Page images





Only the actions of the Just
Smell sweet and blossom in the Dust.

CHAPTER XXI. THE dead man's horse had disappeared, and was probably

T trotting back to his stable in Twickenham. But Tom Bendibow's steed, which knew its master, could be heard cropping the herbage a few rods away, at the other end of the open place. This sound, and the struggling breathing of Tom himself, were distinctly i audible in the stillness of the night.

Marion, after there was no longer any doubt as to Mr. Grant's being dead, sat for several minutes motionless and silent, his head resting on her lap. Philip meanwhile was examining Tom's injuries, which proved to be a crushing blow at the base of the head, behind the right ear, and two upper ribs on the same side broken, apparently by the stamp of a horse's hoof. It seemed hardly possible that he could live long. .

"Shall I lift them into the wagon ?” he asked Marion. “We should lose no time in getting home.”

“If you take out the seat of the wagon, they can lie at full length," she said. “I will get in with them. You must ride Mr. Bendibow's horse and lead ours.”

The plan was as good as the circumstances admitted ; and Philip, assisted by Marion, succeeded in lifting the two lifeless weights into the bottom of the vehicle, in which had previously been placed a kind of pillow, improvised out of Philip's coat and Marion's shawl. Marion then got in and supported Tom in such a manner that the jolting might distress him as little as possible : and finally, Philip,


having caught and mounted Tom's horse, grasped the reins of the baker's phlegmatic steed, and the party moved forward. The strange darkness, which had been at its densest at the moment of the catastrophe, now began to lighten ; a star or two appeared toward the east, and gradually the heavy veil of obscurity was withdrawn in the direction of the west and south. The faces of the two victims were faintly revealed. Mr. Grant's countenance bore a serene and austere expression ; but poor Tom's features were painful to contemplate—the heaviness of insensibility alternated there with the contractions of suffering. “Poor boy !” Marion murmured, more than once, but with an inward and musing tone, as if her compassion extended to something beyond his physical calamity. At other times this compassionate aspect gave place to an expression of stern severity; and this again was once or twice succeeded by a beautifully tender look, which deepened her eyes and made her lips move tremulously. Few words were exchanged between her and Philip during their sad journey, which seemed to both of them as long as a lifetime, and yet brief.

Brief or long, the journey ended at last, and in the paleness of early dawn, Philip, with the help of the astounded baker, who had been aroused for the purpose, carried Tom Bendibow and the body of Mr. Grant through the iron gate, and beneath the overspreading limbs of the cedar, and into the house where Mrs. Lockhart, horrorstricken and speechless, stood to receive them. Then the baker was sent for a physician : the dead man's body was laid on the bed in his chamber, and Philip did whatever was possible to make Bendibow comfortable in his own room. The latter had by this time begun to regain the use of his senses, and with these—though only feebly and at intervals—the power of speech.

“Did the ... fellow who did this . . . get off ? ” was his first question. To which Philip replied in the affirmative.

After a pause Tom resumed : “Well, I'm done for !" “Nothing of the sort ; you will be all right in time," said Philip.

“No; I'm a dead man; and . . . I'll tell you what, I'm . . glad of it!" He said this with all the emphasis at his command. By. and-by he added, “What about the . . . old gentleman ?”

“Shot through the heart.”

Several minutes passed, and Philip thought that Tom was relapsing into unconsciousness, when he suddenly exclaimed : “Do you mean to say he's dead?”

“He died instantly." “Give me . . . some water," said Tom, with a ghastly expression; and after he had drunk, he continued, “I tried to help; but when I heard his voice”... he broke off abruptly.

“Whose voice? Oh, you mean Marion's— Miss Lockhart.”

“Very likely,” said Tom. “I'd better tell you how it all came on : I shan't be of any use by the time the inquest begins. I rode over the river to meet him ... to give the letter, you know. Took the wrong road, but he'd taken it too, so . . . we rode along together, talking, first about Perdita : then he spoke of Miss Lockhart ... she was on his mind; he liked her, didn't he?"

“That's strange !” muttered Philip to himself.

“And we talked about . . . well, no matter ! Then my girths got loose and I got down to tighten 'em, and he rode on. Just as I was mounting I heard another horse coming along . . . and there seemed to be some row ... I rode up. I heard him say, 'Hand it over, or ...""

“The highwayman said that?”.

“Yes,” replied Tom, after a long 'pause. “By that time I was almost on 'em. He fired; by the flash I saw his face . . . Oh, my God !"

“You would know him again, then?”

"I shall never see him again,” replied Tom, with a certain doggedness of tone. His bearing during this conversation had been so singular, and in some respects so unaccountable, that Philip was disposed to think his mind was affected. “You had better rest,” he said kindly.

