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- At the Mercy of Tiberius - 100/103 -
when Beryl went slowly to join the figure pacing restlessly in front of the gate.
Across the grassy lawn he came to meet her. In mute surrender she lifted her arms, laid her proud head, with its bared wealth of burnished bronze hair, down on his shoulder, and wept passionately.
When he had placed her in the carriage, and held her close to his heart, with his dark cheek resting on hers, where tears still trickled, he whispered:
"How much are you willing to tell me?"
"Only that I must start at once on a long, lonely journey to a desolate retreat, in mountain solitudes; far away in the wilderness of the Northwest. Bertie is there; and I must see him once more."
"How soon do you wish to start?"
"Within the next three days."
"You must wait one week. I cannot go before that time."
"Do you suppose I shall allow you to travel there without me? Do you imagine I shall ever lose sight of you, till the vows are uttered that make you my wife? You cannot see your brother's face, until you have first looked into your husband's. In one week I can arrange to go, to the ends of the earth if you will; but you will meet your brother only when you are Beryl Dunbar."
"No--no! You forget, ah!--You forget. I have worn the penitentiary homespun, and the brand of the convict seared my fair name, scarred all my life. The wounds will heal, but time can never efface the hard lines of the cicatrice; and I could not bear to mar the lustre of your honored name by--"
"Hush!--hush. It is ungenerous in you to wound me so sorely. When I remember the fiery furnace through which my wife walked unscorched, with such sublime and patient heroism, is it possible that I should forget whose rash hand, whose besotted idiocy consigned her to the awful ordeal? Out of the black shadow where I thrust you, sprang the halo that glorifies you. How often, in the silence of my sleepless nights, have I heard the echo of your wild, despairing cry: 'You have ruined my life!' Oh, my darling! If you withhold yourself, if you cast me away, you will indeed ruin mine. If you could realize how I wince at the recollection of your suffering, you would not cruelly remind me of my own accursed work."
"If the soul of my brother be ransomed thereby, I shall thank you, even for all that X---cost me. The world knows now, that no suspicion clings to me; but, Mr. Dunbar, the disgrace blots forever the dear name I tried to shield; and my vindication only blackens Bertie."
"The world will never know. Your sad secret shall be kept, and my name shall wrap you in ermine, and my love make your future redeem the past. Having found my darling, can I afford to run the risk of losing her? You belong to me, and I will not trust you out of my sight, until the law gives me a husband's claim. The mother of one of my oldest friends is boarding here in Niagara. I will commit you to her care until to-morrow; then some church will furnish an altar where you shall pledge me your loyalty."
"Impossible! To-night a train will take me to Buffalo, where I can catch the express going West. There are reasons why I must make no delay; must hasten back to explain many things to the Matron of the Sisterhood, where I have dwelt so safely and so peacefully since I left X---."
"Give me the reasons. 'Impossible' ne me dites jamais ce bete de mot!' Give me your reasons."
His arm tightened around her.
"Then you shall not leave me. I will endure no more mysteries."
"Mr. Dunbar, I wear the uniform of a celibate Order of Gray Sisters; and the matron trusted me in an unusual degree, when she consented that I should undertake this journey on a secret mission. I came to Niagara, as I supposed, to keep an appointment with my brother, and I met you. If I lingered one instant here, it might reflect some discredit upon this dear gray garb, which all hold so irreproachable. Sister Ruth trusted me. I cannot, I will not, even in the smallest iota, appear to betray her confidence; and I must go at once, and go as I came--alone. Bid the driver take me to the railway station, and you must remain in the carriage. I can have no escort. Your presence would subject me to criticism, and I will guard the 'gray' that so mercifully guarded me."
"Beryl, are you trying to elude me?"
"I am faithfully trying to keep my compact with Sister Ruth. Here is a card bearing the exact address of the 'Anchorage'. I am going there as quickly as possible, to make speedy arrangements for my long journey West, to that place almost within sound of the Pacific Ocean."
"Put your hand in mine. Promise me before God, that you will not vanish from me; that you will not leave the 'Anchorage' until I come and see you there."
