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Title:  A Matter Of Millions
Author: Anna Katharine Green
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Language: English
Date first posted:  August 2018
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A Matter Of Millions

by
Anna Katharine Green

CONTENTS

Chapter 1. - The Letter
Chapter 2. - A Remarkable Adventure
Chapter 3. - The End of a Great Ambition
Chapter 4. - The Story of a Strange Girlhood
Chapter 5. - An Importunate Suitor
Chapter 6. - A Surprise
Chapter 7. - Great Day at Police Headquarters
Chapter 8. - The Jenny Rogers Mystery
Chapter 9. - Horace Byrd
Chapter 10. - Miss Rogers of Detroit
Chapter 11. - Miss Rogers of New York
Chapter 12. - Madame’s Little Door
Chapter 13. - A Charge
Chapter 14. - Master of the Situation
Chapter 15. - Friends
Chapter 16. - A Startling Introduction
Chapter 17. - The First Step Taken
Chapter 18. - Face to Face
Chapter 19. - Something More than Croquet
Chapter 20. - Forward and Back
Chapter 21. - Threats and Entreaties
Chapter 22. - Farther into the Maze
Chapter 23. - Welcome and Unwelcome Intruders
Chapter 24. - A Fortune and a Death-Bed
Chapter 25. - The Surprises of an Hour
Chapter 26. - The Quest
Chapter 27. - Secret Protectors
Chapter 28. - La Sonnambula
Chapter 29. - The Valet
Chapter 30. - A Great Heiress
Chapter 31. - Final Words
Chapter 32. - The Seed is Sown
Chapter 33. - Unexpected Conditions
Chapter 34. - New Fears
Chapter 35. - Before the Reception
Chapter 36. - At the Reception
Chapter 37. - A Turn of the Wheel
Chapter 38. - Jeannette and Virginia
Chapter 39. - Another Turn of the Wheel
Chapter 40. - The Wheel Becomes a Rack
Chapter 41. - Secret Enemies
Chapter 42. - The Last Hope
Chapter 43. - Fate Triumphant
Chapter 44. - Jenny’s Marriage
Chapter 45. - What He Read
Chapter 46. - Too Late
Chapter 47. - Loose Threads

Chapter 1
The Letter

An old crone stood on the top floor of one of New York’s studio buildings. In her hand was a letter. Looking at it, she studied the superscription carefully, and then, with the same intentness, read the name on one of the doors before her. Hamilton Degraw was on the one, Hamilton Degraw was on the other. Satisfied, she gave a quick glance around her, thrust the letter under the door, and quickly fled.

Within, the young artist answering to this name sat alone, gazing at a nearly completed picture on his easel. He was not painting, only musing, and at the sound of the departing step, which had been too hurried to be noiseless, he looked around and saw the letter. Rising, he picked it up, gave it a quick glance, and opened it. The contents were astonishing.

“Will Mr. Degraw,” so it read, “please accept the inclosed, and in repayment, bring paper and pencil to 391 East  street this evening at eight o’clock? A simple sketch is all that is required of him at this time. Afterward, a finished picture may be ordered. When he sees the subject of the sketch, he will realize why so peculiar an hour has been chosen, and why we request promptness and exactitude.

“If Mr. Degraw cannot come, will he send an immediate message to that effect?”

The inclosed was a bank-note of no mean value, and the name signed to the note was, as clearly as he could make out, “Andrea Montelli.”

“Curious!” came from the young man’s lips as he finished the epistle and unfolded the bank-note. “Somewhat peremptory in its demand, but interesting, perhaps, for that very reason. Shall I pursue the adventure? The amount of this money surely makes it worth my while, and then—”

He did not finish the sentence aloud, but his look showed that he was in one of those moods when the prospect of a new or unusual experience possessed a special attraction.

“Eight o’clock!” he repeated after a few minutes, “I wish the note had said six.” And sighing lightly, he went back to the picture on the easel. As he stands surveying it, let us survey him. Though a dissatisfied expression rests upon his countenance (he evidently is not pleased with his day’s work), there is that in his face which irresistibly attracts the eye, and if you look long enough, the heart, so fine are his traits and so full of sympathy his glance and smile. Handsome without doubt, as a man and artist should be, he has that deeper charm which not only awakens the interest but sways the emotions, and which, when added to such perfection of features as distinguishes his face, makes a man a marked figure for good or evil according as the heart behind that charm is actuated by love of self or a generous consideration for others.

By which is the heart of this man moved? We will let his future actions tell, only premising that the bird which sings in one window of his studio and the flower which blows in another, argue that he at least possesses gentle tastes, while the array of swords and guns that gleam on a crimson background above the mantel-piece, betray that the more masculine traits are not absent from his character. Strong, winsome and enthusiastic he appears to us, and such we will take him to be, till events prove us short-sighted, or enlarge mere prepossession in his favor into actual and positive regard. He is tall, and his hair and mustache are black, his eyes gray.

The picture upon which he is gazing is that of a young girl. Though he does not like it, we do, and wonder if his dissatisfaction arises from a failure to express his ideal or from some fault in the subject itself. It cannot be the latter, for never were sweeter features placed upon canvas or a more ideal head presented to the admiration of mankind. Shrined in a golden haze, it smiles upon you with an innocent allurement that ought to repay any artist for no matter how many days of labor or nights of restless dreams. But Hamilton Degraw is not satisfied. Let us see if we can discover the reason for this from the words just hovering on his lips.

“It is beautiful, it is a dream, but where shall I find the face I seek? I would make it a companion piece to this, and I would call the one ‘Dream’ and the other ‘Reality,’ and men would muse upon the ‘Dream,’ but love the ‘Reality.’ But where is there a reality to equal this dream? I shall never find it.”

At half-past seven (all this occurred in the month of May), Mr. Degraw left his studio and proceeded up-town with his paper and pencils.

Chapter 2
A Remarkable Adventure

The number which had been given him was 391 East—street, and, though he had never been in just the locality indicated by this address, he thought he knew the region and what to expect there. Had he not passed through many of these uptown streets, even to the water’s edge, and found them to vary only in the size and pretention of their long and monotonous rows of similarly fashioned brick or stone houses, unless it were by the intrusion of a brewery or a church?

It was, therefore, an agreeable surprise to discover that the especial block in which he was for the moment interested, was not like other blocks, even in this quarter, but was broken up by a stretch of odd-looking houses, which, if somewhat worn and dilapidated, still preserved an air of picturesqueness sadly lacking in most of our third-rate dwellings.

There were four of them, all of a size, all of a grayish-brown color, all with carved strips overhanging the window-tops, and all with square wooden pillars in front. Though their general appearance suggested past wealth, it also as certainly betokened present indigence, notwithstanding the fact that before one of them there stood at this moment a carriage of style and elegance sufficient to prove it the private equipage of a person of means.

Being in an artistic mood, he was greatly attracted by these old-fashioned structures and felt quite an unreasoning desire to enter them.

Long before he came near enough to be sure of the numbers they bore, he had begun to reckon onward from the one he was passing, to see whether 391 would be found on any of them. He soon came to the conclusion that it would, and presently was quite sure of it, and, as he approached nearer, he was pleased to see that it was upon the house before which the carriage was standing. Why he was pleased at this, he would have found it hard to tell. Perhaps, because the house looked a little somber and oppressive as he came within full sight of its closely shuttered windows; and to one of his gay and careless temperament, any hint of companionship was always welcome.

There was a bell at the entrance, but he did not ring it. For just as he stretched out his hand toward it, the door opened, and he saw before him a young servant-girl of a somewhat vacant countenance, who quickly beckoned him in. As his foot crossed the threshold, the clock from a neighboring church pealed out the stroke of eight. “I am prompt,” he inwardly ejaculated.

The hall into which he stepped was dark and seemingly unfurnished. There was no carpet on the floor, and if there were any doors in sight, they were all closed. Feeling it a somewhat chilly welcome, he looked helplessly at the girl, who immediately made another gesture in the direction of a staircase that rose in a spiral a few feet beyond him.

“Does Signor Montelli live up-stairs?” he inquired.

She gave no indication of hearing him, but continued to point to the staircase. “Is she deaf?” was his mental inquiry. It would seem so. Somewhat dashed in his spirits, he went up the first flight and paused again. Darkness and solitude were before him.

“Well, well,” thought he, “this will not do.” And he was about to turn about in retreat, when he remembered the bank-bill in his pocket. “That was not sent to me for nothing,” he concluded; and, taking a closer look into the silent space before him, he perceived four doors.

Making his way to one, he knocked. There was a hurried sound from within, and presently the door was opened and the face of an old crone looked out. Her features lighted up as she saw him, but she did not speak. Pointing as the girl below had done, she indicated the room he should enter, and then withdrew her face and shut the door.

“This is an adventure,” was his mental comment, but he had no further notion of retreat.

Following the guidance of her finger, he crossed the hall and pushed open the door toward which she had pointed. An ordinary room of faded aspect met his eyes.

But barely had he entered it, when he was met by the old crone, and led rather than escorted through another door into an apartment so brilliantly lighted, that for a moment he found himself dazzled and unable to perceive more than the graceful figure of an elegant woman dressed in the richest of carriage attire, bending over what seemed to be a heavily draped couch.

But in another instant, his faculties became clear, and he perceived that what he supposed to be a couch, was in reality a bed of death, and that the woman before him was engaged in strewing blossoms of the richest beauty and most delicate fragrance over the body of a young girl whose face as yet he could not see. Some lillies lay on the floor, half on, half off the edge of a snowy drapery of soft wool, which fell from the couch, taking from it the character of a bed, and lending to the whole scene an aspect of poetic beauty, which was in no wise diminished by the rows of wax candles that burned at the head and the feet of the dead.

It was a picture; and for a moment he looked on it as such; but in another, the lady, whose occupation he had interrupted, turned, and, seeing him, stood upright, meeting his gaze with astonishment and a half-vailed delight in her fine violet eyes; then, as he did not speak and hardly remembered to bow, she colored slightly, and with a strange, swift movement, that took him wholly by surprise, glided from the room.

Then, indeed, he started and tried to follow her. But it was too late. Ere he had reached the threshold, he heard the front door shut, and, in an instant after, the carriage drive away. Strange adventure! For though he did not know her name, he knew her face; had seen it once in a large crowd, and charmed by its perfect lineaments, had brooded upon its memory till he had idealized it into the picture which we have already described as the chief ornament of his studio.

“Am I dreaming?” he asked himself; and he cast a sudden look about him for the old crone who had ushered him into the room, in the hopes of learning from her the name of the lady who had just left them, but by this movement bringing himself nearer to the pulseless figure on the couch, he found himself so enthralled by the exquisite loveliness of the marble-like countenance he now, for the first time, had an opportunity of seeing, that he forgot the impulse that had moved him, and stood petrified in astonishment and delight.

For if what he saw before him formed the picture he was expected to paint, how beautiful it was! Never in his fancy, prolific as it was with lovely forms and faces, had he beheld a countenance like this! It was angelic in its purity and yet human in its quiet look of grief and resignation. It had lines as exquisite as those we see in the ideal heads of the most famous masters, and yet one scarcely saw those lines or the delicate curves of cheek and chin, for the expression which steeped the whole in heavenliest sweetness. If dead, then no living woman was fair; for she seemed to hold all beauty within the scope of her perished personality and to compress into the narrow space shone upon by those two rows of candles all the loveliness and the mystery which had hitherto enshrined the world of womankind in his eyes. Her head reposed upon a white silken pillow, across which streamed a mass of midnight hair in a tangle of great lustrous curls. One lay in motionless beauty on her breast, and so unlike death was the whole vision, that he found himself watching this curl in eager anticipation of seeing it move with the rising and falling of her breath.

But it lay quiescent, as did the waxen lids above the closely shut eyes, and at this discovery, which proved of a surety that she was dead, he felt such a pang of despair, that he knew that whereas he had hitherto looked at a woman with his eyes, he was surveying this one with his heart; that a feeling akin to love had awakened in his breast, and that this feeling was for a dead image—a soulless, pulseless morsel of clay.

The consciousness of his folly made him blush, and drawing back, he again looked about him for the old crone. She was not far away. Seated at one end of the apartment, in a low chair, with her figure bent forward and her head buried in her hands, she was rocking slowly to and fro in what seemed like silent anguish. But when he approached her and she looked up, there were no tears in her eyes nor signs of trouble about her sordid and almost sinister mouth.

“Where is Signor Montelli?” asked the artist. “Is he not present? I allude to the gentleman who wrote me a note this morning requesting me to come here and draw him a picture.”

But she made no reply—that is, no intelligible reply. She murmured some words, but they were in a language he did not recognize, and the mystery seemed to be deepened rather than cleared by her presence.

“Can you not speak English?” he inquired.

She smiled, but evidently did not understand what he said.

“Nor French?”

She smiled again and muttered a few more of her foreign words, this time with a deprecating air and an entreating gesture.

He knew a smattering of Spanish and tried her with that; but with no better result. Discouraged, he repeated the one word they both knew.

“Montelli? Montelli?” he cried, and looked about him with peering eyes.

This time she had the appearance of understanding his meaning. She made a gesture toward the street, then pointed to herself and courtesied. Finally she laid a finger on the portfolio under his arm, smiled, and led him up to the young girl.

There was no misunderstanding this pantomime; he was to draw a picture of the dead. Satisfied and yet vaguely uneasy, he bowed and opened his portfolio. The old crone brought forward a chair, then a small table, and courtesying again, disappeared once more into the background. He took the chair, opened his portfolio, and began to contemplate the picture before him.

It was perfect, even from an artistic standpoint. Had he arranged the couch, the drapery, the flowers and the lights, he could not have made a more harmonious whole. He could not even find an excuse for re-adjusting the locks of the loosely curling hair; all was as it should be, and he had only to put pencil to paper.

But this, which was ordinarily a simple matter for him, had become all at once a most difficult task. He delayed and asked himself questions, feeling the mystery of the situation almost to the point of oppression. Who was this young girl? Who was Andrea Montelli? Who was even this old crone?

What was the disease which had taken the life of this beautiful creature without leaving a trace of its devastating power upon cheek or brow, or even on the dimpled hands that just vaguely showed themselves amid the folds of the drapery that covered her? Had she perished naturally? The thought would come. Was her portrait wished by father and friends? Or was it required only by disinterested officials, and for purposes her beauty made him shrink from contemplating? The presence of this old woman seemed to point to the former supposition as the true one, and yet might it not be the best proof in the world that it was simply hard, stern justice which demanded the reproduction of these features, since it was an easy matter to understand how such a person might be in the pay of the police, but not nearly so easy to be comprehended how she could either be in pay or the confidence of any friends of so dainty and beautiful a creature as she who lay before him?

The contrast between the two was vivid, as were all the accessories of the picture he was expected to draw, to the remaining appointments in the room. Near her and surrounding her were fabrics of softest wool and purest silk, edged with the richest embroideries and covered with costliest blossoms. Beyond her, and outside of the charmed circle created by the prodigal wax tapers, were worn and dingy stuffs and dilapidated furniture.

Not an article from window to door, saving those which were associated with the dead girl, expressed aught but discomfort and poverty, while with her and about her were luxury, wealth and beauty.

It was strange; and, as he considered the matter further, he became more and more convinced that the police had had nothing to do with this display of splendor. No; if they had wished her picture, they would have sent for the photographer, and there would have been no draperies nor candles nor flowers. Some relative, some friend, or, stay—could it be some mere art-lover had wished to preserve on imperishable canvas the extraordinary loveliness which he saw about to vanish forever, and so he had been called in with pencil and paper, and paid for his work beforehand, that he might not retreat from the task when he found that it involved mystery?

But why should it involve mystery? Why should there be no one in the house from whom he could obtain intelligible replies to his queries? Was this merely accident or was it design? The one person he had encountered whose face bespoke intelligence and a desire for communication had surprised him so much by the coincidence between her presence and the picture he had painted, that he had been made for the moment powerless, and so lost the one opportunity offered him to make himself acquainted with the true meaning of the adventure which had befallen him. Was this fortunate or was it not? Was this wealthy lady of high position and incomparable taste the friend or art-lover who had drawn him here? What could be more probable? And yet how greatly was the mystery enhanced if this were the case.

He was gazing steadily at the immovable countenance before him when this idea came; and, fascinated as he was by what he saw, there seemed to rise a film between him and it, out of which there slowly grew on his gaze the face of the unknown visitor. Not the face he had put upon canvas and which was at this moment illuminating the dim recesses of his studio, but of herself as she stood there looking at him with a most human expression of pleasure and appeal, startlingly in contrast with the sumptuousness of her apparel and the dignity of her bearing.

A true face, a good face, with features perfect enough for art, and a smile tender enough to satisfy the most exacting nature. Why did he not thrill before it? Why did not the feeling of contentment which swept over him at its remembrance fill up the void in his heart and make this second recognition of her charms one of promise and unalloyed delight? Because he had seen something more winsome; because she was the Dream, while before him lay the Reality; because his taste and judgment alone awarded to her the palm of beauty, while his heart throbbed to what was expressed in this other face, this other form, which, if dead, had touched a chord in his nature never sounded before, and, as he began to think, would never be sounded again.

The Reality—yes, he had found it. As this belief seized him, he grasped his pencil with avidity. He no longer felt himself held back by doubts. He would draw the picture before him, but as he did so, he would draw another in his mind that should be a basis for his long-hoped-for chef d’ceuvre. Not for the unknown Montelli alone should his pencil fly over the paper, crystallizing into perpetual existence this dream of fading loveliness. He would earn for himself more than the paltry dollars he felt burning in his pocket; he would earn a right to the reproduction of this face, which must henceforth be the expression of his loftiest instincts.

His pencil obeyed his enthusiasm; the features of the sweet unknown began to show themselves upon the broad sheet of paper before him.

He was very much absorbed, or he might have taken a look at the old crone seated in her low chair behind him. If he had done so, would he not have lost himself in further questions? Would he not have wondered why she gazed at him so intently, with eyes that were certainly not lacking in earnestness, if they were in candor? And would he not have queried why her glances only left him to travel to the clock, and so, with one quick flash, to the young girl, and back again to him. There was mystery in all this, if he could have seen it, for there was expectation in her look; an expectation that increased as the minute-hand of the clock moved on toward nine; and expectation here meant interruption, and interruption meant—what? The sly face of the crone made no revelations.

But he saw nothing behind him. Life, hope and love were all, for the moment, concentrated in the end of his pencil, and not the sound of opening doors and hurrying feet could have aroused him now from the dream of creation that engaged him. But there was no sound; all was still; even the mysterious watcher behind him seemed to hold her breath; and when the clock struck, which it presently did, the faint noise seemed to be too much for her aged nerves, for she half rose, and pantingly sank back again, clasping her hands with energy, as if to still the beatings of her heart.

But the artist worked on.

Suddenly there was a change in the room. No one had entered it, and yet it seemed no longer like the same spot. Something strange and unaccountable had occurred; something which caused the moisture to start on Hamilton Degraw’s forehead, and the expectancy in the old crone’s look to deepen into strong excitement. What was it? The artist, catching his breath, listened. What silence! What an oppression of silence! And yet there it comes again, that soft sigh, so light as to be almost inaudible, and yet, to his ears, so thrilling with promise that he leaped to his feet like one who breaks some bond asunder.

At the sight of his eagerness, the old crone, who had risen also, smiles hungrily to herself. If she has heard the sigh also, she shows no anxiety to advance, but stops where she is, content that he should take the precedence, and stand first at the young girl’s side. He was there in an instant, and though no signs of life greeted him from the motionless form, he could not tear his gaze away from her face.

“Sweet one,” welled up from his lips, “was that the sigh of your departed spirit grieving it had left a body that could be so loved? Or is life but pausing in these pulses, and will it—”

He does not finish. How can he, when at these muttered and well-nigh incoherent words he perceives the faintest flush of color suffuse the cheeks? Or was it but a fancy? It has fled now, and the breast does not heave. It must have been a hallucination like the sigh. And yet—and yet—those lids seem to lie less closely. There is something in the face he has not seen there before. It is not life, and yet, surely, it is not death. Where are her friends? Where is there a physician? Why is he not one instead of being a useless artist? With a cry, he turns to the old crone.

“Help!” he shrieks. “See! her lips are growing red! And look at her hands; they are becoming warm! Now—now, they flutter! The roses on her breast are disturbed! She is not dead! We shall have her again—”

He paused, struck even in his frenzy by the abandon of his own words. “I am a fool,” he muttered, “but then the old witch does not understand me. Will she understand what she sees?” And bounding to the old woman’s side, he drew her, wondering and chattering, up between the candles, and pointed to the young girl’s face. As he did so, he uttered an irrepressible cry; for in the instant he had been gone, the miracle had happened, and two wide, dark eyes, luminous with wonder, stared back into his from amid the wreaths of those tangled locks of hair.

Chapter 3
The End Of A Great Ambition

There are some moments which to a sensitive mind seem to be of a dream-like or supernatural character. To Hamilton Degraw this was one of them. Never did it, never could it, seem real. Lost in its wonder, he stood motionless, petrified, gazing back into those orbs which in the glare which now fell upon them seemed welling with light. Had it been death to her, he could not have moved. Not till she threw up her arms, scattering widely the flowers that lay on her breast, did he feel the spell sufficiently broken to comprehend what had occurred. Though he had begrudged Death its victim, though he had longed to see this young girl live, and for the last few minutes had only existed in the hope of doing so, he quailed before the realization, and questioned his own sanity in believing in it Even the shrill cry that now left her lips fell on well-nigh deaf ears; and when, next moment, she raised herself and spoke, he roused with a start, flushing from chin to brow with joy, though the words she uttered were full of terror and suggestive of mystery.

“Alive?” This was her cry. “Then have they deceived me.” And she looked wildly around till her eye rested on the old crone. “Annetta!” she exclaimed, with something more he could not understand, for her English had rippled off into the strange and unknown language of the person she addressed.

The old woman, eager and restless now, answered her in a few quick sentences, at which the maiden—for who could doubt her such?—covered her eyes with her hands and sobbed. But instantly recovering herself, she looked up in despair, and encountering the artist’s gaze, seemed charmed by it so that she forgot to speak, though words of grief and shame were evidently trembling on her tongue.

For him the moment was delightful. He returned her look, and his self-possession failed him.

“You are not dead,” left his lips in almost childish simplicity. “Thank God that appearances deceived me. You are too young, too fair to yield thus soon to the Great Destroyer. I am glad to see you living, though I know nothing of you, not even your name.”

She smiled faintly but piteously.

“Nor do I know you,” she cried. “I am a child lost to the world, lost to life, lost to everything. I should not be here, speaking, breathing, living, suffering. I expected to die, I wanted to die, but some one has deceived me, and I am alive. For what? Oh, for what?”

The artist stared amazed.

From a picture of peace she had become an image of despair. He did not love her less thus, but he felt vaguely out of place and knew not whether to speak or fly.

She saw his trouble and waved him back.

“Since I must live,” she murmured, “let me leave this bed of death.” And without waiting for any assistance, she slid to the floor and stood tottering there, clothed in a long, white garment, bordered with gold, as beautiful as it was odd and poetic. “What trappings are these?” she cried, pointing to the bed and glancing down at her own garments. “If I were not to be allowed to die, why this wealth and beauty of adornment? I am still dreaming, or—” Her eyes fell again on Annetta and she asked her some other question.

Meantime young Degraw had stepped back to the table upon which lay the sketch he had been making. Lifting it up, he turned it toward her.

“Let this explain my presence here,” said he. “It may also make clear to you what otherwise must seem wrapped in mystery. Your picture was desired. I was summoned here to draw it. You must know by whom. The name accompanying the request reads like Andrea Montelli.”

She left the old crone and took a step in his direction and that of the picture he held. A flush was on her cheek, a flush that vaguely irritated him and made him, for the first time, question who this Andrea Montelli really was.

“I do not understand,” said she; “but it is of no consequence. Nothing is of any importance to me now. I am living, that is all I can think of; I am living and the struggle with my fate must re-commence.”

This expression of grief at finding herself once more in the world of human beings, both shocked and touched him.

Though he felt she ought to have some one with her of her own kindred, or, at least, of her own station and sex, he did not see how he could leave her with no one to soothe her but this old woman, who was at once so coarse and so repellent.

“Have you no friends in the house?” he asked.

She sadly shook her head.

“Is there no one I can call?” he persisted, turning now toward the door.

She shivered and caught him by the hand,

“Do not leave me,” she entreated. “Do not go till I have told you why I was so wicked; for you must think me very wicked to try to take my own life.”

“And did you—” He got no further, for the tears which now filled her fathomless eyes called up a suspicious moisture to his own. Strange and wrong as it all was, he had never felt himself so affected. “Tell me your trouble,” he pleaded at last. “Why should one so young and, pardon me, so fair, wish to die before the possibilities of life were fully tested?

“Because,” her eyes flashed fire and a color broke out on her cheeks, “because I had failed.”

“Failed!”

“I am Selina Valdi!”

Selina Valdi! He knew the name. It was that of the young musical debutante who, but a month before, had stood up before a great assembly of expectant listeners, beautiful, fascinating, but tongue-tied. A wonder, with every promise of song in her blazing eyes and upon her trembling lips, but with no voice at her command, no answering sound to the orchestra’s inviting tones, nothing save the moan with which she finally gave up the struggle and sank, overcome and annihilated, behind the falling curtain. Selina Valdi! He remembered the name well, and all the talk and criticism which followed her defeat; and, moved by a boundless compassion, he took her by the hand. Immediately she added: “At least that is the name by which I was known to my teachers and expected to be known to the world. My real name is Jenny—”

Why did she not finish? Why did she look at him so strangely and drop her eyes and shake her head? His expression had been one of expectancy, and all his manner was encouraging. But she seemed to tremble before him, and did not speak the name, only murmured:

“But I forget. I have sworn not to tell my name. I am Selina Valdi without the success which was to make that name illustrious.”

“Poor child!” The words left his lips unconsciously, she looked so desolate and forsaken. “Poor child! your heart was set on success, then! You expected to be a singer.”

“Oh!”

The exclamation spoke volumes. She had clasped her hands and was trembling now, not with weakness but eagerness.

“I had a right to expect it,” she declared. “I can sing; I have a voice that has made every master who has taught me patient and gentle and eager. These rooms have rung, just rung with the notes I have raised; but I cannot face a crowd. At the sight of faces surging in a sea before me, such a terror seizes me that I want to shriek instead of sing; something catches me by the throat and I am suffocated, lost, drowned in a flood of horror to which I can give no name and against which it is useless to struggle. Oh, it is a cruel fate. But I can sing; listen!”

And with sudden impetuosity, her voice soared up in an Italian air, so sweet, so weird, so thrilling, that he stood amazed, entranced, subdued, marveling at the freshness, the power, the soul-moving quality of her tones as well as at the perfection of her manner and the correctness of her interpretation. A living, breathing genius, glorying in her own gift, was before him, and he could but acknowledge it with delight.

She saw his pleasure and rose in dignity and flushed with power. Her voice left the intricate ways of Italian song and deepened into the broader, deeper channels of German opera. It swelled, it rose, it triumphed, till the strange and shabby room became an elysium, and the atmosphere seemed laden with the breath of gods. A genius? She was more, or seemed so while her voice thrilled and her beauty flushed; but when all was still again, and she stood panting and deprecatory before him, then she seemed only a tender child again, craving sympathy and expecting confidence.

“Marvelous! Marvelous!” So he spoke, lifted out of himself, first by her power and then by her humility. “And with such a gift as this you could be discouraged by one failure, overcome by one fright!”

“Ah,” she murmured, “that is how I can sing to you; but I can never sing like that to the multitude.”

“Never?”

“Never.”

“But, dear child, you are not sure of this. You are very young, and after some few months of training you will gain courage and reap a full success. You cannot help it, with your genius. God does not give such a voice to be smothered in obscurity.”

“God?”

With what an indescribable intonation she spoke. He looked at her in amaze.

“Do you believe in God?” she asked, and her face took on a strange look, almost like that of fear.

“I do,” he returned; “and so will you, when you have lived long enough to realize His goodness.”

She shuddered; a change came over her; she no longer looked so young.

“I have not been taught,” she murmured. “I have not been trained in church ways and church thinking. Would it have been better if I had? You look so good; would that have made me good, too?”

The old simplicity and childlike manner were coming back, but with something new in it, that, if not comprehended, affected him deeply.

“Are you not good?” he smiled. “You have committed one sin, I know, but that was the result of frenzy, and certainly does not argue a bad heart. But good, as man reckons goodness, you must be, or your eyes would not be so clear, or your smile so inspiring. If you were happy—”

“If I were happy?” A fresh change had come over her; she seemed to hang upon his words.

“Then you would no longer query if there were a God, but rejoice in the fact that there is one.”

Her face was fallen again, and she seemed to struggle with herself. For some minutes she did not answer.

“Go!” she murmured at last. “I have already kept you too long. Go and forget—” she gasped, gave one look at the crone in the corner to which she had withdrawn, and sank sobbing and troubled in a chair.

He turned to obey her. Something within him told him that he ought to seize upon this excuse to tear himself away from a presence so dangerous to his peace. But when he reached the threshold and turned, as almost any man would have done, for a final look, he found her gazing at him with such despair in her large, dark, limpid eyes, that he made one bound to her side, and seizing her by the hand, exclaimed:

“I will not go till I know just what I leave behind me. You have moved me too much. If you are a true woman you will tell me all that a friend should know, or else dismiss me without this look of grief which holds me back in spite of my better judgment.”

“I cannot help my looks,” she said; “but I can restrain my words. But I will not. I long to have an adviser, I long to have a friend,—outside of the profession,” she added; “outside of that selfish world where all is rivalry, jealousy and distrust. Can you spare the time to listen, or will you come again to-morrow?”

“I had rather linger now. It is not late. See, it is barely ten o’clock, and I am impatient to know my new friend better.”

She sighed, and something like a spasm passed over her face; but it was an innocent face; he had no doubt of her, and he listened with irrepressible emotion to the pathetic story which she proceeded to tell him.

Chapter 4
The Story Of A Strange Girlhood

“I shall not say much about my childhood,” the Signorina Valdi began. “It was like that of many other girls left to grow up in a great city, in the shabby gentility necessitated by small means. My father was a doctor and only half successful, and that in a quarter of the town where most of the patients never pay, and the few that do, pay so little that comfort is scarcely known in the house and luxury never. My mother was an invalid, and, there being no other children, I grew up in the comparatively empty house a creature of fancies and dreams. My voice was my great companion. I dared not sing in the parlors or where my mother could hear me too plainly, but would go away into the garret, where in undisturbed possession of so much empty space, I would sing and trill till I was utterly exhausted or my stock of songs gave out. Later, I took to acting, having seen one opera through the kindness of a school-teacher of mine who knew my passion and had accidentally overheard my voice one day. For even then I never sang before any one, and if by chance I caught any one listening, my throat choked up and I broke out into a cold perspiration. But this was inexperience, as I thought, and I went on cherishing my dreams and acting over and over imaginary scenes from operas which I knew only by name, creating songs and manufacturing situations which must have been sufficiently crude and ridiculous, but which gave my voice a chance and allowed enough of my fervor to expend itself to prevent me from falling ill or becoming desperately dissatisfied and unhappy.

“When I was fourteen, my mother died, and two years after this, my father. But I was not discouraged. I had my voice, and, child that I was, I imagined I had only to lift it in public to have fame and fortune lavished upon me. I was soon undeceived in this regard; for, in the first place, I could not raise my voice in public, and, in the second place, the very first musical adept I saw explained to me how much study and practice were necessary to achieve even the smallest success. Study I did not shrink from and practice was simply a delight. But I had no money, and training is expensive, and so is mere living. I found difficulty in existing till one happy day—was it happy?—I let my voice out in what I supposed to be an empty church, but which in reality contained a great teacher, who, hearing me, thereupon took me in charge and started me on a career which he said would end in wealth and adulation.

“Alas, for me, I believed him, and was no longer hungry or cold or meanly clothed. At least, I did not feel my hunger or the chill of the room in which I worked at sewing or copying, or anything which would furnish me with daily bread. And as for my clothes, they were so certainly destined to change into the silver and gold tissues befitting an opera queen, that I have sometimes laughed, in passing through the streets, to think how the men and women who jostled me so rudely would one day feel proud if I cast them a glance or bestowed upon them the haughtiest of smiles.

“My companion and the only confidante of my dreams was this old Portuguese crone whom you see with me now. I had made her acquaintance in the depths of my poverty, and being none too well off, had found no other friend who could supply her place in faithfulness and devotion. She is not prepossessing to look at, but she loves me; too well I fear, for she would not even let me die, though she knew my secret desperation.

“But this is hurrying on too fast. I studied then, long and faithfully, and practiced every hour, when I was not obliged to work for my subsistence. Hope sustained me, and the days flew by on wings. My eighteenth birthday passed, and the day was set for me to try my voice in concert. Had I carried out this intention, I might have been saved two more years of useless labor and vain hope. But unfortunately, at the last minute, a spirit of opposition seized me, and I refused to test my powers till I could do so with all the eclat of scenery and costume. I would appear as Margherita or not at all, and my foolishness was listened to, and my debut postponed.

“A new teacher now took me in charge. I was able to pay him something, but not much. Never mind; there was a future in store for me; I was but running up a debt which I could easily liquidate by one night of triumphant song. If he were willing to wait—and he seemed to be—I certainly could do this, for my voice and manner and style were improving daily, and ere long the doors of the theaters must open before me, and wealth and honor take the place of indigence and obscurity.

“Looking at me now and remembering my failure, can you imagine such folly? You must be young and poor and have a voice to do it. Why, this room has been peopled with visions, I have seen myself in the possession of every power, every happiness. When my fingers ached with writing, I have thought of the day in store for me, when just my signature would be worth gold. Till then I wanted no companionship, and felt myself untempted by pleasure or wealth. Till I could enjoy all, I wanted nothing. I preferred to take my happiness at a bound, and from these rooms of faded grandeur and sordid suggestions, step at once into the palatial apartments suited to the successful prima donna.

“You can imagine, then, the excitement of those days, when I was informed by my enthusiastic teacher, that the time had come for my appearance, and that after two short months of rehearsal, the stage of the ——should be ready for my debut. If time flew before, it halted now. Never, never would those two months pass! And yet they ought not to have gone so slowly, for I was very busy. The rehearsals themselves were enough to absorb me; and they did, but they never left me satisfied, and I longed to end them. Somehow I needed an audience, or so I thought. I could not warm up to empty benches; but my manager seemed satisfied, and fed me with flatteries, and expended great sums of money on my toilets and the stage accessories. He was sure of success, but not so sure as I was. I can say this now, since I have so egregiously failed. I neither doubted my voice nor my training nor my spirit. I left this room on that fatal night, calm. I took what I thought to be my last look of these miserable apartments, with the quiet farewell of one who feels her fortune assured. I left behind in it many memories, but I went forward to great hopes. When I heard the door close, I had the feeling of something shutting upon my past, and went downstairs and out to my carriage with a different step than that which had been accustomed to mark my departure.

“This feeling followed me to the theater, and increased, rather than diminished, with the putting on of the dainty robes which another’s enthusiasm had procured for me. Nor did the sounds of the orchestra make me quail, nor the voice of the call-boy; nothing moved me till, having crossed the stage, I caught a glimpse—or did I feel the presence—of the vast crowd that awaited in eager expectancy for my first notes. Then, indeed, a dagger entered my heart, and terror, such as the victim of the amphitheater alone can know, caught me in its clutches, paralyzing throat and limbs till I could have welcomed any death that would have annihilated my consciousness. I was before the footlights; I was in the spot where I had pictured myself for years, and I could not sing a note; I could not even fly; I must stop and face the wonder, the pity, the disgust, that must be on every countenance, till Fate should come to my aid and break the spell that bound me.

“It came in the shape of a few stray efforts at applause, doubtless meant for my encouragement. The sound—it was the first I had heard—seemed to loosen the icy fetters that held my limbs enchained, and I sank, suffering frightfully, upon the floor of the stage I was never more to mock by my presence. The curtain was rung down and I was carried away, whither, I hardly knew, and to what I could even then dimly guess, for my heart was broken, and my only earthly hope was at an end.”

“But,” eagerly interposed the artist, “you may be mistaken about this. Stage fright is common. Our greatest actors are subject to it. It is rather thought by them the token of genius, and a promise of future success. Surely, your manager—”

“Do not speak of him, or of my masters. I shudder at the thought of their anger and cruel disappointment. I have never been able to face them, nor never can till I become able to reimburse them for all their useless expense. As for making another attempt, that is impossible. I had rather die! At the mere thought of confronting again that cruel sea of faces, the blood stops flowing in my veins and the world turns black before me. I was not made for a prima donna, or rather, something is lacking in me necessary for success upon the stage. Yet that success is all I have lived for, and without it, what am I?”

“What are you?” The voice of the artist trembled, his eyes spoke the admiration he could not suppress. “A young, beautiful and pure girl. Is that not enough? Most persons would think it wealth.”

“It will not get me bread,” she murmured. “It will not pay my debts, those horrible debts, that weigh upon me like lead. It was this thought that made my return to these walls so bitter. It was this thought which, day by day, forced me into a deeper despair, till at last I only longed for death, as a release from my perplexity and pain. It was a wicked longing, but it was the only one I knew, so last night I sent Annetta for a deadly poison (she had often told me she could get me one) and believing that the powder which she brought me was what she said it was, I took it, and lay down on my own little bed to die. The result is what you know. She deceived me, and gave me a preparation which merely simulates death. Was it wise in her? Time alone can tell,”

“Signorina!” It seemed the natural word for him to use, though every feature of her face and every grace of her person proclaimed her to be an American girl, pure and simple. “I cannot doubt but that the Portuguese did well. I cannot doubt but that the future holds for you all that even your ardent spirit can desire. But—” He paused, affected by her look. From a sad and despairing creature, she had flashed, as it were, into one all cheerfulness and hope. The change was marvelous. He hardly knew the beaming face, the glowing eye. Had his heart betrayed itself in his words? Did she see and respond to the passion which every moment of this sweet but dangerous intercourse was deepening within him? He dared not search her eyes to see. He was content to feel her joy and warm himself at the fire of her growing hope.

“You do not go on,” she breathed. “You think we have talked long enough for to-night. Well, you are right. You have heard enough of misery and I have gained enough of strength to make parting between us easy, just now. So, good-bye, sir, till—”

She looked up and smiled. Ah, how sweet that smile was; how innocent and confiding, He drew back from before it slowly, but firmly; he had fears of his own judgment, of his own strength; he would say good-night and come again when reason should be more under his own control and he could weigh the treasure he coveted before he took it for his own.

But two paces from the door, a fresh thought struck him. The mystery of her awakening had been revealed, but not that which surrounded the picture he had been paid to draw. Till he understood the purpose for which a copy of her face and form had been requested from his pencil, he could not go. The story she had told of her lonely struggle and disastrous failure only made his desire greater. Since there was nothing in her history to account for this mysterious circumstance, how could it be accounted for? Were there facts in her life which she had omitted to relate? He must learn or pass a sleepless night. Coming back, he confronted her again.

Chapter 5
An Importunate Suitor

“Pardon me,” he entreated; “but you have not told me what your pleasure is in regard to this sketch I have made. Shall I destroy it or deliver it to the person who ordered it?”

“Person who ordered it? You confound me,” was her hurried response. “I had forgotten the picture and all connected with it. How was it ordered and when?”

He took a crumpled note from his pocket and showed it to her. By the nearly consumed candles, she read it, puzzled and wondering, to the end.

“Andrea Montelli!” she cried. “I know no such name. It is all a mystery to me.”

At once and without his volition and encouragement, Hamilton Degraw felt himself seized by a sudden doubt which darkened everything before him. All a mystery to her! How could that be. He looked at her and hesitated. Never had she seemed so childlike, so innocent or so pure. Her large eyes, turned up to him, were full of question; her very attitude was one of waiting. It seemed as if she expected him to explain what evidently amazed her. He mastered his doubts and ventured upon a new topic.

“When I came into the room,” said he, “I found bending over you, as you lay upon the couch, a beautiful lady with fair hair and aristocratic features. She had come in a carriage which stood before the door, and when I first saw her, was strewing flowers over the bed and you. See! they lie withering now in heaps upon the floor. Her you must surely know, for both her beauty and her wealth make her conspicuous.”

“I am sorry,” began the signorina, “but I cannot tell you who she is. I might guess.”

“That may be sufficient.”

“But I cannot be sure. There is a lady, both beautiful and rich, who once took an interest in me. She was a pupil of one of my masters, and though I was never introduced to her, I was given to understand that she was watching my career and hoping much for its success. It may have been she; but why she should have sought me out in my despair, when she held herself aloof from me in the time of my prosperity, and why she should have brought flowers and strewed them over my poor body, I cannot explain. But perhaps Annetta can. She was here and may have seen something or gathered something from the lady’s manner which will help us to comprehend the meaning of her actions;” and beckoning the Portuguese toward her, the signorina asked one or two questions, which being duly answered, she turned back to Mr. Degraw and exclaimed:

“It must have been the lady I spoke of. She came without flowers at first, and asking for me, seemed to be greatly shocked when I was pointed out to her, lying, as she supposed, dead. She attempted to question Annetta, but of course got no answer from her, as my good friend does not speak a word of English; and when the lady went away she made a gesture which must have meant that she would return, for in half an hour or so she did come back, bringing these beautiful flowers, which she at once began to strew over me. That is all Annetta can tell. Would you like me to question her further?”

“I would like to hear what she has to say about these candles and your dress and the drapery of your couch. It may explain who Montelli is, and this you as well as myself ought to know.”

“True, true,” came in a murmur from the young girl’s lips. “Annetta must be able to tell how I came to be dressed thus, though the robe itself is no mystery, being one of the costumes prepared for my debut. But the lights, the drapery! all that I cannot understand.”

And she drew the old crone nearer, and holding her by the arm, put question after question, while the young man stood still, gazing from one to the other, devoured by a curiosity that the signorina’s rapidly changing appearance certainly tended to aggravate. For at the explanations which the old woman tendered without hesitation, the young girl’s head sank lower and lower in manifest confusion, while on her cheek and brow a flush slowly gathered, which, if it added to her beauty, could not but add also to the watchful artist’s impatience and distrust.

“What is it? Tell me,” burst from his lips as the Portuguese finally drew back, leaving the signorina standing by that forsaken couch.

“Ah, how can I?” was her cry, though her eyes looked up fearlessly, and the smile on her sensitive mouth was simply a deprecatory one. “It is such a story of—of an unreasoning passion—of—of a love of which I was ignorant, and would never have countenanced if I had known of it, that—”

He appreciated her confusion; he loved her for its evident depth; but he would not help her even by a word to speak. This story, whatever it was, he must know. She saw his determination and summoned up her courage.

“Annetta tells me,” she began, “that for the last three months I have been pursued by an Italian who has been determined to marry me. She says he found no favor in her eyes, and that she was sure he would find none in mine; and so, to save me anxiety and pain at a time when I needed my full strength and liberty, she had persistently placed herself between us, and by artifices and stratagems of various kinds succeeded in keeping him out of my presence. She says that, owing to my preoccupation and determination to see nothing but my art, she was strangely successful in this, though there were times when he almost brushed my garments in the streets, and others when it nearly took the arm of the police to keep him away from these doors. He had seen me at the theater one day, and, hidden behind the boxes or among the wings of the scenery, had heard me sing, and nothing could rob him of the idea that he was destined to marry me and make of me the leading prima donna of the world; not even my failure, for he was present at that, nor my consequent persistent shrinking from sight into the obscurity that became me. Nothing affected him or changed his mind; and, while he showed some sense in not attempting force after this, Annetta knew that, sooner or later, he would find some means of crossing this threshold and offending me with offers she was confident would meet with a rebuff that would only add to the annoyance and danger of the situation. For he is an ugly man and coarse beyond expression, though seemingly honest and very determined in his wishes. So, when she saw me sunk in despair and anxious for death, she did not attempt to reason with me, but rather humored me in my determination, promising me an effective poison, while secretly resolved upon furnishing me with a drug that merely simulated death. For if she could show me to this Montelli in a state that forbade all further hope on his part, she thought his persecutions might cease and that we might obtain the opportunity for escape which seemed our only security. But when the drug having worked, she let the miserable creature in and showed him the result of his importunity and my distress, he was so overcome by what he was pleased to call the beauty of my face that his passion took a new turn, and he only thought of having my picture painted, and, by means of its exhibition, reap that fortune from my features which he has failed to obtain from my voice.

“It makes me blush to tell you this, but Annetta felt powerless to refuse him. So merely eliciting from him the promise that he would leave me hereafter undisturbed, she accepted from him the money which was necessary to robe the couch as he desired, and prepared to receive you, whom he designated as the artist he meant to employ. That I should wake, she knew; but she trusted that we should find you a gentleman, and we have, so much so that I do not believe you will betray us, even if this fanatic insists upon having a painting completed from this sketch.”

“A painting? He shall never have the sketch even!” exclaimed young Degraw. “See your features in the grasp of a coarse man anxious to make money by exposing them to public view! Never! Not if I have to destroy—”

“Don’t!” she cried, grasping his hand in hers, for he had made a movement as if to tear the drawing he had made. “He is a dangerous man. Annetta says he is not to be trusted. If he detects the deception to which this old friend of mine has subjected him, what may we not expect in the way of persecution? Indeed, I dare not trust myself to this unknown man’s mercies. I would rather he thought me dead till—”

“Till what?”

“Till I can fly his reach or so merge myself in some other identity that he will never dare approach me again either as a lover or a friend.”

“Pretty coward! And so you will not trust me to manage this man. I do not fear him.”

“You are not a woman.”

“True. Well, I will humor this whim. I will take the picture and to-morrow Annetta may send him to my studio. Meantime, may I hope that you will sleep sweetly, and without fear?”

“Oh,” she murmured as she caught his look, so unmistakably full of suppressed love; “how can I thank you for your sympathy? How can I reward you for your goodness?”

“By such sleep,” he answered. And taking her hand in his, he carried it to his lips, when, suddenly, from the doorway communicating with the other room, a voice penetrated harshly through the apartment, crying, with a marked foreign accent:

“And who may you be, sir. and what is your business here?”

Chapter 6
A Surprise

To the sound of a scream from the signorina’s lips, young Degraw turned. Before him, in the doorway I have mentioned, he saw standing the slight, dark and unprepossessing figure of a man so evidently Italian in his appearance and bearing, that it did not need the hurried bound and startled exclamation of the Portuguese for him to recognize in this menacing intruder the Signor Montelli.

“So, so, we are to wind up with a scene,” thought he; and instinctively stepped between this stranger and the shrinking figure of the signorina.

But the precaution seemed needless. At the first words uttered by the Portuguese, the Italian broke into a harsh laugh, and drawing the old crone after him, left the room and shut the door behind him. Mr. Degraw, surprised by this sudden departure, stood staring, while the signorina trembled so that she seemed in danger of falling.

“It is very strange,” quoth the former, “He did not seem to notice that the couch was empty and that you stood living and breathing before him. The Portuguese cannot be as true to you as you thought. She must have told him that you would wake—”

“Oh! oh! hush!” broke from the young girl’s lips, as the door opened again and the old woman stepped in. “I am so bewildered, I do not know what to make of all this.” And leaving him, she advanced toward the crone, who met her with a look that added to his surprise and her perplexity.

A short interchange of words followed, and then the old woman drew back and the signorina turned. But with what a different air and with what a different look. Young Degraw would hardly have known her face if he had not already seen it under the influence of various emotions, and when she opened her lips, she seemed to find it so hard to speak, that in mercy he was going to begin the conversation for her, when her trouble found a tongue and she exclaimed:

“I cannot endure any more to-night; you must go and let me find some rest. Perhaps, tomorrow—”

“But this wretch,” he interposed. “Am I to leave you to his mercy?”

“He is gone and Annetta has locked the door. I do not fear him; he will trouble us no more.”

She looked so confident and yet so discouraged, that he did not know what to say. It seemed dreadful to leave her thus, and yet neither in look nor tone could he discover any inducement to stay. All the light had gone out of her face, and she seemed only a waiting image, eager for him to be gone.

He drew a deep breath and held out his hand. “To-morrow, then?” said he.

She nodded, sighed, and something like a sob seemed to rise in her throat.

“Oh, go!” she cried, “go, go!” And she let her hand touch his before she pointed toward the door.

“I will be here at three,” he murmured. And tearing his gaze away from her drooping face and figure, he dashed across the threshold and out into the hall. As the door closed behind him, her sobs broke their bounds, and he distinctly heard her moan. But he dared not go back.

“This last mystery is worse than the first;” so he commented, as he reached the street. “Is the Portuguese a demon, or—” He did not complete his sentence, for just then he caught sight of the figure of a man going on before him toward the avenue, and convinced that it was that of the hated Montelli, he quickened his pace in the hope of overtaking him and coming to some sort of an explanation.

But as soon as his step rung faster, that of the man in front did the same, and though he hurried to the full extent which decency allowed, he did not reach the man nor even catch the car which the other managed to board as it rushed down the somewhat steep incline which marks the avenue at this point.

When he came to think of it, however, he was not sorry that he had missed an encounter with a man, of whose resources and intentions he could know so little. If the signorina was all he believed her, she would preserve herself in safety till the morrow, while if she were not, the sooner he forgot the bewitching face and touching manner, the better. Till to-morrow, then, he would be patient, meanwhile trusting that all good angels would guard the rest of her whom in his inmost heart he felt to be the one woman chosen by Providence to be the light and glory of his life.

His studio, when he returned to it, struck him for the first time in his remembrance as cold and barren. Though the signs of ideal life were about him, and from every quarter of the great room shone images of beauty and the creations of art, he experienced a sensation of desolation and loneliness, that should have warned him of the depth of the experience which he had undergone since he had passed out of this place four hours before. The picture of the fair beauty was the sole object which seemed to possess any interest for him, and struck again by the oddity of the coincidence which had brought him face to face with the woman who had unconsciously furnished him with the basis for this painting, he lit all the gas jets in the room, and sat down to study this work of his in the light of his late encounter.

It was like her and yet it was not like her. The features, the grace, the coloring were all there, but the humanity which made her countenance so engaging, was lacking from this dream-like face.

“I have a fairy here,” he muttered, “but she is a woman. Would it have been better if I had left her such in the painting? No; or I should have had no ‘Dream’ to match my beautiful ‘Reality.’ ” And he tore from his portfolio the sketch which he had made of the signorina, and, with a heart throbbing too fast for comfort, placed it beside the painting he had just been contemplating, and sat down again to study them and compare.

O the exquisite contrast between them! And O the touching grace of his new idol! Could any one see such a face and not love it? Hamilton Degraw could not. Without struggle, without fear, without any doubt of the wisdom of such an abandonment, he let his whole heart go in this hour of silent reverie, and it was not to the rich and gracious unknown that it fled, but to the poor, the desolate and to the menaced singer, with her woeful past and perished ambition.

At three o’clock the next day, he stood again before her house. He had looked for Montelli all the morning; he had even vaguely expected the Portuguese, but his quiet had been undisturbed and his studio unvisited. It was, therefore, with faint apprehensions of possible evil that he rang the bell and waited for the answer, which was longer in coming to-day than it was yesterday.

At last, after two or three smart rings, the door swung back, and he saw the same inane-looking girl before him, backed by the same, unfurnished and lonesome hall; but there was no loneliness there for him. She was within, and that would have made prison walls attractive.

“The Signorina Valdi?” he inquired. “Shall I find her in her rooms? Shall I go up, as I did yesterday?”

The girl stared, looked helpless, and made no response.

“She must be deaf,” he decided, and was pushing by her, when she caught him by the sleeve, violently shaking her head.

“What do you mean?” he asked. “Is she not there? Shall I not find her?”

The girl evidently did not comprehend him, but went on shaking her head, even after he, irritated and alarmed beyond endurance, tore his arm away and rushed up-stairs into the hall above. But he no longer busied himself about her. He was on the floor with the signorina, and bounding to the first door he saw, he vigorously rapped, and when he got no answer from within, passed to the next door, and so on till he reached the one by which he had entered the day before.

Here he no longer hesitated, but turned the knob. The door opened without difficulty, and at the first glimpse he got of the space within, young Degraw started back in dismay. The floor was bare, the walls denuded, the room unfurnished. Uttering a cry, he dashed around to that inner door in which he had last seen Montelli standing, and which, as you remember, communicated with the apartment where he had held his wonderful interview with the signorina. It was standing open, and beyond it all was as empty and bare as the space in which he stood.

“Is she gone! Have I lost her?” was his cry, and he dashed from one end of the room to the other, searching for traces of a farewell he could not believe to be final, or of an escape which her dangerous position with Montelli had doubtless prompted. But he found nothing, and, moved by a thousand emotions, he hastened back into the hall and up another flight of stairs, determined upon discovering some one who could explain this mystery to him.

Chapter 7
A Great Day At Police Headquarters

His success was but partial. The rooms above were occupied, but only by lodgers, who knew nothing more of the signorina’s departure than that it had taken place early in the morning. They had been told she was ill, and from her appearance had thought she was dying or dead, but when the time came, as they supposed, for a funeral, behold! a storage wagon drove up and took away her furniture, and afterward, to their unbounded surprise, there came a carriage from the livery-stable, into which not only the strange Portuguese woman stepped, but the signorina herself, alive and well and seemingly in excellent health, if not spirits. They could not understand it and could get no explanation from any one, as the house was without a landlady and none of the other lodgers were any better informed than themselves.

Mr. Degraw suggested that perhaps the girl who attended the front door might be able to tell something, but they assured him to the contrary, explaining that she was not only stone deaf but dumb, and that she only went to the door when sent by some one. It was therefore evident that he was but wasting time in lingering about the house, and once convinced of this, he made haste to depart.

But when in the street, a sense of his helplessness came over him. An artist unaccustomed to the practical side of life, he knew nothing of the expedients which would have suggested themselves to other men, and after a few more fruitless inquiries among the neighbors, he turned back to the studio, a disappointed and disconsolate man. The adorable young singer was gone, and with her had fled the first real dream of love that had ever disturbed the even tenor of his hitherto careless existence.

He was brooding upon his adventure and comforting himself with the thought that the signorina had at least gone away of her own free will and without the companionship of Montelli, when a friend came in. It was not a welcome interruption, but before many minutes had passed, he determined to make use of it by submitting his case to this man of the world, and learning from him how he could hope to renew an acquaintance which had been broken off in this sudden and unceremonious fashion. Not that he meant to mention names or give any of the particulars so dear to his heart, for whether she was the persecuted being he thought her, in the toils and subject to the dominion of the traitorous Portuguese and the abominable Montelli, or whether she was a simple and capricious child, only anxious for change and thinking nothing of him and his feelings, he felt that she was equally sacred to him and not to be discussed except with one who knew her and esteemed her as much as he did himself.

It was, therefore, with most aggravating vagueness that he spoke; a vagueness which, indeed, told its own tale and caused the friend he had chosen to consult to take on a bantering tone, indescribably offensive to the sensitive Degraw. But he did not choose to reveal his feelings and expressed himself as duly gratified when his friend suggested first, an advertisement in the Herald, and secondly, an appeal to the police; an advertisement was, in this instance, so likely to receive a response, and it was invariably so agreeable to consult the police on a personal matter. But when, after more bantering and one or more sarcastic remarks, his friend left, he asked himself what other advice he could have expected and wondered he had not thought of the police himself. For if, as he most feared, the young girl had been lured away by false representations, where else could he look for more effective help both in finding her and in securing for her the safety her defenseless and friendless position demanded. Yet he recoiled, as most sensitive natures would, from carrying her name into quarters associated so intimately with crime, and might, indeed, have abandoned the whole matter rather than run the risk of doing her further harm, if he had not remembered that an old friend of his, by the name of Byrd, had, by force of circumstances, unnecessary to mention here, been drawn into the service of the police and numbered among its most useful detectives.

To him he did not fear to go, for honesty and delicacy were both traits of the man and could not have left him in the new employment in which he was then engaged. So, with the first opportunity that presented itself, Mr. Degraw went to the police headquarters, and, asking for Mr. Byrd, was shown into an office, where he was requested to wait till that person should be at liberty.

This was new occupation for this man of ideals, and he began to wish that he had remained at home with his finished “Dream” and his yet-to-be-painted “Reality.” But as the moments flew, he began to be interested in the surroundings, in spite of himself, and by the time Byrd finally made his appearance, had already captured upon the leaves of the small sketch-book he invariably carried with him the outlines of one or two heads to match the voices which had floated to him from the adjoining rooms.

“Degraw, is that you?”

There was surprise in the genial tones; an artist and a detective do not often meet.

“So you have not forgotten me?”

“Forgotten you, and you the most famous of the rising school of artists! Well, no, I have not forgotten you; but I certainly thought, and with but little surprise, I own, that you had forgotten me.”

Young Degraw blushed, for in a certain sense he had done this. Byrd saw it, but took no offense.

He knew his position, and did not expect much sympathy out of his own circle. Smiling, he hastened to relieve the other’s embarrassment.

“You want something from me. Affairs have gone amiss with you, or you are in difficulty of some kind. Well, I am your man. I have had experience lately, and it is all at your service.”

Mr. Degraw felt relieved of a weight. There was in the detective’s regard such an evidence of kindly instincts and straightforward purpose. He at once felt that here was his best counselor, and, if necessary, assistant. To him he could reveal the whole truth, and from him receive just the aid which the circumstances demanded.

Giving him a look full of recognition, Mr. Degraw immediately unburdened his heart,

“You say I want something,” he cried. “I do, I want to learn the fate of a young girl—why do you start at that?”

The detective, who certainly had started, recovered himself instantly.

“Did I start?” he asked, with an assumption of carelessness. “Go on, Degraw. You wish to learn the fate of a young girl, you say—”

“Yes,” assented the artist; “a young girl whom I have seen but once, but who, in that one interview, awakened in me so lively an interest that I can never rest till I have gathered some knowledge of her present whereabouts. Her name may not be unknown to you. It is Selina Valdi, or, rather,” he corrected himself almost in the same way in which she had done, “that is the name by which she is known at present, Her real name I am not acquainted with. She began to tell me and got as far as saying ‘Jenny’ and there she stopped.”

