The Table of Contents is not part of the original book.
By MRS. GEORGIE SHELDON
"Edrie's Legacy," "Max," "Faithful Shirley," "Marguerites Heritage," "A True Aristocrat," etc.
A. L. BURT COMPANY
PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Copyright 1894, 1895, 1900
BY STREET & SMITH
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Page PROLOGUE. 3 I TWO UNEXPECTED VISITORS. 5 II A STANCH FRIEND MAKES A VAIN APPEAL. 11 III THE YOUNG LAWYER EXPERIENCES TWO EXTRAORDINARY SURPRISES. 16 IV A MYSTERY EXPLAINED. 20 V A MOTHER'S LAST REQUEST. 26 VI A HERITAGE OF SHAME. 30 VII TWO NEW ACQUAINTANCES. 36 VIII THE VENOM OF JEALOUSY. 43 IX THE HOUSEKEEPER AT WYOMING. 50 X "THE GIRL IS DOOMED! SHE HAS SEALED HER OWN FATE!" 58 XI "NOW MY VINDICATION AND TRIUMPH WILL BE COMPLETE!" 65 XII THE MASKED BRIDAL. 71 XIII THE DASTARDLY PLOT IS REVEALED. 79 XIV "YOUR FAITHLESSNESS TURNED ME INTO A DEMON." 88 XV "OH, GOD! I KNEW IT! YOU ARE ISABEL!" 95 XVI "YOU SHALL NEVER WANT FOR A FRIEND." 104 XVII "WOULD YOU DARE BE FALSE TO ME, AFTER ALL THESE YEARS?" 111 XVIII "I SHALL NEVER FORGIVE EITHER OF YOU FOR YOUR SIN AGAINST ME." 119 XIX "I WILL NEVER BREAK BREAD WITH YOU, AT ANY TABLE." 128 XX EDITH RESOLVES TO MEET HER ENEMIES WITH THEIR OWN WEAPONS. 137 XXI A MYSTERIOUS STRANGER PAYS EDITH AN UNEXPECTED VISIT. 146 XXII "I WILL RISE ABOVE MY SIN AND SHAME!" 154 XXIII A SURPRISE AT THE GRAND CENTRAL STATION. 164 XXIV A SAD STORY DISCLOSED TO AN EAGER LISTENER. 173 XXV A NEW CHARACTER IS INTRODUCED. 181 XXVI AN EXCITING INTERVIEW AND AN APPALLING DISCOVERY. 189 XXVII MRS. GODDARD BECOMES AN EAVESDROPPER. 199 XXVIII ISABEL STEWART ASTOUNDS MR. GODDARD. 208 XXIX "OUR WAYS PART HERE, NEVER TO CROSS AGAIN." 217 XXX "I HATE YOU WITH ALL THE STRENGTH OF MY ITALIAN BLOOD." 226 XXXI RECORDS SOME STARTLING DEVELOPMENTS. 234 XXXII "YOU WILL VACATE THESE PREMISES AT YOUR EARLIEST CONVENIENCE." 242 XXXIII MR. BRYANT MEETS WITH UNEXPECTED DIFFICULTIES. 250 XXXIV AN UNEXPECTED MEETING RESULTS IN A WONDERFUL DISCOVERY. 259 XXV "THAT MAN MY FATHER!" 268 XXXVI FURTHER EXPLANATIONS BETWEEN MOTHER AND DAUGHTER. 276 XXXVII "MY DARLING, YOU ARE FREE!" 285 XXXVIII AN UNEXPECTED ENCOUNTER. 292 XXXIX CONCLUSION. 298
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THE MASKED BRIDAL.
The most important and the most sacred event in a woman's life is her marriage. It should never be lightly considered, no matter what may be the allurement—honor, wealth, social position. To play at marriage, even for a plausible pretext, is likely to be very imprudent, and may prove a sin against both God and man.
The story we are about to tell chiefly concerns a refined and beautiful girl who, for the ostensible entertainment of a number of guests, agreed to represent a bride in a play.
The chief actors, just for the sake of illustrating a novel situation, and perhaps to excite curiosity among the spectators, were to have their faces concealed—it was to be a masked bridal.
Already the guests are assembled, and, amid slow and solemn music, the principals take their places.
The clergyman, enacted by a gentleman who performs his part with professional gravity and impressive effect, utters the solemn words calling for "any one who could show just cause why the two before him should not be joined in holy wedlock, to speak, or forever hold his peace."
At the sound of these words, the bride visibly shudders; but as she is masked, it can only be inferred that her features must indicate her intense emotion.
But why should she exhibit emotion in such a scene? Is it not a play? She cannot be a clever actress when she forgets, at such a time, that it is the part of a bride—a willing bride—to appear supremely happy on such a joyous occasion.
It is strange, too, that as the bride shudders, the bridegroom's hand compresses hers with a sudden vigorous clutch, as if he feared to lose her, even at that moment.
Was it merely acting? Was this "stage business" really in the play? Or was it a little touch of nature, which could not be suppressed by the stage training of those inexperienced actors?
The play goes on; the entranced spectators are now all aroused from the apathy with which some of them had contemplated the opening part of the remarkable ceremony.
As the groom proceeds to place the ring upon the finger of the bride, she involuntarily resists, and tries to withdraw her hand from the clasp of her companion. There is an embarrassing pause, and for an instant she appears about to succumb to a feeling of deadly faintness.
She rouses herself, however, determined to go on with her part.
Every movement is closely watched by one of the witnesses—a woman with glittering eye and pallid cheek. When the bride's repugnance seemed about to overmaster her, and perhaps result in a swoon, this woman gave utterance to a sigh almost of despair and with panting breath and steadfast gaze anxiously watched and waited for the end of the exciting drama.
The grave clergyman notices the bride's heroic efforts to restrain her agitation, and the ceremony proceeds. At length the solemn sentence is uttered which proclaims the masked couple man and wife.
Then there is a great surprise for the spectators.
As they behold the bride and groom, now unmasked, there is a stare of wonder in every face, and expressions of intense amazement are heard on all sides.
Then it dawns upon the witnesses that the principal actors in the play are not the persons first chosen to represent the parts of the bride and groom.
Why was a change made? What means the unannounced substitution of other actors in the exciting play?
Ask the woman who caused the change—the woman who, with pallid cheek and glittering eye, had intently watched every movement of the apparently reluctant bride, evidently fearing the failure of the play upon which she had set her heart.
It became painfully evident that the play was not ended yet, and some there present had reason to believe that it was likely to end in a tragedy.
Now let us portray the events which preceded the masked bridal.
TWO UNEXPECTED VISITORS.
It was a cold, raw night in December, and the streets of New York city, despite their myriads of electric lights and gayly illuminated shop windows, were dismal and forlorn beyond description.
The sky was leaden. A piercing wind was blowing up from the East River, and great flakes of snow were beginning to fall, when, out of the darkness of a side street, there came the slight, graceful figure of a young girl, who, crossing Broadway, glided into the glare of the great arclight that was stationed directly opposite a pawnbroker's shop.
She halted a moment just outside the door, one slender, shabbily-gloved hand resting irresolutely upon its polished knob, while an expression of mingled pain and disgust swept over her pale but singularly beautiful face.
Presently, however, she straightened herself, and throwing up her head with an air of resolution, she turned the knob, pushed open the door, and entered the shop.
It was a large establishment of its kind, and upon every hand there were indications that that relentless master, Poverty, had been very busy about his work in the homes of the unfortunate, compelling his victims to sacrifice their dearest possessions to his avaricious grasp.
The young girl walked swiftly to the counter, behind which there stood a shrewd-faced Israelite, who was the only occupant of the place, and whose keen black eyes glittered with mingled admiration and cupidity as they fastened themselves upon the lovely face before him.
With an air of quiet dignity the girl lifted her glance to his, as she produced a ticket from the well-worn purse which she carried in her hand.
"I have come, sir, to redeem the watch upon which you loaned me three dollars last week," she remarked, as she laid the ticket upon the counter before him.
"Aha! an' so, miss, you vishes to redeem de vatch!" remarked the man, with a crafty smile, as he took up the ticket under pretense of examining it to make sure that it was the same that he had issued to her the week previous.
"An' vat vill you redeem 'im mit?" he pursued, with a disagreeable leer.
"With the same amount that you advanced me, of course," gravely responded the girl.
"Ah! ve vill zee—ve vill zee! Vhere ish de money?" and the man extended a huge soiled hand to her.
"I have a five-dollar gold-piece here," she returned, as she took it from her purse and deposited it also upon the counter; for she shrank from coming in contact with that repulsive, unwashed hand.
The pawnbroker seized the coin greedily, his eyes gleaming hungrily at the sight of the yellow gold, while he examined it carefully to assure himself that it was genuine.
"So! so! you vill vant de vatch," he at length observed, in a sullen tone, as if he did not relish the idea of returning the valuable time-piece upon which he had advanced the paltry sum of three dollars. "Vell!" and irritably pulling out a drawer as he spoke, he dropped the coin into it. "Ah!" he cried, with a sudden start and an angry frown, as it dropped with a ringing sound upon the wood, "vat you mean? You would sheat me!—you vould rob me! De money ish not goot—de coin ish counterfeit! I vill send for de officer—you shall pe arrested—you von little meek-faced robber! Ah!" he concluded, in a shrill tone of well-simulated anger, as he shook his fist menacingly before his companion.
