Between Two Thieves
Synopsis of Previous Chapters
In the concluding instalment of this powerfully written story we renew our acquaintance with Thompson Jowell, an unscrupulous army contractor who has just received news of his son’s death in the Crimea. Jowell’s cousin, Sarah Horrotian, and her son Josh with Nelly, his wife, are other minor characters of whom we now take final leave.
In the first chapter we were given a glimpse of Hector Dunoisse, the hero, aged, paralytic and near to death. After following him through his eventful life we again see him on his death-bed, still anxiously awaiting a letter from Ada Mo-ling, the heroine, of whom Florence Nightingale was the prototype. The unusual idea of the author in making Hector hear and understand this letter when read to him after death forms an appropriate conclusion to a vivid and striking story.
IT had been the father’s whim that Mortimer’s rooms should be kept exactly as Mortimer had left them, and that nothing the Ensign had forgotten should be moved, or put away. There was a pair of doeskin military gloves he had worn, lying upon the toilet-table in the bedroom. And a strap that had formed part of a sword-belt lay forgotten upon the Brussels carpet near the foot of the bed.
Thompson Jowell picked up the strap, and as he set down his candlestick, he ran it between his fingers, remembering that it had belonged to his son, who, rather than be defiled by the golden mud that every roll in the gutter crusted more thickly upon him, had cast him off and chosen to die.
“I’m piling it up for you, Morty, my boy,” he heard himself saying, as he lay himself down heavily into the armchair by the huge carved four-poster, and sat there staring and drumming heavily with bis fists upon his knees.
He had throughout his life been a man destitute of imagination. Now, at this final hour, the gift was born in him. He heard thousands of voices cursing him. He saw thousands of blackened hands pointing at him. He knew himself a murderer. He realized that the millions he had gained by fraud and trickery had brought him estate in Hell.
“My name’s Done Brown—that’s what it is,’ he muttered, thickly.
He lifted a shaking hand to wipe the cold sweat from his forehead, and started as the strap of the sword-belt dangled before his eyes. He lowered his hand and looked intently at the narrow band of tough, doubled buff-leather; pipeclayed, and having a solid gilt-brass ring stitched and riveted in the loop at either end. As he turned it musingly about in his fingers, he found that, doubled, and pushed through one of the gilt rings, it made a slip-noose. Then imagination suggested the thing that he might do. No thought of the dowdy woman weeping for her son in the lonely house at Market Drowsing came to stay him. She had never been anything to Thompson Jowell but the mother of his son. . . .
The thought of Mortimer spurred him to the act of desperation. He got up and
went to the door that led from the bedroom into the luxuriously-furnished apartment adjoining, where the Stars of the Ballet and the Beauties of the Harem simpered from the walls. He measured its height with his eye—rolled an ottoman, worked in Berlin wools by Mortimer’s mother, to the right position—got heavily upon it—threw an end of the buff strap over the top of the door—shut the door, and put the noose about his short, thick neck. Then, supporting himself by the wooden moulding of the upper frame work—he drove the ottoman from him with a clumsy kick and flourish of his stumpy legs. .
The decision of the Coroner’s jury was that grief for the death of his son had temporarily unhinged the mind of the great Contractor, and there were many expressions of sympathy for the widow, and there was a pompous funeral
Cowell, Sewell, and the rest of the fraternity attended the solemnity. They shook their heads regretfully, and the water stood in their eyes. They said that he had been the very devil, sir! and that there never had been a man like him, and that there might never be another; and added that they were surprised he had left as little as three millions behind him—considering his opportunities !—-and that they shouldn’t wonder if the gross amount turned out to be a great deal more!
It did; much to the benefit of the various charities among which the great fortune was divided by his widow, carrying out the expressed wishes of the son who would never have been his heir.
i^Vhen Sarah Horrotian heard of the strange and terrible ending of Thompson Jowell, she found it hard to believe that she was never to see his coarse red face again, never to be uprooted and ruined by him. . . . Even when weeks passed without foreclosure, she was still expectant of his turning up suddenly, big and gross and greedy as ever.
. . . When at length she realized that
he was dead, she forbade herself to hope.
For the man had a son, and the son would be no more pitiful that the father thought Sarah Horrotian. When the legal representatives of Jowell’s widow wrote, saying that the interest and principal of her debt would be remitted— when the deed of mortgage was returned
to her with ‘ ‘ Cancelled ’ ’ written across it—the widow faintly wondered, having gone too numb to be joyfully surprised.
Nothing now was needed to set the farm upon its legs again but a little money and a certain amount of energy. . '. . The money she might have
found, but the springs of vitality had dried up. Though there were hours, when, sitting in the gaunt, bare farmkitchen towards nightfall, staring at the handful of coals that burned in the capacious fire-grate, she knew that the desert of her heart might grow green things again, if only Josh and his wife came home.
And, though she told herself they never would, something in her secret heart gave the lie to her. She would have died rather than admit it to herself—for fear lest they should come, after all, and miss her, and go away to return no more—she ceased to leave the house. Presently the news spread that Widder Horrotian had come down in the world, and gone crazy-like, and never even crept outdoors to look for eggs in the tenantless sheds and empty pigsties —and that you could range over the whole place wi’out coming athirt the woman at all.
Gangs of marauding boys ventured first, after ungathered apples and unharvested turnips; and their seniors began to take a fearful joy in nocturnal visits from which they returned, bending under mysterious loads.
The fowls disappeared—the woodstack melted—the farm and garden tools took to themselves wings, and the vegetable shed was broken into one night, and gutted. Discovering this, the widow realized that when the flour in the garret, and the potatoes in the cellar; the sides of bacon hanging in the kitchen, and the cheese under the press in the dairy should be eaten, Want would knock at the door of Upper Clays Farm.
Yet when the threshold was approached by ragged tramps with mendacious stories of misfortune, or lean and hairy men with scurvy-marked faces, who said simply that they were invalided soldiers who had been sent home from the Front —Sarah gave of what she had, without reproach or girding. To these last, especially when they came limping on crutches, or showed bandaged wounds, or sleeves empty of arms, she was almost gentle. None of them could tell her anything of Joshua Horrotian, except that two squadrons of the Hundredth Lancers had ridden in the Charge of the Light Brigade.
Hope was all but dead in the woman, when upon a sultry summer evening, the white gate clashed behind a tall, thin, ragged, red-haired and bearded man— and a shabby woman carrying a baby— wrapped in the folds of a faded plaid shawl. As they stood faltering, doubtful of their reception, the :heart of Sarah leapt within her faded wincey bodice, and the ice of her frozen nature broke up.
Always of formal gait and scanty gesture, there was now. something eloquent, free, and almost noble in the woman’s action. She had no words—she was bankrupt of a single text to fit the occasion. But she set back the half-doors, and knelt down upon the worn stone threshold. Bowing her head, she crossed her thin arms upon her aching bosom, then spread them open wide, and waited so.
