|Chapter Number||XVIII (CONTINUED)|
|Newspaper Title||The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893)|
|Trove Title||The Conspiracy|
(From English, American, and other Periodicals.)
CHAPTER XVIII. -(Continued.)
She had not even offered to touch her face with her lips, nor called her by any fond name, such as she would have been likely to bestow upon her as a child. She had not asked for a kiss of affection, nor seemed to expect any demonstration of love. Instead she had betrayed a curious eagerness on beholding that long-lost jewel, as if to her the paltry bauble were of the greatest value ; and without a thought of what Sibyl's feelings would be about giving it up after cherishing it with fondest care for so long, and investing it with so many sacred associations, she had asked her to return it and shut it out of sight.
It seemed such an abrupt, calculating and thoughtless request, coming at such a time, that for the moment the young girl was speechless from surprise and pain.
"If you please," she said at last, while the color rushed for an instant over her face, "I should like to retain and wear it still. I have become very much attached to it; and besides, auntie gave me the chain, which is also very dear to me."
"Very well, dear, do as you like," replied Mrs.
Stillman, giving it back, and realizing that she had
made a mistake, and then she seemed all at once to grow very sad and thoughtful, while Sibyl sat regarding her, her own face full of a wistful, bitter pain.
"My darling," Mrs. Stillman said, at length, reaching out and taking her hand, "do you know that in the midst of my great joy at finding you, I am filled with deepest distress."
"And why ?"
"Because -- because, considering everything, I feel that I have no right to claim you ; because --"
"Mother!" interrupted Sibyl, in surprise.
"But, dear, your life is so different from mine -- you have been brought up to have every luxury, you have known no care, no sorrow, no pain; you cannot labor, and I have nothing for our support no, not even enough for my own," was the bitter reply.
"But there will be some way provided. My duty is with you hereafter," Sibyl answered, but with a very white face.
The future did indeed seem very dark just then.
"But -- but," persisted Mrs. Stillman, speaking with evident effort, " there is such a difference
"Such a difference -- how?" and yet she felt that it
"The manner of your bringing up has unfitted you for companionship with me. You are refined, cultivated, sensitive, while I am neither, though I can recognize those qualities when I see them; and I fear you can never be happy with me, nor learn to love me. I feel that I have no right to ask you to come to me and give up all that you have been accustomed to with Lady Prescott. She loves you -- they all love you, and you love them, and the life you would lead with me would make you very miserable. How can I bear that you should sacrifice
Sibyl's face had grown very rigid during this speech -- her lips even were blue and drawn -- but it was also very firm.
"Mother," she said, and the tones, though low, were clear and steady, "I cannnot deny that there are many things which it will be very trying at first for me to relinquish. I have had every luxury, as you say, and I have been cared for in the tenderest manner. But my duty is, as I said before, with you. You are sick and alone, you need the care and companionship which I can give you ; and though you seem to fear the contrary, yet I trust that love will make the duty a pleasure instead of a sacrifice. I shall come to you at once, and try to see if I cannot make life a little brighter for you in the future. Have you suffered so very much? Have you been alone in the world so very long?" Sibyl concluded, with wistful sympathy.
She longed to ask about her father -- who and what he was, and when he died, for she supposed he must be dead -- and she wondered why her mother had not mentioned him. It was very strange, she thought, that during all her recital of the past, that she had never even alluded to him.
"Yes, many years, and I have suffered very much; but I will tell you more of that another time," was the somewhat moody answer to her questions.
"Ah, how selfish I am," Sibyl said, reproachfully, "to give even a thought to what I must leave, when you have endured so much, and perhaps been deprived of even the necessaries of life! How thankful I ought to be -- yes, and am" -- the shadow lifting a trifle from her face, and a beautiful spirit of self- forgetfulness taking possession of her, " that even at this late day God has sent me to be a comfort to you!"
"You are a dear child," Mrs. Stillman said, regarding her with secret wonder, "but I cannot bear to take you away from all your joys; and they, I know, will not be willing to part with you. It will be better for you in every way to remain where you are, and you can come to me, perhaps, for awhile every day, as you do now, though I know I shall long for you every minute while you are away."
