Or, Pierre and Paul
Lanier. A Romance of
CARSON JAY LEE
THE LAKESIDE PRESS
The United States of America and Great Britain.
Printed in Chicago, U.S.A.
"STANDING WITH RELUCTANT FEET, WHERE THE BROOK AND RIVER MEET."
CHAPTER I 1
The Double Scare.—The Old Man's Arrest.—Little Jack's "Sprint."
CHAPTER II 4
The Storm.—"Bill of Particulars" not Demanded.—Sage Assurance of an Oxford Graduate.—The Dream.
CHAPTER III 11
An Interesting Meeting.—A Barrier and Siege.—At the Parish Church.—Strange Sense of Familiarity at First Sight.—Esther's Friend from London.—Alice Webster as an Interloper.—Alice's Infatuation.—Visit of Paul Lanier.—Lake Excursion.—Two Proposals.
CHAPTER IV 46
A London Conference.—The Lawsuit.—The Lake Tragedy.—Paul's Fright.—Trip to London.—Investigations of Sir Donald and the Solicitors.—The Hyde Park Confidence.—Thames Boat-Ride.—An Embarrassing Situation.—Splash of Two Bodies.—At House of Jack Bray.—A Mysterious Drive.
CHAPTER V 67
Parental "Air Castles."—An Unexpected Call.—Hurried Departure.—Southampton Wharf Toughs and Bullying Official.—Sledge-Hammer Blows of Drooping Pedestrian.—Aboard Ship.—An "Ishmaelite" Finding "Casus Belli" in Fate.—Tempest on Bay of Biscay.
CHAPTER VI 73
Return from Opera.—Esther Piqued at Alice's Conduct.—Search for Oswald and Alice.—Finding of Hat and Handkerchief.—Harassed by Reporters and Detectives.—Sleuths Employed by Sir Donald.—An Optimist Turned Nemesis.—Esther's Clouded Vision.—Sir Donald's Bluff.—The Conspirators Quit London.—Sir Donald and Esther Leave for Paris.
CHAPTER VII 85
Oswald in India.—Calcutta too Cosmopolitan.—Seeking Employment.—Trip to the Himalayas.
CHAPTER VIII 89
Pierre and Paul in Bombay.—A Rich Englishman and his Niece.—The Laniers Dine with Sir Charles Chesterton.—Mutual Infatuation of Paul and Agnes.—Paul's Proposal.—Sir Charles Demands Pedigree and Inventory.—Sir Charles and Pierre Vie in Villainous Recitals.—Matrimonial Decision Postponed.—Sir Charles and Pierre Sail for Calcutta.—Paul's Growing Infatuation.—Agnes' Caprices.—Thursday Evening Call.—The Tableau, "Eugene Aram" Dream Lines Recital.—Chesterton Rooms Vacated.
CHAPTER IX 101
Interest in Paris Poor.—Losing Zeal for Man-Capture.—The Hospital Confession.—The Convalescent's Mysterious Departure—The Trip to Calcutta.
CHAPTER X 132
At Himalaya Camp.—"Lion" and "Bear."—"For Good of Kaiser and Tsar."—Tippoo Kalidasa.—Claude Leslie.—Camp Discussions.—"Citizen of the World."—Doctrine of "Merger."—New York's "Four Hundred."—The Four Bandits.—Decorating Graves of the Robbers.—"Vot Sendimendals!"
CHAPTER XI 155
Paul Haunted.—That Grewsome Drapery of Seaweed.—The Sunday Call.—Chesterton Rooms Vacant.—Pierre's Letter.—"Josiah Peters" Sails from Bombay.
CHAPTER XII 160
Search for Dodge Family.—Sir Donald and Esther "Shadowed."—The Metamorphosed Stranger.—Mrs. McLaren Locates Mrs. Dodge.—Visit of Sir Donald.—The Plot.—Arrest of the Conspirators.—Dodge's Confession.—Release of the Laniers.
CHAPTER XIII 186
Survey Expedition Disbanded.—The Star.—Oswald Sees Pierre and Paul.—Meets Esther and Sir Donald.—The Call.—Esther's Changed Manners.—Sir Donald's Tactics.
CHAPTER XIV 201
The Laniers Puzzled at Their Release.—Tentacles of the Octopus Contracting.—Sir Donald and His Detectives Mystified.—Flight of Pierre and Paul.
CHAPTER XV 210
The Retrospect.—Acquiesces in Fate's Opening Seals.
CHAPTER XVI 212
The Fugitives Disguised in London.—Paul's Caprices.—Advises Pierre to "Avoid River Fogs."—Changed Shifts.
CHAPTER XVII 219
Back at Northfield.—Esther's Musings.—The Boat-Ride.—Repetition of "Eugene Aram" Dream Lines.
CHAPTER XVIII 225
On the "Tramp" Steamer.—Odd Conceits.—The Handsome Stranger.—The Consumptive.—"Ermine" Function.—It will be All Right with Mother.—The Image Reflection.—The Stuttering German.—Human Transfiguration.—Promethean Myth.—White Heat of Life's Crucible.—Mother Left Out.—Arrival at New York.
CHAPTER XIX 237
Thames Pantomimes.—Pierre Discovers Paul's Craze.—Seeks to Elude Pursuer.—A Long Swoon.—Paul's Vigils.—The Pose and Threat.
CHAPTER XX 247
Rasping Paradoxes.—Becoming Pessimistic.—Conference with Chief Detective.—Charles at Home.—Criticises Oswald Langdon.—"A Daniel Come to Judgment."
CHAPTER XXI 261
Studies Paul's Crazed Peculiarities.—Paul Missing.—His Return.—The New Dagger.—The Alarm Clock.—Sleeps on his Father's Arm.—Tragic Awakening.—The Arrests.
CHAPTER XXII 268
The "Corpus Delicti."—Sir Donald's Queer "Find."—Bessie "Bottled."—"Cometh without Observation."—Charles and the Interesting Strangers.—Visit of Veiled Woman.—Night Trip to Northfield.—An Upturned Bloody Face.—Paul in Esther's Room.—Call at Detective Headquarters.—A Misunderstanding.—Learns of the Arrests.—A Recognition.—Mute Benediction.
CHAPTER XXIII 302 A Strange Story.
CHAPTER XXIV 363
At the Threshold of a New World's View.—The "Modus Vivendi."—Letters to Sir Donald.—Oswald and the Newsboy.—Escorted to "Old Slip."—The Arraignment.—"Turn Your Kidnaper Loose."—Diplomatic Man-Catcher.—Oswald Attends Church.—"Overcoming the World."—Meets Claude Leslie in Central Park.—Enigma to Social Belles.—Claude Leaves for the West.—Marco Salvini.—At Saint Vincent's.—The Delirium.—"The Star! The Star! Mother!"—Inverted Spike-Prints.—Mystic Whisperings—The Letter.
CHAPTER XXV 387
The Evening's Meeting.—Angles of Cross-Purpose.—Sir Donald's Letter to Oswald.—Paul Committed as a Madman.—Pierre's Odd Ethical Caprices.—"Do Equity."—Esther Inspects Postmarks and Consults Ship Schedules.—An Expected Proposal.—A Sad Home-Coming.—A Northfield Reunion.—Ingenuous Assurance.—Puzzling Interrogatory.—Wordless Betrothal.—Pierre's Release.—Double Wedding.—Hopefully "Shadowed."
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
PAGE "THE STAR! THE STAR! MOTHER!" Frontispiece
"THERE WAS A FLASH OF STEEL, A BLOW AND THRUST, FOLLOWED BY THE SPLASH OF TWO BODIES" 60
"WITH UPLIFTED HAND THE APPARITION SLOWLY ADVANCED TOWARD THE COWERING PAUL, AS IF TO STRIKE" 98
"WHEN WITHIN ABOUT A HALF-MILE, THE FOUR RAISED THEIR WEAPONS" 149
"RAPTLY GAZING AT THE CHILD'S INNOCENT FACE, PAUL SOFTLY CROONS SOME CRADLE MELODY" 283
"PO' SICK CHILE! YO' WHITE FACE 'MINDS ME OF MY OWN MANDY CAR'LINE JUST 'FO' SHE DIED!" 306
"THEN BEHOLDING PIERRE IRONED AND HELPLESS, PAUL BURST OUT IN A HYSTERICAL LAUGH" 359
"THIS SAGE REPLY IS HEARD BY THE EAVESDROPPING BESSIE" 407
Though to explain incurs a risk, the author accepts the hazard of a word in advance.
While the novelist's license has been so used that there is need neither to resent an innuendo nor to prove an "alibi," yet, substantially, the incidents narrated occurred within the time stated, and nearly all the actors are still upon life's "boards."
The conscientious tourist in search of that "beautiful country-seat" and "wood-fringed lake" is advised to defer his visit. Perhaps the exact locations are intended to be in doubt. Even that "station" might be hard to find in an English train schedule.
Geographical accuracy may not be always essential. One noted writer has told of infatuation for
"An ounce of common, ugly, human dust,"
and declared that—
.... "Places are too much, Or else too little, for immortal man."
The reader of few or of many books may find "reminders" in these pages. The author hastens to confess echoings from bygone days, hintings of vagrant fancies, and whimsical reveries wherein appeared the vague evasive outlines of half-remembered things.
