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Title: A Fool in Spots
Author: Rives, Hallie Erminie
Language: English
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[Illustration: “‘She is beautiful!’ he exclaimed.” Page 77.]


A FOOL IN SPOTS

by

HALLIE ERMINIE RIVES.

Illustrated.



Published by
Woodward & Tiernan Printing Co.
St. Louis.

Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1894, by
Woodward & Tiernan Printing Co.
St. Louis. Mo.,
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
All Rights Reserved.



To my dear Mother and Father.



CONTENTS.

                                 Page
CHAPTER I.

TWO ARTISTS                         7

CHAPTER II.

DREAMS AND SCHEMES                 20

CHAPTER III.

AN HONEST MAN’S HONEST LOVE        31

CHAPTER IV.

IN THE SOCIAL REALM                37

CHAPTER V.

THE IMAGE OF BEAUTIFUL SIN         44

CHAPTER VI.

WHITE ROSES                        52

CHAPTER VII.

THE CALL OF A SOUL                 57

CHAPTER VIII.

LIFE’S NIGHT WATCH                 62

CHAPTER IX.

A KENTUCKY STOCK FARM              68

CHAPTER X.

THE BIRTH MARK                     75

CHAPTER XI.

HEARTS LAID BARE                   87

CHAPTER XII.

SUNLIGHT                           97

CHAPTER XIII.

THE PICTURESQUE SPORT             103

CHAPTER XIV.

WEDDED                            108

CHAPTER XV.

CHLORAL                           113

CHAPTER XVI.

A BOLD INTRUDER                   120

CHAPTER XVII.

AN ERRAND OF MYSTERY              130

CHAPTER XVIII.

A TIMELY WARNING                  140

CHAPTER XIX.

A PLAINT OF PAIN                  146

CHAPTER XX.

A CROP OF KISSES                  151

CHAPTER XXI.

A HOPE OF CHANGE                  156

CHAPTER XXII.

THE HOME IN THE SOUTH             160

CHAPTER XXIII.

A STRANGE DEPARTURE               172

CHAPTER XXIV.

OF THE WORLD, UNWORLDLY           183

CHAPTER XXV.

TEMPTED                           193

CHAPTER XXVI.

LOST FAITH                        197

CHAPTER XXVII.

THE CUP OF WRATH AND TREMBLING    203

CHAPTER XXVIII.

A DROP OF POISON                  207

CHAPTER XXIX.

ROBERT’S TRIUMPH                  211

CHAPTER XXX.

SHADOWING HER                     216

CHAPTER XXXI.

GONE                              219

CHAPTER XXXII.

STORMING THE LION’S DEN           222

CONCLUSION                        232



A FOOL IN SPOTS.



CHAPTER I.

TWO ARTISTS.


They were seated tete-a-tete at a dinner table.

“Tell me why you have never married, Milburn,” and the steel eyes in
Willard Frost’s face searched through his glasses.

Robert Milburn’s answer was a shrug, and a long cloud of smoke blown
back at the glowing end of his cigar.

“Tell me why,” persisted the keen-eyed Frost.

“Because it is too expensive a luxury; besides, a man who has affianced
a career like mine must take that for his bride,” was Robert’s answer.

“Admitting there is warmth and color in some of your artistic
creations, old fellow, I should think you would find these scarcely
available of winter nights, eh?”

Robert laughed; his laugh was short, though, and bitter. He had taken
keen pleasure in the cynical worldly wisdom and unsentimental judgment
of this man.

“If you can’t afford the wife, then let the wife afford you,” began
Frost’s logical reasoning. “You have brain, muscle and youth. Marry
them to that necessary adjunct which you do not possess, and which the
government refuses to supply. This is perfectly practical. The whole
question of marriage is too much a matter of sentiment; too little
a matter of judgment. Now, the son of a millionaire without an idea
above his raiment and his club, devoid of morals and of brains, marries
the daughter of a silver king. What is the result? A race of vulgar
imbeciles.”

Here Frost, more wickedly practical, continued: “Now, you are of
gentle blood, being fitted out by nature with the most unfortunate
combination of attributes. Nature has given you much more than your
share of intelligence and manly beauty, together with most refined and
sympathetic sensibilities and luxurious tastes, and then has placed you
in an orbit representing intelligence, aristocracy and wealth. Here
she has left you to revolve with the greater and lesser luminaries,
and that with the slenderest of incomes, which is not as yet greatly
increased by your profession. You doubtless find that it requires
considerable financiering to do these things deemed necessary to
maintain your position in the constellation.”

“It is rather annoying to be poor,” Robert answered in a carefully
repressed voice. A hard sigh followed, and there flashed through him
the hot consciousness of the bitter truth. For that special reason no
word had ever crossed his lips that could, by any means, be twisted
into serious suit with the fair sex. It was generally accepted that he
was not a “marrying” man.

They were, both of them, men who would at first sight interest a
stranger. The younger of the two you might have seen before if you
frequented the ultra-fashionable dinner parties, luncheons, etc., of
polite New York. Anywhere, everywhere, was Robert Milburn a special
guest and a general favorite.

He was medium-sized, delicately featured, with a look of half-lazy
enthusiasm. You would set him down at once as an artistic character;
at the same time, there was in his make-up and bearing, that which
bespeaks an ambitious nature. His companion, who appeared older, was a
man of statelier stamp, tall and sufficiently athletic. His face was
well finished and had a certain air of self-possession, which not a few
name self-conceit, and resent accordingly.

“Ah! Robert, you have entirely too much sentiment, my boy. Do not
waste yourself. I will cite you a girl--there’s Frances Baxter. True,
she is not good looking, in fact, I presume quite a few consider her
extraordinarily plain. But that excessive income is worth your while to
aspire to--such a name as Milburn is certainly worth something.”

With an earnestness of tone and manner which the gossipy nature of
the talk hardly seemed to call for, Robert nervously threw aside his
crumpled napkin and looked sharply at his companion, saying:

“Surely, then, I may do something better with it than sell it.”

“There, we will not argue, I am too wise to oppose a man who is
laboring under the temporary insanity of a love affair. I had feared
that you were not so level-headed as is your wont. Come, who is the
woman? Is it the Southern girl at the Stanhope’s?”

“Of whom do you speak?” asked Robert, looking pale and annoyed.

“Of Miss Bell--Cherokee Bell--to be sure.”

“You honor me with superior judgment to so accuse, whether it be true
or not,” and upon Milburn’s face there was that expression which tells
of what is beyond.

The other smiled meaningly, and raised his brows.

“Ah, my dear boy,” he mutely commented, “I am sorry my supposition is
true, but it leaves me wiser, and no transparent scheming goes.”

“Tell me your opinion of her, Milburn, I am interested deeply.”

“Well, I have always said she was positively refreshing,” began Robert.
“She came upon us to recall a bright world. She came as a revelation to
some, a reminiscence to others, and caused our social Sahara to blossom
with a suddenly enriched oasis.”

“Yes, she has that indescribable lissomeness and grace which she
doubtless inherits with her Southern blood. I was attracted, too, by
the delicacy of her hands and feet, of which she is pardonably proud.
But that scar or something disfigures one hand.”

Robert spoke up quickly: “That is a birth-mark, I think it is a fern
leaf.”

“A birth-mark! Oh hopelessly plebeian, don’t you think?”

“Your Miss Baxter has a very vivid one upon her neck.”

“I beg pardon, then, birthmarks are just the thing.”

Frost had commenced in a bantering mood, but now and again his voice
would take a more serious tone.

“Joking apart, Miss Bell is charming. She is, thanks to God, a being
out of the ordinary. She has a style unstinted and all her own. I
have upon several occasions made myself agreeable, partly for my own
gratification and partly because I saw in her eyes that she admired me.”

Frost leaned back in intended mock conceit, no small portion of which
appeared genuine.

Robert gave way to laughter, in which just a tinge of annoyance might
have been detected.

“She is quite accustomed to these attentions, for all her life
adoration has been her daily bread.”

“I should like to know how you are so well posted?” asked Frost, with a
dark flash in his grey eyes.

Robert Milburn lifted his head proudly, and answered quietly: “I have
known her since she was a little slip of a lass.”

“And how did the meeting come about? you were brought up in Maryland, I
believe.”

“True, but in the early ’80s I spent one spring and summer South. I was
at ‘Ashland.’ You know that is the old home of Henry Clay. It is about
in the center of the region of blue grass, down in Kentucky. Clay’s
great grandson, by marriage, Major McDowell, owns this historic place.
He is a well-mannered and distinguished host, and allowed me to fancy
myself an artist then, and I made some sketches of his horses--he is a
celebrated stock breeder.”

“How I should enjoy seeing a good stock farm; that is one pleasure
I am still on this side of,” put in Willard. “Go on, I meant not to
interrupt you.”

“The Major often saddled two of his fine steppers and invited me to
ride over the country with him. It was upon one of these jaunts that I
met the girl. It happened in this way: We were in the blue grass valley
just this side of the mountainous region. A turn-row, running through
a field of broken sod was our route, to avoid a dangerous creek ford.
With heartsome calls and chirruping, six plowmen went up and down the
long rows. The light earth, creaming away from the bright plowshare,
heaped upon their bare feet. I thought, ‘What is so delicious as the
feel of it--yielding, cool, electrical, fresh.’ We stopped to watch
them. They tramped sturdily behind the mules, one hand upon the
plow-handle, the other wrapped about with the line that ran to the
beast’s head. Presently, they all fell to singing a song--a relic,
it must have been, from the old care-free days. Over and over they
chanted the rude lilt, and their voices were mildly sweet. We stopped
to listen, for their song was like no other melodies under the sun.”

“But where does the girl come in? I expected to hear something of her,”
interrupted Willard, with an impatient gesture.

“Oh, yes! She is just down a trifle farther in the pasture lands with
an ‘ole Auntie.’ The Major addressed the negress as ‘Aunt Judy.’ They
were welcoming the new comer--a calf. The Auntie wore a bandana and a
coarse cotton print, over which was a thin, diamond-shaped shawl. Her
subdued face was brown--the brown of tobacco--and her weary eyes stole
quick, wondering glances at us, and instinctively she took the child’s
hand, as if to be sure she was safe.

“Now I come to Cherokee--let me try to describe her to you. In
coloring, delicacy, freshness, she was a flower. Her hair was combed
straight back, but it was perversely curly; and the short hairs around
her forehead had a fashion of falling loosely about, which was very
pretty. She was slim, her drooping-lashed eyes wore a soft seriousness.
She at once chained my vagrant fancy and I promised myself that would
not be the only time I should look upon her. On the homeward way the
Major told me she was the only child of Darwin Bell, an excellent
man. A man of good blood, good sense and piety, ‘but the best of all,’
continued the Major, ‘he was a gallant Confederate captain.’

“Then he happened to recall the fact that I was of the other side and
said: ‘I beg your pardon young man, but Darwin and I were army mates,
and that eulogy was but a heart-throb.’

“He had quite a little to tell of the negress. She was Cherokee’s
‘black mammy,’ and her faithfulness was a striking illustration of the
devotion of the slaves. It seems to me that the most callous man or
woman could not fail to appreciate little touches, here and there, of
the sweet kindly feeling that nestles close to the core of honest human
hearts. I went home that night in a softer mood.”

“Softer in more senses than one, I judge, also poorer,” Frost returned,
amusedly.

“You mean I had lost my heart?” the other asked in an odd tone.

“To be sure, but tell me more of Miss Bell, she is very like a serial
story, and I want awfully to read the next chapters.”

“Then you must learn the sequel from her.”

“That is not quite fair of you, but I have a mind to; in fact, I know I
cannot resist cultivating your blonde amaryllis, if you don’t object?”

Willard Frost smiled half--chaffingly, and quite enjoyed the expression
of surprise and anxiety upon his companion’s face.

“That is a matter of the utmost indifference to me,” was the icy
answer. The speaker’s hand, as it lay on the table, opened and shut in
a quick nervous fashion, which showed that he was more annoyed than he
looked, whereupon Frost waxed more eloquent and earnest.

“I mean to enter, though well I know, when love is a game of three, one
heart can win but pain.”

“But that would surely be mine, for what chance has a poor devil of an
artist like me with the invincible Frost?”

“I come under the same heading,” returned Willard, “I am an artist too.”

“Yes, but it would keep me in a desperate rush to run ahead of you--you
the prince of the swagger set, a member of half a dozen clubs, owner
of the smartest of four-in-hands, a capital dinner-giver, and a
first-rate host, and, accompanying these, a plethoric purse to make all
hospitalities easy.”

As Robert spoke, Frost poured out the last of the second bottle of
champagne and looked carelessly at the bill for it, which the waiter
had presented to the other.

“Suppose you find you a champion to do your battle--a John Alden?”

“He might do as Alden did, and keep the prize. My chum, Latham, is the
only one I dare trust to win and divide spoils, and he is abroad now,
you know.”

“Right glad I am, for Marrion Latham is a marvellous success with
womankind. Still, I want some one to oppose me, for no game is worth a
rap for a rational man to play unless he has competition”--this with
decided emphasis.

“What’s the matter with Fred Stanhope? I think he will make it
interesting for you.”

“Oh, I want a man, not a sissy. He is just the son of Mr. Stanhope.
He hasn’t enough sense to grease gimlets. He is a rich-born freak,
and I think he has set out to make a condign idiot of himself, in the
briefest, directest manner, and he will doubtless succeed. I prefer you
for a rival.”

“But Frost, I would be powerless, quite powerless, with you in the
field.”

“Ah, you idealize me, make me too great a hero,” answered Frost, quite
pleased within himself.

“Not a hero,” spoke Robert slowly, “but a smooth calculating man of the
period, just the manner of man to take with that type of woman. She,
this charming, intense creature, is so innocent, so ‘un-woke-up’, I
might say.”

“I am a holy terror at awakening one, and if there is any money with it
I shall exert myself to arouse her.”

There was an awkward silence. Frost paused and lighted a cigarette.

“Has she any plantations, stock farms, and the like? You seem so well
up in her history.”

“No, with the exception of a thousand dollars or so, she is absolutely
without means.”

“That settles it,” said Frost, flippantly. “You and your John Alden may
open negotiations for her beauty and innocence, but they are too tame
for me.”

“You are a fisherman, Frost, and if you can’t catch a whale you catch
a trout, and if you can’t catch a trout you would whip in the shallows
for the poor little minnows.”

“Minnows have their use as bait,” returned the other, with a meaning
smile.

“But not to catch whales with, and you direct the training of my
harpoon toward a big haul, yet you can stop to fish where you get but a
nibble? What a peculiar adviser--rather inconsistent, don’t you think?”
observed Robert, with a cynical sense of amusement. “I shall keep an
eye on you.”

“And I shall keep an eye on that fact,” muttered Frost to himself when
he had left his friend. “It is not much, but it would answer the small
demands of an honest girl. I will see about that _thousand dollars_.”



CHAPTER II.

DREAMS AND SCHEMES.


Willard Frost’s observations rang in Robert Milburn’s ear, not without
effect, as he walked to his room that evening, albeit, his conscience
refuted the arguments. He whiled away an hour or more piecing together
the broken threads of their discussion. Frost had said, and in truth,
that Miss Baxter was the richest prize of the season. She had turned
all heads with her fabulous wealth. He had said, “A union of wealth
and genius is as it should be.” That speech had a mild influence over
Robert. There was something very soothing and agreeable to be called a
rising genius, and, then, the thought that other men would be gnashing
their teeth was a stimulant to his vanity.

Miss Baxter was a sharp girl, and she had an exquisite figure which she
dressed with the best of taste. What if her nose was a trifle snub, and
her mouth verging on the coarse, she had a large capital to contribute
to a copartnership.

But when love, or whatever else by a less pretty name we may call the
emotion which stirs within us, responsive to the glance or touch of
a woman, sweeps man’s nature as the harpist the strings of his harp,
all thoughts pass under the dominion of the master passion; even the
thought of self, with all its impudent assertiveness, changes its
accustomed force, and sinks to a secondary place.

Love is a disturber and routs philosophy, and as for matrimony, Robert
rather agreed with the philosopher who said, “You will regret it
whether you marry or not.” An old painter had once told him that in
bringing too much comfort and luxury into the home of the artist, it
frightened inspiration.

“Art,” he said, “needs either solitude, poverty or passion; too warm
an atmosphere suffocates it. It is a mountain wind-flower that blooms
fairest in a sterile soil.”

From the scene-house of Robert’s memory came visions strangely sweet;
they came like the lapse of fading lesson days, gemmed here and there
with joys, and crimsoned all over with the silken suppleness of youth
and its delights.

Again the glamour of gold and green lay over the warm South earth. New
leaves danced out in the early sunshine, dripping sweet odors upon all
below. Robins in full song made vocal the budding hedgerows from under
which peeped the hasty gold of the crocus flower. By fence and field
peach trees up-flushed in rosy growth, and the wild plum’s scented
snowing made all the days afaint and fair. And again the woods were
brave in summer greenery; hawthorn--dogwood, stood bridal all in white.

Matted honeysuckle, that opened as if by magic in the dewless, stirless
night, arched above a garden gate, wherefrom, with hasty thrift, tall
lilacs framed a girl in wreathen bloom.

From the moment the gleam of that sweet face of hers touched him, the
world, he felt, would lose its luster if Cherokee did not smile on him,
and him alone, of all the world of men.

All the wealth, fashion and talent of the rest of women in their
totality, were of no more meaning to him than the floating of motes in
the great sunbeam of his love for this girl. This fact made all other
resolutions impossible--glaringly impossible.

With this honest conviction in his manly breast he went to bed, and the
blessed visitor of peace placed fingers upon his eyelids to keep watch
until the morrow.

       *       *       *       *       *       *

Two ladies, in loose but becoming morning gowns, sat, at the
fashionable hour of eleven, breakfasting in a dainty boudoir in an
extension to a fine residence on Fifth Avenue. The table, a low
square table covered with whitest linen, was set before a great open
fireplace, where gas gave forth flashes of lurid lights which were
refracted by the highly polished surface of the silver tray, teapot,
sugar and creamer.

The elder lady had the morning paper in her lap and she sat sipping
her tea. She scarcely looked her four and forty. Youth was past, but
the charm of gracious maturity lay in her clear glance and about the
soft smiling mouth. The girl had turned her easy chair away from the
table, perching her pretty feet on the brass rail of the fender. Her
aristocratic brown-blonde head was bending over the _Herald_.

“Here is another puff about Willard Frost, the portrait painter,” she
said complacently. “He has become the rage; I suppose the fact that he
is a romantic figure of an unconventional type is one reason as well as
his artistic qualities.”

[Illustration: “‘He has become the rage.’” Page 23.]

“And, too, because he is unmarried,” said the elderly lady. “Society is
strange, and when the gods marry they lose caste. If he should bring
home one day a beautiful wife, I fancy few women would care about
sitting for portraits then.”

“I cannot understand that; why is it?” inquired the girl, innocently.

“Because women declare against women. I wouldn’t be surprised if they
were already angry with you.”

“Why?”

“I have thought that he fancied you and showed you preference.”

“He has been quite nice, but I thought it was generally understood that
he would make love to Miss Baxter.”

“I may be wrong, but I sometimes imagine you like him, and I do not
blame you either, my dear; many a girl has married less attractive men
than your artist.”

“Oh, he is handsome, has a magnificent build, and that voice--”
murmured the girl, clasping her hands over her knee and looking into
the fire.

The other watched her intently and said slowly: “I had hoped to save
you for my boy--he is our best gift from God, and you--come next.”

The girl smiled softly, “Oh, Fred doesn’t care for me; he says I remind
him of hay fields and yielding clover. I take it that he means I am too
‘fresh,’” observed the girl, half seriously.

“Not at all; what is purer and sweeter than to be forest-bred? Why,
after all these long years, I tire of my city fostering and long for
the South country where your mother and I grew into womanhood. And
while Fred chaffs you about being a country girl, he is really proud
of you. He often talks to me: ‘Why, mother,’ he tells me, ‘I never
saw anything like it; as soon as she appeared she shone; a sudden
brightness fills the place wherever she goes; a softened splendor comes
around.’ And dear, I am not blind, I see you are besieged by smiles and
light whispered loves--you hold all hearts in that sweet thrall; you
are the bright flame in which many moths burn.”

“You are both very, very, kind--Fred and you”--Here she was interrupted
by a maid entering with a card.

“Mr. Willard Frost.”

“Ah, Cherokee, what did I tell you? He has even taken the liberty of
calling at unconventional hours.”

As Frost waited below he nervously moved about; there was a sort of
sub-conscious discomfort, as of one whose clothes are a misfit. The
least sound added to his uneasy feeling.

“Am I actually in love with her?” he asked, “or does her maidenly and
becoming coyness excite my surfeited passion? Is it something that will
burn off at a touch, like a lighted sedge-field,” he reflected. “Would
I marry her if I could? Well, what’s the difference? The part I have
undertaken is a good one; I will see it through and risk the winning.”

When Cherokee appeared he thought her lovelier than ever. He looked
hungrily at her fair, high-bred face, her enigmatical smile that might
mean so much or so little. She gave him her hand in kindly welcome.

“You will pardon my stupidity to-day, for I shouldn’t have come feeling
so badly, and I should not have come at all had I not wanted a kind
word of sympathy,” he said, when the first salutations were received.

“You did quite right,” she answered, “burdens shared are easier
carried. What is your trouble?”

“I would not confide in many, but somehow I have always felt we were
vastly more than common friends. Do you feel that way about it?” he
asked, in weighing tones.

“I take great delight in your companionship,” she told him, frankly.

“And it is these subtle, intelligent sympathies which make you most
dangerously charming. Now, I have a question; do not answer me if you
think it wrong of me to ask, but did you ever like a man so well that
you fancied yourself married to him?”

She laughed a care-free, girlish laugh.

“Why no, now that you ask, I’m sure I never did.”

Then there was a long, uncomfortable pause, broken by saying: “Ah,
well, there’s time enough, only be sure that you know your heart, if
you have any; have you?”

She laughed again her gay little laugh. “I’ll tell him that if he ever
comes.”

He had a far-away look, and breathed long and deeply. Suddenly he spoke
up.

“Dearest love,” taking both her hands and looking with gravity into her
face, “I did not mean to say it yet, but I must. I love you--I love
you--and I would show it in a thousand ways. Be my wife.”

She listened to each word intently, her face neither flushed nor paled.
She spoke very deliberately: “I--your wife, Mr. Frost? No. You interest
me, but if I care for you, there is something that mars its fullness.
Forgive me for saying it plainly, but I do not love you.”

“But, little woman, you cannot but awaken to it sometime. It is a heart
of stone that will not warm to the touch of such love as mine. Love is
dependent upon contact; we are only the wires through which the current
throbs--lifeless before they are touched, and listless when sundered.”

He attempted to take her in his arms, but she slipped from his embrace,
and naively replied, “If that’s your theory, there’s one remedy: I’ll
break your circuit.”

“Was there ever such a tangle of weakness and strength in woman?”
he asked himself. He bit his lips and marvelled; he had again been
thwarted. Pretty soon he leaned heavily on the table, and looked the
embodiment of despair.

“What makes you so gloomy?” asked Cherokee, sweetly.

“Because I am a lost and ruined man. I never felt quite so alone and
friendless.”

“Why friendless? Tell me what it is that makes you so downhearted?” Her
tones were well calculated to reassure him.

“I am suffering from the inevitable misery which, as a ghost, follows
the erring,” he said, and his voice was hard.

“Tell me all about it, Mr. Frost, that I may be in sympathy with you.”

“Then I will tell you all,” raising a face that looked worn and
worried. “There is nothing of sentiment in my misfortune; as rascally
old Panurge used to put it, ‘I am troubled with a disease known as a
plentiful lack of money.’”

“Why, Mr. Frost, I thought you were rich; the world takes it that way.”

“I did possess a fair competency until two weeks ago, but an
unfortunate investment in Reading swept it away like thistledown in the
wind. The friends to whom I could apply for aid are in the same boat.
For one of them, I, very like the fool Antonio, have gone security for
a thousand dollars. To-morrow that must be paid else I lose my pound of
flesh, which, taken literally, means my studio, pictures, and, worst of
all, my reputation.”

“And you call yourself a fool for helping a friend; I am surprised at
that.”

“You are right. I shouldn’t feel that way, for he is noble beyond the
common; his faults, such as they are, have been more hurtful to himself
than to others.” Frost spoke magnanimously.

“Who is the friend?” she asked, so impulsively that it bore no trace of
impertinence.

“Pardon me, but I would not mention his name; however, you know him
quite well.”

Cherokee turned her face full upon him and asked bravely: “Will you let
me help you both?”

He appeared startled: “You little woman, you! What on earth could you
do but be grieved at a friend’s misfortune?” She little knew that all
this was but to abuse that intense, fond, clinging sympathy.

“I have fourteen hundred in my own name, will you use part of that?”

“Great heavens, no. I would become a beggar first!”

“But if I insist, and it will save you and--him?”

Willard Frost sat for a time without speaking; apparently he was
weighing some profound subject. At last he looked up and gathered
Cherokee’s hands in his.

“I appreciate the spirit that prompts you to make this heroic offer to
me. When will you need this money?”

“Not for two months yet, I expect to spend the winter in ‘Frisco’ with
Mr. and Mrs. Stanhope.”

“Are you absolutely in earnest about our using it?”

“Never was more in earnest in my lifetime,” she answered, solemnly.

“Then I will take it, though I feel humbled to the very dust to think
of these little hands saving me.”

He bent and kissed them as reverently as though she had been his patron
saint. As she gave him the check for one thousand dollars, Cherokee
thought his trembling hands told, but too well, of humbled pride.

“That was a stroke of genius--a decided stroke of genius,” he said to
himself, as he passed into the club house that day.



CHAPTER III.

AN HONEST MAN’S HONEST LOVE.