Ah, how cunningly she was leading her victim
"Hush!" Sibyl said, softly, though with a wan smile, as she laid her fingers gently on her lips. "For a long time I have been asking that I might have an opportunity to give some of the brightness of my life to cheer others. I have wished and longed for some real work to do, that I might not grow selfish in my own joy, and which would send comfort and happiness to some one less fortunate than I. But I never dreamed that that one would prove to be my own mother; and now that the way has been opened to me, and my duty shown me so clearly, shall I shrink from it because, perforce, I must sacrifice some of my own comforts? Never! 'There is no love without sacrifice," some one has said ; and, knowing what I do, I could never be
happy to go back to my old life again and leave you
"I don't know what to make of you, child. What reward can you expect for such a sacrifice?" asked the woman, regarding her in surprise.
She had felt sure that Sibyl would do what she knew to be her duty, but the beautiful spirit which she manifested was something beyond her comprehension.
"Reward? If I can make your life brighter -- if I can make you forget something of the sorrow and suffering of the past, I will ask no greater. I am glad to do something to show my gratitude and appreciation of the great good I have enjoyed for the past six years; for I was taken from a wretched life into a beautiful existence with Lady Prescott, and now, when at last God has granted my one great desire, shall I murmur because He does not add all other things also?"
The pure face had cleared, and the light of a holy
purpose shone for the time in her eyes, while a gentle smile lay upon her lips, making her seem like some fair, sweet spirit from a better world.
"Do you really feel all that you say, child?" Mrs, Stillman demanded, regarding her in wonder.
She could not understand the sublime faith which could rise above the desolateness which she knew lay before her, and trust to the hand which was
leading her in such strange dark ways.
"Truly I do. Mother," bending nearer her with a wistful look, "you have not asked me to kiss you yet. We shall love each other very dearly, shall we
How her sensitive heart was reaching out after that mystic mother-love, which all her life she had
"Yes, yes, dear -- of course we shall," and Mrs. Stillman forced herself to meet those pure lips with an answering caress, while in her heart she feared lest some heavy judgment should suddenly overtake her for her vile duplicity.
"God is very good. Do you not recognize His hand in giving us back to each other?"
"God!" cried the woman, thrown off her guard for the moment at that name ; "there is no God."
"Mother !" cried the startled girl, aghast.
"You need not be so shocked," she returned, more gently, yet with great bitterness: "my lot in life has not been so favored that I have any reason to attribute it to the care of a kind Providence."
"Is that the attitude you assume?" murmured Sibyl, mournfully; "then, indeed, perhaps I have been restored to you for a wise purpose, and I shall trust to win you to look beyond the clouds for a new and brighter day."
The woninn lay sullenly silent.
Clearly she had no sympathy with any feelings like these -- they were beyond and above her
Sibyl thought best not to pursue the subject further then, so she said, gently :
"You must be very weary after all this excite- ment; will you not rest awhile? and then," she added, hesitatingly, after a moment's thought, "perhaps you will tell me something about my father and your husband."
"Your father! -- my --husband!" cried the woman, starting up in sudden anger, her face flaming all over a vivid scarlet. "Girl -- girl ! the less you question me about him the better for your own peace of mind as well as mine. Ah, this is wretched business!" and she fell back upon her pillow, muttering fiercely to heraelf.
Sibyl was amazed at this outbreak, and a now terror took possession of her heart.
What was there about this man, her father, that would destroy her peace of mind? Had he disgraced himself and family in any way before his death? or worse yet, was he still living as a felon and perhaps serving out a miserable sentence
Some such thoughts as these made Sibyl's heart turn faint and sick with apprehension, and blanched her cheek with a new fear.
But she saw that Mrs. Stillman was very much excited, and, after speaking a few soothing words, she left her to herself, and retired to the other room, hoping that after she had slept she would be more calm, and be willing to unburden her heart to her.
"YOU HAVE RUINED MY LIFE."
Left to herself, Mrs. Stillman turned her face to
But it was a fierce, savage-looking face, marred and distorted by bitter pain, anger, and shame.
A perfect war of hate was raging within her; it seemed as if all the bitterness and evil passions of a life-time had been aroused by those two innocently spoken words "your husband," and she lay not quietly sleeping as Sibyl desired, but muttering to
herself in wild and incoherent whisperings.