If keeping that harmless old connoisseur of the "image and superscription," who insisted on positive "rigor mortis," jailed so long seem heartless, it should be remembered that some wrongs are more apparent than real.
The antecedents of that mysterious fair-haired "Find" are still in doubt, but this signifies little. Child-life is always a miracle more inscrutable than the resurrection of Lazarus.
The hinted fate of Pierre and Paul Lanier may merit some criticism. Perhaps summary justice should have been meted out; but in view of all "extenuating circumstances," may not judgment be suspended? Since "Eternity is so long," and in deference to that "bias for saving," can we not allow an "appeal unto Caesar"?
CARSON JAY LEE.
THE SCARE AND ARREST
Passing along the street, apparently self-absorbed, there seems little in this man to attract notice.
Why does the scared newsboy hurry by, thinking of that strange face?
Quickly the agitated countenance assumes a look of dignified indifference.
A block away the boy resumes his calls:
"All about the murder of a young girl! Body found in the river! Police on track of the murderer!"
"Poor little fellow!" murmured Oswald. "He gave me such a shock! But how frightened he seemed when passing, with his innocent yell! How foolish my scare! What do New York police know or care about a crime committed in London years ago?"
Curious to read what the city papers say of this homicide, Oswald retraces his steps, turns a corner, and sees the boy waiting pay from a pleasant-faced, careful old man, who holds to his purchase while critically scrutinizing the coin, as if sorry to part with such "image and superscription" without approved value.
"Be the girl dead and be she drowned sure?"
"She's a goner!" replied the boy.
This emphatic assurance of "rigor mortis" having convinced the old gentleman that his money will be well invested, the deal is about to be closed, when, seeing Oswald, little Jack sprints across the street, down an alley, into the arms of a policeman.
"Pfwhat yez roonin' loike yez a stalin' wagabond pfhwor?" sternly asks the officer.
"That willanous-lookin' rascal round there is campin' on me trail."
With visions of a kidnaper of small boys fleeing from his wrath, Michael P. O'Brien drags the terrified Jack out of the alley to the street. Seeing the old man holding to the paper and looking dazed, upon this gray-haired malefactor is placed the strong hand of the "statute in such case made and provided," and he is started toward the police-station, with the soothing assurance:
"Yez nadn't confiss yez guilt by discriminatin' ividince."
Seeing that matters are badly mixed, Jack sidles away toward the opposite street-corner. His movement is noted by the policeman at the exact moment that Jack again sees Oswald. Heedless of loud command to "Sthop, in the noime of the law," the youthful auctioneer of the metropolitan press heads at right angles and is soon out of sight.
AFTER THE STORM
The day has been fearfully hot. Unconscious of surroundings, every nerve seemingly relaxed, a young man is riding along the road toward the station. Passing a wooded strip, there is a blinding flash. With much effort, Oswald frees himself from the limb of a tree, which in falling broke the neck of his horse. Bewildered with pain and drenched to the skin, he is staggering around in the mud, when a light wagon, drawn by a fine team, comes to a sudden halt at the fallen tree. The driver turns his conveyance around and assists the soaked victim of the storm to a seat. Retracing the way to another road, after a roundabout journey they stop in front of a large mansion surrounded by a grove.
The injured man is assisted to a room. A servant soon brings dry clothing and kindles a fire.
Oswald begins to meditate upon his mishap. "Close call," murmurs he, "and just as I had completed that grand air-castle! At the very moment when the acclaim was the loudest and the star of Langdon seemed brightest, that blinding flash! That terrible shock, too, and such an oppressive feeling, until the limb was removed from my breast! What does it mean? How like and yet unlike my last night's dream! I feel so cold, too." He stirs the fire, which is burning cheerily, and sits down in the cushioned chair, the blood flowing from his mouth.
Oswald soon recovers from the hemorrhage, and is aroused from his languor by the entrance of a fine-looking man whose general appearance indicates a life of about fifty years.
Seeing the pale face, and noting its strong outlines, yet refined expression, he stands for a moment in silent admiration.
"How do you feel now?"
"Much better, thank you," is the feeble reply.
Perceiving his guest's weakness, he rings a bell, and upon the prompt appearance of a servant, gives orders which are soon complied with by the bringing of refreshments.
Oswald learns that his kind host bears the name of Donald Randolph, and is the owner of the beautiful country-seat known as "Northfield"; that he has a family consisting of a son and daughter; that the son is away on a trip to India, the daughter visiting in London, but expected home on the following day.
Wishing to know more of the girl, her age, whether single or married, educated or otherwise, with the numerous further items of information naturally desired by a young man of twenty-five, about the daughter of an aristocratic, highly connected, wealthy English gentleman, Oswald, however, has the tact and good breeding not to demand a "bill of particulars."
There being a brief pause here, as if both feel that an important though delicate subject is under consideration, Sir Donald becomes the inquisitor, learning much about Oswald's past life without asking many questions. Sir Donald manifests such kindly, unfeigned interest, so much sympathy with Oswald's plans for the future, heartily approving of his highest aspirations, that the young man confides unreservedly, and tells it well.
Oswald's father was the younger son of Herbert Langdon, and for many years had been rector of an important parish. His parents had placed Oswald under a tutor, who had prepared him for Oxford. He had finished a course at this institution, and was taking a pleasure trip on horseback when the accident befell him. He now aspires to be a barrister, though until within a few years his secret ambition had been to be a great military leader. He had read of "St. Crispin," "Balaklava," the "Battle of the Nile," "Trafalgar," and "Waterloo," but the military spirit is subservient to that of commerce and diplomacy. With much sage assurance he said:
"Massed armies, long-range ordnance, impregnable forts, steel-armored battle-ships, and deadly, explosive coast marine mines are simply bellicose forms of pacific, neutral notes commanding the 'peace of Europe.' The jealousy of nations will not permit wars of conquest for colonial extension, and the mouths of frowning cannon are imperious pledges of international comity. Weak dynasties will find tranquillity in the fears of more august powers. Even the unspeakable Moslem will be unmolested in his massacres, to insure regular clipping of Turkish bonds in money markets of European capitals."
Here Sir Donald suggested that possibly this pacific, commercial tendency had its perils, and through unforeseen complications might cause war.
"The enervating influences of wealth, the extreme conservatism thereby fostered, and the resulting disposition to accept any compromise rather than interfere with the free course of trade, may create conditions breeding hostilities. May not such extreme aversion to commercial disturbance, and disposition to think lightly of national honor, compared with financial security, be bids for attack from more hardy, martial peoples, having little respect for the prerogatives of traffic or the hypocritical refinements of diplomatic craft? Are not such conditions, with the luxurious licentiousness so natural thereto, combined with the stolid indifference and poverty of the masses, most potent factors in the decline and fall of nations?"
Struck by the force of these suggestions, Oswald is silent.
Seeing that this interesting young man is pondering upon these possibilities and resulting changes in the maps of the world, Sir Donald watches him with much admiration. He thinks, I may not live to behold much of this, but would like to see a cast of his horoscope.
After a brief pause, Oswald replies:
"Serious contingencies may grow out of these tendencies of the times. These may require diplomacy and forbearance among the powers. Barbarous peoples would be at a great disadvantage in a conflict with any of the greater nations of the earth. Personal prowess, resistless in the whirlwind of the charge, is of little avail against modern artillery or long-range ordnance. The destructive power of modern military equipment will make adjustment of international differences by arbitration imperative."
He hedges at this point with the suggestion:
"Still, some crazy autocrat or frenzied people at any time may bring on far-reaching conflicts, and barbarous hordes will become menaces to civilization if taught the art of modern warfare."
After a few minutes' further conversation of a general character, Sir Donald bids Oswald good-night.
Being weary, Oswald soon after retired.
On the waters of a beautiful lake, under a cloudless sky, Oswald is swiftly sailing. The breeze seconding his own skill, the boat seems instinct with life. From the wooded bank, around a distant curve, emerges a small sail with two persons aboard. Nearing the middle of the lake, he sees a struggle, a splash, then a female form sinking in the water. With its remaining occupant the boat speeds swiftly away, disappearing beyond a jutting wooded point. Oswald's sail reaches the spot, and he rescues the insensible form of a young woman. She revives and becomes his loving friend. Soon a hateful, sinister face haunts them. Many snares they unconsciously escape. There is a tangle in the web of events. They stand upon the banks of a river, near a large city. The girl clings to him despairingly. Their foe appears, and both are struck from the bank into the river. Regaining the shore, Oswald flees. Through terrible mazes he is driven over the earth, with the face of the drowned girl before his eyes, the shadow of the gallows looming grim and black at every turn.
With a groan Oswald awakes. The pain in his side and breast is severe, but the dream seems much more real. He can not easily believe it to be simply a chimera of an overwrought brain.
OSWALD MEETS ESTHER
Late on the following morning a servant called with breakfast. In about an hour Sir Donald paid Oswald a visit.
Replying to a question as to his night's rest, he complained of severe pains across his lungs. Sir Donald suggested that a physician be called, but Oswald declined medical assistance.
After some pleasant talk, Sir Donald informed him that the servant would be at his command until evening; that in the afternoon Esther would return from London, and expected her father at the station, adding: "These little girls must be carefully attended."
