|Chapter Title||A FEARFUL WITNESS.|
|Newspaper Title||The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893)|
|Trove Title||Love and Passion|
A FXAnFÜL WITNESS.
"My dear, allow me to congratulate you. You have done very-exceedingly-well."
Alton Carroll's steely eyes were full of mocking light, and his face wore a look of suppressed excit meat, and he laid one hand on his wife's beautiful arm, And gAzed into ber scornful face.
But Rauca turned away coldly, and her eyes flashed with ah ominous gleam. '
I" What is it to you ?" she demanded, haughtily.
" Be good enough to reserve your opinion until it is
" What ia to me ?" ha repeated, quizzically. " My dear, I am referring to your reception of Mr. Guy RoiBiter to-day. You seem to forget that it is a great deal to me, since I am leagued with you-and the evil one-to disturb their little dream of domestic bliss, destroy their.sweet illusions, and enact the roi» of the serpent in that particular Eden, From my secluded corner, this morning, I was witness to your bit of acting. By Jo ve I it was superb I One would certainly bave sworn that you had forgotten his very existence. It piqued him wonderfully, too ; I dis- sented that at a glance. Esbícb, you are a splendid actress-the stage ought to have youl"
Her red lip curled scornfully.
" I hope he has not forgotten that you were ance Alicia's devoted admirer 1" she sneered,
Carroll laughed, shrugging his shapely shoulders.
' Bah I I assumed that part for the purpose of .ffeot, my queen-to annoy you a trifle, if-it that bad been possible, Alicia Lawrence had no partic- ular charm for me ; Alicia Rossiter has still less. All the same, te carry out our compact, Eeeica. I am willing te do the share that you have assigned me."
She flashed him a glance of contempt, and left the room without another word.
She hated Alton Carroll, thoagh he was her hus- band, and the love which he had prophesied would come sometime would never enter her heart, she well knew. But she had started in the path marked out for herself, and there must be no looking back. When she had placed her hand in his and promised to be his wife, all that was good and holy in this woman's nature had died. She had sold herself to evil. Henceforth there was no room in her heart for noble impulses or actions-naught save venge- ance, the heavy debt which she meant to pay back,
I with interest.
I Her plan was already formed-a strange plot I i and though the path upon which she had entered lay
directly over her own bleeding heart, she cared sot how she crushed it, so she reached the goal at last.
Once started on her journey to'revenge, she never faltered, never wavered. She had followed Guy and Alicia to Florence, and little by little, from the depths of her busy brain, the plot for a deadly ven- geance bad been evolved. She knew tbat Alicia though loving her husband madly, could not exist without admiration ; she remembered Carroll's for- mer attentions to the beautiful Miss Lawrence; she recollected also -none knew better than she-that Guy Rossiter was naturally a very jealouB, hot tem- pered man. Upon these facts a wild plot was founded -a scheme which, for terrible results and subtlety of plotting, wes never surpassed.
Carroll had entered into it from various motives. He played his game into Essica's hands, because it suited him to blind her to the truth, that the whole scheme which she had planned was to furnish him a way in which in turn to pay off his own private ac-
When Essica had left the room he stood alone with a sudden scowl upon his face. A servant en- tered with a letter. At sight of the handwriting he turned gbastly white; then, with nervous haste, he tore the envelope open. Ah! surely the sins of his pBSt were arising before him I Wrong-doing inevi- tably brings its own punishment, and his was coming. The letter had been forwarded from America, and
this is what it contained :
"DiAB Cousin Alton: My dear school-days will eeon be over, and then-bow happy the thought [ makes me I I can return to dear old Carroll Place. It
is so long since I have been home-not since my dear parentB were stricken down with the dreadful yellow fever, leaving me all alone-alone and friendless, save for you, dear cousin, and the God who pities and cares for the desolate. And¡ after all, what are earthly loves and friendships in comparison P for He Is all I I have learned te be content. I believe thai 'ail things work together for good to them that love God,' and this life has as much sunshine as
" 'For, taking the year together, my dear,
There isn't more night Shem day/
"I hope that you will be glad to see me, and yonr wife, also (I have beard glowing accounts of her beauty), for I shall be home in a month or six weeks-home to dear old Carroll Place. Until then, adieu. Your little cousin,
" Ruth Cabeoll."
He stood for a time like one suddenly bereft of life. "A month or six weeks P" He shivered as though a chill wind bad passed over him. Great Heaven I so short a time, and then-then be mnst meet the hideous plantom evoked by the coming of this fair girl with her gentle, trusting heart.
This was the secret; a few words will sum it up» When the horrible fever which at intervals scourges the far South had carried away the parents o« Ruth Carroll (at that tima a pretty child of fifteen) it was found that the large fortune which reverted to her had been-ob, fearful mistake I-left to the guardianship of her cousin, and only living relative« Alton Carroll. And now the money was gone.
He had biddon the truth, as he did all his sins that could be concealed from Essies, knowing" what her scorn was like, and how keen the shafts that oould speed from her sharp tongue. But the day was coming when all this could be no longer con- cealed-when the unsuspecting girl, released from the thraldom of school-life, would inevitably seek him and demand the restitution of her fortune. She had reached her majority now, and the truth could not be longer hidden or evaded,
Oha vorjM-aeollootioti of thle «nploaoont foot had a tendency to drive the villian on to deeds of reckless wickedness, to drown the accusing voice of a con- science not quite seared. His sinful heart quailed at the thought of meeting the orphan whom be had so deeply wronged, and be oared not what crimes he committed, but plunged deeper into sin, until his very soul seemed steeped in iniquity.