It was far into twilight when Robert Milburn rang the bell at the
Stanhopes. He had called to escort them to the closing ball of the
Manhattan season.

“I have not seen you for more than a week, Robert. I fear you have
been worrying or working too hard,” said Cherokee, looking at him
searchingly and anxiously.

“Ah, not working any more than I should, yet there has been a terrible
weight on my mind--a crushing weight.”

“Then, let us remain at home to-night; I prefer it.”

“You must have read my mind, I wanted so much to stay, but the fear of
cheating you of pleasure kept me from suggesting it.”

So it was agreed upon that they would not go to the ball.

“Now tell me what makes you overtax your strength?” said Cherokee,
sweetly and solicitously.

“I must get on in my profession, so that one day you will be proud of
me.” His enthusiasm inspired her.

“I am that already, and shall never cease to hope for you and be proud
of your many successes. A great future is waiting to claim you, Mr.
Milburn.”

“Not unless that future’s arm can hold both of us, Cherokee, for you
are still all I really want praise from--all I fear in the blaming.
But, sweetheart, you have dropped me as a child throws away a toy when
it is weary. When Frost told me he had been here it started afresh some
thoughts that I find lurking about my mind so often of late.”

Did her bowed head mean an effort to hide a face that told too much?

“I believe you are sorry he is not with you here now.”

She laid her hand in playful reproach upon his lips. “Sorry, you
foolish boy! I am glad you are here, isn’t that enough?”

“I hope so; forgive me, Cherokee, but you do not know the world. It is
deeper, darker, wider, than you have ever dreamed, and there are some
very queer people in it. I shall keep my eyes open, and if I can help
it, you shall never know it as I do.”

“Why, what harm can come to me? What could the world have against me?”
and her innocent face looked hurt.

“Nothing, except your beauty and purity, and either is a dangerous
charge. I wish you could have always lived among the bees and
bloomings, with the South country folk.”

“Why, do you find it annoying to have me near?”

“No, but very annoying to have you near others I know. I cannot quite
understand some men--for instance, Willard Frost.”

“I think he is a very warm friend of yours.”

“Probably so, probably so. But, Cherokee, tell me, in truth, do you
love him?”

“I do not,” she answered, promptly, and there was nothing in her eyes
but truth.

“My God,” Robert cried within him, “you have been merciful. Cherokee,
listen to me--I know you already understand what I am about to say: You
have known from the first that you are the greatest of what there is in
my life. There is no joy through all the day but that it brings with
it a desire to share it with you. I often awake with your half-spoken
name on my lips, as though, when I slipped through the portals of
unconsciousness into the world of reality, I came only to find you, as
a frightened child awakes and calls feebly for its mother. I look to
your love for the sweetness of home. I need you; can you say ‘We need
each other?’”

The adoration he expressed for her filled her with innocent wonder and
gratitude. His overpowering love and worship for her startled her by
its force into a sweet shame, a hesitating fear. She was looking at him
with her eyes softly opening and closing, like the eyes of a startled
doe, as though the wonder and delight were too great to be taken in at
once.

At length she made answer, hesitatingly,
“And--this--beautiful--love--is--for--me?”

“It is all for you,” he said, tenderly.

“Robert, there is a feeling for you which I think is a part of my soul,
but I do not know that it is love. It came to me--this feeling--so long
ago that I believe that it has a seven-years’ claim. It was far back
yonder, when I played at “camping out” under the broad white tents that
the dogwoods pitched in the forest. I spent hours and hours in my play
making clover chains to reach from my heart to yours--”

Here he interrupted her. “And it did reach me, finding fertile soil in
which to grow. Tell me you have kept your part alive.”

“I cannot tell yet, I am going to test it. I believe I will imagine you
feeling the morning kiss of Miss Baxter, and watching her good-night
smile, and see if I would care.”

“Please do, but tell me why you said Miss Baxter? Why not any other
lady of my acquaintance?”

“I suppose it is because I often hear that you are awfully fond of her.”

“That is not true, my dearest. I like her for the reason she thinks
worlds of Marrion Latham, the dramatist. By the way, I had such a good
letter from him to-day, so full of wonderful sympathy and friendship.
I have often told him of you. I love that fellow. He knew I loved
you before you did, I guess. You know, men in their friendships are
trustful, they impose great confidences in each other, and are frank
and outspoken. Even the solid, practical outside world recognizes the
bonds of such faith, and looks with contempt upon the man who, having
parted with his friend, reveals secrets which have been told him under
the sacred profession of friendship.”

“Why is it, Robert, that women cannot be true, or a man and woman
cannot form a lasting, loyal friendship?”

“The first case, jealousy or envy breaks; the second generally ends in
one falling in love with the other, and that spoils it,” he explained.

She looked up archly: “Which will be the most enduring, your friendship
for Marrion, or your love for me?”

“Please God that both shall last always,” he answered, with reverence.

“How good it seems to hear you say that.” Then she impulsively held out
her hands saying: “I do care.”

Robert, trembling from head to foot at the mad audacity of his act,
bent down to taste from the calyx of that flower-face the sweet
intoxication of the first kiss. The worried look had gone out of his
face.

[Illustration: “The sweet intoxication of the first kiss.” Page 36.]

“So you will wait for me until I have made a name that will grace you!
How brave of you to make me that promise. Cherokee are you all mine?
Then there are only two more things required in this--the sanction of
the State, and the blessing of God. May He keep a watch over both our
lives.”

“I pray that your wish be granted,” she murmured, with a tender voice.

“Now, my little woman, be very careful of the people you meet.
Unfortunately, one forgets sometimes when one is in danger. You are a
woman, sweet, passionate and kind; just the favorite prey.”

She looked at him intently, as if endeavoring to divine his underlying
thoughts.

“What do you mean, sweetheart?”

He knew by the tremor in her voice she was hurt.

“I mean, dear, that lions are admitted into the fold because they are
tame lions--look out for them.”

The next moment he was gone.



CHAPTER IV.

IN THE SOCIAL REALM.


Carriages, formed in double ranks by the police, lined the pavement of
several blocks on ---- street, and from them alighted, as each carriage
made a brief stop at the entrance, men and women of fashion, enveloped
in heavy wraps, for the night was cold. Beneath the heavy opera coats,
sealskins, etc., ball dresses were visible, and feet encased in
fur-lined boots caught the eyes of those who stood watching the guests
of the ---- ball as they entered the building.

Music filled the vast dance-hall. High up in the galleries musicians
were stationed, who toiled away at their instruments, furnishing
enlivening strains of waltzes or polkas for the dancers. To the right,
adown corridors of arched gold, the reception rooms were filled with
metropolitan butterflies.

The scene was an interesting study. Foremost of all could be noticed
the voluptuous freedom of manner, though the picturesque grace of the
leading lights was never wholly lost. They were dissolute, but not
coarse; bold, but not vulgar. They took their pleasure in a delicately
wanton way, which was infinitely more dangerous in its influence than
would have been gross mirth or broad jesting. Rude licentiousness has
its escape-valve in disgust, but the soft sensualism of a cultured
aristocrat is a moral poison, the effects of which are so insidious as
to be scarcely felt until all the native nobility is almost withered.

It is but justice to them to say, there was nothing repulsive in
the mischievous merriment of these revelers; their witticisms were
brilliant and pointed, but never indelicate. Some of the dancers,
foot-weary, lounged gracefully about, and the attendant slaves were
often called upon to refill the wine glasses.

In every social gathering, as in a garden, or in the heavens, there is
invariably one particular and acknowledged flower, or star. Here all
eyes followed the beautiful, spirited, inspiring girl, who was under
the chaperonage of Mrs. Stanhope. This fresh, beaming girl, unspoiled
by flattery, remained naive, affectionate and guileless.

During the changing of groups and pairs, this girl heard the sweet,
languid voice of Willard Frost. Through the clatter of other men it
came like the silver stroke of a bell in a storm at sea. She flushed
radiantly as he and Miss Baxter joined her party.

“Ah, my dear Miss Bell, you are looking charming,” he exclaimed,
effusively. He took her hand, a little soft pink one, that looked like
a shell uncurled.

“Come, honor Miss Baxter and me by taking just one glass of sherry,”
and he called a passing waiter.

Cherokee looked at him with startled surprise. “How often, Mr. Frost,
will I have a chance to decline your offers like this? I tell you
again, I have never taken wine, and I congratulate myself.”

“Are you to be congratulated or condoled with?” There was irony in Miss
Baxter’s tone, though her laugh was good natured, as she continued,
“I see you are yet a beautiful alien, for a glass of good wine, or
an occasional cigarette is never out of place with us. All of these
nervous fads are city equipments.”

“Then, if not to smoke and not to drink are country virtues, pray
introduce them into city life,” was Cherokee’s answer.

“Ah, no indeed, I would never take the liberty of reversing the order
of things, for they just suit me,” and Miss Baxter’s bright eyes
twinkled under drooping lashes. As she smiled she raised a glass of
wine to her lips, kissed the brim, and gave it to Willard Frost with an
indescribably graceful swaying gesture of her whole form.

“Here’s to your pastoral sweetheart, the sorceress, sovereign of the
South.”

[Illustration: “‘Here’s to your pastoral sweetheart, the sorceress,
sovereign of the South.’” Page 40.]

He seized the glass eagerly, drank, and returned it with a profound
salutation.

The consummate worldlings were surprised to hear Miss Bell answer:

“Thank you, but how much more appropriate would be, ‘Here’s to a Fool
in Spots!’”

Willard replied, with a shake of the head:

“Ah, no, you have too much ‘snap’ to be called a fool in any sense,
besides, you only need being disciplined--you’ll be enjoying life by
and by. When I first met our friend Milburn he was saying the same
thing, but where is he now?----”

Here Miss Baxter laid her pretty jeweled hand warningly upon his arm.

“Come, you would not be guilty of divulging such a delicious secret,
would you?”

He treated the matter mostly as a joke, and returned with a tantalizing
touch in his speech:

“Robert didn’t mean to do it. We must forgive.”

Cherokee looked puzzled as she caught the exchange of significant
smiles. She spoke, as always, in her own soft, syllabled tongue.

“What do you mean, may I ask?”

Willard Frost coughed, and took her fan with affectionate solicitude.

“It may not be just fair to answer your question. I am sorry.”

“Mr. Milburn is a friend of mine, and if anything has happened to him
why shouldn’t I know it?” she inquired, somewhat tremulously.

No combination of letters can hope to convey an idea of the music of
her rare utterance of her sweetheart’s name.

“But you wouldn’t like him better for the knowing,” he interrupted.
“Besides, he will come out all right if he follows my instructions
implicitly.”

She stared blankly at him, vainly trying to comprehend what he meant.
Then there came an anxious look on her face, such a look as people wear
when they wish to ask something of great moment, but dare not begin. At
last she summoned up courage.

“Mr. Frost,” she said, in a weak, low voice, “he--Robert--hasn’t done
anything wrong?”

“Wrong, what do you call wrong?” was the laconic question, “but I trust
the matter is not so serious as it appears.”

“Ah, I am so foolish,” and she smiled gently.

“No, it is well enough to have a friend’s interest at heart, and you
won’t cut him off if you hear it--you are not that sort. I know you
are clever and thoughtful, and all that, but you possess the forgiving
spirit. Now, unlike some men, I judge people gently, don’t come down on
other men’s failings. Who are we, any of us, that we should be hard on
others?”

“Judge gently,” she replied.

“I hope I always do that.”

“If I only dared tell her now,” said Frost to himself, “but it’s not my
affair.”

He saw the feminine droop of her head, and the dainty curve of her
beautiful arm.

“She is about to weep,” he muttered.

Miss Baxter, who had been amusing herself with other revelers, turned
to interrupt: “Mr. Frost, you haven’t given him dead away?”

This, so recklessly spoken, only added to Cherokee’s discomfort. A
flush rose to her cheek. She asked, with partial scorn:

“Do you think he should have aroused my interest without satisfying it?”

“Please forgive him, he didn’t intend to be so rude; besides, he would
have told you had I not interrupted. It was thoughtless of you to make
mention of it,” she said, reproachfully, to the artist.

The while he seemed oddly enjoying the girl’s strange dry-eyed sorrow.

Just here, Fred Stanhope came up to tell them the evening pleasures
were done. Cherokee could have told him that sometime before.

Willard Frost looked remarkably bright and handsome as he walked away
with Miss Baxter leaning upon his arm.

“What made you punish that poor girl so? What pleasure was there in
giving Mr. Milburn away, especially since you were the entire cause of
it?” she went on earnestly, and a trifle dramatically. “A man has no
right to give another away--no right--he should----”

“But Frances,” remonstrated Frost, lightly, and apparently unimpressed
by her theory, “I was just dying to tell her that Milburn was as drunk
as a duchess.”



CHAPTER V.

THE IMAGE OF BEAUTIFUL SIN.


In his fashionable apartments, Willard Frost walked back and forth
in his loose dressing-gown. Rustling about the room, his softly
slippered feet making no noise on the floor, he moved like a refined
tiger--looked like “some enchanted marquis of the impenitently wicked
sort, in story, whose periodical change into tiger from man was either
just going off or just coming on.”

A good opportunity for consideration, surrounded by the advantages of
solitude. He moved from end to end of his voluptuous room, looking now
and again at a picture which hung just above a Persian couch, covered
with a half dozen embroidered pillows.

What unmanageable thoughts ran riot in his head, as he surveyed the
superb image and thought that only one thing was wanting--the breath of
life--for which he had waited through all these months.

For two heavy hours he walked and thought; now he would heave a long,
low sigh, then hold his breath again.

When at last he dropped down upon his soft bed, he lay and wondered if
the world would go his way--the way of his love for a woman.

       *       *       *       *       *       *

Cherokee met Willard Frost on Broadway the next morning--he had started
to see her.

“Let me go back with you and we will lunch together--what do you say?”
he proposed.

“Very well, for I am positively worn out to begin with the day, and a
rest with you will refresh me,” she said sweetly.

They took the first car down town and went to a café for lunch. Willard
laughed mischievously as he glanced down the wine list on the menu card.

“What will you have to-day?”

“What I usually take,” she answered, in the same playful mood.

“I received that perplexing note of yours, but don’t quite interpret
it,” he began, taking it from his pocket and reading:


     ‘DEAR MR. FROST:

     I am anxious to sit for the picture at once. Of course you will
     never speak of it. Don’t let anyone know it.

     Yours, in confidence,
     CHEROKEE.’


“It is very plain,” she pouted. “Don’t you remember I had told you I was
going to have my portrait made for Mrs. Stanhope on her birthday. That
doesn’t come just yet, in fact it is three months off, but you know
we are going to ‘Frisco’ for the winter, and there isn’t much time to
lose; I have been busy two months making preparations.”

“What! Are you going, too? I was thinking a foolish thought,” he
sighed. “I was thinking maybe you would remain here while they were
away.”

“Not for anything; I have been planning and looking forward to this
trip a whole year.” She seemed perfectly elated at the thought.

“There is nothing to induce you to remain?”

“Nothing,” she answered, with emphasis.

“I have an aunt with whom you could stay, and we could learn much of
each other. Do stay,” he insisted.

“I must go, though I shall not forget you in the ‘winter of our
content.’”

“That’s very kind, I am sure, but I have set my heart on seeing you
during the entire season, for Milburn, poor boy, is so hard at work he
will not intrude upon my time often. Besides, he is getting careless
of late--doesn’t want society. The fact is, I believe he is profoundly
discouraged. This work of art is a slow and tedious one. But he keeps
on at it, except when he has been drinking too heavily.”

“Drinking! Mr. Frost, you surely are misinformed; Robert never drinks.”

Her manner was dignified, though she did not seem affected, for she was
too certain there was some mistake.

“I hope I have been,” he said, simply.

He saw at once that she would not believe him. For love to her meant
perfect trust; faith in the beloved against all earth or heaven.
Whoever dared to traduce him would be consumed in the lightning of her
luminous scorn, yet win for him, her lover, a tenderer devotion.

“So you are going to ‘Frisco,’ and I cannot see you for three long
months? Well, I must explain something,” he began. “It is rather
serious, it didn’t start out so, but is getting very serious. I got
your note about the money more than a week ago--” His voice trembled,
broke down, then mastering himself, he went on, “I could not meet the
demand. Ah, if I could only get the model I wanted, I could paint a
picture whose loveliness none but the blind could dispute--a picture
that would bring more than three times the amount I owe you.”

He watched the girl eagerly, the while soft sensations and vague
desires thrilled him.

Wasn’t it a wonder that something did not tell him, “It is monstrous,
inhuman to thus prey upon the credulity of an impulsive, over sensitive
nature.” Not when it is learned that whatever of heart, conscience,
manliness, courage, reverence, charity, nature had endowed him at his
birth, had been swallowed up in that one quality--selfishness.

“I wish I could help you,” Cherokee said timidly, “for I need the
money. All I had has gone for my winter wardrobe.”

“Then I will tell you how to help us both. The model I want is
yourself.” He spoke bravely now.

“Me?”

“Yes, if you will let me, I can do us both justice, and you will be
counted the dream of all New York.”

She listened to his speech like the bird that flutters around the
dazzling serpent; she was fascinated by this dangerous man, and neither
able nor honestly willing to escape.

“Besides, I will make your portrait for Mrs. Stanhope free of charge,”
was the artist’s afterthought.

“I could not accept so much from you,” she answered, promptly.

“I offered it by way of rewarding your own generosity, but come, say
you will pose for me anyhow.”

She regarded him frankly and without embarrassment.

“I will if it is perfectly proper for me to do so. Surely, though, you
would not ask me to do it if it were wrong.”

“Not for the world,” he replied magnanimously. “It is entirely proper,
many a lady comes there alone. ‘In art there is no sex, you know.’”

“But I am not prepared now, how should I be dressed?”

“In a drapery, and I have all that is necessary. Say you will go,” he
pleaded.

She hesitated a moment.

“Well, I will,” was the unfortunate answer.

Within an hour, master and model entered the studio.

“Now, first of all,” observed the master, “you must lay aside all
reserve or foolish timidity, remembering the purity of art, and have
but one thought--the completion of it. In that room to your right you
will find everything that is needed, and over the couch is a study by
which you may be guided in draping yourself.”

As the door closed behind Cherokee, Willard Frost caught a glimpse of a
beautiful figure, “The Nymph of the Stream.” He listened for a couple
of minutes or more, expecting or fearing she would be shocked at
first, but as there was no such evidence he had no further misgivings.
A thousand beautiful visions floated voluptuously through the thirsting
silence. They flushed him as in the wakening strength of wine. And his
body, like the sapless bough of some long-wintered tree, suddenly felt
all pulses thrilling.

His hot lips murmured, “Victory is mine. Aye, life is beautiful, and
earth is fair.”

Then the door opened and the model entered. She did not speak but stood
straight and silent, her hands hanging at her side with her palms
loosely open--the very abandonment of pathetic helplessness.

The master drew nearer and put out his hands. “Cherokee,” he said.

But he was suddenly awed by a firm “Stop there! I have always tried to
be pure-minded, high-souled, sinless, but all this did not shield me
from insult,” she cried, with a look of self-pitying horror.

[Illustration: “But he was suddenly awed by a firm ‘Stop there!’” Page
50.]

He drew back, and his temper mounted to white heat, but he managed to
preserve his suave composure.

“My dear girl, you misunderstand me; art makes its own plea for pardon.
You are not angry, are you?”

She looked straight at him, her bosom rose and fell with her quick
breathing, and there was such an eloquent scorn in her face that he
winced under it, as though struck by a scourge.

“You are not worth my anger; one must have something to be angry with,
and you are nothing--neither man, nor beast, for men are brave and
beasts tell no lies. Out of my way, coward!”

And she stood waiting for him to obey, her whole frame vibrating
with indignation like a harp struck too roughly. The air of absolute
authority with which she spoke, stung him even through his hypocrisy
and arrogance. He bit his lips and attempted to speak again, but she
was gone from the studio.

Every step of her way she saw a serpent crawl back and forth across her
hurried path, and she mused to herself: “Let him keep the money, my
virtue is worth more to me than all that glitters or is gold.”



CHAPTER VI.

WHITE ROSES.


Robert Milburn, bent at his desk, his fair head in his hands, was
bewildered, angry, in despair.

“Can this be true?” he asked himself. “Is there a possibility of truth
in it?”

The air of the gray room grew close, oppressive to the spirit, and
at the darkening window he arose from the desk. He put on his long
rain-coat, and with a hollow, ominous sound, the door closed behind him
and he left the house.

As along he went, Robert caught sight of the bony face of an American
millionaire and a beautiful woman in furs, behind the rain-streaked
panes of a flashing carriage. On the other side he observed a gigantic
iron building from which streams of shop-people poured down every
street homeward; these ghastly weary human machines made a pale
concourse through the sleet.

Further on his way a girl stood waiting for some one on the curb. He
looked at her, dark hair curled on her white neck, her attire poor and
common; but she was pretty, with her dark eyes. A reckless, plebeian
little piece of earth, shivering, her hands bare and rough, the sleet
whipping her face, on the side of which was a discoloration--the result
of a blow, perchance. Then he turned his eyes from her who had drawn
them.

The arc light above him hung like a dreadful white-bellied insect
hovering on two long black wings, and he saw a woman in sleet-soaked
rags, bent almost double under a load of sticks collected for firewood.
Her hair hung thin and gray in elf-locks, her red eyelids had lost
their lashes so that the eyes appeared as those of a bird of prey.
The wizened hands clutching the cord which bound the sticks seemed
like talons. She importuned a passer-by for help, and, being denied,
she cursed him; and Robert watched the wretched creature crawl away
homeward--back to the slums.

These were manifestations of the life of thousands in metropolitan
history. Robert shook himself, shuddering, as though aroused from a
trance.

He had started out to go anywhere or nowhere, but the next hour found
him in the presence of Cherokee, and she was saying:

“How awfully fond you are of giving pleasant surprises.”

“I am amazed at myself for coming such a night, and that too without
your permission.”

“We are always glad to see you, but Fred and I had contemplated braving
the weather to go to hear Paderewski,” she said, sweetly.

“Then don’t let me detain you, I beg of you,” he answered, with
profound regret.

“Oh, that’s all right, we have an hour or more, I am all ready, so you
stay and go in as we do.”

“No, I will not go with you, but will stay awhile, since you are kind
enough to permit me.” And he laughed, a little mournfully.

“Cherokee, I have come for two reasons--to tell you that I am going
home to Maryland to see a sick mother, and to tell you----” He paused,
hesitating, a great bitterness welled up in his breast; a firmness came
about his mouth and he went on:

“It is folly for you to persuade yourself that you could accommodate
your future life to sacrifice, poverty--this is all wrong. When we look
it coldly in the face it is a fact, and we may dispute facts but it is
difficult to alter them.”

There was no response from her except the clasping of the hand he held
over his fingers for a moment.

“I had no right that you should wait for me through years, for
your young life is filled with possibilities. I, alone, make them
impossible, and I must remove that factor.”

“Robert! Robert! What does all this mean?” Her breathless soul hung
trembling on his answer.

“It means that I am going to give you back your liberty.”

“And you?” she gasped.

“I will do the best I can with my life. Please God, you shall never be
ashamed to remember that you once fancied that you could have cared for
me.”

And then he could trust himself no further; the trembling fingers, the
soft perfume he knew so well in the air, and the surging realization
that the end was at hand, made him weak with longing.

Cherokee was at first shocked and stunned at what he was saying? For a
moment the womanly conclusion that he no longer cared for her seemed
the only impression, but she put it from her as being unworthy of them
both.

Her manner was dignified, yet tender, as she began:

“Robert, I suppose you have not spoken without consideration, and if
you think I would be a burden to you, it is best to go on without me.”
She ended with a deep-drawn breath.

“That sound was not a sob,” she said bravely, “I only lost my breath
and caught it hard again.”

“Yes, Cherokee, I am going without you, going out of your life. Good
bye.”

“You cannot go out of it,” she answered, “but good bye.”

“Good bye,” he repeated, which should only mean, “God bless you.”

There was a flutter of pulses, and Robert walked away with head upheld,
dry-eyed, to face the world. Unfaltering, she let him go, the while she
had more than a suspicion of the lips whose false speaking had wrought
her such woe.

When he reached his room he unlocked the drawer, produced from it a
card, and looked long and tenderly upon the face he saw. He bent over
and kissed the unresponsive lips. This was his requiem in memory of a
worthier life. Then lighting a match he set it afire, and watched it
burn to a shadowy cinder, which mounted feebly in the air for a moment,
making a gray background against whose dullness stood out, in its round
finished beauty, the life he had lost--echoing with a true woman’s
beautiful soul.

As the ashes whitened at his feet, he thought, “Thus the old life is
effaced, I will go into the new.”

The midnight train took him out of town, and Cherokee was weeping over
a basket of white roses which had come just at evening.



CHAPTER VII.

THE CALL OF A SOUL.


Now and again Cherokee kissed the roses with pangs of speechless pain.
The fragrance that floated from their lips brought only anguish. To
her, white roses must ever mean white memories of despair, and their
pale ghosts would haunt long after they were dead.

All day the family had been busy packing, for soon the Stanhopes would
close the house and take flight. Cherokee had been forced to tell them
she had changed her mind and would go to the country; she needed quiet,
rest. Pride made her withhold the humiliating fact that she had just
money enough to take her down to the South country.

There was a kind, generous friend, who, at her father’s death, offered
her a home under his roof for always, and now that promise came to
her, holding out its inducement, but she would not accept it; somehow
she felt glad that the time of leaving the Stanhopes was near. This
pleasant house, these cheerful, affectionate surroundings, had become
most intolerable since she must keep anything from them--even though
it be but an error of innocence.

“Let me forget the crushing humiliation of the past month,” she told
herself, “I must try to be strong, reasonable, if not happy.” She must
find some calling, something to sustain herself, to occupy her hands
and time. The soft, idle, pleasant existence offered by the friend
would enervate rather than fortify--would force her back on herself and
on useless regrets.