Mr. Byrd, whose interest seemed to have fallen off with the first explanation, recovered his eagerness at the last.

“Jenny,” he repeated, “Jenny. What a pity you did not hear the last name! And she has disappeared! Tell me the whole story; I am anxious to hear it.”

Whereupon Mr. Degraw related his late adventure, while Byrd listened eagerly, and when all was finished, looked the more serious of the two.

“I wish she had told you her whole name,” he repeated. “What a remarkable adventure!”

“But the signorina! What do you suppose has become of her?”

“That we must find out. Not that I should consider it in our province to do so, if—”

“If what, Byrd?”

But the detective did not answer; he was looking at Degraw very thoughtfully.

“You seem to be more interested,” said he, “in this young girl than men usually are after a single interview.”

“Single interviews are not often of such a nature,” returned Degraw. “Besides, there was something about her so touching that it would have taken a harder heart than mine to resist so much innocence and beauty.”

“I can believe it,” assented the other. Then, with a sort of precipitancy, he exclaimed: “Dark eyes, you say, dark hair inclined to curl and a beautiful figure. Mr. Degraw, I am sorry to inform you that we have just received notice that a person answering to this description has been found,”

“Where, where?”

“In a distant alley-way, lying on the ground—”

“Dead?”

“Dead.”

“It is not she; I know it is not she. I cannot, will not have it the signorina.”

“I hope you are right; I sincerely hope you are right; but she had a packet by her side, and in that packet was a handkerchief, and on that handkerchief a name was written, and that name is—”

“Jenny?”

“Jenny Rogers.”

“But she calls herself Valdi, Selina Valdi; has been known as Selina Valdi for years. Whatever her original name might be, she would have ‘Valdi’ and only ‘Valdi’ on her kerchief.”

“I do not think it good reasoning; but no matter about that. It is a question easily settled. All you have got to do is to accompany me to a neighboring station. One glance at her face—”

“I had rather not do it. I have had enough of such excitement lately. Yet I would never forgive myself if it were really she, and I shirked the responsibility of the recognition. Let us go, Byrd, let us go.”

The detective expressed himself as ready, and they started. One glimpse, and Degraw became a new man. It was not she.

“Singular,” muttered Byrd, “that they should both be named Jenny.”

But, on their return, he was tempted to mutter something more emphatic, for just as they stepped into the building, they heard a voice, speaking out in loud and shrill tones:

“A girl missing from your school? And what is her name, please?”

“It is Jenny—Jenny Rogers.”

“Ah! And how does she look? What is her complexion and the color of her hair?”

“Fair, sir; very fair. Her eyes are blue, and her hair a bright yellow.”

At this unexpected response, Byrd, who had been turning to speak to Degraw, stared, and exclaimed, in his astonishment:

“Fair? The woman cannot know what she is talking about.” And, pushing forward, he dragged Degraw to the place where this colloquy was taking place.

“She is an orphan,” the good woman was now saying, “or I should not feel so badly about her disappearance; and she is so pretty, too, and so—”

“But fair?” Byrd here put in, with a deprecatory glance at the inspector to whom the other was speaking.

“Oh, yes, sir, white as a lily. There was not a bluer-eyed girl in the school.”

“And her name?”

“Is Jenny Rogers.”

Byrd was silent and presently drew back.

“The dead girl is no blonde!” he cried. “Her Jenny Rogers is not our Jenny Rogers; yet how curious! Two Jenny Rogerses on our books to-day and—”

Here he was tapped on the shoulder by an elderly man whose countenance at once attracted the artist by its keenness and good-nature.

“You’re wanted,” was his word to the young detective. “Something odd has turned up.”

Byrd nodded and glanced at his companion.

“May I bring this gentleman? He is secrecy itself.”

The other, who did not seem to think it necessary to look at the person thus commended, smiled in an indulgent sort of way, and remarked:

“If he knows of any one by the name of Jenny Rogers, he will be only too welcome. But I hardly think—”

“I know a Jenny,” interposed Degraw, with a hasty look at Byrd. “And though her name may or may not be Rogers, she has left her lodgings under circumstances so mysterious that I have come here for the express purpose of gaining information in regard to her.”

“Humph! and her last name is not Rogers!”

“That I cannot say. It is not the name she is generally known by, which is—”

Byrd pinched his arm. “We won’t detain Mr. Gryce,” said he. Then turning to the other: “May I bring him along? We have already been together to Station —, to see one Jenny Rogers, and he has just heard this woman, who has just come in, tell of the disappearance of another, and, consequently, we are both profoundly interested in anything which touches upon this especial subject. I can vouch for his discretion, and—”

“Come along,” interposed the other. “We have a clue to the mystery, and a remarkable one it is, too.” And without further parley, he led them into a private apartment where several men were already congregated around a slim young fellow of a good countenance and frank manner, and, as they soon found, of a mellow and confidence-inspiring voice.

Pausing in the background, Mr. Gryce laid his finger on his mouth. They at once stood still and listened.

“It is a short story,” the young man was saying, “and of course I don’t mind repeating it. About a month ago, I was lying in my bed with my window up, I live in Sixteenth street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues, and my room is a front one overlooking the street. I was awake, although it was nearly one o’clock, and was thinking, as we all do, of innumerable matters of no pressing importance, when suddenly I heard steps coming down the street, and in another moment caught the sound of two voices, that of a man and that of a woman, which, as the couple passed under my window, resolved themselves into words, and I heard the woman say: ‘But if some other Jenny Rogers should get the start of me, what then?’ At which the man spoke up harshly and with great energy: ‘Don’t let that trouble you. In a month from now, there will not be another young girl by the name of Jenny Rogers remaining in town. I will see to them, do you see to—’ That is all, gentlemen; they had passed and I heard no more. But what they had said troubled me, and when I saw by last night’s paper that Mr. Rogers, of Fifty-sixth street, had lost his charming child Jenny by a sudden illness, I was so overwhelmed that I determined to acquaint the authorities of the mysterious threat which I had overheard, in the hopes that, if a conspiracy was really in progress against the girls of this name, you would be able to fathom it and cut it short.”

“Merciful powers!”

The exclamation had come from Degraw, As for the detectives surrounding him, they looked as if they had struck a gold mine. A conspiracy, and three victims, and possibly four, already known to them! What a day lay before them! No drones in the hive to-day. Each and every one would have his task.

So much repressed excitement agitated Degraw. Seizing Byrd by the arm, he drew him to one side and asked him what he thought he might reasonably expect. Byrd replied that he did not know what to say just yet, but that if the signorina’s name was Jenny Rogers and she should thus be included in the category of the young girls doomed by the two unknown conspirators, it would soon become manifest in the extensive inquiries that were about to be made. He could do no better, then, than to return home, trust the authorities, and await the result in secrecy and patience.

It was a hard task for one of the artist’s ardent temperament, but it seemed to be the only one before him, so trusting his friend whose interest was now thoroughly aroused, he left the building and took his way back to his studio. As he went, he seemed to hear nothing but those two words ringing in his ears: “Jenny Rogers,” “Jenny Rogers,” and when a friend passed him, as more than once occurred, it seemed as if the first words trembling from that friend’s lips ought to be;

“Have you heard of the conspiracy against girls of the name of Jenny Rogers? Two already have died and another one is missing. They say the Signorina Valdi is an American, and that her name is Jenny Rogers. If so, she will soon be found missing also, and if not missing, then dead.”

Chapter 8
The Jenny Rogers Mystery

Late on this same day, the inspector sat before his desk, studying the various reports of his subordinates. Those relating to the Jenny Rogers inquiry lay in one pile and those relating to other matters in another. With the former alone are we interested. Without attempting to reproduce them literally, I will transcribe for you their substance, as I take it for granted that you take enough interest in this affair to wish to know what discoveries had been made in relation to it.

* * * * * * * * * *

First, there are nearly three hundred families of the name of “Rogers” mentioned in the New York directory. Of these, forty have been found to contain a “Jenny” ten of whom are infants, and five of advanced years. Ten more are married, leaving only fifteen of the age and condition necessary to include them in the category of young girls. One of these died yesterday, the daughter of Abram Rogers, living in Fifty-sixth street. Her disease was scarlet fever, and her death was a legitimate one. There is, however, one fact connected with it that we have thought it well enough to record. Some three weeks before any signs of disease had developed in this girl, she came to her mother and told her that she was haunted by a strange man. We should have said shadowed, for when her mother forced her to explain, she told how a certain man whom she did not know, but who had every appearance of being a gentleman of means and culture, was continually being met by her in the street, at church and on the school steps. How he had looked at her, not disrespectfully but too intently for her to doubt that his interest was the result of some strong motive, and though he never addressed her, he always had the appearance of being on the verge of doing so. She was not afraid of him but she would rather not walk out alone, and after this confession, her parents took good measures that she should not be called upon to do so. Two weeks later, she was taken ill, and on the morning of her death, which was yesterday, a strange gentleman called at the house and asked for her. He was told the sad news and seemed much shocked, but turned immediately away. A relative who caught a glimpse of him at the door declares him to be the same person who had so diligently haunted the young girl’s steps.

* * * * * * * * * *

Miss Hadden’s school having been visited, certain facts have come to light in reference to the young girl who was reported this morning as missing. She is the last representative of an old Detroit family. Her fortune is considerable, and she has for a guardian a highly respectable gentleman in Detroit. She is pretty and generous, but headstrong. To her schoolmates, she is all openness and affection, but to her teachers, reserved, if not sly and willful. She, too, has been haunted by an unknown gentleman, and was so affected by what she chose to consider his honorable attentions, that she seemed to lose her judgment, and fancy he was a lover whose passion it was her duty to return. Influenced by these impressions, her manner had grown languishing, and she had been found more than once scribbling notes and verses to the handsome unknown. Her disappearance, which was not unaccompanied by tokens of premeditation, is laid by her schoolmates to the arts of this secret suitor, and they expect to hear very soon of a private marriage between this foolish girl and the gentleman above mentioned.

So much for current gossip. More private inquiries elicited further and less well-known facts. A teacher, who had watched the girl narrowly, says that she does not look for any such termination of the affair; that the gentleman, who was one of many visitors on a certain exhibition day, had seemed more interested in her name than in herself, for he had asked if there was any girl in the school by the name of Jenny Rogers; and, when told yes, had looked with deep interest at the person designated. But it was not with a lover’s interest, or so the demure teacher persisted in declaring. But, whether this be true or not, a large reward has been offered to the man who shall first discover her present whereabouts.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The identity of the girl found dead in Blind Alley this morning has been settled. Several persons, among them her employer and the woman with whom she lived, have testified to her features as those of an orphan girl by the name of Jenny Rogers, who worked in the large shirt-factory in Wooster street, near Broome. Inquiry into her character proves her to have been both virtuous and industrious; but she was sickly, and her death, which seems to have been sudden, was, according to present appearances, solely the result of a fright given by the following anonymous letter, which was found in her room:

“New York, May 25, 1887       

“Miss Jenny Rogers: Will you let a true friend warn you? Though you seem at present unconscious of the fact, you have a desperate enemy, who has sworn to be the ruin of you. He is not a common man, and will certainly accomplish whatever he desires. Whether his determination springs from too much love or too much hate, I can not tell; but he has singled you out as his victim, and, before long, you may expect to see yourself visited by a fine-looking and uncommonly pleasing gentleman, who will talk fairly to you, but who at heart means you nothing but wrong and suffering. Lest you should not know him when you see him, I will describe him in advance. He is tall, with dark hair and mustache, gray eyes, and a polite manner. At sight of such a man, flee; it is your only safety.

               “With best wishes, ‘A FRIEND.’ ”

This letter, according to the landlady with whom she lived, was given her yesterday evening upon her return from the factory; and, though she did not tell anybody about it, she manifested so much uneasiness all night, that the people in the next room complained of being disturbed. But in the morning, she was so quiet that the landlady became alarmed and went into her room, when she found that the young girl had not only gone away, but had carried off most of her few effects. This was a great surprise, as Jenny had always seemed both honest and considerate. But it was followed by a still greater surprise. For, a few minutes later, before the landlady had left the room, in fact, a strange gentleman called upon this girl, with a large packet of extra work in his arms, and upon hearing she had gone out without leaving any word, expressed himself much astonished, since she had promised to be at home to see him. He did not give his name, but he was tall, good-looking, with a black mustache and gray eyes. He left the work and went away, looking much put out and disappointed.

Meanwhile, poor Jenny Rogers, who, if she had expected him as he had said, had taken most certain means of escaping him, was lying in an alley near by, dead. She had run, as several testify, for two long blocks down North Moore street, and if, as some think, she was troubled with heart disease, her death is explained. But this cannot be settled till the autopsy takes place.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The original name of the Signorina Valdi has been found to have been this same fatal one of Jenny Rogers.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Signed by different names, these various reports interested the inspector greatly. Pondering upon them, he decided that the evidences of a conspiracy against girls of this name were good, and that the strange gentleman who appeared in all these reports saving the last was one and the same man. A detective was, therefore, called and given such clews to this mysterious individual as could be gathered from these various reports, with an injunction to have him forthcoming in time for the inquest soon to be held over the remains of the poor girl found in the alley-way.

Chapter 9
Horace Byrd

Late at night, there sat in a small room two men. Their figures are familiar, yet perhaps it is best to describe them. One is large, benevolent-looking and elderly, with a smooth face and kindly bearing, but with a curious mannerism affecting all his actions that at once draws attention and inspires inquiry. He never looks at the person he addresses, but gives all his glances and seemingly all his attention to some insignificant object in his vicinity, filling it with his confidences and extracting from it the inspiration which most men gather from the eye or smile of those with whom they are conversing.

Whether this is a mere habit caught in the long exercise of a calling demanding secrecy of intention, or whether it is the result of a deliberate determination on this man’s part to seem to know less and see less than he really does, has never been decided, even by those most nearly connected with him. But that it marks the man and gives him a power at once weird and controlling, no one has ever disputed, not even those who suffer most from his talents. These are the aspiring ones who seek to compete with him in his success and invariably fail, though he is an old man now, verging on to seventy, and both from age and infirmity in no condition to engage in the active exercise of that detective work which has employed his energies for so many years.

The other is a young man of a well-built frame, attractive features, good expression and cultivated manners. He is a detective, too, but neither in speech, look nor action does he show it; hence his usefulness and growing favor with the chief. The names of these men are Gryce and Byrd, names, as I have said, with which you are familiar, even if you have never seen them mentioned save in this narrative.

They are talking, and Mr. Gryce’s voice is the one we hear first.

“The reward, of course, is a fine one, but friendship has some claims, and I think the traces you should follow are those of the disappointed prima donna. If, in doing this, you strike, as is probable enough, upon the clew we are all in search of, viz.: the secret of a conspiracy involving so many girls of one name, virtue will have its reward in more senses than one, and I for one shall congratulate you; but if you do not, and yet find the signorina, and so relieve Degraw from his anxieties, why, you will have done a good work that will always give you satisfaction. The man with the black mustache and gray eyes who has been seen in connection with every one of these girls, but the signorina, will not be found so readily. The daughter of Abram Rogers is buried, and consequently his interest in her is ended; the publicity attending the inquest following the death of the girl in Blind Alley will frighten him away from her, while the similarity between the name of the heiress and these two other victims to his machinations will deter him from being seen with her till public attention has been drawn from the name and all those who have been known to bear it. But the Signorina Valdi has not been known to have borne it, except by very few persons. With her, he may yet carry on his schemes, whatever they may be, with seeming impunity. If, therefore, he is the strong man he appears, and if the conspiracy, as we have termed it, has any good reason for being, you will find her in the toils or under the influence of this man whose name may or may not be Montelli, but who is certainly a person of resources demanding all our skill and energy in tracing him.”

“Mr. Gryce, how can I thank you? You fire me at once with courage and enthusiasm. I hated to miss the reward, for I needed it, but if judgment points in the same direction as duty, how easy it will be for me to go forward.”

“True; but remember that I promise nothing. I only point out the course I should follow if I were of your age, and engaged in active service.”

“That is all that is necessary. I desire no wiser mentor nor more disinterested friend. And now let us look into the clews I have picked up in my day’s search, and decide as to which one I shall follow first. It will not take long, for the facts are few and meager.”

The old detective showed his interest in his usual benevolent way, and, after a short discussion, too technical to be interesting to the reader, the two men parted, and Byrd returned home. The next morning he called at Mr. Degraw’s studio,

“I should like to see the sketch you drew of Signorina Valdi.”

Mr. Degraw hastened to show it, meanwhile overwhelming the detective with questions.

“What have you discovered? Whom have you seen? What hope is there of finding her?”

But Byrd was reticent.

“I have discovered nothing as yet,” he replied. “The task you have given me is not an easy one. Were her beauty less, or her characteristics not so pronounced, I should almost despair of solving the mystery that surrounds her; but with such a face as hers, she cannot long remain anywhere unnoticed; and now that I know its characteristics, the chances are fewer still of her escaping me. If you were to photograph this—”

The artist shook his head.

“I have an invincible repugnance to making her features the common property of a dozen police officers. The case does not seem sufficiently pressing. If you can get along without it, do. I am sure her womanly delicacy should be considered.”

“I will try; but it may occasion delay. Have you Montelli’s note about you?”

“I believe so; yes, here it is.”

“I suppose you have no objection to letting me have that?”

“None whatever,”

“And now for a minute description of this Italian.”

“I only saw him for an instant, but in that instant I got the impression of a tall, slim man, of decided dark complexion, and lowering glance. He wore a black mustache, and had a sinister and uncanny expression, that made a most disagreeable impression upon the beholder. Yet his form was not bad, and by some people he might even be called a gentleman, though I should never describe him as such. But then, I hate him, and with reason, for I believe him to be the cause of the signorina’s abrupt departure.”

“I wish your description had been a little different. I wish it had tallied more with that given of the gentleman haunting the other three girls. Sinister, eh? and dark? That is not what is said of the urbane stranger who visited Miss Hadden’s school, and lay in wait to view Mr. Rogers’ young daughter.”

“What are you talking about?” exclaimed Degraw, getting excited. “Is there—”

But Byrd with a gesture stopped all questioning.

“I let my thoughts out somewhat carelessly,” he acknowledged. “Montelli is, undoubtedly, what the Portuguese describes him to be. I only wished to make sure. Do you think you could, by a few strokes, give me an idea of his face?”

Degraw shook his head.

“I fear my impressions are too vague,” said he. “But let me have that paper.” And taking the note which he had previously given to Byrd, he attempted, by a few lines on its back, to give some idea of the Italian’s features. He succeeded imperfectly, while Byrd, who was no mean artist himself, employed his time of waiting by roughly, but not inaccurately, copying into his note-book the face of the signorina.

“For my own use,” he explained, showing it to the wondering Degraw. And taking the other sketch, he buttoned them both up in his pocket, with a look that forbade further questioning. “And now, good-bye,” said he. “As soon as I get hold of anything definite I will let you know. Till then be easy. Remember that twenty detectives besides myself are on the track of the unknown man who seems to be making all this mischief.”

“Wait! don’t go, Byrd, till you have made one thing clear to me. You have hinted to me that you thought that Montelli and he might be one and the same. If so, the signorina would be but one of the several involved in a plot, of which, I dare say, even you do not know either the motive or workings.”

“You are not far wrong.”

“But two of the victims of this plot have died?”

“Natural deaths, Degraw.”

“Natural deaths? Are you sure?”

“Sure of one and as sure of the other as I can be, till after the autopsy that will be made to-day.”

“But—”

“Go to the inquest, Degraw, It will take up your mind and keep you from too great impatience. I will write you, in two days, whether I have news or not.”

But the artist was not yet ready to see the other go.

“I want to give my opinion,” said he, “before I say good-bye. I do not think that Montelli is interested in any one but the signorina, and as for the unknown, I do not think he is near as much to be feared as the deceiving Portuguese.”

“We will see, we will see. Meantime, every minute that I linger here puts off by so much time the hour of her discovery.”

“Then go; I would not detain you another minute.” And as eager now to see the detective depart as he had hitherto been to detain him, he fairly pushed him toward the door.

But now Byrd chose to halt a moment.

“Why, whom have we here?” he asked, pointing to the picture which Degraw had denominated “The Poet’s Dream.” “It looks as if you had been trying to paint Miss Aspinwall.”

“Miss Aspinwall?”

“Old Lemuel Aspinwall’s daughter, the beauty of upper Fifth Avenue.”

“Well, perhaps I have. Do you recognize the face?”

“Perfectly.”

“Then I am much obliged to you. I have always wished to know my model’s name. I saw her in a crowd, and this is the result. But I never found any one before who could tell me who she is. Not that I have made any strenuous efforts to find out, for, as you see, the picture is not yet off my easel.”

“Well, I congratulate you, it is a beautiful painting, but—”

Degraw stopped him just at the door.

“Your knowledge of the original of this picture has given another interest to it. Miss Aspinwall—since you say that it is her name—is the lady whom I saw strewing flowers over the signorina, when I first went into the room.”

“You don’t say so. Well, I must hear about that.”

“There is not much to hear. We interchanged no words, for I was too much astonished at her presence to be master of my usual self-possession, while she was only too glad to escape from the room and what must have seemed to her my somewhat importunate gaze.”

“But she is a friend of Signorina Valdi; must be, or she would not have been showing her such an attention.”

“I do not think she is a friend. The signorina, whom I questioned on the subject, said she did not know who she was, but thought she must be a pupil of her old master, who had formerly shown a secret interest in her.”

“Well, I am glad to have located this person. Something may come of it. Who can tell? It is often the most unlikely clews that lead to the desired knowledge.”

And, with a bow and good-day, Byrd finally disappeared.

Early in the afternoon, Hamilton Degraw went out to buy a paper. Turning at once to the local news column, he found that the autopsy in which he was interested had taken place, with the result prophesied by Byrd. It was a great relief, for had the girl been found to be the victim of violence, he would not have had a minute’s rest in regard to the signorina, notwithstanding his opinion in regard to Montelli. Of the plot or conspiracy of which he had heard while at Police Headquarters, there was no mention, the authorities, for once, having succeeded in baffling the reporters in regard to a matter which it was desirable for the present to keep secret. But of the Signorina Valdi, he found this trace in one corner of the great paper:

“The report which was current this morning concerning the death of Signorina Valdi, whose disastrous attempt to sing the role of Margherita will be remembered by many of our readers, has been proven false. She is not dead, but absent, having left her late apartments at 391 East street for other quarters at present unknown.”

Calmed in a measure, the artist went back to his studio. There were yet hours and days to wait before he could hope to get any decided news.

Chapter 10
Miss Rogers Of Detroit

Mr. Gryce’s intuitions were seldom at fault. He had said to Mr. Byrd that the unknown would not be found with the heiress who had fled from Miss Hadden’s school, and behold! within the course of the next day, came word from Miss Hadden herself that Miss Rogers had returned to the school with the crestfallen air of one who had suffered a great disappointment.

The inspector at once notified Mr. Gryce, and advised him to visit Miss Rogers and see if he could not obtain from her such particulars of her late escape as would assist them in determining upon the identity of the gentleman who had instigated it.

The elderly detective, who was both by nature and appearance eminently adapted for this work, at once departed for Miss Hadden’s school, where, after a short interview with its mistress, he was admitted to a small apartment, where he was requested to await the appearance of Miss Rogers. The delay was short. In a few minutes, a young lady entered in whom he had no difficulty in recognizing the somewhat pretty and decidedly willful girl in whose erratic adventures he at present took so strong an interest.

“Miss Rogers, I believe,” said he, with an air at once respectful and encouraging.

“Oh, who are you?” she asked, changing in a moment from the half-pettish, half-coquettish creature he had seen enter into a woman both startled and frightened.

“I am your friend, to begin with,” was his reassuring reply; “and next, I am an old man who has seen much of life and who has a world of compassion for those who have as yet all its experiences before them.”

She had not sat down, and was standing before him in an attitude that betokened more readiness for flight than desire to listen. “But you are a stranger,” she declared; “I do not even know your name. Why do you speak to me of compassion? I was not aware—” Her voice broke; she was too young and inexperienced to be a good actress.

“I speak of compassion,” said he, “because of all griefs we mortals are called upon to endure, that of losing confidence in our friends is at once the deepest and the keenest. I know that you have suffered such a loss. No, do not go. I have something of too much importance to say to you to depart without hearing it.”

He looked so benevolent and smiled so reassuringly that she immediately took courage. Flinging caution to the winds, she gasped out in sudden excitement:

“Have you brought me a message from him? Does he regret—” She paused. Ignorant as she was of life, she felt that she was on the point of compromising herself. “You do not answer,” she pettishly exclaimed. “I have made a mistake; let me go.”

She was not a beautiful girl, attractive as many considered her who saw nothing but her dazzling complexion and the abundant masses of her light brown hair. But she was a spoiled one, and at this moment bore herself so haughtily that she looked almost unmanageable to the shrewd old detective.

But he was no novice in interviews of this kind. Smiling quietly, he remarked, with his accustomed air of benevolence:

“I do not answer because I dread your displeasure. I have no message from the gentleman to whom you allude, but I have one for him. If he calls upon you, as he may, please ask him how many ladies of the name of Rogers he has made himself agreeable to, lately; and if he does not recoil at that, ask him how many more he hopes to bring into the police courts before he is summoned there himself.”

“What do you mean?” sprang from the lips of the startled girl he was addressing. He had frightened her and he had aroused her interest. That was what he sought, and he secretly smiled over his success. “I do not understand you. Police courts? Oh, who are you? Not a police officer, I hope.”

“You might make a worse guess, Miss Rogers. I am a detective grown old in the service. But that need not alarm you, for my experiences have not made me either hard or pitiless. The gentleman you refer to is a rogue. That is why I am here and why I beg you to listen while I make clear to you the narrowness of your escape from a man without honor or respectability.”

“Oh! Oh!” came in hurried pants from her white lips. Her face had lost its disdain, and the eyes she fixed upon his were wide open and pleading, There was no evil in them, only the shame of a proud nature caught in an act of folly. “What are you telling me,” she cried. “A rogue? I think you must be mistaken. I know a gentleman when I see him, and though I am only seventeen, I am not so childish as to be entirely deceived in those I meet. We are talking about different men or you are the victim of some mistake.”

“We can easily determine that,” said he. “What is the name of the gentleman of whom you are speaking?”

“I would rather not mention names.”

He was not looking at her; he never looked at any one; but for all that, his eyes had a peculiar expression, for which the pen-wiper he was honoring with his gaze may have been responsible. But I doubt it.

“No names?” he replied. “Very well, we will try to get at the truth in some other way, then.”

And taking a paper from his pocket, he opened it deliberately, then, laying it on his knee, put on a pair of glasses and observed:

“I am going to read to you a description, not of the gentleman in whom you have such confidence, but of another, equally nameless, who has been seen flitting around a young lady of the same name as yourself, living, but a short time ago, in Fifty-sixth street.”

And lifting the paper, he read aloud these words: “According to the description given by such persons as have observed this gentleman, he is tall, well-formed, affable in manner and pleasing in address. His complexion is medium, his hair and mustache dark, and his eyes gray. He is what would be called by all persons a gentleman, and by most a handsome man. He is above all a strong character, bearing evidence in look and carriage of great force of disposition and a determined will.”

The detective paused, folded the paper, and laid it on a table near by. Miss Rogers was blushing

“That, as I have informed you,” continued the other, “is what persons say of the man who paid court to, or at least, showed his interest in the young lady I have mentioned, by hovering about her steps and following her to church and other public places. She has since died, so I cannot get her description of him but must rely upon that of her friends. Did you ever see any one like him?”

The abashed girl bowed her head. She was trembling in every limb but she did not choose to speak, and he did not urge her to do so.

“You will pardon me,” he now pursued, “if I trouble you with a second description. This is of a gentleman who lately began the persecution of a young girl also bearing your name, but without the worldly advantages belonging to yourself or to the last-mentioned lady. She was a working-girl, but pretty, good, and, to all appearances, happy, till she came across this gentleman. He is said by those who have seen him, to be tall, handsome, prepossessing-looking, of age about thirty, complexion medium, hair dark, a large mustache and gray eyes. Did you ever see such a man as he?”

“Don’t ask me. You startle and surprise me beyond all endurance. What does it all mean, and what is there in the name of Rogers that only persons of that name should receive this man’s attention?”

“It is not only the name of Rogers,” remarked the detective, kindly. “Each one of these girls was a Jenny also.”

“A Jenny? You frighten me, sir; or rather you awaken my suspicions as to your veracity. Is it truth you have been telling me? Have you not been amusing me with fairy-tales. I cannot believe—”

“Miss Rogers, you were sent into my presence by Miss Hadden. Had she possessed any doubt of my integrity, she would never have risked the displeasure of your guardian by encouraging this interview. You may trust me; all that I have told you is true.”

“Then I have indeed been inveigled into a doubtful proceeding by a most despicable rogue. The description you have given of the man who followed the young lady who has since died, and who had begun to follow another—”

“Who has since died.”

“Sir?”

“The poor working-girl has suffered the same fate as that of the young lady of Thirty-sixth street,” declared Mr. Gryce. “Neither was killed, yet both have perished; one from a malignant fever, the other from over-excitement preying on an enfeebled frame.”

“Oh, where is my guardian? I wish to go home. I am afraid of this horrible New York. It is full of deceit and shame and misery.”

The detective saw she was on the verge of hysterics, and waited respectfully for her self-possession to return.

“I am sure,” he observed at last, “that your guardian will be one of the first to urge your return, if he can be convinced that you are in any danger. If you will tell me just what has passed between you and this man—”

“Oh, very little; so very little that I am overwhelmed at the indiscretion which led me to leave the school just to see a person whose personal appearance and pretended admiration had attracted me. I do not understand now how I could have allowed myself to listen to him. I am horrified at myself, and I hate him so that—”

“That you are only anxious to see him punished. Is not that so, Miss Rogers?”

“Anxious? I would give hundreds of dollars—”

“Give me something less; give me your confidence. I will respect it, and only use such facts as will lead to his detection.”

“Ah, that is what you want from me. Well, I am only too happy, only—”

She paused, clasping her hands in sudden confusion and dismay.

“What a scandal!” she exclaimed, “How can I bear the shame of it and all the talk? And the police courts—you spoke of them—Oh, do not tell me I shall have to go there, I should die of confusion and horror. My guardian—”

“Do not think of that. If you can be saved from publicity, you shall. At present, we want nothing more than a short account of what has occurred between you and this mysterious person in the short interval of time during which you were absent from the school. Did you succeed in meeting him? Was he at the place appointed? For I take it for granted he had entreated the honor of an interview.”

“Yes, yes; but I am glad he failed to come. I went to Jersey City; I, who had never been in the streets before without a companion. He had written me a note—but you shall see it. I cannot keep this matter any longer to myself and you look so good, if you are a detective, that I cannot help but trust you. Besides, perhaps, when you see what tempted me, you will not think so harshly of my folly. I did not mean any great wrong; but was carried away by what seemed so like the romantic adventures of some of my favorite heroines. But then, in books, the lovers are always gentlemen, while mine—but here is the letter. Look for yourself, sir. It came by mail, the day before yesterday. Ah! how long ago it seems now.”

She fumbled in her pocket and brought out a note. The detective’s eyes glowed; he was attaining the object of his wishes with less difficulty than he had anticipated.

“All that had passed between this person and me, before I received this letter, was an interchanged glance or so. I had passed him in the street several times, and each time he had looked at me in what I thought was an unmistakable way; so I was not surprised at these words, monstrous as they seem to me now.”

The detective, meanwhile, had read the effusion which had occasioned so much mischief. It ran thus:

“Dear And Beautiful Miss Rogers:—May an unfortunate, who is not permitted to enter within the charmed walls which at present hold you prisoner, utter one word against the tyranny of the fate which restricts him?

“I have seen you and I cannot be still. I have learned your name and it has become the lode-star of my life. Will you accept an homage that must be secret, and believe in the devotion of one who, if he may not approach you, here swears that he will approach no other woman while you remain unmarried.

“But must I live in darkness and never break the silence which has hitherto been maintained between us? Is there no hope for me, whose only thought is to make you the protecting angel of my life? May I not hope for one word, one look uninfluenced by the presence of others? If fate can be so kind and your heart so responsive to a noble passion, then remember that for three days I shall spend the hour between twelve and one in the depot at Jersey City. If you choose to pass through the place, you may be certain that one pair of eyes will follow you with a devotion little short of that which a saint casts upon his guardian angel.

“I have no fear that you will hesitate as to who has penned these lines. Have not our eyes told the mutual tale of love?”

“Isn’t it dreadful?” cried the now thoroughly disillusioned heiress. “But when I received it, it seemed to me so beautiful and romantic that I was in ecstasies. I never for a minute doubted the writer, and as he had always looked so gentlemanly, I had not one fear of his proving himself other than the hero I have worshiped in my dreams. I decided to make the journey he suggested—it seemed a journey to me—and though to do it I should have to risk Miss Hadden’s displeasure, I thought the satisfaction I should receive would make me ample amends for any unpleasantness which might follow.

How I managed to obtain permission to go out, and how I contrived to elude the companion given me, will not interest you. I did go, and alone, but I did not find the satisfaction I was in search of. I got lost, went over the wrong ferry, had to inquire my way of policemen, and when, worn out and bedraggled with dust and stifled with heat, I finally walked into the depot at Jersey City, it was to find by its dreadful staring clock, that I was a whole half hour later than the time he had set for leaving. Oh, it was a dreadful experience! and at first I was so discouraged that I sat down and cried; but afterward, I plucked up heart and began to think it was all my own fault, and that if I had not made so many foolish mistakes, I should have been in time to see him, and save him, perhaps, from a disappointment as cruel as my own. But I was late, and undoubtedly would be late if I tried the experiment again. The distance was too great, besides, I did not believe I could get another opportunity of slipping away, or if I did, that I should succeed in eluding my companion. If I wanted to keep my appointment I must stay in the vicinity, and to stay in the vicinity meant a whole night spent in a strange hotel. For a young girl who had never slept alone in her whole life, you will think it took courage to decide on such a step. But I was crazy, carried away by an idea.

I did not give the man my right name—the hotel-man, I mean—and I did not go down to the table. I stayed in my room all the time, and had my meals brought to me, and was dreadfully nervous and afraid; but all that was nothing after it was over. I did not care for that; all that I did care for was the fact that, though I sat in the depot punctually from twelve to one, no one approached me, nor did I see any one that could in any way suggest the person who had haunted my steps and written me this note.”

“Humph! And that was yesterday?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I see. You suffered a cruel mortification, for which you can now congratulate yourself?”

“O! yes, sir.”

“I am glad you had the courage to return.”

“Where else could I go?”

“And that is the whole story? You had no other experience, and have not heard from the man again?”

“No, no. How should I, if he is the wooer of a dozen other girls? He has amused himself, and it is over; but my scorn and hatred are not over; and if ever I have the opportunity to face him, I will load him with such reproaches as will make even his wicked heart tremble.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Gryce had given the note which he held both close and careful scrutiny. It was well written, but in a stiff and formal hand, which struck him like an attempt to disguise the natural writing.

“I should like to keep this,” he suggested. “It may prove of inestimable value in determining the identity of the writer.”

“There is something else,” she murmured, “which may prove of more use to you, though I did not mean to tell you, and may regret having done so. There was a card inclosed in this note, which, if it was not meant as a guarantee of good faith, certainly looked like it.” And, with an added blush, she dipped again into her pocket and drew out a small slip of pasteboard, which she handed to the detective, “That is his name,” said she.

The detective put on his glasses again, gave the card one look, and started perceptibly, notwithstanding the self-possession acquired by long years of detective service.

“Was this card in the letter I hold?”

“Yes, sir.”

This card? This, with the name you here see upon it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“It is another man’s card, surreptitiously inclosed in the note,” he decided. “It is not that of the person who has followed you.”

“I think you are mistaken. I have reason for knowing that there is no deception about this.”

“What reason? Tell me, my dear young lady, for this is very important.”

“Well, it is the last secret I have. One day, when I was out walking, we passed this man standing on the corner of a street. He was smoking, and held his cigarette-case in his hand. As we approached, he grew embarrassed, and attempted to thrust the case into his pocket, but he failed to do so, and it fell upon the pavement. He did not notice it and moved off; and when I came to where he was standing, I picked it up. I have kept it, and can show it to you. There is a monogram on one side of it, and the letters are the same as the initials of this name.”

“Get it; let me see it, if you please,” cried the detective, looking both troubled and incredulous.

She left the room at once. When she returned, she found the detective standing before the electric button in the wall, lost in a reverie so deep that she had to touch him on the arm to attract his attention. “Here is the case,” she said, timidly.

Turning, he took it in his hand, looked at it closely and grew more abstracted.

“You see the initials are the same,” she ventured, and was going to say more, but he suddenly woke to her presence, and putting his fingers on his lip, remarked:

“Better not speak the name, my dear young lady. You remember that you said, yourself, awhile ago, ‘no names!’ ” And smiling in his fatherly way, he put the case in his pocket, together with the note he had already confiscated, and making her a low bow, remarked kindly:

“That is all I have to ask of you to-day. Accept my thanks and believe that in all I do I will act with due consideration for your welfare.”

She felt herself dismissed and went. Though haughty in her manner toward her inferiors, she felt subdued by this man and showed it. When the door had closed upon her, Mr. Gryce stood shaking his head for a moment, then quickly crossing the floor, he threw open a door communicating with the adjoining room. Miss Hadden stood before him.

“You heard?” he asked.

She bowed silently.

“That is all, then,” continued he. “You see she is more ignorant than vicious, and more foolish than either. I do not think she will ever attempt another escapade.”

And, bowing low, he left the lady; and in a few instants later, the house.

On the stoop, he paused for a moment. Taking the cigarette-case from his pocket, he gave it another long and troubled look.

“Well,” he cried, as he thrust it back again in his pocket, “I am seventy odd, and have seen more strange things than I am days old, and yet I am capable of feeling a surprise,”

And he hastened with all speed to the Police Headquarters.

Chapter 11
Miss Rogers Of New York

On returning from Miss Hadden’s school, Mr. Gryce found the inspector immersed in business, mainly connected with this affair. Some new facts had come to light, and, from the mass of information which was now his, the inspector was culling the most important items. Something which he had come across appeared to astonish him greatly, for he looked both nervous and agitated. He was glad to see Mr. Gryce, and, as soon as that person was seated, hastened to observe:

“This plot is assuming great proportions, Gryce. Another girl by the name of Rogers has been found who knows the man of the gray eyes and black mustache; but I cannot think it is the same person who was seen hanging about the other girls; for she told me his name—”

“I beg pardon,” interrupted Mr. Gryce; “but was it this?”

He showed the card which he had brought from his late interview. The inspector took one look, stared at Mr. Gryce, and remained silent. Evidently he found it difficult to believe the evidence of his own eyes.

“I know that it seems unaccountable,” observed the detective; “but is that the name?”

Mr. Gryce put the card back into his pocket, drummed a restless tattoo on the table before him, and, for a moment, looked as perplexed as the inspector. Then his brow cleared. Once a fact was established, he accepted it.

“Then that matter is settled,” he grimly declared. “We have found our man.”

The inspector frowned.

“I can hardly believe it,” said he. “There must be some mistake.”

“It does not look like it,” was the firm rejoinder. “This is the name of the gentleman mixed up in the affairs of the young lady belonging to Miss Hadden’s school.”

“I regret to hear it.”

“And his description, like that of the person to whom you allude, tallies exactly with the appearance of the gentleman who bears this name.”

“A most unfortunate fact.”

“I agree with you; but we cannot shirk the truth.” Then, as the inspector made no reply, he inquired: “Any points to give me, sir?”

The inspector nodded, and came at once to business; but not with his usual good grace. Even an old official like him has some confidence left in human nature, which he finds it hard to see destroyed.

A half hour later, Mr. Gryce sat in his own especial corner, turning over the new facts just gleaned from the inspector.

They can be grouped under two heads:

First, those referring to the victims of the conspiracy; and, secondly, those referring to its agents. We will consider the first group first.

Another Jenny Rogers had been found; this we already know. She was a school-teacher, living with her parents in a neat home south of Fourteenth street. Young, pretty, but with a decided physical defect that affected her gait, she went her humble round of duties with cheerful alacrity, looking for nothing more than her own exertions could bring her. But this contentment, honest as it was, was destined to be sharply interrupted by the events of a certain day. She had been to school and was in one of her happiest moods, when, upon returning to her home, she found in its pretty parlor a fine-looking gentleman of superior manner. He was a stranger to her, but something in his look made her feel at ease in his presence and took away the embarrassment which she usually felt under the gaze of those she met for the first time. She therefore advanced with a smile, halting so little that he evidently did not notice that she was lame, for his face lighted up with that look of admiration which a woman never mistakes, as he said:

“I have a letter of introduction to you from a friend whose name you will at once recognize.”

And he handed her a short note written by one of her most trusted associates.

“Will that suffice to make my presence welcome, even if I should bore you with a personal question or two?”

Bore her! It did not seem as if he could ever bore her. She smiled, and two exquisite dimples came into view. The sight appeared to increase his admiration. He took a seat somewhat nearer her side.

“Miss Rogers,” he began, “I have come upon an important errand. I am looking, in behalf of a friend, for a young person suitably qualified to take in charge and teach two motherless children. I know you have a home—” she had raised one hand in mute deprecation—“but the offer which I am ready to make you is one so generous that I scarcely think you will hesitate, after hearing all its particulars. A journey to Europe—”

Her face lighted up.

“A nursery-maid under you; consideration, kindness and love from the children’s aunt, with whom you are expected to travel; and, lastly, money enough—”

“Please!” The small hand went up again. “I think I had rather not hear. I have wanted change, I have wanted travel, I need money, and I adore children, but I have an invalid mother, and I cannot leave her even to procure the added means her almost helpless condition demands. Let us talk of something else, for there is no use in talking of this. She would die without my good-night kiss.”

It was not the girl herself who told this story, though she corroborates it in its general details. It was an aunt, who sat, during the whole interview, in the adjoining room, seemingly at work, but in reality giving full attention to all that passed before her. It will, therefore, be understood that I give the aunt’s opinion when I say that this young girl never looked sweeter or more engaging than she did when uttering these last few words. The gentleman showed that he appreciated her charms for his eyes kindled and his manner became eager.

“I have heard the most flattering remarks concerning your goodness and devotion to your mother,” he warmly observed. “That is one reason why I have come to you upon this especial errand. I am glad to be assured that my informant understated the truth rather than exaggerated it. If I only possessed the right, I should say: ‘The blessing of God falls upon the true, the pure and the virtuous,’ and promise to grant you all your wishes, even to the satisfaction of your wildest dreams.”

“You are extravagant. You do not realize all that this means to a young girl.”

“Perhaps not, but it would amuse me to find out. What is the first thing you would ask for?”

She laughed, she dimpled, she looked lovely. “What sort of play is this?” she cried. “Tell my wishes, and to a stranger? O no; not even if he were the wizard he would have to be to grant them.”

The gentleman smiled.

“I am a wizard,” he declared. “Test me and see.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“You tempt me,” she cried.

He continued to smile, but said nothing.

“Shall I ask for something?” she inquired.

“I entreat you.”

“Very well,” and her face grew suddenly demure in its mock gravity. “I—I want the world.”

He broke into an amused laugh.

“To-day?” he asked.

“Oh, yes, to-day, I am not used to waiting.”

He laughed again, then gravely shook his head.

“It is too much. I fear—”

She interrupted him with a mocking pout, not out of keeping with her arch and innocent face.

“Do not fear,” she cried. “Health, freedom and wealth will satisfy me. Health for my mother and —” a shadow fell over her mirthfulness—“and for myself,”

He started.

“Are you not well?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” she answered, with a sudden clearing up of her countenance. “I was only thinking—” and she stopped. She never alluded to her infirmity.

He did not appear to notice the deep meaning in all this. Her face was fresh, her manner sparkling, and as long as she sat still, her form was the image of symmetry and grace. He proceeded with his banter and soon, to their mutual surprise, they were conversing as familiarly as if they had been friends for years.

The aunt, who admired the gentleman, and had an unbounded confidence in her niece, listened, but did not follow their talk too closely. She was soon startled into attention, however, not by what they said, but by the sudden silence which had fallen between them, and, looking up, she saw that her niece, anxious to show a book or picture in illustration of what she had been saying, had risen and was limping across the room. The sight seemed to affect the gentleman strangely, for at this indisputable token of deformity, he at first started, and then showed so much discomfiture, that the aunt grew instantly angry. This feeling, which was perhaps natural in one who knew the young lady’s virtues, was not destined to pass away very soon. For, when her niece faced the stranger with the book she had brought, he was so changed from his former self, that he scarcely noticed what she showed him, but hurriedly took out his watch with the remark that he had an important engagement, and should have to go. This change, coming so quickly after an interest as marked as it was respectful, struck the young girl most painfully, and she blushed deeply as she returned his bow. But she contrived to say that she hoped to see him again, even though she had been obliged to refuse the request he had urged. To which he replied by a hasty: “I hardly think I shall be able to come again,” instantly covered by the more polite remark: “I shall do myself the honor, certainly.” After which he backed out of the room and house with an assumption of cordiality which, not being real, left only the most unpleasant recollections behind it. What had it all meant? They never knew, for he never came again, nor did they ever have an opportunity to obtain any explanation from the friend who had given him his letter of introduction, for this person had sailed for Europe on or about this time and had not yet returned. The letter, signed by this friend and containing the name of their strange visitor, was all that remained to prove that the affair had not been a perplexing dream.

The next fact that engaged the detective’s attention was a more serious one. In the room of the girl who had perished in the alley had been found a box of bonbons of a make and quality so superior to what are usually indulged in by the daughters of toil that attention was at once attracted to them. The physician especially who had conducted the autopsy over the poor girl’s remains had shown the greatest interest in it, finally carrying it home and subjecting the sweets to a test that effectually proved the presence of poison in them. This discovery altered the whole character of the affair, and eventually affected the verdict. For the poison there found was a subtle one, capable of producing the very effects noticed in the young girl. She had, therefore, without doubt, died from poison, and the person who gave her these sweets was open to the charge of murder.

Feeling that the affair was becoming somewhat oppressive, Mr. Gryce turned to the consideration of the second group of facts given to him by the inspector. Hitherto attention had been given solely to such girls as had been proven to be victims of the plot. But the time had now come for a study into the characters and actions of those who, from their manner of life or the circumstances surrounding them, gave evidence of being sufficiently depraved to make it excusable in the police to search among them for the particular Jenny Rogers in whose behalf this conspiracy had been formed.

A list of such girls lay before him, together with such data as served to individualize them and show why they had been regarded with doubt. In number they were three, and in circumstances differed as much as their possible victims had done. One was a fashionable belle, veiling her wickedness behind a show of luxury and superficial glitter; another, a clairvoyant, suspected of very shady operations, but never convicted of anything worse than deceiving the weak and trusting ones who consulted her wisdom and relied upon her skill; the third, a well-known adventuress, whose beauty and whose means were both on the wane, and who, of the three, Mr. Gryce at once decided to be the woman he was in search of.

His reasons for this were simple. The woman, to whom the promise had been made that in a month there should not be another of her name left in town, was walking at the time in a well-lighted street, at a very late hour. Now the fashionable belle alluded to never walked. She boasted that the pavement did not know the touch of her feet; consequently, he did not believe that she would have been led to tread the streets so late with any companion or on any pretext whatever. The clairvoyant was a different sort of being. You could as little imagine her riding as the other walking. But she was one of those deep, far-seeing ones who would as soon give away her soul as discuss any plan she had formed in the public street. The adventuress, on the contrary, was impetuous, and, if as wicked as the others, was neither as fastidious nor as wise.

Her, Mr. Gryce meant at once to see; but in the meantime, there was another matter to settle, and this was: Who had purchased the candies which had, doubtless, brought destruction upon one of these unfortunate ones? As the name of the maker was upon the box, it was not difficult to determine where they had been bought. But when he had reached the store and inquired of all the girls who waited upon its customers as to the sort of person who had bought this especial box, he thought that he should certainly fail in his errand, for not one of them could remember any thing about the purchaser till he suggested that it might be a gentleman of black mustache and elegant appearance, when one of the girls spoke up quickly and said:

“Oh, yes, I remember now. He was very particular as to what kind of candy I gave him. ‘Nothing deleterious?’ he said, as if we ever sold anything hurtful!”

Chapter 12
Madame’s Little Door

Next day, Mr. Gryce had an adventure of which he is never fond of speaking. When asked about it, he shrugs his shoulders, says he is getting old, and turns the conversation upon happier topics. Having a regard for Mr. Gryce, we should be glad to sustain him in his reticence; but, as this adventure forms a link in our story, we shall be obliged to describe it, though we will not do so without making our apologies to the aged detective, whose record, after all, is chiefly one of triumphs.

As I have already intimated, he had his own suspicions as to the identity of the woman believed to be the instigator of the plot formed against the girls of the name of Jenny Rogers. To prove these suspicions well founded, he took the first occasion to visit this woman. It was not easy to gain admittance to her presence, but, by dint of a little maneuvering at the door, he succeeded in getting into the house, when the first move he made was to push by the girl who guarded it and hasten rapidly up-stairs.

He found “Madame,” as she was called, drawn up at the further end of the large front apartment. She was in morning dress and looked frightened, but he did not appear to notice this any more than he appeared to observe that the room was in great disorder, though it was in the middle of the day,

“Who are you?” she cried. “Why do you come here? What right have you to push yourself into my room in this way without an invitation?”

“You will pardon me,” said he, with a humble bow, “if I tell you that I have been sent hereby your friend, Mr.—,” and he whispered a name in her ear. “He is ill himself to-day, and asked me to come and see if everything is going on right, and if you can do without him for the present.”

Her eyes, which had flashed open at the sound of the name he had mentioned, fell suddenly at his final words.

Turning her back on him with an indescribable air of disdain, she drew toward the open door of a small closet and reached out her hand toward a shawl, which she took down and wrapped about her.

“You are an impostor!” she said, with sudden vehemence. “I don’t know any person by that name, and if you persist in staying here, I shall call for help.”

“I don’t think you will raise your voice,” said he, “even though I shut this door behind me and lock it, and put the key in my pocket, so. You are too afraid of the police, Madame Jenny Rogers!”

“Afraid of the police!” she mocked. “Do I look as if I were afraid of the police? What have I done to fear them or you or any one, for that matter?”

“Shall I tell you?” he smiled, looking about the room and satisfying himself that it possessed no other outlet than the one he himself guarded. “I can tell you many more things than you think I can. For instance, just what your accomplice answered you when you suggested that you were not the only Jenny Rogers in town.”

She started, turned pale, and flashed upon him two very dangerous eyes. But she said:

“Accomplice for what? I have no accomplice; you are talking like a fool, and like a fool I shall treat you. Stand away from the door!”

“No” said he, “not till you are ready to accompany me. I have no warrant for your arrest, but I shall have in about half an hour, if my man outside there is spry.” And lifting a whistle to his lips, he blew a peculiar call upon it.

Instantly a change passed over her face. She did not move, but he instinctively put his hand to his pocket.

“No tricks,” he exclaimed, warningly.

“Who are you?” she simply cried.

“I am Mr. Gryce of the police force,” he grimly answered.

She seemed to measure him with her eye.

“I am stronger than you,” she said.

He drew his hand from his pocket; it contained a pistol.

She gave a horrified shriek, and bounded into the closet, shutting the door behind her.

“Put it away,” she cried, “put it away, and I will come out!”

He smiled, drew up a small table to his side, and laid the pistol on it.

“There, I have done it,” said he. “Don’t stifle yourself in that place. Come out and talk.”

She made no answer.

He took up the pistol again, and crossed the room.

“Come out,” he commanded, and pulled at the door. It was locked.

He was old and weakened by rheumatism, but he was very angry, and that made him for the moment strong. Catching hold of the knob, he wrenched at the door and actually tore it open.

“Now!” he cried, and stopped. An empty space was before him.

I le said to the inspector, in relating the story, that he never before felt so foolish. Had she gone through the floor? Had she evaporated into thin air? He stood for a moment baffled; then he tore down the clothes hanging on pegs before him, and, searching the walls, found the evidences of a lock in the back partition. But it was a spring lock; and, as for the partition itself, it was so strong that it scarcely shook under his weight, though he cast himself heavily against it.

Disappointed, but, above all, mortified at what promised to be a complete fiasco, he came from the closet, and, opening the door into the hall, rushed hastily toward the back of the house, in the hope of being able to cut short her escape. But here he was met by a blank wall. On this story of the house the only communication between the front and the rear lay through the closet, and this was effectually closed.

Remembering that the house opened upon an alley-way in the rear, he at once lost heart.

“She is gone,” he whispered to himself, and blushed, though there was no one there to see.

And his fears proved true. Neither then, nor for months afterward, did the police succeed in laying hands upon this mysterious woman. She had seen imprisonment in Mr. Gryce’s eye, and fled opportunely; and all the satisfaction they got out of the matter was the certainty of her being the woman they sought.

Chapter 13
A Charge That Would Shake Most Men

Two weeks went by; two long and wearisome weeks for Hamilton Degraw, who, having received nothing save two wholly unsatisfactory notes from Mr. Byrd, found himself the prey of innumerable anxieties, which rather showed a tendency to increase than diminish with the lapse of time. He had not been idle, but his work had been entirely expended upon the picture of the signorina, which he was transferring to canvas. In this, he found delight; but no pleasure whatever in anything else that he undertook to do. Even the society of friends was burdensome, and, if he left his studio at all, it was to stray in the direction of the police headquarters, or to haunt such places as had become of interest to him through association with the name of Jenny Rogers.

It was now June, and very warm. He was sitting by open windows, painting. He was tired and heart-sick and discouraged. The work upon which he should be engaged stood neglected in one corner, while the work which alone interested him was to him at once a pain and a disappointment. He could not catch the look which made her beauty so individtual and alluring. It was in his mind, it was in his heart, but it would not grow from beneath his brush. He had an impulse to make a bonfire of sketch and painting both, and had even half risen to tear them from his easel, when a rude knock was heard at the door, and a messenger-boy came in with a telegram. It was from Byrd, and raised his spirits at once.

“Found; all is well; will see you soon.”

He was gazing rapturously at the sketch which now appeared beautiful to him when the young detective came in. He was looking fagged out, but jubilant. It was evidently a great satisfaction to him that he had succeeded in his efforts.

“I am on my way to report at police headquarters,” said he, “but I thought it would relieve your mind to know just where the signorina is.”

“It will, it will! You are a good fellow, Byrd, and I am sure you merit more than my mere thanks. Where in the city is she? And how does she look; for I take it for granted you have seen her.”

“She is not in the city at all. She is with Miss Aspinwall at her country-seat in Great Barrington.”

“With Miss Aspinwall! She could not be in better company, could she, Byrd? But how came you to find her, and have you seen her or not?”

“No, I have not seen her. In the beginning of my search, I visited Miss Aspinwall, and astonished her very much by telling her that the signorina had come to life. She had seen her in her grave-clothes and was disposed for some time to doubt this astonishing assertion of mine, but when she was finally convinced, she showed so much pleasure in the news that it was very evident she was a true admirer of the signorina. So I gave her some idea of the anxieties suffered by the friends of the missing singer, and easily elicited from her a promise to let me know if she received any knowledge of the signorina’s whereabouts. I looked for no results to follow this effort, but herein I was wrong, for this morning, just as, in sheer despair, I was on the point of giving up my search, came a letter from this lady, saying that the signorina had suddenly appeared in the same town as herself—that is, in Great Barrington—and that if I wished to communicate with her, I should find her at the writer’s own house, where she had been induced to remain for a few days.”

“If I only knew some one in Great Barrington!” sighed the artist.

“Pooh! You must know a dozen.”

Degraw shook his head, but he was very cheerful, notwithstanding; life had reassumed its ancient aspect, and he cast loving glances at his lately despised painting.

Mr. Byrd smiled, uttered some words of admiration, and then turned to go. But before he left, he remarked:

“You must not be astonished if in the event of your finding your way to Great Barrington, you run across a detective there. You know the opinion has changed about the death of the girl who was found in the alley-way. She is now thought to have been murdered, and as the murderer has not yet been discovered, it is only common prudence that the girls who have been or are likely to be subject to his machinations, should be under the guardianship of the police.”

Mr. Degraw assented, and the two young men parted; Mr. Byrd being anxious to respond to a summons he had received from the inspector, and the artist being equally eager to put into execution a plan that had suggested itself to him just as Mr. Byrd was leaving. This referred to the possibility of getting a certain brother artist of his to join him in a sketching tour among the Berkshire Hills. There had been some talk of such a thing the year before, but it had fallen through. This time he was determined upon re-opening the subject and bring it to a definite conclusion. He, therefore, soon followed Byrd into the street, and before nightfall so succeeded in infusing his own enthusiasm into the mind of his friend that he procured from him a promise to undertake the expedition at once. Elated and gay with hope, the light-hearted artist returned home. Life, earth and nature seemed changed. He sang as he bounded up the stairs leading to his room, and the sound of his cheerful tones seemed to shake the great building and lend sunshine to its somewhat dismal halls. But he did not sing long. As he reached the floor where his own room was situated, he perceived two men standing like a couple of shadows before his door, and the surprise chilled his blood and hushed his gayety, for the face of one was the face of Byrd, but so changed from what it had been a few hours before, that he would scarcely have known it if he had not recognized in his companion the famous Mr. Gryce, who had been introduced to him at police headquarters.

At his appearance, both of these persons turned, and for once it was the older detective who came the nearer to meeting his eye.

“Mr. Degraw, I believe,” said he.

“The same,” returned the artist. “Will you come in?” And he hastened to unlock the door, from which they had momentarily stepped aside. “No bad news, I hope?” he murmured, as he brushed by Byrd.