Oswald felt a shade of disappointment at this fatherly allusion to little Esther. Having pictured a graceful young woman of faultless face, form, and manner, how strong his protest against the displacement of this ideal, by a rollicking little "tot," full of spoiled temper and domineering caprice.
Oswald now sees in Sir Donald Randolph less to admire. Mentally arraigning this aristocrat for his poor taste, he blames the silly father for having such a daughter. Finally, deciding not to be unduly harsh in his judgment, as there might have been mitigating circumstances, he is feeling a sense of self-approval, when voices are heard.
Looking from the window, he sees that pictured ideal coming up the graveled walk, clasping the hand of Sir Donald, talking as though time were covenant essence, with forfeiture imminent.
At once all resentment vanishes. This noble father is promptly reinstated.
Oswald now feels an impulse to apologize for his former verdict and judgment, but decides, as neither had been announced, to suppress both.
His pleased fancy pictures pleasant moonlight strolls, long rides on horseback, frequent sails upon a wooded lake, numerous tete-a-tetes in secluded bowers, a sweet girl's tender, wistful smiles, a whispered proposal, with happy, conditional acceptance, soon followed by a grand marriage ceremony.
For nearly an hour little matters kept Sir Donald from visiting his guest.
Oswald chafed under this prolonged neglect. Why should he, Oswald Langdon, with assured honors waiting acceptance, receive such shabby treatment? To leave promptly would be showing proper spirit.
However, there is little hazard of such commendable spiritual manifestation.
Strange, Miss Randolph has no more curiosity and shows so little interest.
Soon Sir Donald called, and asked if Oswald felt able to go downstairs.
"Fully, thank you!" is the animated response.
Leaning on Sir Donald's arm, the young man descends, and enters the family sitting-room, where he is presented to Esther Randolph.
Habitually at ease in exchange of formal social greetings, Oswald feels a slight tremor of embarrassment upon his presentation to this beautiful blushing girl. Such mixture of childish curiosity, impulsive girlish candor, and unconscious grace, with hesitating modesty, womanly dignity, and restraints of good breeding, all modulated by eye and accent, blending with expressive facial lights and shades, is to Oswald a new creation.
The look of questioning admiration is mutual, each evidently seeing in the other an interesting enigma.
Wonderfully fascinated by this girl of twenty, Oswald spends a delightful evening. So absorbed is he, that bodily pain and Sir Donald are in abeyance. This fine specimen of mature, aristocratic manhood now is interesting only as father of a unique daughter.
While pleased at Oswald's manly refinement and evident interest, the girl feels no warmer thrill.
Esther's education had progressed under her father's care. Competent teachers of high character were employed for so important work. The mental culture, social training, and refined accomplishments of Esther Randolph to such a father were matters of import. Nor were the subtle interwoven relations of the intellectual and ethical with bodily conditions, disregarded. She learned much by study wisely directed; became proficient in the languages, vocal and instrumental music; absorbed valuable general information from frequent talks with her father; read with discrimination some of the best works of poetry, romance, and literature; was familiar with the amenities of polite society; yet this girl of twenty seemed totally unconscious of her rare accomplishments, or bewitching perfections of face and form.
When she first met Oswald Langdon, Esther had not felt any symptoms of the tender sentiment. Was not this handsome, refined, enthusiastic, cultured young fellow, so strangely placed in her path, almost an ideal of manly perfection?
In Oswald's life there had been little social sentiment. The formal courtesies of polite society were hollow and tiresome. Though thought by friends and acquaintances to be a young man of strong mind, fascinating, magnetic manners, and high aspirations, with a brilliant prospective career, he seemed careless of that dubious prestige whose uncertain tenure is subject to the whims of the alleged "select."
Oswald had met many well-connected, eligible young ladies. Their manners had been kindly gracious. Most courteously and with instinctive chivalry he had responded, but never felt any lasting interest. Now, providentially, he has met Esther Randolph. Oswald Langdon and providence cannot fail.
Sir Donald listened with pleasure to the animated talk of Esther and Oswald.
Though fascinated with the girl, Oswald's manner toward the father was respectfully considerate. Sir Donald was his kind benefactor, and had a most charming daughter. Oswald Langdon had too much self-respect—and tact—to ignore Sir Donald Randolph.
At ten o'clock the family and guest retired, the father to indulge his soul's long habit of speculative conjecture, the daughter to sleep, Oswald to think of Esther.
The stay of Oswald at Northfield was prolonged for a period of six weeks. For nearly half of this time he was detained by his injuries and the advice of the physician. Fearing hemorrhages as a result of the injuries to his breast, Oswald finally had consented to receive medical attendance.
Enjoying the society of this interesting invalid, Sir Donald and Esther had assured him that he was welcome to the extended hospitality of Northfield.
There were many delightful talks upon all sorts of subjects, profound and otherwise. Esther often played, with exquisite skill, selections from musical masters. At his request she sang songs of grand, refined sentiment and of most entrancing melody.
Oswald was not at ease. Though Esther promptly responded to his invitations to sing and play, even anticipating his wishes in selections, seeming perfectly happy in his presence, Oswald saw that this grand girl had thoughts and purposes in which he had no part.
The form of this barrier was shadowy, but real.
To some natures, vague, dim outlines of shapes are more potent than those of an heroic mold.
There was in Oswald's high-strung, impulsive being, not tense, imperious energy alone, but that craft which in emergency could plan and wait.
But how mass the forces of a masterful spirit against an evasive square?
Though perplexed by this intangible obstacle to his purposes, Oswald continued, by varying tactics, his subtle bombardment, still floundering in the mazes of the siege.
While impressed with her father's liberal views regarding the infinite wideness of divine compassion toward human frailty, Esther had a most exacting sense of personal obligation to a higher power.
It never occurred to this generous, conscientious girl that her moral delinquencies should tax the healing properties or sensitive texture of the "seamless robe." Her conscience was peculiarly responsive to all religious appeals wherein duty was imperative, and her sentiments were so generous toward human want, that the natural effect of such ethical experiences would be a life of self-sacrifice in some line of charitable service.
This conscientious leaning was toward practical charity. At London, during her recent visit, Esther had listened to eloquent, stirring appeals from a brilliant pulpit orator, upon the subjects of charity and sacrifice. Prominence was given to local endeavor in behalf of the helpless poor.
"Such are," said he, "exalted objects of divine solicitude. Hopeless looks and dwarfish lives are fearful protests against the pitiless avarice of the faithless rich. This or that conception of the redemptive economy, or concerning the personnel of its central figure, may be tolerated, but there can be no hopeful sign for him who actively or passively oppresses God's 'little ones.'
"A story has been told of One whose weary, homeless head, often envied hole of fox and nest of bird; 'despised and rejected,' yet making autocratic claims to kingly prerogatives over an empire more limitless than that of Caesar Augustus; having in marked degree, a high-born soul's characteristic indifference to personal affronts, yet terribly indignant at slights to the poor; Who, standing with His imperial brow bared in oriental sun, His right hand resting in benediction upon curly-headed babe, the other thrilling with prophetic instinct of the leftward gesture of 'Depart,' uttered this sentiment, Better a millstone necklace and deep-sea grave than offense against the helpless.
"How heartless, for one reared in luxury, placed beyond the reach of want, having refinements and accomplishments of intellectual drill, leading a life of selfish ease, pampering every personal taste, while millions of these needy wards lack common bread."
Names and sacrifices of noted philanthropists were eloquently commented upon, and pathetic instances were narrated of noble women who had spent their lives in this human ministry.
These appeals had awakened in Esther's mind a fixed resolve to devote herself to some form of home missionary work. She fully had determined to forego all associations and environments not conducive to greatest usefulness in her chosen mission.
Trustingly waiting providential direction, Esther had returned from London, doubting not that a life of contented service would unfold with the years.
Thus panoplied with mail of self-consecration to an ideal, Esther Randolph met and withstood the suit of Oswald Langdon.
Oswald never overtly exceeded the bounds of social propriety, nor boorishly inflicted his presence upon Esther's attention. The high constraints of native manliness and gentlemanly instinct precluded such coarse tactics.
Esther's failure to appreciate this rare chance, and to acquiesce in her lover's evident interest, resulted not from any strange apathy or dislike, such as sometimes influences girlish choice. To her father she said: "I see in Oswald's remarkable individuality much to admire. His refined, magnetic enthusiasm is contagious, and at times most fascinating. His delicately guarded, subtle compliments, yet earnest, sincere speech, interest me greatly." It was but natural that the tender, wistful courtesies and considerate deference of this masterful suitor should be pleasing to Esther's womanly spirit. This high-principled girl, strong for self-sacrifice upon the altar of duty, was intensely human. Oswald felt this charm, and readily yielded to its power.
As Esther became sensitive of her interest in Oswald's future, she became more conscientiously determined upon absolute dedication of self to higher purposes than earthly pleasures.
Being perplexed at the strange girl's conduct, Oswald concluded to learn its cause. His waking hours, while alone, were spent in framing all sorts of delicately worded questions and comments about subjects which he thought of interest to Esther, calculated to draw out this hidden secret.
Unconscious of his craft, Esther's responses were void of light as Egyptian sphinx.
Oswald became wildly curious as to this mystery. It occurred to him that there might have been a case of early infatuation.
To his skillfully framed, delicately propounded questions about her past life, Esther answered frankly, with happy enthusiasm, giving each glad reminiscence.