“Oh! my dear son, whom I have illused, and cast out and denied the right of heritage. Come, take your own, and forgive me, my son—my son! Oh! my dear daughter, whom I have wronged so cruelly—try—try to pardon me! Teach your child to think of me forgivingly. For I have sinned, and the Lord has punished me with rods and scourges. Yet He must have relented towards me —for He has sent you home.”
In words like these the silent action and the mute gesture spoke to the returned wanderers. So they lifted Sarah up, and kissed her; and she wept and kissed them and their child, and was comforted. And they went into the house together. And with them Happiness, and in the end Prosperity, came back to dwell at Upper Clays Farm.
The three hospital-ships slowly rounded the promontory. Their anchors fell with a sudden plunge. The bugles sounded, the gangways opened, the ladders fell —the barges of the Turkish hospitalhulk below the Point of the Seraglio, hurried, with a host of other craft, to receive their load of wretchedness. No surf beat on the rotten planks and shifting stones of the landing-place, and yet the process of disembarkation 'was lengthy and slow.
There was one woman among the many who held blackened hands that hung over the sides of litters, or staggered upwards, aiding some tottering cripple’s steps with the little strength they had.
She bowed herself, and hoisted the yellow parchment-covered skeleton that had been her man upon the shoulders that had carried many a brimming creel of herrings, and, leaning on a knotted staff she had, began to make the ascent.
A few steps, and the woman tottered. But that a black-eyed, white-haired and bearded man, in worn gray traveling clothes, broke through the hedge of spectators, and lent his wasted strength to eke hers out, she would have fallen with her precious load.
So together they carried Jems Geogehagan up the stone-paved road that led to England’s Calvary. As long as Moggy
lived—and she did not die for many years—she remembered that stranger’s face.
The man was Hector Dunoisse. Nor did he ever forget how—as they reached the summit of the toilsome ascent, and the great arch of the Barrack Hospital gaped before them—he saw at last the woman he had come so far to find.
She stood upon a rising knoll of ground, upon the right of the entrance to the Hospital. As in his dream of her, she wore a plain black dress, and a black silk kerchief was tied over the frilled white cap. She was very pale; her eyes burned gray-blue fire beneath her levelled brows, and her lips were colorless and closely set.
Officials of various grades, in mufti and in uniform, were grouped behind her. Nurses in gray or brown hólland dresses and white caps gathered about her: the black habits and white guimpes of the Sisters of Mercy were actively conspicuous among the rest. And as her keen, observant eyes glanced hither and thither—and swift orders dropped from her lips—one nun after another would dart from her side and vanish; to return and speed forth again—diligent as little black-and-white bumble-bees obeying the orders of their Queen.
It is upon record that all through the day, all through the night of fogbleared moonlight and far into the morning that followed, Ada Merling stood while the sick and wounded were being carried into the Hospital.
Strong men grew weary, and went away in search of rest and refreshment. Nurses collapsed, and were succeeded by other nurses. Relays of hearers were replaced by fresh relays. But the Ladyin-Chief remained at her post unflinehingly, and the white-haired man toiled on, and never stopped. For the strength and endurance that breathed from the still composure of Ada Merling seemed, despite his weakness, to communicate itself to Dunoisse. He was giddy, and faint, and breathless—his shoulders were galled, his hands were raw—his boots were in rags upon his blistered feet, when a rose-red dawn suffused the sky behind the wooded slopes of Bulgurlu, and the last burden of wretchedness was carried in.
Then, and not until then. Ada Merling quitted her post, and followed. He who watched the tall, slight figure pass under the deep archway, saw the sentries present arms, saw the heavy gates shut. The last sightseers straggled away, and Dunoisse went down the hill-path, weary, and faint, and limping, yet happier and more at peace than he had been for years. A tumbledown wooden eating-house, kept by a Greek named Demetrios, stood in those days near the landing-quay at Scutari. Dunoisse obtained a miserable room with a poor bed in it, slept for an hour or two, ate what they put before him, and returned to the Hospital.
Fortune favored Dunoisse in his search for Ada Merling. He found her standing near a store-house, barred, and fastened
with its heavy Turkish lock, and guarded by a stolid Irish infantryman. Two nuns were with her—a minor official of the hospital argued and gesticulated—the situation was evidently one of strain. As Dunoisse drew near, he heard her say to this personage :
“But, by good sir, this store contains most of the bales and eases that I brought with me from England. And I am in authority here!”
The man stammered something about an order from the Deputy InspectorGeneral.
“It has been applied for, and has not been received ; and patients are hourly dying for want of the nourishment and comforts that are contained in this store. Under the circumstances-”
“Under the circumstances there Í9 nothing for it but to wait! Excuse me, madam !”
The official spread his hands, shrugged his shoulders, bowed and evaporated. She looked from his retreating back to the nuns’ faces, saw loyalty framed in bands of starched linen, and issued a mandate in unfaltering tones.
“Find me a hatchet, Mother Aquinas. Look for an iron bar, or a beam light enough for us to handle, Sister Jerome! For we are going to break open that door!”
The sentry muttered, bringing the butt of his musket sharply to the flagstones.
“Ma’am, av ye do, ’tis myself will smarrut for ut! . . . Flogged, an’ broke will I be, an’ divil a lie!”
His startling eyes and scarlet face confirmed his sincerity. She said to him:
“You shall not be flogged! I would strip my own shoulders to the lash rather than you should suffer. Stand aside!” She caught up a stone and struck upon the wooden lock.
One of the nuns had found, and now brandished, an ancient, rusty chopper. The other had a bent poker, disinterred from a heap of scrap. As they advanced upon the door, the sentry whimpered, gave in', and put down his musket, crying :
“Stand away, ma’am! Hould harrud, Sisthers! I’ll do ut, be the hokey! The knife of my buttons—the lash to my back—divil a one av me cares wan way or the odher! Give me a hoult av the chopper!” He amended, for Dunoisse, with a brief word to the nun, had already possessed himself of the weapon. “The poker, thin—since the gintleman has a taste for the other article!—and we’ll be in among the blankuts and broth-bottles before yez can say ‘knife!’ ”
The door yielded to their united attack upon it. As the Sisters darted joyfully in, as the sentry resumed his musket, Dunoisse knew that he was recognised. For Ada Merling’s eyes were fixed on him, and a faint tinge of color suffused her paleness. He threw down the chopper on the scrap-heap and approached her, saying hurriedly:
“Miss Merling, Í trust I have not alarmed you by an appearance you were not prepared for? When you have time to listen to me, I will explain why I am here. . . . Meanwhile, let me serve as best I may in this house of sickness and
anguish, under an assumed name, for it will be best that my own should be forgotten! You will not deny me that comfort, I hope?”
“Not if it is a comfort,” she said, with her great eyes fixed upon him, and her delicate lips quivering. “But—are there not grave reasons for your desire to remain unknown? I cannot but suspect it and fear it. You look so worn, and changed from what you were! . . ” “I am changed, as you say,” returned Dunoisse, “but the change is not altogether due to long sickness and close imprisonment-’ ’
“Can it be possible? ... You have really been a prisoner?” she asked, looking at him strangely; and he replied:
“I have been confined in a military fortress of Northern France for the last six months.”