The fair girl regarded him in frightened astonishment as he poured forth this torrent of wrathful abuse upon her, while her beautiful blue eyes dilated and her delicate lips quivered with repressed excitement.
"I do not understand you!—what do you mean, sir?" she at length demanded, when she could find voice for speech.
"You play de innocence very vell!" he sneered; then added, gruffly: "You vill not get der vatch, for you haf prought me bad money."
"You are mistaken, sir; I have just received that gold-piece from a respectable lawyer, for whom I have been working during the week, and I know he would not take advantage of me by paying me with counterfeit money," the young girl explained; but she had, nevertheless, grown very pale while speaking.
"Ah! maybe not—maybe not, miss; not if he knew it," said the pawnbroker, now adopting a wheedling and pitiful tone as he drew forth the shining piece and pushed it toward her. "Somebody may haf sheeted him; but it haf not der true ring of gold, and you'll haf to bring me der t'ree dollars some oder time, miss."
The girl's delicate face flushed, and tears sprang to her eyes. She stood looking sadly down upon the money for a moment, then, with a weary sigh, replaced it in her purse, together with the ticket, and left the shop without a word; while the tricky pawnbroker looked after her, a smile of cunning triumph wreathing his coarse lips, as he gleefully washed his hands, behind the counter, with "invisible soap in imperceptible water."
"Oh, mamma! poor mamma! what shall I do?" murmured the girl, with a heart-broken sob, as she stepped forth upon the street again. "I was so happy to think I had earned enough to redeem your precious watch, and also get something nice and nourishing for your Sunday dinner; but now—what can I do? Oh, it is dreadful to be so poor!"
Another sob choked her utterance, and the glistening tears rolled thick and fast over her cheeks; but she hurried on her way, and, after a brisk walk of ten or fifteen minutes, turned into a side street and presently entered a dilapidated-looking house.
Mounting a flight of rickety stairs, she entered a room where a dim light revealed a pale and wasted woman lying upon a poor but spotlessly clean couch.
The room was also clean and orderly, though very meagerly furnished, but chill and cheerless, for there was not life enough in the smoldering embers within the stove to impart much warmth with the temperature outside almost down to zero.
"Edith, dear, I am so glad you have come," said a faint but sweet voice from the bed.
"And, mamma, I never came home with a sadder heart," sighed the weary and almost discouraged girl, as she sank upon a low chair at her mother's side.
"How so, dear?" questioned the invalid; whereupon her daughter gave an account of her recent interview with the pawnbroker.
"I know Mr. Bryant would never have given me the gold-piece if he had not supposed it to be all right, for he has been so very kind and considerate to me all the week," she remarked, in conclusion, with a slight blush. "I am sure he would exchange it, even now; but he left the office at four, and I do not know where he lives; so I suppose I shall have to wait until Monday; but I am terribly disappointed about the watch, while we have neither food nor fuel to get over Sunday with."
The sick woman sighed gently. It was the only form of complaint that she ever indulged in.
"Perhaps the money is not counterfeit, after all," she remarked, after a moment of thought. "Perhaps the pawnbroker did not want to give up the watch, and so took that way to get rid of you." "That is so! how strange that I did not think of it myself!" exclaimed Edith, starting eagerly to her feet, the look of discouragement vanishing from her lovely face. "I will go around to the grocery at once, and perhaps they will take the coin. What a comforter you always prove to be in times of trouble, mamma!" she added, bending down to kiss the pale face upon the pillow. "Cheer up; we will soon have a blazing fire and something nice to eat."
She again put on her jacket and hat, and drew on her gloves, preparatory to going forth to breast the storm and biting cold once more.
"I cannot bear to have you go out again," said her mother, in an anxious tone.
"I do not mind it in the least, mamma, dear," Edith brightly responded, "if I can only make you comfortable over Sunday. Next week I am to go again to Mr. Bryant, who thinks he can give me work permanently. You should see him, mamma," she went on, flushing again and turning slightly away from the eyes regarding her so curiously; "he is so handsome, so courteous, and so very kind. Ah! I begin to have courage once more," she concluded, with a little silvery laugh; then went out, shutting the door softly behind her.
Half an hour later she returned with her arms full of packages, and followed by a man bearing a generous basketful of coal and kindlings.
Her face was glowing, her eyes sparkling, and she was a bewildering vision of beauty and happiness.
"The money wasn't bad, after all mamma," she said, when the man had departed; "they didn't make the slightest objection to taking it at the grocery. I believe you were right, and that the pawnbroker did not want to give up the watch, so took that way to get rid of me. But I will have it next week, and I shall have a policeman to go with me to get it."
"Did you tell the grocer anything about the trouble you have had?" the invalid inquired.
"No, mamma; I simply offered the coin in payment for what I bought, and he took it without a word," Edith replied, but flushing slightly, for she felt a trifle guilty about passing the money after what had occurred.
"I almost wish you had," said her mother.
"I thought I would, at first, but—I knew we must have something to eat, and fuel to keep us warm between now and Monday, and so I allowed the grocer to take it upon his own responsibility," the young girl responded, with a desperate little glitter in her lovely eyes.
Her companion made no reply, although there was a shade of anxiety upon her wan face.
Edith, removing her things, bustled about, and soon had a cheerful fire and an appetizing meal prepared.
Her spirits appeared to rise with the temperature of the room, and she chatted cheerfully while about her work, telling a number of interesting incidents that had occurred in connection with her employment during the week.
"Now come, mamma," she remarked, at length; "let me help you into your chair and wheel you up to the table, for supper is ready, and I am sure you will enjoy these delicious oysters, which I have cooked as you like them best."
Mother and daughter were chatting pleasantly, enjoying their meal, when the door of their room was thrown rudely open and two men strode into their presence.
Edith started to her feet in mingled indignation and alarm, then grew deadly pale when she observed that one of the intruders was an officer, and the other the grocer of whom she had made her recent purchases.
"What is the meaning of this intrusion?" she demanded, trying in vain to keep her tones steady and her heart from sinking with a terrible dread.
"There! Mr. Officer; that is the girl who passed the counterfeit money at my store," the grocer exclaimed, his face crimson with anger.
Edith uttered a smothered cry of anguish, then sank weakly back into her chair, as the man went forward to her side, laid his hand upon her shoulder, and remarked:
"You are my prisoner, miss."
A STANCH FRIEND MAKES A VAIN APPEAL.
Beautiful Edith Allandale and her gentle, refined mother had been suddenly hurled from affluence down into the very depths of poverty.
Only two years previous to the opening of our story the world had been as bright to them as to any of the petted favorites of fortune who dwell in the luxurious palaces on Fifth avenue.
Albert Allandale had been a wealthy broker in Wall street; for years Fortune had showered her favors upon him, and everything he had touched seemed literally to turn to gold in his grasp.
His family consisted of his wife, his beautiful daughter, and two bright sons, ten and twelve years of age, upon whom the dearest hopes of his life had centered.
But like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky, an illness of less than a week had deprived him of both of his sons.
Diphtheria, that fell destroyer, laid its relentless hand upon them, and they had died upon the same day, within a few hours of each other.
The heart-broken father was a changed man from the moment, when, sitting in speechless agony beside these idolized boys, he watched their young lives go out, and felt that the future held nothing to tempt him to live on.
His mind appeared to be impaired by this crushing blow; he could neither eat nor sleep; his business was neglected, and, day by day, he failed, until, in less than six months from the time that death had so robbed him, he had followed his boys, leaving his wife and lovely daughter to struggle as best they could with poverty; for their great wealth had melted like snow beneath the blazing sun when Mr. Allandale lost his interest in the affairs of the world.
Keenly sensitive, and no less proud—crushed by their many sorrows, the bereaved wife and daughter hid themselves and their grief from every one, in a remote corner of the great city. But misfortune followed misfortune—Mrs. Allandale having become a confirmed invalid—until they were reduced to the straits described at the opening of our story.
The week preceding they had spent their last dollar—obtained by pawning one after another of their old-time treasures—and Edith insisted upon seeking employment.
She had seen an advertisement for a copyist in one of the daily papers, and, upon answering it in person, succeeded in obtaining the situation with the young lawyer already mentioned.
Every day spent in her presence only served to make him admire her the more; and, before the week was out, he had altogether lost his heart to her.
When Saturday evening arrived, he paid her with the golden coin which was destined to bring fresh sorrow upon her, and she went out from his presence with a strange feeling of pride and independence over the knowledge that she had earned it with her own hands, and henceforth would be able to provide for her own and her mother's comfort.
But Royal Bryant had been conscience-smitten when he saw her beautiful face light up with mingled pride and pleasure as he laid that tiny piece of gold in her palm.
He would gladly have doubled the amount; but five dollars had been the sum agreed upon for that first week's work, and he feared that he would wound her pride by offering her a gratuity.
So he had told her that she would be worth more to him the next week, and that he would continue to increase her wages in proportion as she acquired speed and proficiency in her work.
Thus she had started forth, that dreary Saturday night, with a comparatively light heart, to redeem her watch, before going home to tell her mother her good news.
But, alas! how disastrously the day had closed!
"Come, miss," impatiently remarked the officer, as she sat with bowed head, her face covered with her hands, "get on your things! I've no time to be fooling away, and must run you into camp before it gets any later."
"Oh, what do you mean?" cried Edith, starting wildly to her feet. "Where are you going to take me?"
"To the station-house, of course, where you'll stay until Monday, when you'll be taken to court for your examination," was the gruff reply.