Perhaps her aristocratic father had confided to Esther cherished plans concerning proper social alliances, and this loyal daughter yielded to the parental will.
Oswald's tactful delving unearthed no coercive "find" of restraining or constraining parental influence designedly swaying Esther's choice toward any fixed social status.
It was apparent that this girl felt toward her father a loving sense of filial reverence. That Esther would defer to Sir Donald's unexpressed or spoken will, Oswald doubted not.
There seemed to be such habitual interchange of parental and filial regard, so much of loving care and trusting dependence between this father and child, that Oswald knew in any emergency these would be far more autocratic in power of high constraint than any dogmatic assertions of authority or sentimental excesses.
Does she divine his purposes and evade the issue? Are any peculiar English property entailments obstacles to his suit? Is this hateful barrier some high family scheme of marital intrigue or establishment? These and other less probable possible causes are canvassed by Oswald with much tact and persistence.
Much of information derived by this resourceful inquisitor was not through question or reply, but was elicited by adroitly worded opinions upon remotely similar subjects adapted to time and occasion of their utterance. Still the mystery deepened.
Oswald had been at Northfield for about three weeks, and was entirely recovered from his injuries.
Though loth to leave this interesting home, he concluded to go. With evident reluctance he stated his purpose to Sir Donald and Esther. These so cordially urged longer stay that Oswald readily consented.
"Why not stay here longer, and see more of Northfield?"
He had no wish to find any sufficient answer to this question. To his visual survey Northfield was then in smiling review.
Sir Donald suggested a ride on horseback. The air was pleasant and the sky cloudless. Oswald admired the picturesque variety of wood, stream, hill, and level field, with their blending, many-colored shades. Esther commented with enthusiasm upon the incidents of each loved spot, seeming a little girl again among the sweet scenes of her childhood home. Sir Donald listened with pleased smile to Esther's minute description of each coincidence of the past. At times there crossed his refined, mobile face tremulous shades, suggestive of pathetic memories. The panorama of twenty-five years was passing before his reminiscent gaze, softened and blended by subdued tints of receding lights.
Turning a wooded curve, they came upon a grassy nook by a pebbly stream shaded with trees. The granite inscriptions with choicely selected bushes and flowers needed no interpreter.
Esther saw that Sir Donald wished to be alone. Without spoken sign, she rode on, accompanied by Oswald.
Sir Donald dismounted. This strong, mature, chastened man never thought of wife and child as sleeping there. They dwelt too far and safe for such pulseless rest. With clarified visions and adjusted lenses these gazed from their high mounts of observation upon "those graves called human existence, not yet resurrected unto life."
Esther led the way along a narrow path to an open space, where she and Oswald dismounted. Neither referred to Sir Donald's whim in remaining behind.
Oswald had spent a half-hour alone with this interesting girl without reference to the mystery which had eluded his subtle, absorbing inquiry for the past three weeks.
Upon being joined by Sir Donald, the party rode on for some distance along the bank of a lake, until coming to a graveled road and following its meandering course, they returned to the Northfield mansion.
Next day was the Sabbath. Oswald attended the parish church with Sir Donald and Esther.
Having from early childhood felt the restraints of religious training, Oswald yielded to the sweet solemnity of the hour. Though his controlling aspirations, in their uncurbed impetuosity and youthful conceit, were little consciously tinged with the higher sentiments of ethical teaching, yet Christian principles were entitled to unquestioned homage. Feeling slight commendation for that meek attitude of majestic patience, "led like a lamb to the slaughter," he thrilled at sight of an heroic warrior figure, clad in royal Bozrah-vintage-tinted purple, with powerful victor tread, returning from "Edom" conquest. There was not much of "comeliness" in the "marred face" of an unresenting Christ, but how fascinating the autocratic, prophet-painted, empire-inscribed pose of Redemption's Champion, clad in ermine of final decree, alternately welcoming his ancient "Elect," and with awful leftward gesture upon countless millions pronouncing the changeless judgment of "Depart."
Esther's lips quivered with sympathetic emotion at the divine tenderness for human despair. In the miracles she saw heavenly interposition to relieve earthly want. Barley loaves, fish, and wine were for the hungry, thirsty, ravenous crowd. Clay anointings were for the blind, quickened ears for deaf mutes, leprous healings for diseased outcasts, and recalled vital breath to pulseless mortality, responsive to human prayer. Esther faintly comprehended the inexorable justice of final judgment, but pitied poor, erring, bewildered, helpless human wanderers, gravitating so swiftly and surely to drear, friendless caverns of eternal night.
Afterward, in comment to Oswald and Esther, Sir Donald said:
"Is not patience royalty's most crucial test? How easy, kingly assertion! How hard, autocratic forbearance! How little evidence of omnipotence in vindictive wrath! Are not human weaknesses rightful claimants to a divine protectorate? Are not the crowning glories of these grand figures of Hebrew imagery in their pathetic antitypes? Is not the progressive evolution of the ages more sublime than spontaneous precocity? Restoring to normal functions ear, eye, and tongue is not so miraculous as are continuous creations of auricular and visual senses, with all the wondrous resulting harmonies of speech, sound, and song. Healing an 'unclean' wretch of his foul disorder ranks not the healthy rhythm of an infant's pulse. The inexplicable life of an interesting young girl is more mysterious than was the resurrection of Lazarus."
The ritual had an unspeakable charm for Esther and Oswald.
Monday, Oswald saw Esther only briefly, as some matters of household supervision absorbed her care. He felt lonely, but improved the time in writing several letters which had been delayed. Such employment would do when Esther was out of sight. It seemed a day lost.
Many years had receded into vague retrospect before the absorbing interests of three brief weeks.
Upon Tuesday Sir Donald and Esther drove to the station. A girl friend was expected on a visit from London.
Oswald spent the day in walking about the grounds and viewing the rare beauties of Northfield. Aware that much of interest was being seen by him for the first time, yet he experienced a strange sense of familiarity with many objects in this changing panorama. He took an extended stroll along the banks of the lake. He stops and soliloquizes: "Still the same unaccountable sensation! When and where have I witnessed the counterpart of that timbered bank beyond the curve, with the jutting wooded point in the distance? Why should the waters of a running stream, with the glare of myriad lights, appear in the background of this real landscape view? What have I done that a fleeing, skulking form like my own flits back and forth in the distant outlines? Where have I seen that despairing female face?"
With insistent sense of some fateful impending ill, Oswald returned to Northfield.
Having been gone several hours, the sun was setting when he reached the mansion grounds. Coming up a flower-fringed path, wondering at the chimeras of the afternoon, he saw Esther seated on a bench near a rosebush, and stepped toward her with a pleasant greeting, but cut it short with a startled, "Well!"
The surprised cause of Oswald's exclamation blushed as she looked into his strangely excited countenance.
Thinking there was some mistake of identity at the base of this incident, Esther presented Oswald to her friend from London, Miss Alice Webster.
With much pleasant tact, Esther managed to divert the minds of her young friends from this little mistaken affair to subjects more agreeable.
"Miss Webster has lived in London several years, and is an intimate friend of my cousins dwelling there. She called upon them during my recent visit. I pressed Alice to spend a few weeks at Northfield. We look for a most delightful time.
"How nice it will be that Mr. Langdon can be here and help us to enjoy this treat! What lovely trips on horseback! Such sails on the lake! Miss Webster sings divinely."
Esther's exquisite face shone with genuine anticipation, and Alice seemed hopeful of perfect happiness.
Oswald did not just like the prospect. Though this London acquisition to Northfield's select circle was an uncommonly pretty young woman of twenty-two, tall, and a most strikingly interesting brunette, Oswald had little disposition to be promiscuous in his tastes for female charms. To his discriminating vision Esther Randolph was the ideal of all he deemed desirable in womanly loveliness. If Oswald Langdon had been consulted as to the advisability of this expected visit, Alice Webster at that time would have been in London.
However, there were matters in the Randolph social set which had taken shape without his molding hand.
Oswald considerately decided not to veto any absolute decrees of fate, but felt that innocent, generous-hearted Alice Webster was an interloper and a positive barrier to his purposes.
Let none fancy that this chafing, impetuous suitor, so impatient toward any and all obstacles, permitted ocular evidence of these sentiments to casual view. All was masked by the most refined, manly courtesy and held in check by habitual self-control.
From the first Alice admired Oswald Langdon. His conduct toward her was the perfection of manly consideration. Conscious of his unreasonable resentment against her presence at Northfield at this particular time, he made amends by strenuous efforts to entertain this handsome girl.
For nearly two weeks the time of these interesting young people was occupied in varying rounds of social pleasure. The three seldom were separated, except when Esther was called away to superintend some household matter or joined Sir Donald.
Oswald planned many ways to be alone with Esther, but found such seclusion impossible. Not that there was apparent disposition on her part to thwart any of his plans, but on the contrary, Esther seemed acquiescent in every whim of her guests.
Alice was happy in Oswald's company, and did not disguise her sentiments.
Having been so considerate, Oswald could not now be indifferent without causing sensitive pain.
Though Esther had concluded that her life's purpose never would permit anything more than Platonic regard for Oswald Langdon, yet she often wished that duty's path might be less narrow and exacting. The cost of living with sole reference to a high spiritual ideal never seemed so great as when she saw this fascinating, manly suitor, evidently seeking her hand, but failing of proper encouragement, turning his attention to another. Beyond this suppressed pain, evidenced by slightly quivering lips, there was little to disturb Esther's fixed resolve.