But the young detective forbore to reply. He was evidently not in love with his errand and preferred to preserve a non-committal silence. Mr. Gryce, on the contrary, was alert and at his ease. He cast admiring glances over the studio and paused before the painting of “A Poet’s Dream” with hearty appreciation in every feature. But he lost no time.

“Mr. Degraw,” said he, “we have come upon a disagreeable errand. I am charged,” and his eye left the picture, though it did not travel to the artist’s face, “with a warrant for your arrest!”

“Arrest?” The artist laughed; what ridiculous joke was this?

“I fear you do not understand,” observed the detective, gravely. “The charge is murder, and here is my warrant!”

Chapter 14
Master Of The Situation

There are some blows that fall with such suddenness that they daze the faculties and make the recipient of them seem unfeeling. Such a one was this. As the detective took from his pocket a folded paper, Mr. Degraw stared at him utterly unmoved, and when the document was thrust into his hand, he opened it and surveyed its contents as if he were obeying the beck of a friend in a matter in which he possessed no personal interest. But at the sight of his name, with the official signature beneath it, he flushed, and tossing the paper back, cried, hastily:

“This is too much!” and glanced at Byrd, as if still influenced by the idea that it was all a joke at which he had the right to become a trifle impatient.

“It may prove too much,” responded Mr. Gryce. “So serious a charge is not made without proof to back it. You are in the hands of the police, sir. Is there anything you would like to do before going with us?”

Then Mr. Degraw turned pale,

“Byrd!” he cried, “what does this mean? What has happened? Is any one dead or am I under the influence of some vile nightmare?”

“Yes,” assented the detective, “some one is dead. A young and innocent girl, who trusted you—”

“Oh!” exclaimed the artist, turning with irrepressible anxiety toward Byrd, “has anything happened to the signorina?”

It was said with so much feeling and with such a frank disregard of appearances, that Mr. Gryce insensibly softened toward the antique lamp he was at that moment considering. As for Mr. Byrd, he flushed and answered, gravely:

“I have received no further news from Great Barrington since seeing you this afternoon;” and turned away before he had finished speaking, as if he felt it painful even to address the artist.

Mr. Degraw may have noticed this expression of reluctance, but, if he did, he did not show it. On the contrary, he immediately burst out:

“Then of whom are you speaking? I know no young girl.”

“Do you not know Jenny Rogers?”

It was Mr. Gryce who spoke.

The artist shivered. “Jenny Rogers?” he repeated.

“Yes,” pursued the other; “she seems to have known you.”

The artist looked dazed.

“Not the Jenny Rogers in whom you have professed such deep interest,” proceeded the detective, gravely, “but a more defenseless girl, because a more friendless and ignorant one. It is in her regard you are arrested. So much I feel at liberty to say, but no more. As for yourself, you need say nothing. Silence commits no one, but speech is not always so safe.”

“But silence is cowardice in an innocent man, and nothing can ever make me keep still over an outrage which has no excuse in fact. I commit murder and upon an innocent girl! Why, your own man Byrd will tell you that it is an accusation too ridiculous to be seriously considered. Even if I knew the girl, which I do not, for I take it for granted that you mean the one who perished in the blind-alley, I have had no reason for injuring her or any one. You might as well arrest the first man you chanced to meet; it would not be any more unreasonable or absurd!”

“There is where you make a mistake,” interjected the other. “The first man we chanced to meet would not, in all probability, bear the somewhat unusual and striking name of Hamilton Degraw.”

“And what if he did not? What has my name got to do with this matter?”

“A great deal. You had better come with us, Mr. Degraw. Perhaps you can convince the magistrate that you have been arrested under a false charge. If you can, I shall be the first to congratulate you, for you certainly paint most exquisite pictures.”

“The magistrate! Well, let us go to the magistrate. I ask nothing more than a sensible man to talk to. Murder! I could be angry if I were not so much astonished at the senseless officiousness of a police who could arrest me on such a charge as this.”

Whether Mr, Gryce secretly believed in his victim’s innocence, or whether he was disposed to show one of so much talent every consideration in his power, he not only managed to allow him to pass seemingly unattended through the streets, but took him down to police headquarters, instead of to a magistrate, as he had threatened. Here he found the inspector, and bringing the two together, he remarked in excuse:

“Here is Mr. Degraw, sir. He so utterly scouts the idea of his being in any way answerable to the charge made against him, and is so ready to give any explanation we may require, that I have brought him to you instead of to a magistrate. Have I done right, sir?”

The inspector looked at young Degraw, who bore his regard so frankly that he at once inspired confidence.

“We will see,” he returned. “If Mr. Degraw can answer all our questions satisfactorily, why, it will be a great point gained, of course. But we do not require him to speak at all; we only give him liberty to do so.”

“Good,” ejaculated the artist. “I am only too ready. First, then, why do you accuse me of murdering a girl whom I never saw, nor of whose existence was I even aware, till I heard of her death, here on this very spot at the time I came to see Mr. Byrd on a matter utterly disconnected with this subject?”

“It is a direct question, and I will answer it directly. We charge you with her murder, because you alone, of all the men in town, answer to the name and appearance of the person who for the last three months has been hovering about the steps not only of this girl, but of others bearing the simple name of Jenny Rogers,”

“I do? Impossible!”

“Not at all. You certainly have made the acquaintance of one such person, have you not?”

“The signorina.”

“Called ‘the signorina.’ ”

“Yes, yes! but she—”

“Oh, I know the story; Byrd, here, has been forced to tell me; a very improbable story, by the way, so improbable, that even an old dealer in mysteries like myself has ventured to question its facts, and believe only in your extreme desire to recover traces of the woman who has seemingly fled from you.”

Mr. Degraw drew back astonished. Could his interest in the lovely singer be viewed in this way? He looked at Byrd, and felt relieved to catch a gleam of the old confidence in that officer’s friendly eyes.

“But,” cried he, “I can substantiate this improbable story, both by written evidence and competent witnesses.”

“You can?”

“Yes, but before doing so, let me know what excuse you have for saying that a person of my name and appearance has been seen in connection with these various young girls.”

The inspector hesitated, but not long. There was truth in the artist’s eye and he was glad to recognize it.

“Mr. Degraw,” said he, “it is not usual for us to give so much advantage to a man charged with a crime as to tell him the reasons for his arrest. But I am willing, in consideration of your name, which is rapidly growing illustrious in the art you have chosen, to lay before you these facts. First: the gentleman who haunted the steps of the Miss Rogers who attends Miss Hadden’s school wrote her a letter, which, if not signed by his name, contained a card which revealed it, and that name was yours, ‘Hamilton Degraw.’ Secondly: lest you should argue that this card carried no weight with it, as it might be a stolen one introduced into this communication by the unprincipled author of the same, I will add that some days previous to its receipt this same young lady was walking in the street and saw the gentleman who was supposed to have written this letter drop his cigarette-case. As he did not perceive that he had done this, she had the opportunity of picking it up. She did so, and behold! upon one side of this cigarette-case a monogram was inscribed, the letters of which are undeniably an ‘H’ and a ‘D.’ Thirdly: we have in our possession another letter, written by a gentleman of this city to a different Jenny Rogers, in which a Mr. Hamilton Degraw is introduced to her notice. And this letter was carried to her by a person of similar characteristics to your own, as was the box of bonbons received by the girl who was supposed to have died from the poison which had been infused into them; but you will say no man can have a monopoly upon any one name, nor are you the only person in the town who can answer to the general description of tall form and easy manners, black mustache and gray eyes. This is true; but it is strange to have them united, and that in the person of one who does not deny that he possesses an intense interest in one of the unfortunates who bear this fatal name.”

“It may be strange, but the world is full of strange things. I know a man who went from New York to San Francisco, and there, out of all the women who inhabited that town, made the acquaintance and married a girl who was by blood his own sister, though he did not know it and never could understand why the announcement of his marriage affected his father to such an extent as to drive him into a speedy grave. Is not that a stranger fact than this?”

“Perhaps; but—”

“I know there is a conspiracy against girls by the name of Jenny Rogers; but how came I to know it? By hearing it spoken of here. Byrd can testify to that.”

“And I,” spoke up Mr. Gryce.

“The question is: Was that the first you heard of it?” quoth the inspector.

“No; the question is: Am I the man who has been seen in connection with these innocent girls? I swear I am not, and I expect to be able to prove it. Have you any specimens of his handwriting here?”

Mr. Gryce produced the letter given him by the Detroit heiress.

“Compare it with this memorandum I wrote this morning,” urged the artist, tearing a leaf from his note-book and handing it to them.

“There is but little similarity,” adjudged the inspector.

“But this letter to Miss Rogers is manifestly in a disguised handwriting,” objected Mr. Gryce.

“It is immaterial,” quoth Mr. Degraw. “Any witness who saw the writer will at once tell you upon viewing my face that I am not he.”

“You are willing to submit to this test?”

“Of course; why else do I insist upon my innocence?”

The smile he gave them was irresistible. They all three showed the influence it had upon them, and the inspector, looking at Mr. Byrd, made a quick and meaning gesture.

The detective seeing it, nodded and went toward the door, but was stopped on his way out by the artist saying, forcibly:

“I shall not be satisfied unless you bring witnesses also who can prove I am not the gentleman who carried letters of introduction to the Miss Rogers you have alluded to, nor the person who bought bonbons which are said to have been poisoned. I desire a complete justification and you can give it to me.”

“We shall be only too happy,” returned the inspector, and gave Byrd a second look, which sent him speedily out.

“It will be some time before these persons can be got together,” observed the inspector, as the door closed upon the youthful detective. “Will you sit down, Mr. Degraw?”

“With pleasure, sir,” rejoined the artist. He did not notice that his chair was so placed as to be in easy view from the open door, but if he had he would have taken it even with greater alacrity.

Mr. Gryce having business to attend to, soon went out, and presently the inspector followed him. The artist was left alone, but this did not disturb him. Nothing seemingly disturbed him, though men came and more than one curious face looked into the door. At length the inspector returned. He was beaming, and held out a congratulatory hand.

“It is all right, sir,” said he. “You are not the man, and you are at perfect liberty to return home.”

The artist bowed with unmoved self-possession.

“Do you mean,” said he, “that I have been seen by the witnesses I suggested?”

“I do.”

“And that they all unite in convincing you that I am neither the man who made the trouble at Miss Hadden’s school, nor he who bought the deadly bonbons, nor even the Mr. Degraw who brought letters of introduction to the young lady who gave you my name?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then I depart satisfied. You have confounded me with some one who possesses a similar name and also owns a like complexion. When you have found this man, please let me see him. It is all the reparation I ask for a mistake which possibly was not without its excuse.”

He bowed, and passed quietly out. It had been for him an anxious two hours, little as he had shown it.

Chapter 15
Friends

In a summer-house, half covered with verdure, sat two beautiful women; one with a noble poise of head, a gracious and dignified manner, regular features and a womanly expression; the other with slighter proportions, but with a strange, unearthly sweetness in her look and tone that went at once to the heart and awakened its deepest emotions. The former was blonde; the latter of a fair complexion, but with an aureole of dark hair, and eyes that were large, black and brilliant. They sat side by side, the violet dress of the one mingling with the white garments of the other; and to neither could a man have said “No,” had the language of their lips been of entreaty or the glance of their eyes an invitation or appeal. Miss Aspinwall was the younger of the two, but she looked by three years the senior of her more delicate and childlike companion. They are talking. Shall we listen to what they say?

“And you cannot sing to me—to me who overheard you once at the signor’s and was so irresistibly moved and charmed that I stood outside the door with my hands clasped and my breath hushed, thinking I had chanced upon the performance of some great prima donna?

“I might sing for you if I thought we were alone and none of your many guests were hidden behind the curtains or portieres. Indeed, I know that I could sing for you, the one friend who has smiled upon me in my misfortune and opened her doors to shelter my defenseless and unprotected head. Oh, I am grateful to you! I am so grateful that I would be willing to do much more than sing for you, should chance ever put it in my power.”

“Your company is all that I ask, dear signorina. Since that night when your hopes came to such a disastrous end, I have cherished but one wish, and that was to open my arms in comfort to you. But a strange timidity held me back. I feared to seem intrusive. I remembered that we had never spoken and dreaded your first look of astonishment and displeasure. And when at last I did overcome my fears sufficiently to call upon you in your home, you can imagine my self-reproach at finding I was too late; that you were, as I believed, dead, and thus removed forever from my sympathy and love. Bitter regret overwhelmed me, and I vowed then, while strewing flowers above your silent breast, that in future, nothing should ever hold me back from those in distress but their own refusal to receive me; and when I heard that appearances had been deceitful, and that when I saw you, you had been only lying in a trance, I felt as if Providence had heard my prayer and that I should yet have the opportunity of telling you of the love which I felt for you.”

“Ah!” sighed the signorina, while the tears welled up in her eyes, “I am unworthy of such interest; I am unworthy of your care. Do not love me so well. You may be disappointed in me.”

Miss Aspinwall smiled.

“You have not disappointed me yet,” she asserted. “As for the future, we will be such friends, that regret shall not find room to come in between us. Do you not think you can love me, trust me, rest with me and be happy?”

The signorina’s eyes, which had been lowered to the ground, rose slowly till they rested upon Miss Aspinwall’s face. There was trouble in them, but there was gratitude also, and a sudden light that seemed to come from an awakening soul.

“Love you?” she repeated. “Ah, there is no doubt but that I can love you. But—” she added, in another moment, with a restless change of manner, “did you not think it strange when you found me on the platform at this place, alone and without apparent purpose?”

“No, for I knew that Providence had led you to me.”

The look which had filled the signorina’s eyes, when Hamilton Degraw spoke to her of God, reappeared in them at these words of her generous hearted friend. But she did not let it become visible as she had before, but turned her face away toward the wide stretch of beautifully undulating country which lay before them.

“Perhaps that is true,” she assented, but there was not so much trust as fear in her tones. “I am sure,” she went on in haste, as if anxious to cover up any momentary disappointment which might have been occasioned by her manner, “that if you knew my position you would think I needed a friend. I am not only without an adviser, but I am threatened by a danger—”

“I know, I know.”

“You know?”

“Yes. You will pardon me, signorina, but—”

“Don’t call me ‘Signorina’; call me ‘Jenny.’ That is my true name, and I should like to hear it from your lips.”

“You shall. I know, then, Jenny, that you have reason for dread. That because of this very name, you feel that you have reason to fear. But you will be safe here. No one shall know that you possess this name, which just now seems to be the harbinger of persecution and peril. Besides—”

“But I would rather not conceal the fact that it is mine. There is a cowardice in doing so which is not agreeable to me. Perhaps, because I am the victim of another cowardice which I cannot suppress. Since I have failed as a singer, the word ‘signorina’ galls me almost beyond endurance. I hate its very sound, and long to hear myself called again by my childhood’s name. Do you think there is any harm in yielding to this preference? Would you mind introducing me to your friends as Miss Rogers?”

“Not at all; why should I mind it if you do not? But it seems like giving up your old hope entirely, and I, for one, still think you will reap the honors to which your voice entitles you. I have a scheme—”

“Oh, do not talk of schemes, dear Miss Aspinwall. Let us rest without thought of the morrow in this paradise of sunshine and verdure. I have never seen anything so delightful as this place before. It is an experience for me to be here; let me enjoy it and forget, if I can, that the world holds any other riches, treasures or rewards. That little bird sings sweetly; if I were free as he and had the earth and heaven for my home, I could sing too. I wish I were a bird, how my throat would swell! I can almost fancy in this solitude that I am. Do you think any one would hear if I—”

“Oh, oh, do sing. Just an aria, Jenny. Hark, the little fellow is urging you on. Surely you can rival his notes.”

The signorina smiled. An exquisite color broke out on her cheeks and she looked so lovely that the noble woman at her side was filled with admiration. Then without further words, and as if impelled by an inward enthusiasm she could no longer resist, she opened her lips, and song issued forth, so pure, so sweet and so entrancing that the little bird who had previously filled the silence with his voice stopped in amaze and bent his head to one side as if in inquiry as to the source of such delightful melody.

The spot occupied by the summerhouse in the large and amply cultivated grounds was somewhat removed from the dwelling. Perched on a slight knoll it commanded a view of much of the country around, and for this reason was a favorite spot of resort for Miss Aspinwall, who had an eye for all that was beautiful, and a heart for this especial scene beyond all. But it had one drawback. But a few feet away ran the fence which marked off her property from that of her next neighbor, and as that neighbor took boarders, she never felt herself quite safe in this place from intruding eyes.

Thus it was that, when the Signorina began to sing, Miss Aspinwall let her glances travel in the direction of this fence and the winding walks beyond, but seeing no one, gave her full attention to the song which was being caroled for her and the birds. It was melodious as heart could wish or taste exact, and she was drinking in the mellow notes with delight, when suddenly, without warning, the soaring tones trembled and fell, and glancing in haste at her companion, she beheld her sitting petrified with amazement, gazing into the neighboring garden. Following her look, she was herself surprised to perceive a man standing before them, returning gaze for gaze and that with an intensity which proved he had not been unmoved by the song he had overheard. She thought, at first glance, that she did not know this man, but in another moment, she recognized him for the artist who had interrupted her in her work of strewing flowers over the signorina on that memorable afternoon of her supposed death.

Instantly she showed as much feeling as the woman at her side had done. A beautiful flush rose on her cheek and she stole a side glance at the startled singer, as if to see whether her own emotion was observed. It was not; for after the first movement of surprise, the latter had turned away and was looking toward the house as if she longed to take refuge in flight.

“You know him?” whispered Miss Aspinwall.

“Oh, yes; oh, yes. But I must not see him. Why has he come here? It is fatality; I must go.”

Miss Aspinwall did not seek to detain her.

“I will go with you,” she said; and they left the summer-house together, not turning their heads, though the temptation to do so was equally strong for both.

“I saw him when I left the flowers at your house,” observed Miss Aspinwall, as they hastened over the lawn. “He came in before I left. Is he an old friend of yours? Pardon me if I appear too curious.”

“He was not a friend; he never came till that day, and then he came on business. He is an artist.”

“I know that; I recognized his face; he is well known in the city. His pictures, such as I have seen, are exquisite.”

Miss Aspinwall was smiling. Her gait and manner were redolent with joy.

The signorina, on the contrary, seemed to have weights on her feet She stumbled once or twice, and her restless eyes had a sort of terror in them. Suddenly she asked:

“You know his name, then?”

“Certainly; it is one that New York is proud of. Hamilton Degraw. Surely you have heard of it?”

“Yes.”

They were now at the foot of the steps leading up to the huge portico of the great pillared mansion. As the signorina uttered this assent, she looked back. Miss Aspinwall followed her example. No one was visible on lawn or walk.

“He must be stopping at the next house,” remarked the heiress. “Curious that we should meet him here and that he should see us together.”

“Curious enough!” echoed the signorina.

But when she gained the room which had been placed at her disposal and had carefully shut the door and closed the windows, her composure instantly left her and she fell in what looked like a sudden collapse before a chair, and burying her face in its cushions, gave a long, low cry, the language of which it would have been hard to interpret. Then she started again to her feet, and opening her trunk, took from it a telegram-blank, upon which she wrote one line. But before she had signed it, she paused again, and stood so long with it fluttering in her hand that she might have been taken for an exquisite statue of irresolution. Finally she tore up the contemplated telegram, saying as she did so, in the sweetest of musing tones:

“I will not meddle with fate. Let it bring me what it will. Its gifts may be better than any I have lost, than any I have sought for.” And the troubled brow grew smooth, and the child-like look came back to her face, and of all the joyous creatures that fluttered beneath the sun that day, she was the brightest, the sweetest and the most delightsome.

Chapter 16
A Startling Introduction

Miss Aspinwall’s hospitality was of the notable order. An orphan without immediate relations, she had cultivated friendship to its last extent, and was, consequently, never at a loss to fill her house with congenial and delightful companions. This summer she had for chaperon an elderly widow, well known in New York circles, around whom she had gathered a dozen or more young people of both sexes, so that the house was as merry as youth and gayety could make it. She herself was the balance-wheel to all this mirth and joyousness. Though cheerful by nature, she had suffered too many griefs, and felt too keenly the responsibilities of wealth, to be ever over joyous. Yet there was in her smile so much sympathy with joy, that the lightest-hearted felt their pleasure grow greater when they drew near Hilary Aspinwall.

Though alive to mirth, she had for sorrow a still greater sympathy. If amongst the laughing tribe that scattered itself over her lawns, or gathered in merry groups about her halls and piazzas, there was one from whose lips the laughter rang false, or in whose eyes a shadow lay deeply hidden, she was sure to catch, the broken tone or mark the secret tear; and though she would make no betrayal of her discernment at the time, when night came she would steal into the presence of the young girl whose grief she had surprised, and, taking the seemingly happy one into her arms, so win her confidence by delicate questions or silent caresses that the brimming heart would overflow, and the secret trouble be told almost without its sufferer’s own volition. Ah! she was a noble woman, Hilary Aspinwall, as many a crushed heart which she has comforted can testify; and if in the face which Hamilton Degraw calls “A Poet’s Dream” there are some idealizing touches not to be found in the original, no brush or no fancy could idealize the soul which has informed that face, for it is itself ideal.

For such a one, happiness should be the natural right. Nothing that the earth contains is too good for her, nor any love too rich. Is she to have her reward, then? Are the best treasures of earth to be given to her who is always heaping treasures in the laps of others? She has wealth, she has honor, she has friends, she has health. Will she have love? Let us look at the circle which surrounds her on this exquisite June eve, and see if we can answer this question.

She is sitting on the large piazza, amid a group that feel the influence of the starry heavens above them, though they do not look that way, but rather into the faces of those with whom they are conversing. The talk is of—what? Who can say? Who would care to repeat? But the looks are for her; that is, the looks of at least three men who stand there; one against the large pillar that shields the moonlight from her eyes, one behind her chair, and one on the outskirts of the group, who, if he does not advance, has another reason for his modesty than that of indifference. And to any one looking at her now, such interest would seem only natural. Though the other women grouped around her are more or less fair, attractive or vivacious, in none does the pure light of womanliness shine with such a radiance as in her, while in her beauty there burns a chaste fire which is not always to be seen there. What has called it forth? The influence is not fully apparent, yet it is felt by these men who study her this night with their souls in their eyes.

Are her thoughts with them? The man by the pillar has the air of a satisfied lover; but, then, the depths of his purse have never been sounded, and some say that neither have the depths of his conceit. The others do not seem as happy, though one of them stands so near to her that he can hear the short sigh that now and then parts her lips. Do they miss something from her look or glance that they have been accustomed to see there?

It may be, for now there is a change in her. She has heard a step on the graveled walk beneath, and, mistress as she is of herself, she cannot quite suppress the flutter of expectation which that sound provokes. She moves and others move with her, so that there is quite a stir on the piazza as two figures emerge from the shadows beneath and pause, one in manly grace and the other in feminine beauty, for a mutual smile or glance, before mounting the broad flight of steps. Two! and she has, perhaps, anticipated but one!

The man is Mr. Degraw and the woman Signorina Valdi, or, as she is now called, Miss Rogers. He has become a frequent guest at the house and she a recognized inmate, but never before have they been observed together. The sight calls up strange looks on the faces of their youthful companions, and more than one furtive glance is cast at their silent hostess. But her self-possession is great, and there is no lack in the cordiality with which she welcomes the appearance of these two. But when, the first flurry over, they all settle down to renewed conversation in the now brilliantly lighted parlor, those who love her best feel that something has gone out of her manner that made it the sweetest and most encouraging in the world, and one at least of the three men who adore her intercepts more than one of her glances that steal, despite the pride of the heiress and woman, to the huge window-seat where sits the artist beside the singer, so happy and proud that he forgets to hide either his satisfaction or his delight.

As for the signorina, she was in that soft mood of unexpected happiness which makes a woman beautiful, whatever her features. She to whom Nature had given the perfection of grace was so much the more captivating. From the crown of her lovely head, drooping with the weight of untold hopes, to the tip of her dainty foot, she was the incarnation of joy shadowed only by the wonder which such joy often brings. Though she did not speak, much less sing, her whole figure breathed forth music, and one person present heard it, and heard it as plainly as if she had walked at her side a half-hour before, and listened, as spirits listen, to the vows which the ardent artist had whispered into the beloved one’s half-averted ears. Love, pure and perfect, had breathed across this virgin soul, and a deeper love than hers had noted it and taken a lesson therefrom —the lesson of pain and patience, generous sympathy and womanly sacrifice.

The more disinterested persons in the room had collected about the piano, where one of their number was playing thrilling airs from Gounod. As the melody filled the air, more than one tongue was loosed of the secret that burdened it.

“Do you observe the couple over there?” one of Miss Aspinwall’s lovers—not the most generous— whispered in her ear. “Boy Cupid has been busy with one or both of their hearts since we saw them last. I think I can discover the tip of his wings fluttering in and about between them now. What do you think?”

Some questions are very hard to answer; this was meant to be one of them. But Miss Aspinwall had the courage of despair and did not shrink from uttering a smiling response.

“I have not much acquaintance with the plumage which the blind god sports, but if the happiness which I see there is from him, I can only say that he chose a noble couple to bestow it upon. Mr. Degraw is a gifted man, and Miss Rogers is a gifted woman. Why should they not appreciate each other?”

On the other side of the room the subjects of these remarks were listening to the music and whispering short sentences into each others’ ears. If Cupid were there he heard words which surely had been murmured under his auspices before. Yet they are always new.

“I love you, signorina, I love you, love you! Do you think you can trust me to make you happy? I do not ask you to answer me at once, only do not forbid me speaking. You are so beautiful, so beautiful!”

A soft sigh was her only reply.

“I know that the time is short since we were strangers, and I knew nothing of your life or of you. But such a rencontre as brought us first together is equal to a year of common companionship, for in it were both death and life. I loved you when I thought you were dead, and now, that I touch you and hear you speak, I am moved by such over whelming emotions, that for me there is nothing of interest in the world but love and our two selves.”

“Ah!” was again the murmured reply. “Is love so sweet? Does it compensate one for other worldly losses? I would gladly believe so. Teach me.”

“Will I not? Say only that you will not scorn the teacher, and all my life is at your service. I have not loved before—no, no, proud signorina, however you may smile, I have never even thought that I loved before. You are my first adoration, and so deep already has the feeling gone, that I ask nothing more from Heaven than your love; not fame, not honor, not wealth; nothing but you, you, you!”

She might have responded; her lips had opened and her eyes had flashed radiantly; but before the words could issue from her lips, there was a sudden hush in the music, and more than one whisperer paused and glanced hastily toward the door. A stranger was entering, a remarkable man, in whose tall form and courtly carriage all read gentleman, but no one a gentleman they knew, not even the hostess. Who was he? A dozen eyes asked the inquiry between the instant when he crossed the threshold and that in which he made his bow to the assembled company. Who was he? And the men were as eager as the ladies, for he seemed to have come there with a purpose.

It was but a moment, but that moment was never forgotten by any one then present in the room.

First because of something they saw in the stranger. This was the sudden and overpowering admiration which he betrayed, as his gaze passed straight before him to the wide window-seat and its beautiful occupant. Not an eye in the room but followed his, to the signorina’s evident confusion and growing loveliness, for she had been caught with the love-light on her face, and, perhaps, with a confession on her lips; and she feared, if she did not know, that her secret was discovered. The second cause for this moment becoming memorable lay in the conduct of the hostess. She had taken the card which the servant had brought her, and was looking at it with a wonder she found it impossible to disguise.

“Excuse me,” said she, advancing to the stranger with a cordial smile, in which, however, a certain tinge of doubt was visible, “is this your name which I find written on this card?”

He started, turned from the object which had evidently engrossed all his thought, and made Miss Aspinwall another low bow.

“Certainly, madam, it is my name,” was his response, uttered in some surprise. “I have here a letter of introduction from Mr. Morris, of Cleveland, which, if you will be kind enough to read, I shall feel more at home in your presence.”

She reached out her left hand mechanically, but her eyes were still fixed upon the small bit of pasteboard she held in the right.

“You must pardon me,” she persisted; “but the name on this card is—”

She evidently found it hard to mention it. She looked across the room, and the color flashed into her face. The stranger, impressed, if not embarrassed, took up her sentence and finished it for her.

“The name on that card is mine,” he declared. “Hamilton Degraw. Do you find anything strange in it”

Chapter 17
The First Step Taken

Anything strange in it? Well, yes, there was something very strange in it. A murmur rose throughout the room, and, with one accord, each head turned toward the artist, who himself bore the name just spoken. He had risen, and though all were ready to behold in his face surprise at this bizarre introduction of one of his own name into this limited circle, they were not prepared for the vivid expression of incomprehensible and growing emotion which his countenance so forcibly betrayed. It was as if he had received a shock in which there was something like fear, but the step he took forward and the gesture which he made showed that the fear was not for himself, but for another; and the question immediately rose in every mind: “Who is this other, and what is there to fear?”

The gentleman whose introduction had aroused all this curiosity was meanwhile standing in a courteous way before Miss Aspinwall, who, after the first instant of hesitation, had greeted him with genuine warmth and one of her frankest smiles.

“You must pardon us,” said she, “the seeming discourtesy of your welcome. But there is another Hamilton Degraw in the room, and the name being an unusual one, my first thought was that you were seeking an introduction to him. Will you sit, Mr. Degraw, while I read Mr. Morris’ note?”

The stranger smiled and bowed and took the seat offered him. He was in no degree embarrassed, and if conscious of all the glances leveled upon him, did not show it. But perhaps he was not conscious of them. For, the moment his attention was released by the preoccupation of his hostess, he turned at once toward the window-seat with an eagerness that made the indignant blood leap into the cheeks of the watchful artist, and though there was no impertinence in his manner, nor any recognition beyond that which is accorded by an appreciative nature to suddenly revealed beauty, all those, who had passed sufficiently beyond their first youth to have any insight into life and the human heart, felt that trouble had entered the room with this second Hamilton Degraw, and that in the very moment of his introduction, the first scene in a drama had opened, that would ere long occupy all their thoughts.

Nor was this seemingly unfelt even by the object of his interest. Though her agitation was natural enough when we consider that her heart and possibly her lips were trembling with the name he so unceremoniously announced to be his own, there was still something in her attitude and the agitation which informed her whole figure, that expressed the presence of a fear similar to that expressed by the artist. Was it that she felt the burning ardor of this stranger’s glance, and realized the complications which a new love at this time would occasion? Or had she become in some way aware that the name she had just heard was not only that of her lover, but the man who had wrought mischief with so many of the name of Jenny Rogers? Whichever be the truth, she showed an emotion almost greater than that of her lover, though it did not last so long. By the time Miss Aspinwall had finished her note, the signorina’s face had become calm, and her figure regained its poise, and though a steady pallor had taken the place of her fitful blushes, not a face in the room looked more composed or a mind more at its ease than hers,

“I am much obliged to Mr. Morris,” was Miss Aspinwalls remark, as she folded up the note. “I am always glad to receive any one upon his recommendation; and in this case his recommendation is very pressing.” And, turning toward her friends, she observed, in her own gracious, dignified way: “Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce to you Mr. Degraw, of Cleveland; a friend of my friend, and soon, I hope, to be a friend of each one of us.”

The young people immediately crowded forward, for the stranger, while not handsome, that is, in comparison with the gentleman usually associated with his name, possessed a figure and bearing likely to attract all lovers of elegance and culture. Two of the company only remained in the rear, and these were the signorina and her lover, who, not relaxing one iota of his defiance, stood at her side as if on guard, while he sought to catch Miss Aspinwall’s eye, as if to warn her to be careful in her demonstrations toward a person with whom were connected his gravest doubts.”

For in the rapid glances which he had bestowed upon this interloper since his first entrance, he had noted that the stranger was tall, easy-mannered, and possessed not only of the gray eyes which had misled the police in his own case, but of the black mustache also; and, believing that he had before him the man who had occasioned so much mischief in the city he had just left, he neither could suppress, nor did he endeavor to, the spirit of antagonism and rage which, without these reasons for dislike, would have been sufficiently aroused by the persistent delight which the stranger manifested in contemplating the woman whom the artist now regarded as his future wife.

As Miss Aspinwall, therefore, guided her new guest from one person to another, he followed them with a burning gaze, that presently took on a new fire as he perceived them turning toward himself and his now self-possessed and apparently expectant companion.

“Mr. Degraw,” remarked Miss Aspinwall, refraining for various reasons from raising her eyes to the gaze which might have proved a warning to her had she met it, “allow me to present to you a gentleman of your own name, if not of your artistic calling. Our friend is the painter of whose works you must often have heard,” she explained, turning to the gentleman at her side. “It was on account of his presence that I manifested such surprise upon your introduction.”

“You are very pardonable,” replied the stranger, politely. “I have heard of Mr. Degraw many times, and am truly glad to meet him.”

The artist frowned. What was there in this person that commanded respect even from one who had every reason to believe him to be a villain. Was it his manner? It was perfect; but that the artist had been led to expect. Or was it his eye, which, if ardent, had a clearness that was uncommon, and a face which, if prejudice had not stood between him and its possessor, would have made him his undoubted admirer. The mystery of the thing chafed him. Not calculating his words, he replied, with scarcely veiled sarcasm:

“And I have heard of this gentleman many times.” Then, seeing that the other did not wince, he added, less pointedly: “At least so I am led to think from his appearance and manner.”

Evidently astonished at the greeting he had received, the gentleman stared at the artist for a moment, then turned toward the signorina. Immediately Miss Aspinwall, still unobservant of the almost frantic signs which the artist hurriedly made her, opened her lips to speak the formal words of the necessary introduction, when the latter stopped her by uttering it himself:

“Signorina Valdi, allow me to present to you Mr. Degraw, of Cleveland.”

Instantly an expression of surprise passed over every face. Though we still speak of the singer by the name under which we first knew her, she had been universally known in this house by the simple one bequeathed to her by her parents. To hear her addressed, then, in this public way by the stage name she had definitely discarded roused the curiosity of all who heard it. This the speaker had expected, but what he had not looked for, and which, coming at this critical moment, literally shook his self-possession, was the look of disappointment that came into the countenances of the two persons introduced. That the stranger was expecting to hear a different name was evident, and that she was not pleased at this effort to preserve an incognito which she had definitely cast aside was equally plain. She soon proved this to be a fact beyond dispute.

“I think,” she remarked, smilingly, to the artist, “that you have allowed yourself to forget that when I withdrew from the operatic state, I dropped my stage-name. I was Signorina Valdi, Mr. Degraw,” this to the stranger, “but now—” She paused, for the artist had made her an unmistakable gesture—a gesture which caused her to turn pale, but which did not hinder her from finishing the phrase which she had begun. “But now,” she persisted, “it is as Jenny Rogers I am known both here and elsewhere.”

It was done. The stranger looked relieved; the artist, discouraged. If safety lay for her under the incognito the latter had attempted to improvise for her, she had thrown that safety aside. Did she realize it? There was no token of the fact in her face, which was upturned to the stranger with confidence and content engraved upon its every lineament. Troubled at the sight, her lover turned to Miss Aspinwall, and, drawing her a step away, said, anxiously:

“You must excuse any seeming rudeness which you may observe in me. I have no confidence in this man, and was very desirous of preventing his introduction to Miss Rogers. Why, I cannot tell you now; but, believe me, the reason was good and such as you would pardon.” Then, as he saw the person thus alluded to was too busy with his new acquaintance to notice this little side-talk, he added, hastily: “Be sure he is the person alluded to in his letter of introduction before you show him too much attention. If he is the man I have every reason to believe him—”

But here the stranger turned and the artist was forced to leave his sentence uncompleted. Perhaps it was as well. A full knowledge of her guest’s identity would only have hopelessly embarrassed Miss Aspinwall and made the remainder of the evening unbearable. Whereas, now, it passed off without any marked constraint, though those who knew the hostess best were aware that all was not as it should be, either with her or this stranger. The doubt evoked by the artist’s broken words remained in her eyes, and though the stranger did not remark it, others did, and were either pleased or displeased according to the character of the impression which he had made upon them.

Ten o’clock came and with it the departure of this gentleman, who for one reason or another, occupied the attention of every one present. When he rose to go—he had been talking for some time to a group of girls, though his attention did not seem to be with them, but with the face and figure of the beautiful signorina sitting a short distance from him, in her old place on the wide window seat—there was an actual stir of relief from all sides. And yet no one in all the room, not excepting even the handsome artist, looked more nearly the beau ideal of manhood, than this man with his tall and imposing figure, strong face and courtly expression.

“I leave,” said he, to the hostess, “with many thanks for my kindly reception here. Though I had been told much of the charms of Great Barrington, I had not heard that its advantages of natural scenery were more than equaled by its opportunities for the highest social intercourse.” And such was the grace and seeming candor of his words, that Miss Aspinwall forgot for the moment her doubts, and gave him one of those lovely smiles which were seldom accorded but to the most welcome guest.

“I shall do myself the honor of calling again,” he thereupon remarked, and before she had time to recover from the embarrassment which these words called forth, he had made his bow and left; but not without casting one more look at the signorina.

The instant his departing step was heard on the gravel-walk without, a murmur of voices broke forth.

“How peculiar!”

“What a gentleman!”

“I wonder if it can be a case of love at first sight!”

“Two Degraws in the field!”

At which last ejaculation the hostess turned pale, though she tried to keep up her spirits on this, perhaps, the most trying evening of her life.

In the window-recess, another hurried and passionate colloquy was going on.

“Oh, my love,” the artist was saying, “I tried to save you from this man. He is the wretch who has made so many Jenny Rogerses unhappy. Perhaps you have not read the papers, and perhaps you did not know that persons of your name are at present under a sort of ban, but I knew it and knew that from the very similarity between his name and mine that he was the person most to be dreaded by you. Yet you would not take the hint I gave you, but insisted upon owning to your real name, and not content with that, allowed him to address you and even to engage you in conversation.”

“And has any harm come from it, or will any harm come? I have heard of some of the stories you speak of, but there was nobody to tell me that there was anything in this gentleman to fear. Nor can I believe there is. You are laboring under a mistake, or look with prejudiced eyes upon one who seems to infringe upon your rights by bearing the same name.”

“Do you plead for him, signorina? Has he imposed on you, too, by his devilish urbanity and hypocritical smiles? I will not believe it. He may turn the heads of school-misses and factory-girls, but surely not yours. Why, he is a murderer, possibly.”

“Oh, no!” she exclaimed, hotly, and would have said more; but just then Miss Aspinwall approached them, and pressed the artist to finish the revelations which he had been interrupted in making to her earlier in the evening. But he had lost the desire to speak, Something in the signorina’s manner betrayed such unbounded trust in the stranger, that he felt it would be but waste of breath to reiterate his suspicions, while to brand the stranger as an adventurer and criminal in the presence of a company who had already received him as an equal, was, in the absence of other proof than that which had been urged against himself, a manifest risk and possible shame. His reply, therefore, was less uncompromising than Miss Aspinwall had anticipated.

“I was about to warn you,” said he, “against this Mr. Degraw, not because I know him, but because a gentleman of his name and mine has earned a very doubtful reputation in New York. Though it is hard to believe that this person is the one who has engaged the attention of the police, still my fears are such that I could not refrain from giving you a hint of them. That is all, Miss Aspinwall. I now consider my duty in this regard at an end.”

She took out of her pocket the note which the stranger had brought her.

“This seems entirely en regle,” she remarked, “I know the writer well, and I know his signature. He recommends Mr. Degraw to me as a gentleman of family and distinction. To doubt that this is true is to doubt the knowledge or judgment of my friend. This I cannot do; so I must still continue to receive Mr. Degraw.”

The artist bowed and waived the subject. He felt himself in a false position, and hated his own precipitancy, while at the same time he found it impossible to dismiss his doubts. He was also troubled by the smiles and beaming aspect of the signorina. If she loved him, could she or would she hail this manifest triumph of his rival?

But did she love him? Had the tide he believed to be turning in his favor received a check, and would he be obliged to add to the list of the possible wrongs committed by this interloper, the sudden nipping in its bud of the purest Passion-flower that ever blossomed from a poet’s heart or evolved itself from a poet’s dream?

Chapter 18
Face To Face

It was midnight. Peace and quiet had settled upon the great house. Not a light twinkled from its many windows; not a sound disturbed its universal peace. But, in the walks beneath, it was not so. There a restless figure moved, pausing now and then to gaze at the vault of stars above his head, but oftener to turn toward the house from one of whose windows an influence breathed which chained him to the spot.

It was Hamilton Degraw, the artist.

What were his thoughts? What were his dreams? What was the charm which made this vigil more alluring than the repose which awaited him in his own rooms? He had parted from the signorina under the eyes of Miss Aspinwall and her friends. He had not dared to utter one of the countless appeals which rose to his lips. She had not encouraged him to do so, and he would not have ventured if she had. Indeed, her manner had been in a slight degree repelling. Though she had smiled upon him, and even blushed at his look, which conveyed more of his feelings than he, doubtless, intended at the moment, she had not shown that shy delight at his homage which he had observed in her before the advent of the other Mr. Degraw. He had, therefore, this estrangement to think of, as well as of the danger which possibly threatened her. And there was another thing. He had sometimes thought that the mysterious Montelli and the unknown persecutor of the innocent girls so often alluded to were one and the same man. But if this gentleman whom he had met this evening were the latter person, as he fully believed, then he and Montelli were two distinct persons; for he had noted the figure and face of both, and realized that by no art could the one have been transformed into the other. There were, therefore, in the case of the signorina, two enemies to fear, and which of these was to be dreaded the more, it was impossible to say.

But it was not to watch or think that he lingered in Miss Aspinwall’s grounds on this night. It was to be near the woman he loved, to breathe the same air, to sigh beneath the same stars. It was next to having her promise; next to knowing that she returned his sighs and dreamed his dreams. He would not have courted sleep if he could; it was too much like Paradise to stray beneath the trees and think himself a Romeo to this Juliet.

He had paced several times up and down a certain graveled walk bordered by clustering bushes, when suddenly the fancy took him to stray into another path less heavily shadowed. But, as he stepped into it, he paused. Was it safe to travel its moonlighted surface, within sight, as he perceived it to be, of fully one-half of the house? No; it was not safe. But for that very reason it was tempting to him; and, without sounding very deeply the intuitions which led him to this sudden exposure of his presence, he passed smilingly down its lengthened vista into the semicircle of evergreens which terminated this walk.

An exclamation of astonishment, followed by a sudden recoil, was the result. He was not alone in this place of expected solitude. A man was before him, whose tall form, drawn up within a shadow that failed to conceal his presence, gave to the artist such a shock that he well-nigh lost his self-possession.

The other, who had evidently been driven into this retreat by the sound of approaching steps, showed great embarrassment also. Though he came forward at the first exclamation of the intruder and made a bow that should at once have reassured the most suspicious, the words he uttered did not sound quite natural to the artist’s sensitive ear, nor did his bearing betray that ease which had hitherto accompanied it, even in situations most trying to a gentleman.

“Mr. Degraw!”

“Mr. Degraw!”

The words rang simultaneously, but in wholly dissimilar tones. Then the two paused and looked at each other, and then the gentleman from Cleveland remarked:

“You find me still intruding upon Miss Aspinwall’s grounds. How shall I explain it? Not by the real reason lest that should seem sentimental to you. Shall I say that it is the beauty of the night which allures me, and trust to your good-nature not to be contradicted in my statement?”

The artist, who had withdrawn himself into the moonlight, responded by a short but significant silence. Then he observed:

“I shall contradict you in nothing, Mr. Degraw. I have not yet recovered from the surprise of encountering a person of my own somewhat unusual name.”

“You make a great deal of that. Shall I relate to you my pedigree, or send for that leaf in our family Bible which is duly inscribed with my name?”

“Could you?”

“Mr. Degraw, you insult me. Were there any cause for it, I should probably resent it. As there is not, I find it more consistent with my self-respect to regard you as a moon-struck enthusiast, unworthy my attention or revenge.”

This tone, which was certainly unexpected, took the artist by surprise. For a moment he hesitated, not knowing what to reply, then he said, boldly:

“I certainly find myself under great obligations to you. To be thought a moon-struck enthusiast is better than to be thought a villain and a fraud!” And with a determined step he wheeled about, leaving the passage open to the man whom he now believed he had made his enemy.

He had walked but a short distance, however, before he heard the other’s step ring close at his side.

“I cannot let you go,” said the stranger, as the artist turned toward him, “till you have in some measure explained yourself. When my name was first mentioned, you showed an unnatural astonishment, and at the time of my introduction to you, I was met by a sarcasm which my own courteous feelings toward you certainly neither merited nor called forth. What excuse you have to make for all this, I cannot say; but it must certainly be a good one to reconcile you to conduct so out of keeping with your general character and fame.”

“You are right,” assented the artist, baffled by the other’s coolness, but for an instant shaken in his doubts. “I had an excuse and if you wish to hear what it is I must give it. But I would rather be excused from offending you and would esteem it a great favor on your part if, instead of requiring explanations from me, you would consent to answer to three questions.”

“You are moderate in your demands,” sneered the stranger, with a curl of his strong lip and a flash of his keen eyes. “As the insulted party, I have certainly the right to refuse them. But I am something more than an insulted party; I am a gentleman and an honest one; therefore, if you have anything to ask, ask it. I will be brief but straightforward in my replies.”

A cold perspiration started out upon the artist’s brow, but he pursued unflinchingly the course into which fate had led him.

“You will answer questions?” said he. “Perhaps, then, you will be kind enough to tell me whether you came directly here from Cleveland?”

“I did not.”

“Have you been staying, then, in New York, and was it from that place you traveled to this spot?”

“You have said it. I have been in New York, and it was from there I came no later than to-day on the five o’clock express. Would you like to know what baggage I brought and what was the amount of the fee I gave to the porter?”

“I wish to know nothing but what vitally concerns myself and the welfare of a person dearer to me than myself. Miss Rogers—”

“Ah!”

There was a change in the stranger’s manner. He seemed at once to have received a hint to the mystery of the other’s antagonism.

“Is the bearer,” imperturbably continued the artist, “of a name that has lately been the mark for peculiar shafts of fortune. As the lady is dear to me—you will pardon the self-revelation given by these words—I have constituted myself the shield to protect her against the assaults which have overwhelmed girls of lesser consequence and attainments. If, therefore, you have ever spoken to any other person by the name of Jenny Rogers, do not think that you will be allowed to speak to this one. If you have not—”

“Sir!” interposed the other, haughtily, “you are a madman. Not speak to Miss Rogers? Why, if she were your wife I should address her if I pleased, that is, if she allowed me the privilege of doing so, and I think she would.”

This shaft, which was only too deftly leveled, struck home at once. The artist recoiled, and stammered some ineffectual words, before he returned to the attack.

“Miss Rogers is no judge of her own danger,” he finally remarked. “If she were, you might expect less indulgence on her part.”

The stranger laughed.

“You show an ignorance,” he asserted, “both of my nature and the character of my interest in Miss Rogers that excuses you for much more folly than you evince in this interview. Danger does not menace Miss Rogers, that is, not from me, but if it did, you have scarcely taken the wisest means to avert it.”

This was only too true. Carried away by his feelings, the artist had allowed himself to go further than his own judgment approved. But to be told of it by his adversary was humiliating and did not serve to increase his satisfaction. It was, therefore, in a bitter enough tone that he replied:

“I have but done as any honest man would do. I have reasons for distrusting you and I tell you so. All that I shall add to what I have already said, is this: That if grief or any peril comes to Miss Rogers, I shall know where to look for its cause. Neither your seeming good-breeding nor the dignity which invests your person and conversation shall save you in that hour from a revenge that will have not only love but the law to back it. So beware!” He turned away; the stranger looked after him doubtfully and took one step as if to follow him.

But this determination did not hold, and Mr. Degraw of Cleveland remained silent and unmoved, while the other passed slowly down the paths till he reached one of the two gates which guarded the place. There the artist paused, and his antagonist, convinced that he would go no further while he himself remained on the ground, was good-natured enough or wise enough to turn away toward the other gate. The watchful artist, perceiving this, passed out, and presently the two could be seen hasting through the street, the one toward the hotel, the other toward the neighboring dwelling which held his rooms.

Would they have passed so lightly had they possessed the power of perceiving the girlish figure that sat behind one of those open casements upon which they now turned their backs? I wot not, for in the eager face uplifted to the moon there was a look which puzzles us and would have puzzled them. Was she listening? Was she dreaming? Was she hoping? Is it a spell of delight or of apprehension which holds her enthralled and makes her a statue of wakefulness amid a household of sleepers? We may not know at present. Will the time ever come when we shall?

Chapter 19
Something More Than A Game Of Croquet

When the young artist sat down to breakfast the next morning, he found a note lying beside his plate. It was from Miss Aspinwall and was to the effect that she had written to her friend Mr. Morris for a precise description of the gentleman he had been kind enough to introduce to Her notice.

This was satisfactory and prevented the artist from sending a letter to Mr. Byrd, as he had contemplated. For though he had no doubt in his own mind as to the identity of this stranger, he had no desire to put himself in a false light in connection with one who owned so sarcastic a tongue and held at the moment such an impregnable position. He determined, therefore, to wait and take no measures of his own till after a reply had been received from Cleveland. That is, unless he saw signs of immediate peril menacing his dear one, in which case he would not write at all, but telegraph.

The sound of croquet-balls clicking from Miss Aspinwall’s grounds gave him presently all the excuse he needed for an early visit there. Crossing the turf, he soon found himself within view of the bright and cheerful picture which the introduction of this game has made so familiar to us. The white dresses of the ladies, the velvety verdure of the lawn, the grace of ever varying movement, the eager enjoyment, all were there. But he saw nothing but a solitary man and woman halting under the shade of a neighboring tree; he, with manly interest pervading every feature of his strong face, and she, with corresponding pleasure irradiating every lineament, and making beautiful every attitude. His rival from Cleveland had lost no time.

Angry beyond his power to conceal, Hamilton Degraw drew back. Not for him was this place of mirth and joy; not for him the petty civilities of the morning call and a tedious and deceptive game. If she could smile like this after the appeal he had made her the night before, then she was not the woman he deemed her; nor was her regard what he hoped it to be. She was false, and he would leave her—only he could not leave her. He knew that before he had gone twenty steps. False or true, she was the woman he loved, and he could no more go away and leave her under the seductive influence of this incomprehensible stranger, than he could have surrendered a pet lamb to the paw of a wolf. He therefore stopped at a certain seat in the middle of the lawn, and, not caring whether he was seen or not, sat down, and taking a pencil and sketch-book from his pocket, began, to all appearance, to draw the scene before him.

Suddenly, a laughing voice was heard over his shoulder.

“Oh, Mr. Degraw! What a disappointment! I expected to see a picture of hill and valley, roof and spire, or at least a group of girls circling round one poor croquet ball, and, behold! only a milk-white page meets my eye!”

He turned. One of the lightest-hearted and freest tongued of the many gay girls about him stood at his side.

“Good morning,” said he. “You want to see a picture? Well, wait a moment, and I will show you one.”

And without analyzing his motive or counting the cost of his impulse, he forced his pencil to travel over the paper, leaving thereupon the lines of a countenance that was at the same time both forcible and proud. When he had finished it, he showed it to her.

“Who is it?” he asked.

“Why, your namesake from Cleveland,” she replied, with a mischievous tilt of her head. “It is very good, only you have not flattered him,”

“I leave that for the ladies to do,” he gravely retorted, and, with a smile she could not fathom, closed his book, put it in his pocket, and offered her his arm. “You may wish to possess this, some day,” he laughed, tapping significantly the place where he had put the sketch; “but remember that you will have no claim upon it if by word or gesture you reveal the secret of its making.”

“Do you mean the picture or your heart?” she asked; “for your hand is pressed over both.”

He gazed into her merry eyes, caught the momentary contagion of her glee, and smiled.

“That is for you to decide,” he rejoined. “If it is a riddle, I think your perspicacity may be relied upon to solve it.”

And thus, with a cleared brow, but with a wildly beating and rebellious heart, he drew near to the players.

He was welcomed by one joyous acclaim, but he noticed with a sense of humiliation, hard to endure, that a dozen curious glances passed immediately from his face to that of his now publicly recognized rival. He restrained himself, however, and singling out Miss Aspinwall, paid her such attention as his distraction would allow. The result was perplexity to many minds. For no sooner did the signorina behold herself forsaken by one, who upon the evening before had taken an indisputable place at her side, than she showed a vague uneasiness which soon made itself noticeable to every eye. But as the morning progressed and she found herself as much ignored by her late lover as politeness would allow, she gained more mastery over herself and ended by playing the role of general coquette. Meantime, the stranger had been pressed into the game, possibly by the secret allies of the artist, and was busy with the duties of the same. He did not lose sight of the signorina, however, and those that watched them both felt that if the artist was unwise enough to carry his pique beyond the bounds of politeness, he would be in danger of losing the prize he had evidently set his heart upon gaining.

The game which was now in progress, had for opponents: Miss Clinton and Mr. Degraw against Miss Aspinwall and Mr, Ferrall. It was an evenly matched and bitterly opposed contest. At one moment, the former couple appeared to be in the advance, and then by some lucky stroke the latter came to the front, only to fall back again under the other’s judicious play. So lively was the struggle and so skillful the opponents, that the attention of the whole surrounding party was finally drawn to the sport, greatly to the relief of the signorina, who, if she had not betrayed her consciousness of the scrutiny to which she had been subjected, certainly showed her pleasure at the momentary respite from it, occasioned by a telling play on the part of Mr. Ferrall.

Rousing herself from the attitude of coquettish languor, which she had assumed under the talk of one of Miss Aspinwall’s declared admirers, she cast a quick look across the ground to where the artist stood beside his more or less abstracted hostess. It was but a flash, but he saw it, and taking it for an invitation, forgot his anger, forgot his resolves, forgot everything but her; and only waiting to see that his rival was just poising his mallet for a blow, he bowed his adieu to Miss Aspinwall, and started for the bench upon which sat the perplexing object of his adoration.

But scarcely had he taken three steps, before he found himself confronted by Mr. Ferrall.

“Take my mallet, Degraw, I entreat you, and finish this game. I have just received a telegram which demands instant attention. No one can beat that Cleveland chap but you. Go in, then, and don’t forget that Miss Rogers’ eye is on you.”

Before the artist could reply, the mallet was thrust into his hand, young Ferrall was off, and a dozen voices were crying:

“Whose turn? Beat that run of play if you can.” He gave the signorina one glance, grasped his mallet, and took his stand by his ball. The play alluded to had been made by his rival, and seemed to determine the game. But he was a fine player, too, and after having taken in the location of the several balls, he took his aim and made the most brilliant stroke of the season.

A chorus of acclamations arose, then a silence followed, broken only by the click of the mallet and balls. When it ceased, he had separated his opponents’ balls by the full width of the ground, and croqueted his own and his partner’s through the last two arches.

Miss Clinton now advanced to the rescue. Could she but hit a ball, the game might be saved, otherwise it was irretrievably lost. Would she hit one? Many on the field thought so, but the artist did not He had “wired” her too effectually. And so it proved. In making her stroke, she drove her ball against an arch and confusion was the result. She had but to hit her partner’s ball, put it out, and then drive her own to the stake. But she was nervous, and only succeeded in putting her own ball out.

The odds were now entirely in favor of the stranger and Miss Clinton. But when Mr. Degraw came to play, some unlucky twist of his mallet sent his ball on one side of the wire instead of the other, and his opportunity to retrieve the game was lost.

So now it was the artist’s turn again, and as he had but to hit the stake with his ball, many thought the result as good as decided, and prepared to clap their hands. But to the momentary amazement of every one, he dallied with his luck, and, instead of driving his ball up carefully to the stake, sent it whirling; cross the field in search of that of his adversary. He did not hit the mark he had set for himself, but he accomplished a purpose that was dearer to him than any game. His ball stopped not three feet from the signorina, and, though his watchful rival evidently understood the motive which urged him, and sent his own ball immediately in the same direction, he had the opportunity to whisper:

“Love me, and drop this fellow. His admiration dishonors you and maddens me. I will not see you yield to it.”

That was all, but it evidently was enough. Her face showed first astonishment, then chagrin and then something like despair. But the scene was one of mirth, and she found herself forced to join in the general laughter which hailed the stranger as victor, the artist having sacrificed the game for a whisper.

Had he sacrificed more? There was every reason to believe so; for the signorina had become rigid after her laugh and then impassive, not lifting her eyes from under her broad-brimmed hat, and only answering questions after being startled by the silence which followed them. And yet, though both of her lovers felt this coldness and suffered from it, neither seemed disposed to abandon the field. They lingered, chatting, one on one side of the ground and the other on the other, and neither had any eyes but for her who seemingly saw no one.

But at last there came a moment when the long strain upon them both was loosed. The artist saw her move and moved himself, when suddenly he perceived what had occasioned her change of attitude, and inconsiderately paused.

His namesake from Cleveland was approaching her. Would he be welcome? The artist held his breath, watching them both with burning eyes. One moment he thought she was going to turn away, but the next she looked up, and though she grew startlingly pale, she cast upon the stranger a heavenly smile which made the artist’s heart drop like lead in his bosom.

“I have lost her,” was his inward comment, and he turned on his heel and left the place.

And so he continued to look upon the matter for some hours; then a note came, a little perfumed note, into which was crushed a forget-me-not; and though it had no signature and bore no address, he felt it was from her, and read the words it inclosed with an emotion easily to be conceived. They were but two, but those two words were:

“Trust me.”

Chapter 20
Forward And Back

A man in love is eager to believe in the truth of the object adored, but Hamilton Degraw pondered long over the signorina’s note before he could come to any definite conclusion in regard to it. Trust her! Were those words the plea of a coquette or the despairing cry of a threatened and perplexed woman? In her face and in her manner he had beheld evidences of a struggle between love and some opposing passion he could not even fathom sufficiently to name. But was the conflict a worthy one and should he uphold her in it by an indulgence which might speak more of weakness than of true manly sympathy? He could not decide; for his own pride was engaged in the decision, and a man’s pride dies hard even in the cause of his own affections.