"Oh, no! I can never spend two nights in such a place!" moaned the nearly frantic girl, with a shiver of horror. "I have done no intentional wrong," she continued, lifting an appealing look to the man's face. "That money was given to me for some work that I have been doing this week, and if any one is answerable for it being counterfeit, it should be the person who paid it to me."
"Who paid you the money?" the officer demanded.
"A lawyer for whom I have been copying—Mr. Royal Bryant; his office is at No. —— Broadway."
"Then you'll have to appeal to him. But of course it's too late now to find him at his office. Where does he live?"
"I do not know," sighed Edith, dejectedly. "I have only been with him one week, and did not once hear him mention his residence."
"That's a pity, miss," returned the officer, in a gentler tone, for he began to be moved by her beauty and distress. The condition of the invalid, who had fallen back weak and faint in her chair when he entered, also appealed to him.
"Unless you can prove your story true, and make up the grocer's loss to him, I shall be obliged to lock you up to await your examination."
Edith's face lighted hopefully.
"Do you mean that if I could pay Mr. Pincher I need not be arrested?" she eagerly inquired.
"Yes; the man only wants his money."
"Then he shall have it," Edith joyfully exclaimed. "I will give him back the change he gave me, then I will go to Mr. Bryant the first thing Monday morning and tell him about the gold-piece, when I am sure he will make it all right, and I can pay Mr. Pincher for what I bought to-night."
"No, you don't, miss," here interposed the grocer himself. "I've had that game played on me too many times already. You'll just fork over five dollars to me this very night or off you go to the lock-up. I'm not going to run any risk of your skipping out of sight between now and Monday, and leaving me in the lurch."
"But I have no money, save the change you gave me," said Edith, wearily. "And do you think I would wish to run away when my mother is too sick to be moved?" she added, indignantly. "I could not take her with me, and I would not leave her. Oh, pray do not force me to go to that dreadful place this fearful night! I promise that I will stay quietly here and that you shall have every penny of your money on Monday morning."
"She certainly will keep her word, gentlemen," Mrs. Allandale here interposed, in a tremulous voice. "Do not force her to leave me, for I am very ill and need her."
"I'm going to have my five dollars now, or to jail she will go," was the gruff response of the obdurate grocer.
"Oh, I cannot go to jail!" wailed the persecuted girl.
Mrs. Allandale, almost unnerved by the sight of her grief, pleaded again with pallid face and quivering lips for her. But the man was relentless. He resolutely turned his back upon the two delicate women and walked from the room, saying as he went:
"Do your duty, Mr. Officer, and I'll be on hand Monday morning, in court, to tell 'em how I've been swindled."
With this he vanished, leaving the policeman no alternative but to enforce the law.
"Oh, mamma! mamma! how can I live and suffer such shame?" cried the despairing girl, as she sank upon her knees in front of the sick woman, and shuddered from head to foot in view of the fate before her.
Mrs. Allandale was so overcome that she could not utter one word of comfort. She was only able to lift one wasted hand and lay it upon the golden head with a touch of infinite tenderness; then, with a gasp, she fainted dead away.
"Oh, you have killed her!" Edith cried, in an agonized tone. "What shall I do? How can I leave her? I will not. Oh! will no one come to help me in this dreadful emergency?"
"Sure, Miss Allandale, ye know that Kate O'Brien is always willin' to lend ye a hand when you're in trouble—bless yer bonny heart!" here interposed a loud but kindly voice, and the next instant the good-natured face of a buxom Irishwoman was thrust inside the door, which the grocer had left ajar when he went out. "What is the matter here?" she concluded, glancing from the officer to the senseless woman in her chair, and over whom Edith was hanging, chafing her cold hands, while bitter tears rolled over her face.
A few words sufficed to explain the situation, and then the indignation of the warm-hearted daughter of Erin blazed forth more forcibly than elegantly, and she berated the absent grocer and present officer in no gentle terms.
Kate O'Brien would gladly have advanced the five dollars to the grocer, but, unfortunately, she herself was at that moment almost destitute of cash.
"Come, Miss Allandale," said the officer, somewhat impatiently, "I can't wait any longer."
"Oh, mamma! how can I leave you like this?" moaned the girl, with a despairing glance at the inanimate figure which, as yet, had given no signs to returning life.
"She has only fainted, mavourneen," said Kate O'Brien, in a tender tone, for she at last realized that it would be worse than useless to contend against the majesty of the law. "She'll soon come to hersel', and ye may safely trust her wid me—I'll not lave her till ye come back again."
And with this assurance, Edith was forced to be content, for she saw, by the officer's resolute face, that she could hope for no reprieve.
So, with one last agonizing look, she pressed a kiss upon the pallid brow of her loved one; then, again donning her hat and shawl, she told the policeman that she was ready, and went forth once more into the darkness and the pitiless storm, feeling, almost, as if God himself had forsaken her, and wondering if she should ever see her dear mother alive again.
THE YOUNG LAWYER EXPERIENCES TWO EXTRAORDINARY SURPRISES.
The next morning, in the matron's room of the Thirtieth street station-house, a visitor came to see Edith Allandale. The visitor was Kate O'Brien, who, after announcing the condition of the prisoner's mother, declared her willingness to aid Edith in any way in her power.
Edith intrusted a letter to her for Mr. Royal Bryant, and early Monday morning Kate was at the lawyer's office, and placed the missive in his hands.
The young man instantly recognized the handwriting of his fair copyist, and flushed to his brow at sight of it.
"Ah! she is ill and has sent me word that she cannot come to the office to-day!" he said to himself.
"Sit down, madam," he said to his visitor, and he eagerly tore open the letter and read the following:
"MR. BRYANT:—Dear Sir:—I am sorry to have to tell you that the five-dollar gold-piece which you gave me on Saturday evening was a counterfeit coin. I passed it at a grocery, near which I reside, in payment for necessaries which I purchased, and, half an hour later, was arrested for the crime of passing spurious money. I could not appeal to you at the time, for I did not know your address; but now I beg that you will come to my aid to-morrow morning, when I shall have to appear in court to answer the charge, for I do not know of any one else upon whom to call in my present extremity. Oh, pray come at once, for my mother is very ill and needs me.
"EDITH M. ALLANDALE."
Royal Bryant's face was ghastly white when he finished reading this brief epistle.
"Good heavens!" he muttered, "to think of that beautiful girl being arrested and imprisoned for such an offense! Where is Miss Allandale?" he added, aloud, turning to Mrs. O'Brien, who had been watching him with a jealous eye ever since entering the room.
"In the Thirtieth street station-house, sir," she briefly responded.
"Infamous!" exclaimed the young man, in great excitement. "And has she been in that vile place since Saturday evening?"
"She has, sir; but not with the common lot; the matron has been very good to her, sir, and gave her a bed in her own room," the woman explained.
"Blessed be the matron!" was Royal Bryant's inward comment. Then, turning again to his companion, he inquired.
"What is your name, if you please, madam?"
"Kate O'Brien, at your service, sir."
"Thank you; and do you live near Miss Allandale?"
"Jist forninst her, sir—on the same floor, across the hall."
"She writes that her mother is very ill," proceeded the young man, referring again to the letter.
"Whisht, sir; the poor lady's dyin', sir," said Kate in a tone of awe.
"Dying!" exclaimed Royal Bryant, aghast.
"Yes, sir; she has consumption; and just afther the officer—bad luck to 'im!—took the young lady away, she had a bad coughin' spell, and burst a blood-vessel, and she has been failin' ever since," the woman explained, with trembling lips.
"Who is with Mrs. Allandale now?" questioned Mr. Bryant, with a look of deep anxiety.
"The docthor, sir; he promised to stay wid her till I come back."
"Well, then, Mrs. O'Brien, if you will be good enough to hurry back and care for Mrs. Allandale, I will go at once to her daughter; and I am very sure that I can secure her release within a short time. Tell her mother so, and that I will send her home immediately upon her release."
"Bless yer kind heart!" cried the woman, heartily, and she hurried away to take the blessed news to Edith's fast-failing mother.
The moment the door closed after her, Royal Bryant seized his overcoat and began to put it on again, his face aflame with mingled indignation and mortification.
"In a common city lock-up for the crime of passing counterfeit money!" he muttered, hoarsely. "And to think that I brought such a fate upon her!—I, who would suffer torture to save her a pang. Two nights and an endless day, and her mother dying at home!—how she must have suffered! I could go down upon my knees to ask her pardon, and yet I cannot understand it. That money came directly from the bank into my possession."
He was just fastening the last button of his coat when there came a knock upon his door.
"Come in," he said, but frowning with impatience at the unwelcome interruption and the probable detention which it portended.
An instant later a rather common-looking man, of perhaps forty years, entered the room.
"Ah, Mr. Knowles! good-morning, good-morning," said young Bryant, with his habitual cordiality. "What can I do for you to-day?"
"I—I have called to pay an installment upon what I owe you, Mr. Bryant," the man responded, flushing slightly beneath the genial glance of the lawyer.
"Ah, yes; I had forgotten that this was the date for the payment. I hope, however, that you are not inconveniencing yourself in making it to-day," remarked the young lawyer, as he observed that his client was paler than usual and wore an anxious, care-worn expression.
"There is nothing that inconveniences me more than debt," the man evasively replied, but quickly repressing a sigh, as he drew forth a well-worn purse, while his companion saw that his lips trembled slightly as he said it.
Opening the purse, Mr. Knowles produced a small coin and extended it to the lawyer.
It was a five-dollar gold-piece.
