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- At the Mercy of Tiberius - 4/103 -
black clothes, and held a waiter in one hand, stood before her.
"I wish to see Mr. Darrington."
"I reckon you mean Gin'l Darrington, don't you? Mr. Darrington, Marse Prince Darrington, is in Yurope."
"I mean Mr. Luke Darrington, the owner of this place."
"Jess so; Gin'l Luke Darrington. Well, you can't see him."
"Why not? I must see him, and I shall stay here until I do."
"'Cause he is busy with his lie-yer, fixin' of some papers; and when he tells me not to let nobody else in I'de ruther set down in a yaller jacket's nest than to turn the door knob, after he done shut it. Better leave your name and call ag'in."
"No, I will wait until he is at leisure. I presume my sitting on the steps here will not be a violation of your orders."
"To be shore not. But them steps are harder than the stool of repentance, and you had better walk in the drawing-room, and rest yourself. There's pictures, and lots and piles of things there, you can pass away the time looking at."
He waved his waiter toward a long, dim apartment, on the left side of the hall.
"Thank you, I prefer to sit here."
She seated herself on the top of the stone steps, and taking off her straw hat, fanned her heated brow, where the rich waving hair clung in damp masses.
"What name, miss, must I give, when the lie-yer finishes his bizness?"
"Say that a stranger wishes to see him about an important matter."
"Its mighty uncertain how long he will tarry; for lie-yers live by talking; turning of words upside down, and wrong side outards, and reading words backards, and whitewashing black things, and smutting of white ones. Marse Lennox Dunbar (he is our lie-yer now, since his pa took paralsis) he is a powerful wrastler with justice. They do say down yonder, at the court house, that when he gets done with a witness, and turns him aloose, the poor creetur is so flustrated in his mind, that he don't know his own name, on when he was born, or where he was born, or whether he was ever born at all."
Curiosity to discover the nature of the stranger's errand had stimulated the old man's garrulity, but receiving no reply, he finally retreated, leaving the front door open. By the aid of a disfiguring scar on his furrowed cheek, Beryl recognized him as the brave, faithful, family coachman, Abednego, (abbreviated to "Bedney")--who had once saved his mother's life at the risk of his own. Mrs. Brentano had often related to her children, an episode in her childhood, when having gone to play with her dolls in the loft of the stable, she fell asleep on the hay; and two hours later, Bedney remembering that he had heard her singing there to her dolls, rushed into the burning building, groped through the stifling smoke of the loft, and seizing the sleeping child, threw her out upon a pile of straw. When he attempted to jump after her, a falling rafter struck him to the earth, and left an honorable scar in attestation of his heroism.
Had she yielded to the promptings of her heart, the stranger would gladly have shaken hands with him, and thanked him, in the name of those early years, when her mother's childish feet made music on the wide mahogany railed stairs, that wound from the lower hall to the one above; but the fear of being denied an audience, deterred her from disclosing her name.
Educated in the belief that the utterance of the abhorred name of Brentano, within the precincts of "Elm Bluff," would produce an effect very similar to the ringing of some Tamil Pariah's bell, before the door of a Brahman temple, Beryl wisely kept silent; and soon forgot her forebodings, in the contemplation of the supreme loveliness of the prospect before her.
The elevation was sufficient to command an extended view of the surrounding country, and of the river, which crossed by the railroad bridge north of the town, curved sharply to the east, whence she could trace its course as it gradually wound southward, and disappeared behind the house; where at the foot of a steep bluff, a pretty boat and bath house nestled under ancient willow trees. At her feet the foliage of the park stretched like some brilliant carpet, before whose gorgeous tints, ustads of Karman would have stood in despair; and beyond the sea-green, undulating line of pine forest she saw the steeple of a church, with its gilt vane burning in the sunshine, and the red brick dome of the ante bellum court house.
Time seemed to have fallen asleep on that hot, still afternoon, and Beryl was roused from her reverie by the sound of hearty laughter in the apartment opposite the drawing-room--followed by the tones of a man's voice.
"Thank you, General. That is my destination this afternoon, and I shall certainly expect you to dance at my wedding."
Quick, firm steps rang on the oil-cloth-covered floor of the hall, and Beryl rose and turned toward the door.