“I dreamed it!”
The words had broken from her despite her will to stay them. To Dunoisse the utterance brought revival of life and hope. He drew nearer, and said, with deep, vibrating earnestness:
‘ ‘ Miss Merling, I was imprisoned without trial, for no crime, but for a desperate effort to retrieve a great wrong that I had done—at the instance of my superiors, unknowingly. . . Should you hear ill of me, do not judge me!— do not condemn me!—try to believe that I have told you the very truth!”
“I do believe you!”
The words, softly spoken, conveyed unfaltering sincerity. He looked his gratitude, and said, in broken tones: “You have no time to listen to the story now, but when you are free, you will hear me tell it?” He added, as she bent her head in assent: “And until
then I will do what service I may in the hospital. Years back, had I listened to you, I should have plucked myself from the morass of vanity and sensuality m which I was slowly, surely sinking. But I had gone too far to draw back. So I took, and spent, that money I had vowed never to touch, and leagued with rogues to put myself upon the throne of Widinitz, and was repaid, and richly, in disgrace and failure. You see, I hide nothing from you! Even in my days of blindness, you were for me the ideal of a woman, noble and pure, disinterested and true!”
She said, putting out her entreatingly : “Your praise is undeserved. I have often reproached myself since, for the lack of tact and discrimination which I showed that night in our conversation at the Embassy. Upon the first occasion of our meeting, you may remember that you bestowed your confidence upon me very freely, very generously. . . . Possibly that is why I spoke to you candidly, as an old friend or an elder sister, forgetting that I had no right.. . . ”
“The right was yours!” said Dunoisse, gripping his thin hands together and speaking low and eagerly. “It is yours to-day! It will always belong to you! In exchange, you have given me a noble woman to believe in, an earthly angel to be my guardian and guide. How can I speak to you, who are so much above me, of what is in my heart towards you? How dare I dream-”
He broke off, for she had silenced him with an entreating look.
“I must go!” she said, and pencilled a hasty line in a memorandum-book taken from her apron pocket, and tore out the scribbled leaf, and put it in his hand. “Give this to the head' of our Medical Department, Surgeon-Major Cray, if you are in earnest in your wish to help us? When I have leisure, we shall meet again, and I will hear your story. And in the meantime, have courage! You are among friends here!”
“If I have one in you,” said Dunoisse, deeply moved, “I need no other, for God has given me the best of all! Yet one question I must entreat you to answer, before you leave me. You said just now that you had dreamed I was a prisoner ... To me, as I walked upon the ramparts under guard one day last March, came a message, in answer to a cry of waking anguish. For I called upon a woman’s name in my loneliness and desolation, and the woman answered—
“ ‘I hear you! Oh! where are you?
It was the unforgettable voice, the very words that were graven upon his memoryHer bosom heaved, her eyes were starry, the rosy flush had risen to her very hair. He said, with a shock of joy in the revelation:
“I am sure, but need words to confirm the belief that is mine already. Answer me, I entreat you! Was not the voice that answered yours?”
She bent her head and hurried swiftly from Dunoisse, leaving him standing in the great hospital quadrangle, under the hot, blue, November sky.
The blood in his veins sang a song of hope. New life had come to him. He pressed the scribbled memorandum to his lips, and hurried in search of the head of the Medical Department. Helpers were sorely needed; the services of the new volunteer were eagerly accepted. And for weeks Dunoisse wrought among the wounded in the Hospital of Scutari. No one cared to ask his name; to those he nursed he was a hand that raised and fed—a voice that spoke consolation— nothing more tangible. Nor during the weeks of toil and exertion that followed did he exchange a word with the woman who had become the one star of his lonely night. But he saw her, and that was enough. Wherever help and sympathy, skill and courage, were most needed, she was to be found unfailingly. Slight creature that she was, her strength seemed superhuman; the fire of zeal that burned in her was quenchless. She breathed her spirit into those who worked with her; they seemed to need no rest.
When fever touched Ada Merling with its scorching wing, there was consternation among the staff, and grief among the patients of the hospital. The attack was severe, but short ; she was removed, during its continuance, to a small gardenvilla adjoining the great Cemetery of Scutari.
And there, as she walked on the short, sweet grass, under the vast and ancient cypresses. Dunoisse—having been sent
for—came to her; and had no words, seeing her so pale and wan and wasted. She held out to him her thin, white hand, and said, with her smile of infinite sweet-
“Now that I have leisure, I keep my promiseI do not think you need an introduction to Sister Jerome, who has nursed me so kindly and so well.”
Dunoisse exchange a handshake and a smile with the Sister, who was a roundfaced, bright-eyed little creature, with a voice sweet as a piping bullfinch’s, and the activity of a kitten or a child. To see Sister Jerome kiss a baby was to think of a blackbird pecking at a cherry . . . When she had dressed her patient’s cruel wounds, she joked and laughed with those who were able to enjoy her chatter. But tears dropped from her bright eyes on the dressings whenever they could drop unseen.
Sister Jerome flitted up and down like a little black-and-white bumble-bee between the alleys of turban-capped or flower-decked tombstones, while Dunoisse told his story to the accompaniment of the doves’ hoarse cooing in the branches overhead. And as he spoke, he sometimes looked for belief and sometimes for comprehension ; and never failed to find them in Ada Merling’s eyes.
“Ldid not need to be told,” she said, when he had ended, “that you have suffered most cruelly. It is written on your face. . . . Possibly another might tell you you blame yourself needlessly— you were a tool in the hand of a master who was responsible—but I shall not do so !
“You tell me that it is your purpose to leave here and go to the Crimea, obtain an audience of Lord Dalgan, and unfold the plot to him. It will be a difficult task to convince him—almost an impossible task. Still—since to you as to me the voice of conscience is the Voice of God—go—and Heaven be with you and bring you safely back again ! ’ ’
The thrill in her sweet voice, the magic of the hand that gently touched his, thawed the old ice about Dunoisse’s heart. He fell down upon his knees before her, and caught a fold of her dress and kissed it, crying passionately:
“Oh! my good angel, from whom once I turned away ! Oh ! dearest and noblest of women, I bless you for those words that hold out hope to me! I swear to you that I will atone ! ”
He sought her hands, and she yielded them to his clasp, and he kissed them lingeringly. He folded them in his own, and laid them upon his heart, and cried : “How can one speak to one so spotless of an earthly passion? And yet 1 will earn the right, one day. Tell me— when I have erased all those black entries from the book of the Recording Angel—when I have washed my soul clean of the guilt of all this blood—tell me that I may come to you and claim my priceless joy—my great reward of you! Give me some sign, even though you do not speak!”
Their eyes met. For answer she leaned over him, and kissed him once, upon tho lips, divinely. . . . Her mouth was a chalice of strengthening. The clasp of her hands gave new life. . . . He said,
exultantly, as they rose up, still looking in each other’s faces:
“Oil, my beloved! I will deserve so much of God, that one day He will give me even you!”