Mr. Bryant took it mechanically, and thanked him; but at the same time, feeling a strange reluctance in so doing, for he was sure the man needed the money for his personal necessities, while his small claim against him for advice rendered a few weeks previous could wait well enough, and he would never miss the amount.
He experienced a sense of delicacy, however, about giving expression to the thought, for he knew the gentleman to be both proud and sensitive, and he did not wish to wound him by assuming that he was unable to make the payment that had become due.
He stood awkwardly fingering the money and gazing absently down upon it as these thoughts flitted through his mind, and thinking, too, that it was somewhat singular that Mr. Knowles should have paid him in gold coin and of the very same denomination as he had given Edith less than forty-eight hours previous, and which had been the means of causing her such deep trouble.
Almost unconsciously, he turned the money over, his glance still riveted upon it.
As he did so he gave a violent start which caused his companion to regard him curiously.
"Great Scott!" he exclaimed, in vehement excitement, as he bent to examine the coin more closely, "this is the strangest thing that ever happened to me in all my experience!"
A MYSTERY EXPLAINED.
Mr. Knowles regarded his companion with undisguised astonishment.
"Is there anything wrong about the money?" he inquired, a gleam of anxiety in his eyes.
"Pardon me," said Royal Bryant, flushing, as he was thus recalled to himself; "you are justified in asking the question, and I trust you will not regard me as impertinently inquisitive if I inquire if you can remember from whom you received this piece of money."
"Certainly I remember," Mr. Knowles replied, but flushing painfully in his turn at the question.
"Will you kindly tell me the name of the person from whom you took it?"
Mr. Knowles appeared even more embarrassed than before, and hesitated about replying.
"I have a special and personal reason for asking you," Mr. Bryant continued. "See!" he added, holding the gold-piece before him where the light struck full upon it, "you perceive this coin is marked," and he pointed out some vertical scratches which had been made just inside the margin. "I made those marks myself."
"Can that be possible!" exclaimed his companion, astonished.
"Yes. This very piece of money was in my possession as late as five o'clock last Saturday afternoon."
"I cannot understand," said Mr. Knowles, looking mystified.
"Let me explain," returned Mr. Bryant. "I owed my copyist exactly five dollars, and, having nothing smaller in bills than tens, I was obliged to pay her with this coin. While she was getting ready to leave the office, I sat toying with it and scratched it, as you see, with the point of my penknife; then I gave it to Miss Allandale, and thought no more about the matter. But just before you came in this morning, I received a note from her saying she had been arrested for passing the coin with which I had paid her, it having been declared counterfeit, and she begged me to come at once to her assistance and try to prove her innocence. I was just on the point of doing so when you called."
"What a very singular circumstance," Mr. Knowles remarked, reflectively. "It appears all the more so to me from the fact that I also received this piece of money no later than seven o'clock on last Saturday evening."
"You amaze me!" exclaimed Mr. Bryant. "Pray explain to me how you came by it—it may help to solve this very perplexing mystery, for I am confident that the coin is genuine, in spite of the trouble it has brought upon Miss Allandale."
"Yes, I will be frank with you," his companion returned, but flushing again, "and tell you that, in order to make this payment to you, I was obliged to borrow the money and gave, as security, a valuable mantel clock, which was one of my wife's wedding gifts. In other words, I pawned it. It goes against my pride to confess it; but the idea of debt is horrible to me: and, having been in very straitened circumstances of late, from sickness in my family and other causes, I had no other means of meeting my obligations to you, while I hoped to be able to redeem the clock before the time allotted should expire."
"Mr. Knowles, I thank you heartily for telling me this, while, at the same time, I am deeply pained," gravely returned Royal Bryant. "I would not have had you so pressed for a great deal; my claim against you can wait indefinitely, and you need feel no anxiety regarding it. Take your own time about it, for I am sure that I can safely trust a man to whom the idea of debt is so repulsive."
"You are very good," said Mr. Knowles, in a grateful tone.
"I shall return you this amount," the young lawyer resumed, "but in bills, for I wish to retain this gold-piece; and I beg that you will go at once and redeem your wife's clock. I am also going to throw a little business in your way, for I would like to retain you as a witness for Miss Allandale, and you shall be well paid for your services. Now please give me the name of the pawnbroker from whom you took the money."
"Solon Retz, No. —— Third avenue."
"Ah, yes; I know him for a scheming and not over-scrupulous person. I fought a tough battle with him a year or so ago."
But Royal Bryant still looked greatly perplexed.
He could not understand how the pawnbroker could have had that particular gold-piece to loan upon Mr. Knowles' clock, before seven o'clock on Saturday evening, when Edith Allandale had been arrested, that same night, for trying to pass it off upon the grocer of whom she had spoken in her note.
To him it seemed an inexplicable mystery.
However, he knew—he could take his oath—that the coin which he now held in his hand was the identical piece of money which he had paid to his beautiful but unfortunate copyist for her last week's work, and he was also reasonably sure that it was not a counterfeit.
"I suppose you will have no objection to testifying as to how and from whom you received the money?" he inquired of Mr. Knowles, after a few moments' reflection.
"Certainly not, if such testimony will be of any benefit to the young lady's cause," he readily replied. "And," he added, "I can easily prove the truth of my assertions, as I have here the ticket which I received from the pawnbroker."
"Ah! that is well thought of, and will undoubtedly score a strong point for Miss Allandale," Mr. Bryant exclaimed, with animation. "And now allow me to advance you the fee for your services as a witness," he added, as he pressed a ten-dollar note into his companion's hand. "This will be sufficient to redeem your clock and remunerate you for the time you may lose in appearing as a witness. Hereafter, Mr. Knowles, if you find yourself short of cash, pray do not be troubled about what is owing me—do not try to pay it until it is perfectly convenient for you to do so."
"You are very considerate, Mr. Bryant," the man returned, with evident emotion. "I cannot tell you how your generosity touches me, for the world has gone very badly with me of late."
"Well, we will hope for better times in the future for you, sir," was the cheery response of the noble-hearted young lawyer. "Now I must be off," he added, "and I would like you to meet me at the Thirtieth street station-house in an hour from now. I shall know by that time what I shall be able to do for my young friend."
He bade the man good-morning and bowed him out of his office, and, five minutes later, was on his way to the assistance of beautiful Edith Allandale.
Before boarding a car, he stepped into a bank near-by and had the gold coin tested.
It proved to be just as he had thought—it was perfectly good, and if Edith had been arrested for passing it, some one would have to stand damages for having subjected her to such an injustice.
Upon his arrival at the station-house, and requesting an interview with Miss Allandale as her attorney, the police sergeant conducted him directly to the room occupied by Edith, who looked so pale and wan from anxiety and confinement that the young man's conscience smote him keenly, although his heart bounded with sudden joy when he saw how her sad face lighted at the sight of him.
"This is the most outrageous thing I ever heard of, Miss Allandale," he exclaimed, as he clasped her cold hand and looked regretfully into the heavy blue eyes raised to his.
"I was sure you would come," she murmured, with a sigh of relief, but flushing for an instant beneath his ardent gaze, while her lips quivered with suppressed emotion, for his tone of sympathy had almost unnerved her.
"Of course I would come—I would go to the ends of the earth to serve you," he began, eagerly. "I am filled with remorse when I think what you must have suffered and that I am responsible for your trouble, though unintentionally and unconsciously."
"Yes, I am sure you could not have known that the money was counterfeit," said Edith, wearily.
"And it was not," he quickly returned. "It is a genuine coin and negotiable anywhere."
"But I was told by two different persons that it was spurious," Edith replied, in a tone of surprise.
"Then you were misinformed in both cases, for I have had it tested at a bank, and it has been pronounced good," returned her companion.
"You have had it tested? How can that be possible, when the grocer who caused me to be arrested has the money in his possession this moment?" the young girl exclaimed, in amazement.
Royal Bryant smiled as he drew forth the half-eagle which he had received from Mr. Knowles, and laid it in her palm.
"That is the five-dollar gold-piece that I gave you on Saturday evening," he remarked, in a quiet tone.
"Have you seen the grocer? Did you get it from him?" Edith gasped.
"No; an old client of mine brought it to me, about half an hour ago, in part payment of a debt which he owes me."
"I do not understand—it cannot be the same," said Edith, with a look of perplexity.
"But it is," was the smiling reply. "Look at it closely, and you will find some fresh scratches upon one side of it—do you see?"
"Yes," the young girl admitted.
"Very well; I made them with my penknife during a fit of absent-mindedness, while you were putting on your hat and shawl on Saturday evening," Royal Bryant explained. "It was all the money I had, excepting some large bills, and I was obliged to give it to you, even though I knew it was not a convenient form—one is so liable to lose such a small piece. I am sure I do not know what possessed me to deface it in the way I did," he continued, after a slight pause; "but there the marks are, fortunately, and I could swear to the coin among a hundred others of the same denomination."
"Yes, I remember, now," Edith remarked, reflectively; "I noticed the gold-piece in your hands and that you were using your knife upon it; but how could it have come into the possession of your client? Surely the grocer would not have parted with it voluntarily, for it was all the proof he had against me."
"No; my client, Mr. Knowles, obtained it from a pawnbroker at No. —— Third avenue," Mr. Bryant replied.
Instantly the red blood mounted to the girl's fair brow, and, like a flash, Royal Bryant comprehended how all her trouble had come about.