But as the night approached, the sweet appeal grew in force till it overwhelmed his doubts and renewed his confidence. Trust her! Yes, he could trust her, but could he trust himself? From the experience of the morning, he knew that it would be absolutely perilous to his self-control to subject himself to a further sight of his rival’s triumph. Though it was misery to sit still in his improvised studio, while this other man enjoyed free access to her side, he felt it to be wisdom to thus sacrifice his feelings till the letter from Cleveland came to settle the position of this interloper and give to himself that advantage in her eyes which truth and honor must ever possess over deception and revealed fraud.

He, therefore, replied to her note by saying he would trust her so far as to leave her to her new friend till he could substantiate the doubts which he had so freely expressed against him, and supplemented this communication by a line to Miss Aspinwall, in which he expressed thanks for her kindness and entreated consideration for the feelings which induced him to remain for a few days from her house, or until she received such word from Mr. Morris as would make it agreeable for him to return there.

This last clause betrayed the full motive for his conduct, as he had meant it should. The result was a speedy response from his generous hostess.

“Dear Mr. Degraw: You may be doing wisely, and you may not. Of that you must be your own judge. Mr. Degraw, of Cleveland, will not stay away because you do, and much mischief can be done in three days. However, you have one firm friend here, who will not allow matters to proceed too far without warning you. May I be allowed to express the hope, then, that I shall not be compelled to address you till I can inclose Mr. Morris’ letter?
              “Yours sincerely,
                           “Hilary Aspinwall”

This letter, with its direct promise, put new life into him. He felt that with this good friend on the watch, he could rest in peace for a day, at least, and rose the next morning full of hope, only to find his spirits immediately dashed by the following unexpected epistle:

“Mr. Degraw and Miss Rogers held a long conversation last evening, seated upon the window seat which we all feel is dedicated to you. Though there was nothing in their manner which was open to the criticism of the most exacting person present, half of the men and all of the ladies who saw them felt chagrined at this testimony of a growing intimacy on the part of two persons who, if half you say is true, should never have had so much as a distant acquaintanceship.

“It is, perhaps, only fair to add that Mr. Degraw has none of the look of a charlatan, and parted from Miss Rogers last evening with a gesture of as much respect as if he had been taking leave of a queen.
                                                  “H. A.”

“So much the worse,” thought our artist. “Manner can impose upon any woman. My darling is certainly in danger.” And he had another struggle with his pride. It was cut short by the appearance of Miss Aspinwall’s own maid with another note. Its contents varied from the last.

“There is an especially fine view to be found on the road to Stockbridge, just at the top of the long hill. Some of our guests propose a ride and a picnic there to-day. It might not be unwise for you to be found already upon the ground, sketching. H. A.”

This determined him. Pocketing his pride, for it still rebelled, he hired a horse, and, providing himself with full sketching materials, rode at once to the place designated. It was a wild spot, full of ravines and tangled undergrowth, but beautiful from the stretch of smiling valley and encircling hills which lay in broad expanse before it. Settling himself upon the highest point, he unpacked his easel, took out his sketching frame and began work. Presently he heard the noise of approaching wheels, then the sound of voices mingled with laughter, and before he could subdue the restless throbbing of his heart, perceived, emerging from the trees below him, a carriage, on the front seat of which, side by side with the man he detested, sat the exquisite form of the signorina, clad in a costume so simple and yet so coquettish that his heart sank even before he saw her face.

But when they came nearer and he could discern the pure joy which illumined her features, he felt that there was no more hope for him; and, rising up, he stepped forward and stood, a tall and forbidding figure, on the edge of the road, up which the carriage was slowly toiling.

Instantly silence settled on the merry-makers beneath. In a stillness that was almost oppressive, they advanced, and stopped almost within reach of his arm, whereupon, without any word of greeting, or any other further show of courtesy than a profound bow, he turned, gathered up his easel and various traps, and, descending the side hill, took up his position near a great bowlder, where he immediately recommenced his work.

It was a direct cut, made with the rudeness which exists in all great passions. But there was something besides the mere expression of anger in his action.

He had feared to risk an encounter in which his own emotions might master him. Better lose his title of gentleman than break forth in those execrations which were trembling on his tongue. Silence and solitude might restore his equanimity. He would at least give them the opportunity of doing so; and if by this self-restraint he drove the signorina to regret the increasing provocation of her manner, he would have earned a reward equal to his sacrifice.

A second carriage stopping behind the first soon added its freight of laughing girls to the party already scattered over the hill-top. Then came a third conveyance, and finally a fourth, which latter held the servants and such means for the general comfort and good cheer as spoke highly of the provident care of their generous hostess.

The artist saw all, but did not cease making marks upon his paper. He was schooling himself and learning a lesson in patience which might some day stand him in good stead.

It would be tedious for me to relate all the occurrences of this day. Mr. Degraw was not left long alone on the hillside, but the one person for whose coming he eagerly waited did not show herself at his side. When the meal was ready, he was summoned by Miss Aspinwall to take a seat at the improvised table; but he refused, in as courteous tones as possible, and went on with the picture he was now mechanically finishing. When it was done, he rose, and, seeing his friends still at luncheon, strolled down the hill.

The consequence was that he soon found himself at the mouth of one of the ravines with which the place abounded. Not in the mood for scenery, but caring much for solitude, he was on the point of entering the place, when suddenly he perceived before him the figures of two persons, one of which was so well known to his eye and so dear to his heart that it was with difficulty he suppressed an ejaculation of astonishment.

It was the signorina, and with her was a man whose face and form were vaguely familiar to him, and yet not sufficiently so for him to recall his name or to remember where he had seen him.

A little child fluttered gleefully between them, lending an air of innocence to the scene, and yet the artist felt strangely put out by what he saw, and could not refrain from giving another sharp look at the person whom the signorina thus honored by her companionship, and was further startled by discovering that he was not a gentleman.

What did it mean? The two were conversing intently, too intently for him to doubt that the meeting was intentional, and yet what stranger could she know in this place, and what business could so dainty a lady have with a man of this stamp? As he was asking himself these more than puzzling questions, the two said some hurried words of farewell and quickly parted, the man slipping from sight amid the bushes, and the signorina passing onward down the ravine with the little child at her side.

He longed to follow but felt that it would be imprudent to do so. Yet it was impossible to remain quiescent while the question as to this man’s identity remained unsettled. But how settle it? He saw no better way than to join the party above, and listen to the gossip that was circulating about the luncheon table. He therefore hastened at once to the top of the hill, arriving there just as the graceful figure of the woman he loved appeared in the far distance, emerging from the group of huge rocks that lined the ravine where he had left her.

The welcome he received was a characteristic one. The glances he encountered did not linger long upon his face but passed almost immediately to the distant hillside, up which the signorina and her playful companion were now clambering; then smiles broke out on lips which strove to hide their secret enjoyment, while looks of curiosity passed from eye to eye till they finally fell on the gentlemanly stranger, who, serenely unconscious of what was going on around him, was making himself particularly agreeable to Miss Aspinwall.

The artist sat down, and though he helped himself to such viands as were near him, his attention could not but be distracted. For the signorina had reached the hilltop and was advancing toward them with the child still leaping at her side.

“Ah, tardy one!” and “Oh, wanderer!” were the cries with which she was hailed, while the gentlemen instinctively rose to their feet.

Two only remained seated. Mr. Degraw, of Cleveland, who was talking to Miss Aspinwall, and his namesake, the artist, who, with eyes fixed upon the signorina, made a quick; gesture toward the empty seat at his side, as if to say:

“Sit here.”

She hesitated, and two bright red spots appeared on her otherwise pallid cheeks. Then she dropped her head, lifted the little child at her side and set it down in the place he had indicated, murmuring in his ear as she did so:

“I dare not,” with the quick addition, “look under the music-box at seven to-night”

Then she slipped away, and he beheld her, a moment later, talking and laughing at the side of his hated rival.

What did it mean? Had she herself become aware of her danger, and was she only playing a part with the man she dreaded? It did not look exactly like it. There was the true ring of feeling in her voice when she answered some chance question of her companion, and if she did not trust him, she had certainly every appearance of doing so. Yet her voice had quivered with earnestness when she spoke to the artist, and, perplexed as he was, he could not but look forward with the greatest anxiety to that hour of seven, which promised to solve his difficulties.

He did not linger long after luncheon. He was too abstracted to be good company for any one, and he considered that in justice to the others he ought to withdraw. He, therefore, took his leave of Miss Aspinwall with as much cheerfulness as he could master, and hastening to where his horse was tied, proceeded to make his preparations for departure. As he did so, he saw two men in the bushes before him, one of whom he recognized as Miss Aspinwall’s butler and the other as the man he had perceived talking with the signorina in a ravine. Startled at the sight, he waited till the two had parted, then approached the butler and inquired who the person was with whom he had just been speaking. The answer confirmed his worst fears:

“Oh, that is Mr. Degraw’s man. The other Mr. Degraw, I mean. He came with us to look after the horses.”

Chapter 21
Threats And Entreaties

Miss Aspinwall dined at half-past six. At seven o’clock, therefore, she and her guests were still at table. This the artist knew, and this the signorina had calculated upon when she bade him look at this hour under the music-box.

This instrument, which was of good size and exquisite tone, was often to be heard in the house. It stood upon a certain table in the parlor overlooking the piazza, and he had but to enter by the front door to be within a few short steps of it. Promptly, then, at seven o’clock, he entered the grounds, and advanced toward the now wholly deserted piazza. As he did so, he heard a sound that sent the blood surging to his heart. It was the music-box playing. Was it in welcome or in warning? He hastened his steps to see.

It was a warm evening, and the door, as usual, stood wide open. Mounting the steps, he was about to enter, when he was startled by a sudden fragrance of flowers, at once so sweet and powerful that he looked instinctively about for the blossoms which caused it. But there were none in sight. With a sensation of something uncanny, he touched the bell, and while waiting for a response, glanced from one to another of the four great pillars which supported the roof of the portico, fully expecting to see the familiar figure of the signorina glide from behind one of them with her arms filled with flowers. But no such figure appeared, while the servant did, ushering him into the parlor with excuses for the ladies, who were still in the dining-room.

“Do not disturb them,” he hastened to say. “I will look over the music till Miss Aspinwall is at liberty.” And only waiting for the servant to disappear, he advanced to where the music-box was still playing and gently lifted it.

“If she is listening,” he thought, “she will note the change in its tone, and know that I am here.”

There was a folded paper lying on the table where the music-box had rested. Taking it quickly up, he replaced the box, and then turned to the window to read the communication he had found. It was like her last note, without signature and without address, and ran thus:

“It is you that are in danger, not I. If, therefore, you prize your life and my peace, leave this spot. You will take my heart with you, but this must not cause you to hesitate. When the day comes that I can receive you with safety, I will send you word. Till then, I will gauge your devotion and your trust by the attention you pay to my wishes,”

The paper shook in his hands; the words danced before his eyes. Leave her while she acknowledged that her heart was his! Never. He surely must have read the lines amiss. He must re-read them, and see if, in his agitation and surprise, he had not misconstrued their meaning.

But, as he lifted his eye to the top of the page, he was met again by a sudden burst of fragrance, and, wheeling impetuously about, encountered close at his back a man in whose shifting gaze he immediately detected the fact that the words he had just read had not been conned by himself alone.

Blinded with rage—for the spy was no other than his rival’s man whom he had seen with the signorina in the ravine—he shot one glance at the basket of hot-house flowers which the fellow carried, and then leaped like a flash at his throat. But the other slipped aside in time, and an encounter was prevented.

“Do not forget yourself!” exclaimed the valet. “The ladies will be coming in a minute. If you have anything to say to me, you will find me in the circle of hemlocks. But first let me put these flowers on the window-seat, where I was told to leave them.”

The artist, mute and humiliated, walked directly out of the house. He had not needed to read the card attached to the flowers to know that they were for the signorina.

The valet, contrary to his expectations, did not disappoint him. He came directly to the circlet of trees, toward which the artist had mechanically hastened, and halting respectfully at the entrance, took off his hat.

Mr. Degraw eyed him with contempt.

“You scoundrel!” was his greeting, “by what right did you presume to read a letter of mine over my back.”

The other, baffling him still by an aspect which was at once strange, and yet vaguely familiar, answered him solely by a sly smile.

Exasperated, the artist cried:

“Where have I seen you? Your face is not new to me. Are you a New York man, or do you simply look like some other coward I have known,”

A broad laugh finished the smile that yet distorted the other’s swarthy countenance.

“If I have disguised myself as poorly as all this, I shall not receive very high commendation from the chief,” was his final response. “You saw me at police headquarters, sir. I am an officer in disguise.”

The artist recoiled. Of course; why had he not thought of this before. Had not Mr. Byrd warned him that a detective would be found in Miss Rogers’ vicinity? His equanimity returned with a bound. He even seconded the other’s smile.

“I beg your pardon,” said he. “I was told that you were Mr. Degraw’s man, and being—”

“I am Mr. Degraw’s man. How else could I be useful? I came with him here from New York. I watch over him and I watch over her, and, pardon me, I have just been watching over you.”

“The last seems unnecessary,” dryly remarked the artist. “I am at least competent to take care of myself.”

“No,” the other’s look seemed to say. “You overrate your power and underrate your danger.”

“What do you mean?” inquired the artist. “Miss Rogers speaks of peril, but, then, a woman is easily alarmed.”

“That is true,” allowed the other; “but, then, in this case, I think she is justified. My master, Mr. Degraw, has some diabolical scheme on hand. What it is, I have not yet been able to determine, but that it is of an importance which will brook no interference I have many reasons to know. You stand in his way; if you continue to do this, he will endeavor to suppress you. I know this by words I have overheard him mutter. So if Miss Rogers shows apprehension, you perceive she has reasons for it.”

“Does Miss Rogers know that we are protected by a detective.”

“No, sir.”

“Yet I saw you talking with her yesterday.”

“In the ravine?”

“Yes.”

“I am glad it was you, sir, who saw us, and not my master or one of the young ladies. I had something to say to her, and I followed her to a quiet spot. It was a dangerous thing to do, but we have to take risks, sometimes. I wanted her to know what I have just told you.”

“So this is how Miss Rogers is acquainted with my danger?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you did not tell her you were a detective?”

“No, sir; I did not consider it necessary.”

“She must think you an honest serving-man.”

“She appears to.”

Mr. Degraw, who had only put these questions for the purpose of testing the fellow’s truth, felt a mountain lifted from his breast. She was not cheating him, then, by coquettish wiles, into believing she possessed an interest in him. She was really alarmed, and, woman-like, knew no other course than to humor the man she feared, in behalf of the man she loved. And yet had it been all humoring on her part—those brilliant glances, those lovely smiles? Yes, for she was an actress, trained to express emotion, and gifted with genius for doing so. With a cleared brow, he confronted the man before him, “I am relieved by your explanations,” said he. “And now it only remains for us to consider together as to what course we shall pursue in reference to this dangerous fellow.”

The other gave him a searching glance.

“Are you not going to follow Miss Rogers’ advice?” he inquired.

“And leave her just when she may need me most?”

“I know it does not seem chivalrous, but it may, perhaps, be wise.”

“Wise when you have the power to arrest this fellow at any moment it may seem best to you?”

“But I do not wish to arrest him just yet. His secret is what we want to get at, and this we can only reach by leaving him at large! Why does he pursue girls by the name of Jenny Rogers? And why, when he makes their acquaintance, does he forsake some and injure others? Is it mania on his part, or has he some scheme afloat which involves the wholesale sacrifice of these innocent girls? We do not know, but we are anxious to, and that is why I advocate leaving him at liberty for a little while longer. He has no suspicion that he is watched by any one but you; and, when you have taken yourself away, he will certainly show his hand, and that openly and at once.”

“But this is being cold-blooded with a vengeance! What if, in the meanwhile, the present object of his attentions falls a victim to his mania?”

“She will not. This time he seems to be really affected by the charms of the lady he addresses. If he injures her, I am no judge of man or woman. Besides, remember there is a watch-dog at her side. Nothing can harm her or shall harm her, while I remain on the watch; of that you may be sure.” His tone was so convincing, and he showed so much feeling in his last words, that Mr. Degraw looked at him in surprise.

“Ah, we fellows are not without heart,” observed the man. “Give us half a chance, and we can show ourselves as considerate as the best.”

“But you are not omnipresent, and peril may reach her in ways unforeseen and unexpected.”

“I do not think so. I am both liked and trusted by my master. He confides every commission to me. I am his right hand, and he will make no move without me.”

“Do you not flatter yourself?”

“No. He apes the great gentleman and does no manual work himself.”

The artist sighed,

“Well,” said he, “I will follow your wishes as far as to try and keep away from the house. If my anxieties make it impossible, why, that is the fault of human nature, and must not count against me. You, on your side, must promise that you will not only watch over her, but give me the opportunity to assist you in doing so, if his actions become in any way threatening. Miss Aspinwall, whom I will take into my confidence, must promise the same, and with these two sureties before me, I may succeed in restraining my impetuosity.”

“I am sure you will,” was the reply. “And if you would go further, and remove to the hotel—”

“I will,”

“Then I think matters must culminate very soon, and you will either find that his interest is no greater here than it seemed to be in some other quarters, or that it is of such a nature that the police will feel justified in seizing upon him, in which case his arrest will occur promptly and effectually.”

“I yield for the nonce,” said the artist; and fearful of retracting his word, which had somehow been torn from him, he broke up the conference by a gesture, and walked rapidly away, in the direction of his present home.

But before he had reached it, he deliberately turned about, and hastened back to the mansion he had just left.

“I will not act the part of the coward,” he inwardly determined; “nor will I be a slave to the cold-blooded wishes of the police. She is here, and I will see her, if only to say good-bye.”

Chapter 22
Farther Into The Maze

Dinner was now over, as Degraw could tell from the sound of voices that floated through the open window, and made merry music on the broad piazza. To enter amidst this crowd in his present frame of mind seemed impossible. How could he bear the fire of eyes that was sure to greet him, and with what patience could he utter the necessary civilities that would be demanded of him. He would rather forego the interview.

But just as he was about to turn away, he caught sight of her face gazing from an upper window, and though there was nothing in her countenance to show that she saw him, he stopped in delight, and gave her one long look, in which was concentrated all his hopes and fears. The next moment, he ground his nails into his palms in anger, for he perceived that her tender face was bent over a basket of flowers, and that she was kissing them with passionate fervor. Oh, was it for this he had come back? Was his exile to be made unbearable by this revelation of secret rapture over a gift bestowed by his fraudulent rival? It was a thought too bitter to be cherished. Whatever sacrifice he might hereafter be called upon to make, he could not and would not stand on one side at this critical moment.

Making his way rapidly to the front steps, he mounted them and passed, bowing and smiling, through the crowd. Taking up his stand in the hall beside a table well covered with books and pamphlets, he waited for her coming down the broad, oaken stair. Would her step patter trippingly from step to step, or would it drag lingeringly down as if weighted with hopes or hampered with fears. He had an immediate opportunity to judge; for almost before he had settled himself into the shadow he coveted, he heard the expectant sound, and it was as lingering as he could wish, and as soft as was the rustle of the silken garments that accompanied it.

Summoning up all his courage, he passed round to the foot of the stair, and met her just as she was setting her foot on the last step.

“Signorina, forgive me,” he began, and then grew dumb, for her breast was ornamented with the hateful blossoms of his rival.

“You have not read my note?”

He looked up at her face; her eyes expressed terror, she glanced over his head at the front door and back into the recesses above her.

“Have you read it?” she persisted.

“Yes, and I will obey if you assure me that your dismissal is final; that you take these means to rid yourself of a suitor whose importunity is unwelcome. But—O don’t caress those flowers!” he exclaimed, breaking into his own words as he saw her fingers spread lovingly over the blossoms fastened in her bosom. “Even if their giver were the man he seems, it would be an intolerable sight to me. As it is—”

“Sir, did not you send me these flowers?”

“No.”

She turned pale, then red, and raised her hand as if to tear the blossoms away.

“I thought you did,” said she.

The words, the tone raised him into the seventh heaven of delight. Had he not been conscious that more than one pair of eyes were resting upon them, he would certainly have caught her by the hand and uttered a thousand passionate protestations. But the hour was not propitious for love-making. Besides she looked restless, and panted with impatience.

“Mr. Degraw’s man brought them here. I should have thought the donor’s name would have appeared upon them.”

“It was, but I only thought of you. They were lying on the window-seat, you see. Oh, Mr. Degraw, will you not leave me? Indeed, I am in earnest when I beg you to do so. Though it seems cheerful here and innocent as Paradise before the Fall, there is death in the air and you will be the object of it!”

“Signorina, were that death as near me now as you are, I would not move. That you remain is enough for me. How could you think I would go after I learned that the shadow of danger rested over these walls.”

“But I am not menaced; oh, why will you not believe me! See! I entreat.”

She put her two hands together, then stopped to wring them, for his look was immovable.

“Do not call the attention of the others,” he remonstrated. “We do not wish to frighten them or even to enlighten them as to the importance of the matter we are discussing.” Then as he saw her hands drop despairingly at her side, he added: “But you alarm yourself unnecessarily if it is my safety you regard. I cannot think that I am in any real danger, nor can I think that you regard me as being so.”

Her eyes flashed wildly and with an incomprehensible expression to his face.

“Why do you say that?” she demanded.

“Because you send me away. Because you encourage cowardice in a man who has not, to my knowledge, betrayed any great evidences of pusillanimity. If you thought this other Degraw as great a villain as your words imply, you would be asking for the protection of the police instead of trying to beguile him from his intentions by the frankest and most confiding of smiles.”

“You do not understand,” she panted. “I am in a net; I must go on in my own way. If you love me you will trust me. Mr. Degraw, do trust me. It will be my salvation and yours.”

“Mysterious!” he ejaculated.

She seemed to lose heart

“And you will not go?” she entreated, her breast heaving, her eyes wandering, her form swaying to and fro.

He felt like crying “yes,” just to calm her, but he thought her anxiety exaggerated, her emotion one that he ought to restrain.

“You are moved,” said he, “by what Mr. Degraw’s man has told you.”

She shrank back. A look of inconceivable terror appeared in her eyes.

“Mr. Degraw’s man?” she repeated.

“Yes, I saw him talking to you yesterday. He has been talking to me since. I know just what we have to fear.”

Her head fell; she stood a picture of abstraction before his eyes.

He, charmed by her beauty, hesitated to break the spell under which she had fallen. What a dream it was to be standing here in sight of this lovely form and the sweet down-cast face whose charm was ever new and ever captivating to him! What other face or form could ever compare with it in his eyes, and where, if he lost her, could he hope to look for embodied love and poetry again? Nowhere. Yet, as the word thrilled through his consciousness, he found himself looking away and behind him to the open parlor door, where in the huge frame formed by its lintels he saw Miss Aspinwall standing, with her gaze fixed on his and an inexplicable smile on her lips! Ah, she is lovely, too, and he found himself asking, as many a man had done before, why his heart should have yielded itself to one whose caprices were a constant torture to him, and not to the noble nature, open mind and serene beauty of this finest specimen of her sex. There was no answer, and with a sigh he looked back only to hear the signorina murmur:

“And what did Mr. Degraw’s man say to you?”

“Only what should relieve your mind,” was his answer. “He is—well, he is not our enemy, and nothing can occur to us without his knowledge.”

Her hand, which lay on the open balustrade, tapped the wood impatiently.

“I wish I knew what plea would serve,” she cried. “Won’t you take a trip to New York just for a week?”

“No,” he answered; “no, I shall stay here, and if this Degraw, as he calls himself, shows even so much as the tip of his cloven foot—”

“Hark!” she cried, drawing back as if she would fly up-stairs. “He is coming now; I hear his voice on the porch. You have undone us both. I can never recover my self-possession sufficiently—”

“It is not necessary. I am going to meet him and unmask his pretensions before this household. I was going to wait, but I will not see you sacrificed. Don’t, dearest,” he pleaded, for she had almost grasped his arm, “I am master of this situation and you will soon see him sneak away abashed.”

He leaped toward the door. He had his eye on his rival, who was crossing the piazza to meet him, when Miss Aspinwall stepped forward and interposed her firm figure between him and his secret foe,

“Read this,” she whispered. “It is the letter from Mr. Morris. It came in the six o’clock mail.”

She drew him into the parlor. She thrust the paper into his hand. Mechanically he opened it; mechanically he read it.

“Dear Miss Aspinwall: Mr. Hamilton Degraw is a well-known person in this place. He is a fine, intelligent and conscientious gentleman, of irreproachable character and connections. This I wrote you before. In person, he is tall and imposing, and with his first word he impresses himself upon you as a gentleman. His hair is dark; his eyes gray; and he wears a large mustache. If you have any doubts as to the person who presented my first letter being the gentleman he professes to be, ask him the name of my little one who was born three months ago. If he says it is Frederika Holcomb, be sure he is all right, for that is the name we settled to give her, on the evening he spent with us before going East. We have changed it since to Dorothy, but that he cannot know.

“With regards to yourself, I remain most respectfully yours,
                Herbert Morris”

The artist refolded the letter, gave it back, and slowly sauntered out into the hall. He was followed by Miss Aspinwall, who, gliding by him, approached the newcomer with grave but courteous dignity.

“Good-evening,” said she, and began a conversation that naturally and with ease led up to the subject of Cleveland and the people who live there. The artist stood in the doorway with his back to them; but he heard every word, and showed to those who thought it worth their while to watch him, a countenance of growing uncertainty, as the stranger’s answers came quickly and without embarrassment, even when the Morris family was discussed. At last he moved to hide his agitation; the crucial question had been put in these words:

“Mrs. Morris has a little infant, I believe. Do you know what name they have given it, Mr. Degraw?”

The answer was direct and unhesitating:

“They have called her Frederika. At least, that was the name decided upon on the last evening I spent with them.”

“Thank you,” was Miss Aspinwall’s response. “I have been wanting to know for a long time.” And she turned to flash a glance at the artist.

He had gone.

Chapter 23
Welcome And Unwelcome Intruders

The artist returned to his rooms a dazed man. The triumph of his rival had overwhelmed him. He moved and acted like an automaton, and passed from object to object in his apartment like one who has no further interest in life. Not till he came upon the signorina’s picture, gleaming in soft beauty from the corner where he kept it enshrined, did a flash of the old life return to him. Then, indeed, he seemed to wake and soften to the influence of the twilight, and be a man again of hopes and fears. But, after a long contemplation of it, he showed renewed signs of weakening; and anxious, probably, to stave off the torpor which he felt overcoming him, he passed to the closet and reached up his hand for a certain decanter he kept there. It was dark, and he had to grope along the shelf for it; but at last he found it in what he thought a rather remote corner, and, taking it down, discovered, to his surprise, that it was empty.

Now, as he had filled it that very morning, he naturally thought this somewhat suspicious, and looked about the room to see if any one had been in it during his absence. But he saw no evidence of this. The intruder, therefore, must have been some one both sly and deft, for the room was quite small and much crowded with furniture.

But who had the intruder been? His landlord or his landlord’s wife? Impossible! Such people as they never drink. The servant, then? But she was as awkward as she was good-natured, and never came into the room without upsetting a table or so, and knocking down two pictures at least It must have been a stranger. But what stranger? Henry Martin, his fellow-artist, whom he had originally brought with him to this place, was up in the hills sketching; besides, his tastes were moderate almost to the point of abstinence. It could not have been he, nor any one else that he knew. It was, therefore, some one that he did not know.

Arrived at this point, he dropped the subject. After all, what did he care for this or anything else? He would sleep; he would shut his eyes upon this perplexing world. But here a knock at the door startled him. He was not to be allowed to rest. Some one demanded admittance.

Advancing to the door, he opened it. It had darkened considerably since he first came in, and for a moment he did not recognize the face that confronted him; then an exclamation of relief left his lips, and he stepped back with cheerful alacrity, exclaiming, in the most welcoming of tones:

“Mr. Gryce!”

“The same,” was the hearty rejoinder. “I am glad to see you well.”

The artist, who still held the empty decanter in his hand, gave a short laugh, and turned to light the lamp.

“I cannot express my pleasure at seeing you,” was his reply. “Have you just come, and did the spirit of divination bring you? You cannot know how desirable your presence is here. I was just wondering if I would be justified in sending for you or for Mr. Byrd. I did not think so, and yet, now that you have come, I feel relieved of a mountain-weight of uncertainty and responsibility. Did you know you were wanted so much?”

“My presence should be the best answer for that. I have no time for jaunts, and no health to indulge in them if I had.”

“Then the detective you sent here telegraphed for you?”

“He did.”

“Then he is a better fellow than I thought.”

“Oh, he is all right.”

Mr. Degraw, more and more cheerful, showed the detective his empty decanter.

“Some one has been helping himself to my best sherry,” said he, “or I would offer you a glass after your ride.”

“Whom do you mean?”

“That I don’t know.”

The detective moved nearer to the grate, upon which his eyes had been fixed ever since he entered the room.

“What is this?” he asked, pointing to the ashes beneath, that were wet, or appeared to be so.

“I can’t say; do you suppose it is my wine which has been poured there?”

“I should like to take a sniff and see. But my rheumatism is too much for me. I could not bend my back so low if I should try.”

“But I can,” and the artist went down on his knees, buried his nose in the ashes, and rose up with a perplexed face.

“My wine is there; what do you suppose it means?” he cried.

Mr. Gryce shook his head; he was already looking here and there about the room as only a detective can.

“You leave your window open?” he remarked.

“Generally.”

“Some one has jumped out of it.”

“How do you know that?”

“Here is the mark of a foot in this down pillow. Evidently a flying leap has been taken from this couch to the grass beneath.”

“Well, I did not see that.”

“And if that is not a proof, look at that broken branch of vine lying below. If it were not so dark, we could see it more clearly, but I do not know as we need to.” And the detective withdrew his head from the window out of which he had been peering, and again cast his eyes about the room,

“Have any of those canvases and things been moved?” he inquired.

“No.”

“Yet a man has passed amid them freely. Ah!” The exclamation was caused by the sudden discovery of a small and glittering object lying on the floor under the lounge. Drawing it out, he showed it to the artist with a quiet and peculiar smile.

“A detective’s badge,” he cried. “The identity of your visitor is explained. He was no one else than my colleague.”

The artist, with his eyes flashing from the empty decanter to the still moist ashes, changed color.

“You are right,” said he, “and by his visit he has probably saved my life,”

“What’s that?”

“He warned me. He told me that I was in danger from this adventurer’s jealousy, and—”

“Wait! What adventurer?”

“The other Degraw. You knew there’s another man here who calls himself ‘Hamilton Degraw,’ did you not?”

“Yes.”

“Well, he passes for a gentleman. He is perhaps a gentleman, but, for all that, he is the villain you are seeking. He came with recommendations from Cleveland, and was received into Miss Aspinwall’s house, and immediately began to make love to Signorina Valdi, whose real name, as you doubtless know, is Jenny Rogers. He has dark hair, gray eyes and a persuasive manner. He has been in New York, and if not the gentleman you seek, certainly answers to all descriptions of him as fully as I ever did.”

“Very good, I will see him.”

“Your man—that is, the detective you sent here— is not in favor of his immediate arrest. He wishes to wait till this mysterious Degraw commits himself. But I, who have so much at stake, feel this to be cold-blooded, I hope you will agree with me.”

“We will see; we will see.”

“And what is more curious still, he, as well as she, declares that it is my life which is menaced, and not hers. Though, to be sure, her fears are the offspring of his, he having seen fit to tell her of certain mutterings uttered by Mr. Degraw, which he, in his character of valet to that gentleman, had been fortunate enough to overhear.”

Mr. Gryce, who had been studiously considering the head of his cane, shifted his gaze, at this point, to the ferule.

“Please repeat that,” said he.

The other did so.

“I begin to be interested,” muttered the detective to the impassive object he was considering. Then, in his usual colloquial manner, he observed: “So that fellow of ours has been playing the part of this gentleman’s valet?”

“Yes.”

“And has talked with Miss Rogers?”

“Yes.”

“And with you?”

“Yes.”

“Humph! And yet you speak of him in a careless way as my man!”

“I do not know him by name.”

“You do not know him by name?”

“No.”

“He must be wonderfully disguised.”

“How?”

“The man whom we sent here was Mr. Byrd.”

“Never!”

“Mr. Byrd,” emphatically repeated the detective.

“It is impossible! No disguise could make blue eyes black. This fellow has black eyes.”

“Pooh!”

“Black, I assure you.”

“Lights deceive.”

“I have seen him by daylight only,”

“It is Byrd; I have his letter here, written in his own hand.”

The artist grew excited.

“Letter or no letter, black eyes or blue, the man who calls himself Mr. Degraw’s valet and an officer of your force is not Mr. Byrd.”

The detective gave a sly wink at the ferule, as if it were with that and not with the artist he had been carrying on this dispute, then buried it, with the secrets he had been imparting to it, deep in the pile of the rug upon which he stood, and turned toward the door.

“Let us make a few inquiries,” he proposed.

The artist, unused to this sort of work, followed his steps with reluctance.

“Whither are we going?” he asked.

“First, to your landlady or landlord or whoever it is who keeps this house going. I want to find out if any one saw a person enter here since you have been out, and if so, who it was.”

“Then let us ask the old man who sits on the front porch. He is always there and would be sure to see any one who came in by the door.”

“Very good.”

So they asked the old man who was still sitting in his favorite spot, though the night dews were falling and cosy-looking lights welcomed him within.

He answered that he had seen two strange men admitted, besides the elderly gentleman now addressing him. One came quickly, passed him rudely and went in without waiting for his hurried ring at the bell to be answered. He had a book in his hand. The other came immediately after him, stepped quietly by his chair and did not stop to ring at all. Both went toward Mr. Degraw’s room.

“Two!”

The artist looked amazed. The detective turned up his ferule and nodded at it.

“And when did these men come out?”

“Why, they have not come,” the old man answered. “I have sat here on purpose to watch. I was going to ask them their business when I saw them again.”

“A fine watch-dog, that,” murmured Mr. Gryce, sarcastically. Then with a kindly bow: “They were both young men, I take it?”

“Oh, yes, young fellows, not Mr. Degraw’s kind, but well enough.”

“I see; I see. Come, Mr. Degraw, our business takes us further.” And Mr. Gryce descended the two steps leading to the walk while saying: “Your window points toward the west, I see. Probably the latter man followed the first out of it into that skirting of trees that leads up the hill-side. We will let them take care of themselves. We have other matters on hand just now.”

“But,” objected Mr. Degraw, as they passed out of the gate into the broad street of this beautiful village, “who is the second man? or rather, the first? for it looks as if the latter man is the detective.”

“It could not have been Mr. Degraw?” suggested Mr. Gryce.

“No; I left him behind me at Miss Aspinwalls.”

“An agent of his, then?”

“Possibly.”

“With an errand of death?”

“It may be.”

“Which was defeated by Mr. Byrd?”

“The valet is not Mr. Byrd,” the artist again declared.

“You stick to that?”

“Always.”

“Remember Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and stick to nothing, especially where it is a question wherein the disguising of a detective is concerned,” Mr. Gryce somewhat sententiously observed.

And yet, as they proceeded, and more of the particulars connected with the late occurrences came to light under his skilful questioning, it seemed from his manner and the frequency with which he turned up his ferule to look at it, as if he were not without his own secret doubts, though in just what direction they pointed, it would have been hard to tell. When they reached the hotel, Mr. Gryce stopped.

“Let me do this business myself,” said Mr. Gryce; and leaving the only too willing artist on the piazza, he went in and had his little talk with the clerk. Shortly he came out.

“Mr. Degraw and his man are neither of them in. This we expected. I shall wait till one or both of them return. What will you do?”

“Wait, too. The piazza is dark enough to conceal anybody’s identity. I will sit here, and if you see fit to acquaint me with the result of your interview, well and good. I shall know how to be grateful.”

“That I do not doubt,” observed the detective. “I have no objections to your remaining here. In fact, I prefer it. But do not think of accosting Mr. Degraw or his man. We have a delicate matter here to handle and it will not bear the least interference.”

“Do not fear; I shall not budge from my corner.”

“Very well, then. You will hear from me again.”

He went in, and the artist settled himself for a long and tedious hour of waiting. As the clock struck ten, he heard the notes of a fine baritone voice disturb the quiet of the night, and the next moment saw Mr. Degraw’s fine form come up the steps, cross the piazza, and enter the house by the large front door.

Chapter 24
A Fortune And A Death-Bed

The moments that followed were full of suspense. What was happening in Mr. Degraw’s private room, or wherever it was that the detective had chosen to confront him? Was an arrest in progress, and would he presently behold Mr. Gryce issue forth, proud and triumphant with evidences of his victim’s secret villainy in his hand? He dared not anticipate the scene; he desired it so much. Jealousy had wrought its perfect work in him and he could think of no more welcome sight than the vision of his hated rival in disgrace. But he was a generous-hearted man, for all that, and did not give way to anticipations that he vaguely felt dishonored him, though he had no doubt of their justice or of his rival’s hypocrisy and secret crime.

When, therefore, some ten minutes after the disappearance of his namesake into the house, another step approached and another form passed before his eyes into the big front door, he allowed his attention to be attracted and his interest engaged, especially as in the passing glimpse he caught of this person he was nearly assured that it was no other than Mr. Degraw’s valet who had thus boldly entered the hotel before his eyes. Had it not been for Mr. Gryce’s injunction not to disturb himself, no matter what occurred, he would have made himself sure of this; for he felt that he had questions of no unimportant nature to put to this man. But, as it was, he remained silent and immovable among the vines that clustered over the portico, and let the fellow go by, finding his reward, a moment later, in the discovery that the valet, if it was the valet he had seen, was not without eyes to watch him, for only a few steps behind him came another man, who entered the house with an easy swing of his graceful body, which was strangely familiar to the artist, and which roused in his mind the strangest conjectures.

He was still puzzling over this matter, and wondering if the scene between Mr. Gryce and his prototype was to be heightened by the entrance of this pair, when the first of the two darted out of the house more rapidly than he had entered it, and hastened at full speed down the street, just as the whistle of an approaching train was heard. He was followed, but not immediately, by the second person, who, hearing the train blowing off steam at the station, rushed after him down the street with all the determination of an ardent pursuer; while from the great front door through which the two had come rushing, there now issued a half-dozen or more curious individuals, anxious to know the termination of an encounter which had evidently aroused their greatest wonder.

While he was noting these persons and wondering what was taking place at the station where the pursued and pursuer were likely to come up, the artist felt a hand on his shoulder, and heard whispered very quietly into his ear:

“I should like you to hear Mr. Degraw’s story. It is a very curious one.”

With a start, he turned toward the detective, and, blindly obedient to the signal which he gave, rose and followed him into the house. As he did so, he sufficiently subdued the fresh excitement which Mr. Gryce’s summons had occasioned, to remark:

“These people are watching a chase. Mr. Degraw’s valet just put in an appearance here, but he was followed by a man, who evidently frightened him so that he ran out of the house again. The other one started in pursuit, and the two are now racing down the street toward the station.”

“Is that so? Well, Byrd is a lively one. We can safely leave him to his own devices. Come!” And he led the way up-stairs into a large and comfortably furnished room; probably the best which the house afforded.

Mr. Degraw, of Cleveland, was awaiting them, standing in the middle of the room, and what astounded the artist was not only the ease and dignity with which his namesake and rival greeted his appearance, but the undoubted respect shown him by the detective, who first bowed, and then observed, mildly:

“There is no need of an introduction here, I believe. Gentlemen of equal station understand each other. Besides, I believe you have already met to-day.”

The artist, thrilled as well as dazed, for the other was looking at him with strange and unexpected benignity, bowed, wondering if he was in a dream, while the gentleman from Cleveland pushed forward chairs with such an air of hospitality, that it was easy to see that either Mr. Gryce had not yet revealed his business to him, or that in revealing it, he had found the tables so completely turned upon him, that there was no longer question of arrest or even suspicion.

That the latter was the real case, the artist soon inferred from what the detective now said to him:

“I have brought you here,” he calmly remarked, “with the consent of this gentleman, who has some strange revelations to make to us. Though the interviews which you have hitherto had together have not been marked by the most pleasant understanding, he is so convinced by certain revelations which I have made to him that you had ample excuse for your distrust, that he is disposed to regard you rather in the light of a fellow-sufferer, than in that of an intentional enemy, the similarity of names having led to a similarity of experience, both having been arrested on a charge, which in both instances was a mistake deeply to be regretted by the inspector and myself.”

“Then,” began the artist, thrown entirely off his balance by this sudden and unlooked-for issue to a mysterious affair, “you have heard of a third Hamilton Degraw, or found by indisputable evidence—” here he glanced at the table on which various documents lay scattered—“that this second holder of the name is not the gentleman who has lately made himself so inimical to girls named Jenny Rogers.”

“On the contrary,” broke in the other, “I am unfortunately that very person. But my interest in these girls had its cause in motives so different from those naturally ascribed to me by the police, that I think I should rather be regarded with sympathy than with distrust. Shall I tell you my story?”

“Certainly,” responded the artist, his more generous instincts coming to the surface. “Certainly, I shall be very glad to hear our name completely exonerated from all suspicion of evil.” And yet he could not forbear thinking that whatever tale the other might tell, he could never explain away all the doubtful circumstances that surrounded him with an atmosphere of crime—the box of poisoned bonbons, for instance; and wondered why a man of Mr. Gryce’s perspicacity and well-known discretion should be so easily turned from a suspicion so well grounded in compromising facts. But then the artist forgot that Mr. Gryce was not the other’s rival in matters that ever affect the judgment and harden the prejudices. If he had, he might have doubted his own clearness of vision.

“It is a long story,” the stranger observed, “and I shall begin it at the beginning. Had I known that by telling it sooner I should have saved others from consequences I now tremble to think of, I should certainly not have retained my secret so long, as my only wish has been to do my duty, disagreeable as I have sometimes found it, and difficult beyond anything I have ever before undertaken,

“I am a native of Cleveland, a bachelor, and a man of means; I board at a club-house, and I have not a responsibility in the world, save such as every man owes to himself and to society. I am not even engaged in business. When, therefore, a lawyer friend of mine stopped his buggy one day at our club-house, and, beckoning to me, said; ‘Come with me and see a curious sight,’ I had no motive for refusing him, and immediately jumped into the buggy and took my seat at his side,

“ ‘What sight?’ I asked.

“ ‘I am on my way to a dying man, to tell him that he has fallen heir to a large fortune. Do you think it will make him take up his bed and walk?’

“ ‘Such miracles have happened,’ I returned. ‘Who is this man, and how big is the fortune?’

“ ‘The former question I cannot answer; I have only his name and address to go by; the latter I will reserve replying to till we have seen whether he is still living when we get there. It would be something like the irony of fate to find that he had breathed his last before touching a dollar of this money which he has been so long expecting.’

“ ‘Does it come from a relative?’

“ ‘No. A law-case has just been settled which has been dragging on for years. No one anticipated a decision in his favor, least of all himself, and though, in one minute, it has raised him from the condition of a pauper into that of a man of wealth, I fear the result has come too late to do him much good. But we will soon see, for here we are in Sheriff street, where he is said to live.’

“I was interested by this time, as we are in all human dramas, and was glad when we drew up before a small, one-story wooden structure of mean but not uncleanly aspect, to hear, through an open window, the sound of a racking cough which seemed to assure us that the sufferer still lived, even if his prospect of living long was small.

“We were met at the door by a peculiar-looking woman of foreign aspect, to whom I at once took an invincible dislike. But I had not long in which to indulge this feeling, for at the first intimation of the lawyer’s desires, she flung open the door of the sickroom and we passed in.

“A remarkable face greeted us, a hungry face, staring from rags of bed-clothes that could not disguise by their squalor the fact that this man, perishing in penury and neglect, was a man of mind and once the possessor of positive beauty. He was no longer young, but beneath the death-damps that already bedewed his forehead, one could discern intimations of a character of no mean stamp. A fitting inheritor of a great fortune; but oh, how sad that it should have come too late!

“The friend at my side advanced into the desolate and miserably appointed room. I followed him, shutting the door behind me. The man on the bed opened his eyes still wider, and his face took on a strangely eager look. Had he seen no kindly faces for days? Was his hunger one of the soul? I began to feel a strange stirring at my heart-strings and forgot the wretchedness of the surroundings in my yearning pity for the man himself. Meanwhile, his attention was fixed, not upon the lawyer, but upon myself, and between the coughs that constantly disturbed him, I saw something like a smile of welcome stir his feeble lips and irradiate his feverish eyes.

“ ‘Are you Michael Delaney?’ asked the lawyer, speaking in a kind but business-like tone,

“ ‘I am,’ issued faintly from the sick man’s mouth. ‘Michael Delaney, once a gentleman and a student, but now dying in loneliness and rags, a poor, forsaken and utterly friendless wretch.’

“ ‘No, no,’ cried the lawyer, striving to encourage the poor man, who, indeed, looked as if he had not many hours to live. ‘You have friends and you are not poor. Though comfort comes late, it comes surely. We are here to make your last days cheerful, if not to provide you with a cure that will yet make you a well man.’

“ ‘I do not understand,’ his gesture seemed to say. ‘I am very sick; nothing will ever bring me cure but death.’

“ ‘Can anything bring you happiness?’ I asked.

“ ‘Oh,’ he sighed, ‘I should like to die in the face of some one’s smile and kindly look. I have lain here months and not a gentle word have I heard. The very doctor they bring in now and then is harsh and gruff. I am not used to roughness, as I am not used to disorder. I should like to breathe in a sweet atmosphere, and feel my light go out in a place of peace and beauty.’

“ ‘You shall! That you shall!’ cried my lawyer-friend, with the impetuosity of which his long experience had not yet robbed him. ‘If you are strong enough, you shall be moved at once. Nothing that money can provide to make you comfortable shall be lacking. Cheer up, my friend! We have come late, but we have come with a purpose.’

“ ‘May I ask,’ the sick man inquired, with a feebleness which proved that the excitement of the moment was weakening him, ‘who you are and why you are so kind?’

“He addressed himself to me, but it was naturally my friend who answered him.

“ ‘I am Israel Cutting, of the law firm of McDonald & Cutting. This gentleman is Mr. Degraw. If we seem kind, it is because your condition seems to call for any honest man’s sympathy and consideration.’

“ ‘But the money—you spoke of money. I have not any. I cannot even pay for my—my—’ A cough cut him short.

“ ‘We do not always know what we have,’ observed the lawyer, quietly. ‘Sometimes, when we think ourselves quite poor, Providence pours an unexpected fortune into our laps. You need not worry about money; you have enough.’

“I thought the man would rise up out of his bed in the sudden eagerness which seized him.

“ ‘Ah! what is this!’ he cried. ‘What do you mean by “fortune”—“unexpected fortune”—“fortune poured into one’s lap?” Is there money for me? Real money? Not charitable bounty, but money that is mine through law and justice? Has the case been decided?

“We did not answer; we did not dare to, lest he should fall dead before our eyes. We only smiled, but with great encouragement, and, as I hope, with great sympathy.

“ ‘Ah!’ he murmured, after a moment of silent survey, ‘you look as if I had not guessed amiss. It has come, then; come, after years of hopeless waiting; come to pay for my burial, after having failed to provide me with medicines and care.’

“ ‘But we will have no burial now,’ exclaimed my friend. ‘Such an event should inspire you with new life.’

“ ‘Too late! too late!’ sighed the other, and his arms, which had been lifted in thankfulness to Heaven, slowly dropped, while his head settled back, and only his eyes showed the triumph which this sudden knowledge of riches had awakened within him, ‘You are not deceiving me?’ he now said, ‘I have really won the case?’

“Mr. Cutting bowed, and showed him some documents which he drew out of his pocket. The sick man looked at them, smiled proudly, and seemed for a minute to regain a certain strength.

“ ‘I knew the money ought to be mine,’ said he; ‘but I never expected a jury would agree with me. Ah, if I had only two days before me, or one day, I would—’

“The lawyer interrupted him.

“ ‘Have you any relatives?’ he asked.

“The sick man shook his head.

“ ‘I have neither kith nor kin,’ he answered. ‘I have not even so much as a cousin in this world.’

“ ‘Is it possible!’ exclaimed the lawyer; ‘whom is this money going to?’

“ ‘How much is it?’ asked Mr. Delaney.

“ ‘Oh, a large sum, hundreds of thousands.’

“The sick man uttered an exclamation, then looked slowly and with an expressive comment round the room that would not have been considered a decent home for an ordinary hod-carrier.

“ ‘And I owe for this!’ he exclaimed. ‘May I ask,’ here he turned with strange persistency to me, ‘that one of you gentlemen will be good enough to pay the woman who rents me this room all that I owe her? I should like to see it done with my own eyes. Perhaps she will swear at me less and let me have a cup of tea that is not stone cold.’

“The lawyer sprang to the door with alacrity. As he did so, we heard a bustling sound without, but when he had reached the hall, he found no one and had to call again and again before the horrid old woman, who seemed to be the sole owner and inhabitant of this establishment, appeared.

“ ‘What does this gentleman owe you?’ was the lawyer’s brusque interrogatory as her wicked face showed itself inside the door.

“She stammered, seemed at a loss to mention the sum, and finally said;

“ ‘A hundred dollars.’

“ ‘No, no,’ came from the bed. But the lawyer, with a wave of his hand, calmed the man behind and intimidated the woman before him.’

“ ‘A hundred dollars!’ he repeated, ‘for a room without a carpet, a bed without sheets, a plate without food! If you get ten, you will do well. I am a lawyer, woman, and I have seen the like of you before. Where are this gentleman’s clothes? And the watch that used to hang in that case, and the books that used to lie on that shelf?’

“ ‘Gone,’ she cried; ‘he pawned them.’

“ ‘And gave you the money! It is not ten dollars you want, but a month in the penitentiary. You have been paid for all he has had from you, over and over, and now you owe him. Give us the hundred dollars you ask. It would not buy the books you have stolen from him.’

“Her face, which was as brown as old parchment, took on a livid hue. She slunk back and disappeared from sight, and the lawyer, with a quiet chuckle, flung a silver piece after her and shut the door.

“ ‘Excuse me,’ said he, ‘but I cannot see even a rich man robbed.’

“Then, observing how pale the sick man was becoming, he grew suddenly alarmed, and whispered for me to go for the nearest doctor, as he really feared that Mr. Delaney would not live long enough to make his will.

“But when I started to go, the sick man showed such distress, that I paused astonished.

“ ‘Tell your friend to stay,’ he pleaded in the lawyer’s ear, but not so low I could not hear him. ‘He makes me think of the brother I lost years ago —a brother I loved. I cannot bear to see him go away. He makes me remember the days of my youth.’

“ ‘He is only going for a physician. You need a stimulant and whatever help a practitioner can give you. He will not be absent long. There must be a doctor in the neighborhood.’

“ ‘Yes, yes, across the street, but I do not like him, he is stern and unfeeling. Let another one come; but don’t let this gentleman go far for one, I should hate to die before he comes back.’

“Touched by this mark of feeling in my behalf, I started quickly for the door.

“ ‘I will not be gone ten minutes,’ I declared, and was rewarded by a smile, the sweetness of which I have not yet forgotten.

“When I returned with the eminent physician, Doctor Downe, I noticed that the countenance of both the sick man and the lawyer wore a changed air. The former was excited, even more than when I left him, while the latter cast upon me very peculiar looks. As the doctor moved toward the bed, I asked the meaning of these looks, whereupon my friend whispered:

“ ‘He has been asking the longest string of questions about you. He wanted to know how you lived, what were your characteristics, and whether you had a name for uprightness and honor. We have talked of nothing else but yourself since you have been gone, and I should certainly think he contemplated leaving you a legacy if he had not shown such satisfaction at hearing you had a fine fortune of your own.’

“ ‘Bah!’ was all my reply to this; but I began to feel uncomfortable and wish I had not been tempted to accompany my friend.

“ ‘He must make some sort of a will or there will be an endless litigation,’ the lawyer now remarked.

“ ‘I wish he had relatives. What is a man to do with a fortune who owns no human tie and has no time left in which to make one.’

“ ‘There are the charities.’

“The lawyer shrugged his shoulders. Evidently he was not of a decidedly less philanthropic turn.

“At this point the doctor joined us.

“ ‘Well?’ asked the lawyer, with some anxiety,

“ ‘He has only about two hours to live,’ ”

Chapter 25
The Surprises Of An Hour

“At this verdict of the doctor,” resumed Mr. Degraw, of Cleveland, “an exclamation of sympathy left our lips. Only two hours in which to enjoy the possession of a fortune, after years of wearing penury and want! Only two hours in which to gauge his new responsibilities, and determine upon whom or what he would lay this burden of wealth otherwise useless to him. It seemed like mockery, and it awoke in me a feeling almost akin to fear. Though I laughed at the surmises of the lawyer, I knew that the mind of the man, thus driven into action at its weakest ebb and under the pressure of death, would be and must be necessarily influenced by the minds of those about him, and I refused such responsibility, and longed to escape from the scene and its possible consequences.

“But when I turned to look at the dying man, I felt that it would be cruelty for me to leave one who manifestly clung to me with such desperate and unreasoning persistence. He would not, in all probability, refuse my request if I entreated permission to go; would not, perhaps, lift his hand to stop me, if he saw me turn again toward the door, but I should never forget his look for all that, or feel comfortable at its remembrance. Whatever the result might be, I must linger till he himself said good-bye; for since we could not give him the peaceful and comfortable surroundings which he craved, we must at least grant him the sympathy and interest which might serve to make him forget his surroundings.

“I had bought a great bunch of white roses while I was out, and these I now brought forward and placed on his breast, with the remark that I thought he would like something beautiful to look at.

“Instantly the tears welled in his eyes, and he moved his hands feebly and buried them among the blossoms.

“ ‘My mother’s garden used to be famous for its roses,’ said he. ‘Frank and I used to pelt each other with them. You could not have brought me anything that would make me happier than these.’

“His pleasure was gratifying, and yet I felt guilty, as if I had done something in the way of influencing his mind in my favor.

“Mr. Cutting evidently agreed with my feeling in this matter, for he gave me a queer look as he again approached the bed.

“ ‘I am sorry to trouble you,’ he now said, addressing the dying man, ‘but as a lawyer and a citizen, I feel it incumbent upon me to suggest that you should make a will, Mr. Delaney. If you do not, there will be more wrangling and litigation after your death than before it, and this, I have no doubt, you wish to avoid.’

“ ‘Yes, yes!’

“ ‘Shall I listen to your wishes, then? Have you decided to what friend or friends you would like to leave this money?’

“ ‘I have decided,’ said the sick man, ‘I wish it all to go to one person.’

“ ‘No matter how large the sum may be?’

“ ‘No matter how large the sum is; the larger the better. All to one person, I say. Ah! this is a delight after years of vain desire and want.’

“The lawyer drew up a small table, placed upon it writing materials, and began to fill in the draft of a will which he had brought with him. While he was doing this, I talked with the doctor, and lent such assistance as was necessary to make the dying man comfortable and keep up his strength. When it came time for him to name the person to whom he wished to leave his money, I withdrew as far from him as possible, but the room was too small for me to escape hearing the eager whisper that left Mr. Delaney’s lips, even if the words had not been the familiar ones:

“ ‘Hamilton Degraw.”

“ ‘You wish—’ the lawyer stammered, as much taken back as I was myself.

“ ‘To leave all my property, real and personal, to this gentleman, whose name you say is Hamilton Degraw.’

“ ‘But,’ I now cried, with an embarrassment easily to be understood, ‘I am a stranger to you; as much of a stranger as either of these gentlemen. I pray you to reconsider this matter. I do not need your wealth. Besides—’

“ ‘Don’t waste the precious moments,’ he entreated, with a burst of his ominous cough. ‘You are a stranger, but you have a face like my brother Frank. He was the most loyal soul alive, and so I believe are you. And that is what I want; loyalty and truth in my heir. They will both be needed, I forewarn you. Write down the name,’ he now commanded the lawyer; ‘and be sure you make the will legal, or I will rise from my grave to reproach you.’

“There was no use in trying further dissuasion. He was in full possession of his faculties, as even the doctor was ready to swear; but he was growing very weak, and opposition robbed him of even the slight remains of strength which were still left him. Mr. Cutting, who was pale as the paper on which he wrote, put down my name, as requested, and then, asking the doctor to call in his man from the buggy before the door, he put the pen in the dying man’s fingers, and watched him breathlessly, as we all did —I no more than the rest—while he scrawled those few lines which in one moment raised me from a gentleman of respectable means into a man of fortune.

“The sigh of relief which followed the completion of his signature came from his breast, not mine. I was in a daze, and realized little of the importance of the moment. I did not even fully comprehend the looks of pardonable astonishment and good-natured sympathy that passed between the two professionals present, or notice when or how the witnesses affixed their names to this most hurried and remarkable of wills. I was only conscious of a great oppression, as if a burden under which I felt unable to stagger had just fallen upon my shoulders, and was greatly relieved when the sick man called me by name and said:

“ ‘Now I am going to tell you what I wish you to do with this money, if these gentlemen will only leave us alone.’

“The lawyer, who had just stepped forward to offer me his hand in congratulation, stopped, and looked as if he did not know whether to continue this ceremony or not. But when he observed my relieved countenance, he grew quite cheerful, and, warmly wringing my hand, whispered:

“ ‘It is a matter of three million, Degraw; so be careful what you promise.’

“I stared; I could not take in the figures at first; but when I did, I felt actually chilled as if a dash of cold water had been thrown upon me. Three million! I hardly dared to look the reckless giver of this fortune in the eye. Three million! And two hours before I had neither heard his name nor he mine. ‘What mystery!’ thought I, ‘I hope he will tell me what he wants me to do with all this money.’

“The two gentlemen had by this time withdrawn into the hall, the doctor whispering as he passed me:

“ ‘Raise your voice if you see him going. There is nothing more we can do for him now but close his eyes.’