“Hush—hush!” she said, and touched his lips with her cool hand to bid them silenceHe kissed the hand, glanced downwards and stooping, disentangled from the soft material of her dress a trailing branch of delicate, vividly-green creeper, hardly larger in leaf than the climbing rose, and set with long sharp thorns.
“What is that? How beautiful and how unusual!” she commented. Then— as he twisted the dewy green leaves and the sharp prickles into a rough circlet and offered it to her, she took it from him silently—saying to herself: “It is always the hand we love that gives us the crown of thorns!”
And then she called the nun, and bade him good-night, and went back to the little painted wooden villa standing in its nightingale-haunted garden on the main road to Ismid.
Lord Dalgan, Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces in the Crimea, stood leaning an elbow upon the narrow mantleshelf of the clay-brick fireplace that had been built in the corner of the bare, comfortless room of the farmhouse that served him as Headquarters, as he perused this letter—which was penned upon a square sheet of blue official paper, emblazoned with the eagle of Sire my Friend.
The handsome, high-bred, resolute face of Moggy Geogehagan’s bould ould gintleman bore the stamp of weariness and exhaustion. The gallant martial figure in the blue frock-coat that looked so absurdly plain beside the profusely goldlaced and bestarred uniforms of the French generals, had gained a stoop; the dark gray trousers hung loosely on the wasted limbs.
It was dusk as the orderly sergeantmajor ushered in the person who had so urgently sought an interview, and saluted and retired, on the heels of the aidede-camp.
We know who the stranger was. The interview was brief, and as Ada Merline had prophesied, fruitless. Dunoisse had no sooner made the purport of his visit plain, than my lord said, gently but authoritatively, checking him with a gesture of the hand:
“No more, sirYou have sought me, it may be, in all sincerity, but the obligations of my post forbid me to hear you to the end. You have suffered imprisonment—possibly ill-usage—and your views have become distorted. My sympathy for your evident suffering induces me to be lenient. Otherwise, I should not hesitate to hand you over to the representatives of your country, who would deal with you, harshly, it may be. . .’’
He added: “Do you not suppose that reports and accusations of treachery have not already reached me, as they probably have the French. Commander-
in-Chief! You must have little experience if you doubt this!. . . Yet I tell
you, were these accusations true, I should not alter, by one single hair’sbreadth, my method of procedure. For it would be better that the British Army of the East should perish to a man in the trenches before Sevastopol than that England should stoop to show suspicion of her Ally. Our interview is over. . . . Sir, good-night to you!”
And my lord struck upon a bell that stood upon his portable writing-table, and consigned the dismissed visitor to the guidance of the orderly. So, with a burning brain, and dazed eyes and unsteady feet, Dunoisse passed out into a frosty night, bitten in with cold, white, twinkling stars—and went down, stumbling over the deep ruts of the snow-covered road, towards the lights of the Khutor Farm.
It was all over, all over! No atonement was possible ! . . . Weary and weak,
and sick at heart, he reached the farmstead, turned in under a shed where some sacks had been thrown upon the ground, flung himself face downwards upon these, and either slept or swooned.
When he awakened or revived it was daybreak. A couple of Zouaves passed him, making their way northwards towards the French headquarters after a night of drink and gambling.
“0 God!” cried Dunoisse, as the men passed, “be merciful and send me Death! For I cannot keep my vow to Thee and to the woman who has been my earthly worship. It is not in my power to atone!”
A flush of rosy color filled his haggard eys. He lifted them and saw, topping the rugged line of hills to the eastward, where the fires of the Cossack camps sent up thin lines of smoke, blue-white and slanting northwards, the rising of the sun. And the disc of the luminary was pale, dazzling as burnished silver. And a broad, vertical bar of crimson rose above and below it—and a transverse bar of the same glowing, ruddy splendor made the semblance of a Crimson Cross with a central glory. And in that moment knowledge and power and strength came to the son of MarieBathilde. He knew what his atonement was to be.
He had money that had been returned lo him upon his release from the Fortress. He bought a donkey and a canvas saddle with panniers that day in Balaklava, and with a store of simple comforts, bought at a great price from the masters of store-ships in the Hax-bor, he began to go about amongst the camps of the Divisions, and to frequent the pest-houses called hospitals, and to visit the soldiers dying of hunger, and bronchitis, and pneumonia, in the slushy, fx-eezing ti'enches, and to do what good lie might.
He wore a sheepskin cap and coat, and leggings of pigskin. He made himself a dwelling in the crypt of a ruined Greek church. Under the inlaid picture of Our Lady on the wall he made his bed of withered leaves and Array sacking. He lived on the coarsest, plainest food—tak-
ing no more than was needed to sustain the life in him. It is not for nothing that one has Carmel in the blood.
And toiling thus, he forgot his griefs, for labor is a powerful anodyne. And still the war went ou, and still the eyes of England turned towards the Upland, and still her sons died in thousands, and were buried in its marly soil.
The great Tsar died. Marshal Boisrobert retired, and was suceeded by Grandguerrier, the hot, fierce, stout little warrior of whom we know.
He had a tender heart, that little, fiery man who had become Commander-inChief of France’s Imperial Army. Henriette might have been happy, had she married him. . . . And how exquisitely she would have played her part as Madame la Maréchale one may imagine, had not Fate stepped in, in the person of a little drummer of the Line.
For she visited the military hospitals of Kamieseh a few days subsequently to her arrival. As she was leaving the last ward, one of the Sisters of Mercy in charge pointed out to her this youth of eighteen, who had been blinded in both eyes by the explosion of a shell. And Henriette, glancing pitifully at the swollen, bandaged face upon the pillow, said with a shudder:
“Poor young man! How sad that he should suffer so cruelly! Ah! if his mother could only see him now!”
Some tone of the speaker’s seemed to reach the conscioxxsness of the fevered sufferer upon the narrow pallet. He stretched out yellow, bony arms, groping towards the unseen sweetness. He turned his bandaged head towards it, and said, in a voice between a rattle and a gasp:
“Mother, mother, mother! They have broixght you to me at last! Come and hold me, mother, my mother! Come and kiss me, and I shall get quite well!”
The nun in charge would have dissuaded Henriette, saying that the patient was not only wounded, but was suspected to be suffering from a malignant kind of fever, the true character of which had not yet declared itself. But Henriette was obstinate. She felt so strangely happy that day—it seemed to her that she must do something for somebody. And she ran to the squalid pallet and knelt beside it, saying, as though the little drummer had been a child indeed :
“Yes, yes! I am your mother! . . .
Come, now, be good! You disturb the other little onesBe patient!—be quiet! —by-and-by you shall get well!”
