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- At the Mercy of Tiberius - 99/103 -
"You are quibbling. Did you shield the family name by enduring the purgatory of seeing your own on the list of penitentiary convicts? You deliberately fastened the odium of the crime upon your father's daughter; and you knew, you understood perfectly, that by strengthening my erroneous supposition, you were lashing me to a pursuit of the person, whom you could have best protected by frankly telling me all. If he is really your brother, what did you expect to accomplish by fostering my belief that he was your lover?"
"Mr. Dunbar, spare me this inquisition. Release me from the rack of suspense. Tell me why you set this snare, baited with Bertie's name?"
"I must first end my own suspense. If you wish to find the man, you tell me is your brother, I will aid you only when you have bared your heart to me. You had some powerful incentive unrevealed. I will know exactly, why you made me suffer all these years, the pangs of a devouring jealousy, keener than a vulture's talons."
With crimson cheeks, and shy, averted eyes, she sat trembling; unconsciously locking and unlocking her fingers. Her head drooped, and the voice was a low flutter:
"If I had told you that the handkerchief was one I gave to my brother, because he fancied the gay border, and that the pipe belonged to my dear father, and if you had known that for more than a year before I went to X---no tidings from that brother had reached me, would you have kept my secret, when you saw my life laid in the scales held by the jury? Suppose they had condemned me to death? I expected that fate; but knowing the truth, would you have permitted the execution of that sentence?"
"Certainly not; and you understand why I should never have allowed it."
"I knew that in such an emergency I could not trust you."
Five minutes passed, while he silently sought to unravel the web; and Beryl dared not meet his gaze.
"You had some stronger motive, else you would have confessed all, when I started to Dakota. Anxiety for your brother's safety would have unsealed your lips. What actuated you then? I mean to know everything now."
"Miss Gordon was my friend. She showed me kindness which I could never forget."
"Miss Gordon is a very noble woman, kinder to all the world than to herself; but did gratitude to her involve sacrifice of me?"
"You were betrothed. I owed it to her, to keep you loyal to your vows, as far as my power extended. I tried faithfully to guard her happiness, while endeavoring to shield my brother."
"Knowing you had all my heart, you dared not let me learn that the rival existed only in my imagination? loyal soul! Did you deem it a kindness to aid in binding her to an unloving husband? Her womanly instincts saved her from that death in life; and years ago, she set us both free. She wears no willows, let me tell you; and those who should know best, think that before very long she will sail for Europe as wife of Governor Glenbeigh, the newly appointed minister to Z---, a brilliant position, which she will nobly grace. She will be happier as Glenbeigh's wife than I could possibly have made her; for he loves her as she deserves to be loved. So, for Miss Gordon's sake, you immolated me?"
Only the pathetic piping of the lonely bird made answer.
Like the premonitory thrill that creeps through forest leaves, before the coming burst of a tempest, he seemed to tremble slightly; his tone had a rising ring, and a dark flush stained his swarthy face, deepened the color in his brilliant eyes.
"Oh, my white rose! A wonderful fragrance of hope steals into the air; a light breaks upon my dreary world that makes me giddy! Can it be possible that you--"
He paused, and she covered her face with her hands.
"Beryl, you are the only woman I have ever loved. You came suddenly into my life, as an irresistible incarnation of some fateful witchery that stole and fired my heart, subverted all my plans, made havoc of lifelong hopes, dominated my will, changed my nature; overturned the cool selfishness on the altar of my worship, and set up your own image in a temple, swept, garnished, and sanctified forever by your in-dwelling. You have cost me stinging humiliation, years of regret, of bitter disappointment; and the ceaselessly gnawing pain of a jealous dread that despite my vigilance, another man might some day possess you. I have money, influence, professional success, gratified ambition, and enviable social eminence; I have all but that which a man wants most, the one woman in the great wide world whom he loves truly, loves better than he loves himself; and who holds his heart in the hollow of her hand. I want my beautiful, proud, pure, stately white rose. I want my Beryl. I will have my own."
He had risen, stood before her; took the hands that veiled her countenance, and drew her to her feet.