“A task which it seemed for the moment as if we should not be called upon to perform, for when I turned toward him he already lay like one in his last rest, save that his hands still moved among the blossoms I had given him. But when he felt me near, he raised his heavy eyelids and beamed upon me with an inexplicable smile that was at once sad and searching.

“ ‘Will it be a great disappointment to you to lose the use of the money I have just put into your hands?’

“My cheeks flushed; it was a little hard to see the prospect of so much wealth dissolve into nothing, with a suddenness equal to its coming; but my tone, I am sure, showed no real regret as I answered:

“ ‘It is your wealth, and I have not the shadow of a claim upon it. Whatever you wish me to do with it, I will do; that you may rely upon.’

“ ‘Even if it involves trouble and sacrifice?’

“ ‘Most decidedly.’

“ ‘Ah, Providence is kind to send me just the man I need in my extremity. Receive my thanks, and forgive me that I seemed to give you personally what I only meant to give you in trust for another. Why I felt it necessary to do this, you will understand when I tell you that my real heir is as yet a person unknown—a person for whom I have not time to seek and for whom you yourself must look as soon as opportunity offers.’

“ ‘But—

“ ‘I will tell you exactly what she must be. She must be young, beautiful, charming and good. She must be a resident of New York, and she must have for her name the simple one of Jenny Rogers. That is all I ask. When you find such a girl, and have studied her character enough to know that she will do me credit as my heir, then I ask you to hand over to her, by deed of gift, all the fortune which for so many years has been without benefit to man or woman.’

“I stood aghast. What sort of a proposition was this! Was not the man in sound mind, after all? Some girl, any girl who bore a certain name and fulfilled certain conditions, was to reap the benefit of three million dollars, and I was to be the man to choose this girl!

“He saw my perplexity and shook his head in seeming trouble.

“ ‘You shrink from the task!’ he exclaimed. ‘You cannot understand why I impose upon you the burden of such a responsibility. But whom shall I ask to bear it, if not you? I have not a friend; I am dying, and my only hope of peace lies in the thought that this wealth, which has come so late, shall adorn the life and elicit the gratitude of some one bearing the name that is so dear to me.’

“ ‘It is the name, then,’ I cried, ‘which is of importance. You do not care so much for her station in life, though, of course, this must be respectable.’

“ ‘I only care that she shall be lovely to look at, ‘pure of soul, and kindly in spirit. I had rather she were not otherwise favored by fortune. I should like to have her raised suddenly into prosperity. If she is the girl I see in my mind’s eye, she will not be spoiled by it.’

“ ‘But “Jenny Rogers!” It is a common name; I shall run across a dozen or more in a great city like New York.’

“ ‘You will know my heiress when you see her; real worth always shows in the face. Besides, you will have ample opportunity to choose amongst them. I give you a year, Mr. Degraw, and as this understanding between us is secret, no one need ever know the reason of your interest in these girls till you see fit to make the deed I request. Oh, it is a dream of mine! May I hope to see it fulfilled?’

“I felt like saying ‘No;’ I felt like tearing up the will he had just signed and so shirk a task that at this moment seemed too bizarre for any quiet man’s performance. But the expression of his eyes stopped me. I could not refuse what was so dear to this dying man. Though trouble and annoyance must follow, I resolved to make the promise which would send him out of this world in peace.

“ ‘I will do what you ask,’ I declared. ‘I will visit New York, make the acquaintance of such girls as are known to bear this name, and when I have found one that in my judgment is worthy to become the possessor of three million, I will make your fortune over to her. Is that all you require?’

“ ‘Yes, yes, but three million!’

“ ‘That is the amount, I am told.’

“A radiant delight overspread his pallid countenance.

“ ‘Ah, it will make a queen of the girl you choose. In my grave I shall feel her pleasure. Though I could not do this for thee, sweet Jenny,’ he exclaimed, lifting one arm to heaven with an energy that surprised me, ‘I can, at least, do it for one who shall mirror thy rare nature and bear thy beloved name!’

“This look and the accompanying gesture were a revelation.

“ ‘It is, then, for the sake of a Jenny Rogers you once knew, that you desire this disposition made of your money?’ I ventured, anxious to learn if the cause which influenced him to this action was a natural one.

“ ‘Yes, yes;’ he cried. ‘Oh, if my strength would only last till I could tell you of her gentle beauty, her heavenly pity, the sweetness of her looks and the comfort of her words to me, in the days when I was such an invalid that I could not answer her back or even smile when she handed me in a flower at my broken window!

“ ‘It was years ago, after I had a paralytic stroke and I lay in a miserable basement, in a condition more helpless than that in which I am now. She saw me in passing, and moved by my pale face, I suppose, stopped, and gave me a little bundle of fruit which she was carrying home for her own meal. Poverty recognizes poverty, and I saw hers, but I could not say her nay nor refuse her gift, nor even thank her for what made my heart leap with joy; and when she passed again and yet again, each time with a smile that filled my dark room with the sunshine of heaven, I grew to live in the light of her coming and going, till there was no daylight for me if she did not pass, and no night shadows for me if she did. I was ignorant of her name. She never thought to tell me, and I had no power to ask. But I saw that her hands were rough with work, though her face was one of the loveliest that could be seen, and sometimes I caught a glimpse of the heavy bundle which she always carried on the further side of her, as if she knew I would grieve to see it so heavy and yet be unable to relieve her.

“ ‘And weeks went by, and months, and she never forgot to smile or say a word of hope or drop me a flower, which must often have been bought at the expense of a meal, for her clothes were very poor and thin, and her face, for all her beauty, had that sharp, heart-breaking look which only comes from insufficient food and hard work. And I, loving her as we only love the being who keeps us from despair, had to see all this, and only look the anguish and gratitude with which my heart was breaking. I could not even pray her to take from me the only precious thing which I possessed—my mother’s ring. And when I saw her growing paler each day, and walking with feebler steps, and lingering with sweeter, but ah! sadder smiles as she passed the window, which had now become like a shrine between us, I used to suffer beyond the power of tongue to tell; not because I could not act a man’s part and snatch her from the work that was destroying her, but because I did not know what name to call her by when I prayed to Heaven to guard her. And she never thought to tell me, though she loved me as few women love the strong and the helpful.

“ ‘At last—ah! to think that I should have lived so many years since then—there came a day when she could hardly falter to my window. Only love could have sustained her, for she had to clutch the rails of the fence between us to keep herself from falling; and when I just looked and looked at her in my despairing way, she cried, softly: “If I do not come again, know that I am dead, dear friend,” and then she would have gone, but that the awful anguish within me found vent in one mighty effort, and I cried: “Oh, tell me your name, sweet angel; tell me your name!” and then fell forward from my chair, stricken again, and helpless. But when, in time—I know not how long—I came to myself again, they put a book in my hand, which had been left for me on the evening of that day, and on the fly-leaf of the book I read these words:

“ ‘ “My name is Jenny Rogers. Pray for me, as I shall die praying for you.”

“ ‘That book is under my head now, and when I am buried, you will see that it is laid under these flowers you have given me.’

“ ‘And was that the end?’ I impetuously cried. ‘Did you never see or hear from her again?’

“ ‘Never. And so I know she died. But other girls of her name and character still live. For every throe she suffered, for every weary hour she passed, another shall reap joy and realize comfort. You have promised it, and I rely upon you to keep your word as I would rely upon myself. Ah, sweet peace, I know thee at last! Fifty years I have sought thee, and, now, as I die, thou haltest at my bedside!’

“Could I disturb such a hope? Quixotic as his scheme was, I had no right to criticise it. I might have suggested that he should make fifty girls comfortable instead of one enormously rich, but in my position any interference seemed an impertinence, and might have undermined a faith which it behooved me to see preserved in him. Besides, it was rapidly becoming too late for expostulation.

The strength which had sustained him through this final interview was fast ebbing away, and I felt that it was rather my duty to speak to him of another world than to delay his thoughts any longer upon this.

“I therefore hastened to give him my last assurances, and pointing to the hall where the lawyer stood, asked him if he would feel any easier if his wishes were expressed on paper. But he said ‘No;’ that he had unbounded confidence in me, and looked at me so lovingly that my heart lost some of its oppression and my future task appeared for the moment less onerous.

“ ‘But I should like to see the lawyer for a moment,’ he said.

“And, obedient to his last wish, I called in Mr. Cutting and left them for an instant together. What they said I never knew, but from the lawyer’s manner I judged it to be something of a peculiar nature, for he smiled as I came back and gave me another of his odd looks.

“In another moment the dying man had given one joyful cry, uttered the word ‘Jenny,’ and fallen back upon his pillow, dead.”

Chapter 26
The Quest

“I took no one into my confidence. I merely told Mr. Cutting and the doctor that I was not at liberty to divide the fortune which had been left me, and then waited to see if the will would be contested. I expected it would be, but only one or two adventurers put in claims, and these were so manifestly fraudulent that the matter was never carried into court. When I felt myself firmly settled in my position and recognized as the legal possessor of these millions, I quickly left Cleveland and went to New York. Taking rooms in the most retired hotel I could find, I began the search delegated to me. I went, first, to the directory and took the addresses of all the families by the name of ‘Rogers’ that were to be found there; then where their position warranted it I visited these families, and where it did not, I learned through such persons as I thought it safe to employ, whether there was a Jenny among the daughters, and if there was, I contrived to see the girl, often finding one glimpse to be enough to satisfy me as to her ineligibility.

“The child of Abram Rogers was the first one that struck me favorably. Not that I was satisfied even with her beauty, but I had seen so many bold and uncultivated girls among my wanderings among the poorer classes, where I naturally went first, that I could not but be struck by her innocent naivete of expression and the inherent goodness to be discerned in her sweet face. But when I had made up my mind to know her better, and, with this purpose in view, called at the house where she lived, I was shocked to hear that sickness and death had been before me, and that the fair young girl had passed forever from my reach and from that of the money with which I had contemplated endowing her.

“Thrown off my balance by this incident, I next visited the various schools, and though I did not find a scholar to suit me, I heard of a young teacher who was said to possess every personal and mental attraction which one could desire in a woman. So warmly was she praised, that I became assured even before seeing her that my task was at an end, and could hardly contain my impatience while waiting for the letter of introduction which I had sought and obtained from a member of the school-board in whom I was happy to recognize an old friend.

“And when I went into this girl’s humble home and noted its neatness and the marks of good taste which everywhere abounded, I did not need the sight of her winning yet intelligent face to recognize the presence of one of those domestic angels who grace any home and nobly fill the most elevated stations. I talked with her, and my liking and admiration grew. Had she not risen to her feet, as she presently did, and thereby betrayed a serious lameness, which robbed her of that indisputable claim to beauty upon which Mr. Delaney had laid such stress, I should doubtless have committed myself irretrievably, for my sympathy and interest had both been awakened, and more than this was unnecessary at the time, so weary had I become of my task and so hopeless was I of finding any worthy prototype of the noble and beautiful being who had been so much beloved by Mr. Delaney.

“But this physical disability of hers at once marked her as unfit for the position for which I sought her. I dared not give Mr. Delaney’s money to one conspicuous for a defect when he had bidden me choose absolute beauty, at least not till I had sought further and found beyond all dispute that the city held no one of her name at once more charming and more worthy. So I recommenced my search, and this time went the round of the private schools.

“And here I want to say that, whatever consequences may have followed my undoubtedly mysterious actions, I am conscious of having done nothing that would in any way lay me open to the charge even of ungentlemanly conduct. I tried to make my inquiries and take all necessary observations myself, which was, perhaps, a mistake, but I never wilfully led any girl to think I took a personal interest in her, nor did I ever breathe a word or give a glance that could be wrongly misconstrued without the aid of the girl’s own vanity. I say this now, because, according to Mr. Gryce, events for which I am not in any way responsible followed my discovery of a very pretty Miss Rogers in Miss Hadden’s school. She received a letter inviting her to an interview in the Jersey depot. But I never wrote that letter. I simply paused when she and her companion passed by me, on their way to church or concert, looking at her most certainly, but not with impertinence, or even with any extraordinary interest, for I soon saw that she possessed nothing beside a rather ordinary prettiness to recommend her to my regard; and mere prettiness, even, of an extraordinary nature, was not enough to charm these millions out of my pocket as long as there was a single Jenny Rogers in New York who possessed virtue as well as beauty, and character as well as grace.

“From her, then, I soon turned, whatever evidence you may adduce to the contrary. If a card bearing my name was found in a letter received by her, that card was either stolen from my pocket or forged by some person anxious to get me into trouble. I was seeking a noble, self-sacrificing woman, not a silly and romantic school-girl.

“Nor do I understand or seek to explain the violent death of that other poor girl, toward whom I finally turned in sheer perplexity and despair. I bought the bonbons that were found in her room, because I had seen her stand, one night, with wistful eyes before a famous confectioner’s; but I certainly did not poison them, or, indeed, tamper with them in any way. I did not even open the box, if I remember rightly. What the result of my acquaintanceship with her might have been, I cannot tell. She seemed to be a good girl, but she was an illiterate one, and only passably pretty. However, I might have found worth in her if the opportunity had been mine of sounding her nature; but I was prevented doing this by her sudden death.

“I am told—and this is another mystery which I cannot explain—that she received a letter of warning against me; warning, when I only meant her good! As to who was the writer of this anonymous note, I cannot even hazard a guess. The police must determine that. I can only repeat what I said before, that my conduct toward her was without any show of disrespect, and that neither to the poorest of these young girls nor to the best endowed did I ever show attention which was not in perfect accord with the purpose for which I sought them.

“And now I come to the experience which brings me here, and explains why I continue to obtrude myself in Miss Aspinwall’s parlors, notwithstanding the fact that my presence there is not wholly welcome to some, at least, of the persons I meet there. Miss Rogers’ name is ‘Jenny;’ she is beautiful as are few of any name or circumstance, and”—his voice showed feeling here—“she has mind and soul which acquaintanceship proves to be not only gifted but elevated. I cannot turn my back upon such a perfect embodiment of all I have been told to seek for. Her very disappointments—we know she has had them—make her cause sacred in my eyes. I made up my mind at my second interview that the girl I had so long sought for was found, and, having come to this conclusion, considered it only proper that she should learn to know me well, so that when the moment came for me to reveal my intentions, she should not be constrained by any secret doubts or aversions from accepting a gift that is almost equivalent to a small kingdom. Do I make myself understood, Mr. Degraw?”

The artist, who had passed through an infinite number of emotions and phases of feeling during this long recital, rose with a start at this sudden appeal, and enthusiastically held out his hand.

“Perfectly, perfectly,” he exclaimed. “How can I thank you enough for your kindness in letting me be present at these explanations. I assure you that I feel the coals of fire burning on my head, and only hope that you will relieve me of them by abusing me roundly for the various discourtesies I have shown you,”

“Don’t speak of it,” rejoined the other, waving his hand toward the table, on which lay the many documents of which I have before spoken. “Yonder,” continued he, “are the papers upon which I rely for the substantiation of my assertions. There you will see a copy of Mr. Delaney’s will, the bankbooks and other papers proving me to be in possession of the money I have stated, and, lastly, a letter or statement drawn up by myself, and duly attested by witnesses, in which the story related to me by Mr. Delaney on his deathbed is given, together with my acceptance of the strange but not unnatural conditions under which he, a stranger, left me this enormous fortune. I intended them for the lawyer who should draw me up a deed of gift in Miss Rogers’ favor; but I found them very useful when Mr. Gryce showed me the warrant of arrest which had been made out in my name; and I shall be much obliged if you also will cast your eye over them, that nothing like the shadow of a doubt may ever again lie between me and a gentleman whom I feel bound not only to respect but admire.”

The artist, overwhelmed, and in a condition of great excitement, took the papers and glanced at them; while the detective, rubbing his hands together, consulted each finger separately, as if in search of an answer to a problem that yet possessed features sufficiently unaccountable to puzzle him.

“Who wrote the letter to Miss Rogers in Miss Hadden’s school?” he asked, musingly. “Who sent the note of warning that frightened the other poor girl into a flight which ended in her death in the blind alley? And who put poison into the box of bonbons which you bought and sent in good faith to this girl? These are three very serious questions.”

“You are right,” assented Mr. Degraw; “very serious questions, indeed, for in letter and poison we can discern the evidences of malicious feeling against the girls possessing this one name, which may not yet have expended itself, and which, if we cannot trace its source, may extend itself to the Miss Rogers now staying with Miss Aspinwall, with we do not know what fatal results.”

“Do you fear that?” cried the artist, coming hurriedly forward. “I have feared it for weeks, and that is why I have kept such a jealous watch over her.”

“How did you know of this Miss Rogers’ existence,” queried the detective. “Her name was not in the directory, nor could you have heard of her in the schools.”

“No, I heard of her in another way,” declared the stranger; “I was standing one day on the steps of my hotel, when two young fellows of fashionable appearance came out and passed near me, talking. The one was saying: ‘Well, if you want to see a pretty girl, get an invitation to visit Miss Aspinwall in Great Barrington. She has a friend with her who is a beauty, I assure you.’ ‘Bah!’ was the other’s peevish reply, ‘some stupid blue-stocking or demure Vassarmiss. Excuse me.’ But the other answered in these to me most startling words: ‘No, unless you call the Signorina Valdi a blue-stocking. That is the name, or rather, that is not the name of this young beauty I mention. Her real name is Jenny Rogers: but she is lovely—’ I heard no more. The coincidence was startling, but the impetus it gave me came in good time. I made inquiries concerning the prima donna, learned her touching history, and, satisfied that she possessed the necessary qualifications of being a New York girl, telegraphed at once to Cleveland for the introductions I needed, and as soon as I received them, came here.”

“A strange coincidence, as you say,” repeated Mr. Gryce; “but it gives me no clue to the puzzle we are studying.” Then with more earnestness, he inquired: “Where did you get the valet whom you now employ?”

A look of surprise passed over Mr. Degraw’sface, but he responded, promptly:

“In New York. He answered an advertisement which I put in the Tribune, and, as his letters were excellent, I hired him.”

“Do you like him?”

“Why, yes, as a valet. He is useful and exact in his duties, and I have no reason to find fault with him. But the man himself is not very agreeable.  May I inquire—”

“In a moment,” interrupted Mr. Gryce. “I would first like to ask whether you consider him honest?”

“Honest? O, yes; I have never found a pin lacking.”

“That is not an absolute proof of honesty. A man who will not steal will sometimes abuse his master’s confidence in other ways. Are you sure of this fellow’s discretion? Have you never seen him tampering with your papers, or peering into places where he had no business to look?”

While Mr. Degraw was considering his reply, the artist drew near to Mr. Gryce and excitedly inquired if these questions referred to his fellow detective.

Mr. Gryce smiled.

“The name of your fellow-detective is Byrd, and you say this valet is not Byrd.”

“But you insisted—”

“Oh, never mind what I insisted,” was the quick reply; “I talk sometime to vail my thoughts. I knew that the valet was no officer of ours.”

The artist stared in amazement, confused by a revelation whose full consequences he could not in that one moment measure. Turning anxiously toward his namesake, he waited for his answer to the question which Mr. Gryce had put to him, and did not know whether to be relieved or not, when the gentleman finally remarked:

“I do not know to what you refer, Mr, Gryce, but I have only good to say of Barton. Never to my knowledge has he gone a step beyond his duty in regard to any of my effects. As for my papers, they are always kept about my person. By day I carry them in an inner pocket, and at night I place them under my pillow. He can have had no opportunity of handling them.”

“And yet I most decidedly believe that he has not only handled them but consulted them, that, in short, he knows their contents as well as you do, and that it is solely on account of this knowledge that he occupies his present position near your person.”

“Impossible! What makes you think this? You alarm me, Mr. Gryce.”

And mingled with this exclamation came that of the artist, who, if not so greatly astonished as the other, realized, perhaps, with even greater force, the complications and conjectures to which this suspicion pointed.

“You do not know the man,” resumed Mr. Degraw, with some energy. “When we came up here, there was a moment on the train when it looked as if we were on the verge of a collision. The cars shook and trembled with frightful suddenness, and while men started up and women shrieked, this valet of mine threw himself in front of me with an instinctive movement of protection that I shall never forget. I may not like him, but I refuse to consider him a blackguard without very good cause.”

“He felt your life to be valuable. It was worth three million dollars to him and his accomplices,” observed Mr. Gryce, quietly.

“What do you mean? My life worth anything to him? I cannot think you are speaking seriously,”

“Listen, Mr. Degraw. In the course of our inquiries into this matter, we have lately come upon a woman living in a certain doubtful quarter of New York, whom, if you have not seen, I will characterize as possessing deviltry enough to make her somewhat waning beauty dangerously piquant. She is called Jenny Rogers also—Madame Jenny Rogers—and long before we knew what was the aim of the conspiracy against the other girls bearing her name, we were convinced that such a conspiracy existed, and that she was the center of it, and that some unknown man, then believed to bear the name of Hamilton Degraw, was her agent and co-worker. Your story betrays what the object of this plot was. To gain your millions for this base woman, other girls of her name were to be suppressed, or in some way robbed either of their good name or of the opportunity to win your regard. You know, I suppose, how we first became aware of the existence of this plot?”

“No; I know nothing but what I have told you and what you yourself have already told me.”

“Very well, then, understand that a short time previous to the string of unhappy events which we have been contemplating, a young man of unquestioned respectability overheard a short conversation uttered under his window, late one night, between two persons who were passing by. A woman’s voice spoke first, and these were the words he heard: ‘But if some other Jenny Rogers—’ Mark you, some other Jenny Rogers, which we take as proving that her own name was Jenny Rogers. The answer was in a man’s gruff tones: ‘Never let that trouble you. In a month, there will not be another young girl by the name of Jenny Rogers remaining in town. I will see to them.’ Does not that show the beginning of a conspiracy? And do not the explanations you have given us prove that the aim and object of this conspiracy were the millions which have been left to you for the use and benefit of some one by the name of Jenny Rogers?”

“It,does; it does; but—”

“And this threat, thus overheard, had proved to be no vain one,” proceeded the detective, with an apologetic wave of his hand. “These girls have been ‘seen to,’ Mr. Degraw. As soon as you showed the slightest interest in any one of them, danger or dishonor has attacked her and taken her out of your reach. This I see now; an hour ago, I saw differently. Then I thought you the author of the threats I have quoted, as well as the occasion of whatever mischief has followed. But, with your explanations to aid us, I am now ready to transfer all my suspicions from yourself to the man you have employed as valet. He it is who has worked in this woman’s favor; he it is who poisoned the bonbons, wrote the letters—”

“Pardon me, but what reason have you for ascribing these iniquities to him? I am not the man to take any one, much less a low and unknown body-servant, into my confidence.”

“I know; I know. But this low and unknown body-servant may have opportunities for surprising your confidence, for all that. Tell me any one else who has been near enough to you to have access to these documents of yours, and I may consent to transfer my suspicions into some new quarter.”

“He has not seen my papers, but even if he has, the plot you speak of was started before he entered my employ.”

“Are you sure?”

“I did not see him till after those threats you have spoken of were uttered.”

“Then I am wrong or he has learned in some way other than through these documents, the conditions under which Mr. Delaney’s money was left you.”

“There is no other way.”

“You are wrong, there must be.”

“Why, how?”

“Don’t ask me to answer ‘whys’ and ‘hows.’ Just remember that a conspiracy has been found and carried out which proves that a man and a woman living in New York knew almost as soon as you did that there was a great fortune to be angled for by a girl owning the name of ‘Jenny Rogers.’ Now, if this occurred before this man applied to you for the position of valet, then it is among the possibilities that he made that application on account of the knowledge he possessed of your affairs. Has not the plot prospered better since he has been in your employ?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“Was it not by his hand you sent the box of bonbons to their proper destination?”

“Good heaven! Yes.”

“And has he not had ample opportunities for using your paper and stealing your cards, and thus leading the silly girl at Miss Hadden’s school to think that this letter he wrote came from you?”

“Yes, if he has wit enough to concoct such a letter, and knowledge sufficient to know that it would produce the effect he desired.”

“Oh, he has wit and he has knowledge, if he is the man who is acting for the intrigante I have mentioned. Though you have been too absorbed in your own affairs to be suspicious, you have doubtless not taken a step without his knowledge and surveillance.”

Mr. Degraw looked disgusted, but he simply remarked:

“You speak of the intrigante who is at the bottom of this mischief. I think I remember her, a despicable woman whom I would not think of looking at twice. I saw her during the time of my first inquiries. Can it be possible that she thought me capable of being attracted by such as she?”

“Such women are blinded by their vanity. Besides, she may have thought you were under compulsion to give this money to one of her name within a stated time.”

“Well, it is all a mystery. I thought I had kept this affair a secret from the whole world, and now you are trying to prove to me that it has been shared by the basest and most mercenary of my kind. Why, I did not even speak to this woman!”

“I can believe it.”

“Nor have I ever seen her since that time.”

“I can believe that, too. She is in hiding, and knows that she has but to show herself to be arrested. Her accomplice, on the contrary, has had full swing; and if we have not found him in your valet—”

“But we have,” now broke in the artist. “Why else should he have deceived me by saying he was a detective?”

“A detective?” repeated Mr. Degraw, of Cleveland.

“Yes; and thus excusing himself for the curiosity he showed over a letter which I was reading. If he has not meddled with your papers, Mr. Degraw, he certainly has shown a disposition to do so with mine.”

“The scamp! And I have intrusted him with notes to Miss Rogers!”

“Did you send him to my rooms to-night?”

“No.”

“Yet he has been there. Did you ever utter threats against my life?”

“Against your life, Mr. Degraw! Do I hear you rightly?”

“Yet this man told me that I was in danger from your jealousy; swore that he had overheard you mutter threats against me.”

“Sir, you overwhelm me! I, the most peaceable man alive! I do not wonder you looked askance upon me. Is it necessary for me to say that this villain has belied me; that, for purposes I dare not fathom, he wished to raise an enmity between us?”

“Say, rather,” returned the other, “that he aimed at driving me out of town. He did not like the surveillance I kept over Miss Rogers; it interfered with his schemes.”

“True,” replied the other, turning pale. “If he is the conspirator you deem him, he has another victim in prospect. Whither has the man gone? I cannot rest till I see him in custody.”

“That we may hope to do soon,” asserted Mr, Gryce. “Ever since we knew that the Signorina Valdi, otherwise Miss Rogers, had come to this place unprotected, we have kept a detective here to guard her. Though you do not know Mr. Byrd, who understands his business too well to make himself conspicuous, he knows you and this other Mr. Degraw, and all the rest of the persons connected with this affair. That he should have suspected your valet and followed him into this other gentleman’s rooms to-night (as we know he did) adds to my own conviction of your valet’s guilt. My colleague is now upon this fellow’s track, and if nothing unforeseen occurs, we shall presently have the pleasure of an introduction to him, under circumstances that will make his escape impossible.”

This was encouraging, yet the gentleman he addressed still showed that he was very anxious.

“And, meanwhile,” he suggested, “who is watching over Miss Rogers?”

At this question, so forcible and unexpected, the artist started, and a thrill of emotion disturbed the countenance of the detective.

“If,” continued their host, “a conspiracy has been formed of the nature you describe, and every girl who seems to stand in the way of its success is liable to death or dishonor, how shall we measure the peril now hanging over the head of this beautiful woman, who, as any one can see, has not only attracted my admiration, but so won my regard that no doubt can remain in the mind of any one acquainted with my purposes, of the direction which this trust-money will take when it definitely leaves my hands. Barton has been frightened and is running away, you say; but Barton may not be the only enemy she has in town. A plot involving so much money is sure to have more than two persons concerned in it. How can we tell, then, that the woman who brushes her hair has not sworn to kill her before morning?”

“True,” assented the detective; “there is no telling from what quarter the blow may come.”

“She does not fear any blow,” put in the artist, with increasing agitation; “and that makes her position only less secure. This villain—Barton, I mean— has so convinced her that the peril which surrounds girls of her name is in her case directed not toward herself but toward one whom she honors with her regard, that she is absolutely reckless as to her own safety, and will court any danger unflinchingly,”

“Then,” declared Mr. Degraw, with firmness, “we must dispel this danger by a decisive act. Once let her be known as the legal owner of these millions, and there will no longer be any motive for injuring her. It is only while they remain in my hands and subject to the peculiar disposition which I am under promise to make of them, that the cause of these conspirators can be helped by her injury or destruction.”

“That is so,” quoth the detective.

“You naturally wish me to accompany you back to New York,” proceeded the other. “I do not wonder at this, and, indeed, it is my own wish to return there as soon as possible, that I may make such explanations as will place me right with the authorities. But before I leave this town, I demand the privilege of signing the deed which shall put Miss Rogers beyond the power of these wretches. I have already chosen my lawyer, and, to-morrow morning, at eleven, I hope to be in a position to visit Miss Rogers with this important deed in my pocket”

“It is a serious step,” objected the detective; “but if you are resolved upon it—”

“I am resolved.”

“I do not see that I have the right to prevent you from taking it. But it seems to me you might wait.”

“When waiting leaves her in continued danger? You ask too much of my generosity, Mr. Gryce. I will wait this one night, because it is impossible to do otherwise; and if no attempt is made upon her life, I may consent to delay till I have shown my papers to the superintendent of police; but if, on the contrary, we find in the morning that any attempt has been made upon Miss Rogers’ life during the night, and that her position is really as critical as we have reason to fear, then no power on earth shall restrain me from putting an end to her danger, by making her the indisputable owner of Mr. Delaney’s millions!”

“You are a noble-hearted man!” was the artist’s enthusiastic comment. “You command my highest respect. I am not in a position to say more; I wish I were; and I wish”—this he added, as he noted a certain haggard and unnatural look in the other’s countenance—“that I better understood your position, and what this woman, whom I love, really owes to you.”

They were standing apart, Mr. Gryce having withdrawn toward the door. Mr. Degraw therefore spoke frankly:

“Have I not made myself clear?”

“Yes and no. I understand that Miss Rogers is to receive that for which she must be ever grateful to you, but I am not yet certain whether her obligations will include a personal devotion which will rob me of my happiness.”

Mr. Degraw’s eye which had held the other’s enchained, fell with vague trouble.

“That question,” said he, “can be better answered to-morrow. If you will honor me by being present at the interview which I have requested of Miss Rogers, you will then have the opportunity to learn what is at present as much of an uncertainty to me as it can be to you.”

“But—”

“I mean it, Degraw; I want your presence there, and was about to ask it. The hour set is eleven; join me here, and we will go up to the house together.”

The artist, assured of his rival’s earnestness, again shook his hand and prepared to leave. He had his own intentions with regard to the night, and was only anxious for the opportunity to carry them out. Mr. Degraw likewise evidently had his, and as for the detective, he no doubt was not without his plans also; for, when he saw that this interview which I have just described was at an end, he stepped forward with the remark:

“It is late, but I must hunt up Byrd. I am anxious to know whether or not he has collared his man.”

“And I,” said the artist, “am going to rouse up Miss Aspinwall, and ask her to take Miss Rogers into her room to-night.”

“And I,” added his namesake, “am going to pace her grounds like a police-sergeant, happy if I can be of any use in preserving the safety of one who, without any direct fault of my own, has been put in peril through my efforts in her behalf.”

All three went down-stairs. At the front door they stopped. A man was just entering, in whom the artist and the detective recognized Mr, Byrd.

“Well?” asked Mr. Gryce, pausing before his colleague.

“Ah! you here?” was the quick reply. “That is good, but—” The young detective’s words came slowly; evidently he was greatly astonished at seeing the two Mr. Degraws in such amiable conjunction with his superior. “I have not the best of news to give you.”

“Why?” “What?” exclaimed they, one and all. “Has the man escaped?”

Dumbfounded at this further evidence of their mutual understanding, he looked from one to the other and answered, vehemently:

“Yes. How did you know about it? He is gone, and I cannot tell whither.”

Mr. Gryce at once turned toward the two gentlemen.

“Then it indeed behooves us to be on the alert. If he has gone, it is in her direction; and if he means mischief, he will attempt that mischief to-night.” And, beckoning to Byrd, he led the way into the street, followed by his now thoroughly alarmed companions.

Chapter 27
Secret Protectors

The detectives and the Degraws, on leaving the quarters of the Cleveland gentleman, turned immediately in the direction of Miss Aspinwall’s house. As they hurried along, Byrd managed to ask his superior if Mr. Degraw was innocent of the machinations of his valet, and being assured that he was, the young detective showed a more candid front and a greater willingness to speak.

His story was simple and straightforward. For days he had perceived, without betraying it, that this valet, as he called himself, was a doubtful character. Though there was every reason, as all must acknowledge, for a police officer from New York to believe a person by the name of Hamilton Degraw to be at the bottom of any harm which might menace Miss Rogers, he was so assured, by all he saw, that the man to be most feared at this time was the valet and not the master, that he set himself the task of following the former on all his peregrinations; and as the valet’s conduct grew hourly more suspicious, had even dropped his usual precautions and openly kept the fellow in sight. The consequence was that, on this very evening, he had been so fortunate as to come upon him in Mr. Degraw’s studio, just as he was pouring something into that gentleman’s liquors. Convinced that this something was poison, he bounded upon him and tried to seize him, but the fellow was slippery as an eel and swift as a deer, and was out of his hands and even out of the window before he could recover his own equilibrium.

Satisfied that an attempt had been made upon Mr. Degraw’s life, Mr. Byrd had not dared to leave the room till he had emptied the decanter of its dangerous contents. But in doing this he lost a moment of valuable time; for when he was ready to recommence the chase, he found the man had got sufficient start of him to make it difficult for him to do more than keep him in sight. But this he could do, and did, though the fellow led him a pretty chase through the woods and brambles that encumbered the hill-side at this point, and afterward through the streets of the village, where he tried to elude his pursuit, first by dodging in and out of the hotel, and next by trying to board a train that was just starting away from the station.

But the fellow failed in both attempts, and was just on the verge of yielding himself up, when a happy thought appeared to strike him, for he slipped like lightning into a street so full of shadows and so complicated by secret passages and by-ways that pursuit became impossible, and the chase terminated without the man being caught.

“That is, for the present,” explained the detective, as he made this unwilling confession. “He cannot get away from town, for I have warned the station-master against him, and he cannot long remain concealed in a place so small as this. Tomorrow, then, we shall have him, only he may do some mischief, in the meantime, for his temper is ripe for mischief, and revenge is always easy.”

“I don’t know about that,” exclaimed Mr. Gryce. “He may make an attempt to satisfy his hatred, but I don’t think it will amount to much more. An hour ago, I thought myself a tired man, but somehow I feel remarkably fresh and vigorous just at present.”

The two Degraws said nothing, but their eyes gleamed and their steps rang ominously on the sidewalk.

When they arrived at Miss Aspinwall’s house, they halted. As the hour for retirement had long passed, they expected to find the premises darkened and the gates closed, and they were not disappointed. Nowhere, in house or grounds, was there any light visible. All was dark and all was quiet.

“What shall we do?” queried Mr. Degraw, of Cleveland. “We have scarcely excuse enough for arousing the house; and yet—”

“I have already matured my plan,” interposed Mr. Gryce, firmly. “We must arouse the house, at least sufficiently to procure ourselves an interview with Miss Aspinwall, If—” and here he turned to the artist—“Mr. Degraw thinks he can send her a message without unduly alarming her, let him do so. As the servants know him, it will, perhaps, be better for him to show his face at the door than for us. What do you think, sir?”

“That it will be well enough for me to try,” was the artist’s rejoinder. “If James comes to the door, we are all right; he is discreet and will indulge in no unnecessary remarks; but if it is one of the other servants, I cannot promise as much.”

“There is always risk in everything,” remarked Mr. Gryce. “Ring, and let us hope that it will be James who answers the summons.”

The artist obeyed, giving that sharp double ring which always suggests a telegram, while Mr. Gryce improved the opportunity to post his remaining companions in positions he thought best calculated to command a full view of the house, placing Mr. Degraw in a cluster of trees near the front door and Byrd in an arbor that overlooked both the back of the house and that side of it containing, as he had been told, the room occupied by Miss Rogers. He himself intended to accompany the artist, if they were so fortunate as to gain an entrance at this late hour.

The summons, which had sounded only too loud and shrill, brought more than one head to the windows above, but when the door was opened, it was James they saw, and to him Mr. Degraw found it possible to say:

“Don’t be alarmed, James. I do not want to disturb the house, but I have a message for Miss Aspinwall that will not keep till morning. Will you ask her to come down?”

The servant, who had been valet to his mistress’ father, bowed without a shade of surprise on his respectful face; and ushering the two gentlemen in, carefully shut the door and glided away on his mission. As there was a faint light burning in the hall, they were not left entirely in darkness, a fact for which they were thankful when a few minutes later they heard a faint foot-fall approach, and beheld sooner than they had expected, the slight and elegant form of Miss Aspinwall descending the stairs, clad in a loose gown of flowered silk, but otherwise in the same trim in which Mr. Degraw had observed her early in the evening.

“Oh,” she cried, hurriedly advancing, “what has occurred?”

Mr. Degraw, smiling, pointed to the library, whose door stood invitingly open.

“May we enter?” he asked.

She looked first at the artist, then at his companion.

“The house is not on fire, then?” she naively remarked.

And beckoning to James, who had followed her at a distance, she commanded him to light the lamp on the library table.

But the detective, coming forward, observed:

“I think I would make no extra lights. What we request—if you will pardon the intrusion, madam—is leave to watch this house. I am Mr. Gryce of the New York detective force, and I have been led to think, from circumstances unnecessary to state at this moment, that one of your guests runs some danger to-night from an unscrupulous man who has, or thinks he has, a motive for her death. If, therefore, you do not object to my guardianship, I should like to play the part of her protector, a part which, as this gentleman here will tell you, is no new one for me to assume.”

“Ah! and this guest—”

She only needed one look at Mr. Degraw to know who it was.

“Is Miss Rogers, no doubt.”

“Yes, madam; a lady whom I have not seen, but who claims my interest from her name and the peril in which she stands.”

“And does she share your fears?” pursued the lady, with a side-glance at Mr. Degraw, full of sympathetic feeling.

“I think not,” responded the latter, eagerly. “Nor are my fears just what they were a few hours ago, Miss Aspinwall. Then I doubted Mr. Degraw’s designs, now I doubt only those of his valet. The former has proved himself all we had a right to expect from Mr. Morris’ recommendation, while the latter has given token of being a most desperate villain, with intentions of the worst, not only against his master and myself, but against the innocent signorina, who, as Miss Rogers, stands, as he supposes, in the way of an abominable scheme of his by which he hopes to reap an incredible amount of money.”

“His valet?” she repeated, “his valet? I do not know that I remember his valet. Is he the man who has made the trouble in New York, of which you have told me?”

“We think so.”

“Using his master’s name?”

“No. That is, Mr. Degraw had some doings with these young girls himself, but they were not reprehensible ones; on the contrary, they did him honor, as you will have the opportunity of judging to-morrow when he explains himself. But his valet interfered with his designs and made trouble, and contemplates making more, probably upon this very night. It is difficult for me to make you understand all this in a moment, but it is for the fellow’s supposed interest that Miss Rogers should not live till morning,”

A marked pallor, visible even in the dim light of this faintly illumined hall took the place of her usual healthy color. She instinctively drew nearer the artist as if to appeal to his protection; but bethinking herself, stepped back, and surveyed both gentlemen with equal confidence and courage.

“And where is this villain now?” she asked.

“We cannot say; but we think he is on or near your grounds.”

“I will call up Donald and Henry and the coachman,” she cried.

But Mr. Gryce stopped her with a gesture.

“No,” he objected, “we have our aids without; all we need is a place near Miss Rogers’ door where we can watch in silence for any danger that may approach her. I know the house is locked,” he exclaimed, as she opened her lips to utter some word of surprise or assurance. “But the plot of which this valet is undoubtedly the agent is a deep one, and may involve some totally unsuspected person as an accomplice. It is to save her from such a contingency that we propose to sit up to-night. The valet will be taken care of by those without.”

“I understand, or rather I do not understand,” responded Miss Aspinwall. “But I am willing to rely on the judgment of others wiser than myself. Do what you think best, gentlemen. I am willing to trust to Mr. Degraw’s discretion.”

She drew back and waved her hand toward the stairs. “If you think it indispensable to watch Miss Rogers’ door, I will show you where it is. But cannot I do the watching for you?”

“You can do better,” suggested the artist. “You can take her into your own room.”

“That is true; I will do that; she will be safe there.”

“And I will stand guard over you both,” remarked the detective.

She nodded; looked at Mr. Degraw, who bowed low.

“I will remain here,” said he. “If I am wanted, a word will bring me. James can keep me company, and neither of us will require any light.”

“Perhaps that will be as well,” murmured the lady, but she gave him an earnest look, and turned once again after leaving him.

She may have felt anxious about him, she may have felt anxious about herself; whatever the feeling was, it made her step heavy and lingering.

The upper hall of this old-fashioned country mansion ran from the front to the back of the house, and was so spacious that it was carpeted and furnished like a room. Over the front door there was a recess holding a desk, and this was made still more of a retreat by a wide curtain strung across it. Toward this spot Mr. Gryce at once drew.

“This is good vantage-ground,” he commented. “By drawing the curtain so, I can see everything without being seen; only you must take this lighted candle away and place it on that small table down in the hall.”

“I will,” she said, and proceeded to point out the door of the signorina’s room, after which she explained that beside the main staircase leading down at the left, there was a smaller one at the end of the hall, which, being in a direct line between a certain side entrance much in use, and the various bedrooms of the house, was more employed by her guests than the one in front. Then she left him, and, after placing the candle on the table he had pointed out, proceeded with careful steps to the signorina’s door, upon which she slightly knocked.

A hurried movement answered her from within. Then a step sounded on the floor, and the signorina pantingly cried, from behind the door:

“Who is it?”

“Hilary,” was the reply. “I am lonesome and nervous, Jenny; will you not share my bed with me?”

“Oh,” cried the signorina, opening the door “and disclosing herself in her evening apparel. “I am nervous and agitated too. I should be but sorry company. See! I have not even gone to bed.”

Miss Aspinwall, who had not been in bed either, as her hair and ornaments showed, flushed softly and turned her face partially away. But the other did not notice. She was in a tremor and peered out into the hall over Miss Aspinwall’s shoulder, as if some hint of the fear which had infused itself into the mind of others had ventured at last to disturb her own.

“Who is that? What do I hear?” she suddenly asked, in a muffled, yet penetrating voice.

Miss Aspinwall, starting, glanced behind her. There was nothing to be seen, not even in the quarter where the detective stood.

“I do not hear anything,” she replied.

“That shows you how nervous I am,” half laughed the signorina. “I do not understand it, but I think I never felt just as I do to-night. Get some one else to keep you company; I am only fit to sit on the edge of my bed and cry.”

“Then that is the best reason in the world why we should be together. I cannot go leaving you here awake, and you cannot wish to see me go, knowing that I should be constantly anxious about you.”

“But you don’t know how peculiar I am,”’ murmured the signorina, shrinking back and trembling excessively. “I have spells when only solitude can relieve me. Such a one is upon me to-night. If I should go into your room I should be tempted to shriek aloud, I have so little control over myself when I am nervous.”

“And you will not let me stay here?”

The signorina looked down, seemingly embarrassed by the other’s penetrating glance.

“Oh,” she whispered at last, “you are a woman. Cannot you understand that there are times when we would shut out even the stars from peering into our windows? Mr. Degraw, of Cleveland, has asked for a special interview to-morrow. I do not know what it means; but I tremble, for—” She paused, and her head fell till her chin touched the flowers fading upon her breast. “Can you not guess the rest, Hilary?”

Miss Aspinwall thought she could, but did not say so. She was busy seeking for expedients to induce her friend to accept the refuge she proffered her, but she found none; and seeing at last that her presence only disturbed the unhappy girl, she gave her a tender kiss and moved softly away, saying:

“Open your door and speak, if you need me. I shall not be asleep.”

The signorina looked up as if to answer, but closed her lips again, and, after one other frightened glance up and down the hall, drew back into her own room and closed the door. Miss Aspinwall passed on to where the detective stood.

“She will not come with me; she prefers to be alone,” that lady observed, in low tones, as she entered behind the curtain. “As she seems agitated and low-spirited, I did not like to frighten her further; so I did not tell her why I wanted her company, or stop to urge her too persistently. Did I do right?”

“Quite right, madam. We must watch her where she is. I have no doubt all will pass off well, and that morning will come without an event. Do you intend to go to your room or remain here?”

“Oh, I should so like to stay right here. You inspire me with so much confidence. And then, I feel that I ought to be one of the watchers; for, after all, this is my house and she my guest, and my place is where I can be of the greatest service to her.”

“Then come here, Miss Aspinwall, after you have satisfied the curiosity of that person whom I see looking out of a door down yonder. I shall only require of you silence; the rest I will take upon myself.”

She thanked him with a gesture, and hurried down the hall. Not one person only, but two or three others, had by this time found the courage to unlock their doors and look out, and for each and all she had a word of explanation that was either so natural or so soothing that peace soon settled upon the house; and when quiet was fully restored, she came back, and, dropping into the seat pointed out by the detective, added herself to the number of watchers gathered to protect the signorina from the unknown danger they believed to menace her.

Will they succeed, or will her enemy prove more subtle than they, and find a way to approach her, notwithstanding their united care?

Chapter 28
La Sonnambula

Two hours went by—two long, bewildering hours, or so they seemed to Hilary Aspinwall, crouching in her dim corner and listening with divided attention, first, for any signs of disturbance in the hall before her; and, secondly, for that something, hardly amounting to sound, which constantly and with increasing effect testified to her overwrought nerves that the one man who unconsciously possessed the power to move her was still within her walls, sharing her watch and more than partaking in her anxiety. Pain and pleasure often mingle strangely in our consciousness, and, though she knew by the sharp anguish that now and then overcame her that his thoughts all ran by her to that lone chamber where the beautiful stranger slumbered, yet she could not but experience, as the proudest women will, that peculiar delight which comes with the sense of a beloved one’s presence. Each minute brought its own experience to her; and yet, if the detective who sat at her side had bethought to turn his head in her direction, he would not have heard a sigh from her set lips, or discerned a wandering glance from her firm and steady eye.

It was now two o’clock, and the house was still, almost to the point of oppression. Only the sound of swaying boughs swishing against the walls was to be heard from without, while within, there was nothing to disturb the absolute serenity of the place, unless it was the beating of Hilary’s heart and the tick of the great clock in the library below.

The curtain drawn in front of her retreat falls without a wrinkle, and is so transparent that she sees the flame of the candle beyond burning like a hazy star through its meshes. On this star she has fixed her eyes so steadily that she sees nothing else, not even the detective who stands so near her, with his ear and not his eye bent toward the hall. Are they wasting their strength in this breathless watching? Has the danger been overrated, and would they be better off in their beds and asleep? Surely yes; for here is no sign of lurking mischief in the space about them, and the hour grows late. And yet—what sound was that? Did a hinge creak, or is fancy, so long robbed of its prey, cheating our over-strained senses at last?

Hilary Aspinwall asks this question, but she does not betray her anxiety by so much as the involuntary catching of her breath. She feels that Mr. Gryce is listening, and that is enough. But her eye is on the star I have spoken of; and, suddenly—whether it be fact, or only the effect of her agitation—she perceives that star grow cloudy. Something is passing between it and her; something that grows in size and obscures the light of the flame, and finally casts a shadow on the curtain itself. The sound, which is like the softest step, fills her with a horror that would unconsciously cause a shriek to leave her lips, if Mr. Gryce were not close at her side. As it is, she can hardly refrain from catching him by the arm and asking him if he hears and sees this person approaching him. But his silent and immovable figure invites no such display of feeling, and fixed but trembling she watches the shadow growing upon that curtain, till, to her secret surprise and immeasurable relief, it assumes the proportions, not of a man, but of a slight and graceful woman, whose outlines she is sure she will know, if— But Mr. Gryce is moving; he has taken a look through the space left at the side of the curtain, and now pulls that curtain back, and she sees nothing that relieves her, though it is the figure of the signorina which stands now in the center of the space before her; rather what fills her with dismay, and sends the blood in terror to her heart; for the figure of her graceful guest is rigid, as if molded in clay, and in those wide-open and staring eyes there is no look of life, but rather the dull glassiness of unconsciousness and death. Yet she stands upright, and moves with swift, unerring steps directly toward them.

“A somnambulist! She is walking in her sleep!” whispered the detective; and he watches her as if he felt his own good sense and trained self-possession vanquished by the fascination of her mechanical approach.

But, just as it seemed as if she were bent upon directing her steps into their retreat, she pauses, turns, and sets her foot upon the staircase. Instantly he broke from the spell which bound him, and uttering a low whistle, that scarcely disturbed the silence as much as the rustling of her dress against the banisters, he waited till he heard a slight movement in the hall beneath, which proved that the watchers he had left there had heard his warning. Then he turned to Miss Aspinwall, with one word of commendation for her self-control, and drew the curtain again into its former place.

Meanwhile, in the hall beneath, Mr. Degraw and James stood in the shadow made by the library door, surveying, with wondering and startled eyes, the precise and automaton-like descent of the woman in whose interests they were supposed to be keeping watch. Had they not been warned, they would have thought her a spirit, so noiseless was her step and so like floating essence the delicate shape, with its ethereal robes and loosened hair, coming, coming, step by step, down the dim staircase into the dim hall, seeing nothing, betraying nothing save a dreamful purpose to enter the empty parlor.

To get in her way was dangerous. To impede her steps or to stop her movements even by a sigh, might induce consequences from which her lover naturally shrank; so, notwithstanding his anxiety, he obliged himself to remain where he was and merely peered after her as she glided among the furniture directly to the music-box. This she lifted and put down again with what sounded like a sigh. Did she place a letter under it, or did she feel for one, or was the action purely mechanical and the result of memories which made the artist’s heart leap! It was impossible to determine, nor had he time to consider the question, for no sooner had she restored the music-box to its place than she turned, and, to avoid an encounter, he found himself forced to retreat in haste to his old station in the library, from which point he saw her glide again by the door and move down the hall into regions where he could not follow her without discovering himself.

Yet, feeling the necessity of keeping her in sight, he attempted to slip along through the passages in her wake, and had reached the door leading into the dining-room when he suddenly perceived her returning, and had barely time to draw himself up against the wall before she was upon him, walking less steadily than before, and with a sideways, swaying movement that filled the lover’s heart with terror, and made it a matter of great self-control on his part not to catch her in his arms and lend her the support of his strength and the comfort of his tenderness.

She passed straight to a table under the staircase, and halting before it, slowly stretched out her hand and took up the paper-cutter lying there, and which was of a make so substantial and had a point so sharp that the laughing remark had often been made in regard to it, that in case of sudden need it would serve very well as a dagger. Misdoubting her intentions, the artist was about to tear it from her grasp, when she turned in the same mechanical way, and brought it directly to him, with a glassy horror visible in her eyes that completely paralyzed him and made movement impossible.

Leaving it in his hand, she went away again, and directing her steps toward the staircase, began to re-ascend them in the same spirit-like way in which she had come down.

When she was near the top, he found breath to return the whistle which had been given him by Mr. Gryce, but he could do no more. He was overwhelmed by the token which he had just received, of her recognition of his presence, though that recognition was seemingly abnormal, like the vision of a clairvoyant who sees without looking and knows without any manifest effort of the faculties.

Meanwhile she had reached the upper floor, and Hilary Aspinwall and Mr. Gryce beheld her shadow reappear upon the curtain. Large at first, it grows smaller and smaller as she floats away from them down the hall. In another moment, it will disappear entirely; but something alarms Mr. Gryce, and he flings the curtain sharply aside, and they see not only the swaying form of the signorina, but the crouching figure of a man creeping in from the back hall and pausing, with hand upraised and menacing eyes, directly in her pathway.

So threatening is the sight, and so sudden its revelation, that for an instant Hilary Aspinwall stands appalled; and even Mr. Gryce, who is usually so ready for action and so fearless wherever it was concerned, remains rooted in his place. For nothing but an outcry can save the signorina, and an outcry uttered in the ears of one in her condition may cause madness or sudden death.

No wonder the detective stands irresolute—that Hilary forces back the shriek that rises to her lips. Death is hovering doubly over the head of the one they hoped to guard, and nothing they can do will serve to save her. Will not the guardian spirit of her mother see her peril and stop the unconscious girl thus hurrying upon her doom? No. But other help is near—help sure and potent; for see! just as she floats upon the assassin and the fingers of the murderous wretch close more tightly upon his uplifted dagger, another form creeps in behind him, and Byrd, youthful, alert, full of fire and of purpose, flings himself upon the man in front, and, without a word of warning, pinions him in his two strong arms.

The shriek which Miss Aspinwall had been able to restrain in her terror, flew from her lips in her relief; and at the sound the signorina, who was now almost upon the two struggling men, paused, and flung out her arms. At the sight Hilary rushed forward, and in a moment the hall was lined with frightened faces, every door having opened as by a spell, at these sounds of trouble and danger.

But Hilary saw only one face, that of the signorina. Pale as death, with staring eyes in which life had suddenly leaped into being, she confronted the two men struggling for mastery before her, like one suddenly awakened from nightmare into a worse dream of reality. So absorbed was she in the contemplation of what she saw, that she did not feel Hilary’s arms about her, and only moved when the knife, which the two combatants had equally struggled to possess, flew from the hand of the assassin and fell at her feet. Then she came to herself, and, stooping down, picked up this weapon, and clutching it with frenzied fingers, leaped toward the door of her room, just as the man who had raised his hand against her succumbed to the strength of his antagonist, and, rolling toward the staircase, slipped over its verge, and tumbled in a heap to the floor below.

Chapter 29
The Valet

“Is he dead?”

The question was asked by the signorina, who had come again from her chamber door, and was now pressing with the rest toward the stair.

“No,” came up in muffled tones from the young detective, who had bounded down after the fallen man; “he is not dead; and he is in custody. You need not fear this man any more.”

But her terrors were not so easily quieted. Though she did not speak, she stood shaking from head to foot, and seemed not to know whither to go or what to do.

“Would there be any harm in my seeing this man?” she ventured, timidly, after a somewhat painful pause. “I should like to ask him what he has against me.”

“Take my arm,” said a benevolent voice over her shoulder. “I shall be very glad to have you see him.” And Mr. Gryce stepped forward with such an air of authority that she forgot that his face was strange, and took the proffered arm without a word.

He led her to the stairs, down which she went, trembling very much, but otherwise seemingly composed. Lamps had been lit in the hall below, and the forms of Mr. Byrd and Mr. Degraw were to be seen standing above that of the prostrate man. She paused as she perceived her lover, but instantly recovered herself and went on, smiling a little sadly as she passed him.

The man, upon whose wrists the handcuffs had been put, turned his face upward as her light steps approached.

“Why, it is the valet!” she cried. “The man who said he was a detective, and who warned me—” She went no further, and her agitation became so great that the dagger, which she still nervously clutched, fell from her hand on to the breast of the man upon whom she was gazing.

Mr. Byrd stretched forth his hand and took it. She did not notice; she was looking in the face of a desperate assassin and her lips moved mechanically, but no sound came from them.

The wretch, who did not seem in any way overcome by his misfortune, stared back at her curiously.

“You see me down,” said he; “well, that is no matter, you will soon see me up again. I am not the man to swing.”

“What a fearful wretch!” she muttered, and hardly found tongue to falter: “There seems to be no good reason why you should attack me. What have I done, what has any of us done that you should come here with a knife?”

He laughed and gazed about him with evil eyes. “There are some here who can guess,” he cried. Then with a sort of bravado, continued: “No matter why I came here, miss, I can come no more, and that ought to suffice you. Good days have begun for you, miss, and I cannot prevent it; the police have been too many for me,”

She looked as if she did not understand, as if she wanted to question him further. But her lover, who felt her contaminated by any conversation with this man, advanced at this point and began to draw her away.

“Come,” he urged; “this is no place for you.” Instantly the wretch, who had not shown up to this point any real sense of his situation, roused and looked after her.

“Ah, ha!” he cried, “you may lose yet. Eleven o’clock has not yet come.”

She started, dropped Mr. Degraw’s arm, and looked wildly back.

“He is mad!” she whispered, and hastened to hide herself from those eyes.

When she and the artist, who persisted in following her, were again in the hall above, she found strength to say:

“Is it all a dream? Did that man try to kill me?”

“Yes, darling; but Providence was watching over you, and you escaped. How can I express my joy? How utter my thankfulness?”

She smiled, but her thoughts seemed far away.

“You are not hurt?” she asked. “You did not have any struggle with this man?”

“No; I have been in no danger; that is, for the last few hours. The fellow did try to poison my wine, but he was detected. Can you realize that, notwithstanding all his fine talk, it is he, and not Mr. Degraw, who has been at the bottom of all the trouble which has been suffered by your various namesakes?”

“He? What do you say? Have they found out that?”

“Yes, through Mr. Degraw’s explanation. He has been very frank and— But I must not trench upon his prerogative. He will tell you all you wish to know to-morrow; and, though it is hard for me to acknowledge my error”—he crushed down his jealousy, consulted his honor, and continued bravely —“I must say that this valet of his has blinded more than one of us, and that you are exceedingly fortunate to be under the care of so vigilant a police. We both owe our lives to Mr. Byrd, and you—”

But here he found it impossible to talk further. Though by this time the various inmates of the house had vanished again into their rooms, to dress and re-appear again for endless gossip, Miss Aspinwall and the servants were drawing near, and he felt that it was no time for him to express the hundred anxious thoughts which the signorina’s deliverance from danger had called forth. Besides, in honor, he should wait till Mr. Degraw had revealed to her the position she was destined to occupy, Signorina Valdi, poor and friendless, might feel very differently from the wealthy Miss Rogers with the world at her feet. How could he tell but that his sympathy even would seem superfluous to her then, much more his love. No, whatever it cost him, he would wait till the morrow had come and gone. No one should accuse him of taking advantage of her weakness. She knew he loved her; and that was enough. But ah! that dreadful to-morrow!