As she sat in her own room, holding the blank page of her coming life,
and studying what the truth should be, there arose before her inner
gaze two scenes of a girlish life; fresh, vivid were they, as of
yesterday, though both were now of a buried past.

First she recalled the hour when sorrow caught her by the hand, dragged
her from the couch of childhood to a darkened room where lay the
sphinx-like clay of her mother--the lids closed forever over what had
been loving gleams of sympathy--the hands crossed in still rigidity.
Her little child heart had no knowledge of the mysteries--love,
anguish, death--in whose shadow the zest of life withers. She knew
their names but they stood afar off, a veiled and waiting trio.

She crept, sobbing, from that terrible semblance of a mother to the
out-door sunshine, and the yard, where the crape-myrtle nodded
cheerfully to her just as it did before they frightened her so. The
dark house she was afraid of, so she had gone far out of doors.
The little lips that had lately quivered piteously, sang a tune in
unthinking gaiety, and life was again the same, for she could not then
understand.

The other scene was a radiant, sparkling, wildly joyous picture. The
world, enticing as a fairy garden, received her in her bright, petted
youth--her richly endowed orphanhood had been a perpetual feast. In
this period not one single voice of cold or ungracious tenor could she
recall.

But now she looked full over that garden, once all abloom. Here a
flower with blight in its heart, yonder one whose leaves were falling.
There whole bushes were only stems enthorned, and stood brown and
bitter, leaves and flowers withered or dead.

“So,” thought she, “it is with my life.” A rap on the door brought her
into the present. It was the delivery of the latest mail: some papers,
a magazine, and one letter. The letter was postmarked Winchester, Ky.
With a little sigh of triumphant expectation, she broke the seal. It,
to her thinking, might contain good news from friends at home.

It only took her a moment to scan it all.


     “I am sick and needy. Won’t you help me for I am dying from
     neglect.” This was signed:

     “Black Mammy,
     “Judy, (her X mark.)”


Cherokee read it again. Her eyes closed, and then opened, dilating in
swift terror. Her slave-mother suffering for the necessities of life.
She who had spent years in chivalrous devotion to the Bell family now
appealed to her, the last of that honored name.

A swift pain shot through her veins--a sudden increased anguish--a
sense of something irremediable, hopeless, inaccessible, held her in
its grip, and a voiceless, smothered cry rent her breast. Tears gushed
from her eyes, scalding waters which fell upon her hands and seemed to
wither them. Even the fern-leaf, the birth-mark, looked shrunken and
shrivelled, as she gazed at it; something told her to remember it held
the wraith of a life.

Cherokee was wild with grief. She went to the window and looked far out
into the night, letting her sight range all the Southern sky, and the
stars looked down with eyes that only stared and hurt her with their
lack of sympathy. A gentle wind crept by, and a faint sibilance, as of
taut strings throbbed through the coming night. It was Fred, with his
violin, waiting for her to come down to accompany him. But she did not
go--she had no thought of it being time to eat or time to play--she had
forgotten everything, except that a soul had cried to her and she must
answer it in so niggardly and miserly a fashion.

Now three, four, five hours had gone since the sunken sun laved the
western heaven with lowest tides of day. The tired world, that ever
craves for great dark night to come brooding in with draught of healing
and blessed rest that recreates, had been lulled to satisfaction. Still
mute sorrow held Cherokee, and it was nearly day when peace filled her
unremembering eyes and she had forgotten all.



CHAPTER VIII.

LIFE’S NIGHT WATCH.


It was a dull, wintry day; blank, ashen sky above--grassland, sere
and stark, below. Weedy stubble wore shrouding of black; everything
was still--so still, even the birds yet drowsed upon their perch, nor
stirred a wing or throat to enliven the depressing wood. A soiled and
sullen snowdrift lay dankly by a road that had fallen into disuse. It
was crossed now for the first time, maybe, in a full year. A young
woman tramped her way along the silent waste to a log shanty. Frozen
drifts of the late snow lay packed as they had fallen on the door sill.

She rapped at the door and bent her head to listen; then she rattled it
vigorously, and still no answer. She tried the latch, it yielded, and
she entered. The light inside was so dim that it was hard at first to
make out what was about her. Two hickory logs lay smouldering in a bank
of ashes. She stirred the poor excuse for fire, and put on some smaller
sticks that lay by the wide fireplace. By this time her eyes had become
accustomed to the dimness, and she looked about her. There were a
few splint-bottomed chairs, a “safe,” a table, and a bed covered with
patched bedding and old clothes, and under these--in a flash she was by
the bed and had pushed away the covering at the top.

“She is dead,” Cherokee heard herself say aloud, in a voice that
sounded not at all her own; but no, there was a feeble flicker of pulse
at the shrunken wrist that she instinctively fumbled for under the bed
clothes.

“Mammy wake up! I have come to see you--it’s Cherokee, wake up!” she
called.

The faintest stir of life passed over the brown old face, and she
opened her eyes. It did not seem as though she saw her or anything
else. Her shrivelled lips moved, emitting some husky, unintelligible
sounds. Cherokee leaned nearer, and strained her ears to catch these
terrible words:

“Starvin’--don’t--tell--my--chile.”

With a cry she sprang to her feet; the things to be done in this awful
situation mapped themselves with lightning swiftness before her brain;
she started the fire to blazing, with chips and more wood that somehow
was already there. Then she opened the lunch she had been thoughtful
enough to bring; there was chicken, and crackers, and bread. She seized
a skillet, warmed the food, hurried back to the bed, and fed the woman
as though she had been a baby.

Soon she thought she could see the influence of food and warmth; but it
hurt her to see in the face no indication of consciousness; there was a
blank stare that showed no hope of recognition.

As she laid the patient back upon the pillow of straw there was a sound
at the door, a sound as of some one knocking the mud from clumsy shoes.
A colored woman stepped in.

“How you do, Aunt Judy?”

“Don’t disturb her now, she is very weak,” warned Cherokee.

The visitor looked somewhat shocked to see a white lady sitting with
Aunt Judy’s hand in hers, softly rubbing it. “What’s ailin’ her?” she
questioned in a whisper, “we-all ain’t hearn nothin’ at all.”

“I came and found her almost dead with hunger, and she is being
terribly neglected.”

“Well! fo’ de lawd, we-all ain’t hearn nary, single word! I ’lowed she
was ’bout as common; course I know de ole ’oman bin ailin’ all de year,
but I didn’t know she was down. I wish we had ha’ knowed it, we-all
would a comed up and holped.”

“It is not too late yet,” said Cherokee, gently.

“Yes um, we all likes Aunt Judy, she’s a good ole ’oman, I thought Jim
was here wid her. Don’t know who he is? Jim is her gran’son, a mighty
shiftless, wuthless chap, but I thought arter she bin so good to him
he’d a stayed wid her when she got down. But I’ll stay and do all I
kin.”

Cherokee thanked her gravely, gratefully.

The darkey went on whispering:

“De ole ’oman bin mighty ’stressed ’bout dyin’. She didn’t mind so much
the dyin’ ez she wanted to be kyaried to de ole plantation to be buried
’long wid her folks. Dat’s more’n ten or ’leven miles, and she knowd
dey wouldn’t haul her dat fur--’spec’ly ef de weather wus bad. I ’spec
worrin’ got her down.”

Cherokee told the visitor to try and arouse her, now that she had had
time to rest after her meal.

She took up one of her worn brown hands.

“How do you feel, Aunt Judy?”

“Porely, porely,” she stammered almost inaudibly.

“Why didn’t you let we-all know?”

“Thar warn’t nobody to sen’ ’roun’.”

“Whars Jim?” the visitor enquired.

Her face gloomed sadly.

“Law, hunny, he took all de money Mas’r left me, and runned away.” She
looked up with tears in her eyes.

“Tildy, I mout’ent o’ grieved ’bout de money, but now dey’ll bury me
jes like a common nigger--out in de woods.”

“Maybe not, sumpin’ mite turn up dat’ll set things right,” she said,
comfortingly.

The old woman talked with great effort, but she seemed interested in
this one particular subject.

“Tildy, I ain’t afeard ter die, and I’se lived out my time, but
we-all’s folks wus buried ’spectable--buried in de grabe-yard at home.
One cornder wus cut off for we-all in deir buryin’ groun’; my ole man,
he’s buried dar, and Jerry, my son, he’s buried dar, and our white
people thought a sight o’ we-all. Dey’ed want me sent right dar.”

“Whar dey-all--your white folks?” asked Tildy, wistfully.

“All daid but one--my chile, Miss Cheraky. I wus her black mammy,
and she lub’d me--if she was here I’d----” She broke down, crying
pitifully--lifting her arms caressingly, as though a baby were in them.

Cherokee knew now that she would recognize her, so she came up close to
her.

“Yes, Mammy, you are right, our loved ones should rest together, I will
see that you go back home.”

“Oh, my chile!”--she caught her breath in a sob of joy, “God A’mighty
bless you, God A’mighty bless you!”

“Don’t excite yourself, I shall stay until you are well, or better.”
Cherokee stooped and patted her tenderly.

“My chile’s dun come to kyar ole mammy home,” she repeated again and
again, until at last, exhausted from joy, she fell asleep.

Tildy and the young white lady kept a still watch, broken only by
stalled cattle that mooed forth plaintive pleadings.



CHAPTER IX.

A KENTUCKY STOCK FARM.


Cheerless winter days were gone. Spring had grown bountiful at last,
though long; like a miser


              “Had kept much wealth of bloom,
     Had hoarded half her treasures up in winter’s tomb.”


But her penitence was wrought in raindrops ringed with fragile
gold--the tears that April sheds. Now vernal grace was complete; the
only thing to do was to go out in it, to rejoice in its depth of color,
in its hours of flooded life, its passion pulse of growth.

“Ashland,” that peerless Southern home, was set well in a forest
lawn. The great, old-fashioned, deep-red brick house, with its broad
verandas, outlined by long rows of fluted columns, ending with wing
rooms, was half ivy-covered. A man came out upon the steps and looked
across his goodly acres. Day-beams had melted the sheet of silvery dew.
A south wind was asweep through fields of wheat, a shadow-haunted cloth
of bearded gold, and blades of blue grass were all wind-tangled too.
How the wind wallowed, and shook, with a petulant air, and a shiver as
if in pain. The man looked away to the eastward, to where even rows of
stalls lined his race-course--a kite-shaped track.

A darkey boy came up with a saddled mare, and the master took the
reins, put foot in the stirrup and mounted to the saddle. He was
a large, finely built man, fresh in the forties; kindness and
determination filled the dark eyes, and the broad forehead was not
unvisited by care. The hand that buckled the bridle was fat, smooth
and white, very much given to hand-shaking and benedictions. As he was
about to ride away, the jingling pole-chains of a vehicle arrested his
attention. Looking around the curve, he saw a carriage coming up--a
smartly dressed man stepped out, who asked:

“Have I the honor--is this Major McDowell?”

“That is my name, sir; and yours?”

“Frost--Willard Frost,” returned the other, cordially extending his
hand.

The Major said, warmly:

“Glad to know you, Mr. Frost; will you come in?” and the Major got down
from his horse.

“Thanks. I came with the view of buying a racer. Had you started away?”

“Only down to the stables; you will come right over with me,” he
proposed.

“Very good. To go over a stock farm has been a pleasure I have held in
reserve until a proper opportunity presented itself. Shall I ride or
walk?”

“Dismiss the carriage and be my guest for the day, I will have you a
horse brought to ride.”

“Oh, thank you, awfully,” returned the profuse stranger. And he
indicated his acceptance by carrying out the host’s suggestion.

“Call for me in time for the east-bound evening train,” he said, to the
driver.

Pretty soon the Major had the horse brought, and they rode down to the
stables.

“I think, Mr. Frost, I have heard your name before.”

The other felt himself swelling. “I shouldn’t wonder; I am a dauber of
portraits, from New York, and you I have heard quite a deal of, through
young Milburn.”

“Robert Milburn! Why bless the boy, I am quite interested in his
career; he, too, had aspirations in that line. How did he turn out?”
asked the Major, with considerable interest.

“Well, he is an industrious worker, and may yet do some clever work, if
drink doesn’t throw him.”

“Drink!” exclaimed the other, “I can scarcely believe it. He impressed
me as a sober youth, full of the stuff that goes to make a man. What a
pity; I suppose it was evil associations.”

“A pretty girl is at the bottom of it, I understand. You know, ‘whom
nature makes most fair she scarce makes true.’”

The Major re-adjusted his hat, and breathed deeply.

“Ah! well, I don’t believe in laying everything on women. Maybe it was
something else. Has he had no other annoyance, vexations or sorrow?”

“Yes, he lost his mother in mid-winter, but I saw but little change in
him; true, he alluded to it in a casual way,” remarked Frost, lightly.

“But such deep grief seeks little sympathy of companions; it lies
with a sensitive nature, bound within the narrowest circles of the
heart; they only who hold the key to its innermost recesses can speak
consolation. From what I know of Robert Milburn this grief must have
gone hard with him.”

Here they came upon the track where the trainer was examining a new
sulky.

“Bring out ‘Bridal Bells,’ Mr. Noble. I want to show the gentleman some
of our standard-breds.”

The trainer’s lean face lighted with native pride. With little shrill
neighs “Bridal Bells” came prancing afield; she seemed impatient to
dash headlong through the morning’s electric chill. Pride was not
prouder than the arch of her chest.

“What a beauty, what a poem!” Frost’s enthusiasm seemed an inspiration
to the Major.

“She is marvellously well favored, sir; comes from the ‘Beautiful
Bells’ family, that is, without a doubt, one of the richest and most
remarkable known. If you want a good racer she is your chance. Racing
blood speaks in the sharp, thin crest, the quick, intelligent ear, the
fine flatbone and clean line of limb.”

Frost looked in her mouth, put on a grave face, as though he understood
“horseology.”

The Major gave her age, record, pedigree and price so fast that the
other found it difficult to keep looking wise and listen at the same
time.

The trainer then brought out another, a brown horse with tan muzzle and
flanks.

“Here, sir, is ‘Baron Wilkes’; thus far he has proven an extremely
worthy son of a great sire, the peerless ‘George Wilkes.’ He was bred
in unsurpassed lines, is 15½ hands high, and at two years old took a
record of 2:34¼.”

“Ah! he is a handsome individual; look what admirable legs and feet,”
exclaimed the guest.

“And a race horse all over. But here comes my ideal,” he added, with
pride, as across the sward pranced a solid bay without any white;
black markings extending above his knees and hocks. A horse of finish
and symmetrical build, well-balanced and adjusted in every member.
The one prevailing make-up was power--power in every line and muscle.
Forehead exceedingly broad and full, and a windpipe flaring, trumpet
like, at the throttle.

“Now I will show you a record-breaker,” the while he patted him
affectionately.

“This is ‘Kremlin,’ unquestionably the fastest trotter, except
illustrious ‘Alix.’ Under ordinary exercise his disposition is very
gentle, there being an independent air of quiet nonchalance that
is peculiarly his own. Harnessing or unharnessing of colts, or the
proximity of mares, doesn’t disturb his serene composure. But roused
into action his mental energies seem to glow at white heat. He is all
life, a veritable equine incarnation of force, energy, determination--a
horse that ‘would meet a troop of hell, at the sound of the gong,’ and,
I might add, beat them out at the wire. His gait, as may be judged
from his speed, is the poetry of motion; no waste action, but elastic,
quick, true. He is a natural trotting machine. His body is propelled
straight as an air line, and his legs move with the precision of
perfect mechanism.”

“What shoe does he carry?” asked the New Yorker.

“Ten ounces in front, five behind.”

“He is certainly a good animal, I should like to own him; but, all
around, I believe I prefer ‘Bridal Bells.’ To own one good racer is a
pleasure. I take moderate, not excessive, interest in races,” explained
Frost.

“It is rather an expensive luxury, if you only view it from the
standpoint of pleasure and pride.”

“Oh, when we can afford these things, it is all very well, I have
always been extravagant, self-indulgent,” and he took out his pocket
book.

“I must have her,” counting out a big roll of bills and laying them
in the Major’s hand. “There is your price for my queen.” And “Bridal
Bells” had a new master.



CHAPTER X.

THE BIRTH-MARK.


Like most Southerners, Major McDowell had the happy faculty of
entertaining his guests royally.

The New Yorker was there for the day, at the kind solicitation of the
Major and his most estimable wife. Afternoon brought a rimming haze;
the wind had hushed, and the thick, lifeless air bespoke rain. A cloud
no bigger than a man’s hand had gathered at low-sky; then mounted,
swelling, to the zenith, and wrapped the heavens in a pall and covered
the earth’s face with darkness that was fearfully illumined by the
lightning’s glare.

Host and guest stood by an open window looking to the southward. Rain
came down, pelting the earth with a sheeted fall that soon sent muddy
runnels adown every fresh furrow. Before the rain was half over, horses
were led from their stalls to the dripping freedom of wide pasture
lands.

How green, and still, and sweet-smelling it lies. No wonder the animals
ran ecstatically about, neighing, prancing, nipping one at the other,
snatching lush, tender mouthfuls between rolls on the soft, wet turf.

“A goodly sight, Major; I see that you have peculiar advantages of soil
and climate for stock-raising,” remarked the guest.

“That must be true, and it is a recognition of that superiority that
sends breeders from all parts of the world to Kentucky. ‘Kentucky
for fine horses, good whiskey, and pretty women,’ is a maxim old and
doubtless true.”

“I can vouch for the first two, but it has not been my luck to meet
many of your fair women.”

“Well, it is proof true,” said the Major; “look for yourself,” and he
pointed to the forest lawn where a young woman was coming between the
elm rows, a child’s hand in each of her own. Her figure preserved that
girlish accent which few women manage to carry over into womanhood.

She had blonde-brown hair, and blue eyes--very dark and tender. She
looked up as she passed the window, and was none the less charming for
her startled look. The quick averted glance sent a blush to the face of
Willard Frost.

Some imagine that only virgins blush; that is a mistake. A blush
signifies but a change in the circulation of the blood; animals can
blush. The rabbit is so sensitive that its ears are dyed crimson at
the least sudden impression.

“That is Cherokee Bell, the prettiest of them all; yes, and the best.”
The Major’s tone was deep and earnest.

The guest immediately grasped the water bottle, poured himself a glass
and drank it off slowly, with majestic mien, to calm himself.

“She is beautiful!” he exclaimed, and shutting his teeth together: “Why
in the name of heaven did I run upon her”--this to himself.

“My wife and I have always been very fond of her--she is our governess.”

“Your governess!” Frost’s smile of superiority lighted his face as he
added: “I had thought I would like to know more of her, but----”

“She seldom meets strangers,” said the Major quietly, and looking
steadily at him. “She has had some little experience in the outer
world. She is more contented here with us.”

“How long has she been with you?”

“Six months and more.”

Frost’s voice was unsteady as he asked, “Hasn’t hers been a life of
romance? She looks like a woman with a history.”

“You are a regular old gypsy at fortune telling. She has had a varied
life, poor child.”

“And the scar I noticed upon the back of her right hand. How did that
happen?”

“I will tell you,” answered the Major, suggesting--“Maybe you’d like a
smoke; suppose we go on the veranda?”

The guest assented, and taking his hat from a table, followed the other.

Scent of the lilacs fanned through the ivy, and the sodden trees
dropped rain on the drenched grass.

“I think,” said the Major, as they turned at the end of the veranda
to retrace it again: “as you seem greatly interested in my pretty
governess, I will give you the history of what you call a scar--that is
a fern-leaf--a birth-mark.”

Frost puffed away in a negligent manner of easy interest, and said:

“I should like to hear it.”

“It takes me back to distant, cruel days of war--her father, Darwin
Bell, was my friend; we were comrades; he had been brought up on a big
plantation, just this side of the mountainous region--it is sixty miles
from here--to the northwest. That mountain and the valley on which he
lived were favorite haunts of mine in those memorable early days of
my life. I was three years Darwin’s junior, and never had I realized
his being ahead of me until, at twenty-one, he brought home a wife.
Soon the war broke out; he was no coward, not half-hearted, and when
the summons came he was ready to go. I was to enlist at the same time.
We, like hundreds of others, had only time to make hasty and almost
wordless farewells. He had to leave this young wife in the care of
servants, Aunt Judy, and I believe her husband’s name was Lige, and she
had a son. They were to guard his love-nest while he went out to fight
for the Southern cause.

“Aunt Judy made many promises; I remember how good were her words
of comfort. He respected her as sacredly as the leaves of his dead
mother’s Bible, and the safety of his saber. Her brown, leathery face
was showered with tears as the young husband and wife, hand in hand,
went to the gate; she drew back and sat down on the door-steps, not
daring to intrude on those last few moments.

“The pale little wife could not trust herself to speak; she could only
cling to Darwin, as, whispering tender words of endearment, he caught
her in his arms in a last embrace; then tearing himself away, and
strangling a sob, he mounted his horse and started for the war.

“She watched us go, and, no doubt, deadly fear for his safety must have
clutched at her heart, and the longing to call him back, to implore him
for her sake not to risk his life, must have been almost irresistible.

“But the thought of manhood and country flashed into her mind, no
doubt, and nerved her; for, when he turned to wave a last farewell, her
face lighted with a brave, cheering smile, which lived in his heart
the whole war-time. I will not take time to tell of the trials and
discomforts; you know enough of that by what you’ve read.

“It was six or maybe seven months afterward when we were back in old
‘Kaintuck;’ the day of which I speak, we of the cavalry, against
customary plans, were set in the forefront, not on the wings.

“As the mist lifted, we looked across the valley to see the Kentucky
river gleaming in the sun. It was a familiar sight, a house here and
there, nearer to us a little church, with its graveyard surrounding;
we could see the white headstones, and the old slate ones like black
coffin lids upright. The noise of war, it seemed to me, was enough to
rouse the dead from the buried rest of years.

“The church reminded me that it was Sunday; with some prickings of
conscience for having forgotten, I lowered my head, and asked that the
right might triumph, and that a peace founded on righteousness might be
won through the strife.”

“And don’t you think your prayer has been answered?” asked the
listener, interrupting.

The other dropped his voice:

“I am not discussing that question,” and he kept on with his recital.

“Later in the day, Darwin came to me, his face aglow, his eyes bright
with eager delight, and in great excitement.

“‘I am just two miles from home; if I can get a permit I am going there
to-night.’

“I exclaimed: ‘You are mad, man, they are so close to us that the
sentinels almost touch each other, we will have a skirmish inside of an
hour!’

“‘I am going when the fight is done, if I am spared.’

“I knew him, and he meant it, but I was almost certain he would be
killed. My prediction proved true, we did have a fight; and for a time
they had the advantage, and no one knew how the day would have gone had
not a gallant soldier, too impulsive to obey orders, charged with his
men too close to our cannon. Poor fellow! he died bravely, but his rash
act gave us the victory; they retreated in good order and molested us
no further. Darwin arranged for a leave of an hour’s absence and went
home, but his unthinking haste nearly cost him his life. He barely made
into the mountainway when a scout fired upon him. The scout could not
risk the unknown way of the mountain, so Darwin was saved.

“He galloped about the gloomy gorges fanged with ledges of rock, and
it was as easy for him to find his way there as in a beaten path. He
fired, now here, now there, until the mountain seemed alive with armed
men. By the time the smoke reached the tree tops here, he was away a
hundred yards.

“By midnight he had rejoined us; having assurance of his wife’s
well-being, and the faithfulness of Aunt Judy, who nightly slept on the
family silver, Darwin, pretty well fagged out, dropped down to sleep.
I had gotten aroused by his coming, and could not go back to sleep,
myself.

“I marvelled, as I looked across at the young soldier, to find neither
bitterness nor dissatisfaction on his face, which, even in repose,
retained something of its former bright expression; and it bore no
traces of the weary war, save in a certain hollowness of the cheeks. I
thought that to have to be away from a young wife was enough to justify
a man in cursing war, but he looked happy, as he lay there wrapped in
profound slumber; beside him lay his saber, and the keen wind flapped
vigorously at the gray cloak in which he was enveloped, without in the
least disturbing him. A more perfect picture of peace in the midst of
war, of rest in strife, you could not find.

“I said to myself, proudly: ‘The man that can wear that look after
continued hard duty, without comfortable quarters, is made of brave
mettle.’

“Lying in damp fields of nights was calculated to make us feel little
else but cold and stiffness.

“The next night, by some means, he went home again to say ‘good
bye,’ he told me, though, I suppose, he had said that when he left
before; but that was none of my business; I was glad he could have the
privilege again.

“Aunt Judy stood sentinel, and for safe quarters, the wife took Darwin
up-stairs. He had told them how he got into camp the night before. The
good woman-guard had to strain her eyes, for night was coming fast; the
fog, a sad, dun color, was dense, deadly.

“Pretty soon she heard the sound of horses’ feet; she was all nervous,
for she feared it was ‘dem blue coats comin’.’ With trembling voice she
called, ‘Leetle Massa! dey’s comin’, dey’s comin’!’ Jerry was standing
inside the buggy-house, with Massa’s horse ready for him. Aunt Judy
couldn’t make the captain hear. Her alarm was not unfounded; already
two Federals shook the door, while a third watched the surroundings,
ready to give the alarm; they were pretty certain a Confederate was
visiting here, and were determined to capture him.

“Quick as a flash Aunt Judy took in the situation; she could hear them
storming at the door; they meant to be admitted, if by force. There
was handling of a faded gray coat--a sacred keep-sake of hers--and a
hurried whisper:

“‘Run to de mountain, dey’ll follow; do as massa done.’

“The next minute horse and rider, as one, went dashing through the
dusk; the scheme acted like a charm. The Federals soon followed in
swift pursuit, and, until it was almost over, Darwin knew nothing of
his peril. He was deeply moved by this heroic act, the while his mind
was filled with grave fears for the safety of the boy. They waited
until ample time for his return, and kept up spirits until the horse
came up, riderless. A great unwonted tumult stirred and lashed the calm
currents of his blood into a whirling storm.