* * * « #
The world of society stared in amazement, and the usual nine day's wonder and speculation followed when it was ascertained that the deserted bride had met her receant lover and the woman for whose sake ah* had been deserted-met them, and instead of the anticipated tragedy, bad extended the right hand ef fellowship. The world at large had expected a terrible scene in the event of such a meeting ; bitter recrimination, perhaps murder. But the sharp talons were sheathed in velvet, and no one suspected what lay under Egsica Carroll's smiling exterior.
And bo it came about, through her dexterous man- agement, tliat Alton Carroll took up his old position at Alicia's side, and seemed to have eyes for no one but her. And all the while Guy watched them with dark, angry glances, his heart overflowing with jealous wrath, yet too proud to remonstrate. Day after day found Carroli'at the handsome suits of apartments ficcnpied by the Rossiters, and day after day, the clouds gathered blacker, and darker, and .denser over their heads.
Alicia seemed possessed by the very spirit of per* verslty ; a strange spell appeared to have been woven about her. Bhe did not cara for Alton Carroll. Her heart was anchored safely in her husband's keeping -the man for whose sake she had forsaken all and fled in dishonour. Bat, somehow, Carroll fascinated her; heexeroiseda deep, a wonderful pawer over this woman, and in his presence she seemed to lose all volition. Bis mind swayed hers his will com- pelled hers ; there were soundless depths of magnet- ism in this man's composition, and he knew exactly bow to direct it. And while they lingered still in lovely Florence, the clouds gathered nearer and darkerjand at last the storm burst forth.
Alicia was walking «ne evening in an olive grove not far from the place where they had taken up their habitation-a lovely, secluded spot near a miniature lake. The sun was sinking to rest in great crimson, and gold, and purple clouds,; a faint breeze stirred lightly, lades with the breath of a thousand flowers ; the scene was very fair to look upon. At length she sank wearily down at the foot of the tree, and drifted into a profound reverie. All at once there was the soand of a qniok, firm footfall upon the turf ; a hand parted the green branches of tbe tree; she started and glanced.np quickly, and a pink flush stained her delicate cheeks as she saw that it was Alton Carroll. His eyes met hers, and he Bmiled s there was a world of fascination in this man's smile, and tew could resist it. He sank lan- guidly upon the grass at her side.
" I came to find you," be said, softly, gazing into her beautiful face with eyes full of bold admira-
She drew herself away, somewhat coldly.
"Alicia," he went en, in his masterful way, ad- dressing her by hsr first name, and as though he bad not observed her involuntary movement, " I have
something to say to you. It is quite time that we i came to an understanding-you and I."
Her blue eyes flushed angrily.
"What de you meanP* she demanded, with a haughty gesture, rising to her feet as shs spoke.
" Thit!» I He arose also, aad stood before her. He laid his band on here, and, some how, she had no power to
"ThisI"he repeated, hissing the words out sharp
ly: "I know of your attempt at murder not very long ago-lees than two years-that little scene on the deck of a certain vessel at sea, when a proud youag beauty of my acquaintance atadmtally pushed her rival overboard I"
Alioia Rossiter started, and a low cry escaped her lips. Her eyes were wild and dilated, her face ashen white, while a convulsive shudder shook her from head to foot She would have fled in terror from the spot, but he caught her hand and compelled her
" You shall not go," he commanded; "you shall stay and listen to me, I know of your attempt to take your cousin's life, Alicia Rossiter, long ago, when she stood, your hated rival, between yourself and your dream of happiness. But, unfortunately for the success of your scheme, Mr. Rossiter saved her life. You need not ask me how I know this ; be sure that you can conceal nothing from me. I am willing to promise to keep your guilty secret, Alicia, on «ne condition-that you cere for me. Your love is the price of my secrecy."
She turned toward him with a pallid, horror stricken face ; but before she could possibly divine his intention, be had caught her in his arms, strain- ing her to his breast with passionate fervor, and kissed her red Ups, once, twice, thrice. And all the time he was fully aware of the burning gaze fixed apon tbem, seeing without hearing the import of the interview-Guy Rossiter himself.
As he held Alicia to his heart the boughs «f the tree were parted by no gentle band, and a dark shadow fell athwart the green velvety turf, with the rosy reflection of the sunset dyeing it as with a crim- son dye-the tall, straight figure of Guy Rossiter, his dusky face full of speechless horror, those dark blazing eyes wild with anquish, There was a sound like an oath suppressed, then a sudden spring, and two firm hands grasped Alton Carroll's throat, clutch- ing it with the madness born of despair.
" Coward I" gasped Rossiter, between his set teeth ; "the same world cannot contain you and me, Alton
Carroll, Down upon your knees ; I am going to i take your life I" j
I And still he clutched the throat of the man in his grasp. The steely blue eyes grew dim, and hazy, and blood-shot ; the blood rushed in a purple suffo- cating tide to Carroll's face and brow. Then Rossiter shook him savagely, as he would have shaken a dog, and, hurling him with|all his strength against the trunk of the tree, he strode from the spot; while, pallid and half dead with horror, quaklag with mortal fear, Alicia fled in the opposite direction.
* # « ir « * *
The next morning the body of a man was found upon the short, green grass, under the olive tree, stone dead. The rigid face, upturned to the blue and smiling sky, was gashed and horribly mutilated, quite beyond recognition, and there was a great bullet-hole in his aide, from whioh the red blood oozed in a horrible black pool upon the ground, And one cold band of the corpse grasped a «ard, «pon which was faintly traced in irregular, straggling pen. eil marks, in Alton Carroll's chirograpby, this hor-
rible testimony :
" I, Alton Carroll, dying, do swear that I have been murdered,in sold blood; and the assassin is-Guy
And here the accusation ended. The awful story