"You have been loyal to parents, to brother, to friends, to duty; be loyal now to your own heart; answer me truly. What did you mean when you once said, with a mournful pathos I cannot forget: 'We love not always whom we should, or would, were choice permitted us?' You defied me that day, and prayed God to bless your lover; taunted me with words that have made days dreary, nights hideous: 'To whom I have given my whole deep heart, you shall never know.' Did you mean- -ah--will you tell me now?"
She bent her head till it almost touched him, but no answer came.
"You will not? I swear you shall; else I shall hope, believe, know beyond all doubt, that during these years, I have not been the only sufferer; and that loyal as was your soul, your rebel heart is as truly mine, as all my deathless love is surely yours."
She tried to withdraw her hands; but his hold tightened, and infinite exultation rang in his voice.
"My darling! My darling--you dare not deny it? I shall wear my white rose to make all the future sweet with a blessed love; but have you no word of assurance for my hungry ears? Is my darling too proud?"
He raised her hands, laid her arms around his neck, and folded very close to his heart, the long coveted prize.
"My Beryl, it was a stubborn battle, but Lennox Dunbar claims his own; and will hold her safe forever. Will you be loyal to your tyrant?"
Was it a white or a crimson rose that hid its lovely petals against his shoulder, and whispered with lips that his kiss had rouged:
"Have I ever been allowed a choice? Was I not foredoomed to be always at the mercy of Tiberius?"
The little garden was growing dusky, the gilded mist waving its spectral banners over the thundering cataract, had whitened as the sun went down behind the wooded crest that barred the western sky line; and the shimmering gold on the heaving, whirling current of the Rapids faded to leaden tints, flecked with foam, as like a maddened suitor, parted by Goat Island from its beloved, it rushed to plunge into the abyss, where the silvery bridal veil shook her signal, and all the roaring gorge filled with purple gloom.
Mr. Dunbar drew his companion's hand under his arm, and led her toward the Clifton House.
"You and I have done with shadows. On the heights yonder, the sun still shines. Up there waits one, who will tell you that which he refuses to divulge to any one else. Ten days ago my agents notified me that a man was searching for Mrs. Brentano and her daughter Beryl in New York; and that he had gone to X---, where he spent several days in consultation with the Catholic priest. Singleton sent me a telegram, and I reached X---in time to accompany the stranger back to New York. To me he admits only, that he lives in Montreal; and is the bearer of a message, the import of which, sacred promises prevent him from revealing to any one but Miss Brentano. He is an elderly man, and so wary, no amount of dexterity can circumvent his caution. Very complex and inexplicable motives brought me here; chiefly the longing to see you, to learn your retreat, your mode of existence; and also the intention to exact one condition, before I made it possible for you to find the object of your search. When you had given me your promise not to marry him, it was my purpose to allow you one final meeting; and if you forfeited your compact, the dungeon and the gallows awaited him. Love makes women martyrs; they are the apostles of the gospel of altruism. Love revives in men of my stamp, the primeval and undifferentiated tiger. When I think of all that you have endured, of how nearly I lost you, my snowdrop, do you wonder I shall hasten to set you in the garden of my heart, and shelter your dear head from every chill wind of adversity?"
They had passed through a gate, crossed a lawn, and reached a long, steep flight of steps leading straight up the face of a cliff, to the grounds attached to a villa. With her hand clasped tightly in his, Mr. Dunbar and Beryl slowly mounted the abrupt stairway, and when they gained the elevated terrace, a man who was walking up and down the sward, came quickly forward.
Pressing her fingers tenderly, Mr. Dunbar released her hand.
"When your interview is ended, come to me yonder at the side gate, where I have a carriage to take you over the bridge. Father Beckx, this is Miss Brentano. I leave her in your care."
The sun was sending his last level shafts of light from the edge of the sky, when a man dressed in long black vestments, a raven-haired, raven-eyed, thin lipped and clean shaven personage, with a placid countenance as coldly irresponsive as a stone mask, sat down on the top step of the long stairs, beside the woman in gray, whose eager white face was turned to meet his, in breathless and mute expectancy.
The lingering twilight held at bay slowly marching night; the sunset glory streamed up almost to the zenith in bands of amethyst and faint opaline green, like the far reaching plumes of an archangel's pinions beating the still, crystal air. Later, the vivid orange of the afterglow burned with a transient splendor, as the dying smile of a day that had gone to its eternal grave; and all the West was one vast evening primrose of palest gold sprinkled with star dust,
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