“This was enough; he started out on his search. The women would go with
him--what more natural--any of us would have let them go. The faint
flarings of dawn lit their perilous way. Of course the women were more
or less nervous; though the whole world was ‘still as the heart of
the dead,’ they were being alarmed by all sorts of imaginary things.
Aunt Judy was pitiful. She bore up under it for the young woman’s
sake, but now and then she would lag behind and cry softly to herself,
for her boy was dear to that old heart. When they began to go up the
side of the mountain, Darwin had to go first to break back the thick
undergrowth. Presently he stumbled and had to catch at hazel bushes to
keep from falling.

“‘Good God!’ he exclaimed, ‘and he tried to save me from this!’

“But his words seemed to die away within his lips, and in dreadful
self-reproach he bent over Jerry, shuddering at the deathly cold of his
face and hands. There, before them, the boy Jerry lay, spent and done.
His head rested upon a bed of blood-withered ferns.”

Frost gazed at the vaulted expanse a moment, then said:

“So that accounts for the birth-mark?”

“Yes, and partially for her being here. Loyal to that noble slave, she
came down and nursed Aunt Judy five weeks, until she followed her boy
to that land lit by the everlasting sun. Listen!” The Major heard the
piano; taking his handkerchief he wiped his eyes. “Pshaw, tears! why I
am as soft as a girl, but that music makes my eyes blur; I am back in
my twenties when I hear ‘Marching Through Georgia.’”

“Darwin’s child has been badly used since he died. He left her the
small sum of thirty-seven hundred dollars--not much. No, but enough to
keep a girl in a modest way. But she was deluded into going away to
New York in high society, and she got back here without a cent. She is
working now to pay for the burial of Aunt Judy.”

The other did not ask what became of her money, but the Major answered
as if he had.

“My wife tells me that a man actually borrowed a part of it; what a
contemptible thing for a man to do.”

The singing was still heard, and Frost appeared absorbed in that. He
made no answer, but commented:

“What a delicious quality of voice she has. It seems as though it were
impregnated with the tender harmony that must reign in her soul. But,
pardon me, I must go into Lexington, the carriage is waiting.”

“Won’t you spend the night, Mr. Frost?” asked the Major.

“Thank you, sir, I have greatly enjoyed your hospitality, but I must
catch the first east-bound train.”

The crouching heart within him quailed like a shuddering thing, and he
went away very like a cur that is stoned from the door.



CHAPTER XI.

HEARTS LAID BARE.


They sat in the breakfast room--the family and Cherokee.

“Did I tell you, wife, that when Mr. Frost was here he brought me news
of Robert Milburn?”

The tall, graceful woman thus addressed looked from the head of the
table, and showing much interest, questioned:

“Indeed! well, how was he doing? I grew very fond of the boy when he
was here.”

“The news is sad; he has gone to drinking,” said the Major, sorrowfully.

“I don’t believe it; we have no reason to take this stranger’s word; we
don’t know who he is.” Turning to Cherokee she asked:

“Did you ever hear of Mr. Frost in New York?”

With a suppressed sigh, she answered:

“He is an artist of considerable note, I knew him very well.”

Suddenly Mrs. McDowell remembered that this was the bold man of whom
Cherokee had told her much; so she questioned her no more, for she was
always tender and thoughtful of others.

The Major did not understand any connection of names, and he again
alluded to the subject.

“This New Yorker said it was about a girl; but the whole thing, to me,
savors of some man’s hand--one who did not like him well.”

Here the wife changed the subject by asking:

“Who got any letters? I didn’t see the boy when he brought the mail.”

“Cherokee must have had a love letter or a secret,” remarked the Major
cheerily. “I saw her tearing it into tiny bits, and casting them in a
white shower on the grass.”

“Come, come, girlie, tell us all about it;” then suddenly the lady
said: “How pale you are!”

“I do not feel well this morning,” she answered; “the letter was from a
friend of other days.” She stumbled to her feet in a dazed sort of way,
and hurried out of the house.

There was a touch of chill in the air, and the roses drooped; only
wild-flower scents greeted her as she stopped and leaned against
the matted honeysuckle arch by the garden gate. She searched the
vine-tangle through, without finding one single blooming spray. This
was Saturday; no school to-day. She felt a vague sense of relief in
the thought, but what should she do with her holiday. She had lost her
usual spirits, she had forgotten to be brave. The letter, maybe, or
the stranger guest, had made the pale color in her cheeks; the eyelids
drooped heavily on the tear-wet face, and checked the songs that most
days welled perpetually over unthinking lips.

She had never told of Robert’s treatment of her; of his cold
leave-taking, his altered look, for her to remember always. She had
been bearing it in silence. Bred to the nicest sense of honorable good
faith, she had kept it alone. But to-day she was weakening; she was
agitated, and in a condition of feverish suspense and changeful mind.

Sunrays shone upon her hair as she leaned against the arch, her head
bowed on her clasped hands, her slender figure shaken with grief. She
heard voices and quick treading on the gravel walk.

“You haven’t aged at all, though it has been eleven years since I was
here.”

“Life goes fairly smooth with me; and you have been well, I trust.”
She knew that was the Major’s voice, and in the lightning flash of her
unerring woman’s instinct she knew the other, as he said:

“I have been blessed with sound body, but life has passed roughly with
me since my mother died. You have heard it?”

“Yes.”

“She made home so dear to my boyhood; so real to my after years. She
was ever burning there a holy beacon, under whose guidance I always
came to a haven and to a refuge.”


Then they suddenly came upon Cherokee, partly concealed.

“I told him we would find you down among the flowers, you little
butterfly. Why didn’t you tell me Robert was coming, he is one of
my boys?” and the Major laid his hand affectionately on the man’s
shoulder; then, without waiting for an answer, he left them together.

Holding out one hand: “I am glad to see you, Cherokee,” and he drew
closer.

She crimsoned, faltered, and looked toward the ground, but did not
extend her own hand.

“Thank you,” was all she could utter.

He went on: “The very same; the Cherokee of old;” he mused, smiling
dreamily, “her own self, like no other.”

Moving a step within the vine covert she said with a shadowy smile:

“I wish I were not the old self. I want her to be forgotten.”

“That is impossible--utterly impossible; I tried to deceive myself
into the belief that this would be done; you see how I have failed?”

Raising her eyes full to his, but dropping them after the briefest
gaze, she said, timidly:

“Why have you come back?”

“I have come back to mend the broken troth-plight; I have come back to
be forgiven,” he answered, humbly.

“You have come back to find a wasted youth, a tired woman who has
been the victim of a lie, told in the dark, with the seeming verity
of intimate friendship. You have come back to find me stabbed by a
thousand disappointments, striving with grim indifference, learning to
accept, unquestioning, the bitter stone of resignation for my daily
bread. I would scarce venture now to spread poor stunted wings that
life has clipped so closely that they bleed when they flutter even
toward the smallest hope.”

He fiercely cried, and clinched his hands together, with one consuming
glance at her:

“I was to blame, Cherokee, for believing that you had promised to marry
Fred Stanhope; Willard Frost is charged with this as well”--he bit his
lips hard.

“And it was to the same man that I owe the death of innocence.” Her
voice was scarcely more than a whisper.

Robert Milburn turned upon her a piteous face, white with an intensity
of speechless anguish. He staggered helplessly backward, one hand
pressed to his eyes, as though to shut out some blinding blaze of
lightning.

“Innocence! great God! He shall die the death----”

“Ah, you do not understand,” she hastily interrupted. “I mean that I
thought all men were brave, honorable in everything, business as well
as socially; but he was not a brave man; it was a business transaction
in which he did me ill. I had measured him by you.”

This was a startling relief to him:

“Thank heaven I was mistaken in your expression of ‘death of
innocence.’ But you humiliate, crush me, with a sense of my own
unworthiness, to say I have been your standard. What made me listen to
idle gossip of the Club--why did I act a brute, a coward?” his lips
moved nervously.

“Dearest, show yourself now magnanimous, forgive it all, and forget it.
You are so brave and strong--so beautiful--take me back.”

“Was it I who sent you away?”

“Oh! do you not see how humiliating are these reminders? I have
confessed my wrong.”

“But would I not still be a burden; you said I could not bear poverty?”
she asked.

He looked up with an expression of painful surprise:

“Don’t, don’t! I know now that love is the crown and fulfillment of all
earthly good. Have you quit caring for me? I infer as much.”

Hastening to undo the effect of her last words, she said:

“Forgive me, Robert, what need I say? You read my utmost thoughts now
as always. I have not changed towards you.”

His sad expression gave place to exquisite joy and adoration.

“I am grateful for the blessing of a good woman’s love.”

They passed out of the gate, down through the browning woods, and all
things were now as they, of old, had been. The bracing, cool October
air was like rare old wine; it made their flagging pulses beat full and
strong. In such an atmosphere, hand in hand with such a companion--a
woman so sweet, so young, so pure--Robert could not fail to feel the
fires of love burn brighter and brighter. Her forgiveness was spoken
from her very soul. Rarely has a wave of happiness so illumined a
woman’s face as when she said, “I love you so now, I have never
understood you before.” There was a degree of love on her part that was
veritable worship--her nature could do nothing by halves. Her soul was
so thrilled by this surcharged enthusiasm, it could hold no more. There
is a supreme height beyond which no joy can carry one, and this height
Cherokee had attained. The restraint of her will was overthrown for the
moment, and now the pent-up passion of her heart swept on as a mountain
torrent:

“Oh, my dearest love, how have I lived until now? What a lovely place
this world is with you--you alone. Kiss me! kiss me!” She grasped his
hand with sudden tightness, until his ring cut its seal into the flesh.
He bent over her head, put her soft lips to his, and folded her in his
arms. “Sweetheart, I shall never go away without you.”

All this meant so much to Cherokee--these hours with him--these
hours of forgetfulness of all but him--these hours of abandon, of
unrestrained joy, flooded her life with a light of heaven. She
had given her happiness into his keeping; and he had accepted the
responsibility with a finer appreciation of all it meant than is shown
by most men.

Where could there have been a prettier trothing-place than here in the
free forest, where the good God had been the chief landscape gardener.
Here was the God-touch in everything. Well had the red man called
this month the “moon ’o falling leaves.” Softly they came shivering
down, down, down, at their feet, breathing the scent of autumn. Now,
and here, nature is seen in smoother, softer, mellower aspect than she
wears anywhere else in the world. It was nearing the nooning hour when,
together, the lovers’ steps tended homeward, and when they reached
the house, Robert vowed it would never again be in him to say that he
didn’t love the South and the country.

With what a young, young face Dorothy met the Major. As she looked up
she saw his wide kind eyes smiling; he leaned forward and laid his hand
upon her, saying, “My little girl, after all, love is life.”

At these words a tall, slight woman raised her head--a secret bond of
fellowship seemed to have stirred some strange, mysterious sympathy.
The Major crossed over to her; what though time had stolen away her
youth--her freshness gone, there was still sweet love gleaming in her
lined face--it could not be that they were old. Tenderly he took her
warm soft hand in his, and told her how he loved her. The sweethearts
looked on and rejoiced; neither whispered it to the other, but deep in
the heart each said, “So shall ours be forever.”

“Come, let me bless you my children,” and the Major’s wife slipped a
hand into one hand of each, and drew them closer. Robert’s eyes lit
up; his brave mouth was smiling quietly, while dimples broke out on
Cherokee’s face.

“I trust the dark is all behind, the light before, and that you are at
the threshold of a great, enduring happiness--but remember that Time
will touch you as your joy has done, but his fingers will weigh more
heavily--it is then that you must cling all the closer.”



CHAPTER XII.

SUNLIGHT.


The marriage was to be celebrated in two weeks. Cherokee had too much
common sense to wish an elaborate wedding, when it would necessitate
more means than she possessed.

The Major and his wife, who was the personification of lovable good
nature, considered together, and graciously agreed to extend to Robert,
for these two weeks, the hospitality of their roof. What a sweetly good
wife the Major had! The graces of her person corresponded to the graces
of her mind. The beauty of her character found a fitting symbol in the
sweet, gentle face--the refined, expressive mouth, that gave out wise
counsel to Cherokee, in whom she felt so deep an interest.

Cherokee had the dimmest memory of her mother, whom she lost when she
was a child in words of three letters, frocks to her knees, infantine
socks, and little shoes fastened with two straps and a button. The
Major’s wife was so full of charity and tenderness that she did her
best to compensate for the unhappy want of a mother. She now gave her
assistance in every particular relating to the preliminaries of the
wedding.

There is an old saying that “honest work is prayer.” If thus reckoned,
there was a deal of praying at Ashland now. At the door, most times,
was a large carriage, of the kind which the Major used to call a
barouche, with an immense pair of iron-gray horses to it, and on the
box was a negro coachman, ready at a moment’s notice to let down the
steps, open and close the door, clamber up to his seat, and set off at
a brisk pace along down a winding avenue of laurels, to town.

As for Robert, it was the union of inspiration and rest that made the
days so wholesome and unique. It was agreed that he and the Major
should be no care to the busy ones; they were to find their own
entertainments. One or two days had been passed in hunting expeditions.
They had bagged quail until the artist fancied himself a great success
as a huntsman. Then there were morning strolls where he could take
his thoughts and ease in the fulness of all the falling beauty and
grandeur of the season. Light winds strewed his way broadcast with
leaves--leaves that were saturated, steeped, drunken with color. What
a blessed privilege for a man with artistic tastes. There was nothing
second-rate about here. The air, as well as the leaves, was permeated,
soaked through and through, with sunlight--quivering, brilliant,
radiant; sunlight that blazes from out a sky of pearl, opal and
sapphire; sunlight that drenched historic “Ashland” with liquid amber,
kissed every fair thing awake, and soothed every shadow; sunlight that
caresses and does not scorch, that dazzles and does not blind.

Upon one hunting trip the Major took Robert up near Cherokee’s old
home--the woods and fields where her childhood passed. It was well
worth the day’s ride. What various charm lies in this region. The wood
is alive with squirrels too. They stole upon two of these shy wood
rangers, who were busy in their frolic, chasing one another around a
huge hickory nut tree.

“Ssh!” whispered Robert, as he motioned the Major to lay down his gun.
He wished to watch their antics. They were young ones who, as yet, knew
not the burden of existence whose pressure sends so many hurrying,
scurrying, all the day long, laying up store of nuts against the coming
cold. To these two, life, so far, meant a summer of berries, and milky
corn, and green, tender buds, with sleep in a leaf-cradle, rocked by
soft summer winds; with morning scampers through seas of dew-fresh
boughs. Only glimmering instinct tells them of imminent, deadly change,
and, all unknowing, they make ready against it, in such light-hearted,
hap-hazard fashion. Now they cease their scampering and drop down to
earth, burrowing daintily in its deep leaf-carpet. One rises upon his
haunches with a nut in his paws, the other darts to seize it, and for
a few minutes they roll over and over--a furry ball, with two waving,
plumy tails. It flies swiftly apart, the finder hops upon a rotting
tree trunk to chatter in malicious triumph. His mate sits, dejected,
a yard away, as his sharp teeth cut the hull; she has given up the
contest and is sore over it, though nuts are plentiful, and the yield
this year, abundant. Presently, she creeps past to the log’s other end;
the other looks sharply at her out of the corner of his eye, then,
darts to her side, pats her lightly between the ears, and, as she turns
to face him, drops the nut of contention safe within her little paws.
At once she falls to ravenous gnawing. He looks on, rubs his head
caressingly against her, then darts away to find a new treasure that
has just dropped from above; for well they know none were more rightful
heirs to nature’s bounty.

The men looked on in silent interest; this was a pretty sight indeed,
and few manage to steal upon it for more than a moment. Their luck was
due to the youth of the pair, who thought they risked nothing by such
delicious idling--nor, indeed, did they; for when the watching was
over, the intruders shouldered their guns and left them to life. The
Major’s next turn was toward the big south wood, whose edge they saw
fringing the top of the bluff. This bluff faces north, a sheer wall of
grey-blue limestone, seamed and broken into huge ledges. All manner
of wild vines grow in the clefts, grape-vines, wild ivy, poison-oak,
trail down into the water. The crown and glory of it, though, was its
ferns. The trailing rock-fern runs all over the face of it, each seam
and cleft is a thick fringe of maiden-hair ferns, wherever it gets good
root. Foxes live in the caves along the bluffs, but the men looked with
keenest search and they could not catch a glimpse of one.

Thinking of this, the Major recalled to mind a memorable and exciting
chase in which they had run the fox into this very place. He had
distanced them by one second, and they lost the game.

While they stood there, letting their horses drink, the Major recounted
the things of interest about the hunt.

“It is such royal sport,” declared Robert, “there is nothing so
invigorating as a lively chase, though as a sport its palmiest days
are in the past. To be a ‘master of fox-hounds’ was once a country
gentleman’s crowning distinction. The chase, when spoken of now, has a
reminiscent tone, an old ‘time flavor.’”

“Notwithstanding our neighboring young men keep up this pastime of
old days, I go but rarely, now,” said the Major. “Various modern
innovations, from wire fences to democratic ideas, have conspired to
ruin the country--for fox hunting. Unsportsmanlike farmers will not
tolerate broken fences and trampled crops.”

“I should so enjoy just one stirring chase. I wonder if we could get up
a ‘swagger’ affair, including the girls?” asked Robert.

“Most assuredly.”

And on the way home, they planned the hunt.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE PICTURESQUE SPORT.


     “Resounds the glad hollo,
       The pack scents the prey;
     Man and horse follow,
       Away, hark away!
     Away, never fearing,
       Ne’er slacken your pace--
     What music so cheering
       As that of the chase.”


It is dawn. The cool black darkness pales to tender gray. Singeth not
the ballad-monger--


     “A southerlie wind, a clouded skye
     Doe proclaime it huntynge morning?”


Now the long notes of mellow-winded horns come strongly up-wind,
undervoiced with a whimpering chorus from the hounds. The fox-hunters
are out. What a picture! Eleven blue-grass beauties, all roundnesses
and curves, mounted upon eleven Kentucky horses. An equal number of
cavaliers put in, made a fair and gallant sight. The company willingly
recognized as their chief, the new arrival and visitor, whose noble
head and clear-cut features were really quite imposing. Cherokee
started out as his companion, and she occupied, with sufficient
majesty, her place of triumph. She was upon “Sylvan,” a splendid
lead-white horse, who was the pride and pet of her care. What a
horse--what a rider! Where could you find such hand, seat, horse,
rider--so entirely, so harmoniously, at one? It is a rhythm of motion,
wherein grace has wedded strength. Mark the fire, the spirit of the
beast; his noble lift of head, arching neck, with its silky, flowing
mane; his clean flat leg, his streaming tail of silver shining. How he
loves his mistress who sits him so light, so firm, so easily swaying;
she bends him to her will by master-strength; yet pats and soothes
as she might a frightened child. Sweetness and strength! that is all
the magic. The rein is a channel through which intelligence goes most
subtly. Good Sylvan knows and loves his rider--feels her vividly to the
core of his quick sense; will serve her unquestioning to the limit of
his speed and stay.

The hunters have started in a south-easterly direction, the
musical-winding of horns, wreathing like a thread of gold, through the
heart of the town.

Listen! they are now at the creek ford; hear the splash and beat of
hoofs. The dogs ahead, are running in leaping circles through field
and wood. A whimpering challenge comes sharply from the left; nobody
heeds it--it is only the puppy, out for a first run, as yet scarce
knowing the scent he seeks. Most likely he is trailing a rabbit--but
no; a bell-like note echoes him. Trumpet, king of the pack, cries loud
and free--all the rest break out in thrilling jangle, and set all the
valley a-ring. Up, up, it swells, truly a jocund noise, under these low
pale clouds, this watery moon, this reddening east. They are headed up
wind, the cool air goes back heavy-freighted with the wild dog-music.
Hoof-beats sound sharply through it. Sylvan is close behind the leading
hound. What sharp, exultant shrilling comes out from the followers’
throats. All the hunt is whooping, yelling, as it streams through dusk
of dawn. Up, then down, they go; along a gentle slope from whose sparse
flints the hoofs strike fire. A fair world smiles up from either hand,
but they have no eye, no thought for it. The thrilling, breathless
motion wraps them away from other senses; they are drunken with “wine
o’ the morning.” Truly, it is the breath of life they draw, in this
rush through the dew-fresh air.

Note the leader now, urging his mare; what feet are hers--small,
firm, unerring. Her skimming gallop is as the flight of a bird--her
leap a veritable soar. See! the fox has doubled; now the full cry
rings down-wind. See the dogs tumbling, writhing over that crooked
fence. They had been running always on view--heads up, tails down--so
close upon their quarry there was no need to lay nose to the tainted
herbage that he had crossed. They caught the scent hot in the air. All
the hunters knew it when they heard the last wild burst of furious
dog-music. So hearing, they sat straighter in the saddle, gave the
good beasts the spur; a little while and they would be “in at the
death;” the next field, certainly the next hill-side, must bring it.
So they crash, pell-mell, over the low roadside fence, as the hounds
top the high one bounding the pasture land. But now Trumpet stops
short, flings his nose to wind, and sets up a whimpering cry--he has
lost the trail. The fox has either dodged back under the horses’ feet,
or hidden so snug that the dogs have over-run him. Look at the true
creatures, panting with lolling tongues, as they run crying about
the field, dazed out of all weariness by this astounding check. A
minute--two--three--still the trail is lost. There is babble of yelps
and shouting, each master calling loudly to his most trusted hound.
The leader’s horse champs on the bit, frets lightly against the rein.
Sylvan, too, prances gaily under check. This ringing run has but
well breathed him--the noise of it has set his fine blood afire. Soon
a horn breaks faintly out, is instantly from lip, and all the field
is in motion. The fox is cunning, but Trumpet is cunninger. He has
followed the fence a hundred yards, picked up the trail where the sly
thing leaped to earth after running along the rails, and is after
it, calling, with deepest notes, to man and beast to follow and save
the honors of the field. How straight he goes; his fellows streaming
after can do no more than yelp, as with great leaping bounds they
devour the grassy space. Nearer, nearer he comes to the dark, sweated,
hunted thing that seems a mere shadow on the ground in front of him,
so straight, so skimming is his steady flight toward the bluff beyond;
his den is there. To it he strains, yet never shall he gain. Almost
Trumpet is upon the prize; his hot breath overruns it; it darts aside,
doubles--but all in vain. Quickly, cruelly, his jaws close upon it. The
leading horseman, Robert, snatches it away, and blows a long blast of
his horn. Trumpet stands aquiver with delight, and leaps up for a pat
of the hand, while Robert flings the dead fox at his feet before the
eyes of all the field.



CHAPTER XIV.

WEDDED.


It was the seventeenth of October--the wedding day at “Ashland.” Little
ruffles of south wind blew out of a fair sky, breathing the air of
simplicity into grandeur. Up among the ivy leaves, a couple of birds
flashed and sang. But indoors, people were so mightily interested in a
pair of unwinged lovers, that these two sang their song out, and then
flew away unheard.

Carriages bearing guests to the wedding were already rolling past.
Those who alighted were the intimate friends. No stranger’s curious
stare would fall upon this scene to contrast with its fairness. No
shadow was necessary to the harmony of it.

Robert stood at an upper window, and his eyes fell upon the matted
honey-suckle where Cherokee had first lifted so sad a face to him--so
sad, that, though the first throb of grief awakened by his mother’s
death had scarcely yet been stilled, he forgot his own sorrow in the
effort to bring happiness again to her--his living love. How his
words of tenderness had made her face soft like the late sunshine of
a summer day. He looked with emotion upon the scene whose vividness
came back with double force to-day. Could all this influence be as
fleeting as it was charming? What would be his verdict at the end of a
year--what hers?

He was called clever, and “people of talent should keep to themselves
and not get married.” Yet his love had overruled the sage’s counsel.
This feeling for Cherokee he knew could not be called another name less
sweet. Since the first sight of her he had worshipped her from afar, as
a devout heathen might worship an idol, or as a neophyte in art might
worship the masterpiece of a master. And she was proud of him, too;
women want the world’s respect for their husbands. Would he, could he,
do anything to make her and the world lose that respect? No, he thought
not now--he would be away from his old associations and temptings.
“Artists are such funny chaps, they all have the gift of talk and
good manners,” he mused, “but they are generally upon the verge of
starvation; they are too great spendthrifts to be anything else but
worthless fellows. Now I am not a spendthrift, and if I can but conquer
_one little evil_, of which I should have told her, maybe, I will break
the record they have made.”

Lost for a time in this reverie, he was dead to the passing of the
precious moments. Recalled to himself, he turned quickly to the
clock--it still wanted five and twenty minutes to twelve.

As for Cherokee, there were no moments of sober reflection. She was
too much in love to calculate for the future, and did not imagine that
so delicious a life could ever come to an end. Happy in being the
help-mate of Robert, she thought that his inextinguishable love would
always be for her the most beautiful of all ornaments, as her devotion
and obedience would be an eternal attraction to him.

There was but one thing now left undone. She slipped out the side
entrance, down into the lawn where Sylvan was. She laid her soft cheek
against his great silvered neck. “I am going away,” she whispered, half
aloud, as though he could understand. “But you know he must be very
kind and dear if I leave my good friends and you, for him, you brave,
big beast; how I hope your next mistress will care for you as I have.”
She pressed his neck affectionately, the while his eyes mirrored and
caressed her, and, when she started back towards the house, he followed
her with a tread that was pathetic.

Inside, the rooms, and halls, and stairway, were wreathed about with
delicate vines and roses. All Ashland was in attendance, if not in the
house or on the verandas, then gazing through the windows; or waiting
outside the gate. Even the negroes, as they peered, tiptoe, had a sense
of ownership in the affair.