Sibyl knew by an occasional movement that she
was not asleep, and at the end of an hour she returned to her bedside.
Her manner was very quiet and restrained, and though she instinctively shrank from the sullen look which Mrs. Stillman turned upon her, she spoke very gently and sweetly, but firmly:
"I have been thinking of your last words, while you were resting, mother, and they tell me that you must have known very much of trouble and sorrow during your life. I feel that I am now of an age to know all that concerns you or me -- of course I must know all some time -- and I am convinced that, on this day of revelations, it will be better for me to learn everything connected with your own and my past life. I wish you to make no reservations, and if there it anything unpleasant connected with our history, we will drop it entirely after to-day, and strive henceforth to comfort each other."
Mrs. Stillman heaved a sigh, and a frown
contracted her brow.
"Child, you don't know what you are talking about when you ask me to tell you regarding all my past life," she said, in fierce, low tones.
Sibyl's sweet lips were drawn into a tight line of pain, and her eyes shadowed with a look of dread; but she only said, with pitying gentleness :
"Ah! you must have suffered very much!"
"Suffered!" with a bitter laugh, " that is no name for what has come into my life."
"Poor mother," and no thought of sin came into the pure girl's mind in connection with her, as she tried to take her hand and longed to comfort her.
But the womun snatched it quickly away, and cried out, with pained impatience:
"I'm not fit that you should call me mother; I wish you never would speak the word to me again, nor
even touch me."
"Surely you cannot mean what you say. Why do you speak thus?" asked Sibyl, deeply pained.
"Because your lips and hands are pure -- mine are polluted. You have never sinned nor done a wrong act -- I am blackened with guilt," was the reckless
"What do you mean?" came from the young girl's almost paralyzed lips in a horrified whisper.
"I mean what I have said; if you persist in bringing up the past, I have something to tell you that will make you shrink from me with terror and loathing -- that will make you wish you had been killed during that fatal accident, rather than to have lived to see this day."
The poor tortured girl put out both hands with a gesture of passionate pleading.
''No, no! do not tell me that," she cried, with a
Oh! what was this fearful history which she must know -- this pursuing, haunting spectre which would forever destroy her peace of mind, unless she boldly turned and grappled with it, and might crush her outright if she did ?
But she calmed herself with a great effort. Crushed she might be, but she would fall facing her enemy, and when next she spoke it was calmly, firmly, even authoritatively.
" Mother -- for since you are my mother it is proper I should address you as such -- you have already told me enough, to make me miserable all my life. To leave it thus, this horrible uncertainty, this dread fear, would kill me in a little while. I must know all you have to tell -- I must insist that you reveal to me everything connected with your past. Who was
my father? What became of your husband, is he living or dead, and why, if you once lived in affluence, do I now find you thus?"
Those two words, "your husband," seemed to en- rage the woman beyond endurance.
She started to a sitting posture, her whole frame shaking with anger, her face hottest scarlet, her eyes blazing with fury.
"Never dare speak that word to me again while you and I bear company, do you hear?" she cried, hoarsely. "Never! it arouses a very devil within me, for -- girl, I never had husband!"
As if impelled by a galvanic battery, Sibyl sprang from her chair, and confronted her companion with a gaze, the like of which she had never seen in her life before upon human face -- it seemed to freeze her very blood -- it stopped the words upon her lips, and deprived her of the power to move.
For one moment only, though it seemed an age to that wretched woman, she stood looking down upon her without motion or breath, then, with a wild cry, which rang in her ears as long as she lived, Sibyl
sank without sign or warning in a lifeless heap upon
With one spring Mrs. Stillman alighted beside
"This is a fine piece of business," she muttered, | gloomily, as she pulled a pillow from the bed and laid the beautiful face upon it; "a pretty mess you are compelling me to make of it, Miss Ada Therwin --
bah! I wouldn't have believed that she'd have
felt it like this.
"She's a dainty bit, though," she went on, as she loosened Sibyl's clothing, noting her fair, rounded neck, and rubbed the small hands so perfect in shape and soft of texture, "and as pretty as a pic-
ture," with a look of pity at the colorless face. "It's too bad to kill her so by inches, for kill her I believe
it will in the end. The sensitive, high-minded
thing's heart refuses to own me as her mother, but her fine sense of duty and honor makes her hide it
and try to submit cheerfully to her fate."