"I promise; but time presses. I must hasten to find Bertie."
"Do you know exactly where to go?"
"Yes. I have minute directions written down."
"Wait until I come. I trust you to keep your promise. Ah! after to- day, I could not bear to lose my 'Rosa Alba.' God make me more worthy of my loyal and beautiful darling. After all, not Alcestis, but Antigone!"
White and still, lay the world of the far Northwest, wrapped in peace as profound as that which reigned in primeval ages; when ancestral Nahuas, dragging their sleds across frozen Behring Straits, or cast amid other drift of the Japanese current upon the strange new Pacific shore, climbed the mountains, and fell on their faces before the sun, whose worshippers have sacrificed in all hemispheres.
If civilization be the analogue of geologic accretion, how tortuous is the trend and dip of the ethnological strata, how abrupt the overlapping of myths. How many aeons divided the totem coyote from the she-wolf of Romulus and Remus? Which is the primitive and parent flame, the sacred fire of Pueblo Estufas, of Greek Prytaneum, of Roman Vesta, of Persian Atish-khudahs? If the Laurentian system be the oldest upheaval of land, and its "dawn animal" the first evolution of life that left fossil footprints, where are all the missing links in ethnology, which would save science that rejects Genesis--the paradox of peopling the oldest known continent by immigration from those incalculably younger?
Winter had lagged, loath to set his snow shoes upon the lingering, diaphanous train of Indian Summer, but December was inexorable, and the livery of ice glittered everywhere in the mid-day sun.
Along a well-worn bridle trail, now slippery as glass, winding around the base of crags, through narrow gorges that almost overarched, leaving a mere skylight of intense blue to mark the way, moved a party of four persons in single file, slowly ascending a steep spiral. In advance, mounted on a black pony, was a cowled monk, whose long, thin profile suggested that of Savonarola; and just behind him rode a Canadian half-breed guide, with the copperish red of aboriginal America on his high cheek bones, and the warm glow of sunny France in his keen black eyes. Guiding his horse with the left hand, his right led the dappled mustang belonging to the third figure; a tall, broad-shouldered man wearing an overcoat that reached to his knees, who walked with his hand on the bridle bit of a white mule, whereon sat a woman, wrapped in silver fox furs from throat to feet. A cap or hood of the same soft, warm material was worn over her head, where a roll of dark auburn hair coiled at the back; and around her white temples clustered rings and tendrils of the glossy bronze locks that contrasted so singularly with the black arch of the brows, and the fringe that darkened the luminous gray eyes.
One month had elapsed since the Umilta Sisters of the "Anchorage", following Sister Ruth, walked in the star-lit dawn of a November day, to a neighboring church, and watched Doctor Grantlin lead down the aisle, a pale, trembling woman whose hand he placed in that of the man, waiting in front of the altar. The Sisterhood had listened to the solemn words of the marriage service, the interchange of vows, and the benediction, while priestly hands were laid tapon two bowed heads.
When the rising sun greeted the husband and wife, they were speeding westward, on the first stage of their long journey.
To-day, the quest would end; and into Beryl's face had crept the wistful yearning that was a reflection of that strange blending of patience and longing, which made her so beautiful in her husband's eyes; so strong in faith, so serene in waiting resignation. Suddenly the monk drew rein, threw up his drooping head, and listened. Clear and sweet as the silvery chime of bells ringing in happy dreams, floated through the crystal air the sound of the Angelus; and fainter and fainter fell the echoes, dying in immeasurable distance. Low bent the shaven head, and through brown, fingers stole the consecrated beads, while with closed eyes the prayers were uttered; and in the pause, the guide made the sign of the cross, and Mr. Dunbar instinctively took off his hat.
"Six hours' steady climbing is a severe tax. Are you very tired?" he whispered, laying his arm around Beryl's waist, and lifting his brilliant eyes eloquent with an infinite tenderness.
With one hand on his shoulder as he stood beside her, she leaned down until her lips touched the black hair tossed back from his forehead.
"After waiting so many terrible years, what are a few more hours of
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