She had never been so tender to one of the little pig-tailed girls who had been brought up by the market-gardener’s wife at Bagneres—but you will remember that Henriette could never say No ! to a man. So, as the drummer still moaned to be held and kissed and cosseted, Henriette yielded, and touched with her own lips the poison-breathing lips of the pestilence-stricken—and laid the bandaged head upon her beautiful bosom—and trashed and soothed it there. She coaxed the drummer into taking food and medicine. She sang a
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cradle-rhyme as she rocked the dying lad to rest. Not the naughty little witchsong about the Archbishop’s cupboard, but a vague, tender lullaby, dealing with Our Lady, lilies, roses, angels and stars.
And the delirious parrot-cry was stilled in sleep, but a few days later Henriette was smitten with smallpox, of which the wounded drummer was already dead.
Symptom followed symptom in ugly, familiar procession. When the fever abated, there was no beauty left in the once witching face. The voice of honey, the sweet, enthralling smile, and the seductive shape were left, but beyond these, nothing. By-and-by she asked for a mirror. . . . The nun who nursed her brought her one, after repeated refusals. She looked in it, and said, almost with a smile to Grandguerrier, who had insisted upon being admitted to her bed-
“I am even uglier than that poor boy, am I not? Well,—the best thing I can do now is to go back to my little girls.”
Grandguerrier raved and stormed, they say, but Henriette said No! this time, and said it firmly. And so she went away—she who upon that night you know of had made choice of Christ before all earthly lovers—she whom I, like so many others, have loved against my will.
True to her character of enchantress, she bewitched all those about lier. For the nuns held her a saint—and to his dying day Grandguerrier believed her to be the noblest of women. And would you be surprised to learn that she played the role of perfect mother to the three little pig-tailed girls?
In April, 1910, a radiant celestial traveller, with flaming silvery hair, came rushing back out of the inconceivable, immeasurable spaces that lie beyond the orbit of the planet Neptune, drawn by that strange mysterious need that impels it—at the close of each successive period of eighty to eighty-five years— to revisit the dim glimpses of this speck of Earth.
Old Hector Dunoisse was vaguely uneasy as he gazed at the dazzling-pale wonder. Did it presage some great approaching misfortune?
To each bird’s breast its own nest is the nearest. Old Hector trembled, remembering the great age of the woman who was the one joy and comfort of his life. But early in May, when the faces of men and women of British birth were drawn and livid with suspense, as the electrical waves throbbed out from London, telling the hushed and waiting world how a great King’s last sands of life were dancing out of the glass, he breathed more freely, despite the sorrow that he felt.
Thenccai'ter he was mentally less troubled, but yet in body lie was failing. Those about him shook their heads. It was what they had long anticipated— what else, indeed, should be looked for but that one so laden with years should let their burden slip from the bowed shoulders? They did not know of his determination not to lay down life while yet his loved one lived.
He would look from her photograph to the walnut Crucifix with tlie Emblems of the Passion, and refleet:
“God made her good, therefore He must lie goodness. And though a whole lifetime has gone by since my eyes saw, and my hands touched her—yet she lives, and is, and lias her being beyond those snowy mountains of Switzerland and the broad fertile fields of France—and
across the restless Channel, in the big black city of London I should find her— had I but strength to follow my will— had I but courage to disobey her command. ’ ’
For that had been the guerdon of his great and tireless labors, to be sent away empty-handed, beggared of all but a little hope. He had gone on patiently toiling among the sick and wounded soldiers in the camps at the Crimea, shunning no service that could be rendered, bearing the heaviest and most irksome burdens; always repeating to himself, over and over, the words he bad said at parting to his beloved:
“When I have erased all those black entries from the Book of the Recording angel!—when I have washed my soul clean of the guilt of all this blood, I will come and claim my priceless joy—my great reward of you ! I will deserve so much of God that He will give me even you ! ’ ’
The Allied Armies were withdrawn from the seat of war—the hospitals were closed, yet Dunoisse hesitated to follow her. He had not earned the right, it seemed to him. He volunteered as a surgeon’s assistant on one of the French hospital-ships and returned to Marseilles. Here he rendered service to his wounded countrymen, and —• simultaneously with the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny —was called back to Paris, to be present at the death-bed of Marshal Dunoisse.
The stately mansion in the Rue Chaussee d’Antin had fallen into decay. A dusty board upon the weather-stained portico advertised it as Unfurnished and To Let. In the little ground-floor back room of the porter’s lodge, inhabited by Auguste and his plump-faced wife, the late master of the big house lay dying, his fur-lined cloak spread above the patchwork coverlet and drawn up to his long-unshaven chin. The curly-brimmed beaver hat was perched upon the top of the wardrobe—the gold-mounted teeth were in their morocco case on the deal toilet-table—the ambrosial wig hung upon the looking-glass—the big Malacca cane, its chased golden top replaced by a knob of tarnished pewter, lay beside the Marshal on the frowsy bed. . . .
Monseigneur would have it, Auguste’s stout wife explained, to shake at devils that worried him. When he got too weak to do this she liad set a plaster Crucifix
on the chest of drawers that stood at the foot of the bed.
The Marshal’s race was nearly run, that was evident. But he was conscious, with lapses into semi-delirium. He recognized his son.
“When I said that Flemish Buonaparte should never pick my bones, I forgot you!” he told Hector. “So, when that woman of yours came to me for money for her dear imprisoned one—I gave, though I knew myself a fool ! Then de Fleury sent to me, saving that — though your sentence was for life and the Emperor’s resentment was implacable—he could insure your freedom for —I forget how much, but I know it was a thumping sum of money!—and what in the name of a thousand thunders was a man with bowels to do? You were a poor creature, but Marie’s son, after all!— and so. I let them plunder me. . .
Ah-h! What are you up to now, you rascals, you?”
He saw devils, and roared and brandished his big cane at them. Only in imagination, because his voice had sunk to a crackling whisper, and his hand was powerless. A little child—the year-old son of the ex-coachman's daughter—sat on the bed, holding one of the shrunken fingers—undismayed by the fierce glare of the bloodshot eyes. . . . Monseigneur had been kind to Toto, Auguste’s wife whispered. . . . Dunnoisse, seeing the end approach, signed to her to take the boy away.
A change of mood came upon the old man presently.
“Let me rise up!” lie said to the coachman’s wife, a trifie wildly. “I tell you that I am in the presence of the great! . .
He added, with the rattle in his throat :
“Guilty, M. the President, upon all these counts and charges. But I never showed my back to an enemy, or gave the cold shoulder to a friend in trouble, . . . I am a soldier of Napoleon, I !
And when I see him—even if he be chained down in Purgatory with imps swarming over him, I will draw my sword and cry: ‘Be off, you singed rapscallions!—I come, my Emperor!’ For I fear God,—but He knows me better than to suppose I shall turn tail before a rabble of fiends. . . He made an
ineffectual grasp at the cane—rose in imaginary stirrups, and thundered, in that crackling whisper: “Form column of squadrons! Behind the enemy is our rallying-point ! Charge ! ’ ’
Then he fell back into the hollowed bed limply as an empty saddle-bag, and Dunoisse, with an indescribable pang at the heart, knew that his father, who had loved him after all, was dead, and that he had died without a word of love or gratitude from the son for whom he had gone down beggared to the grave.