It was noon--that supreme moment of life and light. The tall
silver-faced clock rang out twelve silvery chimes as ten maidens, in
wash-white, entered, strewing flowers in the path. These white robed
attendants, standing now aisle-wise, made a symphony of bloom. All eyes
followed the bride as she appeared on the arm of the handsome, kindly
Major, full of dignity, full of sweetness as well. Every heart burst
forth into an exclamation of delight and admiration. There was youth,
sweetness and love on her flushing face. Few brides have looked happier
than Cherokee; few men have looked more manly than Robert Milburn, as
he met and took her hand for life.

The ceremony was followed by a shower of congratulations. A hurried
change to her going-away gown, and they were ready to take their final
leave. The Major and his wife said good-bye, and then again, good-bye,
with a lingering emphasis that made the word as kind as a caress.

A few minutes more and they were gone. There was nothing left but the
scattered rice on the ground, and Sylvan, with bowed head--as though
he knew the hand of Cherokee had now another charge; while over all
sifted the long benediction of sunlight and falling leaves.



CHAPTER XV.

CHLORAL.


It was a half hour past midnight. A cab drew up in front of a residence
in New York, and two men bore something into the outer doorway.

The bell gave a startling alarm, and presently, from within, a voice
asked, with drowsy tremor:

“Is that you, Robert, husband?”

“Open the door quickly,” some one insisted.

“But that is not Robert’s voice,” she faltered.

“Madam, a friend has brought your husband home.”

This assurance caused the door to be quickly opened.

“Good heavens! is he ill? Is he hurt? Bring him this way,” she
excitedly directed.

The silken draperies of the bed were trembling, showing that she had
just left their folds. After depositing the burden, the cab man bowed,
and left them.

“It is not at all serious, my dear madam,” the friend began, “but the
truth is--” here he hesitated confusedly, he did not mean to tell her
the truth at all; anything else but that.

“Oh, sir, tell me the worst; what has happened?” and she leaned
lovingly over the unconscious man; she looked so earnest in her
grief--so unsuspecting--that Marrion was convinced that this was the
first “full” of the honeymoon. “I will help him out of this,” he said
to himself.

“Robert had a terrific headache at the club, and we gave him
chloral--he took a trifle too much--that is all--he will be quite
himself by morning.”

“Oh! sir, are you sure it is not fatal?” Cherokee asked, anxiously,
“absolutely sure? But how could anyone be so careless,” she
remonstrated.

“I do not wonder that you ask, since it was Marrion Latham who was so
thoughtless.”

“Marrion Latham! my husband’s dearest friend.”

“I am what is left of him,” he answered, laughingly.

She extended her hand, cordially:

“I am glad to meet you, for Robert loves you very dearly, and came near
putting off the wedding until your home-coming.”

“I am very sorry to have missed it. Have I come too late to offer
congratulations?”

“No, indeed, every sunset but closes another wedding day with us,” and
she kissed the flushed face of the sleeper she so loved. Too blind
was that love to reveal the plight in which this accident had left
him. Call it accident this once, to give it tone. Cherokee willingly
accepted for truth the statement that Marrion had made. Enough for her
woman heart to know that her husband needed her attention and love.
There over him she leaned, her hair rippling capewise over her gown,
while from the ruffled edge her feet peeped, pink and bare. She was
wrapped in a long robe of blue cashmere, with a swansdown collar, which
she clasped over her breast with her left hand. It was easy to be seen
there was little clothing under this gown, which every now and then
showed plainly, in spite of the care she took to hide it.

Art was powerless to give these fine and slight undulations of the body
that shone, so to speak, through the soft and yielding material of her
garment. Marrion studied the poem she revealed; he saw she had a wealth
of charms--every line of her willowy figure being instinct with grace
and attractiveness, as was the curve of her cheeks and the line of her
lips. Imagine a flower just bursting from the bud and spreading ’round
the odor of spring, and you may form some faint idea of the effect she
produced. To Marrion she was not a woman, she was _the_ woman--the
type, the abstraction, the eternal enigma--which has caused, and will
forever cause, to doubt, hesitate and tremble, all the intelligence,
the philosophy, and religion of humanity.

All his soul was in his eyes; Eve, Pandora, Cleopatra, Phyrne, passed
before his imagination and said: “Do you understand, now?” and he
answered: “Yes, I understand.”--Robert was safe at home and was now
sleeping quietly, so Marrion thought he had done his duty.

“I shall leave you now, Mrs. Milburn; he will be all right when he has
had his sleep out.”

“Oh, do not leave us, what shall I do without you?” she pleaded in
child-fashion.

“If it will serve you in the least, I shall be glad to remain,” he
assured her, as he resumed his seat.

After all, he did not know but that it was best for him to stay. Too
well he knew that to every sleep like this there is an awakening that
needs a moderator.

Marrion Latham was a tall, splendid-looking man, with a proud,
commanding manner. His intimates styled him, “The Conqueror.” He had
always had a handsome annuity besides the income he realized from his
plays. He had enough money to make the hard world soft, win favors,
gild reputation, and enable one to ride instead of walk through life;
consequently, he had self-indulgent habits, and was destitute of
those qualities of self-endurance and self-control that hard work and
poverty teach best. Yet he had that high sense of honor which is most
necessary to such an imaginative, passionate and self-willed nature as
he possessed.

While he sat there quietly, Robert became restless. The stupor was
wearing off, and the dreaded awakening came.

“May I trouble you for a glass of water?” was Marrion’s request, that
would absent Mrs. Milburn for awhile.

Robert made a ferocious movement, and began thumping his head.

“Wheels in it,” he muttered.

“Be quiet, she does not suspect you,” Marrion whispered.

Cherokee came back to find her husband in the delirious throes of his
spree. With sweet and tender solicitude, she asked:

“Do you feel better, dear?”

“I have been desperately ill,” was his almost rational response.

“Bravo,” was Marrion’s mental comment, “so far, so good.” Now, if she
would only allow him to be quiet; but who ever saw a woman tire of
asking questions, and who ever saw a drunken man that did not have a
tongue for all ten of the heads he imagined he had?

Cherokee chimed in again:

“I have been very uneasy about you. You know I expected you home by
ten.”

“Ten! Fifty would be more like it. I know I took that money.”

“What do you mean, Robert?” she asked, as she stared at him, amazed and
wounded.

“He means nothing, he is flighty; that’s the way the medicine affects
one,” Marrion explained.

“I tell you she is deucedly pretty”--with this Robert calmed down for
awhile.

“He is surely out of his head, Mr. Latham.”

“No, I am not,” thundered Robert, “I should feel better if I were,” and
all at once he came to his senses.

“What does this mean? What am I doing, lying down in my dress suit?” he
demanded, “and it is broad day.”

“It means that you have kept me up all night lying for you,” whispered
Marrion.

“The devil you say! have I had too much?”

Cherokee had gone from the room with the stain of wild roses on her
cheek, for she had at last understood the situation, and its terrible
significance.

“I will leave you now, old boy, and I hope this will not occur again.
You have an angel for a wife.”

“Thank you, Latham, stay for breakfast with us.”

“No, I have an appointment early this morning.”

At the door he turned and called to Milburn:

“Oh, Milburn, when you have the headache again, there is one thing you
must not forget.”

“What’s that?”

“Chloral,” he answered, chaffingly.



CHAPTER XVI.

A BOLD INTRUDER.


That evening Robert did not go down town to dinner, but stayed at home,
by way of doing penance. He sat in his room, reading; suddenly he threw
aside the paper and said:

“What nonsense to pretend to read in a home like this, I ought to give
all my time to adoration of you; few men are so blessed.”

“How lovely of you to say that; you are the very best husband in all
the world, I know you are.”

“And you, my wife, are just what I would have you be.”

She lifted her face and looked ardently into his:

“I am so happy; are you?”

“As happy as I ever wish to be in heaven,” he replied, with great
earnestness.

“Oh, don’t say that, it is irreverent--sacrilegious----”

The sentence was cut short by the servant entering and announcing:

“Mr. Latham, Mr. Frost.”

Cherokee, in astonishment, asked:

“Surely it cannot be Willard Frost?”

“S--h--! he will hear you,” warned the husband.

“Then it is he.”

“I shouldn’t wonder, though I do not see what brings him here.”

“He must have been invited; brazen as he is, he never would have
intruded here unasked,” she guessed.

“Now, since you speak of it, I did meet him at the Club last night,
with Marrion.”

“And you invited him here?” Anger and sorrow were blended in the voice
of Cherokee as she asked the question.

“I don’t think I did, though something was said about his calling. The
fact is, I had been taking a little too much--too much----”

“Chloral. Yes I understand now, but how could you be friendly with him
after the way he had treated me.”

There was reproach in her tones, that told more strongly than her
words, of suppressed indignation. Robert noticed it and was visibly
embarrassed.

“You forget he gave us a thousand dollar wedding present. He is really
a good fellow when you come to know him thoroughly; besides, he is
one of the most successful artists in New York, and can be of great
service to me. I want to get to the front, you know.”

Cherokee had never told Robert of their meeting, nor that very amount
he had so contemptuously returned to her in the guise of a gift--of the
reception, and Willard’s boast that she would again receive him. She
regretted that now; surely the knowledge on the part of the husband
would have restrained him.

“You must go to them,” she said at length, “they will think strangely
of the delay.”

“I must go; surely you will accompany me.”

“Don’t ask it, Robert; make some excuse; I can’t meet that man.”

“Nonsense! the embarrassment will be but momentary. You surely won’t
stand in the way of my success; besides, Marrion is there, and I am
sure you will enjoy knowing him better.”

“Do you really wish me to see this other man, Willard Frost?”

“I do; how can I expect him to be my friend if you fail to receive him?”

“You are everything to me, husband, and I will obey you, although I
never expected to be called upon to make a sacrifice like this.”

In the meantime, the guests awaited in the library.

“Latham,” said Frost, “you are a first-rate fellow to arrange things so
that I can again meet the lovely Mrs. Milburn.”

“‘Again meet her!’ then you know her already?”

“Know her?” the brief interrogatory, with the accompanying shrug of the
shoulders and significant laugh, formed a decided affirmative answer.

A swift flush of indignation swept across Marrion Latham’s features.
The manner of his companion annoyed him.

“Why have you never called here before?” he asked, coldly.

“We had a trifling misunderstanding some time ago. Report had it that
she was somewhat interested in me, and that too, since my marriage to
Frances Baxter.”

“And it was to gain admission here that you insisted on Robert’s
drinking last night, even after I asked you not to do it?”

“Oh, no, I like Milburn and want to help him in his art. I was free
to call without a special invitation, though I was not sorry when he
insisted upon my coming.”

“Hush! here they are.”

The two men rose. Willard Frost’s gaze went straight to the tall, lithe
figure that came forward to meet her guests.

Nature had made of her so rare a painting--her’s was a beauty so
spirituelle--that it awed to something like reverence, those who
greeted her. The flush of indignation had disappeared from her face,
but the excitement, the agitation through which she had passed had
heightened her color as well as her beauty.

The first thing that Marrion said, aside to Robert, was:

“How is that head?”

“That’s one on me, gentlemen. Have cigars, it’s my treat.”

“With your gracious permission,” remarked Marrion, bowing to the
hostess.

“I am pleased to grant it, if you enjoy smoking,” and she handed them
matches.

“It is some time since we have met, Mrs. Milburn,” said Frost, with
cold courtesy, while the other men were talking together.

“Yes, it is quite a long time. Your wife is well, I trust.”

“I am sorry, but I really can’t enlighten you on that point.”

“Is she out of the city?”

“I am told so. The fact is, she has recently taken a decided liking to
a young actor. I understand that she is going upon the stage.”

Cherokee was speechless. The coolness and impudence of that man had
completely dumbfounded her.

“She preferred histrionic art to my poor calling,” he continued; “I
have instructed my attorneys to take the necessary legal steps to leave
her free to follow it.”

Here Robert and Marrion joined them, and the conversation became
general.

“By the way,” said Latham, when they got up to leave, “I had almost
forgotten my special mission; I came to invite you to a box party next
Wednesday evening.”

“We shall be most charmed to go,” replied Cherokee, who had resolved to
make herself agreeable. “What is the play?”

“It is my latest.”

“We shall be well entertained, if it is one of yours,” cried Robert
enthusiastically.

“And the name of your play, Mr. Latham?”

“When Men Should Blush.”

“An odd title, but he is famous for thinking of things that no one else
ever thought of,” put in Frost.

“Yes, I occasionally think of you,” added Latham, good-naturedly.

“You forget that thoughts and dreams sometimes assume the form of
nightmares; you had better leave me out--I might be an unpleasant
incubus to encounter.”

Latham smiled, and there was the least tinge of a sneer in his smile.

When Cherokee closed her eyes to sleep that night, she could only see
Willard Frost--the one man in all the world whom she loathed; the
coldest, most unsympathetic creature that ever got into a man’s skin
instead of a snake’s.

True, he was handsome, but for the red lips that seemed to indicate
sensuality, and the square, resolute jaw that showed firmness of
purpose.

       *       *       *       *       *       *

On Wednesday evening all kept their engagement. Lounging in handsome
indifference, surrounded by his invited guests, Marrion saw the curtain
rise at ---- Theater.

His box was the center of attraction. Wild, fervid, impassioned was the
play--this youngest creation of his brain. The shifting scenes were
gracefully sudden, the denouement clever, and, as the curtain went
down on the admirable drama, he had shown the audience that there was
something new under the sun.

With some, to write is not a vague desire, but an imperious destiny.
This was true of Marrion Latham; to this man of only eight and twenty
years, heaven had entrusted its solemn agencies of genius. What a
vast experience he must have had, for few people become great writers
without tasting all these fierce emotions and passionate struggles. It
is said that we must measure our road to wisdom by the sorrows we have
known. Whatever grief he had borne had been in silence, and his laugh
was as joyous as when a boy.

He was of high lineage, and Southern born; he came of a stock whose
word was as good as their oath, and his success did not make him cut
his actors on the street, as some dramatists have been known to do.

He had arranged a little supper after the play. Cherokee, pleased with
the fine mind of her host, and having determined not to stand in the
way of her husband’s advancement, was the life of the table. She did
not put herself forward or seek to lead; much of the charm of her words
and manner rose from utter unconsciousness of self.

She was both too proud and too pure hearted for vanity, spoke well, and
to the purpose. If but a few words, they were never meaningless; and
pervading all she said there was that aroma of culture which is so
different from mere education. Should she have had no charm of face,
her gifted mind alone would have made her attractive beyond most women.

During the supper the talk drifted on woman’s influence. Frost asserted
that no woman ever reformed a man if his own mind was not strong enough
to make him brace up; he would keep on to the end, an erring, stumbling
wretch.

“You are mistaken,” returned Marrion, “many a good woman, mother, wife,
has borne the cross to where she could lay it aside and take a crown.
Take the drink habit, for instance; once an excessive, always one. Now,
I can drink or let it alone.”

“I detest a drunkard,” said Frost, laconically.

“But somebody’s father, brother, or husband, might be strong in all
other points and weak in that one,” Cherokee spoke, just a trifle
severely.

“And woman has the brunt of it to bear,” said Marrion.

“I hold that we are nearer true happiness when we demand too little
from men than when we expect too much,” was Frost’s retort.

Here Robert turned to Marrion:

“I see, from your play, that you believe in an equal standard of
morals. You propose to be as lenient with women as with men.”

“Say, rather, I am in favor of justice,” was the manly reply.

“This doctrine of yours is quite dangerous,” Frost interrupted, to
which Marrion answered:

“It is the doctrine of Him who teaches forgiveness of sins.”

“Ah, Latham, you have taken a stupendous task upon yourself, if you
mean to reform men,” laughed Frost.

“Some men and beasts you can improve, but other natures--like wild
hyenas--once wild, wild forever,” was Marrion’s bright rejoinder.

“I am not looking for them,” was the answer.

“Come to the office with me for a moment,” Willard Frost turned to
Robert, when the suggestion for returning home had been made. “There is
a fine painting in there that I want you to see.”

They were nearly half an hour absent, but, engaged in pleasant
conversation, Cherokee and Marrion did not notice the lapse of time.
When the men came back, the quick eye of Marrion noticed that Robert
had been drinking, and that near the border line of excess.



CHAPTER XVII.

AN ERRAND OF MYSTERY.


It was some months afterward. Cherokee, gowned in violet and gold, was
on her way to the Chrysanthemum Show, where she felt sure of meeting
some of her friends. She was walking briskly, when she was importuned
by an old man for help. Dropping some coins into his entreating palm,
she passed on.

How little we know whom we may meet when we leave our doors, and before
entering them again. Often one’s whole life is changed between the exit
and entrance of a home.

“Ah, my dear Mrs. Milburn, how pleased I am to meet you here. Are you
out for pleasure?”

Whose voice could that be but Willard Frost’s, sounding in her ears
like clods on a coffin.

“Yes, I presume one would call it pleasure, going to the Chrysanthemum
Show and to get some flowers for hospital patients. You know the sick
love these little attentions.”

“There, that’s an illustration of what I am contemplating. Do you know
I think you are just the person I wanted to meet this morning?”

“Why?” she asked, indifferently.

“Because you can do a great kindness as well as give pleasure to some
one who is in need of both, if you will?”

“You want me to help some one who is in distress?”

“I do. Will you?”

“How much does the person need?”

“Your presence would be more good than any service you could render.”

“Then I will go and get my husband to accompany us. He is charitable,
and likes to do these things with me.”

“I have just come from his studio; he is very busy now, and I think he
would prefer not being interrupted. I have been down all the morning
giving a few criticisms on that ‘Seaweed Gatherer.’ That is truly a
work of art. But surely you will not refuse me that friendly service.”

“Where would you have me go, and whom to see?”

“A young girl who is dying without a kind word.”

“A woman--has she no friends or means?”.

“I am the only friend she has, the pure, noble, unfortunate,” he said,
aiming at tenderness.

“Indeed, I never refuse to help anyone, when I can, but really I prefer
someone to be the bearer.”

“Yes, but she has requested me to bring you; this desire comes from a
dying human being.”

“But, pray what does she know of me; I do not understand?” she asked,
disapprovingly. “You might get yourself and me into a scrape.”

“She has been a model for Robert as well as myself; you have seen her
at the studio, and she fairly worships your beauty, your gentleness.”

“Strange my husband has never mentioned her reduced condition. I fail
to recall her,” and she drew back with a sinking of heart; she wanted
to do what was right, always.

“Oh, think again. I am sure you saw her when you and Robert came to see
my ‘Madonna’; I was working on her then.”

“Yes, I do recall a beautiful girl who was posing that day. If it is
from her, this request, I will go.”

“Thank you, thank you; she will be so nearly happy, for she has never
failed to speak of you whenever I have seen her. I shall never forget
how she raved when she saw you, and a question she asked.”

“What was that?”

“‘Does her heart fulfill the promise of her eyes?’ she asked me, as
though the answer was of great importance.

“I asked what she meant.

“She answered, ‘They promise to make some one happy; to remove all
troubles and cares, making a heavenly paradise upon this earth?’ She
wanted to see you, so that you might swear that this promise would be
kept.”

“She must be an enthusiast,” Cherokee reflected, losing all sense of
the strangeness of this question for the time.

They started on in the direction that Frost wanted to go. She felt as
though she was walking through yellow rustling leaves, as she had done
back in her lesson-days, when she was trying to steal away from the
teacher or playmates on the lawn.

More than once, as she hurried along, Cherokee asked herself if
she were not imitating the leopard, and developing another spot of
foolishness.

When they reached the place there was nothing strange or unusual about
it. He opened the door and walked in, as though he was accustomed to
going there; then he softly pushed an inner door and peeped in.

“She is sleeping now, poor tired soul; her greatest blessing is
sleep”--offering Cherokee a chair, “we will wait awhile.”

She nervously looked about her. Her beautiful eyes, so pure, so clear,
so unshadowed by any knowledge of sin, knew nothing of the misery that
had been in the enclosure of these walls.

Presently a frail, crooked woman came in, abruptly. Cold and bitter was
her gaze:

“Why did you not come sooner?” she demanded of Frost, sternly.

“It was impossible; am I not in good time?”

“Yes, for you a very good time--she is dead,” and a short, quick gasp
came from the withered frame.

“Do you mean it?” he said, looking at the woman who seemed quite
overcome, in spite of her hard, cruel face.

“Go and see for yourself,” and she pointed to the room he had entered
before.

Cherokee stood silent, and bowed, as became the house of mourning.

“No, if she is dead, we need not go in,” Frost said, quickly.

But the old woman recoiled a step: “I understand you are ashamed of
her.”

“No, not that, but it is now too late to grant her request.”

“I would know it, and it would do no harm for me to know that you could
keep your word.”

“Then we will go in; you lead the way.”

Cherokee hesitated, and the miserable woman, seeing this, cried in
sudden excitement:

“Is your wife afraid of her, now that she is dead?”

Willard Frost, at the mention of wife, started. He had, after all,
forgotten to explain that to Cherokee.

“Do not heed her wild fancy,” he whispered, as he motioned her to go in
front.

Instinctively the hag folded her wasted hands; most piteously she
raised her bewildered eyes, imploringly, to Cherokee.

“Won’t you please go in, for if she can see from the other world to
this, she will be pleased.”

“If it pleases you, I will go in for your sake.” As they entered the
waiting doorway, Frost walked to the low lounge--he was more deeply
moved than he cared to show. There, before him, lay the pulseless clay,
the features horribly distorted, the hands and limbs terribly drawn.

“This,” he said to Cherokee, “was caused by paralysis. Nature was once
a kind mother to her.”

He shook his head, musingly, and ran his fingers over the sleeper’s
hands. At first he did it with a sort of tentativeness, as if waiting
for something that eluded him. All at once he leaned over and kissed
the hands--he seemed moved by a powerful impulse. Through his mind
there ran a thousand incidents of his life, one growing upon the other
without sequence; phantasmagoria, out of the scene-house of memory.

He saw a vast stretch of lonely forest in the white coverlet of winter,
through which a man followed a desolate track. He saw a scanty home,
yet mirthful, and warm from the winter wood. Again he saw that home,
when even in the summer height it was chilled and blighted. Then,
there, he saw a child with red-gold curls, and he wondered how fate
would deal with that baby--a laughing, dimpled romper, without a name.

These are a few of the pictures he saw.

Cherokee, ever gentle in her ministries, spoke kind words to the old
woman, whom she supposed was the mother.

She had come too late for another good; the dead do not answer even
the most loving, the sweetest voices, and this girl had joined the
mysteries. So, what was left but to offer prayers and tears for the
living?

While Cherokee talked, the woman sat very still, her face ruled to
quietness. At length she said:

“She is better dead.”

The comforter looked surprised; what a strange way for a mother to
speak.

“Let us go, now,” urged Frost, impulsively. As they passed out, he
placed money in the woman’s hand.

“Put her away nicely.”

Motioning him back, the woman caught his arm and whispered:

“By the right of a life-long debt, I now ask for peace.”

“Is that all?” he sneered.

“And I hope you will be a better man,” she added.

They were on their way home. A flush crept slowly up Willard Frost’s
face, then, heaving a sigh and quickly repenting of it, he tried to
laugh, to drive away the impression of it.

It had been dismal within, but it was lovely without. The gray
transparency of the atmosphere lent a glamour to the autumn hues, like
flimsy gauze over the face of some Eastern beauty, and the seductive
harmony of the colors acted like magic music on the spirit.

“That dead girl was once the most exquisite piece of flesh I ever saw.
This is truly a legend of the beautiful. She supported herself by
posing for artists, as long as her beauty lasted,” so Frost began his
story, “but six months ago she was stricken with paralysis, which so
misused her that it took the bread from her mouth, and but for me they
would have starved.

“I had great sympathy for the girl, and from her face I had made many
hundreds, so I considered it my duty to look after her in this dark
hour of affliction.”

“That was just and noble,” said Cherokee, forgetting for a moment the
record of the man.

He went on: “She loved me devotedly, though she knew I was married,
and during her illness she fancied she would be perfectly happy if she
convinced herself that I was not ashamed to present her to my wife.”

“Then it was your wife she wanted to see, and I was to be presented
under false colors,” she demanded, rather sternly.

“It would have been all the same to her, she never would have been
wiser.”

“Mr. Frost, I believe you would do anything, and let me say, just here,
my courtesy to you is not real. I do it because, strange to say, my
husband likes you.”

Just then they reached her stopping place. There was considerable
commotion on the car, Frost caught her arm:

“Wait a moment, until they put that drunken brute off.”

Suddenly, Cherokee wrenched herself away, and stepped quickly,
unassisted, to the street.

In front of her was the man they had assisted from the car. A gentle
arm was passed through his:

“Come, Robert, we will go home together.”

She never looked back, although Willard Frost stood and watched them, a
mingled smile of pity and triumph upon his sinister face.



CHAPTER XVIII.

TIMELY WARNING.


Robert sat in his studio, when presently the door opened.

“My dear Latham,” cried the artist.

“Well, Milburn, how are you?”

They were, at last, alone together. Involuntarily, and as if by an
irresistible impulse, Marrion began at once:

“Robert, I must speak to you on a delicate subject. You are my friend,
a man for whose interests I would all but give up my life,” and his
mission flashed across the other’s mind.

“What are you driving at?”

“At the question whether or not you will stop to think.”

“I most frequently stop and forget,” was the good-natured reply.

“That is too true; you surely do not realize how you have behaved the
past few months.”

“Well, and what of it? I should like to know whom I have hurt besides
myself.”

“Everyone who cares for you.”

“But, look here, Latham, I am able to take care of myself.”

“It is a little remarkable you do not prove that statement.” Here he
assumed a more dignified manner.

“You mean my drinking; well, I pay for it, and----”

“If the matter ended with the price, there would not be so much harm
done,” retorted Latham.

“Very few know I ever touch a drop.”

