the art of growing old gracefully and of dying with an acquitted conscience.
No unsophisticated girl was Cora Weston, but a woman of eight-and-twenty; an adventuress by nature and by calling, and with beauty enough, and brains enough, to make her chosen profession prosperous, if not proper.
She paused before a mirror, carefully adjusting her fleecy hair, for even in pressing emergencies such women never forget their personal appearance. This done, she pondered a moment and then pulled the bell. A most immaculate colored gentleman answered her summons and, bowing low, stood waiting her will.
"Henry, is it not time that your master were here? The train is certainly due; are you sure he will come? What did he telegraph you?"
"That he would arrive on the one o'clock express, madame; and he never fails."
"Very well. If he does not appear soon, Henry, you must go and inquire if the train has been delayed, and if so, telegraph. My business is imperative."
The well trained servant bowed again, and, at a signal from her, withdrew. Left alone, she continued her silent march, listening ever, until at length a quick footstep came down the passage. Flinging herself into the depths of a great easy chair, she assumed an air of listless indifference, and so greeted the new comer.
"Gracious heavens, Cora! what brings you here like this? I thought you had sailed, and was regretting it by this time."
He hurried to her side and she half rose to return his caress. Then sinking back, she surveyed him with a lazy half smile. "I wonder if you are glad to see me, Lucian, my angel; you are such a hypocrite."
He laughed lightly, and threw himself into a seat near her. "Candid Cora, you are not a hypocrite,—with me," and he looked admiringly yet impatiently at her. "Come," he said, at length, as she continued to tap her slender foot lazily, and to regard him silently through half closed lashes: "what does it all mean? Fairest of women, tell me."
"It means, Mon Brave, that I did not sail in the Golden Rose; I only sent my hat and veil."
"Wonderful woman! Well, thereby hangs a tale, and I listen."
"I came back to see—"
"Not old Verage?" he interrupted, maliciously.
"No, hush: he saw me safely on board the Golden Rose—very gallant of him, wasn't it?"
"Rather—yes, considering. And if I did not know Miss Cora Weston so very well, I should be surprised at all this mystery; as it is, I simply wait to be enlightened."
"And enlightened you shall be, monsieur."
She threw off her air of listlessness and arose, crossing over and standing before him, leaning upon a high-backed chair, and speaking rapidly.
Lucian, meantime, produced a cigar case, lit a weed, and assuming the attitude and manner she had just abandoned, bade her proceed.
"You see," she said, "I did not like the idea of quitting the country because of a little difference of opinion between myself and an old idiot like Verage."
"A difference of some thousands out of pocket for him; well, go on."
"Just so, comrade mine. Well, fortune favored me; she generally does. I learned, at almost the last moment, that a lady of my acquaintance had taken passage in the same vessel. I interviewed her, and found her in the condition of the good people in novels who have seen better days; her exchequer was at low ebb, and, like myself, she had reasons which induced her to emigrate. I did not inquire into these, having no reason to doubt the statement, but I accompanied her on board the Golden Rose, bade her a fond farewell, and bequeathed to her my street apparel and a trifling sum of old Verage's money. In exchange, I donned her bonnet and veil, and adopted her rather awkward gait, and so had the satisfaction of seeing, on my return to terra firma, old Verage gazing enraptured after my Paris bonnet and floating veil as it disappeared with my friend, outward bound."
"Well, what next? All the world, your world, supposes you now upon the briny deep. Old Verage will be rejoiced to find you here in the city; what then?"
"I think he will," said Cora, dryly, "when he does find me. I did not come here in the dark to advertise my arrival."
"Bravo, Cora," he patted her hands softly; "wise Cora. You are a credit to your friends, indeed you are, my blonde beauty."
She laughed softly;—a kittenish, purring laugh.
"Well, Lucian, time flies and I throw myself on your mercy. Recommend me to some nice quiet retreat, not too far from the city, but at a safe distance; put me in a carriage, at daylight, which will carry me out to some by-station, where I can take passage behind the iron horse, unmolested, for fresh fields and pastures new."
Davlin pondered a moment as if he had not already decided upon his course of action. He knew the woman he had to deal with, and shaped his words accordingly. "A retired spot,—let me see. I wonder, by Jove,"—brightening suddenly, "I think I have the right thing for you."
"Well, when Lucian Davlin 'thinks' he has a point, that point is gained; proceed, man of might."
"You see," began Lucian, in a business-like tone, "I took one of my 'skips' for change of scene and recreation."
"And safe quarters until the wind shifted," interrupted she. "Well, go on."
He laughed softly, "Even so. We children of chance do need to take flying trips sometimes, but I did not set out for Europe, Cora mine, and I wore my own clothes home."
"Bravo! But old Verage don't want you, and the wind has changed; proceed."
"Well, as usual, I found myself in luck, and if I had been a nice young widow, might have taken Summer quarters in the snug little village of Bellair."
"Not being a widow, relate your experience as a rusticating gentleman at large. You excite my curiosity."
Lucian removed his cigar from between his lips, and lazily contemplated his fair vis a vis.
