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- At the Mercy of Tiberius - 60/103 -
"Just now Kittie's perceptions are awry, dazzled by the rose light that wrap? her world. Has Prince arrived?"
"Yes, he came yesterday, and my little sister is entirely and overwhelmingly happy, for he is literally her Prince. Physically he is much improved; has developed surprisingly, but has the shy, taciturn manner of a student, and is, I fear, a hopeless bookworm."
"Why should his literary taste disquiet you? He went to Germany to foster his scholarly inclination."
"Why? Why should a man apprentice himself to a carpenter, and become an expert joiner, when he can never obtain the tools requisite to enable him to work successfully? His aspirations run along the grooves of science; and after dear little Kittie, his favorite Goddess is Biology. Trained in the laboratory of a German scientist, where every imaginable facility for researches in vivisection, and for the investigation of certain biological problems was afforded him, he lands in America empty-handed, and behold my carpenter minus tools."
"Having fitted himself for the profession, you surely will not attempt now to discourage or dissuade him."
"The logic of impecuniosity will doubtless accomplish more than the dissuasion of friends. Microscopic inspection of red and white corpuscles, of virus, tissues, protoplasm and chlorophyl is probably very interesting to lovers of microbes, and students of segmentation, but such abstract pursuits appertain to purple and fine linen. A profession means much; but ability to practise, infinitely more. Just now the paramount problem is, how Prince can best make his bread. Six months ago, he was prospectively so rich that he could indulge the whim of blowing scientific soap-bubbles labelled with abstruse symbols; at present, necessity directs his attention to paying his board bills."
"I thought a liberal allowance had been settled upon him, and ample provision made for his future?"
"So there certainly was, on paper; but the destruction of the record invalidated the gift." "All the world knows that he has the rights of an adopted son."
"All the world knows equally well, that failing to produce the will, Prince has lost his legacy, and must enlist in the army of 'bread- winners'."
"Then what becomes of 'Elm Bluff' and its fine estate?"
"They descend in the line decreed alike by law and nature, to the nearest blood relation."
Leo felt the blood reddening her throat and cheeks, but under the quick glance of her hazel eyes, his handsome face always en garde showed no embarrassing consciousness. Fearful of silence, she said in a perplexed, inconsequent tone:
"How manifestly unjust. Poor Kittie!"
"Why poor Kittie? Her beaming face is eloquent repudiation of your pity, and she verily believes her blond-headed, scholarly Prince a bountiful equivalent for all Croesus' belongings. Rich little Kittie! After all, where genuine love reigns, worldly environment matters comparatively little; love makes happiness, and happiness is the reconciler."
A throb of pain shook the woman's heart as she realized the bitter truth that he spoke from an experience born out of season: that he was athirst for that which her fortune, her love, her own fair, graceful self could never give him.
She looked at him, with an arch smile lighting her face, but he saw the trembling of her lips, noted the metallic ring in her voice.
"'Et in Arcadia Ego?' Recent associations have rendered you idyllic. I can recall a period when 'love in a cottage' was the target that challenged the keenest arrows of your satire. Rich little Kittie has my warmest congratulations. Will Prince remain in X--?"
"How can he? The demand here for amateur scientists is not sufficiently encouraging; and I rather think he gravitates toward a college professorship, which might at least supply him abundantly with rabbits, turtles, frogs and guinea-pigs for biological manipulation and experiment. One of the gay balloons floating through his mind, is a series of lectures to be delivered in the large cities. Heredity is his pet hobby, and he proposes to canter it under the saddle of Weismann's theory (whatever that may be), expounding it to scientific Americans. As yet no plans have crystallized. His allowance was paid semi-annually, but of course it failed him last January, and no alternative presents itself but some attempt to utilize his technical lore. There is a vacancy in the faculty of C---University, and I shall write at once to the board of trustees."
Like a moth, Leo flitted closer to the flame.
"Will he make no attempt to secure his rights?"
"He is too wise to waste his time in so fruitless an endeavor."