“But those who know are your nearest and best friends, or should be.”

“Oh, well! the best of us are moulded out of faults;” the other eyed
him fixedly.

“And these faults have a tendency to produce blindness. I believe you
fail to see that your morbid cravings for drink and fame are making
your domestic life trite and dull--more than that, miserable. You are
losing sight of home-life in this false fever of ambition, and,” he
added gravely, “grieved, ashamed I am to say it.”

“This is startling, to say the least of it,” Robert exclaimed, as he
nervously thrummed the desk by his side. “Here I have been imagining
myself the model husband. True, I drink occasionally.”

“You mean, occasionally you do not drink,” Marrion interrupted.

“Look here, Latham; if this came from another than you, I should say it
is none of your ---- business.”

“Say it to me, if you feel so disposed. I only speak the truth.”

“But I must be walked with, not driven; bear that in mind, old boy.”

“I want to ask you, Robert, if you ever observed that the desire for
distinction grows upon us like a disease?”

“I believe it does, since you speak of it.”

“You know it, for you have been gradually growing weaker in everything
else, since your ambition has been set stark mad over that contest.”

“Why should not I let everything else go? Think of it; who ever paints
the acceptable ‘Athlete’ is to be acknowledged famous, even more famous
than he ever dreamed.”

“How do you know that?”

“How do I know it? By the fact that it gets the mention honorable in
the palace of art, which is a great step--a veritable leap I would
say--towards fame.”

“What good are words of applause echoing through the empty walls of a
ruined home?”

“Ruined home,” Robert repeated, “preposterous! My wife has all the
money she wants; dresses second to none in the set in which she moves.
What more could a woman want?”

“A husband and his love,” said Marrion, emphatically. “Would you say
you had a wife and that wife’s love, if half the time she was in no
condition to care for your home?”

“That is not a parallel case. Drinking in a man is not so bad, it is a
popular evil; more men drink than sin in any other way.”

“And all the other sins follow in its train.”

“You know, Latham, I am moral in the main. I need a stimulant; it is
something a brain worker must have. Besides----”

“Besides what?”

“I am not happy since I became so ambitious,” said Robert, gloomily,
and, continuing--“I cannot stand the bitterness of self-reproach. When
reason is wide awake, remorse fastens its fangs upon it. I--” His head
fell heavily upon the table, and he lay there in silent suffering.

“It is your yielding to temptation, more than your ambition, that hurts
a refined nature like yours; but as long as you can feel sorrow you are
not wholly bad.”

“I don’t know, Marrion, for brooding over this unfortunate habit I have
all unconsciously drifted into, sometimes drives me almost mad; it is
then that the tempter gets in his work. Something tells me there is
but one way to get swift relief--drink and forget.”

“But what of the wife? Does it speak to you of the wearing ache of
her waking--of the lonely hours of her watching alone, while your
conscience rests in soothing sleep?”

“Yes, I think of her love, her patience, but the best of us have our
faults, and a woman should not demand from the busy, anxious spirit of
man all that romance promises and life but rarely yields.”

“You have been blessed with one who demands nothing; she suffers in
silence. Her very gentleness, her patient womanliness should win you
to right. But, my friend, she pines for your attention--those little
things that would tell her she was appreciated. She is like a tendril,
accustomed to cling, which must have something to twine around, and
make wholly its own.”

“I never give her a cross word; I leave her to do as it best pleases
her.”

“There, that is the mistake. The secret of the danger lies in that one
act of yours. How many have I known, lovely and pure like your wife,
who have suffered their unguarded affections--the very beauty of their
nature--to destroy them.”

“That is true; I have known many such cases,” admitted Robert.

“Then, in the name of God, pull yourself together, man; brace up, I
will help you all I can.”

Robert raised his head:

“Marrion, I have never esteemed you half so much as I do now; your
interest is unselfish and sincere, I know that.”

“It is, Milburn, and I am glad you take it as I meant it. It has been
said, the loves and friendships of life are its sweetest resources.
All else--special achievements, creative genius in any form of
manifestation--ministers to them. To live in an atmosphere of sympathy
is to live in an atmosphere of heaven, and often it is true that a man
must hold his friends unjudged, accepted, trusted to the end.”

The artist reached out his hand, and the other quit speaking.

“There is my hand and promise to leave drink alone when I have finished
my picture. Even now, I would give the world to look straight into
God’s good face and smile with the glad lips my mother used to kiss.”



CHAPTER XIX.

A PLAINT OF PAIN.


Cherokee was sad; what wife is not who has a drunken husband? Drearily
broke the winter days, and drearily fell the winter nights. One by one,
she often watched the neighboring lights go out, and human sounds grow
still. When the phantom-peopled dark closed around her companionless
hours, then would come the frightful waiting--in the watches of the
night.

Waiting in that awful hush that stifles the breath of hope; then, day
after day of longing; can you imagine it? Forever busy at the one
unending task of dragging through the weary hours, from the early,
painful waking of dawn, alone with sorrow, to the tardy, feverish,
midnight sleep--alone with sorrow still.

Like a good woman she sought to hide her husband’s faults, and keep the
watch alone; but Marrion was like one of the family; he was there at
any and all hours, and she could not keep the truth from him; he was
sorry for her, and had such a sweet, gentle way of ministering. To the
anguish of her face he often made reply, “Yes, I know how you feel
about it, and I will try to help you if there is a way.”

Cherokee had somehow learned to expect everything from him. She looked
to him for advice and assistance. At first she could see no harm in
his guidance--his help. But Marrion had that vivid, intense nature
which gives out emotional warmth as inevitably as the glow-worm sheds
its light when stirred. She had discovered this, and had endeavored to
cool the relationship, but the tingling feeling was there, and in both
herself and him she had detected a sense of mutual dependence.

His voice and step thrilled her, and her smiles were brighter when he
came about. He always had an amusing story, a ready reminiscence; for,
having been the world over, he had gleaned something from everywhere
that had possibly escaped the eyes of others.

To Cherokee he seemed the most original person, acquaintance with him
being like the doorway of a new life--to another world. Such was the
dangerous channel into which they had drifted, neither discovering
their peril until escape seemed almost impossible.

“What shall I do?” she questioned herself, so many countless, maddening
times. Her determination arrived at again and again, was to fly from
the glowing thistle that might stunt all Life’s roses, and make them
come to the dropping at half blow. About Marrion Latham she was insane.

“Insane?” you say. That’s a harsh word isn’t it? But in love are any
of us particularly sane? Something said to her, “try to realize that
happiness is not for woman, but as years go on you will not mind that.
Only be true to your sense of right and you will find sweet peace, and
a great content will be sure to come at last.”

She felt that the best plan for her was to take her husband away from
his associates, herself away from hers, and let time and change bring
about a reformation, and, in spite of the warning, she hoped that the
old fond love would come to them again.

There is no period in life when we are more accessible to friendship
than in the interval which succeeds the disappointment of the passions.
There is then, in those gentler feelings, something that keeps alive
but does not fever the affections. Marrion had influenced himself to
believe that such was his interest in Cherokee, but he was never more
deceived.

Cherokee’s trouble in regard to her husband, and her fear of the
growing regard for Marrion were not her only annoyances; occasionally
she met Willard Frost.

She could not avoid treating him politely, her duty towards her husband
forced her to do that; but she regarded him with veritable repugnance.

One evening, Robert had invited Marrion to dinner, and the latter had
arrived before her husband. As he and Cherokee sat waiting, the maid
entered with a package. It was an exquisite surprise. Though it was
well into March, winter’s keen blast had not so subdued the spring
warmth as to keep it from bringing into quick bloom the pansies and
jasmines.

“Robert knows how dearly I love flowers; he has sent them on to make me
happier and announce his coming, the dear boy,” she exclaimed with a
touch of her old time impulsiveness. She kissed them, and questioned if
they had brought back her lost faith--her girl’s joy in loving.

“I wish I could keep them alive always,” she sighed, sweetly.

While she began to arrange them in the vase, her maid, whose eyes
appeared like leaves of dusty mullein, stared at her because she had
kept her waiting.

“What shall I say to the messenger?”

“Tell him there is no answer.”

“Here is his card, madam.”

Cherokee stared wildly, as if a serpent had wriggled around her feet.

“It is from Mr. Frost--this gift,” and she ventured an imploring glance
into Marrion’s face.

“What would you do with them?” he asked.

“Do? What can I do but send them back.”

As Marrion watched her admiringly, and saw her take each flower and lay
it carefully back into the box, he felt that his quiet friendship was
tottering above a molten furnace.

“I trust you approve of my course, Mr. Latham?” she queried, as Annie
took the box away.

“It would make me perfectly happy if I were the husband.” He
supplemented the impulsive words with a decided blush, in which
Cherokee could not choose but join. Then he cried:

“Why didn’t we meet before, you and I?”

She didn’t answer this, for, hearing steps in the passage, she ran out
to meet her husband; whether he was drunk or sober she never failed in
her little tenderness, that should have brought to him an over-payment
of delight.



CHAPTER XX.

A CROP O’ KISSES.


It was six o’clock, and the lowering sun had singed the western sky
with a scallop of faded brown.

April, with her wreathed crook, was leading her glad flock about the
hem of the city’s skirt, winding a golden mist away into the country’s
lushways. Nature’s voice sounded: “Oh heart, your winter’s past.”

But it was not true with Cherokee, as she sat by the window waiting
for her husband. The room was quite still; she was only half admitting
to herself that it had come--the divide; in her hand she held a dainty
pair of white gloves; in one of the fingers there was a crumpled
paper--a note, maybe--but this she did not know, though what husband
would believe it?

Presently he came in, and she greeted him as usual, though he had been
cross that morning.

“I can’t imagine why I am so tired all the time, it seems I do very
little,” he said, as he dropped wearily down on a couch near by.

“It is not so wonderful to me that you are tired, you are overworked,”
she said, sitting beside him, “once in a while you should call a halt.”

“I mean to sometime, but not yet, I cannot stop yet.”

“Have you secured your model for the Athlete?”

“Not yet, they are hard to find. I must have a man with solid and
graceful curves of beauty and strength, and they are not picked up
every day. Few men are of perfect build.”

“Mr. Latham has a fine physique, why don’t you get him?”

“What an idea! Do you suppose for a moment that a man of his means
would hire himself out by the hour for such a price as I could afford
to pay? Don’t let me hear you speak of it again, he would positively be
insulted.”

Presently Robert’s eyes were attracted toward the floor:

“What is that?” he asked, pointing to a white something.

“I did not know I dropped them,” and she sprang hastily, as if to
conceal what it was.

“Bring it to me. What is it?”

She bowed her head low and made no answer.

“Look here, Cherokee, I will see what it is,” and he laid his hand on
her arm.

She raised her eyes to him and began bravely enough:

“Robert, it is best that you do not see----”

“What, you refuse? It is not necessary for my wife to keep anything
from me.”

“Even if it could only annoy you?”

“Yes, if it half killed me, I would insist upon knowing.”

“I don’t mean that you ought not, that I--Oh!”

“Come, Cherokee, don’t get so confused, you can’t make a success of
deceiving me. I presume I know it anyway. Anna said you had received
flowers last night from Frost--I guess that is the love letter that
came with them.”

Suddenly her gentle eyes looked startled; she was humiliated.

“I would not have believed that you would question the maid about the
conduct of your wife.”

He watched her for a moment in troubled silence, but did not speak.

“Robert, do you think this is a manly, honorable way to act?”

“It is--is what you deserve,” he answered coldly.

“You are mistaken; while Anna Zerner was making her report, did she
inform you that I returned Mr. Frost’s flowers?”

“No. She did not tell me that; I supposed you kept them.”

He looked at her squarely.

“Nothing has ever shaken my faith in you, Cherokee, until now, and
this I must and will understand. Take your choice between force and
persuasion.”

A deep wave of self-conscious color rushed over her face; suddenly she
grew very pale, and her whole attitude toward him stiffened.

She laid the little white gloves in his hands, saying:

“I did not care to worry or accuse you.”

He shrank back, and they eyed each other fixedly.

“I call this a mean, contemptible trick,” he said, bitterly, “and now
what are you going to do about it?”

“I have done all I intend to do,” she said, calmly.

“And pray what’s that?”

“Mended a rent in the fore-finger.”

Robert felt abashed at this, though there were still some ugly lines
between his brows.

“Let’s kiss and make up,” he said, and as she wound her arms about him,
his whole manner changed, softened into melting.

“I did not read the note in the glove, if you believe me.”

“I do believe you, for it was not a note, but a programme of
‘Ogallalahs’;” then he laughed. “And the gloves belong to Marrion’s
sweetheart; he left them at the studio and I just----”

“Oh! that will do,” she said merrily, as she supplemented his
explanation with kisses.



CHAPTER XXI.

A HOPE OF CHANGE.


They were christening Marrion’s new spider, Robert and Cherokee.

“We will drive an hour or so longer, if you are not too tired.”

“I am not at all tired; let us go on,” she insisted.

“I will show you where Latham’s fiancee lives,” he carelessly proposed.

“When are they to be married?” she asked, scarcely above her breath.

“I don’t know the date, but she will get one of the finest boys on
earth. They will have this magnificent country home to spend their
summers in, and that is such a blessing--the air out there is so pure
and sweet and healthful. It is a great pity that everybody can’t get an
occasional taste of country life.”

“I did not know we had come so far, but here we are in the woods--the
real country. I can almost hear the frogs calling from slushy banks,
and the faint, intermittent tinkle of cow-bells stealing over pasture
lands. I do love the country!” she exclaimed, fervently.

“So do I,” laughed Robert, “but the country has its tragedies, too. For
example: my old-maid Aunt once made me weed the onion bed on circus
day. I would have had to ride a stick horse to the town, four miles
away, where the tent was pitched, but children would do almost anything
to get to a circus.”

“Yet you did not get to that one?” asked Cherokee, gaily.

“No, and for fifteen years I treasured that against my Aunt.”

“And I should not wonder if you hold it still.”

He dropped his voice to the register of tenderness and said, sadly:
“I hold nothing against her now. The dear old creature had sorrow
enough--she died unmarried.”

Then they came to the home he was to show her.

After that there was a lull in the conversation.

If Cherokee had but known that the plighted troth was broken--had gone
all to pieces, in fact--she might have felt some relief for that dull
ache she felt. Suddenly she turned to her husband:

“Robert, I have a great favor to ask?”

“What’s that?”

“Let’s take a vacation. Change would help us both.”

“I am too busy, Cherokee, I cannot leave my work now. People are
never contented. Those in the depths of the country sigh for the city
excitement, and those in the city long to be soaked in sunshine and
tangled in green fields.”

“I suppose it is selfish. I shall not ask you again,” she answered,
resignedly.

“If things were different, nothing would please me more than to take an
outing by mountains or seaside.”

“Neither for me,” she answered. “I would rather spend the summer down
at my old home in Kentucky; you know my cousin owns it, and no one
lives there at present. I should like to go back where I could sit
again beneath a big, low moon, and hear the reapers sing--where I could
see the brown gabled barns, and smell the loose hay-mows’ scented
locks.”

“If that’s all, you can go to any farm and see as much.”

“That isn’t half; I want to see my mother’s grave, with its headstone
that briefly tells her record, ‘She made home happy,’” and then she
said, with a little sigh: “There is still another reason--I would have
you all to myself a whole season.”

“Would you really like that?” he asked, brightening.

“More than anything.”

“Then I promise you, you shall go.”

As they drove up to the stoop, upon their return, they saw Marrion
waiting.

When he assisted Cherokee to the street, he fancied he never had seen
in her manner so much softness, so much of that sweet, wonted look that
goes with domestic charm. Her fine, regular features expressed nothing
sadder than a pleased pensiveness.



CHAPTER XXII.

THE HOME IN THE SOUTH.


They had gone to the country--to Kentucky. The wind seemed to blow
out of all the heavens across the greening world. With what light
touch it lifted the hazel, bent to earth at morning. How gentle to the
wind-flower--its own spoiled child.

Quiet brooded over the wide, gray farm-house. All the doors stood
open to the soft air, and Cherokee had gone into the garden, where
the commonplace flowers were in disarray. Her straying foot crushed
memoried fragrance from borders all overgrown; wild thyme ran vagrantly
in happy tangle everywhere. She did not like to see such riotous growth
where once had been borders, clean and kept.

The breeze came to her like the soothing touch of a friendly hand;
the tall elms, nodding, seemed to outstretch their arms in blessings
on her head, murmuring, in leaf music, “Be kind to her.” The effect
was subtle as the viewless winds that in their very tenderness are
uplifting. Those same trees had bent their strengthening shade in those
other days, when she was but a learner in the infant school of sorrow,
and scarcely able to spell its simplest signs. She rambled through
the laurel greenery, her soul full-charged with its own feelings, nor
able to restrain their passionate flow. Pretty soon Robert joined her,
saying:

“I have a surprise for you; my model is coming to-day.”

“Why, who on earth?”

“Bless the dear old boy, it is Latham.”

Striving to be strong, she said, softly: “I trust you are hopeful, now.”

“Yes, I am greatly helped up. He will likely not be here until the
night train. I am going for a short hunt,” and shouldering his gun he
walked towards the woodland.

When Cherokee had watched him out of sight she went into the house. So
Marrion was coming into her life again--the wound must be cauterized
before it had time to heal. She wearily dropped her head upon the broad
window-sill.

The train had already whistled for the station, and Marrion was on his
way to the farm-house; he could see the red roof and chimney tops, half
hid in leaves, as he passed down a road where wild elders bloomed by
rail fences.

The glimmering water-line flowed on westward between broad fields of
corn and clover. Down in the deep wood he crossed the stream; here he
got out, unreined his horse to let it drink, then he lay down on the
cool brink and let the living water lave his lips.

This was surely a place of delight. The creek was no sluggish stream,
crawling between muddy banks, but a young water-giant, turbulent and
full of crystal bravery. A vernal harmony of subtle sweets loaded all
the air, while the winds echoed their chant of rejoicing that mingled
with the waters’ sweep and swell, and away up among the tallest trees
the forest organ was playing the anthem of resurrection.

Somehow there stole over him a spell of rhythmic motion; the scene was
wholly intoxicating. It seemed that he had escaped from the soulless
tumult of the blistering street and found himself in a virgin world.
Wood-birds bathing in the ripples left them dimpling with delight as
they, twittering, flew away. Ivy dangled wantonly about him, while
trailing moss seemed grasping him with its waxen tendrils.

Overhead, in the intense blue, where soft clouds drifted like mantles
that angels had thrown away, a wizard haze quivered and quivered. The
great dark shadow of the present was lifted, and light beamed in where
light might never be again. He forgot, for the moment, that he held two
lives in the hollow of his hand; he forgot that just ahead of him lay
the untried road where he would surely stagger, maybe fall.

Arousing himself from the reverie, he reined his horse and drove on.
The remainder of the road was even prettier than the first part had
been. Riotous bees stole sweets from blooms before unkissed, and the
blossoming peach shed warm its rosy flush against pale drifts of apple
boughs.

       *       *       *       *       *       *

Sundown was stealing through the land as he reached the door where
Cherokee met him. Latham’s greeting was grateful, apologetic, most
painfully self-reproachful.

“I want you to know it was in his interest that I came.”

“Yes, I know that,” and her face strangely softened.

“I just couldn’t refuse him, though I knew it might cost----”

“Hush,” she warned, “we must bear it,” then her eyes fell; she held her
breath, and this electrical sympathy between heart and heart told her
that she had betrayed herself to him.

Only a moment he hesitated, the next he laid his hand on the back of
the chair she had just taken.

“Cherokee, I have a question to ask you; it is best that all should be
clear between us, for I want to be your friend--want you to come to me
feeling that I would protect you in all things except----”

“Except that I will allow you to advise me.”

“Then tell me, what is Willard Frost to you?” he asked, with quick
breath.

“Nothing at all, I only tolerate him because Robert says he needs his
influence,” she answered, solemnly.

“Well, I can’t understand how a man like that could help anyone, and I
was shocked when I heard of your going with him to visit that patient.”

“Marrion, I thought my husband wished me to go.”

“On the contrary, he was hurt. It was not the mere fact of going; it
was how it looked to the world, such things are so often misjudged.
Forgive me if I talk plainly, but a woman can defend her virtue easier
than her reputation. Frost is publicly over-fond of you. He names your
beauty to low men at clubs, and that is calculated to injure you.”

“Yes, I wish he lived in another part of the world. He has done me more
harm than everybody else in it.”

Then they talked of other things.

“How glad I am that you will pose for the Athlete. Robert will surely
win now, for I don’t think you have a counterpart presentment on
earth,” she declared.

“To the world’s advantage, no doubt; but tell me,” he said, suddenly
changing the subject, “are you happier here?”

“Happier than I have been for some time”--her voice trembled.

In her expression Marrion caught an attempt at excess of content and he
wondered at it, for he knew so much of her inner life, though he had
never questioned her. In that life he found a great deal to keep her
from being glad. He felt a sudden twinge of conscience, too, for he
knew that much of the satisfaction he saw upon her face was assumed,
lest her sad looks might be construed into a reproach for his coming.

“And how is Robert doing?” he paused, looking at her with half-pitying
fondness.

“When he first came he did remarkably well; we spent a short time
with our friends, the McDowells, at Ashland. They sent over and had
everything arranged here before our coming, even the dinner served the
day we arrived. Robert was, or seemed to be, highly pleased with the
way we live in this part of the world. During our stay at Ashland, we
went with our friends to one of the Governor’s Friday receptions; it
was an affair of State, but under Southern auspices seemed almost our
own. A congenial, pleasant party, each endeavoring to make you feel at
home. Fresh, pretty girls served the ices, and chatted merrily a moment
or so, then passed on.

“Robert looked at this dazzling South-scene, and in its stead fancied
the gray-robed eastern zone dropping stiff, scentless, pensive-hued
flowers. I use this illustration to you because you appreciate things
high-sounding. But the joke on him and his metropolitan training was
this--the first thing he remarked on was the unusual brightness and
pretty gowning of the attendant waiters, ‘But the cool effrontery
of their conduct,’ he said, ‘roused my ire and almost took away my
presence of mind--why they even dared ask me if the evening had been
an enjoyable one, and hoped to see me there often.’ He told us how he
wiped the perspiration from his brow, and told himself the confounded
impudence and intrusion ought to be swiftly checked, but for the life
of him he couldn’t think of an effectual way of doing it. We asked
him what he finally did. ‘I just took it all, and smiled back,’ he
answered, with a crestfallen air.

“What was his astonishment when we told him he was smiling at the
Governor’s daughters, and the queens of the social world. We quite
enjoyed his discomfort, but he could not reconcile the difference in
our ways and the ones he had known.

“Of late he seems to be falling back in his old ways,” she went on, her
voice sinking lower yet. “I hope your presence will be strength in his
weakness”--she sighed deeply, but the expression on her face was one of
kindly resignation rather than hopeless grief.

Marrion started; every syllable of that sweet tremulous voice seemed to
unnerve him utterly.

“I don’t want it to make your days darker, at least”----then he added:

“It is better not to be too good to men,” and there was in his voice an
accent of kindly warning.

Cherokee listened pensively the while; she could see the path to be
trodden by Robert’s side, uphill, rough, bristling with thorns.

“I have tried to do what is my part, my duty always.”

“And let me tell you how grandly you have succeeded.”

Thrilling and flushing she heard this compliment.

“We are Rebels, both of us; perhaps you are partial,” she suggested.

“I do admire you, that you are a Southerner, and more because you are a
Kentuckian, but surely you would not accuse me of running my political
prejudice into individual instance; I want to give you justice, that’s
all.”

He met her eyes wide open to his, and he read, even then, something
of the genuine unalterableness of her estimate of him. It was not
necessary for her to return a word.

“Speaking of our home, Kentucky,” Cherokee began, “why is it that
writers quote us as illiterate and droll? It rather makes me lose
interest in stories, or books, when I see such gross errors, whether
they are willful or not.”

“It is but a crop of rank weeds--this class of literature, people have
no right to represent others they know nothing of, or discuss a subject
to which they have scarcely been introduced. My characters are actual
men and women. I have one they cannot fail to appreciate; you will see
yourself as others see you,” he said, in softer tones.

An ecstacy of hope lighted her face.

“Will my husband appreciate me then?”--she regretted the question
before she had voiced it.

“Will he appreciate you then? Listen, don’t think that I speak to
praise my own powers as a playwright. I have been a moderate success,
but I don’t regard myself as a genius. The play will be a success on
account of the leading character which I hope to draw true to life.
Robert loves you now, but when he sees my play he will worship you
then.”

There was that in his earnest, enthusiastic face that told her Robert
would not be alone in his devotion.

“What do you call your play?”

“I’ve not determined yet; though I’ve thought of dubbing it ‘A Womanly
Woman, or My Heroine.’”

“Don’t do that, for I am anything but a heroine.”

“No woman was ever a truer one. What title would you propose?”

“You want something that would suggest my real character--my striking
characteristics?”

“Most assuredly.”

“Then, remember, that I am always stumbling along, allowing myself to
be deceived and duped into doing silly things, and sometimes, as you
have just told me, compromising things; weigh all these and call your
play ‘A FOOL IN SPOTS.’” She laughed merrily, but there was a certain
earnestness in her jest.

“But where is Robert?” Latham suddenly asked. While avowing his
devotion to his friend, he had not until now thought of asking this
question, nor had it occurred to Cherokee to explain his absence.

“He took his rifle and went out for a hunt,” she said, after a moment’s
silence. “He begged that you would excuse him.”

“I find ample excuse in the pleasure of being alone with you.”

“Don’t say that; we must do nothing but what will profit and further
the end he seeks.”

“Trust me, I hope to be strong; we must see a little of each other.”

“This is surely best,” she answered, with suppressed emotion.