When Oswald had despaired of again seeing Esther except in company of Alice, and was thinking of going home to await further plans, all were surprised by the appearance of a young man from London.
That evening Sir Donald told Oswald the following story:
"For many years Paul Lanier has known Alice, and they are quite friendly. He was a frequent caller at her London home. Though Alice never felt toward him much of interest and doubted his sincerity of purpose, yet this tireless suitor persistently continued his attentions.
"Paul is the son of a rich broker, who until recently has been the guardian of Alice Webster.
"Alice's father, William Webster, acquired wealth in India. Pierre Lanier was his partner.
"Reverses came. In a fit of insane madness over his losses, resort was had to the suicide's refuge. Pierre Lanier settled the complicated affairs of his dead partner. All was absorbed but a small estate in England, yielding an annual rental of one hundred pounds. This income has been devoted to the care and education of the orphan daughter, Alice Webster, who at the time of her father's death was four years old. Her mother died when Alice was a babe, and was buried at Calcutta.
"Paul is the only son of Pierre Lanier, and until he reached the age of sixteen lived with his father in India. Nine years ago his father brought Paul to London, where he has since resided. Through his father's finesse, Paul moved in select London circles. He attended the same church as Alice Webster. The father being wealthy and of pleasant address, Paul was regarded as a promising young man with good prospects, but both, for some reason, seem interested in the future of this young orphan girl with the moderate allowance.
"Alice and Paul were much together, and became quite good friends. Paul's father still resided abroad, but made frequent visits to London. The growing friendship between these two young people seemed to meet his hearty approval. About nine months ago Paul joined his father at Calcutta, and Alice thought he was still there until she was surprised by his unheralded appearance.
"Less than a year previous to this meeting, Pierre Lanier was in London. At this time Paul proposed to Alice that they be married during his father's stay. Alice gently but positively declined this proposal. Paul insisted, and was fiercely indignant at her continued refusal. Finally, seeing there was then no hope of a favorable answer, his tactics took more subtle form, and Paul said:
"'It is unreasonable that I should expect an immediate answer. You have known me as a boy, and have seen little of society. You will like me better after seeing the hollow mockery of social compliments. My love for you will be constant. Will you not kindly leave me some hope, and wait a year before final decision? I will go abroad, hoping that at the end of twelve anxious months Alice Webster will consent to become my bride.'
"Thus appealed to, this generous-hearted girl consented to grant the desired time, and to defer until then the final reply. Soon after this Pierre Lanier left London, and in a few weeks Paul went to India."
Oswald was much interested in this romance and awaited developments.
Alice experienced much uneasiness because of her promise to wait. She felt determined upon refusing to become the wife of Paul Lanier, but dreaded the ordeal. She doubted his sincerity, and felt dread of both father and son. For several weeks before her visit at Northfield Alice had experienced an unaccountable sense of being watched, and often in her walks met a strange man with familiar, furtive, shifting glances. Fully determined forever to end this unwelcome affair, Alice gladly accepted Esther's invitation to visit Northfield. In the sweet infatuation of the past few weeks Alice almost had forgotten her former distresses, and was experiencing a sense of unmitigated pleasure at this beautiful home. Her growing interest in Oswald Langdon would make easier dismissal forever of Paul's attentions.
Though when in company of Esther and Oswald, Alice often had experienced a temporary sense of being watched, yet her pleasure was too genuine long to feel the presence of unreal objects. More than once had the reflected shadow of Paul Lanier appeared in startling clearness. Far from being homely or of unpleasant features, judged by approved standards of manly beauty, yet compared with Oswald Langdon, Paul Lanier was to Alice Webster an uninteresting deformity.
The two girls were sitting upon the lawn, in shade of a tree, listening to Oswald's full, well-modulated voice reading from the opening chapter of "Aurora Leigh," when a neatly dressed, stylish-appearing young man stood before them. Lifting his hat with a low bow, he responded to Alice's startled "Mr. Lanier!" with "Good-evening, Alice."
With apparent fear, Alice presented Paul to Esther and Oswald as her friend from London, "Mr. Paul Lanier."
Noting the dismay of Alice at his sudden appearance, and quickly divining that her sentiments toward him had not improved, Paul bit his lips with suppressed ire, but otherwise was outwardly impassive. Paul made a hurried explanation to Alice's unspoken inquiries: "I returned from India sooner than expected. I learned of you being at Northfield, and came from London to see you."
Alice endeavored to appear cheerful, but her efforts were apparent to all.
Paul attributed her conduct to the presence of Oswald, and from that moment became an implacable foe.
Oswald saw in the presence of Paul Lanier at Northfield, for the avowed purpose of meeting Alice Webster, a chance to renew his quest. So, far from attempting to supplant Paul, he wished him success, and hoped Alice would think kindly of her old-time friend, who had traveled from far India to see this capricious girl. Was not the infatuated Paul handsome, stylish, and evidently sincere? Oswald felt a sense of pity for the foolish prejudices of the silly Alice. His sympathies were aroused in behalf of the slighted Paul, who would be justified in cutting the acquaintance of such a perverse sweetheart. Oswald trusted that Paul would consider before taking such a course. It would be well for strong-minded, decisive men to practice forbearance with girlish whims and fancies.
Ignoring the coolness of Alice, Paul was very courteous, seeming not to notice her evident dislike.
The efforts of both young men to be alone with their objects of interest were thwarted by the tact of Alice, who was attracted to the side of Oswald or Esther, as varying circumstances required.
The evening was passed in conversation and instrumental music, yet there were feelings of bitterness in that apparently happy group. Sir Donald and Esther felt the pleasure growing out of generous, hospitable entertainment, but there was much of unspoken recrimination between their guests.
What pent malice often is masked by smiling social courtesies!
Upon the next day Sir Donald proposed that all take a sail on the lake and enjoy some excellent fishing.
To reach the water at a convenient spot near the boat, the gay party, with lunch and fishing outfit, took a double carriage, Sir Donald occupying a seat with the driver. All entered the boat, Sir Donald with much skill handling the canvas. After an extended ride the party landed on a shaded bank, where a fire was kindled. The fish and coffee soon were steaming on a table before used by the family on similar lake excursions.
After the meal Sir Donald lay down at a little distance and took a nap. The rest of the party strolled together through the timber skirting the shore.
Esther and Alice became separated by a narrow ravine, which gradually widened until its sides became steep. Oswald had followed Esther, who seemed perfectly happy, and unconscious of the widening breach between them and her friend.
Paul had seen his chance to be alone with Alice. The girl had not noticed how their path was being separated from that of her friends until they had gone some distance. Then she thought of retracing her steps, but Paul suggested that they might get farther away in this manner, and that by continuing up the ravine a crossing soon would be found. They kept on their way, Paul evincing his desire to find Esther and Oswald by frequent calls. There were no responses. After an hour of wandering, Alice became tired, and sat down to rest.
Paul now seemed worried over not finding Esther and Oswald. He suggested that they wait to see if their friends would not come that way. They more easily could get back to the point of separation by not traveling farther. Alice approved of this plan, and both waited in the shade of an overhanging tree on the bank of the ravine.
Paul was very kind, treating her anxiety with marked solicitude. He succeeded in allaying her doubts as to the outcome of this incident, and they talked freely upon little events of their past.
Gradually Paul approached the subject uppermost in his mind. Alice tried to divert him until some better time. Her ingenuity was not equal to the occasion in dealing with Paul Lanier. She became aware of this, and tremblingly awaited the attack.
With softened accents and apparent deference, Paul asked:
"Do you remember, Alice, the promise made me about a year ago?"
"That I would wait a year before deciding?"
"Yes, I believe you did say a year."
"But, Mr. Lanier, that was only nine months ago."
"While I have no right to hurry you, Alice, yet when a man's dearest hopes are at stake, waiting three long months is a great trial."
"Still, Mr. Lanier, to decide such an important question is a year too long?"
Mistaking her trembling earnestness for genuine interest in the proper solution of this heart problem, Paul gravely urged:
"In the time already passed since my proposal, you surely have reached a decision, and it is cruel longer to keep me in suspense."
Alice began to cry.
Paul attributed her tearful, hesitating manner to yielding consent, and said:
"It will be better for me to now know my fate than to suffer the uncertainties of three long months."
As Alice still hesitated, Paul boorishly insisted:
"Do here and now decide my fate."
Thus pressed, Alice replied:
"Mr. Lanier, I am so sorry to say that I never can become your wife."
Alice continued in a stammering way to tell Paul why she could not accept his proposal.
Seeing that the frightened girl had power to refuse, Paul Lanier listened with stoic, dogged silence. His craft did not forsake him, but encouraging Alice freely and fully to state her whole mind, he helplessly acquiesced.
Apparently dazed, Paul was some time silent; then with resigned air said:
"I wonder why Mr. Langdon and Miss Randolph have not found us? Perhaps it would be wise to return before it is late."
They started back, Paul showing no lack of courtesy toward this girl who had crushed his hopes.
Alice felt rebuked by his conduct, and tried to be very kind in her manner.