The poor remnant of a once handsome fortune was left to that son without conditions. The funeral over, Dunoisse sold what remained of the lease of the house—the furniture, plate, and pictures having mysteriously vanished—and left Paris for the East. Wherever the red star of battle burned, thenceforwards the son of Marie-Bathilde was to be
found aiding the torn and mutilated victims of that grim Moloch we adorn with gold and scarlet; bow down before; give honorable titles to; hang with Orders and Crosses, as though in mockery of the Son of Peace, who died for Love upon the bitter tree.
When the Austrians crossed the Ticino and the French troops entered Piedmont, he quitted the hospitals of Lucknow and hurried to Italy. At Solferino he met with a kindred spirit, and erelong became enrolled a member of a band of high-souled men and women of many nations, who presently were gathered together under the banner bearing the symbol of the Crimson Cross. The funds that were needed to establish the Society upon a sound working basis were supplied from an unexpected source: for when Luitpold, Regent of Widinitz, quitted this life, having been predeceased by his wife, his son, and both his daughters, it was found, by some strange freak of will, that he had bequeathed his vast private estates to the son of MarieBathilde. Thus, the dowry of three hundred thousand thalers having been repaid to the prioress of the Carmelite Convent at AVidinitz, Dunoisse spent the huge sum that remained in the realization of his dream; and when Love and Pity, Charity and Mercy, were leagued all the world over, in a vast, comprehensive Society—when Kangs and Emperors praised and thanked the man whose genins for organization and consummate mastery of detail had perfected this vast machine for the alleviation of suffering—whose riches had been poured out unstintingly to further the cause—it seemed to him that he might now seek out the woman of his worship. And he wrote to Ada Merling asking, “May I come to you?” and she answered : * ‘ Come ! ’ ’
It was after the fall of the French Empire. MacMahon had succeeded Thiers as President. Upon the journey Dunoisse, whose exertions had been unceasing during the Franco-Prussian War, scarcely ate or slept. He answered at random those who spoke to him. When he reached the door of the house in Park Lane he trembled, so that he had to lean for support against the railings. He had changed and aged much in the last) fifteen years.
He was admitted to the beautiful, quiet drawing-room. An elderly servant knocked at a door communicating with this, and went away. The door opened, and the wraith of Ada Merling stood upon the threshold. So white, so wan, so frail, that but for the indomitable fire burning in the blue-gray eyes, and the resolute, energetic setting of the lips, he who loved her, could hardly have known her. . . . He cried out,
stricken to the soul with anguish. . . .
She said to him, with no sign of emotion beyond a tremble in her voice:
“You too are changed—you too have suffered ! That you should suffer no longer I have decided to tell you all. There can be no question of any closer tie between us, but while I live you have my faithful friendship. And it may be that I shall live for years—though I shall never leave my room again!”
She added, as Dunoisse sank down in a chair, and covered his face with his hands :
“Do not grieve. Try to be glad that the path I am to tread has been pointed out so clearly. ...”
“Oh ! my beloved ! ’’ said Dunoisse brokenly. “If you have never loved me I am glad of it for your sake !... But, remembering that evening in the Cemetery at Scutari—can you tell me truly that it is so?”
“I will answer you in a letter,” she said, “when I have gathered strength sufficiently. How soon you will receive the letter, I cannot say!” She added, when they had sat together for a little space in silence: “Now bid me goodbye and leave me. Never seek me!—do not follow me! If you can, find earthly happiness elsewhere. For we are set apart while we botli live, by the Will of God. Nevertheless, in His good time, ai^d in the place He has appointed, " I believe that you and I shall meet again ! ’ ’
And so he had left her, and never since seen her. Yearly a letter from her had reached him, but it had never been the letter. Now you know why Dunoisse would not consent to die. He was waiting for the letter that told him of her love.
He had already waited fifty-six years. Well! he would go on waiting. . . The letter was sure to come.
SHE died in August, and the letter would never come now. . . .
September paved the chestnut-woods with golden leaves, the ripened blackberries vanished before the onslaughts of children and the attack of birds. The snow-peaks turned into pyramids of ice, blizzards swept screaming down the gorges, there were frost-fogs in the valleys and icicles upon the edges of the rocks over which the waterfalls hung in blocks of frozen foam. The Promenade of Zeiden grew empty—people had migrated to Davos or Grindewald. The familiar figure of the old white-haired man in the Bath-chair had not been seen for many a day. For he lay in his large bedroom at the Home, dying at ninetythree years of age, of a complaint the existence of which is, by the physicians, denied. . . .
He was tended with the kindest care. Nor, when the land and submarine telegraphs tapped out the news East, West, North, and South, and the Wireless sent it to the ears of the helmeted operators in the Marconi Installation Room on the upper decks of the great passenger steamers, hurrying with their human cargo to distant countries, did expressions of sympathy fail.
People were very sorry. Extremely sorry. Though hardly anybody had ever in their lives before heard the name of the dying man. Of the Society of the Crimson Cross, they knew quite certainly. An excellent institution. Had done heaps of good. But they had rather imagined it to have been founded by the Prince Consort in 1859, if they were
English; and if they happened to be Germans, they boldly said that the-neverto-be-suf(iciently-esteemed - and-now-with liis-inourned-ancestors-and-beloved-wifereposing Imperial Chancellor, Prince Bismarck, had laid the egg of the idea that another less eminent had hatched.
. . . Italians draped with fine art their own innate convictions that Garibaldi or the Pope were responsible. French people shrugged, superior, for even an Austro-Helvetian, born and bred in Paris, becomes by the most subtle of transitions, a Frenchman of France.
Several Crowned Heads and Scientific Associations cabled sympathetic messages, the Council of the Society of the Crimson Cross pressed for the latest bulletin, the State Council of Widinitz despatched a delegate; the Mayor of Zeiden, with two of his town councillors, made a visit of ceremony to the dying man’s bedside. . . . Two Little Sisters of the Poor were with him—mild-eyed religious who had taken it in turns for years with others of their Community, to visit him daily. Lights were burning between vases of flowers before a Crucifix set upon a little white-draped table. They were ending the recitation of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary as the officials were ushered in.
The man they sought lay, snow-white and barely conscious, a fitful breathing stirring the white hairs of his upper lip. A bleak pinched look was on the brave old face, the great black eyes were closed and sunken. But sometimes their lids would flutter and lift, and they would wander until they fell upon an object that might have been a woman’s bust upon a pedestal draped in a heavy veil of crape that hid its lineaments. And then—the look in them was not good to see.
“M. Dunoisse is barely conscious,” said the elder of the two Sisters. “The doctors hold that the end is close at hand. That he is quite prepared is happily certain,—Monsieur has ever been a devout Catholic. His confessor is to bring him the Viaticum at noon.” The pale face of the speaker flushed as a carriage was heard to stop before the hall-entrance. “It is here!” she said, and hurried to the double doors and flung them wide apart.