"Yes," she sighed, after a moment, as if in reply to some question from him, "the week before I went into your office I was obliged to borrow some money upon a beautiful watch of mamma's. It was a very valuable one, but the man would only advance me three dollars upon it. Of course I felt that I must redeem it with the very first money I earned, and I went immediately to the pawnbroker's to get it on leaving your office. He seemed averse to the early redemption of the watch, and threw my money impatiently into the drawer. The next instant he gave it back to me, angrily telling me that it was counterfeit, and charging me with trying to cheat him. But, even now, I cannot understand—"
"So the pawnbroker threw your money into his drawer, did he?" interposed Mr. Bryant, eagerly grasping at this important point.
"Yes; but, as I said, he returned it immediately to me, and I was obliged to go home without my watch. I was in great distress because, Mr. Bryant, it was all the money I had, and there were things that mamma and I must have in order to be comfortable over Sunday," Edith confessed, with crimson cheeks and downcast eyes, the sight of which made her companion's heart ache for her. "Mamma suggested that the money might not be bad, after all," she continued, determined that he should know the whole truth about the matter; "that, possibly, the pawnbroker had taken that way to retain the watch, with the hope of ultimately securing it; so I started out to make my purchases. The grocer made no objection to the money and gave me my change without a word. But half an hour later he appeared with an officer and had me arrested. He would not have pressed the matter if I could have returned his money; but, as I could not, and he claimed he had suffered from so many similar cases of swindling, he was obdurate, and I was obliged to come here."
"It was shameful!" said the young lawyer, indignantly. "It was a heartless thing to do. But, my little friend, I think we have a very clear case, and you will soon be fully vindicated."
"Oh! do you? I shall be very grateful—" Edith began, then stopped, choking back a sob that had almost burst from her trembling lips.
"I see you do not quite comprehend how that can be," continued her friend, ignoring her emotion. "But the piece of money which the pawnbroker pretended to return to you was not the same that you had received from me—it was a spurious one which he had at hand for the express purpose evidently of tricking the unwary, and Mr. Solon Retz will, ere long, be compelled to exchange places with you, if I can possibly bring him to justice."
A MOTHER'S LAST REQUEST.
Two hours later, Royal Bryant was at the pawnbroker's shop, and had redeemed Edith's watch, much against the wish of the money-lender, who desired to retain it. And as the lawyer placed the watch in his pocket, he made a sign to an officer on the street, who had accompanied him to the spot.
Solon Retz was astounded when he found himself a prisoner, on the charge of passing counterfeit money. He was hurried to court, and the judge investigated the case at once. Mr. Bryant and Mr. Knowles gave their testimony, and it was conclusively demonstrated that the spurious coin must have come from the pawnbroker's drawer.
At Royal Bryant's suggestion the pawnbroker was ordered to be searched, when no less than three more bogus pieces were found concealed upon his person.
This was deemed sufficient proof of his guilt, without further testimony, and he was sentenced to four years' imprisonment, without Edith having been called to the witness stand to testify against him.
As the crestfallen pawnbroker was led away, Royal Bryant went eagerly to Edith's side.
"You are free, Miss Allandale," he exclaimed, with a radiant face, "and I think we are to be congratulated upon having made such quick work of the case."
"It is all owing to your cleverness," Edith returned, lifting a pair of grateful eyes to his face. "How can I thank you?"
"You do not need to do that, for I feel that I alone have been to blame for all your trouble," he said, in a self-reproachful tone; then he added, with a roguish gleam in his fine eyes: "I shall never be guilty of paying my copyist in gold again. Now come, I have a carriage waiting for you and will send you directly home to your mother," the young man concluded, as he lifted her shawl from the chair where she had been sitting and wrapped it about her shoulders.
Edith followed him to the street, where a hack stood ready to take her home.
Mr. Bryant assisted her to enter it, when he laid a small package in her lap.
"It is your watch," he said, in a low tone. Then, extending his hand to her, he added: "I shall not ask you to return to the office for two or three days—you need rest after your recent anxiety and excitement, while I am to be away until Wednesday noon. Come to me on Thursday morning, if you feel able, when I shall have plenty of work for you."
He pressed the hand he was holding with an unconscious fondness which brought a rich color into the young girl's face, then, closing the carriage door, he gave the order to the coachman, smiled another adieu, as he lifted his hat to her, and the next moment Edith was driven away.
There was a glad light in her eyes, a tender smile on her red lips, and, in spite of her poverty and many cares, she was, for the moment, supremely happy, for Royal Bryant's manner had been far more suggestive to her than he had been aware of, and she was thrilled to her very soul by the consciousness that he loved her.
She sat thus, in happy reverie, until the carriage turned into the street where she lived; then, suddenly coming to herself, her attention was again attracted to the package in her lap.
"There is something besides mamma's watch here!" she murmured, as she noticed the thickness of it.
Untying the string and removing the wrapper, she found a pretty purse with a silver clasp lying upon the case containing the watch.
With burning cheeks she opened it, and found within a crisp ten-dollar note and Royal Bryant's card bearing these words upon the back:
"I shall deem it a favor if you will accept the inclosed amount, as a loan, until you find yourself in more comfortable circumstances financially. Yours, R.B."
Edith caught the purse to her lips with a thrill of joy.
"How kind! how delicate!" she murmured. "He knew that I was nearly penniless—that I had almost nothing with which to tide over the next few days, during his absence. He is a prince—he is a king among men, and I—"
A vivid flush dyed her cheeks as she suddenly checked the confession that had almost escaped her lips, her head drooped, her chest heaved with the rapid beating of her heart, as she realized that her deepest and strongest affections had been irrevocably given to the noble-hearted young man who had been so kind to her in her recent trouble.
The carriage stopped at last before the door of her home—if the miserable tenenment-house could be designated by such a name—and she sprang eagerly to the ground as the coachman opened the door for her to alight.
"The fare is all paid, miss," he said, respectfully, as she hesitated a moment; then she went bounding up the stairs to be met on the threshold of her room by Kate O'Brien—who had seen the carriage stop—with her finger on her lips and a look in her kind, honest eyes that made the girl's heart sink with a sudden shock.
"My mother!" she breathed, with paling lips.
"Whisht, mavourneen!" said the woman, pitifully; then added, in a lower tone: "She has been mortal ill, miss."
"And now?" panted Edith, leaning against the door-frame for support.
"'Sh! She is asleep."
Edith waited to hear no more. Something in the woman's face and manner filled her with a terrible dread.
She pushed by her, entered the room, and glided swiftly but noiselessly to the bed, looked down upon the scarcely breathing figure lying there.
It was with difficulty that she repressed a shriek of agony at what she saw, for the shadow of death was unmistakably settling over the beloved face.
The invalid stirred slightly upon her pillow as Edith came to her side and bent over her.
"My darling," she murmured weakly, as her white lids fluttered open, and she bent a look full of love upon the fair face above her, "I—am going—"
"No, no, mamma!" whispered the almost heart-broken girl, but struggling mightily with her agony and to preserve calmness lest she excite the invalid.
"Bring me the—Japanese box—quick!" the dying woman commanded, in a scarcely audible tone.
Without a word Edith darted to a closet, opened a trunk, and from its depths drew forth a beautiful casket inlaid with mother-of-pearl and otherwise exquisitely decorated.
"The—key," gasped the sick one, fumbling feebly among the folds of her night-robe.
Edith bent over her and unfastened a key from a golden chain which encircled her mother's neck.
"Open!" she whispered, glancing toward the casket.
The girl, wondering, but awed and silent, unlocked the box and threw back the cover, thus revealing several packages of letters and other papers neatly arranged within it.
Mrs. Allandale reached forth a weak and bloodless hand, as if to take something out of the box, when she suddenly choked, and in another instant the red life-current was flowing from her lips.
"Letters—burn—" she gasped, with a last expiring effort, and then became suddenly insensible.
In an agony of terror, Edith dashed the box upon the nearest chair and began to chafe the cold hand that hung over the side of the bed, while Mrs. O'Brien came forward, a look of awe on her face.
The frail chest of the invalid heaved two or three times, there was a spasmodic twitching of the slender fingers lying on the young girl's hand, then all was still, and Edith Allandale was motherless.
A HERITAGE OF SHAME.
We will not linger over the sad details of the ceremonies attending Mrs. Allandale's burial. Suffice it to say that on Tuesday afternoon her remains were borne away to Greenwood, and laid to rest, in the family lot, beside those gone before, after which Edith returned to her desolate abode more wretched than it is possible to describe.
She had made up her mind, however, that she could not remain there any longer—that she must find a place for herself in a different locality and among a different class of people. This she knew she could do, since she had the promise of permanent work and now had only herself to care for.
The change, too, must be made upon the following day, as Mr. Bryant would expect her at his office on Thursday morning.
There was much to be done, many things to be packed for removal, while what she did not care to retain must be disposed of; and, eager to forget her grief and loneliness—for she knew she would be ill if she sat tamely down and allowed herself to think—she began at once, upon her return from the cemetery, to get ready to leave the cheerless home where she had suffered so much.
She decided, first of all, to pack all wearing apparel; and, on going to her closet to begin her work, the first thing her eyes fell upon was the casket of letters, which her mother had requested her to bring to her just before she died.
The sight of this unnerved her again, and, with a moan of pain, she sank upon her knees and bowed her head upon it.
But the fountain of her tears had been so exhausted that she could not weep; and, finally becoming somewhat composed, she took the beautiful box out into the room and sat down near a light to examine its contents.
"Mamma evidently wanted these letters destroyed," she murmured, as she threw back the cover. "I will do as she wished, but I will first look them over, to be sure there is nothing of value among them."