With a cigar in one hand, hat and riding-whip in the other, the attorney stepped out on the colonnade, and pausing involuntarily, at sight of the stranger, they looked at each other. A man, perhaps, more, certainly not less than thirty years old, of powerful and impressive physique; very tall, athletic, sinewy, without an ounce of superfluous flesh to encumber his movements, in the professional palaestra; with a large finely modeled head, whose crisp black hair closely cut, was (contrary to the prevailing fashion) parted neither in the middle, nor yet on the side, but brushed straight back from the square forehead, thereby enhancing the massiveness of its appearance.
Something in this swart, beardless face, with its brilliant inquisitorial dark blue eyes, handsome secretive mouth veiled by no mustache--and boldly assertive chin deeply cleft in the centre-- affected Beryl very unpleasantly, as a perplexing disagreeable memory; an uncanny resemblance hovering just beyond the grasp of identification. A feeling of unaccountable repulsion made her shiver, and she breathed more freely, when he hewed slightly, and walked on toward his horse. Upon the attorney her extraordinary appearance produced a profound impression, and in his brief scrutiny, no detail of her face, figure, or apparel escaped his keen probing gaze.
Glancing back as he untied his bridle rein, his unspoken comment was: "Superb woman; I wonder what brings her here? Evidently a stranger--with a purpose."
He sprang into the saddle, stooped his head to avoid the yellow poplar branches, and disappeared under the elm arches.
"Gin'l Darrington's compliments; and if your bizness is pressin' you will have to see him in his bedcharmber, as he feels poorly to-day, and the Doctor won't let him out. Follow me. You see, ole Marster remembers the war by the game leg he got at Sharpshurg, and sometimes it lays him up."
The old servant led Beryl through a long room, fitted up as a library and armory, and pausing before an open door, waved her into the adjoining apartment. One swift glance showed her the heavy canopied bedstead in one corner, the arch-shaped glass door leading out upon the iron veranda; and at an oblong table in the middle of the floor, the figure of a man, who rose, taller and taller, until he seemed a giant, drawn to his full height, and resting for support on the hand that was rested upon the table. Intensity of emotion arrested her breath, as she gazed at the silvered head, piercing black eyes, and spare wasted framp of the handsome man, who had always reigned as a brutal ogre in her imagination. The fire in his somewhat sunken eyes, seemed to bid defiance to the whiteness of the abundant hair, and of the heavy mustache which drooped over his lips; and every feature in his patrician face revealed not only a long line of blue-blooded ancestors, but the proud haughtiness which had been considered always as distinctively characteristic of the Darringtons as their finely cut lips, thin nostrils, small feet and unusual height.
Unprepared for the apparition that confronted him, Luke Darrington bowed low, surveyed her intently, then pointed to a chair opposite his own.
"Walk in, Madam; or perhaps it may be Miss? Will you take a seat, and excuse the feebleness that forces me to receive visits in my bed-room?"
As he reseated himself, Beryl advanced and stood beside him, but for a moment she found it impossible to utter the words, rehearsed so frequently during her journey; and while she hesitated, he curiously inspected her face and form.
Her plain, but perfectly fitting bunting dress, was of the color, popularly dominated "navy-blue," and the linen collar and cuffs were scarcely whiter than the round throat and wrists they encircled. The burnished auburn hair clinging in soft waves to her brow, was twisted into a heavy coil, which the long walk had shaken down till it rested almost on her neck; and though her heart beat furiously, the pale calm face might have been marble, save for the scarlet lines of her beautiful mouth, and the steady glow of the dilated pupils in her great gray eyes.
"Pray be seated; and tell me to whom I am indebted for the pleasure of this visit?"
"I am merely the bearer of a letter which will explain itself, and my presence, in your house."
Mechanically he took the preferred letter, and with his eyes still lingering in admiration upon the classic outlines of her face and form, leaned back comfortably against the velvet lining of his armchair.
"Are you some exiled goddess travelling incognito? If we lived in the 'piping days of Pan' I should flatter myself that 'Ox-eyed Juno' had honored me with a call, as a reward for my care of her favorite bird."
Receiving no reply he glanced at the envelope in his hand, and as he
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