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- The Mill Mystery - 6/43 -

relation of Mr. Barrows' fearful fate. We have taken a prejudice against the girl, in consequence. Do you blame us? This is our mother."

What could I feel or say but No? What could any one, under the circumstances? Why then did a sudden vision of Ada's face, as she gave me that last look, rise up before me, bidding me remember the cause to which I was pledged, and not put too much faith in this man and his plausible explanations.

"I only hope death will not follow the frightful occurrence," he concluded; and do what he would, his features became drawn, and his face white, as his looks wandered back to his mother.

A sudden impulse seized me.

"Another death, you mean," said I; "one already has marked the event, though it happened only a few short hours ago."

His eyes flashed to mine, and a very vivid and real horror blanched his already pallid cheek till it looked blue in the dim light.

"What do you mean?" he gasped; and I saw the doctor had refrained from telling him of Ada's pitiful doom.

"I mean," said I, with a secret compunction I strove in vain to subdue, "that Mr. Barrows' betrothed could not survive his terrible fate--that she died a few hours since, and will be buried in the same grave as her lover."

"His betrothed?" Young Mr. Pollard had risen to his feet, and was actually staggering under the shock of his emotions. "I did not know he had any betrothed. I thought she had jilted him----"

"It is another woman," I broke in, jealous for my poor dead Ada's fame. "The woman he was formerly engaged to never loved him; but this one----" I could not finish the sentence. My own agitation was beginning to master me.

He looked at me, horrified, and I could have sworn the hair rose on his forehead.

"What was her name?" he asked. "Is it--is it any one I know?" Then, as if suddenly conscious that he was betraying too keen an emotion for the occasion, pitiful as it was, he forced his lips into a steadier curve, and quietly said: "After what has happened here, I am naturally overcome by a circumstance so coincident with our own trouble."

"Naturally," I assented with a bow, and again felt that secret distrust warring with a new feeling that was not unlike compassion.

"Her name is Ada Reynolds," I continued, remembering his last question. "She lived----"

"I know," he interrupted; and without another word walked away, and for a long time stood silent at the other end of the room. Then he came back and sat down, and when I summoned up courage to glance at his face, I saw that a change had passed over it, that in all probability was a change for life.

And my heart sank--sank till I almost envied that unconscious form before which we sat, and from which alone now came the one sound which disturbed the ghostly silence of that dread chamber.



And that well might Advise him to a caution, to hold what distance His wisdom can provide. --MACBETH.

At daybreak the doctor came in. Taking advantage of the occasion, I slipped away for a few minutes to my own room, anxious for any change that would relieve me from the gloom and oppression caused by this prolonged and silent _tete-a-tete_ with a being that at once so interested and repelled me. Observing that my windows looked towards the east, I hastened to throw wide the blinds and lean out into the open air. A burst of rosy sunlight greeted me. "Ah!" thought I, "if I have been indulging in visions, this will dispel them"; and I quaffed deeply and long of the fresh and glowing atmosphere before allowing my thoughts to return for an instant to the strange and harrowing experiences I had just been through. A sense of rising courage and renewed power rewarded me; and blessing the Providence that had granted us a morning of sunshine after a night of so much horror, I sat down and drew from my breast the little folded paper which represented my poor Ada's will. Opening it with all the reverent love which I felt for her memory, I set myself to decipher the few trembling lines which she had written, in the hope they would steady my thoughts and suggest, if not reveal, the way I should take in the more than difficult path I saw stretching before me.

My agitation may be conceived when I read the following:

"It is my last wish that all my personal effects, together with the sum of five hundred dollars, now credited to my name in the First National Bank of S----, should be given to my friend, Constance Sterling, who I hope will not forget the promise I exacted from her."