“And yet, and yet,” he added, as if speaking to himself, “I have much
to communicate to you, but loyalty to my friend forbids confidences,
though it is not wrong of me to say I want to see you perfectly happy.”

Her lips moved nervously.

“Oh, how sweet your words, and uplifting, I shall keep heart, and work;
I have much on my hands, as you see,” and so saying she pointed to a
litter of correspondence on the table.



CHAPTER XXIII.

A STRANGE DEPARTURE.


The old home rose coldly gray ’gainst the darkness of a threatening
sky. But yesterday the scene had been one of almost unearthly sweetness
and placidity. Ideal summer seemed to have enthroned herself never more
to be dislodged, but the morrow brought a storm, phenomenal in its
force and destructiveness.

At first one could see, away to the west, but a broad gash of crimson,
a seeming wound in the breast of heaven, and could scarcely hear the
rising wind moan sobbingly through the trees that with knotted roots
clung undisturbed to their vantage ground. Electricity, very like an
uplifted dagger, kept piercing with sharp glitter the density of the
low hanging haze. Gradually the wind increased, and soon, with fierce
gusts, shook the trees with shuddering anxiety. An appalling crash
of thunder followed almost instantly, its deep boom vibrating in
suddenly grand echoes; then, with a whirling, hissing rush of rain, the
unbound storm burst forth, alive and furious. After an hour there was a
temporary lull, the wind no longer surged with violence, rain fell at
intervals, a sullen mist obscured earth and heaven.

Robert was preparing to confront the weather when there came a loud
knock on the door. Throwing it wide open there stood, in bold relief
against the back-ground of dense fog, a sturdy, seafaring figure,
dripping like a water dog. Rain was running in little rivers from his
soft slouched hat, his weather-beaten face glowing like a hot coal, the
only bit of color in this neutral-tinted picture.

“Come inside, the sight of a fire on such a day as this won’t hurt
you,” said Robert, cheerily, motioning his visitor toward the kitchen
where a warm fire blazed.

“Much obliged to you, sir,” returned the intruder, stepping onto the
door-mat, and shaking the rain from his hat.

“Another time I’ll come in,” and once more shaking the rain from his
dripping garments he fumbled for something in the farthest end of his
capacious pockets.

“Here’s a note--they’ll be waiting at the station for you, sir.” These
words followed in the uncontrolled audibility of a man’s voice. There
was a rustle of paper, and the next minute Robert told the man:

“That’s all right; I’ll be there by eight.”

The light all gone out of her face, Cherokee turned appealingly to
Marrion:

“What does this mean--where is he going?”

Shaking his head, sadly:

“I can’t tell what he ever means of late.”

Closing the door with an impatient bang, the husband was saying:

“I can’t wait for breakfast; I am going away.”

“Isn’t this rather sudden--what is so important as to make you go
without your breakfast?” she questioned.

“A matter that concerns me alone. Don’t worry if I am not back by
nightfall,” and before she could reply he was gone.

Cherokee bit her lips to conceal a quiver; turning almost appealingly
to Marrion, she urged:

“Won’t you please go, too?”

He did not answer.

“Please go, and look after him.”

He was calm almost to coldness, and he replied, tentatively:

“Robert would have asked me if he had wanted me along.”

“Oh, dear friend,” she murmured, brokenly, as she sank into a chair,
“how much better it would have been if I had never known loving or
wedding.”

Marrion looked through the windows into the bleared, vague, misty
world, the familiar landscape was unrecognizable in the clinging fog.
He understood, as she did, what had taken Robert from his work. He did
not look at her, as he returned:

“I hope he’ll quit this, sometime.”

“Sometime,” she repeated, “pain and struggle will give place to death,
and then the soft shroud of forgetting will help me bear this grief.”

“But I am looking forward to the change to bless this life,” he tried
to impress upon her. “He will get through this great work which he
considers the effort of a life, and pretty soon he will leave off the
old way, and then his past will be atoned for by a future of tenderness
and devotion to you.”

“But, dearest friend,” she broke in, greatly agitated, “help me to live
in the present, I am weary of waiting. I hunger for repose. Memories
crush me while longing has worn my youth away. I know my one longing
is hopeless--hopeless as though I should stretch these hungry arms to
clasp the sun above us. I have given up hope at last!” Meeting his
troubled look her face showed traces of tears. She handed him a paper
and pointed to a bit of verse.

He read to himself:


     “I know a land where the streets are paved
     With the things which we meant to achieve;
     It is walled with the money we meant to have saved,
     And the pleasures for which we grieve--
     And kind words unspoken, the promises broken,
     And many a coveted boon,
     Are stowed away there in that land of somewhere,
     The land of “Pretty Soon.”

     There are uncut jewels of possible fame
     Lying about in the dust,
     And many a noble and lofty aim
     Covered with mould and dust
     And oh, this place, while it seems so near,
     Is further away than the moon;
     Though our purpose is fair, yet we never get there--
     To the land of “Pretty Soon.”

     The roads that lead to that mystic land
     Are strewn with pitiful wrecks;
     And the ships that have sailed for its shining strand
     Bear skeletons on their decks.
     It is further at noon than it was at dawn,
     And further at night than at noon;
     Oh let us beware of that land down there--
     The land of “Pretty Soon.””


Marrion laid the paper by, and summoning all his powers of self-control:

“I spoke of his reformation just now,” he began, as if reading her
thoughts. “Answer me one question; if he never reforms, have you ever
thought of changing your life?”

“You mean separation; the world or a convent?” she began, gently,
growing calmer as she went on, “I had thought of that, I must out with
the truth. I went away once, but a good friend advised me to go back.
She told me living for others was a long way towards being happy.”
Looking on the floor she got out the remainder of her sentence, “and
now I intend to stay.”

As she spoke the words to Marrion there came upon her a terrible sense
of emptiness and desolation. Obeying a sudden impulse, she arose to
leave.

“I shall go to my room now; I must think awhile alone. I am glad it’s
such a sad sort of a day; if it were bright I couldn’t stand it.”

Marrion followed her to the door, raised her hands to his lips, and
suddenly breaking away as if unworthy to pay such homage cried:

“I could kneel to you, true, grand woman. Your resolution is full of
the gravest, tenderest meaning. You think of him only; his reputation
is dearer to you than your own happiness. This nobility of your
character is the very touchstone and measure of your womanliness.”

She paused on the threshold a moment, then hurried away.

The whole day Marrion spent in sympathy with her. If he could find but
some way to make Robert promise never to touch another drop of drink,
he knew he would be safe; for he was one man who never made a promise
but to keep.

Of ever securing his promise, he sometimes despaired, but not for the
world would he hint it to Cherokee.

As the day wore to a close the wind came in fitful gusts; a pale moon
glittered faintly among the ragged clouds that drifted across the sky
like sails torn from wrecked ships. Cherokee sat by the window watching
for Robert.

In that warm latitude the soft, dewless hours are spent in lightless
rooms or on piazzas. The daffodil tints of the higher sky were
reddening to a guinea gold. There was no other light except the moon.
Marrion sat just outside, smoking; he was allured again and again by
a strong sense of Cherokee’s beauty of face and pose, enticed by some
spiritual vivacity, and hazed by cares.

The moon, still pale and languorous, shone from the lately racked sky
on the tree buds, so warm in tone that their color became an old ivory,
and the limbs and branches black carvings and traceries.

Faint mists rose in wreaths and floated in gossamer folds about the
trunks of the trees, and at times above their forms. The whole scene
had a meaning of sad regrets.

Cherokee broke the silence:

“I wonder what keeps Robert so long; it must be nine o’clock.”

“Don’t be uneasy, he is doubtless with some congenial companion.” Then,
almost before he knew it, Marrion asked:

“Did you know that Robert was dissipated before you married him?”

He felt himself tremble, as if he intruded where she knelt. As
intimately as he had known her, yet he never before had dared approach
her inner life so nearly.

“Tell me all,” he said. “If ever a heart could open to a friend, now
must that door unclose.”

“No. I didn’t believe it; I should have never married him if I had
known. I made a mistake. A Southern girl should only marry one of her
kind; he alone could understand and appreciate her nature.”

It was not prompted by accidental harmony, this answer, she felt he had
a right to know all:

“When I first loved Robert, he was a splendid masterman, and so tender
of me. He seemed the breath of my body; his heart, not mine, beating
within me. I fancy now that his love was only a reflection from the
flame that burned in my soul, for if it were not true surely that love
would have reformed him.”

“No, he does love you, and you will yet be happy together.”

She was hungry for his assurance, and her “Heaven bless you for your
sympathy,” was spoken earnestly.

“But I wish he would come. Suppose he has gotten into that quick-sand
in the creek bed.”

“Suppose he has swallowed the gun.”

“Don’t speak so lightly,” she corrected.

Marrion thought as he noted her anxiety: “Blind devotion is the
sainthood of woman.”

“Now, here he comes. I hope you are happy,” but a chill gripped his
heart as he saw it was a stranger, whose walk indicated haste.

“Ain’t this here whar Mars’ Milburn’s wife stay?”

“Yes, what is it?” asked Marrion.

“What is it?” Cherokee repeated, coming forward, “has anything happened
to my husband?”

“I’d bin out possum huntin’. I comed up de road, and I mighty nigh
run over sumpin in de paff. I got down and he looked powr’ful like de
artist I seed at de station.”

“Marrion; my God, he is dead!”

“Wait and I will find out.” He put his arm around her to support her.
The stranger kept on talking:

“I tried to tote him, but he ’peared like two men; he’d weigh mighty
nigh three hundred pounds, and den I didn’t know as I oughter move him
till de coroner and de jury set on him.”

Marrion could not stop him.

“He ain’t bin dead long, marm.”

“That will do,” interrupted Marrion.

“I will go and see; it may not be Robert; it may be someone else.”

“Let me go with you,” she pleaded.

“I don’t know nothin’ better fur you ter do than stay whar you is,” put
in the negro.

So Marrion hurried away to look after his friend. There was no sound in
the gloomy wood--which was painful--any kind of noise would have been a
relief. The thick foliage baffled the slightest light, and it was with
the greatest difficulty that they groped their way, keeping in the road.

“Stop! here he am!” cried the negro, who had been piloting the way. “I
thought he couldn’t o’ bin dead long, fer he ain’t cold yet.”



CHAPTER XXIV.

OF THE WORLD, UNWORLDLY.


It was true that Robert was dead--dead drunk, and to drink was his
purpose in leaving Marrion at home. He had been held in check until
he could not--he felt it was impossible--work any longer until he had
gotten under the influence of drink.

It was more than a week before he was able to resume his work. Marrion
put his best efforts forth to sober him, but all resulted in failure.
This annoyed him more than he dared tell Cherokee. He felt that Robert
had not the proper appreciation; for here he had given up his work and
pleasures for a time, that he might aid in the artist’s advancement. It
surely seemed a thankless task.

One day, when patience was exhausted, he poured forth his very soul in
one long, fervent--swear; took up his hat and started out for a walk.

As he tramped, wondered, swore, he strolled on toward the stream. He
always was a dream-haunter of the woods, realizing that communion with
nature strangely ministers to heart wounds and breathes sweetened
memories.

Suddenly his steps were arrested by the spectacle of Cherokee lying at
full length upon the grass, one arm lay across her eyes, the other was
stretched on the ground. She had never looked prettier. He sat down
by her and took her hand. A thousand thoughts chased themselves with
lightning speed through his brain; meanwhile the pressure of that hand
continued; he leaned over, took her arm away, and looked down into her
face.

Whether it came to him suddenly as a revelation, or grew upon him like
a widening light--that knowledge of a love that wronged his honor--it
had come too late. Had he been asleep, or mad, that this should have
conquered him unawares.

Where was his experience of human nature--his worldly wisdom--his ever
abiding sense of honor--that he should have allowed a love for another
man’s wife to enter his thoughts and take possession, and that man his
dearest friend!

It seemed but yesterday that this woman was to him only as dear as a
friend might be, without wrong to his or her own faith. Now he knew she
was more--a thousand times dearer than all life lives for--dearer than
all save honor, if, indeed, he questioned, that were not already lost.

Yet no, there was no wrong. His love was worship, instinct with
reverence, he could not for that very love’s sake destroy its object.

“You want me to go away and leave you alone, Cherokee?” he asked.

“No, Marrion, no! I am too much alone, and that makes me hungry,
desperately hungry, for companionship,” she stammered. “But, tell me,
how is Robert?”

“No better; I am almost ashamed to ask you to be brave any more, for
I’ve hoped so long without fulfillment.”

She answered: “I ask myself how long this banishment is to last--this
exile from joy.”

“Everything here has an end; the brighter side may come at last.”

“No, it will never come, it is all a mistake; even life itself.”

“Oh, don’t say that, Cherokee; I am with you. Don’t you care for----”
Here he stopped, but she understood, and her answer, said in silence,
was the sweetest word of all.

“I must speak this once at any cost--Great God! and forgive me, I love
her so,” he whispered, as he seized her listless form, so unresisting,
and wildly kissed her brow, her lips, her hair, her eyelids--sealed her
to him by those caresses that were prompted by love’s unreasoning fury.

The whole earth revolved in one vast throb of song, and the wind,
entuned, seemed to catch the music in its chase. Nothing under the sun
could equal those moments with them.

At first they were so happy; then there came a desire--which comes to
those of deep and tender sensibilities when their felicity becomes so
acute that it verges upon pain--the desire, the involuntary longing, to
die--an abandon of self--a forgetting.

In this moment of delirium he was the first to speak.

“I have known from the first that we were meant for each other.”

She did not answer; she was so thoroughly intoxicated just then,
that if he should have dared to give her blows her heart would have
arraigned him at its bar, with weeping paid the costs, and swore the
blow was kind--she loved him so.

“I say that we were meant for each other,” he repeated. “Love like ours
should be the first law of the universe, after love of God.”

“I am thy neighbor’s wife,” she answered, slowly.

“I now admit no ties except the one that fate has made between your
heart and mine.”

“Think, Marrion, of what you say. Is it a sin for us to love?”

He could not answer at once--all the iron in his strong nature was
broken down. His emotions, so long withheld, and now uncontrolled, were
more than he could bear.

He looked long into her trusting countenance. He was seeking by a
violent effort to master himself; but it was only by the heaving of his
breast, and now and then a gasp for breath, that he betrayed the stormy
struggle within. Though his nature was full of the softer sympathies he
could not call them to the front--he was but man. This was the crucial
test.

There is in some affections so much to purify and exalt, that even an
erring love, conceived without a cold design, and wrestled against with
a noble spirit, leaves the heart more tolerant and tender if it leaves
it in time.

“It may be wrong,” he said, at length, “but this is our fate--our
fate,” as if waking from some hideous dream.

“We are creatures of destiny, I have fought this love but it would not
die. The very loneliness of your existence appeals to me; but for that,
I might have conquered.”

“And your tender care and help have often reconciled me to my lot, and
extinguished many bitter feelings in me.”

“You trusted me, Cherokee, and I believe there is a kind of sanctity in
your ignorance and trust--there is a soul about you as well as a body.
Is it with that soul you have loved me?”

“Yes, Marrion, I love you better than life now.”

“Then our love can surely not be wrong. Depend upon it, that God
Almighty, who sums up all the good and evil done by his children, will
not judge the world with the same unequal severity as those drones of
society. Surely He requires not such sacrifices from us; no, not even
the wrathful, avenging Father.”

His tone was one of infinite persuasion.

“God understands what you are to me--youth, beauty, truth, hope and
life.”

“You forget your friend, my husband,” she warned.

“No, I do not forget. He is a man for whom I would all but die, but I
love you better than anything else.”

“And that is more than he does,” she broke in, sorrowfully.

“Cherokee, be mine in spirit? I plead as an innocent man pleads for
justice.”

“Stop!” she cried, “let me speak. You have a profound and generous
soul to hear me. Let me ask you not to tempt me; we have gone already
too far.”

“Not too far when it is with me that you go.”

“Yes, Marrion it is, unless we could go all of life’s road together.
I love you, that you know, but I come to you now, begging you not to
tempt me, but to help to make me strong, and to follow the road of
sacrifice and duty. My heart cries out to you, but let me not hear. If
you love me, prove it, and leave me.” Her voice died in a wail, it was
a loving, weak soul’s despairing cry.

Marrion stood for a moment immovable, then he took her hand with
reverential homage.

“Cherokee, you have raised all womankind in my eyes. I did love
you--now I worship you. Your open frankness is so unlike the irresolute
frailty, the miserable wiles of your sex. You have touched a chord in
my heart that has been mute for years. To me you are a garden of roses,
you have bloomed even under blight. Beholding you now, I am enabled to
forget that the world is evil.”

“Blessed be that influence,” she murmured, sweetly.

“Yes, God’s blessing upon it,” he repeated. And he thought of what
pangs her high spirit must have endured ere it had submitted to the
avowal it had made. She had been honest enough to confess that she was
weak--that she loved him, but that very confession was as a tower of
strength to him.

“Cherokee, my idol, what will you of me?” he asked, in tender manly
tones.

“I want you to promise, Marrion that you will always like me; let us
be what human nature and worldly forms seldom allow those of opposite
sexes to be--friends; having for each other that esteem which would be
love if the hearts were unadulterated by clay. Your memory will be my
nearest approach to happiness. I shall never be happy unless Robert
reforms; then the old love and joy would come again.”

There was on her face an expression, in her voice a tone, so appealing
that it inspired him to say:

“I will save him by my life if need be.”

She looked at him with an admiring, grateful gaze:

“Your friendship is even better than love.”

“That is both,” he answered.

“You will promise to go away at once, or I cannot live near you and
without you.”

“Yes, Cherokee, I promise,” he said firmly, and continued:

“To-day for a short interval we have belonged to each other. Heart has
spoken to heart. To-morrow you are only my friend’s wife. Not a word,
not a thought of yours or mine must destroy his trust. Our past will
lie buried as in a deep grave, no tears bedewing it, no flowers marking
the spot.”

So sorrowfully, even despairingly, were the words uttered that it
seemed Cherokee’s turn to comfort.

“Think of me as almost happy since I know that you love me so,” she
said, smiling through her tears.

“Tears from you for me,” he cried. “Bless you, bless you; may you
think of me as one whose loyalty to another is loyalty to yourself,”
he murmured. “I must go away and meet you no more. Pass a few busy,
taskful years, come and go a few brief seasons of stimulating activity
and wholesome intercourse; then I can hold out my untrembling hand to
Robert’s wife, and forget the lover in the friend; now let us part.”

She stepped forward and extended her hand; he kissed it and pressed
it warmly, and then the dream was ended. A matter of a moment, true
enough, but death itself is but a moment, yet eternity is its successor.

Cherokee took the path to the house; her eyes held a troubled light as
they looked back, Marrion was standing where she had left him, in a
hopeless attitude. His head drooped low with a slow motion of despair,
which seemed almost tranquil in its acceptance of destiny.

A low, late sunshine crept through the swathing blue, softly bright
upon him.



CHAPTER XXV.

TEMPTED.


For a time Marrion Latham stood in a sad reverie; then he slowly went
back to the house, following the path Cherokee had taken.

He entered the house unobserved, and went directly to his room, from
which he did not emerge until the clock told him that the hour was
eleven. He was going to leave; upon that point he was decided. The
midnight train would take him to the city. He took his grip, and crept
out stealthily without a word, for he could not now own what was
forcing him to leave. Of course it would seem strange to Robert, but
written lines could not clear it up. It would take more than a note to
explain such an offense as this would seem; it could only be made plain
in person. It needed the voice, the eye, the spirit breathing through
the words to make them effective.

He had decided to wait until the artist returned to New York. As he
stepped out on the piazza he noticed that the blinds of the studio were
open and the window up.

“I will take a last look,” he thought, as he went up to the window.

“Cherokee, Cherokee,” but his whisper was too deep, she did not hear.
There she stood before the painting, her arms wide open as though
ready to enfold the image; then she drew back, and her low sobbing was
heard--not despair, not sorrow, not even loss flowed in those relieving
tears--they came as a balm, allowing the pent-up force of suffering to
ooze out.

The very purity of her adoration was pitiful to see. Marrion stood
outside and watched her; wrong as it might be to stay he was tempted to
bide the result and remain.

Everything around was still; the wind, even, ceased to dip into the
lustrous gloom of the laurels. He could scarcely hear the stream below,
drawing its long ripples of star-kindled waves from the throat of the
forest. Not a human sound interposed one pulse of its beating between
these two silent souls.

“I must, I must touch her--just to say good-bye again.”

But through the gentle silence there throbbed a warning. He battled
with it; the mad desire grew upon him, the stress, the self-torture was
getting beyond control. Reckless inconsideration told him to enter.

The palpitating misery that swayed through every wave of his blood,
cried in almost an ecstacy of terror: “Go in, she is yours.” He knew he
could not resist what love counseled if he remained much longer, and he
hung his head for very shame.

When a proud man finds out he is but a child in the midst of his
strength, but a fool in his wisdom, it is humiliating to own it even to
himself.

While every passion held him enslaved, he felt a vague desire to
escape, a yearning, almost insane, to get out from his own self.

“Why should you not have her, when you love her so dearly?” the tempter
asked.

But he knew the voice and shrank from it. Then he murmured inwardly:

“Great and good God, I turn to you,” and before he knew it, his
unaccustomed lips had framed a prayer.

With a feeling of renewed strength he took one last look at her and
walked away. He had scarcely time to catch that midnight train. He
was leaving heaven behind, but he was doing what was best for all.
There was something in that, and Robert must never know what his poor
services had cost him.



CHAPTER XXVI.

LOST FAITH.


“For your own sake, if not for mine, Robert, do not begin drinking the
first thing in the morning,” Cherokee pleaded.

“I must, I must; my nerves are all shattered. I will stop when I have
won the laurels of art,” and he poured the fiery poison into the
sugared glass.

“Does Marrion know breakfast is waiting?” he asked.

“I suppose not.” Cherokee felt her voice trembling, she was almost
certain he had gone; there was a dreariness about the place, an utter
loneliness, that made her feel that she would not hear his voice that
morning.

Robert touched the bell, and when the servant answered, he bade her:

“Tell Mr. Latham breakfast is ready.”

“Mr. Latham went away in the night,” the servant answered. “I suppose
he won’t be back soon, as he took a grip with him.”

In sudden temper Robert cried: “You don’t mean it, has he gone home?”

“I don’t know, sir, he went towards the station about a half hour
before the New York train was due.”

“That will do, leave us,” he ordered the maid.

“Now, Cherokee, tell me why Marrion has left me?”

“Mr. Latham may prefer to make his own excuse,” she answered, quietly.

“Never mind that assumed dignity; I know the reason as well as you
could tell me. This letter I found on the studio floor gives the
villain away,” and thrusting it at her, he demanded: “Read it aloud.”

She nervously unfolded it and read:


     “MY DEAR LATHAM:

     I presume you know I too was painting the ‘Athlete.’ My model is a
     failure, a disappointment. Come to New York at once, and pose for
     me at your own price.

     Yours, anxiously,
     WILLARD FROST.”


When she finished the letter she could not find a suitable answer, so
she did not answer at all. Robert did not like silence, he liked to
have things explained, cleared up.

He looked at his wife with grave severity, and demanded:

“You knew this was what called him away.”

“I did not,” was her truthful and emphatic reply.

“Oh, God!” in a frenzy, “just to think how I trusted him; his word and
honor were dear to my very soul; but now--now I hate him, I curse him;
if I ever prayed, I might pray that the train would be wrecked and dash
him to his eternal, just reward.”

“Robert, Robert!” the gentle voice pleaded, “hold him not guilty
without defense; he is still your friend.”

“Hush! tell me nothing. It is a plain case of villainy; he has been
bought off; he has robbed me of my future,” and Robert quit the table
and went at once to his room. The insanity of drink held festival in
his delirious brain.


The next few hours found him in a deplorable condition. The reaction
from his fit of inebriety had been a severe shock to his system, not
especially strong at best, and this, together with Marrion’s sudden
flight, preyed sharply on his mind, and he suffered a sort of nervous
prostration.

“My picture! my masterpiece is unfinished! it can never be finished
without him!” was the substance of his raving.

Never before had Cherokee seen such woe in his countenance. She knew
the painting was almost completed, and that he could finish it from the
picture he had of Marrion, taken purposely to aid him, even when the
model was there; but to mention anything so as to manage a way out of
the pit into which he imagined he had fallen merely infuriated him, and
did no good.

“Marrion must come back to me; send for him; tell him I cannot win
without him,” he cried, scarcely above a whisper, he was so weak. Never
before had the one desire of man’s life been strained through his face
and speech like this.

Cherokee was deeply moved, yet she could not understand how he could
charge Marrion with double-dealing and treachery, with conduct so
entirely at variance with the whole tenor of his gracious life. How
could he think that Willard Frost, that crafty, remorseless villain,
could purchase the manhood of Marrion Latham. If Robert had only known
how much that friend had suffered and borne for him, he would have
worshipped where he now condemned.

“Cherokee,” he called from the bed, “what am I to do?”

“Rest and then go to work; your picture is almost finished; it already
shows the touch of a master-hand, and it is perfect so far as you have
done. Marrion had other reasons for going away from us; believe me, he
will make it all right.”

She was ever gentle and tender toward him, and worked quietly, yet
constantly.


The task of reforming a man takes a great deal of time, more than a
life has to give, frequently, but she had been strengthened by the
promise from Marrion to aid her, though now she must bear it alone.

She looked in the glass, and in the depths of it she found not the face
that once smiled at her--ah! that other face, its wild-rose bloom had
faded; the lips that used to tremble as if with joy alive are thinner
now and they do not tremble; they are firm and somewhat sad. The hair
that used to slip from its confinement, and in golden torrents fall
about the wild-rose face, is somber-hued, and stays where it is pinned.

Ah! she knows what youth means to a woman, and that is denied her.



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE CUP OF WRATH AND TREMBLING.