"How long a time must elapse before the most magnificent of blondes will think it fitting, safe, and," with a slight smile, "expedient to return and resume her sovereignty here, on this hearth, and," striking his breast theatrically, "in this heart?"
The "most magnificent of blondes" looked first, approvingly, at her image displayed in the full length mirror opposite, then coolly at her interrogator.
"Hum! that depends. The lady you so flatter can't abide dullness and inaction, and too much stupidity might overcome her natural timidity, in which case even my ardent old pursuer could not scare me into submission and banishment. If I could only find an occupation, now, for my—"
"Peculiar talents," he suggested; "that's just the point. And now, I wonder if you wouldn't make a remarkably charming young widow?"
"So you have an idea, then, Lucian? Just toss me a bunch of those cigarettes, please,—thank you. Now a light; and now, if it's not asking too much, will you proceed to explain yourself, and tell me what fortunate being you desire me, in the character of a fair widow, to besiege? What he is like; and why?"
"Admirable Cora! what other woman could smoke a cigarette with such a perfect air of doing the proper thing; so much of Spanish grace."
"And so much genuine enjoyment," she added, comfortably. "Smoke is my poetry, Lucian. When far from my gaze, and I desire to call up your most superb image, I can do so much more comfortably and satisfactorily inspired by my odorous little Perique."
"Blessed Perique! Cora shall have them always. But back to my widow; an absence of six months, perhaps, would be a judicious thing just now, you think?"
"More would be safer," she smiled, "if the Peri can keep aloof from Paradise so long."
"How would the Peri fancy taking up her permanent abode outside the walls of Paradise?"
She removed the fragrant gilded cigar in miniature from between two rosy, pursed-up lips, and surveyed him in mute astonishment.
"Provided," he proceeded, coolly, "provided she found a country home, bank account, and equipage to her liking, with everything her own way, and ample opportunities for trips to Paradise, making visits to her brother and her city friends—and a fine prospect of soon becoming sole possessor of said country mansion, bank stock, etc.?"
She placed the tiny weed once more between her lips, and sending up perfumed, curling little volumes of smoke, settled herself more comfortably and said, nonchalantly, "That depends; further particulars, please."
It was wonderful how these two understood each other. She knew that he had for her a plan fully matured, and wasting no time in needless questionings, waited to hear the gist of the whole matter, assured from past experience that he would suggest nothing that would be an undertaking unworthy of her talent, and he knew that she would weigh his suggestions while they were being made, and be ready with her decision at the close.
Long had they plotted and prospered together, these two Bohemians of most malevolent type; and successfully and oft played into each other's hands. Never yet had the good fortune of the one been devoid of profit to the other; knowing this, each felt safe in accepting, unquestioned, the suggestions of the other; and because of this, she felt assured now that, in this present scheme, there was something to be gained for him as well as herself.
When the looker-on wonders idly at the strength of ties such as those which bound together these two, and the length of their duration, he has never considered their nature—the similarity of tastes, similarity of pursuits, and the crowning fact of the mutual benefit derived from such association.
Find a man who lives by successful manipulations of the hand-book of chance, and who bows to the deity of three aces; who finds victims in fortified places, and whose most hazardous scheme is surest of success; who walks abroad the admired of his contemporaries, who envy him his position as fortune's favorite in proportion as they ply their own similar trade near the foot of the ladder of chance; who shows to men the dress and manner of a gentleman, and to the angels the heart of a fiend—and you will find that man aided and abetted, upheld and applauded, by a woman, his fitting companion by nature or education. She is unscrupulous as he, daring as he, finding him victims that his arm could not reach; plying the finer branch of a dangerous but profitable trade; sharing his prosperity, rescuing from adversity; valued because necessary, and knowing her value therefore fearing no rival.
Cora was beautiful in Davlin's eyes, and secure in his affections, because she was valuable, even necessary, to him. He cared for her because in so doing he was caring for himself, and placing any "card" in her hands was only the surest means of enlarging his own pack. While she, for whether a woman is good or bad she is ever the slave of her own heart, recognizing the fact of the mutual benefit resulting from their comradeship, and improving, in her character of a woman of the world, every opportunity to profit by him, yet she saw in him the one man who possessed her love. Though the life she had led had worn out all the romantic tendencies of her nature, and had turned the "languishing of her eye" into sharp glances in the direction of the main chance, still she lavished upon him the best of her heart, and held his interest ever the equal of her own. After the manner of such, they were loyal to each other.
"Then," pursued Lucian, "listen, and a tale I will unfold."
In his own way, he proceeded to describe the intended victim; his home, his wealth, his state of solitude, together with the facts he had gathered up here and there relative to his leading characteristics and weaknesses, whereby he might be successfully manipulated by skilled hands. The boldness of his plan made even Cora start, and instead of her usually ready decision and answer, she favored him with a wondering, thoughtful stare.
"You see," concluded Lucian, "he can't live forever at the worst, and the estate is a handsome one. You could easily make yourself queen absolute of the situation, and go and come at your own sweet will. I think as a good brother I should be a magnificent success, and an ornament to your country mansion in the lazy Summer."