Five hundred dollars! and yesterday I had nothing. Ah, yes, I had _a friend!_

The thoughts awakened by this touching memorial from the innocent dead distracted me for a few moments from further consideration of present difficulties, but soon the very nature of the bequest recalled them to my mind, by that allusion to a promise which more than any thing else lay at the bottom of the dilemma in which I found myself. For, humiliating as it is to confess, the persistency with which certain impressions remained in my mind, in spite of the glowing daylight that now surrounded me, warned me that it would be for my peace to leave this house before my presentiments became fearful realities; while on the other hand my promise to Ada seemed to constrain me to remain in it till I had at least solved some of those mysteries of emotion which connected one and all of this family so intimately with the cause to which I had pledged myself.

"If the general verdict in regard to Mr. Barrows' death should be one of suicide," thought I, "how could I reconcile myself to the fact that I fled at the first approaching intimation that all was not as simple in his relations as was supposed, and that somewhere, somehow, in the breast of certain parishioners of his, a secret lay hidden, which, if known, would explain the act which otherwise must imprint an ineffaceable stain upon his memory?"

My heart and brain were still busy with this question when the sound of Mr. Pollard's footsteps passing my door recalled me to a sense of my present duty. Rising, I hurried across the hall to the sick- chamber, and was just upon the point of entering, when the doctor appeared before me, and seeing me, motioned me back, saying:

"Mrs. Harrington has just arrived. As she will doubtless wish to see her mother at once, you had better wait a few moments till the first agitation is over."

Glad of any respite, and particularly glad to escape an introduction to Mrs. Harrington at this time, I slipped hastily away, but had not succeeded in reaching my room before the two brothers and their sister appeared at the top of the stairs. I had thus a full opportunity of observing them, and being naturally quick to gather impressions, took in with a glance the one member of the Pollard family who was likely to have no mystery about her.

I found her pretty; prettier, perhaps, than any woman it had ever been my lot to meet before, but with a doll's prettiness that bespoke but little dignity or force of mind. Dressed with faultless taste and with an attention to detail that at a moment like the present struck one with a sense of painful incongruity, she advanced, a breathing image of fashion and perhaps folly; her rustling robes, and fresh, if troubled face, offering a most striking contrast to the gloom and reserve of the two sombre figures that walked at her side.

Knowing as by instinct that nothing but humiliation would follow any obtrusion of myself upon this petted darling of fortune, I withdrew as much as possible into the shadow, receiving for my reward a short look from both the brothers; the one politely deprecating in its saturnine courtesy, the other full of a bitter demand for what I in my selfish egotism was fain to consider sympathy. The last look did not tend to calm my already disturbed thoughts, and, anxious to efface its impression, I impulsively descended the stairs and strolled out on the lawn, asking myself what was meant by the difference in manner which I had discerned in these two brothers towards their sister. For while the whole bearing of the younger had expressed interest in this pretty, careless butterfly of a woman thus brought suddenly face to face with a grave trouble, the elder had only averted looks to offer, and an arm that seemed to shrink at her touch as if the weight of her light hand on his was almost more than he could bear. Could it be that affection and generosity were on the side of the younger after all, and that in this respect, at least, he was the truer man and more considerate brother?

I could find no more satisfactory answer for this question than for the many others that had suggested themselves since I had been in this house; and being determined not to allow myself to fall into a reverie which at this moment might be dangerous, I gave up consideration of all kinds, and yielded myself wholly to the pleasure of my ramble. And it was a pleasure! For however solemn and austere might be the interior of the Pollard mansion, without here on the lawn all was cheeriness, bloom, and verdure; the grim row of cedars encircling the house seeming to act as a barrier beyond which its gloom and secrecy could not pass. At all events such was the impression given to my excited fancy at the time, and, filled with the sense of freedom which this momentary escape from the house and its influences had caused, I hastened to enjoy the beauties of walk and _parterre_, stopping only when some fairer blossom than ordinary lured me from my path to inspect its loveliness or inhale its perfume.

The grounds were not large, though, situated as they were in the midst of a thickly populated district, they appeared so. It did not, therefore, take me long to exhaust their attractions, and I was about to return upon my course, when I espied a little summer-house

The Mill Mystery - 6/43

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