They met their friends near the point of separation. There were mutual exchanges of surprises, but no one was pressed for explanations. A strange self-abstraction seemed to control all. Without many words, the four went together to the place where they had left Sir Donald. The party was soon on the lake, sailing homeward. Finding the carriage in waiting, they reached the Northfield residence at sunset.
Evidently all had enjoyed the outing, but they were weary, and soon retired.
Both Paul and Oswald had reason to ponder the eventful experiences of that day. Each felt keen disappointment, chafing at the perversity of fate.
Esther and Oswald had strolled along pleasantly for some time before missing their friends. Not doubting but that the absent ones soon would appear, Esther enjoyed being alone with Oswald for the first time since the arrival of Alice. There was something in the refined manner of this earnest man that strongly appealed to Esther's womanly sentiments. But for duty's requirements, she would have yielded to the evident wish of Oswald Langdon. Her conduct seemed less restrained, and there was an absence of that preoccupied air so puzzling to Oswald. Realizing that their lives would drift apart, Esther felt a sense of loneliness. Her smiles were wistful in anticipation of solemn adieus.
Oswald observed this change in Esther's manner, vigilantly noting each significant sign. Would he ever have another such favorable opportunity to learn Esther's mind concerning the subject which so engrossed all his interest? The time would be too brief for him to know by the slow processes of the last four weeks. Might not this mystery be solved and his own fate be determined by frank avowal of his love?
There was to Oswald's thoughts a decisive directness which could not brook the slow action of less positive minds. He resolved to know his future in the hopeful present.
They sat down in an embowered spot, under a small tree, upon a grassy knoll. Oswald's manner was nervously excited, despite strenuous effort to appear circumspect. He began in low voice to express his sense of pleasure since coming to Northfield.
"The happiest days of my life have been passed in your society. I have often congratulated myself on the fortunate accident which detained me at such a hospitable home, where the associations have been so pleasant. Of my stay here I shall ever have most tender memories. It seems to me that I have always known you, Miss Randolph. I never can tell you and your father my appreciation of your kindnesses."
Here Esther interrupted his earnest talk by saying:
"Father and I are the debtors. We have been overpaid by the pleasure of your stay at Northfield. Mr. Langdon, there will be a void in our home when you have gone away."
Oswald eagerly replied:
"Why should I go away? Why not always be with you, Miss Randolph?"
Startled by these sudden questions, Esther was speechless. She saw the drift, but the form was too dubious to admit of responsive reply.
Then, with impetuous frankness, Oswald avowed his love for Esther and interest in her future plans.
"My love has grown stronger every day since we met. I have not known you long, but what has time to do with such sentiments? I have so hoped that you would reciprocate my love and think kindly of my suit. I have often wondered at your preoccupation, but hope there is nothing in your plans or purposes which will prevent our being forever united."
Pausing, Oswald noted Esther's tremor, but awaited her response.
In hesitating, plaintive voice, Esther said:
"Mr. Langdon, I greatly appreciate your sentiments toward me, and feel much interest in your future. No light consideration would influence me in such an important decision. I have no words to tell you how it pains me to decline such an honorable proposal. I too will always have tender recollections of your stay at Northfield. My life will be devoted to alleviating the sorrows of the poor and wretched. This vow was taken before you came to Northfield, and I must not break it, though the trial be indeed very hard. My life as your wife would be against the plain dictates of duty and a breach of covenant with Heaven."
Completely stunned, Oswald felt the decisive solemnity of Esther's words, but could find no fitting reply. He had too much respect for her good opinion, even though she crush his fondest hopes, to argue against the grounds of her decision. There was something so intangible, yet solemnly real, in this decisive consecration to holy ends that Oswald experienced a sense of bewilderment and awe, rendering nerveless his imperious will.
Following some further explanations by Esther for her fixed resolve, they had returned and joined their friends without more than a few words.
Having retired to his room, Oswald pondered long and bitterly over the unwelcome revelations of the day. Esther had told him that for a long time she had been thinking of her chosen life-work, but was fully decided in this resolve by the solemn words of a minister spoken while she was at London. Oswald had no censure for this high-principled, conscientious girl's infatuation, but indignantly railed against her spiritual advisers. These promoters of high ethical philosophy were safe from undue force of their own appeals, though more susceptible hearts might be crushed through conscientious compliance. It maddened Oswald that this lovely girl, with all her perfections of mind, face, and form, should be cast, like a common worm, into the great, vulgar, carnivorous mouth of human want. If Christ's ultimate aim were alleviation of physical suffering, why not feed and heal all earth's hungry, diseased millions, through diviner, broad-gauged philanthropy than lagging processes of personal devotion?
Oswald recalled the hateful, cruel, bigoted zeal of a Calchas, pressing upon Agamemnon at Aulis the unappeased wrath of the gods, until to fill the canvas of Grecian fleet for Troy sail this so-called "King of Men" could yield his household's idol to butcher-blade of human sacrifice.
Could it be that the courteous, indulgent Sir Donald Randolph, with his wealth of cultured, intellectual power, was such a cruel, heartless, moral idealist as to approve of his daughter's immolation on this slow-torturing funeral pyre?
Then, too, Esther's infatuation for such dreary life! Esther seemed to think the infinite plans would fail without her cooeperation. Diana's intervention saved the weeping, trembling Iphigenia, but how find available substitute or Tauris asylum for deluded Esther Randolph?
Thus chafing against the day's revelations, Oswald continued, until wearied he relaxed from such tense state into uneasy sleep.
Paul Lanier's quickened sense of personal humiliation struggled with the promptings of overpowering craft. At times his vindictive malice planned revengeful surprises for the man who was in some way responsible for Paul's treatment. True, Paul saw little in Oswald's conduct toward Alice evincing any absorbing interest, and could detect that Esther was the attraction; but had not this fascinating Englishman come between him and the girl of his choice? With set lips he recalled each slight received at Northfield, and meditated sure revenge. "The time is short," he mutters, "and I must not long temporize upon methods, but there must be cautious anticipation of all the consequences."
In his malicious ire Paul could have found it easy forever to silence the voices of that sleeping household.
"My manners shall mask devilish craft until success is assured. There will be smiling, hypocritical acquiescence in Northfield plans, then prompt, decisive action upon the part of Paul Lanier."
For hours Paul continued revolving in his mind various plans, but reached no definite conclusion as to his course of action.
With all his survey of the situation in its remotest bearings, and determination to practice dissembling, cautious craft, Paul's decisive acts in this brooding tragedy were to be the result of passionate impulse.
LAKE AND RIVER TRAGEDIES
The Northfield household was early astir upon the morning after the lake ride. Neither Oswald nor Paul had any hint of the other's fate.
Oswald possessed too much gentlemanly instinct to abate his respectful treatment of both father and daughter. Through craft, Paul was very courteous. He announced his intention to return that afternoon. With many expressions of regret, Paul left Northfield.
Pierre Lanier is in London. Paul and his father hold a conference, at which present and future plans are discussed. The refusal of Alice Webster to become Paul's wife and her apparent infatuation for Oswald Langdon are talked over. Pierre says:
"We must bring about this marriage in some way, Paul. To fail would be very serious. That other fellow shall not marry Alice. The man who came with me from Calcutta will do as I say. He shall begin the suit now. The income from this remnant of her father's fortune is Alice's sole support. She does not know of the defect in her title to the property. Alice will be frantic when the papers are served. Both of us will favor her side of the case and pose as sympathetic friends. Gradually we can show Alice our good intentions. When her helplessness and poverty become clear, how easy to renew your proposal. She will have faith in your sincerity then, Paul. To escape a life of want the girl will become the wife of wealthy Paul Lanier. You would make Alice a fine husband, Paul."
Next day an action involving the title to the London property belonging to Alice Webster, and for an accounting of accrued rents, was begun by William Dodge. Soon afterward proper papers were duly served.
Upon learning of this Alice was distracted. Trembling with excitement, she appealed to Sir Donald. This generous-hearted barrister felt much sympathy for Alice. It was decided that Sir Donald would go to London.
To divert Alice's mind from these worries, Oswald and both girls take frequent sails upon the lake. The interest of Alice in Oswald seems growing, and she is cheerful only in his company.
One day he does not join them in their lake excursion, but Sir Donald takes his place. A few hours later Oswald goes down to the shore. Not finding his friends, he sets out in a small sail-boat, expecting to see them somewhere on the lake.
Soon he sees another sail move out from the shore in the distance. Lifting his field-glasses, he learns that there are but two persons aboard, a man and woman. The boat is similar to the one which Sir Donald must have taken, but where is Esther or Alice? The boat moves away rapidly. Both figures are now standing. Applying the glasses to determine which of the girls is on board, he beholds a struggle. The girl falls overboard and sinks out of sight. The boat pulls rapidly away, passing out of view beyond a timbered point not far distant.
Oswald's sail is soon at the place where he had seen the girl disappear. Looking around, he is surprised to behold the apparently lifeless form on the surface of the water.
The mystery is cleared when he sees that a projecting bush holds up the body by contact with a knotted scarf around the neck of the drowned girl.
Oswald places the limp form in the bottom of the boat, and soon reaches the shore. Removing the body to a grassy bank, he sees Esther and Sir Donald approaching.
They are terribly shocked. He begins to explain, when there is a movement, with positive signs of returning consciousness. Soon the eyes open with a wild stare. Slowly the wet figure revives. All are surprised to recognize Alice Webster returned to life.