Mr. Gryce, who had accompanied them to the upper hall, now advanced.

“I consider the danger over,” said he, “and yet I shall watch beside Miss Rogers’ door till eleven o’clock to-morrow morning. Have you any objection to that, miss?”

“Oh, no! Oh, no!” was her eager response. “I have not been afraid before, but I am now. But why till eleven?”

“I believe you have an engagement for that hour.”

She blushed deeply and threw a side-glance upon her companion.

“I did not know that I had spoken of it,” she cried, naively.

No one answered, but the detective smiled benevolently upon her.

“You are a very fortunate young lady,” he observed, “if villainous men do strive to take your life.”

These words seemed to fix the blush upon her cheeks, and made the refuge of Miss Aspinwall’s room, which was now offered her by a gesture of that lady, more than acceptable.

“I do not know what all this means,” she said in withdrawal, “and I cannot wait to find out. Miss Aspinwall is beckoning and I am only too glad to fly to some place of quiet, where I can think. Goodnight, Mr. Degraw.” Her gaze was almost lingering. “Good-night, and take good care of yourself, for bound men have been known to escape, and—” She did not say what, but her fearful glance toward the stair beneath which the wretch to whom she alluded still lay seemed to tell something of the anxiety that yet affected her mind. And even after she had passed through the door held open for her by her friend did her last fond look seem to say to the enraptured artist: “Beware!”

“Ah!” thought he, little mindful of the warning itself, “will she cast such a look behind her when she knows herself the possessor of three millions?”

Some time later, Mr. Byrd explained how he came to appear so opportunely at the head of the back staircase. As you will remember, he had been appointed to watch the back windows and side entrance of the house. Hearing, about two o’clock, a gentle bird-call which came not from the trees but from the path leading up to this side of the house, he became suspicious and crawled out of the arbor in which he had concealed himself, just in time to discern the form of a man disappearing through one of the lower windows into the house.

Recognizing the valet, and realizing all that his presence in that place meant, he rushed after him and climbed into the same window. He found himself in a narrow hall, and next minute came upon a staircase yet creaking with the assassin’s stealthy tread. Mounting it more quietly than the other had done, he came upon the scene which we have already described, and thus, as far as man could see, became the means of deliverance to an otherwise doomed human being.

Mr. Degraw, of Cleveland, had not moved from the place which he had been set to watch.

Chapter 30
A Great Heiress

It was the hour at which lawn-tennis or croquet was usually in progress in Miss Aspinwall’s grounds. But no games occupied the guests this morning.

The great excitements and broken rest of the night before had prevented early rising on their part, and not one of the doors opening on the wide hall had yet swung back under the watchful eye of Mr. Gryce, who sat like a statue in front of the room occupied by the signorina. Ten o’clock and even Miss Aspinwall herself was not to be seen!

But before another half-hour had passed, more than one bright figure had stepped into the hall, and in this recess or that of the great house, small groups were gathering, ready to resume the talk which had not been exhausted by hours of secret whispering from pillow to pillow. At a quarter to eleven, one door only remained shut, the door upon which all eyes rested, for through it they expected presently to appear the heroine of the preceding eve, a heroine around whom this frustrated attempt at murder had woven such an atmosphere of romance and mystery that the coming of a girl with a tray of breakfast caused quite a shock of disappointment to pass through the throng, heroines being supposed to be above such mundane wants, or at least to ignore them at certain periods of peculiar interest or excitement.

But this touch of sentimental feeling in the young men and women of the house was soon lost in the surprise they felt at seeing Mr. Gryce suddenly rouse from his apathy, take the tray from the girl’s hand, and after surveying its contents with care, carry it in himself to the signorina. Nor was this astonishment in any wise diminished when, in a minute later, he re-appeared with the tray, and handing it back to the girl, remarked:

“Miss Rogers cares for nothing but eggs this morning. A couple of boiled eggs, if you please.”

An interference so minute must mean something. What? Curiosity grew rampant and it was a sorry disappointment to the eager watchers when the breakfast-bell rang, summoning them all to the dining-room.

Another bell rang about this time; it was the one connected with the front door. As its echoes ceased, one or two of the young men who still lingered in the hall beheld the door of her room open and the signorina appear. Ah, how fresh she looked, notwithstanding her night’s adventures! Or were her blushes the signal of some coming event not disconnected with the summons they had just heard. They would wait a minute; and they did, noting with a certain sort of stupefaction how the aged detective bowed as she passed him, and with what a look he followed her down the hall to the top of the staircase. Was the old fellow smitten? No, but he was impressed by the sight of this young girl going to an interview from which she would return the mistress of a fortune large enough to make her a queen among her fellows.

At the head of the staircase she met Hilary.

“Mr. Degraw, of Cleveland, is waiting for you in the library,” that lady announced, “He is not alone; did you expect to see him alone?”

The signorina drew back.

“Who is with him?” she asked.

“I leave you to find out,” returned the other, mischievously. “Only I thought I would warn you to expect more than one caller. Ah, how lovely you look in white!” pursued Hilary, with a short sigh. “No one would think you had not slept a wink all night.”

The signorina smiled and took the other’s arm.

“How kind you are!” said she, and looked so child-like with her quivering lips half parted that the stronger woman’s heart warmed with a sweet compassion as she drew her down to the library door.

“I must go to my other guests,” remarked Hilary, “but my heart will remain with you.”

And though she could not know and could not guess what this visit portended, she went with evidently reluctant feet toward the dining-room, looking back more than once upon the slight, white-clad figure standing doubtfully before the library door, as if in dread of an interview which might have a determining influence upon the future fate of more than one in this great house.

When the signorina finally summoned courage sufficiently to open the door and pass in, she was startled to observe three gentlemen present, and was greatly confused, notwithstanding the warning she had received, when she perceived that one of them was the artist. Surely this was not the interview she had expected when Mr. Degraw, of Cleveland, had set this hour for saying something to her of special importance!

“Do you wish to see me?” was consequently the question with which she met the greeting she received.

“We do,” was Mr, Degraw’s earnest reply; “not only to express our pleasure at your providential escape, but for another purpose which, if unexpected to you, will, I hope, relieve you from all further danger of any such scenes as startled you and the rest of this house last night. You have never been able to conjecture, I dare say, why you and others of your name have been subjected to perils and distresses of no ordinary nature?”

“No,” she rejoined, glancing askance at the artist. “I have recognized the fact, but not attempted to account for it. Can it be that you can tell me?”

“I certainly can, Miss Rogers. It is because a wicked woman and a still more wicked man have banded together to prevent the consummation of a certain act by which a great property is to be handed over to the young girl who is fortunate enough to fulfill in her own person certain definite conditions. One of these conditions is that she shall have been christened by the name of ‘Jenny Rogers.’ ”

“Ah!” she exclaimed, shrinking back in surprise and possible dismay. “That is my name; but you do not mean—you cannot mean—”

He interrupted her with a smile,

“Pardon me,” said he, “but I do. When I told you that you need not consider yourself in any further danger of personal violence from these persons, I meant that you were the chosen one among these girls, and that you are no longer simply a possible heiress to this money, but its real possessor. There is, therefore, no longer any motive remaining for inflicting injury upon you, since your death would no longer benefit these conspirators, but your heirs. Do you understand me, Miss Rogers?”

“Understand?” she murmured. “You overwhelm me. I the possessor of money! Whose money? And what have I done to earn it, and what is expected of me in return for it?”

“Nothing is expected of you,” gravely returned Mr. Degraw. “It is yours only through the whim of a man now dead. Will you hear his story? It may help you to realize why I should be the chosen medium of his generosity.”

“I should be glad,” she responded, “but everything swims before me. I have never had anything pleasant happen to me before; and this is pleasant, isn’t it?”

Her child-like look, her utter amaze and winning helplessness told upon two hearts there with almost equal power; but the artist sat silent, though he could not forbear letting his heart speak through his eyes. The other spoke, but his tone was studiously friendly rather than lover-like.

“Yes,” he replied, “it is pleasant, because, though I have the honor to hand you this deed, by means of which, the moment it is signed, you will be made the owner of three million dollars worth of property, there is nothing in this bequest, nor in your acceptance of it, which should cause a blush to rise to your cheek or to mine. It is simply a gift made by a childless man to the woman who bears the name and possesses some of the characteristics of the being he most loved.”

“Oh,” she cried, with a flushing cheek, “will not some one call Hilary? I do not know how to bear such good fortune alone. Three millions! Why, it is incredible! I almost refuse to believe it.”

“Perhaps this gentleman will help you to do so,” he smiled, indicating the stranger who had accompanied him. “This is Mr. Walden, Miss Rogers. He is a lawyer, and will explain to you the technicalities of this matter.”

She bowed abstractedly. She was looking at the deed which had been handed to her, and scarcely seemed to hear this introduction.

“But this immense gift is made out in your name,” she declared. “How is that? You are not the donor of this vast amount of money!”

He smiled reassuringly, but to his rival’s watchful eyes there was sadness in his smile, as there were evidences of growing discouragement in his whole manner.

“No,” he assured her, “I am not the donor; the gift is made through me, but not by me. Let me tell you my story before we go any further. Miss Aspinwall can hear it later; you alone are concerned in it now.” And drawing her to a seat, he took his place by her side and began his relation, in language similar to that which he had employed in making his disclosures to the detective the night before. She listened with wide-open eyes, that ever and anon filled with tears, of which she seemed unconscious; and when he had finished, her head sank in thoughtful reverie on her breast and remained in this position so long that Mr. Degraw made a gesture to the lawyer, which caused him to quietly leave the room. As soon as the door had closed upon him, the former ventured to take her hand and say, with visible emotion:

“I sought you out in the first place, Miss Rogers, solely for the purpose which is revealed by this story I have just related. But in studying your character, I have learned to love you, and only refrain from making you the proposals which lie near to my heart, from an instinct of honor which forbids me to share the fortune which was intrusted to me to place where my judgment directed.” Startled and touched in her deepest sensibilities, she cast one wild look behind her. Yes, the artist had not left with the lawyer; he was standing where she had last seen him, in the deep recess of the window.

“Oh!” she remonstrated, “we are not alone.”

But this Mr. Degraw knew as well as she did.

“I know it,” he calmly rejoined. “I urged Mr. Degraw to accompany me, because I wished him to be a witness to your decision. My devotion and this money cannot go together, Miss Rogers; but if you tell me to tear up this deed—” His voice sank, his large and strong frame trembled.

The artist saw it and trembled too. Would she be proof against such passion? Would his own love or even this great amount of money serve to blind her to the noble and elevated qualities of this man? Yes, for the confusion which overwhelms her is not that of appreciation, and when she speaks it is with a sob of fear and deprecation.

“Oh!” she cries, “in what a position you have placed me!”

The hand which held hers softly opened.

“No,” was the kindly rejoinder. “A word from me will summon back Mr. Walden. I expected to have to utter it. I only wished to be perfectly frank with you, and to make one attempt to gain the happiness which it is every man’s right to enjoy. I have not benefited by my effort, but I hope I have not lost your esteem.”

“Oh, no,” she cried, breaking down, “if I only felt—as—as—”

“I understand,” he assured her. “Do not distress yourself. See! I have summoned the lawyer; he is coming back.”

And almost before her tears were dry or her trembling ceased, Mr. Walden was in the room, and the papers were duly signed and the Signorina Valdi, who a moment before had owned nothing save what was contained in her small trunk, stood up before these three men, the undisputed possessor of millions.

Then, indeed, a marked change passed over her. From impressing the beholder with her delicacy, she seemed suddenly to have acquired breadth and height. Even her beauty took on dignity, and her step character. She was not less admirable thus, but she lost some of the touching grace which had won her the love of these two strong hearts.

The artist, who was watching her with bated breath, now came forward with his congratulations. She received him with a smile that seemed to tell her heart’s story; but the next moment a certain air of coquettish independence took the place of her first eager delight, and the sight made him withdraw again and take his stand by Mr. Degraw.

“Hilary! Who will tell Hilary?” the signorina now cried. “A sight of her dear face might persuade me that this is not all a dream.”

Instantly, the Cleveland gentleman, with rare tact and generosity, declared that he would go for Miss Aspinwall, and taking the lawyer by the arm, drew him out, leaving the field to his rival.

The artist at once sprang forward, and clasped the new-made heiress by the hand.

“Signorina!” he exclaimed, “one word before your prosperity is known to the world. I love you; you know that; and I have already laid my heart at your feet. But you were not the mistress of millions then, and knew no more than I of the good fortune which awaited you. So do not feel that I hold you as bound to me in the slightest degree, because of any expression of regard that may have escaped you. Love that might have moved you then may not move you now, and though I prize you always, and ever the same, whether you be rich or whether you be poor, I feel that it is only honorable in me to await a reply to my suit until you have become accustomed to your wealth, and learned the necessities of your new position. If in six months from now you still remember the artist, Hamilton Degraw—”

“Ah!” she interrupted, with a naïveté charmingly in keeping with her blushes, “I cannot wait six months. I have no home, no adviser, no protector. I should make a thousand mistakes. Besides, why not be altogether happy, since Fate has given us the opportunity.”

Was it possible! What man could resist such an appeal! He gazed upon her with rapture, he covered her hands with kisses, he all but took her in his arms, but did not accept the troth she proffered him.

“I cannot,” he cried. “It would be like taking advantage of your inexperience. Wait three months, darling, and if then—

The entrance of Miss Aspinwall interrupted him. He drew back, but his face betrayed a joy which the noble woman who entered could not mistake.

“Pardon me,” she exclaimed, and would have withdrawn, but the signorina held out her arms.

“No,” she whispered; “since Mr. Degraw refuses to take me in his charge, I must look to you for that guidance which my new difficulties imperatively demand. See here, Hilary,” and she placed before her the documents which had made such a change in her position.

Chapter 31
Final Words

It was not long before Miss Aspinwall’s house was the scene of lively congratulations and prolonged festivity. Such good fortune coming to one of its inmates was certainly a cause for much rejoicing, and as most of the youthful guests who indulged in it were members of wealthy and influential families, there was but little jealousy mixed with the universal delight. That is, no jealousy as regarded her millions; I will not say as much concerning her beauty or her power over the hearts of men.

Her two declared lovers did not make themselves greatly conspicuous. Mr. Degraw, of Cleveland, already betrayed evidences of wishing to depart, while the artist, although partaking in her happiness and pride, was seen but little by her side. Did her riches awe him, or was she in one of her coquettish moods which at once invited and repelled a lover’s attentions. Those around her could not determine.

Hilary, who was somewhat pale but very sympathetic, did not enlighten her guests concerning this matter. She was bent upon showing her regard to the donor of the Delaney millions, perhaps in secret remorse over the grave doubts with which she had hitherto regarded him. She read the disappointment which mingled with his relief, and managed to infuse into her bearing that gentle respect which is the surest balm for such a wound as that under which he secretly labored. Yet no one could ever accuse Hilary of coquetry, however much he might attribute it to her less candid but more fascinating friend.

But was Jenny Rogers a coquette? We, who have partially sounded her nature and circumstances, do not think so, nor do her glances on this important day betoken that she is playing with the artist or even thinking too much of her newly acquired wealth. As she sits in her old place on the window-seat, almost buried under the flowers which have been thrown at her feet by her merry companions, she seems to us the embodiment of womanly sweetness and beauty. She smiles, but who could not smile when suddenly raised to a kingdom? Yes, and she utters mockeries at times, but it is not in scorn of any true expression of feeling, but only in disdain of the nearly fulsome adulation with which she is now and then addressed. She is clad in a soft clinging robe of pure white silk without any other ornament than the lace at her throat; but she never looked more beautiful, nor appeared more brilliant, and to one pair of eyes, at least, never seemed more alive with love and feeling. These eyes were those of Hilary, who, in the joy she thus saw revealed before her read the final words of her own hope.

Another person perceived the signorina’s burning beauty, and resisted it as long as he could, but finally submitted to its charms and passed quickly to her side.

“Come,” he entreated, “I must have a few words with you before we enter upon our three months of separation. Leave this crowd who have worshipped you long enough, and if you must be half covered with flowers, we will walk on the porch where the vines hang thickest, and I will shake down rose-leaves enough to make a carpet for your feet.”

“I care not for roses,” she said, and stood up at his side, a rose herself.

But when they had withdrawn into the porch, it was not of love he spoke, nor was it flowers he offered her. He had a fear to express and made haste to utter it.

“Signorina!” said he—“Pardon me, I will not call you by that name when I can acquire the right to use a dearer—you have never told me why you so suddenly left the house in — street.”

Taken aback, for she had expected different words from these, Miss Rogers looked at him with searching and slightly troubled eyes and murmured:

“Why do you ask me that now? I was not thinking of anything like that.”

“Because you are lost in the pleasures of the present, while I am concerned with the dangers of the past. Why did you fly from home in those days; was it because you feared Montelli more than you trusted me?”

Her head fell, she nodded a quick yes, and then as he still stood waiting exclaimed:

“He was a bad man. I dared not linger another day where he could visit me. One glimpse of his face had been enough to thoroughly alarm me. I fled and buried myself in as obscure a place as I could find. The Portuguese accompanied me, but I soon came to fear her also. You had sown the seed of distrust in my heart, and I grew to be afraid of every one. So I ran away again and came here.”

“Alone?”

“Alone. I knew that Hilary Aspinwall had a country-seat in this town and I hoped she would see and take pity on me. You will not tell her that I calculated upon her friendship to such an extent, will you?”

“Oh, no,” he answered smiling, for her look was quite piteous in its shame and entreaty. “But Miss Aspinwall would understand. She is so truly womanly.”

“I know, I know, but I have some pride and I acted as if the meeting were a surprise.”

“I see. Well, I will keep your confidence, only you must tell me one thing more. Did you ever suspect that Montelli was not really an Italian?”

“No; that is, I have not thought very much about it. I took it for granted he was what he said he was. Why?”

“Because I had a strange suspicion last night when I saw the fellow who attacked you lying on the floor at the foot of the staircase. Though I had not noticed it before, I thought then that he had an eye like the Italian whom I saw for a minute in your rooms. If that is so, and he is Montelli in disguise, or, what is more probable, Montelli was this man in disguise, then the two matters are one and the plot against you is of long standing.”

“It may be;” she acknowledged, “it may be. But it is all over now. Why think of it?”

“Because I do not feel at ease about him; nor do you, for all your seeming gayety. I have caught you more than once glancing in visible apprehension toward the door, as if you feared a renewed sight of your murderous persecutor.”

“Did I betray myself like that!” she asked, then stopped and exclaimed with sudden conviction: “It is because great pleasures never seem quite real. I cannot believe that I shall be allowed to step into this immense fortune without some disaster to dampen my happiness. It would be like the wonders of a fairy-tale occurring to an ordinary mortal.”

“But you are not a mortal; you are a witch, or one of the fairies themselves; so you should believe in your happiness, only—” he grew more serious here—“I do not want you to trust it so much as to be reckless. This fellow is in custody, but he may manage to escape; and though you certainly have nothing more to fear from his cupidity, you may have from his revenge. He will never forget that through you he has lost, as he thinks, the possibility of handling an immense sum of money.”

“Do you wish to terrify me?” she inquired, with a frightened look.

“No, no; how can you think it? I only wish to warn you, so that if you ever have reason to think he is in any way engaged in doing you harm, you will notify the police, and procure a guardian to watch over your safety. I cannot rest in peace unless you promise me this. Will you? Otherwise I shall not be able to sleep at night.”

She smiled. It was almost a sad smile; it certainly was an appealing one. But he had fixed the boundaries to his sympathy, and would not overstep them.

“Promise me,” he persisted.

“To take care of myself?” she queried. “Ah! it is easy to do that. I am too anxious to show the world and you that I can bear the honors of my position and not forget my old friends.”

It was charmingly said; it came like dew to his thirsty and longing heart. He caught her hand in his and pressed it with more than friendly warmth, but in that very act drew back and made his final bow.

“You make it too hard for me,” he remonstrated. “To behold Paradise so near, and yet to feel one is restrained from enjoying it by the most solemn of secret oaths, is torture to such an impetuous nature as mine. I shall therefore turn my back upon the gates I may not enter, and not till three months have elapsed will you see me again. Goodbye, dearest of women, good-bye.”

And he was gone.

For a moment she stood in that bower of greenery where he had left her, courageously smiling as long as he was within sight and liable to turn his face again for a farewell look; but when the trees had quite hidden him, and his quick step was no longer to be heard on the graveled walk, then her lovely countenance fell, and a startling look of care took the place of her former expression of triumph. While this was still visible on her face, and before she had reached the door which led into the house, a young man stepped out of this same door and confronted her. It was Mr. Byrd.

For an instant it seemed as if she did not know him, for though she paused, she did not speak. But as he bowed with great respect, her smiles came back, and she greeted him cordially.

“Ah!” said she, “I was hoping for an opportunity to express my obligation to you. From what have you not saved me?”

“From more than you think,” was his somewhat enigmatical reply. “I have news to give you, Miss Rogers. The man who made the attempt upon your life last night is dead.”

She recoiled as if he had struck her.

“Dead?” she repeated, in incredulous tones; then, as she saw that she had not mistaken his words, and that he meant what he said, she suddenly flushed with an overwhelming and uncontrollable joy, as unmistakable as it was apparently unconscious.

The detective watched her curiously.

“How did it happen?” she now cried. “When? Where?”

“He tried to escape from us at the depot. He fell under the cars. You need never fear anything from him again.”

She turned her face away. Horrors were not lacking from this day of triumph, and yet this horror robbed her of a nameless dread.

“You are very kind to come and tell me,” she gratefully declared.

“I regret to be obliged to,” he replied. “The man was merely acting for another. That other we know, but cannot find. We had hoped her accomplice’s apprehension would lead ultimately to the discovery of her whereabouts; but his death robs us effectually of this hope.”

“To whom do you allude?” asked Miss Rogers.

“To the woman of your name in New York in behalf of whom this wretch has worked—an adventuress; the most unhappy and least respectable of any who bear your name.”

The fair and brilliant woman before him shuddered.

“Leave her in peace,” she pleaded. “Do not try to extort anything from her. She will be unhappy enough at the failure of her scheme. It is not for me, in the enjoyment of my good fortune, to wish punishment to those less fortunate than myself.”

The bow which Mr. Byrd made, in his sympathy and admiration, was as elegant as if made by either of the Degraws.

“You are generous,” said he, and said no more.

She gave him a quick look. She was evidently surprised to see such manners in a man belonging to the police.

“Have you any commands?” he now asked.

“No,” she returned, “no commands; but you will hear from me again.” And with a smile that suggested future benefits, she turned to go, but was stopped by a final entreaty.

“I hope,” said he, very gravely, “that you will not consider any service which I may have done you deserving of any further recognition than your thanks. I was working in the way of my duty, and shall consider it a favor if you will let the matter drop.”

“Then I will,” she frankly rejoined, “but it is a pity that you will not allow me to inaugurate my good fortune by a gift which any one would regard as only a proper recognition of a service without which I might not now be standing here.”

“I am paid,” said he, “I am paid.”

He was such a gentleman that she found it impossible to contradict him or to press the matter further. She, therefore, smiled once more and vanished.

He stood a long time looking in the direction she had gone.

That night she received the following note:

“I bid good-bye to Great Barrington, to-day. Mr. Gryce tells me that the valet was killed this morning while trying to escape. So one serious danger is out of your path. But remember the Portuguese. She may take up his vengeance and seek to carry it through. If you ever see her, if one glimpse of her hateful face ever comes before your eyes, notify me, or, what is better, telegraph to Mr. Byrd at police headquarters. She is now your evil genius. I gather so much from Mr. Degraw’s description of the woman who kept the house where Mr. Delaney died. It is identical with my remembrance of this attendant of yours, only the Cleveland woman could speak English, as I have no doubt the New York woman could have done if she had been forced to it. So, if your memory of her does not extend beyond last October (the time when Mr. Delaney died), be sure she is this same woman.

“I leave you in Miss Aspinwall’s care. May all good angels watch over you both.”

Chapter 32
The Seed Is Sown

The summer has passed and autumn has come. As Hamilton Degraw sits in his studio, the brilliant light of an exquisite September day shines on his last great effort and brings out its many beauties to the observant eye.

It is the picture of a young girl lying asleep upon a couch draped with white and gold. The sketch of it we have seen, but this is the finished painting.

“How beautiful!”

This is the remark of Mr. Byrd, who is looking over the artist’s shoulder.

Mr. Degraw sighed; it was the first time he had let any other eyes than his own rest upon this canvas.

“But does it not possess too strong a resemblance to the original to be exhibited publicly?” pursued the detective, quietly.

“It is not for public exhibition. It is destined for my own house and my own pleasure,” returned Mr. Degraw. “I have let you see it, but I shall not show it to many eyes. The man who saved her life is almost a brother to me; that is the reason I make an exception in your favor.”

“I understand and appreciate your confidence. It is not misplaced; but will you pardon me if I ask if you intend to marry Miss Rogers. It is from no idle curiosity that I ask.”

“Will she marry me? That is the question, Byrd.”

The detective, shifting his position into one that commanded a view of the other’s face, closely scrutinized it before replying.

“It is then a vital thing with you; you really want her for your wife?”

“More than I want anything; more than I want fame. I cannot imagine my life without her. Had I not been occupied with this picture, I could not have lived all summer without a sight of her face.”

“I am sorry,” Byrd began, weighing his words very carefully, “that she is—so rich—a woman.”

The other’s brow knitted.

“So am I.”

You had rather she had not had this money?”

“Much rather.”

“Yet you will not let it stand in your way?”

“Not if she loves me.”

“Don’t you know whether she does or not?”

“No, Byrd.”

“I thought it was quite evident that day in June, when we were all together in Great Barrington.”

“Yes, but that is three months ago. She has been to Saratoga since, and to Mount Desert and Newport. She has had the homage of hundreds, even had an offer from an English peer—or so the papers say. Do you think her likely to remain unchanged by such marked and continuous adulation?”

The detective looked embarrassed, but answered him quite gravely:

“If she is the woman you believe her to be, nothing would be likely to change her. But—”

He hesitated so long, that the artist, who really experienced a certain relief in making these confidences, felt irritated, and finally asked:

“What do you mean by that ‘but,’ Byrd? Have you any reason to think she is not a true woman? Have they been talking scandal about my darling?”

“Far from it,” was the quick reply. “She is universally commended. People note her grace, her gentleness and her dignity, and wonder if it was her study for the stage which has made her so fitted to sustain the part of grand lady. No, she has but few detractors so far as I have been able to learn; and I have taken occasion to hear the talk about her, for I was interested in seeing how her nature would bear the strain of such sudden good fortune.”

“But that ‘but?’ What did you mean by it? It sticks in my ears.”

“Yes, I made a mistake in using it, especially as I cannot really say why I did so. Perhaps because the usual risk there is in marrying a woman of so much wealth is aggravated in her case by the suddenness with which she acquired it.”

“That wretched money!”

“You know, Degraw, that I am not a light-hearted fellow; that I look at things seriously, and that I regard love and mutual regard as the only good foundation of marital happiness. Therefore, when I warn you to be careful and make sure of this woman before you place your honor and happiness in her keeping, I am but acting a friend’s part to you. I should so hate to see your fame and the serenity of your life sacrificed to a capricious or selfish woman,”

“They will not be. If she marries me at all it must be because she loves me. I have painted pictures, but I am not yet first in my art, and men more eminent than myself have done her homage.”

Byrd shook his head and wheeled a portable mirror suddenly in front of the artist.

“Every man does not look like that,” he remarked, pointing to his friend’s reflection in the glass. “She undoubtedly loves you, but— There is that miserable ‘but’ again,” he laughed. “I do not wonder you are angry. I am insufferable, I know.”

The artist looked greatly discomposed, but it was not exactly with anger. If Byrd’s objections were unexpected and calculated to wound his keenest susceptibilities, the manner in which they were urged was so candid and sympathetic, that a more irascible man than Degraw would have hesitated before taking offense. It was fear which had been aroused in him by his companion’s words, or rather dread. The future, which had looked so rosy an hour ago, was becoming darkened by shadows he neither understood nor welcomed.

“You have heard something against Miss Rogers,” he finally affirmed, “and are trying to break it to me.

But Horace Byrd shook his head.

“No,” he declared, “you are mistaken. All that I have heard is in her favor, I have absolutely nothing to urge against her. I only wish you to be careful, and to blind yourself to her beauty and her wealth till you know the depths of a nature that may well have been greatly tried by this sudden good fortune. Is it asking too much? Am I transgressing the bounds of friendship, or obtruding too much of a detective’s caution into the impetuous artist’s affections?”

Hamilton Degraw did not immediately answer. He was engaged in dropping a curtain over the exquisite picture of the signorina, which he may have thought was being robbed of some of its sacredness by this free talk concerning its beautiful original. When it was quite hidden, he spoke.

“You know, Byrd, that I have of late taken you to my heart. You are no longer a mere detective to me, nor are you simply a fellow whom I once knew and heartily liked; you are my friend, and the only man I can open my heart to about a matter that has absorbed my every hope. When, therefore, you utter insinuations instead of encouragement, I feel startled, especially as I have not been without doubts myself—not of her, but of the situation in which I am likely to be placed. If she loves me—and I shall soon find that out—I shall still not be altogether happy, for I hate the idea of marrying a woman who owes her immense fortune to the appreciation and choice of another man. I shall be always jealous of him; I shall always feel as if the luxury I enjoyed was attributable to him, and so experience humiliation at the thought that my wife owes her splendor to means resulting from another man’s love. For I can never forget that he loved her, and that it was his love that actuated his decision. Had it not done so, he would have paid one more visit to the school-teacher, who, if she is lame, possesses every moral attribute necessary to entitle her to the legacy of Mr. Delaney.”

“Yes,” was Mr. Byrd’s unexpected assent, “you would always have that drawback to your happiness. Her prosperity is certainly owing to your rival’s love.”

To utter an unpleasant truth yourself is bad enough, but to hear it repeated by another’s lips is intolerable. Bounding to his feet, Mr. Degraw paced up and down the room in visible excitement.

“Ah! if I could have but made her mine before ever she met this Degraw!” he exclaimed.

The other watched him with increasing earnestness. He had sown seeds of distrust in the artist’s ardent breast, which would yet bear fruit. What fruit? He and we will soon be given a chance to see.

Chapter 33
Unexpected Conditions

Next morning, Hamilton Degraw read these words in the social column of one of New Yorks leading dailies:

“Miss Rogers has returned from Newport (there is but one Miss Rogers in New York in these days), and is now to be seen by her friends at her own house at— Fifth avenue.”

It was a happy moment for him, for the three months allotted to their separation had passed, and by this return to the city, she at least showed that she did not seek to avoid a meeting. In his joy, he tore the vail from her picture, and surveyed her loveliness with burning eyes; then realizing that this was a poor preparation for the hours of waiting which lay before him, he covered it up again and set himself to work, only to drop palette and brush in his impatience and take up his hat and go out.

He walked in the direction of her house. It was no new walk for him. Though she had been absent from its walls all summer, he had passed it by many times during these months of waiting; and though it was not a pretentious dwelling, and was only hers while she leased it, he had conceived an affection for its every stone, and could have given you each detail of its exterior as well as if it had been a house of his own.

Now its hitherto empty body had a soul, and he found himself intimidated as he approached it, and really went no further than the corner. But a sight of the pavement her feet had so lately crossed was a comfort to him, and he went back to his studio in a hopeful mood to await with more or less patience a suitable hour in which to call upon her.

He chose the afternoon; first because he had not the endurance to wait till evening, and secondly because he felt that evening would bring other lovers to her side, whose presence would be unbearable to him in his present uncertain position. At five o’clock he stood at her door, and did not know whether to resign his pretentions or not, when he found that before his ring at the bell had been answered, two carriages beside his own had been driven up in front, and that two ladies and one gentleman were awaiting with him the somewhat tardy response to his eager summons.

The opening of the door decided the question. He handed in his card to the neat maid who confronted him, and saw or thought he saw on her bright and clever face a certain look that assured him that his visit was particularly welcome, though she merely waved him toward the same parlor into which the ladies had already stepped.

The other gentleman merely left a note and a bouquet, both of which Mr. Degraw would like to have annihilated.

The room into which he passed was a surprise to him. Somehow, he had expected to find this new-made heiress shrined in great splendor. Though the outside of the house was plain, almost to bareness, he had looked for a gorgeous interior suitable to her wealth and the glowing character of her beauty. But instead of this, the walls were almost bare and the furniture plain and inexpensive. There were not even any ornaments to be seen, and the carpet, though new, was one of the simplest Brussels.

Were her tastes, then, humble? Or did she consider that a sudden leap into show and splendor was undignified in the unsuccessful prima donna? He awaited her appearance to determine, and was prepared to behold a richly adorned woman enter this bald apartment, and by her gay silks and brilliant jewels illumine the dreary plainness of a room which had not even the attractiveness of his own studio.

But when, in a moment later, a light figure glided through the doorway, he saw that she relied upon her beauty, and not upon her apparel, for the impression she was destined to make. Though his senses swam at the sight of her countenance, that was brighter, more winsome and more exquisitely beautiful than ever, he could not but note that no jewels flashed in her ears and that her dress was of plain cloth, without color and without adornment. She had worn more picturesque clothing when she was simply Signorina Valdi.

Yet in a few minutes he forgot all this. She had but to turn toward him with a blushing greeting, for the room, himself and her own delicate and graceful figure to be inundated with radiance. She loved him still; that was visible in her look, her attitude and her conversation, though she turned from him almost immediately and gave herself up to the entertainment of the two ladies who had entered at the same time as himself. She loved him, and she was not yet spoiled by her new wealth. This was enough to fill his consciousness for the present, and lend to his aspect that subtle charm which was the secret of his power over the hearts of women.

While the ladies were being bowed out, he stood in a whirl of excited feeling that was not unshared, perhaps, by her, and when, the front door being closed, she turned back and began crossing the floor to his side, it was with difficulty he checked his wild impulse to stretch forth his arms and take her at once and without question to his heart.

But he had said to himself that he would not do this, whatever his temptation might be; and he bravely kept his word, paling a little, however, as she reached out her hand with an air that expressed her recognition of the fact that she had not as yet given him her full greeting.

She, on the contrary, was ruddy as a rose, and seemed to expect a display of warmth which was as yet absent from his manner. For beyond taking her hand and pressing it, he said nothing, though her eyes looked up wistfully and her form visibly trembled.

“You do not say you are glad,” said she.

He drew a deep breath and gently dropped her hand.

“I do not say I am glad,” he repeated, “because I am busy schooling myself into a calmness I cannot feel. I am so glad I cannot trust myself to speak. To see you again, after these interminable months, is heaven to me. But it is a heaven I must not enjoy too deeply till—”

“Till what?” Her sigh was eloquent; she seemed to hang upon his words.

“Till I know how deeply you love me; how much you are willing to sacrifice for my sake; and what there is in the future for me to look forward to.”

“Ah,” she murmured; “conditions! Do you love me so little as that?”

“I love you,” he declared, “almost to the point of folly. In these long months I have thought of nothing else, dreamed of nothing else, worked for nothing else but you. I am dazzled; I am mad with joy only to see you again. If I gave way to my impulses, I would fall at your feet and kiss the hem of your dress. But I am held back by one thought, restrained by one barrier. You are living upon and enjoying the millions given you by my rival.”

“But—”

“I know what you would say, dearest. He is not my rival now and never can be while you retain this money. But he did love you and probably always will love you, and it was through this love he came to consider you as the heiress of Mr. Delaney’s money, and it is because of this very love you are now what you are, a conspicuous figure amongst New York’s young and wealthy women.”

“But I do not love him, and—”

“You do love me! Is that what you would say?”

She smiled pitifully, She seemed much shaken by his words, and deeply abashed, “Do you love me enough to consider my pride?” he went on. “It would have to be a great, a courageous and a boundless love. For I ask nothing less than that you should sacrifice this wealth, that you should leave at the altar-rail these millions that have brought you fame and adulation, and accept only a painter’s homage and such luxuries as his pencil can furnish you, find in that homage and these luxuries such compensation as will make you forget your brief reign of a summer as America’s leading beauty and heiress.”

Her eyes, burning and dilated, stared into his.

“You ask that?” she cried.

“Yes; and since I know that I ask much, I pray you not to answer me to-day by a look or a word. I would have you think long and deeply upon what I say. I would have you weigh the situation calmly, and then with grave decision render me the answer which your heart prompts. Not impulsively, not under the glamour of a passionate moment, but with the spell of prayer upon you, and with a clear foreknowledge of all that such a sacrifice means. Mr. Degraw has already asked from you a similar recognition of feeling, but he had little reason for hope and you did not honor him by so much as a momentary hesitation. But this choice means something to you. I know that or I would not humiliate myself by following in his footsteps. Love and fondness for power will have a battle in your breast, and no one, not even yourself, can tell to-day how that conflict will end. For night will bring strange longings, and meditation will waken strange ambitions, and I shall not be with you to breathe love or assure you that there are depths in true passion beyond the sounding of an ordinary plummet.”

She covered her face with her hands.

“Oh, to what tests am I put!” was her cry. “You do not love me or you would not annihilate me by placing before me such a fearful alternative.”

“I do love you,” he answered, solemnly, “and I want you to love me, that is, if you marry me. I do not wish to feel that there is anything in the world dearer to you than myself; that any riches and distinction that you may owe to another man’s love can vie with the single affection which I proffer you. Any less devotion on your part will not satisfy me. I must have all or none. I must marry the woman I saw wake from the sleep of death, and not the woman whom a happy namesake of mine has wreathed with golden blossoms she will not cast aside for my sake. Do you not see that I am right? Do you not see that we could never be happy with the ghost of another love forever gliding between us at the indulging of any new fancy or the purchase of any new gewgaw? I may not succeed in making you see it as I do, but this is the question as it appears to me. Either love is worth this sacrifice or it is not. If it is not, you will frankly tell me so, and I will bear my disappointment, and make a mistress of Fame as I did before I saw and loved you.”

Her hands had fallen from her face now, but she was not looking at him. She had, on the contrary, turned slightly away, and stood with only her cheek and the delicate outline of her brow visible to his searching gaze. It was a bitter moment for him. Had he been right in subjecting her love to such a test?”

“Miss Rogers,” said he, “before I left home, I received an invitation from Miss Aspinwall to a day reception to be given at her house here in the city. Are you going to that reception?”

Her gesture seemed to say she was.

“It is set for a week from now, is it not?”

She bowed again.

“Well, I will give you this week in which to weigh the question and to consult Hilary. If then you feel that your happiness, not mine—you must not consider my happiness in this question—will be best secured by a life spent at my side, with its love and its hazards and its possible lack of splendor, then wear to this reception this same meek dress of brown, and be my blooming rose forever. But if, on the contrary, you have tasted of the vintage of adulation and feel that it is henceforth a necessary beverage for you, and that you move in your proper atmosphere when you bear about with you the honors and distinctions of wealth, then wrap this lovely form in velvet and put in these dear ears the diamonds that belong there, and let me see how worthy you are to wear such splendors and how little I had the right to ask you to forego them. You will be saved all embarrassment by this, of course. One glimpse will tell me what sort of a future I may expect, and while I do not promise to leave the room any too soon if I see again before me the maiden of to-day, I certainly shall not remain long enough in your presence to utter a reproach, if I encounter velvet instead of cloth, and jewels instead of blushes.”

He was going, but she held out a hand, and though she did not raise her eyes or turn her head, he paused while she said:

“There is one thing you have not explained. What is to be done with this money if I decide to give it up?”

“It must be returned to Mr. Degraw, who will give it to a certain little school-teacher, who, we must hope, will have no jealous lover who will refuse to let her take it.”

“Another Jenny Rogers?”

“Yes, and a noble one.”

“That is all. I will not detain you any longer, Mr. Degraw.”

He looked, he moved away; he came back with an almost breaking heart. After all, he might never see her again as she was now, rosy and trembling and innocently grieved. Had he been less exacting, had he not puzzled himself with jealousies, had he been content to ignore everything but her winning womanhood, he might now be clasping her to his heart in ecstasy, instead of standing there with a barrier of ice between them, and the prospect of what? Life-long separation and a desolate hearth; for at that moment he did not believe that she would ever give up all that he asked, for his love.

“I cannot leave you,” said he, “without one proof of my devotion.” And flinging himself at her feet, he clasped her knees and kissed with heart-felt fervor the tip of her little slipper. “I love you!” he cried; “I love you!” and was gone, just as she sank half fainting upon a chair.

Chapter 34
New Fears

As Mr. Degraw rushed from Miss Rogers’ presence, a woman was passing through the hall against whom he inadvertently ran. Shocked at his discourtesy, he drew back, surveyed with a startled air the woman he had jostled, and mechanically stretched forth his arm to detain her. But she, without noticing this gesture or his muttered words of apology, hastened up-stairs, and as he had no excuse for following her, he could only vent his doubts and fears in the exclamation:

“It is the Portuguese! I am sure it is the Portuguese! She is disguised; she is well disguised, and looks like a respectable working-woman, but I know her walk and cannot be deceived in the stoop of her shoulders.”

She was going up to Miss Rogers’ rooms. She had evidently come from the street for she wore a bonnet and a long cloak, but she went up with an assured and accustomed step like one familiar with the way.

“My darling!” thought he; “is my darling already under the paws of this wolf, without knowing it?”

A servant-girl coming along at this moment, he stopped her.

“Who is that woman who is just going up?” he asked.

“That is Miss Rogers’ hair-dresser,” the girl returned, in evident surprise. “She comes every day to arrange Miss Rogers’ hair for the evening.”

He stood aghast, mortified and perplexed. Could he have been mistaken? He was not ready to think that.

“Is this woman a foreigner?” he inquired again.

“She speaks English,” was the rather unsatisfactory answer.

The Portuguese did not, or rather pretended that she could not. Was he mistaken? He looked toward the parlor door and hesitated. Never in his life before had he known what it really was to struggle with an overmastering impulse. To leave the signorina with this doubt in his mind seemed impossible; but to go back! He dared not do that, for it would certainly bring defeat to his purpose. No, he must trust this matter to the police; he could not meddle with it himself; but—

He tore himself away, he rushed out of the front door; and went immediately in search of Mr. Byrd.

That gentleman received this intelligence with an expression of mingled surprise and satisfaction.

“We have been searching for the Portuguese,” said he, “but never thought of looking for her in Miss Rogers’ house. She is disguised, you say?”

“Admirably, if the woman I saw is she. Her very complexion is changed, and, in her present dress, she looks quite respectable. If I had not been in a very sensitive condition, I do not think I should have felt a doubt concerning her. It was the sudden shrinking of my nerves that made me look at her.”

“And you saw traits that assured you that it is she?”

“Yes and no. I thought I saw a likeness in her to Annetta; but what I am sure of is that I felt a great physical revulsion at the sight of her, just the revulsion I experienced when I first beheld the Portuguese’s old ugliness in conjunction with my—with Miss Rogers’ youthful innocence and beauty.”

“And is this all?” ‘

“All? But it is enough, Byrd, to make you look into the matter. Remember, I shall not sleep till I hear whether this creature, who evidently has daily access to Miss Rogers, is an honest woman or not.”

“I will go up immediately to the house.”

“And if it is the Portuguese?”

“She shall be looked after.”

“Byrd, I trust you. You know how much I have at stake and how reasonable I consider my fears. You have yourself said that you thought it possible that the Portuguese would be likely to carry out the schemes of Montelli. If she has lost all hope of making anything out of the heiress, she can, at least, show her hatred and wreak her revenge. These foreigners are so vindictive.”

“We will watch her.”

“And I may sleep?”

“Soundly.”

“You are a good fellow, Byrd. I never thought the day would come when it would be a matter of satisfaction to me to have a friend among the police.”

Byrd smiled, but somewhat constrainedly. He was evidently not in as candid a mood as usual. But Degraw did not perceive this; his mind was relieved and he was almost gay.

“Shall I hear from you to-night?” he asked.

“Yes, if there is anything to disturb you; otherwise not.”

“Then I will go.”

“All right, but tell me one thing first. Was this woman so different in appearance from the Portuguese as to be likely to impose upon Miss Rogers?”

“I think she was, if she showed as much skill in altering her conduct and manners as she did her dress and expression.”

“I do not think it is the Portuguese,” asserted the detective. “She would not run so great a risk for mere vengeance. But we will see. She can’t deceive the police even if she can the bright eyes of her old mistress.”

And the two parted.

Mr. Degraw did not hear from the police that night nor the next, nor in all the days that elapsed before Miss Aspinwall’s reception.

Chapter 35
Before The Reception

It was two o’clock, and therefore time for Miss Rogers to dress for Miss Aspinwall’s reception. She was in her room alone, and before her lay spread upon a couch two dresses; one of plain brown cloth which we well know, and the other of richest velvet, that had been hurriedly made during the last week. She is gazing at these dresses and deciding the most momentous question of her life. That it is momentous, you can discern from the absorbed expression of her face, and that she hesitates is equally evident, from the anxiety with which her eye passes from cloth to velvet and from velvet to cloth, as she listens alternately to the suggestions of her heart and the promptings of her ambition.

And not her eyes alone, but her hands betray the conflict that is going on within her. For they rest by instants with a loving touch on the humble material, only to fly again to the richer. Where will they finally rest? The question is between love and wealth. Which will she choose, which, which? She must soon determine; the clock tells of the passage of time. Not much longer can she stand thus, weighing at her ease these two heavy alternatives. She must decide upon one, but which, which? Fear, fascination, awe, tenderness, all expressions and all emotions show themselves in turn upon her face. That she loves him, she knows; that she will never feel such a wild and ecstatic throb for any other man is equally certain, but shall she sacrifice everything for him? Is it right to do so? Is it wise to do so? Is it safe to do so? She grasps the velvet and holds it up against her throat. How warm it feels, how natural and how suitable to her face, her style and her ambition. But the plain cloth wooes her glances aside, and, before she knows it, the velvet has dropped in a heap on the floor, and she has the cloth dress strained to her heart, and her decision is made.

But just at this moment a knock is heard at the door, and she flings the dress on the bed and stands palpitating like one caught in a guilty act. It is only the hair-dresser who comes every day, but her presence is an interruption, and the young heiress shows it by the loss of the beautiful color which had but a moment before tinted her cheek with roses. Turning her back upon both dresses, she bids the intruder come in, and tries to hide her agitation by bending over her dressing-table and unloosening the locks of her long hair.

But the next moment she looks up in surprise, and drops the curling tresses from her hand. The woman she sees advancing toward her is a stranger, a pleasant-faced French-looking girl, who, upon meeting Miss Rogers’ eye, drops a courtesy, and says:

“I hope mademoiselle will pardon me; but my employer is not well to-day, and begged that I would do the hair of mademoiselle. Is it for reception or dinner? And does mademoiselle like it high or low?”

Miss Rogers drew a long breath and sat down with a smile. The fresh voice and lively manner were welcome; they chimed in so with her thoughts.

“Dress it low,” said she. “I am going to a reception, and I wish to be dressed simply, but becomingly.”

She flushed so brightly, looked so lovely, that the young hair-dresser could not restrain her admiration.

“Ah! what beautiful hair! so black, so wavy, so long. I shall take delight in making mademoiselle look like an angel.” And her deft fingers passed caressingly among the great curls flowing over her hands and wrists.

Miss Rogers continued to smile. Suddenly she asked:

“Is your employer, as you call her, very sick? What is the matter with her?”

“I cannot tell, mademoiselle. But she is bad, very bad. Something sudden; there were doctors with her last night!”

“And she sent you here, to-day?”

“Yes, mademoiselle. She did not forget that you would expect her? She has much thought, has madame,”

“And so ill?”

“Ah, oui; she may not live till night. I feel very bad for madame.”

The young lady made a sudden move.

“It is distressing,” said she; but her bright eyes lost none of their brilliance. Indeed, they seemed to scintillate afresh? Had she her secret doubts of this same hair-dresser, and could she in any way have shared the fears of Degraw?

When her hair was dressed, she dismissed the girl and prepared to complete the rest of her toilet alone. The velvet dress was before her on the bed, but she passed it by without a glance and took up the plain brown cloth.

“I will be the artist’s bride,” said she, and rapidly, joyously donned the garment which conveyed this decision, murmuring, as she did so: “His delight will compensate me for all. I could not meet his look of disappointment. I could not, for all the wealth in the universe, see scorn take the place of the loving trust that has always beamed in his face. I love him, and would risk more than wealth to have him always near me.”

If she did not say these words, she thought them, and her fingers flew, and the dress was on, and she stood, clad and in her right mind, beaming at her own image in the glass.

“Ah! this is better!” she now cried, sinking on her knees, almost in the attitude of prayer. “I will not regret this; I cannot; whereas—” She threw a mocking glance at the velvet, and, rising, hung it up in the closet and brought forth her bonnet and gloves. Suddenly her hand flew to her throat. “I have forgotten my talisman!” said she.

She went to her drawer and took out a simple locket. It was the only article of jewelry which her admirer had ever seen her wear, and she prepared to clasp it about her neck, with an air of satisfaction, when she bethought herself to take a peep at the faded forget-me-not which she kept shut up within it.

But when she opened the locket, she did not find the memorial flower which she had once placed there, but a faded paper. Surprised, she drew it out, and unfolding it, read these words before she realized what their presence meant:

“I am not to intrude myself. I am to forget I have wishes or hopes. I am to remember that he loves her and that it is for her happiness to love him. I am to encourage this love and to lend all my influence toward the preservation in her of those charming qualities which in adversity made her lovely, and which, if added to her wealth, will make her a mate for the noblest. This is my future task. May God give me strength to acquit myself of it cheerfully!”

Hilary’s handwriting! Hilary’s words! Jenny Rogers held in her hand Hilary’s locket, which had in some way become interchanged with her own, for they had them just alike, and by this chance had she stumbled upon that dear friend’s secret, at a moment when her own fate hung trembling in the balance. Jenny Rogers sank, overcome, upon a chair, and read the words again, and uttered a cry as she read them; then sobbed with sudden, wild and passionate grief; then hid her face with her hands, and sat thus for many minutes, though the clock spoke, with every tick it made, of the rapidly passing time.

What were her thoughts? What could they be but of past hours and past occurrences in which Hilary had shared her companionship with Mr. Degraw! She understood now, as she never had before, what certain looks and changes upon her dear friend’s countenance had meant. She perceived that she herself had not been the only one to love, and that with the selfishness of a suddenly enriched woman, she had often trodden on the heart to whose clinging affection and lofty sympathy she owed much of her prosperity and a great deal of her distinction. And she saw more; she saw to what heights a generous, self-forgetful nature can go, and felt humiliated in her own estimation as she contrasted the mercenary struggle she had just been through, with the firm putting-by of every selfish consideration conveyed by the words she had just read.

“Hilary would not have hesitated seven days,” exclaimed Jenny, writhing in bitter remorse over the memory of her own weakness “She would have seen the right way at once, and taken it. She loves him more than I do. She is worthier of him than I am. She would make him a better wife.”

Then her thoughts flew to the time when she and Hilary had bought these lockets. They were in a jeweler’s store together, and the whim had simultaneously seized them to have some one thing alike, which they could wear as a symbol of their mutual affection. They decided upon two lockets, identical in make and size, and Hilary bought one and clasped it about Jenny’s neck, and Jenny had bought the other and clasped it about Hilary’s, and thus had they sealed the bond between them with a gift and a smile.

When the second exchange between these trinkets had been made, she could not tell; but she thought it must have been done when she and Hilary last bathed at the beach. They had both worn their lockets that day, and as they had used one table for their things, the possibility of one of them having taken up the wrong locket was easy.

But the “when” and the “how” of this mistake were unimportant, The exchange had been made in some way, and a revelation had followed which had shaken her to the core of her being. Hilary loved Mr. Degraw, and he would love Hilary if her own unworthy beauty were not ever before him. How could she let all the sacrifice be on one side. How could she enjoy her happiness if she knew that her friend was suffering from a despair, the depth and poignancy of which she could faintly measure by the emotions gnawing at her own heart? She could not; though she was far from perfect, she had advanced thus far, at least, upon the road to unselfishness, that her friend’s case now occupied her more than her own. She could not ignore it; she would not. She had her wealth and a score of untasted pleasures before her, while Hilary had tasted of every pleasure, save that of which she was about to rob her. Hilary thus left to herself, would see no joy in the empty space before her, while she could imagine many; though none so sweet, none so satisfying as this of his love. Ah, is the endless struggle about to recommence? No; for in a few minutes, with a deftness and celerity marvelous under the circumstances, Jenny Rogers has doffed the cloth suit her lover was hungering to see and has put on the rich velvet, which means repulse to him, disappointment to herself, and possible happiness to Hilary.

Chapter 36
At The Reception

Miss Aspinwall’s house in the city was as sumptuous as Miss Rogers’ was plain. On this afternoon, it was more than sumptuous; it was a fairy-land of exotics and flowering shrubs. From the front door to the large square hall above, the stairs were festooned with smilax, and in every window and door, wreaths of this delicate green were to be seen, hanging in screens and portieres.

In a room above, amid crowds of richly-dressed women, stood Miss Rogers with an undecided look on her downcast face. She was as fair as any of her companions—her lovers would say fairer—and she wore a costume that outrivaled the splendor of most of those who surrounded her, but she did not seem ready to advance and mingle with the crowd that was descending to pay its respects to the hostess. She faltered and answered absently those who felt they had the liberty to address her, and only moved on at last when the pressure of the crowd became unbearable.

Arriving in the hall, she hesitated still. There were a few gentlemen standing on the staircase and she seemed to have a dread of gentlemen, and to shrink whenever she saw the head of one turn in her direction. Withdrawing herself with some difficulty from the throng by which she was hemmed in, she slipped into a little alcove containing a small table on which was a pitcher of ice-water and some glasses. She was faint, and felt that if she did not have a moment to herself she would fall. As she moved to come out again, she heard a voice say:

“Yes, it is Degraw. It is the last time we will see him for years, I suppose. He has taken passage On the Etruria, and sails to-night at eight. He is going to set up a studio in Rome, I hear,”

She stumbled back and for a moment everything was black before her. He expected a dismissal, then? He had prepared himself for her? No. He had no faith in her, or he had known that if she loved him she would have been there early. The blushes swept over her brow in a flood; she looked down on her velvet gown and hated it. Hilary was forgotten; all was forgotten, but the fact that he was going away and that the earth was empty for her.

But no, there was hope still. Hilary had a dress almost exactly like hers; she would put it on and snatch happiness before it left her forever. Filled with renewed joy, bright with pure purpose, she grasped the pitcher before her, and with one quick movement turned its contents over the front of her rich dress. Exclaiming with well simulated dismay, she rushed from the alcove, and bewailing her plight, worked her way to a certain little dressing-room, where she knew that Hilary kept her dresses. Choosing the one most like the discarded one at home, she put it on, knowing that her friend would forgive her; ah, too readily forgive her, if she knew the cause of her action. Then she went out and turned her steps again toward the crowd, moving toward the stairs. As she did so, she felt her shoulder touched. A hand reached through the mass and thrust a minute roll of paper into her hand. She saw, or thought she saw, the face of one of her own servants, but she was not sure. Frightened, she knew not why, she unrolled the paper and read, with staring eyes and hair rising on her forehead, a few mysterious words. Merciful heaven! What did they mean? Where did they come from? How did they come here? Recoiling for a second time from the head of the staircase, she dashed toward that part of the house into which a messenger, such as she imagined herself to have seen, would be likely to disappear. She sought, she inquired, and found, not one of her own maids, but the jolly little French girl who had taken her hairdresser’s place that day.

The sight overwhelmed her.

“Did you bring this?” she asked.

“Yes, mademoiselle; and I ask your pardon, I was told to give it to you when I had finished dressing your hair, but I forgot, and so had to inquire where you had gone, and come after you; for I dared not go back without fulfilling my mission.”

“And who made you—who gave you this for me—your employer, Madame?”

Oui, mademoiselle; who else? I assure you I carried it quite joyfully, and only regret I had to interrupt mademoiselle’s pleasure—”

But mademoiselle had turned her back.

“The Portuguese!” she murmured, “the Portuguese!” And she grew quite white and stole away into Hilary’s dressing-room for a second time, and mechanically took down a large silk cloak that she wrapped about her, thus hiding her gown, and making of her appearance a mystery, which might and might not be penetrated by a watchful lover’s eye.

Thus enshrouded, she descended. From step to step her small feet went to the throbs of a heart whose beating almost suffocated her. Was he near? Was he watching? Would he see and wonder what her non-committal costume meant? Of all the agitations of the day this was the worst. She dared not look up, she dared not search the crowd, she hardly dared move forward. Yet she must; a pressure was upon her. Besides, it was getting late, and Hilary would wonder; and he— Ah! was that his voice she heard? No—yes—he must be almost at her back. He must be near enough to see what dress she wore, if so much as a thread of her dress was visible above the neck of her cloak. Was he looking? She would not turn to see; she would only hurry forward and greet Hilary while she had yet the strength to do so.

Miss Aspinwall, meantime, was awaiting her friend’s tardy approach with secret impatience. She had become so attached to her former protégée that she was no longer perfectly at her ease except when Jenny was near her. Through all the greetings and hand-shakings and congratulations upon having returned to town which she received she kept Jenny in her thoughts, and brightened visibly when she at last beheld her coming toward her through the throng. Contrary to Mr. Degraw’s suggestions, she had not been taken into Miss Rogers’ confidence, and knew nothing of the importance of the hour to the two hearts dearest to her. Yet she felt vaguely uneasy, especially after she saw Jenny’s face, and could not prevent a wondering glance as she noticed that her friend was wrapped in one of her own cloaks.

“I have had an accident—spilled lemonade or something all over the front of my dress,” whispered Jenny, as she observed this look, and her friend’s wonder and astonishment.

There was not time for more; a dozen ladies were behind her. Miss Rogers passed on, but she felt her heart unaccountably lightened. She always did when she looked in Hilary’s pure face.