This the woman muttered to herself while she worked over the senseless girl, sprinkling water
upon her, chafing her hands, and rubbing her limbs. It seemed a long time before she showed signs of
recovering, but finally her eyes unclosed and wandered around the room in bewildered way.
They rested at last upon the woman bending over ber, and memory reasserting itself, a look of helpless misery settled in them.
But the sight of Mrs. Stillman working over her brought her quickly to herself.
"Oh, how did you manage to get up to help me ?" she asked, forgetting her own weakness, and sitting
up on the floor.
"I crawled out to bring you to, dearie, when you fainted," was the softened reply.
"Did I faint? -- oh, yes, I think I must have, for I remember nothing after -- after -- "
She could not go on, but a shudder shook her from
head to foot.
"I never fainted before in my life, and I'm sorry I troubled you so," she added, apologetically, and
leaning her head against the side of the bed for
She was still very dizzy, and could not see plainly. Mrs. Stillman made a great effort, and crept back to bed, in great contrast to her agile movements of a few moments previous. She must still keep up appearance, though she resolved that her improvement should be very rapid as soon as Sibyl was once caught in her toils -- this playing the invalid was becoming very irksome to her.
Sibyl also soon arose with difficulty and dragged her weary steps to the rocker, where she sank down feeling almost too wretched to live.
For half an hour there was no more conversation; Sibyl was too weak to talk, and sat still to gather strength for what was to come.
At length she said, in low, trembling tones; "Mother -- go on, and -- tell me the rest.
"Yes, now," and the guilty wretch nerved herself
to the task.
"It is the old story," she began, with a bitter sneer, "of an early love betrayed. When I was seventeen years old I met a man who seemed like an angel of light to me, with his smooth words, handsome face, and winning ways. I was bright and handsome then, every one said, and I might have married a good man and lived to be a true woman, but I was fool enough to turn away from him and trust to the other wretch, who had come to the place on a visit, and wanted some pretty, vain girl to
amuse himself with.
"He was rich and a gentleman. I was poor, and only foster-sister to a gentleman's daughter; but I soon learned to love him with a passion which, though true and pure in itself, yet proved to be my destruction. He won me to go away with him secretly, and be married, as I supposed at the time, though it was only a vile farce, and for awhile he showered everything my heart could wish for upon me -- among other things, that necklace which I
showed you awhile ago. When everything was I smooth and bright, I could be amiable and lovely, and for three years I was happy with him, believing myself to be among the most blessed of women. A beautiful boy was bom to us first, then a little girl with dark hair and eyes, my counterpart they said; and then came the bitterness that poisoned the fountain of my life.
"My husband, as I believed him to be, received letters calling him abroad -- upon important business, he said ; but was only a ruse to get rid of a plaything of which, with his fickle heart, it was a wonder he had not tired long before. I insisted upon accompanying him, which of course he refused to allow me to do. High words followed -- my temper never was of the sweetest, and I said things that lingered and disgusted him, and it all ended in his telling me that I was his wife only in my own imagination -- the marriage ceremony had only been a farce to cheat his victim.
"I will not undertake to tell you what I endured after he left me alone with my shame and my nameless children," the woman continued, with such an expression of stony despair on her face, that no one could doubt that she was speaking truth -- that this part of her story at least was no fiction -- "for he did leave me without a hope that he would ever return to me, or that I should ever see his face again. Do you wonder that I do not believe there is a God, when I think of my pure and mighty love betrayed, my innocent lambs left to grow up with a crown of shame and dishonour? He had the decency, however, to leave me well provided for -- I had three hundred a year, which gave us a very comfortable living, and I was very saving, resolving that my darlings, notwithstanding their dowry of disgrace, should be well educated and brought up.
"But when you were two years of age my boy died. It was better for the child, you will say," she said, as she heard Sihyl's deep-drawn sigh of thankfulness; "but that fact made my misery none the less keen, for I loved my children as fondly as any mother ever loved her petted darlings. But I had one left, and on her -- you -- I built all my future hopes, and I had just begun to become a little more cheerful and content, my health was improving, and life did not seem quite so dreary, when that accident swept you from my arms and left me utterly
desolate and alone.