"And if I don't approve of the speculation after a trial, I can commit suicide or vanish," Cora said, meditatingly.
"Just so," laughed he; "and take the spoons."
"You are sure there are no incumbrances; perfectly sure of that?" she questioned.
"Perfectly sure. There was a step-daughter, but she ran away with some foreigner;" here he smiled, and veiled his eyes, lest she should read aright their expression. "He would not give her a penny, or a crust of bread, were she to return. He hated her from her earliest day; but she is not likely to reappear in any case."
"If she should, you might marry her, you know," she suggested, maliciously.
"So I might," he said, shutting his eyes again; "and we would all settle down into respectable members of society—charming picture. But, jesting aside, how do you like the prospect?"
She tossed away her cigarette and, rising, paced the room in silence for a few moments.
Lucian whistled, softly, a few bars from a favorite opera; then lighted a fresh cigar, and puffed away, leaning lazily back and watching her face furtively out of half closed eyes.
"I think," she said, resuming her seat, "that I will take a nearer view of this 'prospect' of yours."
He nodded his head and waited for her to proceed.
"I think the role of widow might interest me for a little time, so I'll take myself and my 'delicate constitution' down to your promising haven of rest. I'll 'view the landscape o'er,' and the prospect of an opportunity for a little sharp practice will make my banishment more endurable; of course, my resignation will increase as the situation becomes more interesting."
"Which it is sure to do," he said, rising quickly and crossing to the window. "The thing is as good as done; you always accomplish what you undertake; and you'll find the game worth the powder. The fact is, Cora," he continued, seriously, "you and I have engineered so many delicate little affairs successfully, here in the city, that, as a combination, we are pretty well known just now; too well, in fact, for our own ease and comfort. Your supposed trip to Europe was a lucky thing, and will throw all officiously-interested ones off your track completely. I shall limit my operations here for a time; shall make this merely headquarters, in fact, and 'prospect,' like yourself, in fresh fields. And now, it being nearly morning, and quite necessary that you should be on your victorious march, let us consider final ways and means."
In a concise, business-like way, they arranged and discussed, the result of the whole being briefly this:
Cora would drive at early dawn to a suburban station, and from thence go by rail to a village midway between the city and her final destination; and there await her luggage, and the arrival of Lucian. He would join her shortly, and proceed with her to Bellair, in his character of brother; see her comfortably settled, and leave her to her new undertaking.
And thus it was that in the gray of morning a veiled lady, sweet-voiced and elegant in manner, stepped from a close carriage at a little wayside station, and sped away at the heels of the iron horse.
And thus it was that Lucian Davlin, reappearing in Bellair and listening in well simulated surprise to the story of the sudden disappearance of John Arthur's step-daughter, effectually put to flight any idea—forming in the brains of the few who knew, or conjectured, that these two had met—that he had aught to do with her mysterious flitting. In truth, none save old Hagar knew of the frequency of their clandestine meetings, and she never breathed to others the thoughts and suspicions that haunted her brain.
And thus it was, too, that Cora Weston, in her new role of languishing widow, secluded carefully from the vulgar gaze, heard never a word of Madeline's flight. And when, later, the fact was revealed to her, none save old Hagar could have named the precise date of the event. So even wise Cora never connected the fate of the unfortunate girl with the doings of Lucian Davlin.
Early morning in the great city, but the buzz and clamor were fairly under way, and the streets as full of busy, pushing, elbowing life as if night and silence had never rested above the tall roofs and chimney pots.
With the rattle of the first cart wheel on the pavement, Madeline had started broad awake. As the din increased, and sleep refused to return to the startled senses, all unused to these city sounds, she arose, and completing her toilet with some haste, seated herself at her window to look out upon the scene so new to her.
What a world of strange emotions passing and repassing beneath her eye! What hopes and fears; what carelessness and heartache! How they hurried to and fro, each apparently intent upon his own thoughts and purposes.
She gazed down until her vision wearied of the motley, ever-changing, yet ever the same crowd; and then she reclined in the downy depths of a great easy chair, closed her eyes, and thought of Lucian. After all, what meaning had this restless moving throng for her? Only one; Lucian. What was this surging sea of humanity to her save that, because of its roar and clamor, they two were made more isolated, therefore nearer to each other?
The morning wore away, and she began to realize how very soon she should be with her hero, and then no more of separation. Her heart bounded at this thought.
Some one tapped softly at her door. She opened it quickly, thinking only of Lucian. It was not Lucian, however, but a veiled woman who stepped within the room, closing the door as she came.
Madeline fell back a pace, and gazed at the intruder with a look of startled inquiry which was, however, free from fear. She had not thought of it before, it flashed across her mind now that this fact was odd; but in all her morning's ruminations, she had not once thought of the mysterious stranger of the railway episode. Yet now the first words that took shape in her mind, at the entrance of this unexpected visitor, were "Clarence Vaughan, M. D." She almost spoke them.