"Have you advised him to submit tamely to the deprivation of his fortune?"
"He has not consulted me, but Wolverton, who is his cousin, convinced him of the futility of any legal proceedings."
"Does General Darrington's granddaughter understand that Prince's career will be ruined for want of the money to which he is entitled?"
"I am not acquainted with the views Gen'l Darrington's granddaughter entertains concerning Prince, as I have not seen her since the trial ended. Have you?"
Each looked steadily at the other, and under the gleam of his eyes, hers fell, and her color flickered.
"I went once, but was denied admission. Even Sister Serena sees her no longer. You doubtless know that she is recovering slowly from a severe attack of illness."
"I have heard nothing since the night she was convicted and sentenced. To-day I found a message at my office from Singleton, asking me to call at my earliest convenience at the penitentiary, on a matter of legal business. To what it refers, I know not, as I came immediately here."
There was a brief silence, in which his gaze mercilessly searched her fair, proud face; then with a supreme effort she laid her hand suddenly on his, and looked up smiling:
"I believe I was growing very impatient over your prolonged absence in New Orleans. Time dragged dismally, and I was never more rejoiced than when I received your last letter, and knew that I should see you to-day. Lennox, I have set my heart on something, which only your consent and acquiescence will secure to me. I am about to ask for a mammoth sugar-plum that has dangled temptingly before my eyes for nearly a year, and I shall enjoy it the more if you bestow it graciously. Can you be generous and indulge my selfish whim?"
He felt a quiver in the cold fingers over which his warm hand closed, saw the throbbing of the artery in her white throat, the ebbing of the scarlet in lips that bravely held their coaxing, smiling curves, and he knew that the crisis he had long foreseen was drawing near.
Leaning closer, he looked down into her brown eyes. The end must come; but he would not precipitate it. Like Francis at Pavia, he acknowledged to himself that all was lost, save honor.
"Whenever my Leo convinces me she can be selfish, I promise all that she can possibly ask; but the selfishness must first be incontrovertibly established."
He had never been dearer to her than at that moment, when his brilliant eyes seemed to search her soul and magnetize her; yet she did not falter and the aching of her heart was a goad to her will.
"You merely shower lesser sugar-plums, intending they shall surfeit. Lennox, you know how often I have longed to make the journey to Greece, Asia Minor and Egypt; you remember I have repeatedly expressed the wish? You--"
"Pardon me, sweetheart, but this is the first time I ever heard it." "You forget. At last the consummation unfolds itself as smoothly as the fourth act of a melodrama. My friend and schoolmate, Alma Cutting, of New York, invites a small party of ladies and gentlemen to accompany her in a cruise through the Levant, on her father's new and elegant steam yacht 'Cleopatra'. I have pressing letters from Alma and Mr. Cutting, kindly urging me to join them in New York by the first of May, at which time they expect to start on a preliminary cruise through the North and Baltic seas; drifting southward so as to reach Sicily and Malta as soon as cool weather permits. Do you wonder that so charming and picturesque a tour tempts me sorely?"
Unconsciously she had hurried her enunciation, but imperturbable as the bronze he resembled, Mr. Dunbar listened; merely passing his left arm around her, drawing her resisting form closer to him, holding her firmly.
"I am waiting for the selfish aspect of this scheme, else I should answer at once, the coveted sugar-plum is yours, and we will make the tour whenever you like, with the minor difference of mere details; we will go in our own yacht."
She caught her breath, and for an instant the world swam in a burst of dazzling light. Beyond the reach of the usurper's witchery, was it not possible that she might regain the alienated heart? Love chanted, it is worth the trial; take him away, win him back. Pride sternly set foot upon this spark of hope, with cruel insistence answering: his love has never been yours; defrauded of the diamond, will you accept and patiently wear paste? The quick revulsion was tantalizing as would have been the vanishing of the ram from Abraham's gladdened sight; the swift withdrawal of Diana's stag into the miraculous cloud at Aulis.
"That would be too severe a tax upon your good nature and indulgence, and involves a sacrifice of your professional plans,
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