Her next care was to seek out a place where she would not be too visible, but where she could herself see the persons about her. For now she began to feel an impatience to meet the eye she had hitherto shrank from, and by one look determine what conclusions he had drawn from her nondescript costume. So finding a vacant spot near a lofty palm, she turned her face slowly toward the crowd and at last ventured to lift her eyes. He was there. She saw him but he was not looking her way. Nor did he look her way, though her whole soul summoned him through her eager glance.

What did it mean? Did he consider the dark cloak a cowardly subterfuge? Was he disappointed in her and ready to disdain what a week before he had so wildly worshiped. She grew sick at heart and did not even hear the voices murmuring about her; did not even note the hands outstretched to give her welcome, or pay any attention to greetings that would once have filled her with pride. Hamilton Degraw was in the same room with her and allowed himself to be absorbed by another. What if that other were a man! It did not ease her heart to know that any one could draw his eyes away from her, especially when she stood ready to give him smile for smile. Ah, why had she come at all? Why not have left him in an uncertainty as horrible now as her own? That would have been the wise course; that would have made it impossible for him to take the steamer, if, as she still believed, he yet loved her. But now— Well what was this? A hand was pushing against her own and would not be denied. It was a gentleman’s hand; a very fine and courtly gentleman’s hand. She noted that before she had taken in his face. When she did she turned scarlet. It was Mr. Byrd who stood before her, and he was looking at her with very searching eyes.

“I sincerely beg your pardon,” said he. “I am not an invited guest in this assemblage, but I have a bit of news to impart to you, that will, I think, excuse my presence, both in your eyes and in those of your amiable hostess. The woman who has dressed your hair for the last three months is dead. You see, this is the second time I have had to be a harbinger of good news to you.”

“Good news?” she faintly repeated.

“Yes. Did you not know who this woman was? I have been told you greatly feared the Portuguese—”

A waiter with a tray full of ices pushed his way at this instant directly between them. When he had passed, Miss Rogers was gone, and the detective, astonished and not a little chagrined, looked about him for some minutes before he saw her again. Then he perceived that she had thrown off the long cloak that had seemed so out of place in this brilliant throng, and stood, beaming and beautiful, near a piano, where some one was just beginning to play.

Hilary saw her, too, at this minute, and asked herself what her wonderful look meant; for, while Jenny Rogers’ eye burned steadily in one direction, it was acquiring a purpose, the determination of which Hilary could see but not explain. And she felt that it needed explanation, and left her place to join her young friend, and succeeded in doing this just as Miss Rogers said, in low tones, to the person at the piano:

“I will sing ‘Robert, toi que j’ aime.’ ”

Miss Aspinwall, who would have been less surprised if a flash of lightning had suddenly shot from door to door of her great house, leaned forward and took Jenny by the hand.

“Dear friend, what are you going to do?” she asked.

“Sing.”

“Sing!—before this crowd?”

“Yes.”

“And you can?

“I can.”

“Without fear of failure?”

“Without fear of failure.”

Hilary, who was used to her friend’s tones, saw that there was something deeper than caprice in this.

“It will be a noble kindness on your part if you will,” said she, “but you look so excited, and you tremble so, you make me feel that there is something at stake which I do not understand.”

“There is, Hilary; my whole life’s happiness. Hamilton Degraw is here; he loves me, and told me if I returned his love to wear a cloth dress to-day. I have on the dress; I am ready to stand by what it means; but he will not look this way. I wore a velvet one when I came, and perhaps he saw me then, or saw the cloak with which I at first tried to hide the change I had made; and now nothing can make him glance away from the man he is conversing with; and presently he will go, and his going means an endless separation between us, for, Hilary, he has engaged passage in the Etruria, and she sails to-night, you know.”

Miss Aspinwall uttered a low cry; no one heard it, not even Jenny, for the impetuous girl was full of her own thoughts, and was saying, passionately:

“My voice will be a surprise to him. He must turn, and then if he goes away—”

She finished with a gesture. Hilary gave her one look, it was that of encouragement, and next minute Jenny was standing by the piano, and the first liquid tones of the fine instrument had burst forth.

No one notices a piano in such a gathering, and not a head, least of all his, turned at the sound. But when, in an instant later, this trained singer’s strangely melodious and exquisitely cultivated voice broke out with a force and fervor it had never displayed even in the old happy and ambitious days with her singing-masters, not a head but responded to the call, and she saw, with a rushing sense of joy which nearly stopped her voice, that he not only saw her, but flushed with an unexpected rapture which made all her future assured. Thinking of him, and only of him, she went on, filling the great rooms with melody such as they never heard before, and never will again, doing for love what she failed to do for ambition, and wakening in more hearts than one there an enthusiasm never to be forgotten in the presence of any other singer. Miss Rogers had shown that the Signorina Valdi could sing, but only two persons beside herself ever knew what gave her the impetus, or inspired her with the power to sustain herself to the end before such a multitude of people.

When stillness came, an irresistible cry broke out; but she did not hear it. She was looking for Mr. Degraw to advance. And he did. She saw him burst from every detaining hand and come forward with his heart burning on his lips, when what is it that makes him stop suddenly and as if held back by a force he cannot resist? She cannot see; she only realizes that he does not come; that he gives her a look which seems to promise something, but he does not come, and at last she perceives him melt away with the crowd and vanish in the direction of the door, which finally opens and shuts upon him, leaving her with her glory and her grief.

Chapter 37
A Turn Of The Wheel

Three days went by; three slow-footed, miserable days, and another evening was near its waning, and no ring at Miss Rogers’ house-bell had as yet announced the artist, nor had the post brought her any message to relieve her anxiety or explain his neglect. The only comfort she had received was that which came with the discovery that the name of Hamilton Degraw had not appeared among the list of cabin passengers sailing in the Etruria. But this comfort had a sting in it as well as balm; for if he had recognized her avowal sufficiently to delay his departure, how could he reconcile it with his expressed ardor, to remain away from her at a time so critical? Was he ill? She did not believe it. The manner in which he had cut short his approach after her song did not argue illness, but suddenly conceived determination. He did not wish to acknowledge her devotedness. He felt that it came too late or was prefaced by too much hesitation to be real, and so took this way to express his displeasure and withdraw his claims. It was a crushing experience for her; it was a humiliating one. It robbed her of self-possession and peace, it brought a hectic flush to her cheek, and lent a feverish intensity and delirious inconsequence to all her actions. She would not see Hilary; she would not see any one. She paced her room by day and tossed upon her bed by night. If the bell rang, her heart gave such a leap, that she could not recover from the shock for minutes, and if by any chance a letter came, she grew quite ill between the time she saw it in the servant’s hands and the moment, it reached her own.

A man never knows or realizes the torture he can inflict upon a woman. He does not remember that in such emergencies as these she is helpless; that she must sit in her house alone, watching, waiting, hanging upon each passing moment for that action on his part which will explain his feelings or intentions. A man can force a situation. He can besiege his lady’s door and demand the secret of her reticence or coldness. But under the same circumstances she can do nothing, not even send an inquiry as to her lover’s health; and so the canker eats into the rose, and when love or remembrance brings him again to her side, he wonders what has destroyed his lady’s beauty.

Jenny Rogers had had no preparation for this show of cruelty upon the part of this especial lover. Since that first delirious moment when her eyes opened upon his face, from a sleep like death, she had beheld it brimming with admiration and filled with love. She had, as it were, held his heart in her hands, or so she had thought, and, secure in that belief, had sometimes played the coquette, knowing that she had but to smile again upon him to see him fall in rapture at her feet.

And now the neglect was on his side, and she had to endure it alone, sitting in her desolate home, silent and forsaken, while hundreds for whom she had no regard knocked at her gates and lavished gifts and tokens upon her as if in mockery of his forgetfulness, for whose remembrance she alone cared.

Hilary knew her grief, but Hilary’s sympathy was, for that very reason, unbearable. Jenny could not endure the mildly encouraging glances of so dear a friend, nor the smile that bespoke a heart as nearly broken as her own. No; better the society phrases of Mrs. Dutton, the amiable widow, who had so kindly consented to lend her respectable presence to this otherwise too narrow household; better anything than the obtrusion of comfort where there was no comfort, and the display of sympathy against which her woman’s pride rebelled.

Had she known that Hilary had sought to save her all this uncertainty and grief by an interview with the artist—that Hilary had even subdued her own pride, which was great, to the point of visiting him in his studio—Jenny would have felt more wretched still. For Hilary came forth abashed by a reticence that was new in her experience of him, and rode to her home in a whirl of dissatisfaction and revolt that made her own existence, about this time, almost as wretched as that of her unhappy friend.

And, as I have said, the clock was verging toward nine on a Friday night, and no summons had come to rouse Jenny Rogers from those dreams of bitter resentment into which her secret grief and despair had finally plunged her. No summons, did I say? Then what is this? Though she has forbidden her maid, Clairette, to bring her any card which has not the name of Hamilton Degraw upon it, the girl is standing in the doorway with an inexplicable smile on her lips and a small silver tray in her hand, on which Jenny can faintly see gleaming a white bit of pasteboard. Had he come, then? Is the world going to move on again in its accustomed orbit? She tries to be calm, but she springs toward the girl, seizes the card, gives it one look and becomes in an instant another woman.

There is a peculiar look on Clairette’s face, a hesitancy in her manner, but Jenny Rogers observes neither. She waves the girl from the room, then calls her back to say:

“Remember, I receive no other callers to-night and sends her forth again in haste; for the young heiress is wild to be alone, that she may don her most bewitching garments and hang clusters of flowers on her breast, which otherwise might betray the heaving of her heart too plainly.

She has an exquisite robe of purest rose; she puts it on, and you who have not seen this wonderful woman in her jubilant mood, should see her now. She fairly irradiates the room; she walks like a goddess, she smiles like a child; she sings, yes, sings one snatch of heart-searching melody as she ties her last ribbon and affixes her last flower. She is happy, but she does not mean that he shall be happy too. No, she will give him coldness for coldness; suspicion for suspicion; and pride for pride. But she will look so beautiful and hide her joy under such an airy vail, that he will never go away again, nor leave her as before to eat out her heart in pride and desolation.

But this mood, which lasted till she reached the parlor door, vanished as she crossed the threshold. At sight of a tall figure emerging from behind the curtain of a window, she stopped downcast, a crowd of blushes flitting over her white cheeks. He came forward, first quickly, then more slowly, as if overcome by her beauty and evident feeling, then as he did not speak, she gave a quick look up and —

She did not fall nor faint, she only stared a little with a pitiful smile, that gradually and by pure force of will deepened into a show of greeting that made him forget that she did not reach forth her hand.

It was her benefactor from Cleveland, and not her artist lover, Hamilton Degraw.

His manner was almost as agitated as hers. He took her hand and bowed over it with an air such as she had never seen in him before, and when she had composed herself sufficiently to awaken to the duties of a hostess and offer him a seat, he took it with a lingering look at her youthful loveliness, that set her heart beating with new fears and possibly new hopes, for her faith in her recreant lover was broken and a violent resentment had taken its place.

“This is kind of you,” she now murmured in her anxiety to break the silence. “I have often wished that I might have the opportunity again to thank you for the great benefits heaped upon me by your hand. And I did not like to write.”

“And I did not like to intrude myself, nor should I be here now, Miss Rogers, if circumstances of a most unexpected nature had not changed my position in regard to you to such an extent, that it has become my joyful duty to follow the impulses of my heart; if, in short, I were not at liberty now to offer you my hand without any such conditions as those I felt compelled to make upon a former occasion.”

“Mr. Degraw!”

She had started to her feet. Her astonishment had overmastered her. She sank back again, but it was with palpitating heart and benumbed brain. “No conditions the word rang sweetly in her ears. It was like a haven of rest. “No conditions.”

“I do  not wonder at your surprise,” said he. “You ask, and rightly, what could have occurred to make such an action as this on my part pardonable. I will tell you in a word. After my return to Cleveland, the lawyer friend under whose invitation I visited Mr. Delaney’s death-bed, came to see me, and asked if I had determined upon the woman who was to inherit that gentleman’s fortune. I told him that I had, whereupon he put some very plain questions, which elicited answers that undoubtedly betrayed my interest in you, for he smiled as he said:

“ ‘Then it will not be a trial to you to fulfill Mr. Delaney’s last request?’

“And what is that? I asked.

“ ‘That you should marry the girl you thought worthy to enjoy this fortune.’

“Miss Rogers, I have never expressed my feelings to you either in their depth or persistency, but you can imagine how I was affected, if you remember the stand I took at the critical moment before the signing of the deed. I risked that which it was my happiness to possess, and all for an instinct of honor which these words proved to have been founded upon a mistake. I would have vented my despair upon the lawyer, but he answered me that Mr. Delaney had breathed this wish in private, and requested that it should not be made known to me till I had made my decision.”

“It is very strange,” uttered Jenny. “But this must have occurred three months since.”

The sarcasm, if it was meant as such, was clothed in tones so gentle as to be almost pathetic. She was thinking how full of hope those three months had been, and how little they had brought her.

Mr. Degraw smiled and looked at her with tender indecision,

“I waited,” he said with effort, “because I had been led to think, to fear, I should not find your heart quite free to consider any proposal of mine. Though I have never been far from you, I resisted my impulses to the extent of not showing myself in your presence till time and inquiry have assured me that my conclusions were groundless and that your hand is quite free.”

She looked up in fine scorn and her eyes blazed with more than her old fire.

“Quite free,” she echoed, and with the word she seemed to cast something away from her that was very precious.

He saw the gesture and seemed to comprehend it. A softer look crept into his face and he took a place nearer her side,

“No heart is without its burden,” said he. “I love you none the less that your cheek is not quite as round, nor your eyes quite as brilliant as of old. Will you let that love be your comfort? It is fervent, Miss Rogers, and it is very deep and sincere. It has never been frittered away on another and it will know no change. I love those now whom I loved in infancy, and never lose an affection which I have once formed.”

She was sorely beset; the heart which had been torn and trampled upon by another felt a throb of life at the prospect held forth to her by this good man. Here was refuge, here was solace, here was balm for her bruised pride. He was a lordly-looking lover, too. No wizen-faced dotard such as Helen Clarkson had accepted a fortnight since; no amorous dude, either, with lack of wit, but plenty of fashion to save his overtures from being wholly ridiculous. No, Mr. Degraw, of Cleveland, was a man and a gentleman next only in worth and attraction to the one she had been weak enough to admit into her heart. He was honorable, too, and of a distinguished presence. He would do credit to her taste, and he would guard her honor, and he would not ask her to give up her millions for a whim, only to scorn her when she had shown herself willing to make the sacrifice.

Smiling upon him with a certain wistful grace, she asked if he would take her without explanation.

For reply, he drew her to his heart, and when the little clock on the parlor mantel struck eleven o’clock that night, it sounded in the ears of a solemnly engaged couple.

When he was gone and she stood, dazed and frightened, in the great empty room, she asked herself again and again why she did not feel something; why her heart was rather like a dead weight in her breast than the palpitating, troublous thing that had hitherto made her hours alive with alternating joy and fear. Had she destroyed her youth? Had she killed the fresh young hopes that alone made life endurable, or was she simply tired, and thus for the moment beyond the reach of all sensations?

The entrance of Clairette put a stop to these languid inquiries. It reminded her that it was late and that she could go to bed. Perhaps she could sleep now. She felt as if she could—as stones sleep, that lie quiescent where they are thrown. That would be a rest; she had had no rest, and if she should never wake—

Clairette’s voice interrupted her at this point.

“I beg your pardon,” said she, “but a gentleman called while you were talking with Mr. Degraw. I could not let him in because you had forbidden it, but I thought if you knew his name—”

She thrust another card under her mistress’ eyes. Jenny read it, and then read it again. Hamilton Degraw? Hamilton Degraw? Who was he? Not the gentleman to whom she had just engaged herself! Oh, no! Oh, no! Who, then? Not the artist? He had not come and gone while she bartered away her life for a comforting word? Yes, yes, the face of the girl told her what this miserable card failed to do. He had been here and she— A wild scream went up from her lips, and she lay, in the next moment, senseless and inert upon the floor.

Chapter 38
Jeannette And Virginia

Jenny Rogers realized all that she had jeopardized by her sudden engagement, but was not disposed to submit to the consequences of her folly without a struggle. Since the artist still loved her, since he had returned to her of his own free will, she would meet that love and hail the return, whatever it might cost the man who had taken advantage of her momentary weakness to bind her to himself. What if it were dishonorable? Would it not be more dishonorable to let this unfortunate betrothal culminate in a marriage which would bring to neither of them any lasting happiness? She was a child in the simplicity of her emotions, and now showed herself to be a wayward and ill-regulated child; but she had never had Hilary’s training, nor had she known till she met that fine woman, what true womanly instincts are, or to what heights a grand nature can go.

Had Jenny allowed herself to be governed at this time by the gentle but firm spirit of her friend, she might have been spared much which befell her, but she had that instinctive shrinking from Hilary’s possible advice, which springs from an uneasy sense that it would fail to fall in with her own desperate impulses. Besides, her heart could not wait till she had seen Hilary. She must rid herself of the bonds which held her before the day had waned sufficiently to bring the hour at which her affianced husband had promised to again visit her. To wait longer would be to add shame to her torment. She belonged to the artist by right of love, and she could not meet this other man with even so much of a welcome as would be expressed by an outstretched hand.

That she did not see this the night before, was owing to her secret resentment. That she saw it now, was owing to her real love, which, under the influence of these accumulated shocks and contradictory experiences, had developed into a passion so deep, that she no longer thought of the sacrifice of her wealth which its satisfaction involved. No, she thought no longer of anything but her love. To break away from the man who held her troth, that she might fly to the man who held her heart, was all her hope, all her purpose. To insure fulfillment to this hope and to make certainty of this purpose, she sat down soon after breakfast to write her betrothed a letter.

But when she came to take the pen in her hand, she trembled. Ah, this was not so easy a task after all! If she had recoiled at times from giving up the millions that had come to her in so wonderful a way, how much more reason had she for recoiling from an act that not only meant the sacrifice of her fortune, but the betrayal of a secret that involved her honor and every claim to happiness which she possessed. I do not think she could have proceeded with her confessions if Clairette had not brought her at this critical moment a letter, which gave her the impetus necessary to carry her through her project. It was from the artist, and ran thus:

     “MY BEST BELOVED:—You have refused to see me. Is this because I have come too late? Darling, I had my excuses. I will explain them to you if you will give me the opportunity. Do not judge me without knowing the facts, for whatever indifference I may have shown you, I here avow that my heart has been beating with yours throb for throb, ever since the moment you drew my eyes to yours, and made me see that you were ready to give up all the world for the devotion of your artist lover,
                                                                HAMILTON DEGRAW.”

Such words, coming at this moment, made her path plain before her, or so the desperate child thought. A fiery ardor of devotion awoke within her, and though her trembling was not lessened and her cheeks took on the hue of fear, she seized the empty sheets before her, and transcribed the burning words which she knew would effectually sever all connection between herself and her true-hearted benefactor. It was noon when her letter was completed, and her feverish eyes and pallid lips evinced what the task had been to her. But she gave no evidences of flinching, and folded up the letter and addressed it to Hamilton Degraw, Esq., with unyielding determination. Only when it came to her taking from a certain secret drawer the deed and various papers upon which her fortune depended, did she falter and show signs of weakening. And then, not because of any secret longings toward the wealth represented by these various documents, but because she did not feel quite assured that she had said all that was necessary, in her long but not exhaustive letter. She had told her secret and repudiated the Delaney legacy, but she had not named her successor. Should she? Had she the right? No; but it would be so pleasant to think that the dear little school-teacher who had every virtue and every charm save that of an unhalting gait, should reap the benefits that were no longer hers. As she thought of it, she took a resolution. She would visit this lady, and see for herself if she was worthy of this good fortune. It would distract her own thoughts, it would shorten the terrible hours that must yet elapse before she dared send this letter or address the artist, and it would give her strength to bid good-bye to her old life and take up her new one in the artist home, which she faintly saw before her.

This resolve once taken, she locked up the letter and the deed together, and donned her simplest street garments. Though she did not know where to find the girl of whom Mr. Degraw had told her, she was enough of an adept in the city’s ways to be quite certain of success, if she only had sufficient time; and, as yet, it was only half-past twelve, and Mr. Degraw was not expected before four.

Her first move was to consult a directory. It was a successful one, for almost at first view she lighted upon the address she sought, under the name of “Rogers, Jeannette; teacher;” and, elated with her anticipations, she betook herself to the street and number named, like a female Haroun al Raschid.

She was fortunate in finding the young schoolteacher at home. It had seemed odd to ask at the door for Miss Rogers, and her voice had faltered somewhat in doing it; but her manner was so winsome, and her smile so bright, even through the heavy veil she wore, that the girl who ushered her in did not notice her emotion, and seated her in the parlor, with the remark:

“Miss Rogers is at dinner, miss, but she will soon be done. Who shall I say wants to see her?”

Jenny flushed.

“I will not send my name,” said she. “I am a stranger to her.”

The girl stared, astonished as much by her manner as her words, and went quickly out. In a few minutes, that yet seemed long to the impatient visitor, a light and almost bounding step was heard in the hall, and the door opened, and a pretty, bright and archly smiling girl stood before her.

Jenny rose.

“I wish to see Miss Rogers,” she explained.

“I am Miss Rogers.”

“Miss Jenny, I mean.”

“I am Jenny Rogers.”

Our Jenny faltered back astonished, then burst out with the irrepressible exclamation:

“But she is lame! I was told that she limped fearfully, while you—”

The young girl before her broke forth in a merry laugh,

“Oh, I have been lame, but last June I had an operation performed upon my ankle, and it cured me entirely, and now I can even pirouette—see!” And the gay young thing took a whirl through the room, pausing suddenly, however, to exclaim, with irresistible demureness: “Pardon me; I am forgetting my manners.”

The signorina—we must call her so again for the nonce—experienced a strange sensation. Not lame, this girl! Then it was surely God’s providence that led her here. How strange it all was! The mistake of considering permanent a defect that was only temporary had turned Mr. Degraw’s attention from this blooming girl. And now she who had succeeded to her place in his regard was ready to repudiate his wealth, and by this act would be the means, perhaps, of diverting it back to its rightful owner. For the signorina did not need to know much of life or human nature to feel sure that beneath the beaming and candid smile of this little school-teacher lay virtues with which her own undisciplined impulses could not vie; and being without jealousy—for the Delancy fortune was no longer anything to her—she took a strong and deep liking to this namesake of hers, and smiled upon her with her most captivating smile, as she said:

“You must wonder who I am, and what my errand is. Well, I have no errand; I only wanted to know you—perhaps because of your name, which is identical with my own.”

“ ‘Jeannette Rogers?’ ”

“ ‘Virginia Rogers;’ but we are both called ‘Jenny’—at least I am.”

“Ah! how curious!—to meet one of my own name, I mean. And you are so”—“beautiful,” she wanted to say, but lacked the courage.

The signorina smiled. Somehow her heart felt quite light. Was it because she thought that Mr. Degraw would not be so hurt by the revelations of her letter if he knew that such a worthy successor as this stood ready to pick up the millions she was about to drop from her unworthy hand?

“Oh, I like you,” she impetuously exclaimed. “I feel as if we were old friends. Have you never experienced any unpleasantness from the possession of this name? You know, I suppose, that it has been much in the papers of late; that unusual prosperity as well as adversity has been the portion of some who have held it, and that it is a doubtful blessing to be called ‘Jenny Rogers’, just now.”

“I know that a promising singer of that name has lately become the owner of a large fortune. Is that the doubtful blessing you allude to?”

The archness of her look betrayed the innocence of her heart, but the signorina lost her voice all the same, and hesitated some minutes, before remarking: “I have the money, yet I am ready to part with it. It is not always an unmitigated joy to hold it. But, money of itself is good, do you not think so, too, Jeannette?”

“I do, Virginia, so good that I can never have enough of it,” she laughed. “It is not that I am mercenary,” she protested; “but that my pay is so small and our wants so large. I should like—” She paused, while a flush dyed her earnest, young face. “I forgot,” she resumed, “that you were not as poor as myself. You cannot understand—”

“But I can,” broke in the signorina, eagerly. “And I am as poor as yourself—or soon will be—for I shall have nothing while you—”

“You will have nothing?”

“Nothing but what a kind husband will give me; but that is everything, is it not?”

“I do not know,” retorted the other, quaintly. “Some day I may be able to answer, when I have graduated in other lore than that we learn out of books.”

“I have graduated,” whispered the signorina. Then, suddenly: “I am the singer you alluded to!”

“You! Oh, how wonderful! I did not dream of that, and yet, I might have known it, too. And you talk about giving up your money, so much as it is? But you have no mother to care for.”

“No; and I have a lover. I shall not be unhappy or unprovided for.”

“Yet, it is marvelous. I like to see you, Virginia. You will always be an embodied romance to me, after this. Of course, I do not know why you have to give up this money, but that you can do it makes my heart burn with enthusiasm. It almost causes me to fall in love with love.”

“Ah!” quoth the signorina, “love has its pains as well as its pleasures. It is almost enviable to be free from both, as you are. And to have a mother. Oh, if I had had a mother to teach me and to guide me, I might not now be looking back upon my past with regret.”

She sighed and the tears trembled on her eyelashes. Suddenly she turned to Jeannette.

“Will you be my friend?” she asked.

“I, your friend!” cried the other. “Will you be mine?”

“Will I not?” exclaimed the signorina.

And the two girls glided into each other’s arms, impelled by an attraction that was almost irresistible.

When the signorina went away she wore almost a joyous look, and the first task to which she turned her attention upon reaching her home was to take out her letter to Mr. Degraw and inclose in it the following note:

“If you have any hesitancy as to where to place the large fortune thus thrown back upon your hands, let me suggest that you remember the little schoolteacher, who is no longer lame, and who, as you must recognize, is as worthy as I am unworthy, and as beautiful as any one who bears the name of ‘Rogers.’ ”

Chapter 39
Another Turn Of The Wheel

Hamilton Degraw was not in a painting mood. He had taken up his brush more than once, but had repeatedly laid it down again, only to fling it away at last in despair. He was expecting a reply to his note, and was now pacing the length of his studio, with his eye on the door, for he was sure he had heard the postman’s whistle in the hall below.

But minutes passed, and no letter was thrust under the door. He must wait another dreary three hours, unless— Ah, fresh steps! This time, dainty and womanly ones. Are they coming to this door? Yes. And will he hear a knock? Yes. But he does not expect the figure he sees blushing on the threshold. No heart-throb had told him that she would be there. And yet, there she is in all her charm and beauty, and, though not alone—as, indeed, he would not wish her to be—welcome beyond all expression; for this visit assures him without doubt or suspense, that she indeed loves him and intends to be his wife.

His looks speak his greeting.

“Enter!” he cries. “Enter, Miss Rogers; enter, my dear Mrs. Dutton. My studio is honored by your presence. Ah, I have often wished that you would visit me here, if only to see this sketch of Miss Aspinwall. It is thought to be one of my most successful efforts.”

Jenny’s eyes, which had been roaming with visible curiosity through a spot which might soon be her only refuge, turned at these words, and followed his pointing finger.

“Oh, how lovely!” she cried. “When did you paint this? Has Hilary seen it?”

“No, I have not felt at liberty to show it to Miss Aspinwall. It is an idealized sketch, you see. I call it ‘A Poet’s Dream.’ ”

“Ah,” murmured Jenny, with a wistful tone in her voice.

“I have another picture which I call ‘Love’s Reality’ ” he tenderly observed, taking advantage of Mrs. Dutton’s considerate pre-occupation with the sketches she saw everywhere displayed. “Can you guess who was my model for that?”

Jenny’s eyes met his, and he thought he never saw her look more glowing.

“May I guess that it is your future wife?” she whispered.

With difficulty he suppressed the impulse to clasp her then and there to his heart. But he pressed her hand, which had somehow stolen toward his own, and his face told all the rest.

“Oh, my darling!” he breathed. “Would we were alone for one short minute!”

“We are,” she laughed. “Mrs. Dutton is very short-sighted, and so deaf when she thinks it best to be, that she cannot really be looked upon as an intruder. Yet, I do not mean for you to forget the proprieties,” she naively insinuated, as he approached his arm toward her waist. “We can talk unrestrainedly and that is a great privilege, for we have much to say to each other, have we not?”

“Much; we have to plan for a life-time,” he declared.

“And you have to explain why you left me for three days, hovering between hope and despair.”

His face fell; a shadow flitted dark and threatening across his satisfaction.

“Are you going to press me for that?” his look appeared to ask.

Her look responded, “Certainly; can you think me capable of ignoring such neglect?”

He sighed, and reluctantly admitted:

“I have had a great deal to try me lately, Jenny. I have a friend upon whose judgment I rely, and this friend, for some reason impossible for me to fathom, has conceived an inexplicable distrust of you.”

“And who—?” she began, but she had not courage to continue. She felt as if an axe had been laid at the root of her happiness.

“It is a person whose name it seems an indignity to you to mention,” he responded; “yet he is a noble fellow and a gentleman. I allude to Mr. Byrd, Jenny.”

“Mr. Byrd!” How wild her eyes looked; and her speech, how thick it sounded.

“I distress you,” he objected. “This is not talk for such a day as this. Let us omit explanations.”

“No, no,” she entreated, drawing him toward a quaint little recess upon which he had expended all his art and taste to make it a nook worthy to hold the picture he had painted of her. “I must hear why Mr. Byrd distrusts me. His conduct surely has not been of a distrustful nature; then why should his thoughts be?”

“That, dearest, I do not know. I am only telling you why I did not at once rush to you after your loving revelation at Miss Aspinwall’s reception. He held me back.”

“And you let him!”

“His entreaties were urgent,” remonstrated the artist. “He asked me to wait a week—only a week. He declared I owed that much to my career, and when I replied that I could not see you without betraying my feelings, he entreated me to stay away from you till he could substantiate his doubts. He did not say what they were, promising that he would do this in the one week which he exacted. As he naturally awakened my own doubts by these unexpected and forcible demonstrations, I yielded to him, Jenny. Though I see now that I did wrong in this, that I should have trusted you implicitly, I was weak enough to withhold myself from your side for three days. Then my love triumphed, I went to Mr. Byrd and told him that he had exacted too much from me, that I could not and would not believe that you were not all your sweet face promised, and gave as an argument in your favor the fact that you were ready to give up your great fortune to please my whim. He was overwhelmed; had not dreamed you or any other woman capable of so great a sacrifice, and ended by asking my pardon for insinuations which had been occasioned, as he asserted, by a total misconception of your character. This was at eight o’clock, Jenny. At half-past nine, I was at your house. There were lights in the parlor, but I was not admitted.

“It was through a mistake,” she murmured, with lowered head and brow turned away. “I—” And there she paused. How could she go further? How explain this situation? Besides, she felt weak and shaken. That any man should have distrusted her, and made her lover share his doubts, if only for a few days, was terrible to her. She did not know how to hide her agitation, nor how to keep back her tears.

“When I got home, I wrote to you,” he resumed. “The letter must have been a wild one, but since it has brought you here I will not apologize for it. And now, is my sweet one going to forgive me? Can a woman ever forgive her lover’s distrust, even when occasioned by the well-planned suggestions of a reliable and generous friend?”

She did not answer; the waves of grief and fear were rising bitterly in her breast.

“I love you so,” he went on, forgetting Mrs. Dutton’s presence, which, indeed, did not obtrude itself, “and my trust is so completely restored! I can never doubt you again, nor will I ever in the future listen to any one’s words against you. Jenny, Jenny! my queen! my life! Look around, give me your hand, breathe sweet forgiveness, and forget—”

“Miss Aspinwall!”

The word was uttered loudly in Mrs. Dutton’s most pronounced tones. Mr. Degraw and Miss Rogers at once turned, and colored deeply as they saw the form of Hilary standing in the studio door.

But their emotion, evident as it was, was nothing to hers. She, the self-possessed, seemed in one short moment absolutely overcome by what she saw before her; and though she came in and advanced with outstretched hand to greet them, she did this in a manner so different from her accustomed one, that Jenny knew that her friend was moved by some extraordinary emotion of fear or astonishment, and turned faint almost to the point of sinking.

“Mr. Degraw! Jenny! I did not think to find you here together,” she ejaculated, with a pointed look.

Jenny seized hold of a small table near her to steady herself, and cast an entreating glance upon her friend.

That friend did not see it, or failed to understand it.

“I have just come from an interview with Mr. Degraw, of Cleveland, whom I met unexpectedly at Tiffany’s this morning,” Miss Aspinwall continued. “He told me you had engaged yourself to him, Jenny; and I came here.” Her full, sweet look at the artist told why. But nobody saw that look. He and Jenny were both absorbed in the one wild glance each had cast upon the other at the utterance of these fatal words.

“What facts are these?” exclaimed the artist, after one terrible moment. “You have engaged yourself to my rival, and now come here—”

“Oh, I can explain it,” interrupted Jenny. “I can explain it. He came when I thought myself deserted, offered his hand without conditions, and—and—I listened to him.”

“And are you solemnly engaged to marry him?” sternly continued her lover.

“Not now, not now; I wrote to him to-day, after I heard from you. I could not keep my word to him when I found that you still loved me; and I told him—”

“What?”

She did not answer. She was swaying like a reed.

“What, Miss Rogers?”

“Ah!” Her cry rose from a wounded heart. She turned and fled toward Mrs. Dutton. “Take me home!” she cried, then suddenly tottered and turned upon them with a drawn and frightened face. “I have no home,” she moaned, “I sent the deed with my letter; I have neither home nor friends.” This was too much for Hilary and too much for him. They both sprang and caught the unhappy girl in their arms.

“She is such a child,” whispered Hilary in the ear of the artist. “We must not judge her as we would ourselves.”

But the other was saying to himself:

“It is all my fault. Had I not left her to herself at the moment when she needed me most and had won the right to my fondest support, she would not have been subjected to such fierce temptations.”

But he did not say this to her. He at that moment regarded her as the betrothed wife of another.

“You sent him a letter and the deed?” he repeated, but this time in more gentle tones. “What did he reply?”

“I have not received any reply,” she faltered. “There has not been time. I—I did not expect any. He will not wish to marry me when he knows—”

“Jenny!” It was her lover who spoke. “You have not been released by Mr. Degraw. If you had, I might bemoan the occurrences which have thrown a cloud upon our love. But I should still have taken you to my heart, and tried to woo forgetfulness of the past for yourself and for me. But, as it is, I feel I am trenching upon the rights of another in even entertaining you in my studio. You have a home till Mr. Degraw acknowledges the acceptance of the deed you have sent to him, and though it breaks my heart to seem cold to you, when my whole being is melting with pity and tenderness, I must still suggest that you be patient for a little while, Jenny, and when quite free—”

“No more!” she commanded, with a strange dignity. A new thought or a new impulse had seized her, and a courtly, almost imperial-looking woman stood before them, instead of the pleading, child-like being of a moment ago. “You say I am still under obligations to Mr. Degraw,” she asserted, moving toward the door. “As it is but four o’clock now, and he was not expected at my house till four you may be right. I will go and see.” And with a bow and a slight gesture to Mrs. Dutton, she vanished from the room, while the artist stood shaken and undecided, not knowing what this sudden change might betoken.

She went immediately down-stairs to her carriage. She stepped quickly and seemed impatient at Mrs. Dutton’s slower gait. “I am in haste!” she cried, more than once.

“In haste, my dear?” inquired that lady, as she took her seat in the carriage.

“Yes, yes,” retorted Jenny, giving her orders to the coachman, with feverish impetuosity. “I have business at home. Pray God, I may not be too late.” She scarcely glanced at Hilary’s carriage, standing close by, though it held more than one person whom she knew.

“I hope,” mildly insinuated Mrs. Dutton, as they rode rapidly up the avenue, “that you are not going to do anything injudicious.”

“I cannot say,” was Jenny’s response. “The way is dark before me; I only know that I must get home, and that, before Mr. Degraw, of Cleveland, has called.”

The truth was that she was terrified at the letter she had written him. As she saw matters now, it seemed the wildest, maddest thing she could have done. She must have that letter back; at whatever cost, at whatever risk, she must destroy the words which she had written, in the heat of her love and devotion to the artist. Were Providence only kind, she would, yet reach home in time to stay the hand of the girl ordered to deliver it. Were her expected visitor but delayed by ten minutes, she would be there before him and all would be well again. For fewer explanations than she had given him would suffice for her release; just the simple statement of her affection for the artist would be sufficient.

But when she came in sight of her home and saw that a carriage was just driving away, she became greatly frightened, and leaning from the window, begged the coachman to drive faster. In an instant more she was upon her own stoop and awaiting impatiently for the door to be opened. When it at last swung back, she asked, breathlessly:

“Has Mr. Degraw been here?”

The answer she received made her catch wildly at both lintels for support.

“Yes, miss; he has just driven away. I gave him your excuses, and handed him the package. You can see his carriage there, just turning the corner.”

Chapter 40
The Wheel Becomes A Rack

Jenny Rogers did not allow her agitation to keep her long inactive. Running down the steps, she bade the coachman to follow the carriage before him to the Westminster Hotel, and jumping into her own, took her seat at the side of Mrs. Dutton, crying:

“Do not speak to me! I may seem rude, but you would not think so if you knew.”

And Mrs. Dutton, looking in her face, took a new view of the situation, and began to feel very nervous herself and think that the horses went too slowly. Yet they rode fast, and were soon in sight of the Westminster. But not before Mr. Degraw’s carriage had driven away from before the hotel steps.

“He has got there; he has gone to his rooms, What shall we do? I cannot call upon him!” cried Jenny, despairingly.

“I will call. I am an old lady,” said Mrs. Dutton, sympathetically. It was not for her interest to have this engagement broken off.

“Oh, if you will! Stop him before he reads my letter. Say to him that Miss Rogers regrets the sending of it, and requests to have it back unopened.”

“I will do all I can,” the elderly lady assured her; and though she could not hasten her movements very much, being both fleshy and phlegmatic, she made an appearance of doing so, which at least showed her good-will.

She alighted and went in, and Jenny sat counting the minutes as they passed. They were interminable, and her suspense rose almost to anguish. Nor was she relieved when she at last saw Mrs. Dutton re-appear. For the expression upon the widow’s face was one of failure, and Jenny was not at all surprised to hear in another minute:

“They kept me waiting an unconscionable length of time in the parlor. And when Mr. Degraw did at last come down, I saw that he had read your letter.”

Jenny leaned back in her carriage, faint and sick.

“Drive, I don’t care whither!” she cried, closing her eyes to the world and all that was in it. But the next minute she started up. “I must see him,” were her words. “I cannot go home without knowing. You have not told me what he said,” she suddenly cried. “What did he say?”

“My dear, he did not say anything, for when I saw he had read the letter, I was seized with a panic, and slipped out.”

Jenny started up in anger,

“Oh, why am I so helpless!” she cried. “I cannot do anything, I dare not do anything, and yet I shall die if I cannot have a half-dozen words with him.”

“They would not be pleasant,” suggested Mrs. Dutton. “His face made me afraid, and I think it would you.”

“Was he so—so—angry?” demanded Jenny.

“I think so, but I did not stay long enough to see. I may be a coward, but I never could face a man who was not in an amiable mood.”

Miss Rogers, quaking, settled herself in the corner of her carriage and said no more, only that now and then a short cry escaped her lips, that sounded like the reiterated expression: “I must see him! I must see him!” And so they rode on and finally came to her house. When she went in, she saw news in Clairette’s eager face.

“What is it?” she asked.

“A gentleman in the parlor,” was the cautious reply.

Hardly daring to hope, Jenny went to the parlor door and stepped in. The man whom she most wanted to see in all the world stood before her.

Immediately she was seized by a great trepidation, and when Mr. Degraw, seeing this, came forward and offered her a chair, she found it difficult to recover herself. But she did so at last, being forced to it by his silence; and, having nerved herself to look up, did so with a certain resolution.

But she had no sooner met his eyes, than her own fell again. It was not the reproach in them that affected her, but the grief. There were tears on his cheeks, and he seemed wholly unconscious of them. Such a sight she had never looked upon before.

“Shall I kneel for pardon?” she faintly murmured, holding her two arms outspread in an attitude of profound contrition. “I feel that it is the only fitting position for me to take toward one whom I have wronged profoundly.”

He took a quick step forward.

“On the contrary,” said he, “I feel indebted to you for your act of courage. Had you left me in ignorance of the truth, only to have it revealed to me hereafter in some unforeseen way, you would then have wronged me irreparably. As it is, I may grieve over a vanished dream and bewail a fallen idol, but I cannot meet you with blame or load you with reproaches.”

She gave him an eloquent look, she uttered a grateful cry, and the hands which had been stretched out in utter abandonment, came together and clasped themselves upon her breast.

“This is mercy,” said she, and a happy smile rose on her lips, before which his eyes fell. “Twice have you been my benefactor!” she exclaimed, “and this time you are a greater one than before.”

He bowed, but made no reply. This interview was a trying one to him.

“And my letter?” she ventured, timidly.

“Shall be retained by me amongst my most secret papers.”

“Retained!” She turned pale and stepped forward. “I had hoped”—she stammered. “I am ready to pray that you will give it back to me, or at least destroy what can be of no further benefit to you.”

But he gave her no encouragement in this direction.

“It is all I have to show that this great property has returned to me through your voluntary act,” he objected. “I dare not part with your letter, Miss Rogers, but I will not use it except I am driven to it—”

“Mr. Degraw, you are generous; you have shown it in every act of your life. Do not, then, deny me this boon, upon the granting of which my whole future depends. I—I am intending to be immediately married; you know to whom. It is my only refuge, my only hope. But how can I ask him to fulfill his promise, when I know there is a sword hanging over my head, ready to fall at any moment?”

“You cannot, Miss Rogers; I realize this as well as you do yourself.”

From being pale, she turned livid. Her lips opened and her eyes stared at him like those of a culprit hearing a sentence of unexpected doom.

“And you would destroy me utterly?” she murmured. “You would deliver me to destruction or to my own remorse, which is the same thing. You cannot mean it, Mr. Degraw.”

“I grieve—it tears my heart—Miss Rogers, but I cannot see my duty in any other light. Remember that this money must go to another, that I shall have to explain to her, if not to the world, how I came to receive it back from one who had publicly held it for three months.”

“If—if you will give it to the little school-teacher —she already knows,” pleaded Jenny. “That is,” she added, as she saw his look of astonishment, “she knows enough to be satisfied. I told her that the man I expected to marry exacted the giving up of this fortune.”

“It is not enough.”

“Why? Why?”

“The world is bitter, exacting, ever ready to attribute wrong motives to a man. If I receive back this money—a great amount, you must constantly recollect—society will naturally decide against my honesty and the purity of my intentions. It will say that I made the gift to you upon the condition that you married me, and that my taking it back is in consequence of your failure to keep your engagement. For that engagement, short as it was, is known. Contrary to my usual habits of reticence, I spoke of it yesterday to your dearest friend, and was overheard by Mr. Bodwell, who must have told fifty others in the few hours that have since elapsed. If honor is dear to woman, it is equally dear to man. My future happiness and high standing are trembling in the balance, and the moment is as serious for me as for you.”

“But I will write another letter. I will say that I entreat your re-acceptance of this gift, which I find entails too many duties upon me for my peace of mind. And this you can show the world; and when I am married, people will understand.”

“Miss Rogers,”—his tone was tender, almost paternal—“do you think you ought, under any circumstances, to marry Mr. Degraw?”

She arose, she drew up her exquisite form, she panted and flung back, in her desperation, this answer:

“I love him. I give up a great fortune for him. I needed not have given it up if I had not been pleased to do so. If all this does not make me worthy of him, then there is no such thing as repentance, and reparation is a mere word.”

“You are right,” he murmured; “but if he knew—”

“But he never will know, if you give me back my letter. For his sake, whose life will be ruined if any whisper of all this comes to his ears, have compassion upon me, Mr. Degraw, You know by what I have written you that I am not a bad woman. If I marry the man who trusts me, I will be a good one. Though I have wronged you, humiliated you, and taken from you some of the confidence you had in my sex, do not visit my faults upon me by a revenge so deep as the retaining of this letter. Indeed, indeed, it is not necessary. No one will question your honor when they see with what reverence I regard you.”

She was going to say more, but something in his manner stopped her. Tears—the first she had shed —rose to her eyes, and she turned slowly away, as if profoundly humiliated.

“Ah! you think I am not worthy even to do you reverence,” she murmured.

The piteous action and the still more piteous words, coming from one so dainty and exquisitely beautiful, touched him as nothing else in all this painful interview had done. Coming close to her side, he took her languid hand, and calmly, for his passion had all left him, said, with affectionate fervor:

“God forbid that I should visit any revenge upon a head that humbles itself so low. If any such feeling has hitherto actuated my words, and who can say it has not, I herewith discard it as unworthy of me or my cause. That I loved you, is true; that I have suffered in my faith and in my pride, is also true; but, I would not thereby raise myself above you, since, if you have sinned, I am not also without my faults, as your present attitude shows. Miss Rogers, I will give you back your letter; but let me say before doing so, that you will never be blessed in your marriage with Mr. Degraw, or even see an hour of perfect felicity in his presence, unless you allow him to know its contents before you go to the altar.”

“No! No!” her looks seemed to cry, but she said nothing with her lips, unless the humble and heart-felt kiss she pressed upon his hand might be said to speak.

“And now,” he suggested, “write me the letter you proposed. I will take it and immediately return with the other. Afterward my lawyer will visit you, and all shall be completed legally and with as much celerity and secrecy as the matter will permit.”

“Ah!” she exclaimed, “with what life you inform me. And I cannot even express my gratitude or the thoughts that fill my mind.” And she bounded to a desk—the desk at which she had written her first letter, and which was in a second parlor, at the back—and rapidly, as if moved by a governing hand, indited her second epistle.

While she was doing this, he stood deeply musing. He had yielded to her prayers and so cleared her future at the expense of his own. For he saw—never more clearly—that he must always suffer from the suspicion of having influenced this act of hers, if in the course of events he should ever come to profit by it in the way suggested by Mr. Delaney’s last expressed wishes. If, therefore, he wished to preserve his reputation for probity, he must refrain from ever bettering his own fortunes by marrying the girl to whom this property must now go; and, though this prospect did not look so dismal at present, while his heart was yet sore with the disappointment of losing his first love, there might come a time when it would cause serious complications, not only to himself but to the little school-mistress.

And yet so generous was his nature, and so kind his heart, that he had no wish to recall his promise, whatever it might cost him. If suffering lay before him, he was surely stronger to bear it than this delicate woman, already racked by so many and various emotions. Better bear the blessing of this erring and repentant one, than the weight of her destruction, even if through this destruction there came to him a temporary peace. Life was not so easy to bear under any circumstances, that one could afford to weight it with unnecessary regrets. He had done what his mercy suggested, and he would abide by it; but the ordeal had been sharp and he had almost succumbed to it. This he must always remember to his everlasting chagrin.

When Jenny returned with her letter and bade him read it, he did so dispassionately and with evident approval.

“This will answer very well. I will now return to my hotel for the other,” he declared, and left her with a low bow, in which she felt a certain respect expressed that was like balm to her crushed and bleeding heart.

Ten minutes, fifteen, twenty elapsed. A half-hour passed, and Jenny looked for his return. Though the minutes had lagged, they were not heavy. Hope had beamed again above the horizon and her heart was already revivifying under its influence. Three-quarters of an hour, and no rumble of his carriage was heard. But then, a friend might have been waiting in his rooms, or some other detention, equally difficult to avoid, happened to prolong his stay. He would come before the hour was over; she knew it by her throbbing heart and eager pulses; and he did. Just as the clock was on the point of striking the hour, his carriage drove up, and he bounded to the walk, ran up the steps, and was let in by the waiting Clairette, Jenny stood in the parlor ready to receive him.

“What is it?” she cried; for she saw at a glance that he was greatly distressed.

“The letter is gone! It has been stolen! I cannot find it among the documents you returned to me! You have an enemy somewhere, and that enemy has your honor in his hand.”

Chapter 41
Secret Enemies

“I cannot believe it!” was Jenny’s exclamation, at this extraordinary revelation. “Who could do such a thing? Who would? I have not an enemy left in the world, unless—” She thought of Mr. Byrd, but immediately dismissed the idea as ridiculous. “What do you think about it, Mr. Degraw?”

“I do not know what to think, Miss Rogers. I locked the papers in what I supposed to be a place of great security. As I could not know what would be the result of our interview, I did not have them put in the hotel safe as I should have done, thinking they would be safe in my trunk till I should return. But they have been handled, incredible as it seems, and the letter taken out; why the letter and none of the other papers, I must leave you to conjecture, since I have no means of judging of the matter myself.”

“I am sure it is all a dreadful mystery to me,” declared the poor girl, who was as ignorant of the ways of the world as most children of genius.

“Did you speak about it to anybody? Did you tell them you had lost anything?”

“Most certainly. I did not say what it was, but I announced that a very important paper was missing from my trunk. That is why I was detained so long. We were making inquiries.”

“And—”

“They led to nothing. No one but my washerwoman has been admitted to my rooms, nor has any one else been seen to enter them. The thief must have been expert in his art, and known exactly what he was going for. But why should it have been your letter?”

“I don’t know; I don’t know. Perhaps because Heaven wished to punish me for my sins. I see no other reason.”

“Miss Rogers, shall I put this matter in the hands of a detective?”

She shuddered, and placed her hand over her heart, as if the word had pierced her.

“No,” was her quick reply. “If it was not stolen by a detective, I shall be surprised.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I am told that detectives are sly and secret. That they resort not only to honest but even to dishonest means for finding out what they wish to know. If Mr. Byrd has any real reason for distrusting me (and that he does distrust me is evident), he may have thought himself justified in stealing this letter. Though how he could have known anything about it, I cannot imagine, since you and I alone were acquainted even with its existence.”

“Mr. Byrd is the detective who saved your life in Great Barrington?”

She bowed, flushing painfully at memories not yet forgetton sufficiently for her peace.

“A fine fellow, seemingly,” remarked Mr. Degraw. “I do not think he would engage in any such underhanded business as this.”

“He might think it his duty to the other Mr. Degraw, whose friend he is,” she ventured, with painful hesitation.

Her visitor looked serious, but hastily shook his head.

“Unworthy of such a man!” he muttered— “unworthy! An honest fellow, such as Mr. Byrd appears, would not lend himself to any scheme which involved the rifling of a respectable citizen’s private effects. I would sooner suspect my washerwoman: and yet that is ridiculous!”

Jenny’s head, which had fallen in dejection on her breast, rose suddenly, but immediately drooped again.

“Yes, that is ridiculous,” she echoed.

“Had it been money,” he remarked, “I should certainly have suspected this woman, for she is known to have been long enough in my room, while I was here, to have gone through my trunks; but a letter, and such a letter! What could it be to her?”

“Nothing, nothing,” acquiesced Jenny, totally unnerved and disheartened by this last misadventure, “unless,” she suddenly cried, “she was acting for the detectives.”

Mr. Degraw looked startled.

“I hate to think it,” said he. “She has washed for me several weeks, and has been more than once alone in my rooms. Yet in this way only can I account for the trunk being opened, searched and locked again in the short space of time in which I was absent. She was provided with keys.”

“But how could she have known of my letter—of —of its being there?”

“Only in one way, Miss Rogers. I did not tell you all I learned about her stay in my room, because I could see no reason why this woman should be interested in this or any other letter of mine. But if she is in the detective’s employ, the taking of this letter is the very thing she would be likely to be interested in; for it seems that she was in my bedroom while I was opening and reading your communication in the adjoining apartment, and from my ejaculations she must have gathered an idea of its importance. Now, if she had keys, and was a police spy, she would naturally take means for procuring this letter, and, as I was called out before she left, she had ample opportunity for unlocking my trunk and searching among my documents.”

“She did it! She did it! Mr. Byrd now has that letter. Was not this woman a bright, Frenchy-looking girl?”

“On the contrary, she is a dried-up and unpleasant-looking old woman. If the Portuguese were not dead—”

Jenny started.

“Oh, it isn’t she,” Mr. Degraw soothingly continued. “The story of her death is no doubt true. I only meant to give you some idea of her appearance.”

Jenny shook her head with a slow, despairing movement.

“Whoever it is,” said she, “my letter will soon be in the hands of the one man I most dread to have see it.”

Her visitor did not gainsay this.

“Mr. Degraw will never marry me if he reads that letter,” she declared.

And still the gentleman before her made no reply.

A moment of silence followed, then he kindly observed:

“Had I solace to offer, I should not hesitate so long in speaking; but I coincide with you in thinking that this letter has been taken by an enemy of yours, and taken with the purpose of thwarting your marriage with Mr. Degraw. If, therefore, you would make this attempt innocuous, and merit the confidence of your lover and the admiration of your friends, you will go at once to Mr. Degraw and tell him what was in this letter, before it can have a chance to reach him.”

For the first time she looked at her visitor with a gleam of suspicion; but it soon vanished before his unswerving gaze.

“I thought,” she said, with a sort of yearning hesitation, “that you might have planned this story of loss to drive me to an act from which I shrink, but I see no such good news in your eyes.”

He did not think it worth while to answer this insinuation. On the contrary, he remarked;

“If you agree with me, that this is your one and only course, I will so far forget my former relations with you as to accompany you to Mr. Degraw’s studio. If he sees that I am there to uphold and sustain you, he may think more lightly of your fault. At all events, you will not be alone, for if he rejects and despises you, I will take you into my brotherly keeping, and see that you never suffer for a home while I live.”

“Oh, what goodness!” she exclaimed. “But I cannot accept it. I have not the courage.” And she indeed looked like a trembling child told to lay down her head to the ax’s stroke. “I had rather beg, starve, die!” she murmured. “I have been hungry, in the old days, and I can be so again, It is not that I fear, but one of his averted looks.”

Mr. Degraw’s face filled with compassion. He could not help it in sight of so much misery and beauty. Yet he did not think of retracting his advice; indeed, he prepared to become more persuasive.

But she gave him no encouragement to persist.

Instead, she showed him a face so weary that he took the hint and turned toward the door.

“I perceive that you need rest,” said he. “If you wish to see me later, send a note to that effect to the Westminster. Meanwhile, consider what I have said, and command me for any duty I can conscientiously perform.”

“I need no services!” she cried. “If Mr. Degraw marries me, I shall soon have a protector. If he does not, I shall not need one; yet I thank you all the same,” she added, with a touch of her old sweetness, that so wrung his heart anew.

“And, Miss Rogers, let me urge you to listen to this: Remember that you have leased this house; that you paid for it in advance, and that it is your home to the end of the year. As for your other bills—”

“Don’t!” she pleaded, holding out her hands in deprecation before her. “Any humiliation but this. If the rental of this house is mine, I make a gift of it to you from to-morrow morning on. I have spent enough of Mr. Delaney’s money as it is, without charging his estate with my further maintenance. I can sing. Despair has robbed me of timidity, or rather despair will soon do so, if I am called upon to despair. But I may not be. Mr. Degraw has not yet seen that letter.”

And making him a low courtesy, in which the grace of the erring child mingled strangely with the dignity of a great-natured woman, she disappeared out of her own door and vanished up-stairs, while he stood troubled and more nearly at the point of adoring her than he had ever done before in his life.

Chapter 42
The Last Hope

Miss Aspinwall will see no visitors to-night; she is sitting in her parlor with the artist, Mr. Degraw, and from the concern with which she bends over a letter he has just handed her to read, she has evidently enough upon her mind to occupy both her heart and attention.

“You know her well,” urged Mr. Degraw, “and realize how sensitive she is, and how easily her sensibilities are shocked. Tell me what I shall do.”

She read the letter again. It was from Jenny to the artist.

“I am free, wholly free. Mr. Degraw has released me. Are you satisfied, and will you marry me to-night? I have laid aside the natural modesty of my sex to ask you this question, because to-morrow I shall be without a roof to shelter me. I cannot remain in this house, for though Mr. Degraw considerately places it at my disposal till the end of the year, I do not feel that your betrothed should owe anything to his bounty. Am I right, and shall I prepare for what I here promise to be the beginning of happiness, if you will henceforth trust me as I do you.
     JENNY.”

“Can you do what she asks?” Hilary inquired.

“Not conscientiously.”

“I thought not, or you would not have come here.”

“There you mistake. Could I have brought myself to consider so hurried and unlooked-for nuptials, I should have come for you to stand by her at the altar. As it is, I come for your advice as to the best way to refuse her request without shocking her feelings too deeply. I have a mother whom I love. I cannot bring myself to marry without her presence. Shall I tell Jenny so? I only want three days in which to bring her. Jenny can easily wait that long. But how to propose it when her heart is so torn and lacerated?”

“Mr. Degraw, let us go to her. You will have words given you. If she sees that you love her, and only wish to wait a suitable time, that she may be married with honor, and you wish satisfaction, she cannot be so unreasonable as to feel hurt. She is a child, as I have said before, and, like a child, bereft of one support, flies inconsiderately to another. That other must not fail her, only direct her. Your love and pity will teach you how.”

“Yes, I think so, but—”

“I will accompany you in the carriage, that you may be able to tell her that Hilary is waiting to carry her to a home from which she can be suitably married. She shall stay with me, as she did before, and if after I get her here I can persuade her to delay her marriage till spring, I shall do it for both your sakes. Society is already discussing her engagement to your rival, and now for her to marry you so suddenly will turn wonder into such criticism as one naturally wishes to avoid.”

He assented with great earnestness. He saw this complication as clearly as she did herself, and dreaded it as any sensitive-minded man must. But he did not have much confidence in Jenny submitting to so lengthy a delay, and showed his love by not faltering in his intentions, though scandal and all manner of unpleasantness threatened to follow their fulfillment.

“It is eight o’clock,” he now remarked. “Shall we not start immediately for her house?”

Miss Aspinwall rang for her maid.

“Bring me hat and gloves,” was her order, as that personage appeared. “And light the fire in the red room; I may bring back a guest.”