With the first mail that Marrion Latham received after reaching New
York was a letter which bore the postmark of the small railway station
in Kentucky from which he had lately departed so hastily. He opened it
first, for it was the most important to him. The letter ran:


     “MR. LATHAM:

     I have trusted you above all other men, yet you have proven to
     be my most hurtful enemy. I was surprised that you would sell my
     friendship, my future, and, above all, your own manhood to Willard
     Frost.

     From this time on I am done with you--we are strangers. Enclosed
     find check, as I prefer not being in your debt for services
     rendered.

     ROBERT MILBURN.”


Marrion laid the letter down with a moan; but the cruel injustice of it
aroused no resentment--he was only stunned by it. After awhile, he felt
tired and sick, so he lay down across the foot of his bed and finally
went to sleep. In his sleep nature had her way--was no longer held in
check by his will, and so, when his weary brain, his sad, unresting
heart cried out they could no longer endure, she came and gave them
rest.

Two hours afterward found him somewhat refreshed, but he was sorry to
have awakened; he should have liked to sleep--that was all. That most
vexing question kept repeating itself to him. “Why are the best motives
of our lives turned into wolves, that come back, ravenous, to feed upon
our helpless and tortured selves?”

Willard Frost’s letter had made so slight an impression upon him that,
until this reminder, he had quite forgotten it; had carelessly dropped
it down, never thinking of it again until now.

It looked hard, that he had come away to save that home, and then,
to have the head of that home confront him with a pen picture of a
scoundrel placarded “Marrion Latham.”

It was an unexpected experiment, and an astounding shock. With hands
clasped behind him Marrion restlessly paced the floor, trying to
determine what was the best thing for him to do.

He could board the next train and go back; but no, Cherokee had his
promise that he would stay away. Besides, she had borne and sacrificed
enough for Robert.

He could write; but how could he express it on cold paper; he could
wait a few days and see him in person, for he knew Robert expected to
return when the bloom of the year was passed. That would be soon, for
it was now time for the woods to be full of ghosts who gather to make
lament, while winds sob in minor key, and trees are bowed in silent
woe, and leaves, like tears, fall fast.

This was best; so he decided upon it to wait and see him in person.

His new drama lay on the desk before him; it was in this one Cherokee
figured. What better way to forget the slow, creeping time, than to go
to work; he had often said he wished he were poor, for the poor have
small time for grieving.

He did go to work in earnest; each night found him brain-weary after a
hard day’s arduous task; it was the best thing he could have done. The
very first morning he saw an announcement of Milburn’s return to the
city he dropped him a line:


     “MY DEAR MILBURN:

     I have an explanation--an apology to make--then let us be on the
     old footing; for without you I am a lonely man. Appoint a place
     for an immediate interview and let me assure you that Frost had
     nothing to do with my leaving you.

     I return check.

     Yours very truly,
     MARRION LATHAM.”


He dispatched this message, and paced the floor in a fever of anxiety
until the answer came. Quickly he snatched the envelope, as a starving
man breaks a crust of bread.

This is what the letter said:


     “My time is now entirely occupied.

     Respectfully,
     ROBERT MILBURN.”



CHAPTER XXVIII.

A DROP OF POISON.


Frost was succeeding in bringing Robert Milburn into open disrepute.
That he was, will appear from his statement of the case to a few
friends who had accompanied him into the bar room of ---- hotel.

“I was saying, gentlemen, that it is such a deuced pity to see Milburn
waste his talents, but the fact is, these self-destructive excesses
must result in a total wreck. Am I not right?”

The man appealed to nodded approval.

“That’s what you are.”

“I say when a man gets so that he can walk up to a bar and take a drink
alone, it’s about time to put a bridle on him.”

“That’s a fact,” assented a third; “and that isn’t all of it.”

“No,” put in Frost, “I saw him driving up and down Fifty-eighth Street
with the Morris woman the other day, in the early afternoon. I just
told him what I thought about it.”

“What did he say?”

“Oh, he flared up, and said it was his own affair.”

“Well, I always thought Milburn a pretty square kind of a fellow,” said
a quiet man who stood leaning against a gilded column. “In that deal
with ‘---- Syndicate’--you recollect it, Frost--he could have beaten
the life out of you, but he stood to you when I know he was offered
double commission to come off.”

“Ah! nobody is saying anything against his honesty,” returned Willard,
sharply, “he’s square enough, but it is his infernal recklessness. Now,
yesterday, I sauntered into his office to remonstrate. I said, ‘Robert,
old boy, you are getting yourself out of everybody’s good books; why
don’t you brace up? The first thing you know, you will be dropped like
a hot nail.’ I asked him why he couldn’t be a little more modest about
it, for instance, I suggested, ‘when the spirit moves you to take
Morris out for an airing, why won’t a moonlight night and a by-road
answer the purpose as well as Fifty-eighth Street and the middle of the
afternoon.’”

“And what did he say to that?”

“He held out his cigar case to me saying, ‘You are wasting your time, I
don’t care to be respectably wicked, and I choose to go to the devil in
my own way.’”

“Look here!” interrupted the quiet man, “I fancy I know Milburn better
than most people, and he has a clean life behind him; moreover, he
thinks you are the only man on earth. I can’t understand how he can
deliberately throw himself away, as you say he is doing. There is a
very strong motive of some kind. He is not a man to take to dissipation
for its own sake.”

Frost’s eye twinkled as he turned abruptly and fronted the speaker.

“Then you think he has a provocation?”

“He must have; I’ve observed him pretty closely, and there is an
underlying streak of good metal in his character that will crop out at
times. Say, Frost, have you tried to help him?”

“Always.” An oppressive little silence followed, and Frost frowned as
he tugged away at his mustache. “But I can do little with him of late.”

“It is all very bad--very bad,” said the quiet man.

“Though if he did a world of wrong, injuring every human creature that
came between him and his pleasure, he should not be forsaken by you--he
sticks to you.”

Every line in the clear whiteness of Frost’s face was cruelly,
craftily, and closely compressed, while he stood looking at the man
whose words were the fine point of a sword with which, in delicate
_finesse_, he ran him through the body.

Frost bent his head in his most courtly fashion.

“Milburn may not be all at fault; you know he has a pretty wife!” There
was a secrecy in his smiling face, and he conveyed an air of mystery to
those words that struck the other forcibly. At the same time the thin,
straight lips, and the markings in the nose, curved with a sarcasm that
looked handsomely diabolic.

“Come, what will you have gentlemen?”



CHAPTER XXIX.

ROBERT’S TRIUMPH.


“Excellent claret, Latham, have a glass with me,” said the artist,
Willard Frost.

“Thanks, not any; I have ordered a meal--been out rowing and it makes a
fellow deucedly hungry.”

It was by the merest accident that Marrion Latham and Willard Frost had
taken seats at the same table, in one of New York’s restaurants.

To the right of them, some distance away, there was a decorated table,
covers laid for twelve. Pretty soon the party came in and took their
seats.

“By Jove!” exclaimed Latham, “I wonder what’s up. There’s Robert Emmet
Cooper, Fred Ryder, D. Kohler, and who is the one at the head of the
table? Well, upon my word, it is Milburn.”

“What does all this mean?” inquired Frost.

“That dinner is given to Mr. Milburn,” said the waiter, “he is one of
the acknowledged artists now.”

“What! you don’t tell me his ‘Athlete’ has been accepted by the
Commissioners of the Art Palace?”

“That, sir, is what the judges decided.”

“Strange I had not heard the good news, but I am certainly proud of his
success,” exclaimed Marrion.

“Well, I am not. I despise him, the accursed Milburn,” Frost hissed
between his teeth. “He crossed me in every path; my luck quails before
his whenever we encounter. I say luck, for he has no genius.”

“There are a number of people mistaken then, for he is rapidly gaining
reputation.” This was harrowing to the vanity of the other.

“Yes, and it will do him more good than he deserves, but he had a big
advantage in this.”

“Not advantage, Frost, more than that which hard work and skill
bestows.”

“Umph! You need not defend him, for he hates you, Latham.”

“That doesn’t keep me from rejoicing with him.”

“Well, tell me, when did the drop in the temperature of your relations
occur?”

“About two months ago we had a slight misunderstanding.”

“About his wife, I presume?”

“About none of your business, if you will pardon brevity,” Marrion
answered, curtly.

“You need not mind a little thing like that. I am in the same boat.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that I am in love with her, too; I admire her as cordially as I
hate him.” He drained the fifth glass of his genuine Medoc, and went on:

“Did you ever see such a ravishing form; I’ll swear she is divine.”

Marrion appeared not to hear him; he turned his head away as if the
other were not speaking. He heard the wit and gaiety of his club
friends. Meanwhile, everybody’s old acquaintance, the devil, had been
spending a time with Frost, by special invitation. He could only view
the other’s triumph; and there he sat, helpless, consumed with impotent
rage; a look of ungovernable fury distorted his features, already
flushed with madness and wine. His upper lip curled at the corners, and
his eyes blazed like those of an enraged tiger, as he muttered:

“Robert Milburn, you shall pay dearly for this victory.” Then he turned
to Marrion and said:

“I wonder if he would feel so elated if he knew how much his wife
thought of me?”

The other turned sharply and faced him:

“Scoundrel! dare to utter a word against her, and I’ll crush the life
out of your body.”

Frost gurgled a fiendish laugh:

“I know you are jealous, but do not be hasty; I can prove what I say.”

“Then, sir, you will have to do it, and if you have lied, look sharp,
for a day of reckoning will surely come.”

“She is at my studio every Friday at three o’clock. You know which
window looks in upon my private apartments; watch that, and you will
see her pass. Remember the time.”

“That will do,” returned Marrion, coldly, as he arose to leave.

At that moment his attention was attracted toward the banquet scene.
Milburn had been called upon for a speech. As a general thing he was
a man of a few words, but when he was inspired there was no more
eloquent talker than he. He made an individual mention of those who had
substantially aided in this distinction he had attained.

Marrion listened, hoping that he would kindly speak his name, but what
a tumult within stirred him to pathetic, unspoken appeal, as the speech
ended without the slightest reference to his model.

As the enthusiastic friends thronged about him, Marrion could not help
showing that he rejoiced with them.

His unexpected appearance in their midst created a decided sensation.
He extended his hand warmly to Robert, and said most cordially:

“Let me congratulate you, too.”

With a look of intense loathing the artist waved him away, and folding
his arms said coldly:

“Excuse me, sir.”

Some one of the party whispered:

“Don’t mind that, Latham; Milburn has imbibed a little too freely.”



CHAPTER XXX.

SHADOWING HER.


It had been some months since Cherokee and Marrion had met. But
he still loved and was guarding her reputation. The little bit of
treachery, villainy, or whatever Frost might have meant, he proposed to
see through.

It was an awful day, that Friday, rain had been falling since early
morning. But nestling his beardless chin into the broad collar of his
storm coat, he walked the opposite side of the street from the studio
of Willard Frost.

In breathless amazement, he saw a woman pass by the very window.
She walked back and forth a time or two, and then she and Frost
stood together. The gown was violet, with gold trimmings; he had
seen Cherokee wear a dress like that; but he felt there must be some
mistake, or everyone is of dual existence. By this one woman he
measured the goodness of the world; if there was no truth in her, then
it followed with him that there was no truth in the world.

When the woman, heavily veiled and warmly wrapped, came down the step
and turned down the street, he followed her. All that had passed was
like a dim bewildering vision. All that he saw in the streets of the
city--the faces he beheld--all was like a monstrous nightmare. It did
not seem that anything was real.

He still shadowed the woman who went directly to the elevated train,
and when they came to the station where he knew Milburn got off, he
anxiously watched the woman.

She got up, and, without looking to right or left, hurried out of the
coach. It had stopped raining, but she raised her umbrella and went on.

Marrion walked behind her until there was no one near, then he stepped
up:

“I must speak to you,” he said.

She turned upon him an unmerciful stare.

“How dare you, sir?”

“Forgive me, but I must understand it all,” he exclaimed, excitedly.

“But what right have you, Mr. Latham, to shadow me, or question?”

“To save Robert Milburn’s home--that’s what. I should think you, who
owe so much to his friendship, would not dare to do this.” He caught
her by the hand:

“Come with me where we can talk it over alone, or you will never regret
it but once, and that once will be always.”

She consented reluctantly, and they walked off together.

So complicated are the webs of fate, that this step, though hastily
taken, gained a secret of the most vital moment to him and to Robert
Milburn.



CHAPTER XXXI.

GONE.


It had blown hard in the night, but the wind had dropped at dawning,
and now the rising sun tinted the cruel fringe of storm wrack as it
dwindled into the west.

A low, gray sky, eaten to a jagged edge as by a fire torch, hung over
the harbor.

Eastward, this sky line was broken by the spout of foam when two waves
dashed each other into spray. A heavy surf beat upon the shore. Marrion
Latham stood watching the small boats swoop up and down the emerald
valley, dipping away nor’ward under easy sail. He loved the water, and
when anything annoyed him, he had often found relief in its lullaby.
This was one time its surging sighs had not soothed him.

He must see Robert, for his home was in peril. He turned from the water
front. Slowly and deliberately he walked, every step was an effort.
He could not forget that this man, for whom he felt so much concern,
had refused to take his hand, had refused him a chance for personal
justification. All this he thought of, and while love and wounded
pride were both struggling for mastery, he reached the door where he
had once been a welcomed and an honored guest.

“Is Mr. Milburn in?” he asked of the maid who answered the bell.

“No, sir, he left this morning for Boston; will you leave a message.”

“Oh! no. I shall wire him, if you will give me his address.”

He tried so hard to speak lightly, but lamentably failed in the
attempt. Without being conscious of it he had spoken in almost an
imploring tone.

So Robert was out of his reach; what should Marrion do now? He could
not think; he had gone through so much excitement lately that his brain
felt in a confused tangle, he was unable to calculate coolly; one thing
he knew, that his mental agony was beyond endurance. In thought, word,
and deed, he had been true to Robert, but that the other might never
know until the history of man is carried from time to eternity, where
none can erase or alter it.

“Who was the gentleman?” Mrs. Milburn asked, when the servant returned.

“A friend of yours, but he wanted to see your husband. It was Mr.
Latham.”

“Say, rather, an acquaintance of mine,” was the reply.

Cherokee felt that she had no such thing as a friend. She who had been
petted and admired saw the change now; the cordial hand held back,
the friendly, confidential glance replaced by frowns of almost fierce
suspicion and reproach. She observed a gradual but marked difference in
her friends’ demeanor toward her. Her greetings were received coldly,
though sometimes with scrupulous politeness. Groups began to melt
insensibly away at her approach, or her advent was a signal for dead
silence.

The young women were frigid; the old ones were more so, and
systematically cut her dead, and were often heard to say: “They had
always thought there was something very queer about this woman.”



CHAPTER XXXII.

STORMING THE LION’S DEN.


It happened that the very day after Robert’s return, he had accepted,
for the first time in some months, one of the many invitations which
Willard Frost had extended. He had usually declared himself in his
notes “Already engaged,” or “Sorry illness makes me forego the
pleasure, etc.”

Designing Frost, therefore, continued his invitations until Milburn,
from that fatality which seemingly regulates and controls us, accepted
the proffered invitation. Frost’s apartments were gorgeous. He had made
money as well as married it.

“Gentlemen,” he said to his three guests, “let me show you the first
success I had,” and he pointed to a baby face on the wall.

“That study I sold for two thousand dollars to a man who had lost a
child about that age, and he had no picture of it; this he fancied
looked very much like her.”

“It is a marvelous face--so beautiful. Where did you get your model?”
Robert asked.

“It is my own child.”

“What! I did not know you had ever been married until----” Robert
paused in awkward confusion.

“Until I made my recent ‘fiasco,’” laughed Frost. “Well, whether I have
or not, the child’s mother died at its birth--that was lucky.”

He saw how the others looked at him when he made this heartless speech,
so he added:

“You remember those old stony hills of New Hampshire? Well, I was
reared there, and perhaps that accounts for so much flint and grit in
my make up.”

“But mine host,” Robert began, “where is the other rare treat you
promised--your latest portrait, that wears a hectic flush and nothing
more?”

The others, who were listening to the colloquy burst into ripples of
merriment.

“Ah, so I did promise,” and he seized his glass, and emptied it at a
gulp.

A gust of cold mist, mingled with fine snow, puffed into the brilliant
rooms, and stirred the stifling air that was saturated with exhalations
of spirits and tobacco smoke.

“And you really would like to see my creation--‘A Nude Daughter of Our
Land.’”

“Nothing would delight us more,” they declared.

He summoned the servant and ordered him to draw the curtain aside.

The eager crowd caught his words at once.

“Yes! yes! yes! draw the curtain.”

Robert watched eagerly, while the other guests shouted in his ear.

“Let us see! brave man, let us see!”

As they watched the canvas the drapery fell to one side.

“My wife! Great God!”

Robert felt the horror stricken tremor in his own exclamation. There
played on Willard Frost’s face a satanic smile, while a momentary
exultation thrilled him.

“She kindly posed for this, my greatest effort,” returned Frost, still
smiling.

Robert controlled every muscle in his countenance; no fire broke from
his steadfast, scornful eyes; but there was a kingly authority in the
aspect--the almost stately crest and power in the swell of the stern
voice--which awed the lookers on.

With that locked and rigid countenance, with arms folded, he stood
confronting the other artist, who advanced toward him with menacing
brow.

“Willard Frost, this is a lie! and I demand you to prove it. You
villain! you dastard! you coward! Fall on your knees, you cur, and ask
God to forgive you, lest you are suddenly called to face your black
account.”

Frost strove to be scornful, but his lips trembled, and his voice died
in hollow murmurs in his breast.

“Answer me, I demand proof!” cried Robert, looking upon him with a
crushing and intense disdain.

“I know, Milburn, you will hate me; but acknowledge, we are at last
even,” said the other.

“No! I do not believe it! By the eternal powers, my wife would not
stoop so low as this model indicates. I must have proof.”

“Then, sir, you shall!” and Frost’s eyes flashed a lightning glance of
triumph.

“Gentlemen, I do not like to bring you into this little unpleasantness,
but what do you know of this?”

“We know that Mrs. Milburn has often been to the studio, and we,
moreover, have seen her when you were at work on the picture. But the
man surely knows his own wife; this is a speaking likeness.”

“Besides, here’s a note where she asked that the matter be kept a dead
secret.”

Robert looked at the paper, it was her handwriting; bearing no date,
unfortunately, or he would have known that this was written when she
was a girl, about an entirely different picture.

“Is that her hand, or forgery?”

This question, uttered triumphantly, and regarded by all three as a
climax, fell flat.

He met their merciless, inquisitorial gaze, now riveted on him,
unflinchingly; while they fidgeted, cleared their throats, and
interchanged significant looks, he stood motionless; only an unwonted
pallor, and tiny bead-like drops gathering to his forehead, betokened
the intensity of the struggle within.

Looking again at the note, he handed it back to one, saying, in a voice
deliciously pure:

“Then I am Christ, if she is Magdalene. She is forgiven.”

The companions were taken back, they had expected a more complete
victory for their host.

Presently, as if his nature had nursed this crushing, profound
humiliation until it almost burst forth in fury, he madly rushed toward
the picture.

“Whether she did or did not pose for it, I shall rip the infernal thing
from center to circumference.”

An indescribable uproar arose, as he opened his knife and approached
the picture. Frost’s clinched fist rose in the air, and he shouted
angrily:

“Do it and die!”

“I am no coward; I am not afraid of your threats,” he returned coldly.

“But it is madness!” the other roared, “I am surrounded by friends; you
have none here.”

“By heavens he has!” said a voice behind them.

“Marrion Latham!” came from every tongue.

“Yes, and the most unwelcome guest you ever entertained. This is all a
base, cowardly lie, and I came to tell you,” he hissed to the others,
as he caught Robert by the hand.

“My friend,” cried Robert, “forgive me the injustice I have done you; I
could kneel and beg it of you.”

“I am not warrior, priest or king--only brother,” he said earnestly.

“You contemptible cur; dare you say Cherokee Milburn was not my model
and my--”

“Yes, I do dare; even the first thing you ever led her into was a
deception, and the baby face that swings above you there on the wall is
the same face you hid away when misfortune overtook her--to die in the
slums--and that one was your own child.”

“But I say, emphatically, that this is a picture of Mrs. Milburn--the
other has nothing to do with this,” cried the enraged artist.

“And I say, with the same emphasis, it is a d---- lie; the face was
made from Mrs. Milburn’s picture, and the form--you paid another five
hundred dollars to sit for it.”

“And pray, who is this individual?” questioned Frost, carelessly.

“Yes, who is she?” cried his companions.

The tumult became so great that an ordinary tone could not be heard at
all.

“Who is she? Who is she?”

“Men, have patience, I am in no hurry,” said Marrion, as he leveled a
revolver at the party.

“Now, Robert, old boy, let the good work go on.”

“Bless you, Latham, by your help I will,” and he plunged the knife into
the canvas.

Frost uttered a tremendous oath, and shouted:

“I’ll kill you both for that!”

“Now, to complete the scene we should have the real model here--would
that please you?” said Marrion, aggravatingly.

“Yes, produce her if you can.”

He walked to the door and opened it; no one spoke; all seemed riveted
to the spot.

Who should walk in but Mrs. Milburn’s maid, Annie Zerner.

“You bought her, Frost, but she sells you.” Then turning to the woman,
Marrion asked:

“Did you pose for this man’s picture?”

“Yes, sir, and----”

A fierce glance from the artist, Willard Frost, kept her from ending
the sentence.

“D---- you! I’ll finish you.”

“Wait!” cried a firm, but sweet voice. Willard Frost stepped back in
dismay. The doorway framed the form and beautiful, indignant face of
Cherokee Milburn.

[Illustration: “‘Wait!’ cried a firm, but sweet voice.” Page 229.]

She had seen her maid, dressed in her clothes, join Marrion in the
street and had followed them. She could not doubt Marrion Latham’s
honor, and her woman’s instinct--that almost unerring guide which God
has bestowed upon the sex--told her to follow.

One glance at the assembled party, and another at the empty frame and
the canvas that lay beside it, and she comprehended the situation.

“I know you, Willard Frost,” she said, with a calmness that surprised
herself as well as all present.

“I trust you have a good opinion of me,” sneered the baffled scoundrel.

“I have doubted you,” she went on, not heeding the interruption, “for
two years, but I never thought you capable of such as this.” She paused
and pointed to the canvas upon the floor.

“Under a false pretense you first deceived me; you borrowed all the
money I had that you might make me easy prey to your designs,” she
continued, her voice gathering fulness, and swelling with indignation.

“Worst of all, with a wickedness that devils might admire and imitate,
you sought my husband’s ruin, by tempting him to drink. You succeeded;
but that your success fell short of your expectation he and I have this
devoted friend to thank,” she turned and laid her hand upon Marrion’s.

“You! always you!” shrieked Frost, “you have baffled me for the last
time.”

There was a flash--a loud report--and Marrion Latham, clutching at his
breast, sank heavily to the floor. Without waiting to note the full
results of his terrible work, Willard Frost rushed out into the night.

“Oh! my God! my God! save him!” burst from Cherokee’s white, groaning
lips, as she raised her eyes and cried in fierce despair.

“God save you and your home, is all I ask,” he gasped.

Robert, too, knelt by his side, crying: “How could the foul traitor
deal such a merciless blow? Friend, brother, live to see the result of
your work. You are my savior,” cried Robert.

“Then death is unutterably sweet,” dropped from Marrion’s lips. He
gazed imploringly at Cherokee; his power of utterance was gone; he
could give no answering pressure to the fond hands, yet his last words
had filtered like a single drop of sweet, through all the sea of woe.
While the dear ones bent above, they felt that in that stroke fierce
fate had spent her last shaft. There was no drop of worm-wood left in
this bitter, bitter cup.



CONCLUSION.


The wounded man was removed to Robert’s home. The attendant physician
looked grave; he was dealing with a tremendous enemy that assaulted
with sapping and draining of strength, with poisoning of the blood and
brain. But he was young and fresh in his wrestle with evil in disease;
he had the latest words of science; he knew how to work, so he called
up all his powers, and neither slumbered nor slept.

He left the room for only brief intervals, and allowed no one in there
except the servant. Occasionally the patient slept, and then he rested,
too. A whistle from a rushing train far out in the night, or carriages
rolling home from late pleasures, were welcome sounds to break the
stillness, though how foreign to Robert and Cherokee they seemed. Full
of solicitude, full of anxiety, they came to the door at all hours to
ask of the patient’s condition. Time and time again they were turned
away without a comforting answer.

At last, one day, the physician told them he would live and be
himself in health again. Sweetly fell these words, like dew on dying
flowers--their hearts’ throbbing chords were softly soothed.

       *       *       *       *       *       *

They were sitting together in their own room. Robert’s face had greatly
changed.

“Cherokee,” he began, “it isn’t long ago that I promised, before God,
to love and cherish you always. I have learned that that didn’t mean
just to-day, or a year from to-day. It meant this: that we must make
the fulfillment of our sacred promise to each other the supreme effort
of our lives, so long as we both live. I know I have erred, but I
promised Marrion on that terrible night that I would be a man. It is
two years, to-day, since he risked his own life to save you and me.
Tell me, have I kept the faith?”

He held out his hand in a half pleading gesture; she put her’s on his
shoulders, and throwing her head back with the exuberant happiness of a
child, said, with enthusiasm:

“You have! you have! and I do--do love you.” She glanced over his
shoulder into the mirror. Was the bright face she saw there her very
own? What had become of its sallowness, its lines of care, its yearning
melancholy?

A wave of golden consciousness sweetly swept her face. In the fulness
of contentment, long withheld, Cherokee’s glad youth had come back to
reward her husband.



+-------------------------------------------------+
|Transcriber’s note:                              |
|                                                 |
|Obvious typographic errors have been corrected.  |
|                                                 |
+-------------------------------------------------+





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