"As if that even was not enough to fill my cup of
sorrow, my yearly allowance suddenly ceased, and I had nothing on which to depend save the labor of my two hands. And so I have lived ever since, working for my daily bread, earning the pittance tjat was to keep me from starving, parting from time to time with my trinkets and treasures, until my health gave out, and I came to where you last
"There, you have my story, or at least the main facts of it, and I think it will be unnecessary to go further into details. Now you know why I cannot bear that you, after being brought up in the way you have, should call me mother; now you know why I shrink from taking you from your beautiful home and dragging you down to my level, and why I deemed you could never love me, but instead would regard me with scorn and loathing."
Mrs. Stillman lay gloomily silent after she had finished, watching with covert glances the fair girl aitting so white and still by the window.
"Have you ever seen my -- that man since?" Sibyl at length asked, in scarcely audible tones, a look of unutterable woe on her face.
"Who was he? What was his -- name?" The woman's face grew dark and fierce.
"That I shall not tell you," she said, curtly ; "it is enough for you to know what you do -- you will have enough to bear as it is; his name shall never pass my lips."
Yes, Sibyl knew it could not matter, and it was rather a relief than a disappointment to her that her request had been refused.
"Is he living now ?" she asked. "Yes."
"Has he -- another family?"
"No, thank Heaven, if there is such a place; for misery would be their sure inheritance if he had, and goodness knows he has broken hearts enough," was the harsh reply.
Ah! it was a strange admixture of truth and falsehood that she had woven into this story, making herself the tool of another to destroy this young life.
"Where is his home ?" Sibyl asked, a strange horrible fascination holding her still to the subject.
"Abroad -- not in England. I shall tell you nothing more, and I desire this subject, dropped now and forever. What I have told you I could not very well help telling, in order to prove to you that you are my child, and to make you understand why I thought it best for you not to leave your present home. Years of suffering and wrong have hardened me so that I cannot pretend to any great depth of
affection, and I suppose you will despise me so after this that I need not expect much from you."
The woman spoke coarsely, bitterly, and every word was like the torture of the rack to Sibyl's
She reached out her clasped hands with an appealing gesture, and scarcely knowing what she said,
cried out :
"Oh! mother -- mother, don't! You have ruined my life."
"I know it; it would have been better if you had been killed instead of living to see this day; but you'll have to bear it as best you can. You'll have to remember what you said about trusting in those promises you spoke of awhile ago; though," she added, with a really pitying look, "I am truly sorry for you, and that is all I can say."
Sibyl sat and looked at her in blank amazement in spite of her pain.
Could it be possible that she was the child of this cold, heartless woman, who repelled her more and more by every word that she uttered, who seemed devoid of all natural affection, and who seemed to have no desire to cultivate either the love or sympathy of her long lost child?
For a moment her whole soul arose in rebellion against the fate that had decreed anything so
monstrous and unnatural.
She could not have it so. They were as unlike as it was possible for two mortals to be. There could be no congeniality or harmony between them, and the future seemed to her like the approach of some fell doom about to wrap her within its mantle of Stygian darkness.
But she suddenly recalled those words :
"You'll have to remember what you said about trusting in those promises you spoke of awhile ago."
True they had been spoken with a bitter, skeptical sneer, but they reproached her nevertheless.
Where was her trust in God? Where the faith which had hitherto so glorified her life ?
Should she let it fail her now? Had she not need to grasp it more firmly than even before? It would be all that would be left to cheer and strengthen her in the future. She must look beyond the world for any brightness in her life hereafter. She must, as she had told Raymond, "reach out her hand to be led by another way;" and surely the "promises" were as reliable to-day as they ever had been !
What if this woman was cold, hardened, and unlovable? She was her mother. She was ill, wretched,
and in poverty. She had an immortal soul, and -- she knew that there was work here for her to to try and win it heavenward.
Perhaps out of this great darkness there would
yet come great light!