The girl seems dazed, but at length knows her friends. For a while explanations are deferred. Without search for the missing boat, all are taken by Oswald in his sail, and are soon at the point of embarking, where a carriage awaits them. Reaching Northfield, they enter its doors, without reference to the day's events.
In about an hour Alice is able to relate her experiences. In the mean time, Oswald had acquainted Esther and Sir Donald with his part in this mysterious drama. The explanation is startling.
"I was sitting on the shore near the boat. Both of you had taken a stroll, and were out of sight. I heard stealthy steps, and looking up was frightened to see Paul Lanier. He spoke very gently, begging my pardon for the intrusion. Then Paul said: 'I have heard of your trouble, Miss Webster, and came to offer my sympathy and help. Father and I will be able to render you some assistance, as we know all the facts. Will you do us the honor to accept our aid in thwarting this unjust attempt to rob you of all means of support?'
"I was surprised at the kind offer, and consented. After a while Paul spoke of seeing two people among the trees farther up the lake, and said he thought they must have been Miss Randolph and her father. He then said, 'Why not take a sail in that direction, and meet them returning?' I consented, and we started up the lake. The boat headed for the point extending out from the other shore. I asked Paul where we were going. He answered, 'We can reach that point over there, and get back in time to meet your friends.' His reply was testy and manner unexpected. I grew suspicious, and insisted on our return. Paul became angry, and did not heed my demands. In my fear, I arose and grasped his arm. He fiercely told me to sit down, using a fearful oath. I refused, and said some wild, bitter things. He then roughly pushed me back, and I fell overboard."
The mystery of Paul Lanier's conduct greatly puzzled all. However, it was evident that he had not intended the consequence of his rash act. This was the result of brutal passion at her resistance to some other design. What could he have intended in his deceitful ruse? He must have been convinced of her death, and fled, using the boat to gain time. All were sure that Alice nevermore would be troubled by Paul Lanier. He would flee, pursued by the supposed Nemesis of his victim.
In this their conclusion was natural, but not based on subtle knowledge of Paul's character. He possessed marvelous cunning and much personal courage. No one but Alice saw him in the boat, and he thinks she is at the bottom of the lake. His coming to Northfield was in disguise, known only to Pierre Lanier. In the same manner Paul returned to London.
The affair had taken a most unpremeditated turn, but father and son will accept the tragic result with resignation. Had their plans finally miscarried, there would have been a removal of Alice Webster. Better for their consciences that her death was due to sudden passion and accident than to "malice aforethought."
Both scanned all the daily papers for news of Alice's disappearance, but were perplexed by failure to see such reference. Not being able longer to bear the suspense, Paul, in new disguise, again appeared in the vicinity of Northfield. Inquiring as to any incidents of note occurring in that neighborhood, he learns only of other petty gossip. He dares not visit the residence, but watches for its familiar faces.
At length his tireless zeal is rewarded.
Paul is hidden in a thick undergrowth of bushes, nearly opposite the point in the lake where Alice Webster had sunk from sight. Looking from his retreat, he sees the ghost of the drowned girl approaching. In terror, Paul cowers before this supernatural figure which passes his hiding-place. Esther and Oswald come in view.
It now dawns on Paul that in some mysterious way Alice had been rescued from the lake. He fears that news of the incident has been suppressed until complete evidence can be secured against him. Doubtless Alice had informed her friends, who are now on his trail. But Paul's conduct will be other than they expect. By remaining disguised in the immediate vicinity of his crime he will keep advised of their every move.
Waiting until all have passed, Paul leaves his hiding-place and follows at safe distance. It is not his intention to be seen by any of the party, as he wishes to spy upon their movements, but in event of discovery no one will recognize Paul Lanier in such disguise.
Moving around in a circle, Paul reaches a point within hearing distance of where the three are likely to stop for rest and conversation. A narrow, steep-banked ravine will separate him from them, but near enough for distinct hearing.
Screened from view by some low, thick bushes, where he can note their actions, Paul awaits the coming of Esther, Alice, and Oswald, who are now together.
The three sit down on the grassy bank opposite Paul's retreat. Soon Alice begins to discuss the subject of her London financial trouble, and tells Oswald she intends to accompany Sir Donald there on the next day. "Will you not go with us and make my home yours while in the city?"
To this invitation, given in most bewitching manner, the young man courteously demurs. Just now he has little curiosity for London scenery. In fact, Oswald feels a lingering fondness for Northfield.
But the prospect takes an unexpected turn. Esther's sense of the proprieties asserts itself. She likes London very much, and wishes to accompany her father. "It will be so nice to see the sights with papa!"
Oswald now sees wherein he may be of service in assisting Sir Donald to understand this case. As he thinks of some time practicing the legal profession, until a wider field opens, this will be a good chance to acquire a little preliminary knowledge. He now has little doubt but that Alice will win her case. With the cooeperation of Oswald Langdon, Sir Donald Randolph cannot fail.
This confidence is contagious. Alice and Esther now feel that the case is won.
Next day Sir Donald, Oswald, Esther, and Alice go to London. On the same train there is an odd-looking, strangely dressed, heavily whiskered man, who says nothing, but keeps track of the Northfield party until all enter the home of Alice Webster.
Sir Donald learns that the plaintiff, William Dodge, is from Calcutta. Recently arrived from India, he had instituted the action. There was no record of any deed connecting the Webster estate with the original title. How the decree of court adjudging title to Alice as sole heir of William Webster had been obtained was a mystery. Perhaps some unrecorded conveyance from rightful owners to William Webster had been presented, and upon these the decree was based.
Solicitors were employed by Alice. In support of her rights they could find no record or other evidence. However, they began most exhaustive search to locate the different grantors whose names appeared in the Dodge chain of title.
Sir Donald suspected that the Dodge papers were forgeries, or were obtained from record owners who had conveyed to the father of Alice and afterward deeded the same property to the Dodge grantors. Possibly there might be a number of unrecorded deeds. Perhaps the records had been falsified.
Numberless possible contingencies were suggested to his legal acumen. Contrary to his usual secretive habit, Sir Donald suggests these to Oswald, who in turn comments upon them to Alice and Esther, with all the gravity of original discovery.
Sir Donald's reports to Alice were brief, giving little information, except ultimate facts as to results of the investigations. Upon most matters relating to proposed tactics, Sir Donald was silent.
Oswald marveled at the obtuseness of this eminent barrister. Why not unravel this web of connivance with dispatch? Time, distance, and every contingency, immediate or remote, were merely incidental. Oswald Langdon will see that the solicitors and Sir Donald Randolph do not fail.
One day Alice pressed Sir Donald for an opinion of the probable time required to have the cloud upon her title removed, and said: "I hope you will frankly tell me all the difficulties likely to confront you in the case. The matter surely can be decided in a short time. From what Oswald has told me, I certainly will win."
Sir Donald explained many uncertainties of the case. His talk was so sincere, evincing such understanding of the puzzling mazes of the matter, that Alice could not fail to see her chances of success were at best very doubtful. In spite of Sir Donald's promise to devote time and money to vindicate her title, Alice felt despondent over the outlook. She appealed to Oswald for hopeful assurance, explaining fully what had been said by Sir Donald.
Oswald saw the gravity of her trouble, and could say little to mitigate it. Naturally he was frank, and would not indulge in flattery or deceit. He longed to encourage Alice, but could find no truthful words of hope.
Alice saw his evident sympathy, and felt pleased despite her utter helplessness.
Esther proposed that they take a stroll in some of the public grounds. The three afterward were seated in Hyde Park. Esther moved away, as Alice seemed anxious to talk with Oswald upon some confidential matter.
Alice related Paul Lanier's proposal, and dwelt at length upon the many persecutions she had endured, culminating in the lake tragedy.
"I always felt an unaccountable dread of both Paul and his father. Can it be that there is some conspiracy concerning my father's estate in India? Is my existence in the way of their schemes? Would my death or marriage with Paul help them? I feel that all my acts are known. How suddenly Paul appeared at the lake! They now may be watching us!"
Looking around, Oswald was struck by the attitude of a plain-appearing man, with heavy whiskers, seated about twenty feet distant, evidently listening. Oswald said nothing about this, as he did not wish to increase her fears, and the stranger's conduct seemed due to vulgar curiosity.
Alice was so despondent over her financial stress, that she knew not what to do.
"What will become of me, Mr. Langdon, if I fail in the case?"
Oswald spoke hopefully, and thought there would be some way out of her trouble. Esther came up, and he then proposed a moonlight boat-ride on the Thames. He would rent a rowboat, and was quite good with the oars. They decided to take the ride. Soon after the three returned to the home of Alice.
Sir Donald invited both the girls and Oswald to attend an opera that evening. Esther explained that they had agreed upon a boat-ride. "But perhaps Alice and Mr. Langdon would find the opera just as pleasant."
To please Alice, the matter was finally settled by Esther accompanying her father to the opera and the others taking the ride. Oswald did not approve of this arrangement, but offered no objection.
During the evening Alice seemed nervous. She would exert her most bewitching arts to interest Oswald, and then remain silent. Many pleasant complimentary remarks would be cut off abruptly, as if the speaker refrained from further comment through maidenly hesitation or restraint. He noticed her odd manner, but being much absorbed in thoughts of the opera, was not inclined to be sensitive or critical. After some time had been passed in this manner, she suggested that they tie up the boat to a projecting bush on the bank of the stream and take a stroll along the shore.
