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- At the Mercy of Tiberius - 80/103 -
Turning on his heel Mr. Dunbar walked the length of the veranda, and stood gazing gloomily across the tangled mass of the neglected rose garden, taking no cognizance of the garlands of bloom, seeing everywhere only that lithe elegant figure and Hyperion face of the man who reigned master of Beryl's heart.
The Solicitor leaned one shoulder against the door facing, and with his hands in his pockets, and his brows drawn into a pucker, pondered the new fact, and eyed the strange witness.
After a time, he approached his companion.
"If your hypothesis be correct, and it seems plausible, if science asserts that electricity can photograph,--then certainly I am sorry, sorry enough for all I did in the trial; yet I cannot reproach myself, because I worked conscientiously; and the evidence was conclusive against the girl. The circumstantial coincidences were strong enough to have hung her. We all make mistakes, and no doubt I am responsible for my share; but thank God! reparation can be made! I will take the night train and see the Governor before noon to- morrow. The pardon must come now."
"Pardon! He cannot pardon a crime of which she now stands acquitted. The only pardon possible, she may extend to those who sacrificed her. His Excellency need exercise no prerogative of mercy; his aid is superfluous. Churchill, go in as soon as you can, and send out the Sheriff, with as many of the jurors as you can get together; and ask Judge Parkman to drive out this afternoon, and bring Stafford, the photographer, with him. Tell Doctor Graham I want to see him here, as he is an accomplished electrician. I will stay here and guard this door till all X---has seen it."
Winged rumor flew through the length and breadth of the town, and before sunset a human stream poured along the road leading to "Elm Bluff", overflowed the green lawn under the ancient poplars, surged across the terrace, and beat against the railing of the piazza. Men, women, children, lawyers, doctors, newspaper reporters, all pressing forward for a glimpse of the mysterious and weird witness, that, in the fulness of time, had arisen to reprove the world for a grievous and cruel wrong.
The hinges had been removed; the door was set up at a certain angle, carefully balanced against the hanging curtain; and there the curious crowd beheld, in a veritable vision of the dead, torn as it were from the darkness and silence of the grave, the secret of that stormy night, when unseen powers had solemnly covenanted in defence of trusting innocence.
On Saturday the regulations of prison discipline reduced the working hours much below the daily quota, and at two o'clock the ringing of the tower bell announced that the busy convicts of the various industrial rooms were allowed leisure during the remainder of the afternoon, to give place to the squad of sweepers and scrubbers, who flooded the floors and scoured the benches.
June heat had followed fast upon the balmy breath of May, and though the air at dawn was still iced with crystal dew, the sun that shone through the open windows of the little chapel, burned fiercely on the unpainted pine seats, the undraped reading-desk of the pulpit, the tarnished gilt pipes of the cabinet organ within the chancel railing.
On one of the front benches sat Iva Le Bougeois, with a pair of crutches resting beside her on the arm of the seat, and her hands folded in her lap. Recovering slowly from the paralysis resulting from diphtheria, she had followed Beryl into the chapel, and listened to the hymns the latter had played and sung. The glossy black head was bent in abject despondency upon her breast, and tears dripped over the smooth olive cheeks, but no sound escaped the trembling mouth, once so red and riotous, now drawn into curves of passionate sorrow; and the topaz gleams that formerly flickered in her sullen hazel eyes were drowned in the gloom of dejection. For her, memory was an angel of wrath, driving her into the hideous Golgotha of the past, where bloody spectres gibbered; the present was a loathsome death in life, the future a nameless torturing horror. Helpless victim of her own outraged conscience, she seemed at times sinking into mental apathy more pitiable than that which had seized her physically; and the only solace possible, she found in the encouraging words uttered by the voice that had prayed for her during that long night of mortal agony, in the gentle pressure of the soft hand that often guided her tottering footsteps.
The organ stops had been pushed back, the musical echoes vibrated no longer; and the bare room, filled with garish sunshine, was so still that the drowsy droning of a bee high up on the dusty sash of the barred window, became monotonously audible.
Within the chancel and to the right of the pulpit, a large reversible blackboard had recently been placed, and on a chair in front of it stood Beryl, engrossed in putting the finishing touches to a sketch which filled the entire board; and oblivious for the moment of Eve Werneth's baby, who, having emptied her bottle of milk, had pulled herself up by the chair, and with the thumb of her right hand in her mouth, was staring up at the picture.