She set about her task at once and found that they were mostly missives from intimate friends, with quite a number written by herself to her mother, while she was away at boarding-school.
All these she burned after glancing casually at them. Nothing then remained in the box but a small package of six or eight time-yellowed epistles bound together with a blue ribbon.
"What peculiar writing!" Edith observed, as she separated one from the others and examined the superscription upon the envelope. "Why, it is postmarked Rome, Italy, away back in 18—, and addressed to mamma in London! That must have been when she was on her wedding tour!"
Her curiosity was aroused, and, drawing the closely-written sheet from its inclosure, she began to read it.
It was also dated from Rome, and the girl was soon deeply immersed in a story of intense and romantic interest.
She readily understood that the letter had been written by a dear friend of Mrs. Allandale's youth—one who had been both school and roommate, and who unreservedly confided all her secrets and experiences to her bosom companion. And yet, it was strange, Edith thought, that she had never heard her mother speak of this friend.
It seemed that there had been quite an interval in their correspondence, for the writer spoke of the surprise which her friend would experience upon receiving a letter from her from that locality, when she had probably believed her to be in her own home, living the quiet life of a dutiful daughter.
Then it spoke of an "ideal love" that "had come to beautify her life;" of a noble and wealthy artist who had won her heart, but who, for some unaccountable reason, had not been acceptable to her parents, and they had sternly rejected his proposal for her hand.
Next came the denouement, which told that the girl had eloped with her lover and flown with him to Italy.
"I suppose it was not the right thing to do, darling," the missive ran; "but papa, you know, is a very austere, relentless man, and when he has once made up his mind, there is no hope of ever turning him; so I have taken my fate into my own hands—or, rather, I have given it into the keeping of my dear one, and we are so happy, Edith darling, and lead an ideal life in this quaint old city of the seven hills, at whose feet runs, like a thread of gold, the yellow Tiber. My husband is everything to me—so noble, so kind, so generous; it is so very strange that papa could not like him—that is the only drop of bitterness in my overflowing cup of happiness."
There was much more of the same tenor, from which it is not necessary to quote; and, after reading the letter through, Edith took up another, interested to know how the pretty love-story of her mother's friend would terminate. The second one, written a month later, was more subdued, but not less tender, although the young girl thought she detected a vein of sadness running through it.
The next two or three mentioned the fact that the writer was left much alone, her "dear one" being obliged to be away a great deal of the time, upon sketching expeditions, etc.
After an interval of three months another letter spoke in the fondest manner of the "dear little stranger," that had come to bless and cheer her loneliness—"lonely, dear Edith, because my husband's art monopolizes his time, while he is often absent from home a week at a time in connection with it, and I do not know what I should do, in this strange country away from all my friends, if it were not for my precious baby girl whom I have named for you, as I promised, in memory of those happy days which we spent together at Vassar."
"Then mamma's friend had a daughter, who was also named Edith," mused our fair heroine, breaking in upon her perusal of the letter. "I wonder if she is living, and where? Those letters tell me nothing, give no last name by which to identify either the writer or her husband."
She turned back to the epistle, and read on:
"She is such a comfort to me," it ran, "and gives me an object in life—something besides myself and my trou"—these last three words were crossed out—"to think about. When will you come to Rome, dear Edith? Your last letter was dated from St. Petersburgh. I am very anxious that you should see your little namesake, and make me that long-promised visit."
There was scarcely a word in this letter referring to her husband, except those three crossed-out words; but it overflowed with praises and love of her beautiful child, although it was evident that the young wife was far from experiencing the conjugal happiness that had permeated her previous missives.
There was only one more letter in the package, and Edith's face was very grave and sympathetic as she drew it from its envelope.
"I am sure that her husband proved to be negligent of and unkind to her," she murmured, "and that she repented her rashness in leaving her home and friends. Oh, I wonder why girls will be so foolish and headstrong as to go directly contrary to the advice of those who love them best, and run away with men of whom they know comparatively nothing!"
With a sigh of regret for the unfortunate wife, of whom she had been reading, she unfolded the letter in her hands and began to read, little dreaming what strange things she was to learn from it.
"Oh, Edith darling," it began, "how can I tell you?—how can I write of the terrible calamity that has overtaken me? My heart is broken—my life is ruined, and all because I would not heed those who loved me, and who, I now realize, were my best and kindest counselors. I could bear it for myself, perhaps—I could feel that it was but a just judgment upon me for my obstinacy and unfilial conduct, and so drag out my weary existence in submission to the inevitable; but when I think of my innocent babe—my lovely Edith—your namesake! oh! I would never have had her christened thus, I could not have insulted you so, had I known! I feel almost inclined to doubt the justice and love of God—if, indeed, there is a God."
The letter here looked as if the writer must have been overcome with her wretchedness, and wept tears of bitter despair, for it was badly blurred and defaced.
But Edith, her face now absolutely colorless, read eagerly on.
"I cannot bear it and live," the writer resumed, "and so—I am going to—die. Edith, my husband—no, my betrayer, I ought rather to say—has deserted me! He has gone to Florence with a beautiful Italian countess, who is also very rich, and is living with her there in her elegant palace, just outside the city. He has long been attentive to her, but I never dreamed how far matters had gone until yesterday, when I came upon them, unawares, in Everard's studio, and heard him tell her how he loved her—that 'I was not his wife, only his ——' I cannot write the vile word that makes my flesh creep with horror. Then I learned of his base conduct to me, whom, as he expressed it, he 'had cleverly deceived, and coaxed to run away with him to while away his solitude during his sojourn in a strange country.' It is a wonder that I did not drop dead where I stood—slain by the dreadful truth; but the wicked lovers did not dream of being overheard, and so I listened to the whole of their vile plot and then stole away to try and decide upon a course of action. When Everard came home, I charged him with his perfidy. Then—pity me, Edith—he boldly told me that he was weary of me; that he would pay me a handsome sum of money and I might take my child and go back to my parents! Oh! I cannot go into details, or tell you what I have suffered—no one will ever know that but God! Why, oh, why does He permit such evil to exist? He does not—there is no God! there is no God!"
There was a huge blot here, as if the pen had fallen from the fingers that had dared to deny the existence of Deity; then the missive was resumed in a different tone, as if a long interval of thought had intervened.
"Edith, I am calmer now, and I am going to ask a great favor of you. You are happily married, you have a noble husband and abundant means, and you know we once pledged ourselves to befriend each other, if either should ever find herself in trouble. Presuming upon that pledge, I am going to ask if you will take my darling, my poor innocent little waif, bring her up as your own, and never let her know anything about the stain that rests upon her birth? She is pure; she is not to blame for the sins of her parents, and I cannot bear the thought of her growing up to learn of her heritage of shame, as she would be sure to do if I should live and rear her as my child. Your last letter tells me that you will be in Rome in less than a fortnight. I cannot meet you—I can never again meet any one whom I have known; and so, Edith—I am going to die. I give my child to you—I believe you will not refuse my last request—and you will find her, with the woman who nursed me when she was born, at No. 2 Via del Vecchia. The woman has my instructions—she believes that I am only going away on a little trip with my husband; but you will show her this letter, and prove to her that you have authority to take the child away. When you go home, you will take her with you, as your own, and no one need ever know that she is not your own. Do not ever reveal the truth to her; let her grow up happy and care-free, like other girls who are of honorable birth; and if the dead can watch over and shield the living, you and yours shall be so shielded and watched over by your lost but still loving. BELLE."
"She was my mother! I am that child of shame!" came hoarsely from Edith's bloodless lips as she finished reading that dreadful letter.
Then the paper slipped from her nerveless fingers, her head dropped unconsciously upon the table before her, and she knew nothing more until, long afterward, when she awoke from her swoon to find her lamp gone out and the room growing cold, while her heart felt as if it had been paralyzed in her bosom.
TWO NEW ACQUAINTANCES.
Edith, when consciousness returned, had not a doubt that the letters, which she had been reading, had been penned by the hand of her own mother; that she was that little baby who had been born in Rome—that child of shame whose father had so heartlessly deserted it; whose mother, her brain turned by her suffering and wrongs, had planned to take her own life, rather than live to taint her little one's future with the shadow of her own disgrace.
The knowledge of this seemed to blight, as with a lightning flash, every hope of her life.
She groped her way to the bed, for she was becoming benumbed with the cold, and threw herself upon it, utterly wretched, utterly hopeless. For hours she lay there in a sort of stupor, conscious only of one terrible fact—her shame—her ruined life!
She had never dreamed, until within that hour, that she was not the daughter of those whom she had always known as her father and mother.
She had known that they had gone abroad immediately after their marriage, and had spent more than a year visiting foreign countries.
She had been told that she was born in Rome, in 18—, and she now realized that the letters which she had just read had been mostly written during the same year.
Mrs. Allandale had never meant that she should learn this terrible secret, and that is why she had been so anxious during her last moments that the contents of the Japanese box should be destroyed.
Edith wondered why she had kept the letters at all—why she had not destroyed them immediately upon adopting her, and thus prevented the possibility of a revelation like this.
To be sure, no one save herself need ever know of the fact unless she chose to disclose it; nevertheless, she felt just as deeply branded by it as if all the world had known of it.
"Oh, I had begun to hope that—" she began, then abruptly ceased, a burning flush suffusing her face as her thoughts thus went out toward Royal Bryant, whose eyes had only the day before told her, as plainly as eyes could speak, that he loved her, while her heart had thrilled with secret joy over the revelation, and the knowledge that her own affection had been irrevocably given to him, even though they had known each other so short a time.
