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- At the Mercy of Tiberius - 95/103 -
chanted their dismal refrain, and renewed the pain which time had in some degree dulled. Four years ago she had felt her mother's feverish lips on hers, in a parting kiss, and four years ago to-day the sun of her girlhood had passed suddenly into total eclipse. Since then, moving in a semi-twilight, suffering had prematurely aged her, and she had schooled herself to expect no star, save that of duty, to burn along her lonely path. To-day, she thought of the pride her picture would have aroused in her devoted father; of the comforts the money would have purchased for her invalid mother; of the pleasure, success as an artist would have brought to her own ambitious soul, if only it had not come so many years too late. What crown could fame bring to one, dwelling always in the chill shadow of a terrible shame? The glory of noble renown could never gild a name that had answered at the convicts' roll call; a name which, at any moment, Bertie's arrest might drag back to the disgrace of established felony.
Of all mocking fiends, the arch torturer is that hand which draws aside the black curtain of grim actuality, and shows us the wonderful realm of "might have been", where lost hopes blossom eternally, and the witchery of hallowed illusions is never dispelled.
Wearily Beryl closed her eyes, as though the white lids availed to shut out visions, tantalizing as the dream of bubbling springs, and palm-fringed isles of dewy verdure, to the delirious traveller dying of thirst, in the furnace blasts of mid-desert.
If she had defied her mother's wishes, and refused to go to X--? How different the world would seem to her; but, what was a world worth, that had never known Mr. Dunbar?
Over burning ploughshares she had walked to meet one destined to stir to its depths the slumbering sea of her tenderest love; and to forego the pain, would she relinquish the recompense?
During the months that elapsed after Leo's visit to the "Anchorage", Beryl had surrendered her heart to the great happiness of dwelling, unrebuked by conscience, upon the precious assurance that the love of the man whom she had so persistently defied and shunned, was irrevocably hers. The sharpest pain that can horrow womanhood, springs from the contemplation of the superior right of another to the object of her affection; and though honor coerces submission to the just claims of a rival, renunciation of the beloved entails pangs that no anaesthetic has power to quiet.
After the long struggle to aid Miss Gordon's accepted lover in keeping his vows of loyalty, the discovery of his freedom, and the belief that Bishop Douglass had supplanted him in the affection of her generous benefactress, had brought to Beryl an exquisite release; sweet as the spicy breath of the tropics wafted suddenly to some stranded, frozen Arctic voyager. Heroic and patient, keeping her numb face steadfastly turned to the pole star of duty, where the compass of conscience pointed--was the floe ice on which she had been wrecked, drifting slowly, imperceptibly, yet surely down to the purple warmth of the Gulf Stream, dotted with swelling sails of rescue? Like oceanic streams meeting, running side by side, freighted with cold for the equatorial caldrons, with heat for the poles, are not the divinely appointed currents of mercy and of affliction, God's agents of compensation, to equalize the destinies of humanity?
We rail at Fate as triple monsters; but sometimes it happens, that the veil of inscrutability floats aside, for an instant, and we catch a glimpse of the radiant smile of an infinite love.
Hope had set in Beryl's sky, but a tender afterglow held off the coming night, when she thought of the face that had bent so yearningly above her, of the passionate voice and the thrilling touch that were now her most precious memories. The pearl which Miss Gordon had cast away as worthless, the discarded convict might surely, without sin, claim as her own for ever. To-day an intense longing to see him once more, to hear from his lips praise of her "Antigone", disturbed the tranquillity that was spreading its robes of minever over a stony path; but she put aside the temptation.
To the Sisterhood of the "Anchorage" she had given one-half the proceeds of the picture sale; and the remainder would enable her at last to renew the search for her unhappy brother. So vague were the topographical lines furnished by the English tourist, that prosecuting her quest in the remote wilderness of mountains, which wore their crown of snow, seemed a reckless waste of hope, time and money; nevertheless, she must make the attempt. She knew that a gigantic railway system was crawling like an anaconda under rocky ranges, over foaming rivers, stretching its sinuous steel trail from Bay of Chaleur to Georgia Gulf; with termini that saw the sun rise from the Atlantic Ocean, and watched its setting in the red glory of the far Pacific; and perhaps steam shovels, and iron tight-ropes might furnish her facilities on her long journey.
Winter would soon overtake her, and in the inhospitable region where her brother had been surprised at his prayers, how could a lonely woman travel without protection? Doubt, apprehension flitted as ill- boding birds of night, flapping dusky wings to hide the signal beacon, which love and duty swung to and fro; yet the yearning to see her brother's face again, dwarfed all barriers, and she trusted God's guidance.
