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- At the Mercy of Tiberius - 5/103 -
read the address--"To my dear father, Gen'l Luke Darrington"--the smile on his face changed to a dark scowl and he tossed the letter to the floor, as if it were a red-hot coal.
"Only one living being has the right to call me father--my son, Prince Darrington. I have repeatedly refused to hold any communication with the person who wrote that letter."
Beryl stooped to pick it up, and with a caressing touch, as though it were sentient, held it against her heart.
"Your daughter is dying; and this is her last appeal."
"I have no daughter. Twenty-three years ago my daughter buried herself in hopeless disgrace, and for her there can be no resurrection here. If she dreams that I am in my dotage, and may relent, she strangely forgets the nature of the blood she saw fit to cross with that of a beggarly foreign scrub. Go back and tell her, the old man is not yet senile and imbecile; and that the years have only hardened his heart. Tell her, I have almost learned to forget even how she looked."
His eyes showed a dull reddish fire, like those of some drowsy caged tiger, suddenly stirred into wrath, and a grayish pallor--the white heat of the Darringtons--settled on his face.
Twice Beryl walked the length of the room, but each time the recollection of her mother's tearful, suffering countenance, and the extremity of her need, drove her back to the chair.
"If you knew that your daughter's life hung by a thread, would you deliberately take a pair of shears and cut it?"
He glared at her in silence, and leaning forward on the table, pushed roughly aside a salver, on which stood a decanter and two wine glasses.
"I am here to tell you a solemn truth; then my responsibility ends. Your daughter's life rests literally in your hands; for unless you consent to furnish the money to pay for a surgical operation, which may restore her health, she will certainly die. I am indulging in no exaggeration to extort alms. In this letter is the certificate of a distinguished physician, corroborating my statement. If you, the author of her being, prefer to hasten her death, then your choice of an awful revenge must be settled between your hardened conscience and your God."
"You are bold indeed, to beard me in my own house, and tell me to my face what no man would dare to utter."
His voice was an angry pant, and he struck his clenched hand on the table with a force that made the glasses jingle, and the sherry dance in the decanter.
"Yes, you scarcely realize how much bravery this painful errand demands; but the tender love in a woman's heart nerves her to bear fiery ordeals, that vanquish a man's courage."
"Then you find that age has not drawn the fangs from the old crippled Darrington lion, nor clipped his claws?"
The sneer curved his white mustache, until she saw the outline of the narrow, bloodless underlip.
"That king of beasts scorns to redden his fangs, or flesh his claws, in the quivering body of his own offspring. Your metaphor is an insult to natural instincts."
She laid the letter once more before him, and looked down on him, with ill-concealed aversion.
"Who are you? By what right dare you intrude upon me?"
"I am merely a sorrowful, anxious, poverty-stricken woman, whose heart aches over her mother's sufferings and vho would never have endured the humiliation of this interview, except to deliver a letter in the hope of prolonging my mother's life."
"You do not mean that you are--my--"
"I am nothing to you, sir, but the bearer of a letter from your dying daughter."
"You cannot be the child of--of Ellice?"
After the long limbo of twenty-three years, the name burst from him, and with what a host of memories its echo peopled the room, where that erring daughter had formerly reigned queen of his heart.
"Yes, Ellice is my dear mother's name."
He stared at the majestic form, and at the faultless face looking so proudly down upon him, as from an inaccessible height; and she heard him draw his breath, with a labored hissing sound.
"But--I thought her child was a boy?"
"I am the youngest of two children."
"It is impossible that you are the daughter of that infernal, low- born, fiddling foreign vagabond who--"
"Hush! The dead are sacred!"
She threw up her hand, with an imperious gesture, not of deprecation, but of interdict; and all the stony calm in her pale face seemed shivered by a passionate gust, that made her eyes gleam like steel under an electric flash.
"I am the daughter of Ignace Brentano, and I love, and honor his memory, and his name. No drop of your Darrington blood runs in my veins; I love my dear mother--but I am my father's daughter--and I want no nobler heritage than his name. Upon you I have no shadow of claim, but I am here from dire necessity, at your mercy--a helpless, defenseless pleader in my mother's behalf--and as such, I appeal to the boasted southern chivalry, upon which you pride yourself, for immunity from insult while I am under your roof. Since I stood no taller than your knee, my mother has striven to inculcate a belief in the nobility, refinement, and chivalric deference to womanhood, inherent in southern gentlemen; and if it be not all a myth, I invoke its protection against abuse of my father. A stranger, but a lady, every inch, I demand the respect due from a gentleman."
For a moment they eyed each other, as gladiators awaiting the signal, then General Darrington sprang to his feet, and with a bow, stately and profound as if made to a duchess, replied:
"And in the name of southern chivalry, I swear you shall receive it."
"Read your daughter's letter; give me your answer, and let us cut short an interview--which, if disagreeable to you, is almost unendurable to me."
Turning away, she began to walk slowly up and down the floor; and smothering an oath under his heavy mustache, the old man sank back in his chair, and opened the letter.
Holding in leash the painful emotions that struggled for utterance, Beryl was unconscious of the lapse of time, and when her averted eyes returned reluctantly to her grandfather's face, he was slowly tearing into shreds the tear-stained letter, freighted with passionate prayers for pardon, and for succor. Rolling the strips into a ball, he threw it into the waste-paper basket under the table; then filled a glass with sherry, drank it, and dropped his head wearily on his hand. Five leaden minutes crawled away, and a long, heavy sigh quivered through Gen'l Darrington's gaunt frame. Seizing the decanter, he poured the contents into two glasses, and as he raised one to his lips, held the other toward his visitor.
"You must be weary from your journey; let me insist that you drink some sherry."
"Thank you, I neither wish nor require it."
"I find your name is Beryl. Sit down here, and answer a few questions." He drew a chair near his own.
She shook her head:
"If you will excuse me, I prefer to stand."
In turning, so as to confront her fully, his elbow struck from the table, a bronze paper-weight which rolled just beyond his reach. Instinctively she stooped to pick it up, and in restoring it, her fingers touched his. Leaning suddenly forward he grasped her wrists ere she was aware of his intention, and drew her in front of him.
"Pardon me; but I want a good look at you."
His keen merciless eyes searched every feature, and he deliberately lifted and examined the exquisitely shaped strong, white hands, the dainty nails, and delicately rounded wrists with their violet tracery of veins. It cost her an effort, to abstain from wrenching herself free; but her mother's caution: "So much depends on the impression you make upon father," girded her to submit to his critical inspection.
A grim smile crossed his face, as he watched her.
"Blood often doubles, like a fox; sometimes 'crops back,' but never lies. You can't play out your role of pauper; and you don't look a probable outcome of destitution and hard work. Your hands would fit much better in a metope of the Elgin Marbles, than in a wash-tub, or a bake-oven."
Drawing away quickly, she put them behind her, and felt her palms tingle.
"It is expected I should believe that for some time past, you have provided for your own, and your mother's wants. In what way?"
"By coloring photographs; by furnishing designs for Christmas and Easter cards, and occasionally (not often), by selling drawings used
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