THERE were muffled foodsteps upon the druggetted landing. The Sisters were already kneeling, two black-robed, whitewimpled, motionless images of Prayer. The Mayor of Zeiden, a devout Catholic, hastily crossed himself and knelt down. The delegate from the State Council of Widinitz followed his example—the municipal councillors backing, in exquisite discomfort and embarrassment, against the white-papered wall.
The manager of the Home and his chief assistant entered. Each carried a lighted candle in a tall silver candlestick. Their faces were common, ordinary faces, dignified by an expression of absorbed careful attention rather than devoutness. The tall, bulky, bald, aged
man who followed them was not the priest who usually confessed the patient, but an ecclesiastic in the violet cassock that is distinctive of a Cardinal of the Church of Rome. His nervous, energetic-looking hands were folded against his breast; a great amethyst upon the forefinger of the right gleamed purple and rose between the wavering yellow flame of the tapers and the keen dazzle of the autumn sunshine that bathed the lovely landscape seen beyond the lofty windows. His face—pale, heavily-jowled and with the jutting underlip of an orator and a statesman—was absorbed, and rapt, and set. And, keeping his hands always folded over Something hidden in his bosom, he moved forwards slowly, continuously, as St. Christopher might have waded the drift of the icy black river, bearing the world's Redeemer. The kneeling Catholics received the episcopal benediction, the cold, blue rapier-points of the Cardinal ’s keen eyes flashing, as he raised the fingers that bestowed it, at the two standing figures by the wall. A single finger waved, and there was a change. The silver candlesticks, with their burning tapers, now added to the illumination upon the temporary altar, the room was emptied of all human presence, save the stately, imposing figure of the ecclesiastic and the scarcely-breathing form upon the bed. The sunk, sealed eyelids twitched and lifted. Recognition dashed in the great black eyes. The Cardinal said low and distinctly:
“My son, the priest who was to administer the Last Sacraments has been seized with sudden illness. Knowing me to be staving at Mölkenzell — where I have been taking the whey-cure—he telegraphed, entreating me to supply his place.” He added: “And I hesitated not to come—for it may be that Our Lord requires of you this act of final obedience. Will you consent to receive His Body from the hands of one who has been your enemy, but who has already humbly entreated your forgiveness—who renews bis penitence at this final hour?”
With a great effort the dying man fal;ered :
Then tears dimmed the eyes that had ost their brilliance, the hollow cheeks mlpitated—the chin quivered—old Hector wept. . . . And the visitor soothed iim, bending over the pillow, and the Confession was completed; the thready, •reathless whispers of the penitent reilying to the resonant undertones of he priest.
1 He received Absolution then, and the final Blessing.
Extreme Unction followed the Commnion of the Hying. And as the acred rite went on, an awful sterness settled over the grave old aquiline ace. All the long life of Hector Buoisse lay unrolled as a map before his îental vision. He appraised, he valed, he weighed. . . . And, weighing, he ras made aware how Self, in the opposlg scale of the just balance, weighed own the seeming stately pile of noble icrifices made and good deeds done for ,’eaven. Ah! little wonder that the
grand old face grew sterner and sterner as the Sacrament reached its close, and lie who ministered by the death-bed, passed to the Recommendation of the Departing Soul.
HE was very weary, the great Churchman who had travelled from Mölkenzell —hut when he reached his private rooms at the hotel he could not rest. Something urged him with a soundless voice, plucked at him with invisible hands, constrained him to return to the deathchamber. . . He dined, and snatched brief sleep beset with dreams upon a preposterous, green-plush sofa. Then he obeyed the entreaty, or the mandate, and took his biretta, and threw a heavy cloak about him, for it was night and cold; and stepped out upon the Promenade.
The Home was but a few minutes’ walk from the Promenade; he reached it in a few moments. The hall-door stood open; some silent-footed men in black came out as His Eminence mounted the steps.
He traversed the vestibule and passed upstairs. The diligent hands of the Little Sisters had already completed the last arrangements. Into the middle of the lofty room, with its consecrated burning candles and massed votive wreaths and crosses, the narrow, white-draped bed had been drawn. At the foot of it stood the altar, with its Crucifix, and its vases of flowers, and burning tapers.
One of the Little Sisters of the Poor knelt on a prie-Dieu near the bed-foot. Then, as de Moulny turned towards the bed to sprinkle it and its occupant from the little stoup of holy water that stood upon a small stand close by, an oblong patch of whiteness showing relief againsl its purple cover drew his attention. The meek, good eyes of the Sister had followed the Cardinal’s. They now encountered them.
“It was I who placed it there,” the Sister explained, with a little innoceni confusion. “It arrived by the afternooi post. It is a letter from England—M Dunoisse received one in that handwrit ing regularly once a year at Noel ... it arrival was Monsieur’s great festival!’ She added, as the Cardinal took the lette in his hand: “The good God permitte« Monsieur to suffer a terrible bereave ment in the death of the dear friend wh* thus remembered him!” She glance* at the crepe-veiled bust in the window bay, and added: “In August he receive* the news. At the close of Septembe comes this letter—a message from th dead to the dead.”
The Cardinal’s expression of compose stern gravity did not change as th Sister made her explanation.
“Leave me, my child,” he said to th nun, “and rest until I again summo you. I desire to remain alone awhile b this bed of holy death.”
The Sister withdrew, leaving th Cardinal standing with the letter in hi band by the old white head that reste upon the flower-strewn pillow. A snov pure veil of unutterable peace had bee
drawn by the hand of gentle Death over the splendid, powerful brow, the sealed eyes, and the high, clear-cut, aquiline features. The face was wonderfully noble, marvellously grand.
A great prelate, a subtle theologian, a profound scholar, no priest was more deeply read than Cardinal de Moulny in the pages of the Book of Life and Death. Long years of experience among the living, stores of knowledge accumulated beside innumerable death-beds, had taught him that the deeper you read between the pages of that Book, the less you know that you know.
An idea struck him as he looked from the dead face to the envelope, obviously yellowed, addressed in a delicate oldfashioned handwriting faded as though by the passage of many years—to an address in Paris that had belonged to Dunoisse many years previously—now readdressed in blacker ink in a modern upright hand. And as he looked, yielding to a sudden impulse, he tore open the envelope and mastered the contents. He read by the light of the death-tapers that flickered on the altar at the bedfoot, set on either side of the Crucifix, carved in dark walnut with the Emblems of the Passion, that had hung above the head of the bed. The letter bore the date of thirty-nine years back. It ran thus:
"It has been made clear to me that what It Is my determination to reveal to you in this letter cannot be known by you while the hand that penned it is yet warm and living. So, once written, it shall lie in the shabby desk most people laugli at until my summons comes from that High Power Whose call we must all obey. There was a time, though you have never suspected it, when for the sake of the sweetness of the earthly love you had not then ottered me. 1 would have taken my hand from the plough.