“I shall rest—till Judgment Day,” replied the wounded youth; "and I shan't say much more before then. Oh, I have my wits about me ... more now than when that shot was fired! Just after that I heard a call somewhere down the road; I shouted back. Then he rode at me and hit me with the butt of his pistol. Well, he's a villain ; but it's better for me to die than to hang him. I've had enough."

At this point Marion came to the door with a letter in her hand, and as Philip approached her, she said to him in a low voice: “I found this in Mr. Grant's pocket. It is addressed to Perdita Desmoines. What shall be done about it?”.

Philip took the letter from her and looked at it. It was enclosed in a sealed packet of stout paper, and the address was in Mr. Grant's handwriting. Its appearance indicated that it had been kept for some time; the corners were dog-eared and the edges somewhat worn. Across the corner of the packet was the following indorsement:

“In case of my decease to be handed at once to the person to whom it is addressed, and on no account to be opened by any other person.

J. G.” "I can't leave here at present," said Lancaster, “and 'twould not be safe to trust it to a messenger. Let it wait till this evening or to-morrow.”

“What's that about Perdita ?" demanded Tom from the bed ; for, with the abnormal acuteness of perception that sometimes characterises the dying, he had caught her name. “A letter for her? Send for her, Miss Lockhart, please! I want to see her before I go. And she ought to be here, besides. Tell her that he's dead and I'm dying, and she'll come.”

Philip questioned Marion's face with a look, and she responded by a look of assent. She had long ago divined the secret of poor Tom's love, and now the new birth in her own heart had quickened her sympathies towards all lovers. “I will write her a message and send it off immediately,” she said, walking up to the bedside and touching the boy's hand softly with her own. “She will be here by the time the surgeon has dressed your wounds, and then you will be feeling better. You are not to die, sir. Madame Desmoines and I will nurse you and make you well.”

“That's all right," said Tom, closing his eyes with a sigh ; and, yielding to his exhaustion, he sank into a semi-somnolent state which seemed likely to last some time.

“By-the-by,” said Philip, when Marion had written her message to Perdita, “ there's this boy's father ; I forgot about him ; he must be summoned instantly. I'll send word to him post-haste."

“Do you think he will come?" she answered, glancing at him for a moment and then looking away. But before Philip could reply to so singular a query, she responded to herself, “ I suppose he would. And it would be worth while to have him here. Mr. Grant was his guest last night. He might help in finding the murderer.”

“After what I've seen to-night,” Philip remarked, “I should hardly like to ask you where the murderer is.”

“This is different,” she returned. : “I know nothing. I see only people that I love. Don't think of me that way, Philip."

“ You know how I think of you, Marion." “If I did not, I could not bear this.”

They were in the little sitting-room down-stairs, standing by the window where they had so often stood before. Overhead was audible occasionally the soft foot-fall of Mrs. Lockhart, moving about in the room where Grant lay. The east was exquisite with the tints

of approaching sunrise, and the calm and strength of nature made the morning sweet. The earth, which had wheeled through the light and darkness, the life and death, of so many myriad years, still maintained her tireless pace no less freshly than on the first day. Could a human heart, also, turn as hopefully from the shadows of the past, and voyage onward through untravelled paths toward the source of light, or must the dust and gloom of weary years still cling to it and make its progress dreary ? Love is truly life : deprived of it, body and soul alike stagnate and decline ; but, gifted with its might, . ' we breathe the air of heaven even in the chamber of death, and our faces are illuminated even in a dungeon.

It was in the air and light of this immortal morning that Marion and Philip now looked at each other, brightened thereby from within as the sunrise brightened them from without. The utterance of their hearts was visible in their eyes, and there was hardly need of words. But the love which has not avowed itself in words is incomplete.

“Will you be my wife, Marion ?” said Philip.
“ Have you known me long enough ?" was her reply.
“I have known you all my life.”
“But to have me will be more wearisome than to know me.”
“Marion, I love you."

“I love you, Philip. Oh, Philip, can this be happiness that makes my heart ache so? If I did not know there was so much sorrow in the world, I could hardly live! Can Philip Lancaster belong to me, and I to him ! I am afraid to have you know how much I love you. I am afraid to know myself. No! I will not be afraid. Take me, Philip! Kiss me.” ...

It was with reverence that Philip kissed her first ; but then love overcame him. There was no one like her in the world. He would be a hero and a saint for her sake.

About nine o'clock in the morning, Perdita, Marquise Desmoines, drove up to the gate. She alighted and walked quickly up the path to the door. Her face was vivid, and her bearing alert and full of life. Philip met her at the entrance.

“Is Tom really dying?” was her first question.

"He seems to wish it, and the surgeon gives no encouragement. He is anxious to see you.”

“Is it known who did this ?”

“Nothing as yet. Tom Bendibow seemed to have something on his mind, but I think he wanders a little, He may speak more ex. plicitly to you,”

« PreviousContinue »