On a chair near her, lay, on this afternoon, a map which for many days she had been studying; and opening it once more, she ran a finger along the dotted lines, mentally debating whether it would be best to go by rail to Ottawa, by water to Sault St. Marie, whence the new railway could be easily reached, or whether the most direct route would be via St. Paul to Winnepeg. When she left the "Anchorage", her destination must remain a secret; hence she could ask no counsel. In view of approaching cold weather, economy of time seemed imperative; and she resolved to buy a railway ticket to Fargo, where she could elude suspicion, should the threatened invisible detective "shadow" her; and whence another Pacific highway offered egress to western wilds. With this definite conclusion she closed the map, and a moment later, some one knocked at her door.
She went forward, and met Sister Katrina, a robust dame of forty years, blond as Gerda; with the "light of the glowworm's tails" in her golden-lashed violet eyes, and the "ruby spots of the cowslip's leaves" on her full, frank lips.
"Will you sit a while with me? There is still a half hour, before your evening work begins in the carving shop. Come in."
"I am sorry I have not time now, to indulge myself in such luxury as a chat with you always proves. I came to beg the loan of your India ink copy of the marble screens at Agra; which I have an idea would be very effective done in cherry, for the panels under the new bookcases we are designing for the library."
"The copy is up stairs in the studio; but I shall be glad to get it for you."
"No; with your permission I can help myself, and I am going up there now, for some red chalk. I know exactly where to find the picture, because I was examining it two days ago. What think you of my idea?"
"I am afraid you will find cherry too dark. A lighter wood, I think, would be better adapted to the exceeding delicacy of the design."
"Wait till I cut out a sample scroll, and we will talk it over. Sister Ruth asked me to hand to you this paper, which contains a very complimentary notice of your lovely picture. I read it as I came up, and congratulate you on all the fine things said. You scarcely know how proud we feel of our Sister's work. Thanks for the use of the drawing."
She smiled, nodded and closed the door; and when her bright cheery countenance vanished, it seemed as though a film of cloud had drifted across the sun.
Beryl went back to a low chair in front of the window, and opened the paper, which chanced to be the New York "Herald." Unfolding it to hunt the designated article, her glance fell accidentally upon the personal column. Her heart leaped, then almost ceased beating, as she read:
"Important. Bertie will meet Gigina in the Museum at Niagara Falls, Canada side, any day during the last week in October."
Two years and a half had almost gone by since she inserted the advertisement, to which this was evidently a reply. Long ago she had ceased to expect any tidings through this channel; but the seed sown in faith, watered by tears, and guarded by continual prayer had stirred to life; blossomed in the sunshine of God's pitying smile, and after weary waiting, the ripe fruit fell at her feet. How fair and smooth, rosy and fragrant it appeared to her famishing heart? How opportune the guiding hand that pointed her way, when cross roads baffled her. Two days later, she would have been journeying away from the coveted goal. Now the tide of battle was turning. Had the stars rolled back on their courses to rescue Sisera?
How long the happy woman sat there, exulting in the mellowness of the perfect fruit of patience, she never knew.
Day died slowly; the vivid crimson and dazzling gold that fired the West were reflected in the tranquil bosom of the lake, faded into the tender pale rose of the sacred lotus, into the exquisite tints that gild the outer petals of a daffodil, the heart of buttercups; and then, robed in faintest violet powdered with silvery dust, the vast pinions of Crepuscule spread over sky and water, fanning into full flame the glittering sparks of planets and constellations that lighted the chariot course of the coming moon.
Across the sleeping lake hurried a north wind, on its long journey to blow open the snowy camellias folded close in the heart of the South, and under his winged sandals the waters crimped, rippled, swelled into wavelets that played their minor adagio in nature's nocturn, as their foam fingers fell on the pebbles that fringed the beach. From the deck of a schooner anchored off shore, floated the deep voice of a man singing Schubert's "Ave Maria"; and far, far away over the weird waste of waters, where a buoy marked a sunken wreck, its red beacon burned like the eye of Polyphemus, crouching in darkness, watching to surprise Galatea.
The penetrating chill of the night air aroused Beryl from her profound trance; and lighting the gas over her dressing table, she re-read the magical words that had transformed her narrow world. This was Monday the 26th, and next Saturday was the limit of the proposed interview. One day must suffice for necessary preparation, and starting by early morning express on Wednesday, she would arrive in time to keep the tryst that involved so much. She cut out the
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