“Nor when the gift was made, was I without my hour of doubt and hesitation, for, had I linked my life with yours, I must have broken a vow. Well !—1 was spared the choice by the verdict of the London physicians—the relentless progress of the disease that bound me prisoner to this room within whose four walls I have now for so many years lived and labored. . . . Dear friend—dearest of all
earthly friends—there is no marriage in that world where blessed spirits dwell, but there Is Oneness. It Is the gift of God to souls that bave purely loved upon earth. Oh my belovedwhom I loved from the first—whom I shall love to the last—and this world is not the last, thanks be to God for it‘—1 do most humbly trust In llim that we who have been so long divided here on earth shall meet and be one in Heaven.”
CARDINAL DE MOULNY was not ordinarily prone to yield to emotion — not commonly open to the appeals of sentiment—yet the tears rolled down his heavy cheeks as he read. It seemed to him so exquisitely piteous that the reward of his dead friend’s unswerving devotion and life-long fidelity should have come too late to yield him joy.
Was it fancy? Was it some shadow cast athwart the dead face by a windblown taper-flame that made the stern old beautiful mouth under the white moustache that charitable hands had trimmed and waxed for Dunoisse, seem to be smiling? The glassy, fixed eyes were a little open. Had they not been shut a little while before? The steady nerves of the questioner knew a strange thrill of awe. . . . He stepped to the bedside.
gazed earnestly in the still, white face. No doubt, death was there! He touched the icy wrist,—bent his ear close to the cold, shrouded heart—Death, beyond all doubt! Yet, remembering that he had solemnly sworn, many years before, to be the friend of Dunoisse to the edge of Death, and, if possible, beyond—he would do as some unseen Mentor now prompted. . . . There was no sin in the thing. . . It was an act of charity. . . .
So, as he would have shouted in the ears of an expiring penitent, following the retiring consciousness to the remotest bounds of vitality with the sacred words, the gracious consolations of Holy Church, now with all the power of his splendid lungs de Moulny shouted the letter of the dead woman in the ears of her dead lover. There was not a spark of life in the glassy eyes glimmering between the rigid, livid eyelids. The deadly chill of death hit him like a frost as he slipped the letter within the folds of the shroud where the leather case that held its comrades was hidden or the breast of Hector Dunoisse. He was a little contemptuous of his own weakness as he dipped his fingers in the china shell of holy water—-sprinkled the head and feet of the corpse, and murmured a Latin prayer commending the departed soul to the Divine Mercy. Then he lifted his fur-lined mantle from the floor where he had dropped it—and went out of the room with long, light, noiseless steps, shutting the door.
The man who lay upon the flowerdecked, white-draped bed, with dimly burning tapers at his head and feet, and his dead love’s letters lying upon his dead breast under the stiff, white hands that held a Rosary, saw the tall, corpulent figure in the purple cassock pass out of the room. He heard the closing of the door.
He had heard the letter, every word of it. And the revelation of her long-hidden secret had brought him unutterable joy— joy of which he knew he must infallibly have died, had he not been already dead.
For he knew quite well that he was dead; but that his spirit had not yet passed beyond the gates of its earthly tenement. He waited in a great, cold, quiet void. The little busy world spun on, for ever divorced from him. He was one with the Immensities of Eternity. He hung, an isolated point in Hlimitable Space, upon the borders of the Otherwhere. He knew no shrinking. Terrors are for nerves of flesh, fears for the finite, mortal, perishable. . . He lay like a drop of water that is yet a boundless ocean, enclosed in the hollow of the Almighty Hand.
It has been said and written by learned men, dead ages ago—that the soul remains a prisoner for hours, perhaps days, when the spark of Life is extinguished, and the heart is for ever stilled. Perhaps it was the third hour after death, perhaps the third day—who knows?—when Dunoisse became aware that four walls no longer bounded his horizon—that the peaks and ranges of the ancient snow-erowned mountains now rose up about him. . . . He stood beside
a new-made grave, covered and sur! rounded with crosses and wreaths of fading flowers, in the cemetery that lies on the hillside below Zeiden. The flush of dawn was upon all. Nature, the frosted grasses at his feet bowed to the earth in slumber; the lake far below, lying in the lap of the wintry woods and meadows, seemed to slumber and dream . . . and in the East, to which his face was turned—the mysterious East that has been, since the childhood of this old world, the threshold across which Revelation lias stepped with shining feet—the moon was rising more gloriously than he had ever known the great silvery-golden planet rise—or was it the sun? . . .
The solemn mountains were no longer round him. Ilis temples were no longer kissed by a breeze that was chill with the frosts of earthly night. A balmy warmth, an exquisite fragrance, an enveloping, embracing sense of light and peace and rest, were his now. He stood amidst vast, illimitable fields of lilies,— tall bosomed stems that bowed and swayed and whispered as though a wind were passing over them. Yet the atmos: phere was still—so still, so clear, so pure, that his unspoken thought stirred it, sending waves of vibrations eddying through its celestial ether, as uttered words of earthly speech set in motion the mundane air:
"These are the Fields of Paradise,” was his thought. And—oh ! with what bliss unutterable he heard the Beloved answer in that wordless, thrilling language that is common speech with the Blest :
"These are the Fields of Paradise— and I am here with you ! ’ ’
He cried out: "Blessed be God!” seeI ing her coming.
She answered: "Blessed be God!” even as she came.
He had had earthly dreams of meeting j her after Death in some roseate land beyond the sunset, dressed in the welli loved, sober, black silk gown, white cap I and little cape, walking upon the virgin shores of some tideless, opal ocean.
This was the Divine reality—that she ¡ should move to him through a whispering sea of lilies; robed in the spotless glory of her unstained virginity, with the shining halo of her long martyrdom hovering over her pure brow, reflected in her radiant eyes.
"Oh, my Love!” she said, in that thought-speech of Paradise that is sweeter than all the singing of all the nightingales of earth, "there is no marriage in Heaven, but there is Oneness.
It is God’s gift to souls that have faithfully loved on earth!”
"Oh, my Love!” he said, "Inever dreamed you half so beautiful.”
"And ah! my Love,” she answered back, “I never knew before how glorious you were!”
They were speechless for a moment, gazing on each other, while the little years of our earth flitted by, and its men and women were born, and grew up and grew old. She held out both hands to him then, and he would have fallen at her feet, but, "No!” she said, and open-
ed her dear arms, and took him to her breast instead.
And heart to heart they stood; lips hushed on lips in the kiss of Paradise that outweighs all the joys we covet. And the lilies kept whispering as though they knew a secret. “Who is coming?” they rustled to each other. “We know!—we
There was a Footstep in that holy place. The lilies ceased whispering—it was still, so still! Who came, moving through His Garden of Paradise as of old time He moved through His earthly Eden, calling the man and the woman? The lilies knew, but they did not say.
The woman and the man heard His Voice. They turned, hand clasped in hand, to see the Face of Love smiling under the Crown of Thorns; and, oblivious even of each other in the bliss of the Beatific Vision, they fell in adoration at those nail-pierced Feet that trod the Dolorous Way under the weight of the Cross; toiling under the burden of their sins and yours and mine—that, repentant—we might find pardon and salvation.