This woman, once as fair and pure as she, had known a whole life-time of sorrow and wrong -- had perhaps been more sinned against than sinning -- while her own life had for years been like one long delightful dream. Should she shrink back appalled now that she was required to walk through a shadowy vale, if by so doing she could lead a weary wanderer into a higher, purer atmosphere, and perhaps, eventually, even into "green pastures" and beside
Such thoughts calmed her, though the bitterness of death was upon her still, and she dare not stop to count all the cost until she could be alone, for she knew that a great and fearful battle yet lay before
"Well, what are you going to do?" the question was curtly, almost rudely, asked.
The recital of so much that had been true in her past life, seemed to have stirred up all the bile in the woman's nature, and she dropped all semblance of affection or kindness towards her whom she had so lately claimed as her child.
Sibyl started as if in pain, and her lips quivered in a grieved way. But she answered, quietly and
"I am coming to you immediately, mother. "Do you expect they will be willing to let you
"They will not hinder me from doing what I know to be right."
"How do you suppose we're going to live? Will they help us, do you think?" Mrs. Stillman asked, with a greedy, anxious glitter of her eye.
Involuntarily Sibyl's lip curled.
She had not thought of such a thing, and a feeling
of scorn and almost disgust seized her at the bare suggestion of anything of the kind.
But she only answered:
"There will be some way provided, never fear. I
am young and strong and can teach or work. But
we will talk of this another time."
"Yes, yes; you had better go home now and tell them about it, so as to make your arrangements and get settled as soon as possible," the woman said,
anxious to be alone once more.
How the word startled Sibyl into a sense of her misery once more !
Her beautiful home was to be her home no more. The tender love and care which had sheltered her for so many years, must now drop away from her, and she would have to face the great cold world and this trial, alone.
And that new blessedness that had come to her so recently! Ah! dear Heaven! how could she bear
Raymond could never be anything to her now -- his dear love must be put aside; she was no longer worthy of it; she was a nameless child, a dishonored daughter, and she could never bring disgrace upon him; he must never link his life to her shame. Better
that she should have remained where they had found her, to grow up coarse and unlearned, in the miserable inn at Flamborough Head, than to have
lived in the light of his presence, and learned to love him as she did, only to lose him and have every
hope of happiness so rudely stricken from her life.
For the time she lost sight of the higher nature and her future work: her loving heart was only human after all, and she had learned enough to-day to have crushed a stronger and more resolute spirit than
She staggered to her feet, looking more like some spectre from another world that the bright, beautiful girl who had entered that room so happy and free from care but yesterday.
With hands that shook like leaves in the wind, she fastened her cloak about her, put on her hat, and tied her veil close over her face.
"Yes, I will go home," she had answered with her bloodless lips ; "but I shall come again soon -- and to
And Judith Hoffman knew that Ada Therwin had won the victory.
Without another word, without even waiting for a her customary farewell from her charge, Sibyl
turned and left the place.
"YOU WOULD NOT DARE, SIBYL." She met Raymond on the stairs.
He had become anxious at her prolonged absence and, remembering her illness and agitation of the previous day, had driven to Algeria-street himself to
take her home.
Even through the thick folds of her veil, he noticed the deathly hue of her face, and the heart-broken, despairing look in her eyes.
"My dearest, you are ill again -- what is it?" he cried, springing to her side, and putting his arm
around her lest she should fall.
All her forced calmness gave way at the sight of him, and the sound of his tender words.
She clung to him wildly, locking her hands about his arm, and looking up into his face in a pitiful eager, pleading way, as it seeking help from his stronger nature to bear her fearful burden, while she shook from head to foot with nervous
It all came to her with such terrible, crushing force as she looked into his dear face -- the great sacrifice that would rend her very soul.
How could she give him up -- this kingly man,
who had become nor heart's idol, her one love ?
"Oh! Ray. Roy! take me home quick -- quick!"
Without another word he half carried her down [?], his own face set and stern at the sight of her
With infinite tenderness he put her among the soft cusions of the carriage, and tucked the costly robes carefully about her, then springing in beside her, he gave the order :
"Home, and be quick about it."
Then he drew the curtain, and, taking her to his breast, held her there, speaking no word until Sir Athelstone's residence was reached.
He lifted her from the carriage, and led her
directly to her own rooms, where, with almost
womanly tenderness, he removed her outer garments,
and then made her lie down upon the couch as he had done yesterday.