“God grant it!” was Degraw’s inward comment. But he had little hope; the future—even the future of this one evening—looked impenetrable to him.

When they drove up to Jenny’s house, Hilary said:

“Do not ask me to go in. It would be a mistake for her to see any face but yours at this moment. And do not think of me either; I am patient, and can sit here for hours. But I hope her heart will bring her to me soon, and that we shall presently all three drive to my house in peace and happiness.”

She raised her noble face to him as she said these words, and he felt its light, though he did not pierce to the depths of her devotion. Had he done so, would he have run with so much single-minded ardor up the steps that led him to the wayward Jenny?”

“Ah, you have come!”

The exclamation sprang from lips that had turned suddenly rosy at his step. He looked up as he heard it, and saw her before him in a dress suggestive of a modest bridal, and carrying in her hand a bonnet and a pair of gloves. His heart for the moment stood still.

“My darling!” he murmured, taking her in his arms, and, as he did so, gently withdrawing the hat and gloves from her clasp and laying them on a table near by, “you are mine, then—all mine! No one competes with me for this small hand, and I may hope, in a few days—indeed, before the week has closed—to call you by my name before the world, as I now do in the innermost recesses of my heart!”

He had spoken without thought, and he had spoken well, if her delicacy only was to be considered. But there was another passion lying hid within that beating heart, and she started back wounded and frightened at his words, saying, wildly:

“I was mistaken, then, in thinking you would wish me to be beholden to no man but you. I must stay in this house for days, eating Mr. Degraw’s bread and giving orders to Mr. Degraw’s servants! I—I wonder you can wish it. But if you say so—”

“I do not wish it, and it must not be. Hilary stands ready to open her house to you. She has already commanded fires to be lit in her guest-chamber in anticipation of your coming. She is outside now in the carriage which stands in front of your house. She wants, and I want, that you should have every honor surrounding your marriage; and this could not be if we rushed off inconsiderately to a minister’s house to-night.”

“Hilary!” Jenny’s voice sounded strangely “I had much rather not marry you from Hilary’s house.”

“And why, my beautiful? Had ever a girl a kinder friend than she has been to you? In the absence of relatives, she has shown herself sister and mother to you. Should you not recognize this affection—”

“You do not understand,” was the quick interruption. “I appreciate Hilary, but—” Jenny stole a look at him. Should she utter the words that were trembling on her tongue? Would it gain her her wish and lead him to solve all her difficulties by marrying her before the fatal letter could reach him? He did not give her the opportunity for testing this possibility. Seeing her hesitate, he took her by the hand and passionately declared;

“My heart and life are yours, Jenny. You must know it from my look and clasp. A man cannot feign love, or, rather, cannot feign it so as to deceive a woman like you; and you feel my passion, do you not?—a passion so profound and demanding, that it blinds me to much that might make a more coldblooded man tremble with doubts and apprehension. But I have no doubts. I long to call you mine, and apprehend nothing so much as grieving you or seeing your sweet face grow pale. Yet with all this love and all this hope, I recognize that there is such a fact as duty. You are not all I have in the world. I have friends, I have my good name, I have something like a career to consider. But I do not consider these, I consider only my aged mother, who lives in a little country home among the Connecticut hills, and who would be heart-broken if her only son married without her knowledge and blessing.”

“Oh!”

Jenny dropped her face in the hollow of her two hands. She knew that her cause was lost.

“Do you not see,” he went on, his voice sounding with richer cadence as he dwelt upon the two deep loves of life, “that I could not be a good husband if I did not start right by being a good son? And she has been such a devoted mother to me. My heart warms as I think of her ceaseless care and patient love. If I have any good in me it came from her; and if I have any gratitude I must show it to her. Am I not right, Jenny?”

She pressed his hand. Fatal as this delay was likely to be to her, she could not deny the mother’s claims.

“She will love you,” the artist pursued. “One of the first thoughts I ever had in connection with our marriage was this. For my mother is not a selfish woman, and she will see the sweet spirit that informs this beautiful face. I do not know that I can bring her back with me to the ceremony. She is wedded to her own hearthstone, and is out of place within any walls but her own. But I will, at least, fetch back her blessing upon our union, and when we are married, we will go to see her, and I shall have the happiness of beholding the two beings I love most in the world brought into one embrace within my childhood’s home.”

Ah, with what a wistful air Jenny looked up. If this might only be! If she could but feel a mother’s arms about her—how it would change and purify her heart. How worthy she would be of that mother’s love! How her nature would expand and ripen under such holy influences! But she felt that it would never be. For he would not now escape from receiving that letter, and if he did receive it and read it, she knew him well enough to know that she would never be his wife.

“Go to her,” she murmured, faintly. “I dare not ask you to remember my wishes in preference to hers.”

He stooped to kiss her.

“And I dare not do so, Jenny. I idolize you. I love every hair of your head; every glance of your eye. Indeed, indeed, my love, I have no life without you; but the more I feel for you the more I must feel for my mother, since you two are the only beings in the world that have ever made me forget my art. Some day you will be the only one to consider; till that day comes let me pay my duty to both.”

She sobbed, but attempted no further remonstrance. Virginia Rogers was a modest woman. She never thought of contending with him unduly, or of exercising the power of her beauty beyond its proper limits. Though she felt the ground giving way under her feet, though she knew, or thought she knew, that if she let him go she would never see him at her side again, she resorted to no means beyond those of her visible distress, either to retain or delay him. She was too anxious to be worthy of him, and the mother that he loved. A spark of goodness had been lit in her soul which she sought to cherish. Rather than see it go out, she was ready, as she had said upon a different occasion, to beg, to starve, to die. And so her sobs alone showed the grief that was devouring her—a grief he could not understand nor appreciate, but which finally made him ask:

“Why do you weep, Jenny? I shall come back very soon. You surely can wait in patience for three days.”

“Not if you go back to the studio! I have a most unreasoning fear of the studio!” she cried. “Ever since you have been here I have had a premonition of danger connected with that place. I may not be fully myself; I may be half wild or demented, but if I thought you were going from here to Fourteenth street, I should fall in a faint at your feet. What does it mean? That some fearful peril menaces you or our love?”

“No! no! my darling. You are tired and start at every shadow. I can forgive you for it. You have had a wretched week.”

“But if you would only go to your mother without returning to the studio! If I could see you without the shadow of danger lowering over your head, I could be happy; then, I could even sleep.”

“My darling!”

“It may be only a whim,” she went on more urgently, as she saw that he was touched rather than annoyed by this seeming folly, “but is it not one that you can humor? I may be only nervous, but—” Her attitude and gesture finished her appeal. Both were irresistible, and he smiled indulgently.

“It is a child’s notion,” said he; “but the child is very dear to me and shall be listened to. I can take the midnight train as well as any other. I have money with me, and though I shall have to go without my usual conveniences, I will make it a flying trip or buy in Waterbury what I think I need. Does that relieve your fears, my darling, or persuade you that I am willing to do any reasonable or unreasonable thing that I conscientiously can to please you?”

She kissed his hand, and her face grew eloquent. She was a great actress, but there was no acting in this; she felt all and more than she expressed. But the magnetism that would have made her a power on the stage, lent to her least look and action a force of meaning that would have overcome a weak man, and which, as it was, well-nigh intoxicated Degraw, lost in his first dream of love.

“Was ever a woman more beautiful?” he cried, and showered his tenderness upon her. A thought of Hilary soon came, however, to cut these demonstrations short. He gave his betrothed a final embrace, and urged her to complete her preparations for returning with Miss Aspinwall. Jenny hastened to do his bidding, and ere long both found themselves in the carriage with Hilary, who was much gratified at the success of Mr. Degraw’s undertaking.

As Mr. Degraw had promised not to return to his studio, he remained with the ladies till eleven o’clock. Then he left for the depot, but before he said “Good-bye,” Jenny drew him aside, and whispered:

“You will think I do not trust you, but for all that I am going to ask you for the loan of your studio key till your return. I will keep it like a talisman under my pillow, and when I feel it there, I shall know that our love is safe, and our wedding-day at hand. Can you understand such nonsense?”

And he, thinking that she meditated some surprise for him, gave her the key, and never suspected that in the trembling of the small white hand which took it, he saw the evidences of a relief, such as the prisoner experiences when he receives the commutation of a sentence which had hitherto doomed him to death.

Chapter 43
Fate Triumphant

It had been decided during the hour Mr. Degraw had spent with these ladies, that if he found his mother well and submissive to his wishes, that the marriage should take place immediately upon his return. As he expected to be back by Thursday noon, this would leave them little over two days in which to prepare the minds of their friends for the event, and to make such arrangements for the quiet ceremony they contemplated, as would prevent undue gossip, and insure comfort to the dainty and sensitive bride.

But Hilary was a power when her faculties were fully aroused. She did all, managed all, with consummate tact and judgment, and though she could not hope to save Jenny or the two Degraws from criticism, she at least managed to make it perfectly understood in their own circle, that it was the artist whom Miss Rogers was to marry, and not his namesake from Cleveland, to whom she had been reported to be engaged. For many this was enough, for others it was not; but these she left to Mr. Bodwell, who had been the first to spread the unfortunate report of that brief betrothal she was now so anxious to have forgotten. And he for the very love of gossip, did what he could; and, while not denying that Miss Rogers had received attentions from both gentlemen, managed to throw such a vail of mystery over the whole affair as to leave those who listened to him impressed rather by the romance than the peculiarities of the affair.

Jenny, meanwhile, kept herself secluded. There was one task before her, but that she kept for the last moment. Till that moment came, she could neither busy herself nor lend aid to Hilary in her thousand and one duties. The only person she saw at all, or allowed to be admitted to her presence, was the lawyer who represented the interests of the Cleveland Degraw. Him she did see, as well as such witnesses as were necessary to make the signing of her name legal. All other persons were excluded, and wisely, for she was very much worn by anxiety, and quite feverish from the long suspense.

These symptoms of nervousness, however, vanished completely on Thursday noon, when a telegram came from her absent lover, telling her to expect him by three o’clock, Hilary was out, but this was a satisfaction to Jenny, who felt that the time had come for her to perform the one act which might insure her future peace and happiness. So leaving the telegram with Miss Aspinwall’s maid, she dressed herself and went out, leaving no word behind her, save that she expected to be home before three.

She went direct to the building which contained her lover’s studio. She mounted the stairs and stood before his door, palpitating and anxious. It was fastened, but she held the key, and hearing no one in the hall or on the stairs, she hastily unlocked the door, swung it open, and passed in. Three letters were lying on the floor before her. Lifting them with a trembling hand, she glanced at their several post-marks. They were all city letters. Tearing them open one after the other, she looked at their contents. One only interested her. If you read these words as she read them, you will see to what a degree:

 

                                                            “37 EAST STREET.
“MR. HAMILTON DEGRAW.—Sir: This afternoon, it was my fortune to pick up, at the corner of Fourth avenue and Sixteenth street, an unsealed letter addressed simply to Mr. Hamilton Degraw. As it is a name well known in this city, I was about to venture upon taking it at once to your studio, when a friend suggested that I should write first and inquire if you had lost such a letter. It is signed ‘JENNY,’ and seems to be of importance. If it is your property, you can easily regain it by calling at the above address.

             “Respectfully yours,
                 “GEORGE VANDECKER.
To Mr. Hamilton Degraw, Artist.”

 

Ah! what a narrow escape! If this gentleman had carried out his first intention and taken this letter to the studio, she would not have seen her lover at her feet that night. And then lost! Lost at a point beyond the Westminster. What did it mean? Who had lost it? And how came Mr. Vandecker to be the one to pick it up? Questions impossible to answer, unnecessary perhaps to have answered, since the letter itself was all she needed, and this note told her where to go to obtain it.

Thrusting the three letters into her pocket, she hurried out, locking the studio door behind her. Going at once to —street, she rang the bell of 37, and inquired if Mrs. Vandecker was in. Happily she was, and after a few torturing minutes of waiting in the parlor, a good-looking woman entered, and quietly greeted her.

Jenny had a thick vail over her face, but she immediately threw it back. Her beauty must help her in the cause she had to plead, for as she met the woman’s honest eyes, she experienced a sudden terror lest she should fail in her undertaking.

“I have come,” she said, gently, and with her first conscious effort at acting a part she did not feel, “for a letter addressed to Mr. Degraw which your husband is said to have found. I am his intended wife, and wrote the letter. I—”

She paused, stricken at a loss. From something in the face of the woman before her, she saw that the letter had been read. Her heart gave up its cause at once. She knew that the knell of her doom had sounded—that she would never receive this letter into her own hands.

“I am sorry,” Mrs. Vandecker began, “but Mr. Degraw has just called for his property.”

“Mr. Degraw!”

“My husband went out of town this morning. He met Mr. Degraw at the depot, and told him of this letter, and where it could be found. Mr. Degraw came for it immediately, and it is not ten minutes since he left here with it in his hand.”

Jenny gave her one look—the woman never forgot it—then she staggered out of the house, and wandered dizzily away to Hilary’s house. She no longer had the least hope. Heaven had declared itself against her, and she was prepared to cease her struggles, and resign herself to her fate. That she carried the three unsealed letters in her pocket did not take from her disquietude. He would hear from Mr. Vandecker that a note had been addressed to him at his studio, and his inquiries after this would lead to the discovery that two other letters had been thrust under his door, and to her alone could their loss be attributable, as she alone had the means of entrance to his room. Ah! if the ground would only open in mercy and take her in! She was not worthy of cumbering it longer. God did not wish it, or why trip her up on the threshold of every joy. She had not wished to be bad; she had not wished to deceive; she had only longed for success; and when that failed, she had let herself drift for a little while with the tide. Was this so heinous a crime? Was she doomed by it to everlasting misery and despair? It would seem so. And her steps grew very languid and her heart very faint as she drew up at Hilary’s steps, and with difficulty mounted to the door.

“Oh! if I could fall asleep,” she thought, “and know no more for weeks!”

But she had to ring the bell, she had to enter the door, she had to confront Hilary, and, in another moment, her waiting lover.

He was standing in a little reception-room off the parlor, and she felt his presence before Hilary spoke his name. But she did not have to nerve herself to meet him, for he was at her side before she could shake herself free from the torpor that was gradually benumbing all her faculties. He was in an eager mood, also, and in that first moment did not betray any alarming uneasiness. But she could not meet his eyes; she simply could not, and so drooped in his arms.

“You see I have come back,” he cried. “My mother sends her blessing, and waits to welcome you to her heart. Is that not good news, dearest, and was it not worth the waiting, to feel that you have made two hearts happy, hers and mine?”

She nodded mechanically. She was not deceived by his words; something was lacking from his manner which would never be found in it again. Had he read all the letter or only a part? She dared not lift up her eyes to see.

He divined her trouble, and sought at once to allay it.

“Jenny,” said he, “there is a little matter on my mind which it may be for our happiness to clear away before we turn our attention to the arrangements for our wedding. It is about a letter—”

She gasped, and his arms loosened just a trifle in their hold upon her.

“What letter?” she faintly articulated.

“One written by you—at least it is signed ‘Jenny’ and is addressed to ‘Hamilton Degraw’ It was found lying, unsealed, in the street, and was picked up by a gentleman who knew my name, and evidently my face, for he picked me out in a crowd to-day, and told me of the occurrence. I have not read it—”

“You have not read it?”

She had forgotten herself, and there was no mistaking her tone of absolute and overwhelming relief. He dropped his arms from about her, and a strange look of doubt began, for the first time, to infuse itself into his expression.

“No,” he declared, “for I was by no means sure that it was meant for me. Was it, Jenny?”

“No,” was her well-nigh inaudible answer.

“Then, take it, dearest, but”—he did not say this till it was in her hand—“I should like—I should be happier if you would give me the privilege of reading it. I do not know why I desire to; perhaps I am getting whimsical, too, but ever since it has been in my hands, I have felt restless and uneasy. You had the right to address Mr. Degraw, and I knew, of course, that you had done so; but—call it jealousy or call it love—I long to hear you say: “Read it, Hamilton, and see how true my heart was to you, if false to him.’ ”

“You—shall—read—it.” The words came slowly, each freighted with a vanished hope. She knew, whether by intuition or instinct, that suspicion had at last been aroused in his heart, and by her own act. Had she possessed more control over herself, had she used half the art she had been taught to exert for her appearance on the stage, she might have turned aside his curiosity by a look or a laugh; but she had not done it. She had shown first her dismay and then her relief, and now it was too late for subterfuge or tact. “You shall see it,” she repeated, more rapidly; “but not till I am dressed for the ceremony. Will you wait till then?”

There was such a depth of entreaty in her voice, such an unearthly gleam in her eye, that he sought for whatever word would calm her,

“Yes,” said he, “I will wait till you see fit to show it to me. I do not ask to see it now or ever; I only hope that you will be willing that I should. A wife is so sacred to her husband! He wants to feel that she holds no secrets from him—that all is clear between her soul and his. Do you understand, my darling?”

Ah, yes, she understood. She showed it by the wistful gleam of her eye—the passion of her embrace.

“You shall see it before we are married,” she reiterated; and though she thrust the letter into her pocket, she grew calmer and listened with sadly smiling face while he told her about his mother and the plans he had formed for spending a month among the Connecticut hills.

Hilary came into the room while he was talking, and the arrangements for the evening’s ceremony were discussed. Few, if any, of their friends were expected to be present, and the only bridal celebration which they decided to allow themselves was a little supper to precede their departure on the midnight train. When this was settled, and all the words said which seemed to be necessary, Mr. Degraw prepared to leave. As he did so, he cast one look at Jenny. She at once came to his side.

“I have not forgotten,” she said. “The ceremony is set for eight. You will see me a half-hour before. And, darling,” she had never addressed him by a word of endearment before, “will you show me one last favor? I have my carriage yet, and it is my pleasure that you come to our bridal in it. Do you object? It is the last time it will be used in my service.”

“No, Jenny. I will ride in it if you so desire.”

“Do; it will be at the studio at seven. Benjamin will drive you; trust him.”

She seemed about to say more, but though he waited with a smile, no further word escaped her lips. She looked so strangely, so very strangely, that he hesitated to leave her, and came back more than once to kiss her lips, her brow or her cheeks. But she did not speak, and when he went away at last, he was conscious of a chilling sensation about the heart, which all the growing sunshine of a glorious September day failed to dispel.

And yet, it was but three hours to his bridal, and Jenny Rogers had looked as beautiful as he had ever seen her!

Chapter 44
Jenny’s Marriage

It was seven o’clock. The hour at which Jenny had promised to send the carriage for the intended bridegroom. Hamilton Degraw, who had spent the last half-hour of waiting in eager contemplation of the picture in which he had perpetuated her beauty at its sweetest and most unconscious moment, rose joyfully as he heard the clock strike, and with a lover’s alacrity prepared to go below. For in this interim which he had thus spent with his dearest memories, his imaginative nature had re-asserted itself, and being still under its spell, he had forgotten that anything further awaited him than the ceremony which should unite their mutual love in an indissoluble bond.

Nor when he found himself in the carriage and riding swiftly up-town, did he allow any weak fears of what lay between him and his marriage to interfere with the rapture which the near prospect of that marriage woke within him. He was too busy calculating how he would arrange the dainty home with which he intended to surprise his bride some day, to spare one moment for a less pleasing occupation; nor did he note for several minutes that the carriage, instead of taking a direct route for Miss Aspinwall’s house, was coursing rapidly through an avenue leading in quite a different direction.

But when he did awake to this fact, he was certainly startled. Leaning out of the window, he hailed the man on the box.

“Benjamin!” he called, “how’s this? Here we are in Lexington avenue, when we ought to be driving straight to Miss Aspinwalls.”

But Benjamin paid no heed, rather drove faster, and before Mr. Degraw could subdue his surprise sufficiently to hail him again, they had turned a corner and entered upon a street so associated with the memories in which he had just been indulging that he felt dazed by a coincidence that had the effect of throwing him again into dreamland.

But in another moment he managed to shout once more to the unheeding coachman:

“Where are you going?”

But he did not expect any reply. He knew himself whither they were bound; and when a minute later the horses slackened their pace and the carriage came to a standstill, he did not need to look up at the row of brown houses before him, with their quaint fronts and pillared balconies, to know they were before the strange and dilapidated structure in which he had first seen the signorina, and where she had wakened to life and love.

“Miss Rogers is here, sir, waiting for you,” announced the coachman, as he opened the door.

Mr. Degraw nodded, and hastened to alight. It was doubtless one of her whims, to make the explanation which she had promised him in this place of their first meeting. It was a strange, almost uncanny notion, but it was like her to conceive it, and he knew no other course for himself than to accept the situation with good grace. Perhaps in doing this, she had wished to recall to him the remembrance of her early poverty. Perhaps she had wished to escape Hilary’s presence, or fearing interruption, sought a place where they could be alone and beyond the reach of curious eyes. Whatever her idea, he must not linger, but enter at once. The carriage in which she had come was on the other side of the way, and since it still waited, it was evident she contemplated returning with him to the scene of their nuptials, as soon as she had satisfied him concerning the letter.

Telling Benjamin that he would soon return with Miss Rogers, he ran up the steps. But before he could ring the bell, the door opened, just as it had on a previous occasion, and he perceived before him in the dismal hall the deaf and dumb girl, standing in her old attitude, and pointing silently up the stairs.

It was not an agreeable sight to him, but he laughed off the unpleasant sensation it caused, and followed, without demur, the guidance of her finger. Arrived at the second story, he found it as dim and as dark as of old. No one stirring, no sound to break the chilling silence. But he cared not for this. In another moment he would see his bride, and all would be brightness and cheer again. Passing straight on to the room which had welcomed him before, he went in without knocking. It was empty and unfurnished, but he knew by the light which shone around the door-jamb communicating with the back room, that he should not find this equally barren or unoccupied.

Yet, when he stood before it, he experienced a moment’s hesitation, fancying that he heard a voice speaking somewhere. But another look behind him assured him that he was alone, and conquering whatever agitation this imagined utterance of his name had caused him, he thrust out his hand, with the quick appeal of “Jenny!” and violently pulled open the door.

The cry which instantly left his lips was like the smothered shriek of a man overwhelmed by a doom so sudden and so terrible that even expression is choked in horror, and grief lost in the amazement that terrifies and benumbs the mind.

She was there, but not as he had expected to see her—in some sweet attitude of eager waiting—but lying outstretched and cold upon her snowy couch, just as he had seen her months before, only then the candles burning at her head and at her feet shone upon beauty that would reawaken to life, and a heart destined to throb again with love and hope and fear. Now all was ended. The beautiful, the gifted, the beloved would rouse to life no more, Jenny Rogers was dead, and on her bosom, amid blossoms so white that they must have been destined for her bridal, lay the letter!

Chapter 45
What He Read

Hamilton Degraw had no very distinct thoughts as he flung himself at the side of his bride, and laid his head upon the pulseless heart. She had killed herself, but he could not guess why and he had neither the courage nor the self-possession to open those tell-tale pages that rustled upon the silent bosom. It was enough that his hopes had perished, that his darling lay dead, and that never again in all the days to come would he meet the tender glance of her eye or the wistful smile of her mouth. What if shame lay behind this death? What if the life, which to all appearance was so sweet, so pure, so worthy of love and adoration, held a secret that would dishonor him if known. It was her life and he loved it—ah, how he loved it, now that it was put out forever and by her own hand!

Tears had risen to his eyes four months ago at the sight of these waxen features, these seemingly pulseless hands; but he could not weep now. Grief had gone too deep; his soul was lost too darkly in the shadows of this loss. He buried his face amid the drapery that enshrouded her, and tried to kiss her heart.

“Ah, darling! darling! darling!” went up from his lips; “whatever thou hast done I forgive thee,”

And the row of lights burned on, and an hour dragged itself heavily by, before another sob disturbed the solemn silence, and then it did not come from him.

From whom, then? He did not know. Starting up, he looked about him. What angel of consolation was this standing beside him? Hilary, in robes of white. Hilary, with tears flowing down her cheeks and with her arms outstretched toward him. Ah, this is joy; this can make him weep. Hilary loved her, Hilary can understand his loss. Reaching out his hand, he drew Jenny’s friend toward him, and together they mingled their tears over the pulseless bosom that once responded to their mutual affection.

“Hilary, do you understand it?” he finally forced himself to ask, rising up to look again upon the peaceful, almost smiling face of his perished bride.

Hilary shook her head.

“No,” she whispered, pointing to the letter he had not found strength to touch. “There lies her secret; I only know what this note contains.” And she took from her bosom a crumpled bit of paper. “I found this on her dressing-table when I went in to arrange her vail.”

He took the note; each word burned into his heart and brain as he read it:

“DEAR HILARY:—You will never arrange my wedding vail, but you may my shroud. When you read this, I shall be lying on my old couch in the old place where he first saw me, but, unlike then, I shall not awake, for death seems better to me than life, even if life is to be spent with him. Come to me, dear, and make me look beautiful as I did before. Light the candles, and draw the drapery up about me and let it fall over my feet and lie softly and evenly upon the floor. For he is to come there in search of his bride, and I would have him ever remember me as he will see me then; for I love him, Hilary, love him so much, that I make it impossible for him to marry me, that I may make it possible for him to always love me.

“Be there when he enters, and when his first grief is passed, let your voice be the first to bid him hope.

“If you have flowers for my bridal, let them be scattered over my tomb. JENNY.”

“I waited for nothing,” Hilary explained. “I drove here in my evening dress; you see I have it on. But I was too late; she was lying here, not as now, but just as quiet, just as surely dead. I did not disturb her, I only drew the drapery up over her breast and lit the candles. It was nearly half past seven, and I knew that it would be time enough to notify the police after you had seen the dear child in the halo of beauty by which she had wished herself to be surrounded. Did I do wrong?”

He shook his head. He was overwhelmed with grief, and it was Hilary who raised the letter and placed it unopened in his hand.

“Read it!” she entreated, “there may be comfort there if not here.”

And she lit the gas in the adjoining room where she prevailed upon him to retire, while she put out the lights about the dead, and gathered up the flowers and the flowing drapery, which seemed too sacred for any eyes to see but their own.

I give you Jenny’s letter. Contrary to what he had expected, it was not the one addressed to his rival, but a new one, which she had written to himself:

“BELOVED:—You have come! You have seen your bride, and now I give you—not the letter you returned to me—but this long one, written almost with my blood, which will tell you all you ought to know, and tell it in less chilling language than that with which I addressed your generous rival.

“I cannot marry you! Do you ask me why? Because I wish to retain your love, and this would be jeopardized by my life, as it will not be by my death. For I know your artist soul. I know that when you see me lying amid the flowers, as on that night when you first gave me your love, you will forget that I have deceived you, and by that deception awakened in your breast a passion I was not worthy to evoke. You will forget, and I shall rest in peace, happy not to have met your look of reproach, or lived to have experienced the withdrawal of that trust which was my glory and my shame.

“I have deceived you. I am Signorina Valdi and I am Jenny Rogers, but I am not the innocent-hearted girl I have always appeared to be. The millions which I received did not come to me unexpectedly. I intrigued for them and obtained them through the arts and by the contrivance of the very beings you thought to be my enemies, Montelli and the Portuguese, of whom you have so often told me to beware.

“They were my allies—I must say it, for detection is on my track, and you will hear the truth from others, if not from me. They were my allies, but I was never with them in any harmful schemes, and was, I swear to you, only the tool employed by them to obtain control over Mr. Delaney’s fortune.

“She was the woman who starved and ill-treated this gentleman in his final days. You have suspected this, and suspected, also, that she overheard, in her sly way, the bequest he made to Mr. Degraw and its strange conditions. But what you cannot suspect is that the woman you saw with me in my room in   — street was not the arch-conspirator who formulated this plot, but her sister Annetta, a person of more sinister appearance than she, but of less calculation and but little resolve.

“How the Cleveland hag came to know Montelli and take him into her plans I have never heard. Neither have I ever been sure what the real name of this man was. That he was no Italian, I am sure; for though he disguised himself as such, he afterward showed that he could speak English without an accent. Was he English, then? I think so; the former valet of some rich man, probably. As to his connection with the Portuguese, I only gather that when she came to New York and started upon the scheme of supplying Mr. Degraw with an heiress who should share with her the wealth to be received, Montelli was at her side, and that it was at his instigation she approached the woman whom I once heard Mr. Byrd characterize as the least respectable of my name. I was then hiding my head in heart-breaking despondency over my failure at the opera-house, knowing none of these three conspirators and only desirous of preserving myself from the mockery and jeers which I imagined would follow my appearance in any crowd. I was wretched, but I was not wicked. My ambition was foiled, but I never thought of resorting to false methods in order to insure the wealth and position I imagined myself to have lost, until the fatal day that these two demons called upon me, and, with a skill and suavity you would little expect from them, made me understand that an immense fortune was going begging, which I, if I would lend myself to their guidance, might easily acquire, owing to my name and what they termed my beauty.

“The other Jenny Rogers to whom they had already spoken had been a failure; she had tried her wiles upon Mr. Degraw, but with so little effect that he would not even look at her; and they all saw that if success were to be reaped by them it must be through some innocent young girl who would arouse not only the admiration of this good man, but his pity. This they explained to me, and also told me how they had heard by chance that my real name was Jenny Rogers, and that I had a history which, if known, could not but arouse commiseration. Furthermore, they encouraged me by saying that all which was required of me was to go through a certain little farce, easy enough for one who had been trained for the stage, adding that success would be sure to follow, as I had the requisite beauty and grace, and only needed to attract his attention to my misfortunes to awaken an interest which would be sure to eventuate in my being made the inheritor of these tempting millions.

“I listened. It all seemed very simple, and not at all wicked. I had merely to swallow a small powder, which would throw me into a death-like repose, and, when I awoke, as they promised I should do while Mr. Degraw was in the room, feign surprise and indignation at not having been allowed to die, as my misfortunes had made me desire. The rest would come naturally, and when I was established in my new wealth, I was to give them each a hundred thousand dollars as their share in the great undertaking.

“Do you wonder that a motherless, friendless, disappointed child was tempted by this glowing prospect, and lent herself to a scheme which seemed without risk, and was calculated to bring her everything?

“The other woman of my name did not obtrude herself upon me, nor did Montelli make himself disagreeable by visiting me again. The Portuguese, on the contrary, came and took up her abode with me, making herself, however, as little obnoxious as possible; for she seemed to recognize from the first that I was not like herself, and must be held and cherished apart, in order that I might preserve the almost childish ignorance which was, as they openly acknowledged, the one characteristic upon which they most relied to win the favor of the fastidious Mr. Degraw. This was in the last of April, and he had already seen, and disdainfully passed by, several girls of my name. The little school-teacher had been interviewed, and the Detroit miss followed and remarked; but I knew nothing of this. Nor did I know till after I had become irrecoverably involved in the scheme, that Montelli, as I must call him, had pledged himself to rid the city of such of my name as seemed to attract Mr. Degraw’s attention. All this was withheld from me, and being young, I doubted nothing, but went on my way, serenely waiting for the hour when these two schemers should decide that it was time for me to enter upon our premeditated farce.

“At last the day came, and I lay on my couch, trembling and fearful—not of any possible result of the deception I was about to practice, but of the long sleep into which I must go, as into a tomb. But the Portuguese was with me, and she comforted me; and when I finally felt the shadows creeping over my consciousness, I remember that she whispered, in a certain harsh, yet persuasive manner: ‘He is handsome, signorina; and if he awakes you, as the Fairy Prince did the Sleeping Beauty, you need not feel alarmed, as if he were an ogre.’ That made me smile, and so I fell asleep as a child might. Then she went away, and her sister, Annetta, took her place, because the Portuguese herself was known to Mr. Degraw, Annetta was not bright, and so was not fully taken into their confidence; but she understood what she had to do, and how to do it. The rest I was expected to manage myself.

“Meanwhile a fearful mistake had been made. By chance, which I can only regard now as the workings of Providence, the Portuguese had been led to confound the disposer of Mr. Delaney’s fortune with the Hamilton Degraw whose name was in the hallway of a certain building that she sometimes passed.

Her reason was not a poor one. She had seen Mr. Degraw of Cleveland come out of that building one day, and, being too ignorant to know that the artist who worked and roomed there was an old resident of New York, took it for granted that this was his place of work, and the spot where he was to be found.

“She gave Montelli the same impression, and as they did not wish to arouse suspicion by betraying their interest in this man, they were neither of them undeceived as to the matter till after the note had been delivered which lured you to this spot. And so, my beloved, it was upon your face that my eyes opened when I at last awoke out of my sleep; upon you who held in your first look an instant key to my heart, and made me feel, before I had fully realized all that my sensations meant, that I had lent myself to a scheme of which I was already heartily ashamed, and which, for some reason I could not explain, I should find it difficult to carry through in peace and serenity.

“But I had learned my lesson well, and tried to acquit myself according to its teachings. Believing you to be the man who controlled the great amount of money destined for the fortunate Jenny Rogers who should most deeply interest and please you, I told you the story of my life, artfully concealing my real name, for fear of awakening your suspicion before I had attained my end.

“The result was encouraging. You evinced not only interest, but admiration, and while I recoiled from my own duplicity, I naturally felt that elation of spirit which inevitably follows upon the success of any undertaking. But, alas! you were curious as well as interested. You wondered as well as admired, and I was forced into deeper deception in order to explain the surroundings by which we had attempted to make an impression upon you. As this had been foreseen and consequently provided for, I did not find any difficulty in its performance, save that my newly awakened conscience rebelled. To utter anything that was not absolutely true was rapidly becoming unendurable to me, but the necessity of the moment was upon me, and I went through with my role without flinching. Turning to Annetta, I appeared to question her, and she to answer me, and when I thought this miserable farce had gone on long enough, I repeated to you the invented tale which had been put into my mouth by the wily Portuguese. By this I hoped to explain the circumstances that had aroused your curiosity, and dispel forever whatever doubt might have been awakened in your mind in reference to Montelli and his connection with myself. And I succeeded; you know how I succeeded.

“But a thunderbolt awaited me. Just as renewed peace was settling over me, and I began to realize the sweetness of hope, Montelli burst into the room and showed me by a word and look that something had gone seriously wrong. Confused and alarmed, I awaited his explanation, and you can imagine my horror and surprise when Annetta approached and whispered in my ear: ‘A mistake has been made; this is not the right man!’

“Not the right man! And I had almost exchanged with you looks of appreciation and love. Shocked, if not frightened, I was conscious of but one thought, and that was to be rid of your presence.

My heart had been stirred and my conscience awakened, but fear made me forget all this, and I promised to see you the next day, if only you would leave me then. You went, and, with you, whatever girlishness had remained in me. Henceforth, I was a woman.

“I dismissed you, but not with an intentional falsehood. I really hoped to see you again, and, if left to myself, would doubtless have done so. But, after you had gone, Montelli and the Portuguese came in and soon made me see that, if we still hoped to succeed in the undertaking we had formed, I must escape the consequences of our egregious mistake, by a sudden and immediate flight. And though I experienced a moment of rebellion, and almost refused to have anything more to do with the plot, I soon found I lacked both the courage and the wit to contend with these two subtle and dangerous adventurers. I became again a tool in their hands, and, after hearing an explanation of how they had just discovered the fact that there were two Hamilton Degraws, and that the artist whom I had attempted to inveigle was not the gentleman with the millions at his disposal, they informed me that, so far from being discouraged by the first failure, they had formed another plot by which the right man was to be reached. Whereupon, I told them about Miss Aspinwall’s unexpected visit to me, and they agreed that I should make an effort to bring myself into her notice, as the plan they had formed necessitated my being introduced in some highly respectable way into the society frequented by the Cleveland millionaire. This advice I was not loth to follow, for ambition was by no means dead within me. So, after a couple of weeks spent in a Westchester town, I made a bold move toward Great Barrington, where, as Montelli had managed to inform me, Miss Aspinwall had now taken up her abode.

“Montelli, meanwhile, had found enough to do in New York. Though, as I have before declared, I knew nothing then of the cruel acts he was engaged in, I have reason to think now that he wrote the note and poisoned the bonbons that destroyed the factory girl he found at that time attracting the notice of Mr. Degraw. He had by this time caused himself to be engaged as that gentleman’s valet, and so had ample opportunity to follow his master’s movements and interfere in his plans. He also must have misled the young girl at Miss Hadden’s school into thinking she had a lover in Mr. Degraw, for that gentleman certainly never wrote her the letter she received. But, as I say, I was in happy ignorance of this, and though, soon after my interview with Miss Aspinwall at the station, I came to know that danger had followed the steps of various girls who bore my name, I shut my eyes to the suspicions now rife in my heart, and, happy in my own innocence, went on in the way into which I had been forced.

“The life in Great Barrington you know; Hilary you know. You can imagine the welcome which her pity gave me, and, afterward, the sweet atmosphere created around me by her affection. Unworthy as I felt of it, I nevertheless accepted it with a full heart. It was so spontaneous and so trustful, and raised me into an atmosphere of luxury for which I always pined. I began to be happy. But deeper experiences awaited me. You came; and I gave up my heart and soul to your influence, and was so quick in learning the story of love, that I came near forgetting my more worldly hopes, and only had them recalled to me by the sudden introduction of Mr. Degraw. This was at a critical moment in our lives, you remember, and you can imagine my sensations when I perceived, from the first look he gave me, that I had but to smile upon him with half the fervor I smiled upon you to charm the millions from his coffers, and make myself, in fact, what I had been so long in fancy—the rich and influential ‘Miss Rogers,’ with something beside her heart to give to the man she loved.

“For, dearest, doubt me not in this, I charge you. To give you that wealth was then my uppermost thought. No idea of coquetry was in my mind, nor did his glance, ardent though it was, arouse in me any suspicion that his personal feelings had been touched. I only saw that he liked me and that my hope of acquiring his wealth was good and likely to reach fruition. I determined to make myself as agreeable as I could to him, even if I must seem to sacrifice my love for you to my interest in the newcomer,

“But, alas! I did not reckon upon the passions of men or the watchful eye of the wicked Montelli. Mr. Degraw’s affections became engaged, and his valet saw it, and warned me in the interview we had at the picnic, that if I allowed my manifest partiality for you to show itself, he would make that partiality fatal. Indeed, he went so far as to say that I must go on smiling upon the millionaire or see you perish; for this man, who had already shortened one poor life, was not going to let another stand in his way, when he saw the success of his schemes threatened, as he judged, by a woman’s silly passion. And I was convinced that these were no mere threats on his part, and became greatly frightened, and took those secret measures to warn you, which I am sure you have not yet forgotten.

“Montelli added his efforts to mine. His purpose was to alarm you, and thus force you to leave the town, or at least cease all rivalship with his master. That he was a man of devices you must have perceived by the address with which he assumed the part of a detective, when he found himself forced into a position that demanded explanation.

“But he, as well as I, calculated too little upon the resistance which abides in all noble natures. You would not leave the town, and you would preserve your attitude of a lover, and though Mr. Degraw did not seem to be much affected by your rivalry, I knew that Montelli had conceived the deepest hatred for you, and that he only awaited an opportunity in order to destroy you.

“The announcement made by his master of a particular desire to see me on a certain morning, taken with the fact that a lawyer had already been summoned to accompany him on this interview, brought matters to a climax. The wretch attempted your life, and though I knew nothing of it at the time, nor of the jeopardy in which it placed him with the police, I did know that he desired to have some talk with me, for I had heard from my window, where I invariably sat between the hours of eleven and twelve, the short and peculiar bird whistle, which had been made a signal between us.

“It was a hateful call to me, but I dared not slight it. As in anticipation of his purpose, I had already opened a window in the hall below, I had only to descend to the lower floor to meet him. But when I stepped from my room, I became aware, possibly by some occult influence, that I was not alone in the hall; that my actions were observed, and that my future steps would be watched, if not followed.

“What should I do? Go back? It was too late. But how go forward without awakening criticism and risking discovery! Happily, my training for the stage had included the study of the part of La Sonnambula, and remembering it at this critical moment, I made my body rigid, and fixed my gaze, and so passed on without pause or shrinking, though inwardly greatly agitated. For the persons who were engaged in watching me were Hilary and a stranger, whose presence awakened my keenest fears, though no thought of his being a member of the police crossed my mind.

“But this was nothing to the shock which followed, when in another moment I encountered you. This I was not prepared for, and I inwardly quailed. But instinct kept me from betraying myself. I retained my studied manner, and went by you like an apparition. But terror was in my heart, for I not only saw that for some reason all my friends were on the alert, either to surprise my secret, or give me a protection I was far from needing, but I was under the constant apprehension of Montelli making his appearance, and so provoking a conflict which might end disastrously for you. You remember how I gave a weapon in the shape of a sharp paper-knife, and then how I wandered into the back hall in the hope of cutting off the approach of Montelli, and thus insuring not only his safety but your own.

“I did not meet him, though he must have been there, and I came back hopeful, and went again upstairs. But horror awaited me. When I reached my chamber door, I perceived the fierce eyes and threatening form of this dangerous man emerging from the back staircase, and though I had no fear of his keen knife, I had of the detection of our secret; for I knew that Hilary and her strange companion were watching us from behind, and that he had but to drop a word or cast a look belying his seeming antagonism, for our mutual understanding to be seen, and my despicable position discovered.

“But he was too subtle to make such a mistake, or perhaps he had himself perceived the forms of Hilary and Mr. Gryce; for he increased the fierceness of his demeanor; he even lifted his knife, and I was vaguely asking myself how he would extricate me from this situation, when your friend, Mr. Byrd, extricated us both by his sudden leap upon the seeming assassin.

“In the struggle that followed, I had no time to think. My eyes met those of Montelli as his knife flew from his hand and fell at my feet; but I did not understand his look, though I picked up the knife and sought to escape with it to my room. But my fears as to what he would do in his rage and disappointment drew me back. I must gain some assurance from him that he would not visit upon me the misfortune that had fallen upon himself. And so I had the courage to descend to where he had fallen, and look at him where he lay, and listen to the phrases he uttered, and which were, as I took it, assurances that he still had hopes for himself, and little, if any, resentment against me. But when you came forward and placed my arm in yours, his manner suddenly changed, as you will remember, and he became quite fierce. He foresaw difficulties if I clung to you, and threatened me by word and gesture. I was glad when we were out of his sight and hearing, and was relieved rather than abashed when Mr. Gryce proposed to watch beside my door and keep me from harm’s way till after I had held the promised interview with Mr. Degraw, which he and you supposed would place me beyond the malice or revenge of the persons believed to be my enemies.

“Of that interview I need say little. It was a surprise to me in more ways than one. I had not expected you to be present, and I had not looked for the proposal with which Mr. Degraw prefaced his great gift. If I had, I might have been better prepared to meet it. I could not have accepted it even if upon its acceptance had hung the wealth I now saw almost within my grasp. I had decided in the night that I would marry no man but you, and I cannot tell you how I was affected by his generosity, which left me free to bestow hand and wealth where I would.

“But you had scruples, and though I was too happy to be impatient, I felt myself robbed of some of the satisfaction which I had promised myself. Montelli’s arrest troubled me, too; but that anxiety was not destined to be of long duration. Before the day had waned, I was first shocked, then deliriously gladdened by the news that I need fear this dangerous man no more; that he was dead, and that one of the most relentless claimants upon my wealth was taken out of my path forever.

“Not that I begrudged the money he demanded. I could have spared a million and not felt it. But I had had some initiation into business matters during the transferring of this fortune into my possession, and I foresaw that it was not going to be so easy a matter to procure two or three hundred thousand dollars out of this estate without exciting the attention of those who had it in charge. This was the reason, likewise, why I accepted your decision with so much grace. A husband would have been inconvenient to me in those first days; an agent was bad enough. I had to deceive him, and I had to deceive Hilary. In order to meet the wants of the Portuguese, who crowded her claims doubly upon me, when she found that Montelli was dead, I was obliged to ask for large sums of money for which I could give no account, thus acquiring with my agent the name of being very extravagant, and with my friends the reputation of being strangely parsimonious. I went with Hilary to the several watering places, but I spent no money in jewels, and but little in the necessaries of life; for I looked forward to the day when you would come back to me, dearest, and I wished to be clear of all obligations, and free forever from the hateful presence of the Portuguese; for she never was long away from me after I returned to New York. In the capacity of my hair-dresser she visited me every day, and though but few words passed between us, it was well understood that a certain amount must be forthcoming every week, if I desired to preserve pleasant relations between us.

Hilary suspected nothing. She used to wonder why I persisted in dressing so plainly, and hinted, now and then, that a richer costume, or a more generous mode of living, would be more in keeping with my wealth and position; but it did not take much to turn her thoughts to nobler subjects, and I was never unduly embarrassed by her questions, or annoyed by her suggestions.

“I was happy—ah! how happy!—for I had not yet come to the full realization of what I had done, and saw nothing but complete delight in the future. I never doubted that you would return, or that I should pay off the Portuguese, and thus win love and freedom at once. I enjoyed my wealth, my consequence and my power, and experienced, perhaps, more delight in the contemplation of the future than I would have done if my present had been free from care, and I had been enabled to gratify at once my naturally luxurious tastes. And so the summer passed.

“Dearest, I have more than once asked myself while I have been pouring out these confessions, whether if you had been less exacting and had not required the giving up my fortune, we should have been happily married. It adds to my grief to think we might. It makes death doubly hard to dream of what might have been, if, instead of asking the sacrifice from me of all for which I had worked so long in shame and sorrow, you had simply folded me to your breast and made me by that embrace the good woman I longed to be. But, then comes the thought that deception never prospers, and that it was in this way the God of which you once spoke to me showed His disapproval of my sin and the impossibility of my hoping to reap happiness, when I had sowed for myself misery. And this thought comforts me, for it takes from my fate that factor of chance, which it is so maddening to contemplate, I die because I have sinned, not because your fancy led you to play with my love, and exact conditions, when all that my soul craved was perfect confidence on your part and a blind affection.

“The interference of Byrd in my affairs I do not understand. You may. If he has any real reason to suspect me, it must spring from the treachery of some one of those wretched associates of mine. Montelli and the Portuguese are dead, but Annetta still lives, as well as that miserable woman of my name whom I have never seen. If they have betrayed me, they have done it with complaints and recriminations, and these I do not deserve. Believe it, and spare me any unnecessary reproach. What I acknowledge is bad enough. Byrd was nothing to me. From the day I bade him good-bye in Great Barrington till I saw him again in Miss Aspinwall’s parlors, I did not bestow upon him a thought. But on that day he showed that he had not forgotten me.

“Do you recall that day or can you realize even now all that it was to me? You had asked me to give up my fortune, to yield what had been won through ways so tortuous and at cost of efforts so shameful; and I hesitated, can you wonder, and was swayed this way and that, according as my reason or my heart spoke. But reason finally had its way, and I went dressed in velvet, only to repent my decision so bitterly that, before I went within reach of your glance, I stepped into Hilary’s dressing-room and put on one of her cloth dresses. Love might mean self-denial and fearful complications with my associates, to whom I had not yet paid the half that was due, but I felt ready to do and bear all, or rather, I felt in that moment more ready to meet the doubtful results of abnegation, than I did the withdrawal of the hopes which had made my summer so glorious. But, after I was dressed and before I could meet your appreciative glance, some one brushed me in the crowd and a note was put in my hands. Ah, dearest, that note! It was sent by the Portuguese, then sick unto death, it seems; but it was not written by her, but by Montelli, who had been dead three months. As I read it I knew that my intentions had been foreseen by her. That, although she was ill, she had wished to show me that she still kept watch upon my movements and a hold upon my fate. It ran thus; and its contents are as great a mystery to me as they must be to you:

“ ‘I am discovered and must fly. You are safe if you will but forget your weakness for the artist. Cherish that and you are lost. You cannot have love and money, both. So choose, but, in choosing, remember that the Portuguese and I will have our money if we have to ask your lover for it. We have not run so many risks for nothing.’

“This, at the moment I was about to commit myself to you irretrievably. What if the writer was dead, the sender was not, or so I thought in that moment of shock and terror. Pushed by the crowd, tortured by my fears, I hesitated one instant, and then went again to Hilary’s closet and procured me a cloak. Enveloping myself in this I went below. Did you recognize it as bespeaking the hesitation which it really betrayed? Did your love take alarm and cause you to turn a more willing ear to the insinuations of the detective? I shall never know, for I have never dared to question you.

“But the developments were not at an end. While I hunted for a glimpse of your face, Mr. Byrd came—why Mr. Byrd I have never been able to understand—and told me in the strange way that he told me of Montelli’s death, that, by another happy Providence, the sender of this note had perished also; leaving my path clear of enemies and myself free to follow the dictates of my heart,

“You know what followed. How, in a rush of renewed hope, I threw aside my cloak, and called your heart to me in a song. How I looked for response, and how it failed to come. Mr. Byrd was at your ear and you listened to doubts which held you back, and when you did break away from him and seek me, it was to find that I had hearkened to the voice of another wooer, who asked of me nothing, and promised me all things.

“Can you not foresee the rest? How the love which had succumbed to your indifference rose triumphant again at this evidence of your continued affection. I had jeopardized my happiness, but I determined to regain it at any cost. Nothing should nor could stand in the way of what had now become my one passionate desire. I wrote to Mr. Degraw. I took the one means I knew whereby I not only would obtain a full release from my engagement but insure likewise his acceptance of the gift which he never would have given me had he recognized my real unworthiness. I confessed to him my love for you, and I confessed, also, my share in the plot.

“It was a fatal act—how fatal I immediately perceived when my impetuosity led me to your studio, and we had that interview so unhappily interrupted by Hilary. If the suspicions of the police had been aroused in regard to me, how mad had been the impulse which had led me to put upon paper words that could justify their suspicions and make possible the detection of my duplicity. Though it seemed too late to profit by this discovery of my folly, I made one frantic effort to do so. I rode back home and endeavored to stop the delivery of my letter, but failed in this, and Mr. Degraw not only read the story of my deception, but by some treachery or some mischance which he could not himself explain, this letter was stolen from him almost immediately after his reading it, so that my secret was no longer at his mercy only, but at the mercy of the world, and, what was worse, of you.

“Do you understand now the frenzy which drove me into asking you to marry me that night, or how I could hardly subdue my fears when you requested time to notify your mother? Detection lay before me, and I had neither the strength to meet it nor the courage to forestall it by telling you what would shatter your love at a blow. For though Mr. Degraw urged me to this course, measuring your nature, perhaps, by his own, which is affectionate rather than passionate, and tenacious rather than proud, I, who knew you better than he, felt that death must precede any confession of my past deception to you.

“What! Tell you that the sweet innocence of which you have so often spoken was the mask which hid a scheming heart? Rob my beauty of its charm and my memory of its grace? Make, the most beautiful moment in our lives the mere climax to a farce, and teach your soul to hate that which had given it life and purpose? Impossible. I could die, but I could not do this; and though there was one chance remaining of this letter escaping your notice, I prepared for death, and re-hired these rooms, that you might take your last look of me where you did your first, and thus see in the final act of my life an expiation which would soften your hate, and lead, perhaps, in time, to your regarding me with pity and tenderness.

“But that one chance came near succeeding, and I breathed again, only to be dashed once more into the fathomless depths of despair. You had received the letter, but you had not read it, and though you gave it back to me, you wished to see its contents.

“It was the final blow. Though it was possible to deny you what you requested, it would be, as I knew, at the cost of your future confidence. I could not lose this and be your wife, so I gave up the struggle from that moment, and bade farewell to you forever in the silence with which I met your parting embrace.

“This was two hours ago, but it already seems an age, for the shadows of death are upon me, and I miss the smile which should help me across the dark river into which I am about to plunge. Has that smile left me forever? or may I hope that your pity, if not your love, will follow me into the shadows. I do not plead my youth; I do not plead my ill bringing-up or my many disappointments and temptations. I plead my love, which, if small at first, has grown to be the ruling passion of my life. It led me to give up a great fortune, it led me to betray my secret faults, and now it has brought me here. Will you drop a tear for it, if not for your dead         JENNY?”

Chapter 46
Too Late

Some minutes later Mr. Byrd entered 391 East —  street. As he passed the door of the death room he perceived the form of the artist sitting bowed above the scattered sheets of a long and closely written letter.

“Am I too late?” the detective seemed to ask, as he shut the door behind him, and advanced. There was nothing in the attitude of the artist to answer this question.

Puzzled by the incongruity between Mr. Degraw’s wedding suit and the desolate character of his surroundings, Mr. Byrd hastened to ask with ill-concealed anxiety in his tone:

“Have you been married to Miss Rogers, Mr. Degraw?”

The artist shivered, and suddenly looked up.

“Married?” he repeated, and his voice had a dull sound.

“If you have not,” continued Mr. Byrd, “I have something to say which may influence you. In this hope I have followed you from the studio to Miss Aspinwall’s house, and from there here, having just learned—”

“Hush!” commanded Degraw, now wholly himself. And crossing the floor, he flung open the door leading into the room of death, and bade the detective look in. “Death has forestalled you,” said he. “You can tell nothing I do not “know!”

Chapter 47
Loose Threads

It was weeks before Mr. Byrd explained to the artist how he first came to entertain suspicions of the beautiful Miss Rogers.

If the reader will cast his mind back to the interview between her and this gentleman in Great Barrington, he will remember the unnatural look of elation with which she hailed the news of Montelli’s death. This caused him his first doubt. But as this strong display of feeling on her part might be simply the natural expression of a timid disposition suddenly released from dread, he did not attach any great significance to it at the time. But he remembered it when in handling the dagger of the dead valet, he discovered a cavity in the handle and in that cavity a note, whose lines bore every appearance of having been addressed to the young lady at whose feet the weapon had been cast.

We have read that note; it is the one which was so mysteriously delivered to Miss Rogers at Miss Aspinwall’s reception. It contained no names, as you will remember, but there are in it allusions to the artist which are very suggestive, and from the moment of reading it, these allusions caused Mr. Byrd and his associates to become assured that this seemingly innocent girl held a very different connection with the plot they were endeavoring to fathom than had hitherto been suspected. Yet, since the evidence was not positive and there was so much in her position to commend her to their consideration, they had delayed all active proceedings against her, in the hope that time and the strict surveillance which was now set upon her movements might elicit such further proof as would either entirely dispel their doubts or corroborate them to such an extent as to make an open interference justifiable.

But though Mr. Byrd showed his usual skill in this matter, he had not met with his usual success. For, while his suspicions had been strengthened by every fresh evidence which he received of the youthful heiress being under obligations, which forbade her the free use of her money, the death of Montelli and the continued absence of the only other party to the plot, known to the police—viz.: the adventuress in whose behalf the conspiracy had first been started—made any further advance toward the truth almost impossible. Not till he received the intimation from the artist as to the possible identity between Miss Rogers’ hair-dresser and the long-looked-for Portuguese, did he see his way to a solution of this enigma. And then he had hardly arrested this woman before she was taken with such a sudden and dangerous complaint that confession from her became impossible, and she died on his hands without uttering a word liable to compromise herself or any one else. It was a great disappointment to him, but he did not allow it to dishearten him. On the contrary, he took advantage of this catastrophe to satisfy himself that his suspicions against Miss Rogers were just.

Seeking out a female detective, he sent her in the capacity of hair-dresser, to that lady’s house, with injunctions to follow Miss Rogers to Miss Aspinwall’s reception, and there to deliver to her the mysterious note which had been taken from the valet’s dagger. If the heiress was shaken by it—and he meant to be present to see—he resolved to follow up his advantage by suddenly telling her of the Portuguese’s death, and if this produced the effect he expected, then he would no longer be dealing with vague suspicions but with a moral certainty, which would at least entitle him to warn the artist of the doubtful character of the woman he loved.

The test, as we know, succeeded. Miss Rogers was moved by the letter, and showed the same elation over the death of the Portuguese that she had over that of Montelli. Thus satisfied that she had held absolute communication with these nefarious schemers, Mr. Byrd had urged, nay, entreated, the artist to delay communication with the heiress till opportunity had been given the police to substantiate their now positive doubts in her regard.

The artist, impressed by his earnestness, had consented to listen to him so far as to wait a week before seeing Miss Rogers, but, love triumphing over reason, he had soon wearied of this promise, and, coming to Mr. Byrd, announced that Miss Rogers could not be the mercenary woman they considered her, or she would never have decided to give up her fortune for his love. Astonished, and, for the moment, baffled, by what certainly did look like the pure disinterestedness of a true-hearted woman, Mr. Byrd discarded his suspicions and acquitted Degraw of his promise.

But, alas! a day had not passed before he had cause to regret this. A woman was brought into the station-house who called herself Annetta, and who was presently proved to be the sister of the Portuguese. She had been arrested upon the complaint of Mr. Degraw of Cleveland, who, having missed an important letter from his trunk, accused her of taking it. As she acknowledged she was his washer-woman, and confessed to the false keys which were found on her person, there could be but little doubt that the accusation was true. But the letter was not forthcoming, she having slyly dropped it in the street when she saw herself followed by the officer who arrested her.

But this mischance did not ultimately prevent the police from obtaining a full and free confession from her. Confronted by the adventuress who was opportunely discovered about this time, she became demoralized, and on the very day of the artist’s intended marriage, swept away the last doubt of Mr. Byrd by giving the police a detailed account of the plot, and the unhappy singer’s connection with it. This was what had sent Mr. Byrd in search of the artist, and this in itself would have served to break off the marriage, if Miss Rogers had not herself seen the futility of any further struggle, and so succumbed to the destiny which had so inexorably pursued her.

* * * * * * * * * *

Jenny Rogers is dead, and yet, for the Degraws, life holds much in prospect. In a certain New York home there is a noble woman, who is now the comforter of the artist’s grief, and who will live to be the angel of his home, while in a quaint, but unfashionable square, below Fourteenth street, there dwells and smiles a little being whose name recalls bitter memories, but whose sunny nature and unfettered spirit make it more than probable that the Delaney millions will again follow the beck of love and be bestowed not upon Virginia Rogers, but upon Jeannette, the name by which both the Degraws persist in addressing the charming young schoolteacher.


THE END

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