Even in the midst of her sorrow over her dead, the thought that she loved and was beloved had been like the strains of soothing music to her, and she had looked forward to her return to the young lawyer's office as to a place of refuge, where she would meet with kindness and sympathy that would comfort her immeasurably.
But these beautiful dreams had been ruthlessly shattered; she could never be anything to Royal Bryant—he could never be anything to her, after learning what she had learned that night.
Edith determined to leave New York at once. With this object in view, she disposed of most of her furniture to a broker, who gave her sixty dollars for it. She reserved articles she presented to her stanch friend, Kate O'Brien. These matters attended to, she wrote a letter to Mr. Bryant, mailed it, and a few hours later was on the train, en route to Boston.
On Thursday morning Mr. Bryant, returning to town from a business trip, cheerfully entered his office, expecting to behold there the radiant face of Edith. To his great disappointment, she was absent; and her absence was explained in the appended letter, which he read with dismay and dejection.
"DEAR MR. BRYANT:—Inclosed you will find the amount which you so kindly loaned me on Monday, and without which I should have been in sore straits. On reaching home that day, I found my mother dying. She was buried yesterday afternoon, and I am now entirely alone in the world. I find that circumstances will not permit me to return to your employ, and when you receive this I shall have left New York. Pray do not think that because I do not see you and thank you personally before I go, I am ungrateful for all your recent and unexampled kindness to me. I am not, I assure you; I shall never forget it—it will be one of the sacred memories of my life, that in you, in a time of dire need, I found a true friend and helper.
Sincerely yours, EDITH ALLANDALE."
The lawyer lost no time in hastening to Edith's late residence. There he learned from Kate O'Brien that Edith had already gone, but she knew not her destination. He stated that he wished to consult the young lady upon a business matter and that if Mrs. O'Brien should learn of her address, it would be considered a great favor if she would bring it to him. This the kind-hearted Irish woman agreed to do, and with a heavy heart the young lawyer returned to his place of business.
Meanwhile, Edith was being wheeled along the rails toward her destination. When the train reached New Haven, feeling faint, for she had not been able to eat much breakfast, she got out to purchase a lunch.
She entered the station and bought some sandwiches, together with a little fruit, and then started to return to the train.
Just in front of her she noticed a fine-looking, richly-clad couple who were evidently bound in the same direction.
The gentleman opened the door for his companion to pass out, but as she did so, the heel of her boot caught upon the threshold, and she would have fallen heavily to the platform if Edith had not sprung forward and caught her by the hand which she threw out to save herself.
As it was, she was evidently badly hurt, for she turned very white and a sharp cry of pain was forced from her lips.
"Are you injured, madam? Can I do anything for you?" Edith inquired, while her husband, springing to her aid, exclaimed, in a tone of mingled concern and impatience:
"What have you done, Anna?"
"Turned my ankle, I think," the woman replied, as she leaned heavily against his shoulder for support.
Edith stooped to pick up the beautiful Russia leather bag which she had dropped as she stumbled, and followed the couple to the train, where, with the help of a porter, the injured lady was assisted into a parlor car.
The one adjoining it was the common passenger coach in which Edith had ridden from New York.
"Here is madam's bag, sir," she remarked to the gentleman, as, supporting his wife with one arm, he was about to pass into the Pullman.
"Are you going on this train?" he inquired, looking back over his shoulder at her.
"Yes, sir; but I do not belong in the parlor car."
"Never mind; we will fix that all right. Bring the bag along, if you will be so kind," he returned, as he went on with his companion.
So Edith followed them to the little state-room at one end of the car, where madam sank heavily into a chair, looking as if she were ready to swoon.
"Oh, get off my boot!" she pleaded, thrusting out her injured foot.
Edith drew forward a hassock for it to rest upon, and then, with a face full of sympathy, dropped upon her knees and began to unbutton the boot, which, however, was no easy matter, as the ankle was already much swollen.
The train began to move just at this moment, and the young girl started to her feet, an anxious look sweeping over her face.
"Never mind," said the gentleman, reassuringly. "Unless you have friends aboard the train to be troubled about you, I will take you back to your car presently."
"I have no one—I am traveling alone," Edith responded, and flushing slightly, as she encountered the gaze of earnest admiration which he bestowed upon her.
The gentleman's face lighted at her reply.
"Then would it be presuming upon your kindness too much to ask you to remain with my wife?" he inquired. "I am perfectly helpless, like most men, when any one is ill and we know no one on the train."
"I will gladly stay, and do whatever I can for her," eagerly returned Edith, who felt that it would be a great relief and safeguard if she could complete her journey under the protection of these prepossessing people; while, too, it would give her something to think of and keep her from dwelling upon her own sorrows.
As Edith, from time to time, continued her ministering to the injured foot, rubbing it with alcohol, to reduce the inflammation, she was questioned by her new acquaintances, and informed them of her recent bereavement and of her lonely condition, and stated that she was going to Boston to try to secure employment.
She was applying the alcohol when the lady said:
"That will do for the present, Miss —— What shall I call you, please?" she remarked, signifying that she did not care to have the foot rubbed any longer at that time.
"Edith Allen—Oh, what have I done?" the young girl suddenly cried out, in a voice of pain, as the woman winced and gave vent to a moan beneath her touch.
"Nothing—do not be troubled, dear—only you happened to touch a very tender spot," exclaimed the lady, trying to smile reassuringly into the girl's startled face. "So your name is Edith Allen; that sounds very nice," she continued. "I am fond of pretty names as I am of pretty people."
Edith opened her lips to correct her regarding her name; then suddenly checked herself.
It did not matter, she thought, if they did not know her full name. She might never see them again; she had a right to use only the first half of her surname, if she chose, and it would not be nearly so conspicuous as Allandale, which was so familiar in certain circles in New York.
Thus she concluded to let the matter rest as it was.
The acquaintance thus begun was productive of an utterly unexpected result. Before the trip was ended, the lady had induced Edith to accept the position of traveling companion to her, at a salary of twenty-five dollars a month. She stated that about a month previous she had lost the services of the female who had filled the position, and until this time had been unable to find a suitable person for the place.
Edith decided to try the position for a month; "then," she added, "if I meet your requirements, we can arrange for a longer time."
"Very well; I am pleased with that arrangement. And now, Edith—of course I am not going to be so formal as to address you as Miss Allen—"
"Certainly not," interposed Edith, with a charming little smile and blush.
"I was about to remark," the lady went on, "that I think it is time we were formally introduced to you. My husband is known as Gerald Goddard, Esq., of No. —— Commonwealth avenue, Boston, and I am—Mrs. Goddard."
Edith wondered why she should have paused before speaking thus of herself; why she should have shot that quick, flashing glance into her husband's face as she did so.
She was a very handsome woman of perhaps forty-two or forty-three years. She was slightly above the medium height, with a magnificently proportioned figure. Her hair was coal-black, with a tendency to curl; her eyes were of the same color, very large and brilliant, and rendered peculiarly expressive by the long raven lashes which shaded them. Her complexion was a pale olive, clear and smooth as satin; her features were somewhat irregular, but singularly pleasing when she was animated; her cheeks slightly tinted, her lips a vivid scarlet, her teeth white as alabaster.
Later, when Edith saw her arrayed for an evening reception, she thought her the most brilliantly handsome woman she had ever seen.
As Mrs. Goddard finished speaking, Edith involuntarily glanced up at Mr. Gerald Goddard, when she was startled to find him sharply scrutinizing her, with a look which seemed to be trying to read her through and through.
His glance sent a strange chill running through her veins—a sensation almost of fear and repulsion; and she found herself hoping that she would not be obliged to see very much of the gentleman, even though she was destined to become an inmate of his home.
He was evidently somewhat older than his wife, for his hair was almost white and his face somewhat lined—whether from time, care, or dissipation, Edith could not quite determine.
He would have been called and was regarded by the society in which he moved as a remarkably handsome and distinguished looking man, who entertained "like a prince," and possessed an exhaustless fund of wit and knowledge.
Nevertheless, Edith was repelled by him, and felt that he was not a man to be either trusted or loved, even though she had not been an hour in his presence before she was made to realize that his wife adored him.
THE VENOM OF JEALOUSY.
And thus Edith became companion to the wife of the wealthy and aristocratic Gerald Goddard, who was known as one of Boston's millionaires.
They had a beautiful home on Commonwealth avenue, where they spent their winters, a fine estate in Wyoming, besides a villa at Newport, all of which were fitted up with an elegance which bespoke an abundance of means. And so Edith was restored to a life of luxury akin to that to which she had always been accustomed, previous to the misfortunes which had overtaken her less than two years ago.
Her duties were comparatively light, consisting of reading to Mrs. Goddard, whenever she was in the mood for such entertainment; singing and playing to her when she was musically inclined; and accompanying her upon drives and shopping expeditions, when she had no other company.
Edith, however, was not long in the household before she made the discovery that there was a skeleton in the family. At times Mr. Goddard was morose and irritable, and his wife displayed symptoms of intense jealousy. About five weeks after Edith's installation in the home, Mrs. Goddard's brother, Monsieur Correlli, a young sculptor, came there, on a visit to his sister. He was handsome and talented, and had come from France, to "do the United States," during a long vacation.
Mrs. Goddard was proud of her brother, and often attended receptions and parties with him as her escort, and was delighted to show him off to her friends and acquaintances in the most select of Boston society.