He was shocked as he looked into her face and noted the change which only a few hours had made,
and her great eyes with their dark circles beneath
and their look of utter woe, made him inwardly resolve
that she should be a "Sister of Charity" no longer, if this was to be the result.
"Lock the door, Ray, and then come back to me. I cannot see any one else now," she whispered, with her white lips.
He did us she wished, and then went and knelt down by her side, taking her glossy head upon his
breast, and folding his arms close about her.
"Sibyl, what does this mean? Why do I find you second time like this?" he asked, in grave, quiet tones.
Ah, why? and her full heart burst forth in one
strong, passionate wail, wild and sad as ever fell upon
"Oh, Ray, my dear, dear love! hold me close; I cannot leave you -- I will not leave you -- fate cannot be so cruel; let me put my arms around your neck, and hear you tell me again that you love me; speak
to me kindly and say over again all the beautiful things that you have said to me. Let me look into your eyes, and feast upon your dear face, and kiss you just once more, as I must never kiss you again, that I may have the memory of it all the long years of my life, that I must live alone shut outside the pale of every one's love and respect.
"Oh, only yesterday life was so beautiful -- so full of joy and gladness; and to-day I have looked my last on it forever!
"Hold me close -- closer, Ray; it is for the last time! I can never pillow my head here again -- I shall never feel your strong arms about me again. But I have not strength to go just yet; I cannot give you up, my beloved. Tell me I need not. I never can face all the dark future without you. Oh, the blight, bright dreams, the beautiful visions that have all flown -- all dissolved and vanished into thin air before my very eyes.
Thus she wildly poured out her breaking heart to him, until she was exhausted, and he nearly frantic at the sight of her unaccountable misery.
He did not ask her then what she meant; he could not bid her explain, wrought as she was to the high pitch of excitement.
But instead, he strove to soothe her as he would have soothed a child, calling her fond and endearing names, and holding her close in his arms in an embrace that at any other time would have been almost painful.
He kissed her pale face and quivering lips, striving to stop their wild and ceaseless moanings ; but in vain, for she continued to run on in the same
pleading, heart-broken strain.
Her nerves were totally unstrung by the severe control which she had exercised over herself while
listening to Mrs. Stillman's story, and he noticed
that her hands were growing hot and feverish, her
lips parched and burning, while all the time she shook as if chilled to her very life's centre with the
Wilder and wilder grew her words, until thoroughly
frightened, he began to fear that her mind was crazed.
He laid her gently down, and arose from his
kneeling posture, though she clung to him and begged him not to leave her -- she could not lose him
Very quietly, but quickly, he left the room, locking the door after him, that no one else might enter while he was gone.
In less than three minutes, however, he was back
again, bearing in his hands a crystal cup containing
a dark-coloured liquid.
He put it to her muttering lips.
"Drink it, Sibyl!" he commanded, in a tone that
he had never used in her presence before.
With her eyes fixed hungrily on his face, she obeyed, and setting the cup aside, he took her again
his arms, and held her firmly there until the
[?] heavy lids at last drooped over her dark eyes,
[?] their misery from his sight, and she slept on his breast.
While he laid her gently back upon the [?] covering her with a warm shawl, he sat
[?] her to watch until she should awake [?] what fearful thing could have happened
[?] unsettled her usually well-balanced [?]
Unfortunatly, Lady Prescott had gone out of town that day, and would not be back until late, a circumstance
for which he was very thankful, as he
[?] to discover the secret of Sibyl's misery before
any one else should see her.
With anxious brow, and more anxious heart, he [?] his station beside her for two long hours.
He feared that when she awoke it would be only to rave more wildly than before in the grasp of some [?] disease, which she had contracted upon her
missions of mercy.
"She shall never go there again," he muttered,
with stern emphasis to himself.
Ah! he little knew what was to come, and how powerless he would be to prevent it.
As soon as the effects of the opiate began to wear away, Sibyl grew restless, and finally awoke.
Slowly her eyes unclosed and rested upon
He smiled, bent forward and kissed her lips,
saying, gently :
"You are better, my princess."
A sort of bewildered expression was in her eyes,
"Better! Have I been sick? Oh!" with a nervous start and a look of pain, "I remember," and a long shuddering sigh, more like a moan than anything else, echoed through the room.