Alice and Oswald walked along the bank for a few minutes, coming to some overhanging shrubbery, where there was a seat, used by strollers along that side of the Thames. They sat down within a few feet of the shore. The girl still acted strangely, appearing to have some matter in thought importunate for expression, but nervously suppressed. Oswald inquired if Alice were still worrying over her financial troubles, adding some hopeful remarks as to the future, even if the property should pass into the possession of another. His manner was sympathetic. Overcome by her emotions and his words, she began to cry.
Oswald was now in a dilemma. He could face danger with unflinching nerves, but was a novice in such an emergency. Doing what any young man with generous impulses naturally would do under such circumstances, he attempted to allay the fears of his hysterical companion. There was little of premeditated propriety in his words or conduct.
Alice now confessed to Oswald her love. "Much as I dread being left penniless, such poverty would be nothing compared to loss of you. With all the worry and uncertainty caused by this villainous conspiracy against my father's estate, shadowed by fear of the hateful Paul Lanier, life since meeting you at Northfield has been a joyous dream. Without you I cannot live, pursued by the cunning malice and crafty scheming of these persecutors. Will you forgive me, Mr. Langdon, for not waiting a proposal? You have been so kind, I cannot believe you insincere."
To say that Oswald was embarrassed by this unexpected burst of feminine emotion would be mild expression of his feelings. He was stunned and speechless. What could he say in reply? The utter helplessness of Alice, with her despondent future outlook, pursued by enemies whose aims were cruelly vague, against all restraints of maidenly sentiment declaring love for one having no responsive feeling other than pity, was pathetic. Had he not unwittingly contributed to her misery by his unguarded conduct? Would not his denial of her strange suit be a base betrayal? Alice had thought his conduct sincere. How could he now crush this poor girl's hopes by frank statement of his real sentiments.
With staring, inquisitive eyes Alice watched Oswald's troubled face while these thoughts were passing through his mind. She could not mistake his embarrassment. With dawning presentiment of his unspoken decision, this despairing girl, standing erect, gave one glance at the river. Her action was quickly noted by Oswald, who sprang between Alice and the shore. She begged him to have pity. "You have made me love you! Do not cast me off! Whatever happens, save me from that hateful villain, Paul Lanier!"
There is a flash of steel, a blow and thrust, followed by the splash of two bodies. A form stoops over the projecting shore until the waters have hidden both from view. By aid of the moonlight, scanning the stream far as can be seen in its onward course, this peering watcher seems fearful that his victims may escape from the river. At the sound of voices, he mutters an oath and skulks away.
Oswald rises and swims against the current. Grasping an overhanging shrub in contact with the water's surface, by great effort he manages to reach land.
Before starting upstream, Oswald looked for any appearance of Alice. There was no sign. When on the shore, he tried to go down the river in hope of rescuing her, but loss of blood and his fatigue prevented.
Hearing distant voices, it dawns on Oswald that he will be suspected of having caused the death of Alice Webster. They had gone for this night row, and were last seen together. Whether the body shall be found or not, he will be suspected of having murdered the girl. Who will believe his statement of the facts?
These thoughts and his weakened state still kept Oswald rooted to the spot, undecided what to do. The voices grow more distinct. He detects the excitement of those approaching. Shall he await their appearance, or meet them coming and explain all?
In this dilemma Oswald follows the impulse seeming to him most rational. Avoid these strangers about whom he knows nothing; confide first in his friends; with them and the police search for the body of Alice Webster.
With these conclusions rapidly formed, Oswald rises to his feet. Weak from loss of blood, but with forced energy, he starts in an opposite direction from that of the voices, intending to make a circle, and coming in their rear, follow cautiously until these strangers have passed up the stream beyond the point where the boat is tied to the shore. He then will return the boat. After reporting to Sir Donald and Esther, the police shall be notified, and together they will search for the missing body.
Oswald continued for some distance, but saw no chance, without detection, of getting back of those in the rear. In this way he traveled until entirely exhausted. Crawling a few rods out of their path, but in full view, he watched them, expecting to be seen.
Four men passed between him and the shore. One remarked: "Say, pards, that empty boat down there looks suspicious. Why hasn't anybody showed up? Wonder what's their bloody lay."
"Oh, you're a little off, old chappie, to-night! Guess that red bottle you emptied got you a bloody eye!"
The quartette gave a boisterous laugh, and passed by.
When these were out of sight, Oswald arose and started back toward the boat, but soon was compelled again to sit down. Despairing of his ability to return that night, he crawled into some bushes away from the path, and slept.
The sun is brightly shining when he awakes. His left arm is sore, but he finds that it is only a deep flesh wound, which had caused excessive flow of blood. The complications of his position daze Oswald. How can he return and give information of Alice Webster's death? What reasonable excuse can be assigned for his delay? How seemingly transparent this yarn! Will it not be evident that he manufactured a tissue of falsehoods, and to clinch these preposterous lies inflicted on himself this slight wound?
Return is not to be considered. There is no avoiding the gallows but in flight. But how escape?
Oswald feels feverish thirst, and hoping to find clear water follows toward its source a muddy little rivulet emptying into the river. In this way he travels about a mile from shore, where, in the corner of a fenced strip of ground, are a boy and a girl drinking from a clear stream.
Frightened by this pale-looking, bareheaded tramp, the children fled. Oswald drank deeply of the refreshing water, and was moving away, when a loud voice commanded him to stop. Looking up, Oswald saw a burly citizen, just over the fence, puffing with swelling sense of proprietorship.
Oswald's combative faculties are aroused, and in defiant attitude he awaits the attack.
"Who be ye, man, and what ye doing here?"
Oswald explained that he was a stranger there, and had slept on the bank of the river. His hat was lost. He hoped that no harm had been done. He had money, and would pay for all damages.
The refined manner of speech and good looks made a favorable impression upon the staring proprietor.
Oswald saw his advantage, and appealed to this red-faced inquisitor for breakfast, adding that he would pay well.
Greatly mollified, the other invited him into the house, and set before his guest a substantial meal.
It occurred to Oswald that by show of liberality he might gain very valuable assistance in extricating himself from his terrible fix. He tossed a half-crown toward his host, who stared in blank amazement.
"That is right; keep it all, my kind friend."
With much show of appreciation the coin was pocketed.
"By the way, have you a good horse and cart?"
"You bet I has!"
"Say, friend, don't you wish to make some money?"
"That's what I does!"
"Well, I must be forty miles away to-night sometime, and here are three half-crowns for the drive. How soon can you start?"
"Inside of an hour."
Tossing the coins to his excited host, Oswald said: "Get ready right off! Tell no one, and there is a sovereign at the end of our ride! Have you an old duster and hat?"
Rushing to a closet, Dick Bray produced the desired outfit, which had a most superannuated look.
"Keep the stuff, and welcome!" said Dick, with an air of much conscious generosity.
With closed lips, Dick set about preparations for the eventful journey.
In less than an hour they were jogging along the road at pretty lively gait for their slow-geared outfit.
Oswald assumed a most taciturn manner, which convinced Dick that he was some high-born chap who had been on a "lark" and wished to keep "shady." The thought of that sovereign restrained Dick's curiosity so thoroughly that but little was said by either.
Unused to such long, vigorous journeys, the horse required much urging, and then made distance slowly. At four o'clock the next morning they came within two miles of Oswald's home. Dick received the promised coin, and was advised to go back a few miles and rest up. Oswald lived near, and would walk the rest of the way.
"Say nothing, and perhaps I can do more some time!"
Thus adjured, Dick Bray parted with Oswald Langdon, fully determined to be very secretive about that mysterious drive.
Reverend Percy Langdon has been conversing with his wife about the future career of their only boy. Conscious of Oswald's brilliant powers and high ambitions, both feel a natural sense of parental pride in this son who is their one earthly hope. The fond mother talks of this manly, stalwart youth, using childhood's endearing terms, and expresses solicitude for his present welfare, while the father, with habitual sense of superior perception, positively but tenderly allays her fears.
"Oswald is safe anywhere. Our boy can be trusted in any emergency. He will make his mark. I wonder what position Oswald will occupy in a few years! How proud he is of his mother!"
"But, Percy, dear, Ossie has his father's temper and is so self-willed at times!"
"Now go to sleep, little mother!"
A hurried knock is heard at the front door. Startled by such early, unexpected call, there is no response. The knock is repeated loudly, and the bell rings. Springing up, the rector cautiously opens the door, when a dusty figure hastily pushes into the dark hall.
Reverend Percy Langdon grapples with the intruder, who holds on, but attempts no violence. "Father!" is the low-spoken greeting. "Don't frighten mother, and I will explain."
After some hurried talk, sobs, and heart-breaking good-bys, a figure steals out in the dawning light, and starts for Southampton.
Oswald walked rapidly. After about two hours he was overtaken by a man driving a horse attached to a buckboard. He received a hearty invitation to take a ride. He learned that the man was going ten miles, to meet a friend on business. To all questions Oswald gave evasive replies. At nine o'clock they arrived at the place named. Oswald walked on until noon, when he sat down in a secluded spot and ate a meal. Resuming his journey, he soon reached a small station. Here he boarded a train for Southampton, arriving at his destination without noteworthy incident.