The lesson selected for the Sunday afternoon Bible class, which Beryl had so successfully organized among a few of the female convicts, was the fifteenth chapter of Luke; and at the top of the blackboard was written in large letters: "Rejoice with Me, for I have found My sheep which was lost." She had drawn in the foreground the flock couched in security, rounded up by the collie guard in a grassy meadow; in the distance, overhanging a gorge, was a bald, precipitous crag, behind which a wolf crouched, watching the Shepherd who tenderly bore in his arms the lost wanderer. On the opposite side of the blackboard had been carefully copied the Gospel Hymn beginning:--
"There were ninety and nine that safely lay, In the shelter of the fold, But one was out on the hills away, Far off from the gates of gold--Away on the mountains wild and bare, Away from the tender Shepherd's care."
Mental processes are strangely dualistic, and it not unfrequently happens that while one is consciously intent upon a certain train of thought, some secret cunning current of association sets in vibration the coil of ideas locked in the chambers of memory, and long forgotten images leap forth, startling in their pristine vividness.
Absorbed by the text she was illustrating, the artist insensibly followed lines she deemed imaginary, yet when the sketch was completed, the ensemble suddenly confronted her as a miniature reproduction of a very distant scene, that had gladdened her childish heart in the blessed by-gone. Far away from the beaten track of travel, in a sunny cleft of the Pistoian Apennines, she saw the white fleeces grouped under vast chestnuts, the flash of copper buckets plunged by two peasant women into a gurgling fountain, the curly head of Bertie bowed over the rude stone basin, as he gayly coaxed the bearers to let him drink from the beautiful burnished copper; the rocky terraces cut in the beetling cliffs above, where dark ruby-red oleanders flouted the sky with fragrant banners; and the pathetic face of a vagrant ewe tangled among vines, high on a jagged ledge, bleating for the lamb asleep under the chestnuts down in the dell.
Across the chasm of years floated the echo of the tinkling bell, that told where cows climbed in search of herbage; the singular rhythmic cadence of the trescone, danced in a neighboring vineyard; the deep, mellow, lingering tones of a monastery bell, rung by hermit hands in a gray tower on a mountain eyry, that looked westward upon the sparkling blue mirror of the Mediterranean.
Then she was twelve years old, dreaming glorious midsummer day- dreams, as she wandered with parents and brother on one of her father's sketching tours through unfrequented nooks; now--?
A petulant cry, emphasized by the baby hand tugging at the hem of her dress skirt, recalled Beryl's attention; and as she looked down at the waif, whom the chaplain had christened "Dovie" on the day of her mother's burial, the little one held up her arms.
"So tired, Dulce? You can't be hungry; you must want your nap. There don't fret, baby girl. I will take you directly."
She stepped down, turned the side of the blackboard that contained the sketch to the wall; lowered the sash which she had raised to admit fresh air, and lifted the child from the floor. Approaching the figure who sat motionless as a statue of woe, she laid a hand on the drooping shoulder.
"Shall I help you down the steps?"
"No, I'll stay here a while. This is the only place where I can get courage enough to pray. Couldn't you leave her--the child--with me? It has been years since I could bear the sight of one. I hated children, because my heart was so black--so bitter; but now, I yearn toward this little thing. I am so starved for the kiss of--of--," she swept her hand across her throat, where a sob stifled her.
"Certainly, if she will stay contentedly. See whether she will come to you."
At sight of the extended arms, the baby shrank closer to Beryl, nestled her head under the girl's chin, and put up her lower lip in ominous protest. With an indescribably mournful gesture of surrender, the childless mother sank back in the corner of the bench.
"I don't wonder she is afraid; she knows--everybody, everything knows I killed my baby--my own boy, who slept for nearly four years on my heart--oh!--"
"Hush--she was frightened by your crying. She is sleepy now, but when she has had her nap, and wakes good-humored, I will fill her bottle, and bring her down to you. Try not to torment yourself by dwelling upon a distressing past, which you cannot undo; but by prayer anchor your soul in God's pardoning mercy. When all the world hoots and stones us, God is our 'sure refuge'."
"That promise is to pure hearts and innocent hands; not to such as I am, steeped to the lips in crime--black, black--"
"No. One said: 'The whole need not a physician; but they that are
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