Again Raymond knelt beside her couch; he took both her hands, clasped them, and laid them upon his breast, holding them there with one of his. It was a fond way he had.
His tone was very grave, almost stern.
She turned her dark eyes up to his with a look of startled surprise, and he went on, still very gravely :
"If you can tell me calmly what is troubling you so, I want to know it an once; if not, I must give you another opiate and make you sleep again."
"No, no, Ray, please do not make me sleep anymore now, and I will try to tell you; but oh! it is so dreadful!" and the shivering seized her again shaking her slight form until her teeth chattered.
Raymond was deeply troubled.
This would never do he knew; she would be in a raging fever unless he could find some way to quiet
He left her side, and, going to the piano, sat down and played several pieces in a subdued tone, until he heard her sobbing wildly; then he was beside her in an instant again.
He let her cry unchecked until she could weep no longer, and lay in his arms like a child, her sobs growing fainter and fainter, until they finally ceased entirely, and she was comparatively calm once
Even then he did not speak to her, he was so afraid of exciting her again.
All at once, however, she lifted her tear-stained face to him, and said, abruptly :
"Ray, I have found my -- mother."
She felt the shock that went through him at her words, but he said, very quietly :
"Your mother, Sibyl? Tell me all about it,
And she did, speaking quite composedly now, for that burst of tears had relieved the dreadful pressure upon both heart and brain.
For an hour she talked without his interrupting
She told him all, just as she had heard it herself, about the little child supposed to have been killed, of her mother's injuries and a subsequent sickness, and utter desolation when she found she had lost her child.
She told of the wonderful proof in the necklace which matched exactly the jewel which she had so long treasured. She told all the story of her mother's early life, the cruel deception practiced upon her, which ended in her final shame and dishonour; and she confessed with humility and remorse all the horror and repugnance there was in her own heart towards this woman who was her mother, and whom she must henceforth care for and acknowledge as
Raymond did not wonder, as he sat and listened to the dreadful story, that she had been nearly crazed by it.
His face grew dark and set, his lips were compressed with pain, and his hand clasped closer those little ones which he had again drawn to his
"I do not believe it," he said with stern scorn, when she had finished, but in his heart he felt that every
word was true.
The proofs were too overpowering to admit of a doubt, the facts, as related by Mrs. Stillman, were identical with those in Sibyl's life, and his judgement told him that such a history could never belong to two children bearing the same name and having the same personal appearance.
It seems too dreadful to believe, Ray, but -- we both can see that it is all true, and now only one thing remains to be done," Sibyl said, with a
"And that?" he cried, sharply. "I must go where I belong."
"Where you belong? Sibyl you belong to me now -- you have given yourself to me -- you are to be my
"No, Ray, not now," she answered, looking as if she would die beneath the stroke, yet speaking clearly und firmly.
"You cannot mean what you say, Sibyl! You shall be my wife !" he cried, hoarsely, and almost crushing the hands he held, in the mad torture of
"Ah! dear, how hard you are making it for me! You cannot know how I would love to be your wife -- you can never dream what I am giving up to yield this hope," she murmured brokenly,
"Do I not know by the pain in my own heart, when you talk of going away from me?"
"Ah, but I love you too well ever to bring such a shame upon you."
"Shame! What shame?" he demanded, with scorn. "You can bring nothing but honour and glory upon me. I will never give you up !"
"But I shall have to go, nevertheless," she said with anguish in her eyes.
"You have given me your promise -- I will never give it back to you!" Raymond returned, almost fiercely.
"I shall have to take it back, then, myself, Ray," she answered, growing calmer as he grew excited, "and, dear, it must all be settled now between us, for I shall not have strength to argue it again with you. I have no name but one of shame to come to you with; I have no dowry but dishonor to bring you. This woman, who is my mother, is alone in the world, sick and needy, and duty tells me to go to her -- I must do my duty, Ray."
"You shall, my darling ; you shall give her every comfort and luxury from this time forth; she shall have every care and attention, and you shall not fail in a single point that could be required of a child toward a parent. But you owe me a duty, also -- I am your promised husband. Sibyl, we can never sacrifice a whole life-time of happiness to a mere
(To be continued.)