On returning to her home, after one of these receptions, she heard merry laughter in the library. Listening attentively, she discovered that it emanated from her husband and Edith, who sometimes, at his request, read to him during the frequent absences of his wife.
The demon of jealousy at once took possession of her. Suddenly entering the library she requested Edith to at once attend her in her boudoir. On arriving there the enraged woman gave way to her passion of jealousy. In blunt words she taunted the girl with attempting to steal the affections of her husband, and closed her bitter comments with the threat that "the woman who tried to win my husband from me would never accomplish her purpose. I would kill her!"
Edith did her best to assure the angry woman that her suspicions were unfounded, and in a little time Mrs. Goddard was half convinced that she had been too hasty in her accusations.
That night the pure girl calmly deliberated upon the subject, and recalled several occasions when Mr. Goddard had seemed to be deeply absorbed in the contemplation of her features, eyeing her with glances of undisguised admiration and rapture. She determined, therefore, to be a little more circumspect hereafter, and avoid giving him such opportunities.
Another trial awaited her about a week later. Emil Correlli had become quite attentive to her, seeking every chance to be alone with her, showering compliments upon her, and extolling her charms. On one of these occasions he was bold enough to propose marriage, and, before she could recover from her astonishment, had the effrontery to steal a kiss from her unwilling lips.
This bold affront, added to the previous unfounded accusations of Mrs. Goddard made Edith decide to leave the house at once. She announced her decision to her mistress; but that lady, in great humiliation, begged her to overlook her brother's impetuosity, saying that his conduct should be considered only "a tribute to her manifold charms," and that hereafter she would have no cause for complaint of either him or her.
The proud woman's deep contrition, and her earnest appeals, had the effect intended, and Edith decided to remain.
That evening a prolonged interview occurred between Mrs. Goddard and her brother. The result of it was that the sister agreed to do her utmost to place Edith beyond the reach of her husband by combining a scheme which would make her the bride of Emil Correlli.
Some days elapsed, and then an incident worthy of record occurred. Edith had been out for a stroll, and, just as she was retracing her steps along Commonwealth avenue, an elegant carriage came slowly around the corner. The driver was in dark green livery, and seemed to be under the influence of stimulants. Suddenly he leaned sideways, and fell off the box, landing on the ground.
Edith impulsively started forward, shouted "Whoa!" to the horses, and lifted the reins. The animals stopped immediately, and in a moment a lovely face was thrust from the carriage window, and a sweet voice asked,
"Thomas, what is the matter?—what has happened?"
She stepped from the carriage and was soon informed of the accident, and its probable cause. She was a tall, elegantly-formed woman, of perhaps forty-three years, with large, dark brown eyes and rich brown hair. Her skin was fair and flawless, as that of a girl of twenty, with a delicate flush upon her cheeks, and Edith thought her face the most beautiful she had ever seen.
A policeman presently appeared upon the scene, and the lady requested him to secure some competent person who would drive the vehicle to its stable. To secure attention to this request, she gave the policeman a bank note, and named the location of the stable. She then said to the coachman, who was engaged in brushing the dust from his clothing:
"Thomas, you may come to me at nine o'clock to-morrow morning—without the carriage."
As the coachman staggered off, the lady turned to Edith, thanked her for the service she had performed, and gave her a card bearing a name and address—"Mrs. I. G. Stewart, Copley Square Hotel, Boston, Mass."
At the solicitation of the lady, Edith gave her name, and stated that she was the companion to Mrs. Gerald Goddard, of Commonwealth avenue.
This information caused Mrs. Stewart to turn pale, and otherwise manifest a strange agitation. She quickly recovered, however, and stated:
"Ah! I was introduced to Mrs. Goddard's brother, Monsieur Correlli, a few evenings ago, but I have never had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Goddard. Now it is time for me to go, and I shall have to take an electric car to get back to my hotel. Again let me thank you for your timely service. I hope you and I will meet again some time; and, dear, if you should ever need a friend, do not fail to come to me. Good-afternoon."
Shortly after the departure of Mrs. Stewart, as Edith was walking homeward, she was overtaken by Emil Correlli, who begged permission to attend her, as they were both bound for the same destination. It would have been rude to refuse, so Edith consented, although she would have preferred to go alone.
They had not advanced far before Edith became aware that they were followed by a woman, who kept parallel with them, on the opposite side of the street. Monsieur Correlli seemed unconscious of this fact, as he was apparently engrossed in the effort to entertain his companion with animated conversation. When they were within a few yards of Mrs. Goddard's residence, the woman suddenly darted across the avenue and placed herself directly in their path.
In an instant Emil Correlli seemed turned to stone, so motionless and rigid did he become. For a full minute his gaze was riveted upon the stranger, as if in horrible fascination.
"Giulia!" he breathed, at last, in a scarcely audible voice. "Le diable!"
The woman had a veil over her face, but Edith could see that she was very handsome, with a warm, Southern kind of beauty, although it was of a rather coarse type. She was evidently a foreigner, with brilliant black eyes, an olive complexion, scarlet lips and cheeks, and a wealth of purple-black hair, which was coiled in a massive knot at the back of her head.
She was of medium height, with a plump but exquisitely proportioned figure, as was revealed by her closely-fitting garment of navy-blue velvet.
The moment Emil Correlli spoke her name, she burst passionately forth, and began to address him in rapidly uttered sentences of some foreign language, which Edith could not understand.
It was not French, for she could converse in that tongue, and she knew it was not German. She therefore concluded it must be either Italian or Spanish.
As the girl talked, her eyes roved from the man's face to Edith's, with angry, jealous glances, while she gesticulated wildly with her hands, and her voice was fierce and intense with passion.
She would not give Monsieur Correlli an opportunity to say one word, until she had exhausted her seemingly endless vocabulary; but he was as colorless as a piece of his own statuary, and a lurid, desperate light burned in his eyes—a gleam, which, if she had been less intent upon venting her own passion, would have warned her that she was doing her cause, whatever it might be, more harm than good by the course she was adopting.
At last she paused in her tirade, simply because she lacked breath to go on, when Emil Correlli replied to her, in her own tongue, and with equal fluency; but in tones that were both stern and authoritative, while it was evident that he was excessively annoyed by her sudden and unexpected appearance there.
Finally, after another attempt upon the girl's part to carry her point, he stamped his foot imperatively, to emphasize some command, and, with a look which made her cringe like a whipped cur before him; when, shooting a glance of fire and hate at Edith, she turned away, with a crestfallen air, and went, dejectedly, down the street.
Edith would have been glad, and had tried, to escape from this scene, for after the first moment of surprise upon being so unceremoniously confronted by the beautiful stranger, she had stepped aside, ascended the steps, and rang the bell.
But, for some reason, no one came to the door, and she was obliged to repeat the summons, but feeling very awkward to have to stand there and listen to the altercation that was being carried on so near her, although she could not understand a word that was said.
At last, just as Monsieur Correlli had delivered his authoritative command, the butler made his appearance, and let Edith in.
Before she could enter, the woman was gone, and Emil Correlli sprang up the steps, and was by her side.
He glanced anxiously down upon her face, which wore a grave and pre-occupied look.
He knew that she was wondering who the fiery, but beautiful and richly-dressed stranger was; knew that she could not fail to believe that there must be something suspicious and mysterious in his relations with her, and he was greatly exercised over the unfortunate encounter.
He had set his heart upon winning her—he had vowed that nothing should stand in the way of her becoming his wife, and now this—the worst of all things—had happened, to compromise him in her eyes, and he secretly breathed the fiercest anathemas upon the head of the marplot who had just left them.
Later that evening, Emil Correlli took the first opportunity to explain the unfortunate contretemps to the wondering Edith. He stated that the girl was the daughter of an Italian florist, who had audaciously presumed to dun him for a small bill he owed her father for floral purchases.
This matter, satisfactorily explained, as he thought, he renewed his protestations of love to Edith, solicited her hand in marriage, and was staggered by her emphatic refusal.
Her refusal was reported to Mrs. Goddard by that lady's brother, and she counseled him to be patient.
"I have in mind," she said, "the germ of a most cunning plot, which must succeed in your winning Edith Allen," and then she proceeded to unfold her plan, which, for boldness, craft, and ingenuity, would have been worthy of a French intriguante of the seventeenth century.
"Anna, you are a trump!" Emil Correlli exclaimed, admiringly, when she concluded. "If you can carry that out as you have planned it, it will be a most unique scheme—the best thing of its kind on record!"
"I can carry it out if you will let me do it in my own way; only you must take yourself off. I will not have you here to run the risk of spoiling everything," said Mrs. Goddard, with a determined air.
"Very well, then; I will go this very night. I will take the eleven o'clock express on the B. and A. I have such faith in your genius that I am willing to be guided wholly by you, and trust my fate entirely in your hands."
"I can write you from time to time, as the plan develops," she replied, "and send you instructions regarding the final act."
"All right, go ahead—I give you carte blanche for your expenses," said Monsieur Correlli, as he rose to leave the room.
Five hours later, he was fast asleep in a Pullman berth, and flying over the rails toward New York.
Meanwhile Edith, who was inclined to leave the house, and throw herself upon the kindness of Mrs. Stewart, found her mistress unusually gracious, seeking her aid in forwarding invitations for a reception, and in planning for what she called "a mid-winter frolic." She also incidentally announced, to the great gratification of Edith, that Monsieur Correlli had hurriedly departed for New York, with the intention of being absent a considerable time.