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- At the Mercy of Tiberius - 98/103 -
he paused in his work, to observe the quaint gray figure below, she asked, in a voice that was strained beyond its customary sweetness:
"Please direct me to the Museum."
"Follow the street along the cliff, and you can't miss it. Behind those trees yonder, on the right hand side. To the best of my belief, it is shut up this week."
Turning south, she walked more leisurely, lest undue haste should excite suspicion; and all the solemn sublimity of the scene confronted her. The green crescent of the Horseshoe blanched to foam, as it leaped to the stony gulf below, the wreaths of mist floating up, gilded by the sunshine; the maddened rush of the tossing, frothing, whirling rapids seething like melted gold as the western radiance smote the bubbling surface; the scarlet flakes of foliage clinging to the trees on Goat Island, and far above, on the wooded height beyond, the picturesque outlines of the Convent, lifting its belfry against the azure sky. As doomed swimmers lost in those rapids, swept head downward to destruction, nearing the last wild plunge catch the glimmer of that consecrated tower held aloft, so to Beryl's eyes it now seemed a symbol of comfort; and faith once more girded her.
A woman wearing a blue plaid handkerchief tied over her head and knotted under her chin, and carrying a basket of red apples on one arm, while with the other she led a lowing cow along the dusty road, paused at a signal, in front of the gray clad stranger.
"Which is the Museum?"
"Yonder, where the goats are huddled."
The building was closed, but in those days a garden lay to the north of it; and a small gate that gave admittance to seats and flowers connected with the Museum, now stood open.
The walks were strewn with pale yellow poplar leaves, and bordered with belated pink hollyhocks, and crimson chrysanthemums blighted by frost, shivering in their death chill; and from a neighboring willow stripped of curtaining foliage, a lonely bird piped its plaintive threnody, for the loss of one summer's mate. At the extremity of the little garden, under shelter of an ancient, gnarled tree, that screened a semicircular seat from the observation of those passing on the street, Beryl sat down to rest; to collect her thoughts.
In the solitude, she threw back her veil, leaned her head against the trunk of the tree where wan lichens made a pearly cushion, and shut her eyes. The afternoon was wearing away; a keen wind shook the bare boughs; only the ceaseless, unchanging chant of waters rose from the vast throat of nature, invoking its God.
She heard no footsteps; but some strange current attacked her veins, thrilled along her nerves, strung as taut as the wires of a harp, and starting up she became aware that a man was standing on the clover sward close to her. A dark brown overcoat, a broad brimmed, soft wool hat, drawn as a mask down to the bridge of the nose, and a bare hand covering the mouth, was all she saw.
Stretching out her arms, she sprang to meet him:
"O Bertie! At last! At last!"
The figure drew back slightly, lifted his hat; and where she had expected to see her brother's golden curls, the crisp, black locks of Mr. Dunbar met her gaze.
She staggered, and sank back on the bench; the realization of Bertie's peril throttling the joy that leaped up in her heart, at sight of the beloved features.
"I am here. I come as promptly to fulfil my promise as you to keep your tryst. Do you understand me so little, that you doubted my word?"
Her bonnet had slipped back, and as all the chastened beauty of her face framed in the dainty cap, became fully exposed, a heavy sigh escaped him, and he set his teeth, like one nerved to endure torture.
For months he had nourished the germ of a generous purpose, had tried to accustom himself to the idea of ultimately surrendering her; but in her presence, a certain bitter fury swept away the wretched figment, and he remembered only how fair, how holy, how dear she was to him. Once more the cry of his famishing heart was: "Death may part us. I swear no man's arms ever shall."
"Why waylay and torment me? Have I not suffered enough at your hands? Between me and mine not even you can come."
"Take care! For your sake I am here, hoping to spare you some pangs; to allow you at least an opportunity to see him--"
"What have you done? Don't tell me I am too late. Where is he? Oh! where--where is he?"
She had sprung up, and her hands closed around his arm, shaking it in the desperation of her dread; while her voice quivered under the strain of a conjecture that Bertie had already been arrested.
"Where is your chivalrous, courageous, unselfish, devoted lover? To ascertain exactly where he skulks, is my mission to Canada; for I thought I had schooled myself to bear the pain of--"
"What do you mean? What have you done with my Bertie? Oh--"
She threw herself suddenly on her knees, held up her hands, and a wailing cry broke the stillness:
"Save him, Mr. Dunbar! You will break my heart if you bring ruin upon his dear head. He is all I have on earth, he is my own brother! My brother! my brother!"
The blood ebbed from his face; the haughty mouth twitched in a sudden spasm, and he put his hand over his eyes.
Could she adopt this ruse to thwart pursuit of the man whom she idolized? For half a moment he stood, with whitened lips; then stooped, took the face of the kneeling woman in his palms, and scanned it.
"My brother. Do you understand at last, why I must save him? Why you must help me to screen him from ruin?"
"Great God! After all, what a blind fool I have been!"
He raised her, placed her on the bench; sat down and leaned his head on his hand. To Beryl, the silence that followed was an excruciating torture, beyond even her power of endurance.
"Do not keep me in suspense. Where is Bertie? Let me see him, if he is here."
"He is not here. It was to assist you in finding him, that I enticed you here."
"You enticed me?"
"I put the advertisement in the 'Herald', knowing that if you chanced to see it, all the legions of Satan could not keep you away. I have been here since Sunday, waiting and watching. I was obliged to see you, for your own sake, as well as to satisfy my longing to look once more into your face; and I felt assured the magnetic name of 'Bertie' would draw you here swiftly."
"Then it was only a snare, that advertisement? Oh! you are cruel!"
"Not to you. It was to promote your peace of mind, by enabling you to meet the man who, I supposed was your lover, that I invited you to this place. Mark you, only to see, never to marry him."
"Where is he?"
"Exactly where, I do not yet know; but very soon you shall learn."
"Is he in peril?"
"Not from arrest at present, by human officers of retributive justice."
"He is not coming here?"
"How did you learn his name?"
"I suspected that the advertisement you published in the "Herald" after leaving X---, was a clue that would aid me. I clung to it, for I was sure it referred to the man whom I have hunted so persistently."
"You have something to tell me. Be merciful, and end my suspense."
"First, answer one question. Why did you conceal from me the fact that you had a brother? Why did you allow me to suffer from a false theory, that you knew made my life a slow torture?"
He leaned nearer, and under the blue fire of his eager eyes, the blood mounted into her pale cheeks.
"My motive belongs to a past, with which I trust I have done forever; and you have no right to violate its buried ashes."
"I must, and I will have all the truth, cost what it may. Between you and me, no spectre of mystery shall longer stalk. If you had trusted me, and confessed the facts before the trial, you would have muzzled me effectually, and prevented the employment of detectives whom I have hissed on your brother's track. Why did you lead me astray, and confirm my suspicion that you were shielding a lover?"
"I was innocent; but my name, my father's honored name, was in jeopardy of dishonor, and to protect it, I would not undeceive you. Had my brother been convicted, the established guilt would have tarnished forever our only legacy, all that father left to Bertie and to me--his spotless name."
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