All the way from Minton to Mt. Clare Regenia sat with her head in her hands. Still wearing the gown in which she had gone to the wedding, she had not even divested herself of the flowers, which a few hours since were fresh and beautiful, but now as wilted and lifeless as her smitten heart. Dazed by the suddenness of the terrible information, she could not realize how sad was her bereavement.
The shock had come in such an unexpected moment. "If I had only known," she wailed over and over again, "it might have been so different."
Who is ever prepared for death? What boots it that we are in the very presence of the dying when Death insidiously approaches, we are as illy prepared to admit him and as unwilling to part from our loved ones as if he had entered without warning. Regenia was filled with remorse for leaving home at such a time, all forgetful that her departure had been at the earnest request of Mrs. Underwood. "Why was I not sent for sooner? Why was Mrs. Underwood left to die with no one but Mrs. Levitt or strangers to close her eyes?" Such questions crowded into her mind again and again during the long and tedious ride. At last the train reached Mt. Clare and Regenia hastened home. As she hurried up the gravel walk, the very quietness of the place filled her with a nameless dread. Softly she entered and made her way to the room where all that was mortal of her late benefactress lay. The room was empty. She silently closed the door and kneeling beside the bier, poured out the pent up sorrows which filled her lonely heart. Time and again she removed the cloth from the face of the departed and covered the placid brow with affectionate kisses. How she recalls now her poignant grief, the numberless times, alas! forever past, when with more than a mother's tenderness those kind eyes, now glazed and sightless, had dwelled with loving compassion upon the lonely child of a daughter's disobedience. How gently, yet how wisely, had she directed the straying steps of her often wayward little girl back to the path of right.
As Regenia stood there alone with her dead, all the high hopes and resolves of the past seemed to fly away on the sombre wings of her sorrow. Throwing herself across the body of the dead and vainly wishing that she too might die, she burst into a fit of passionate weeping.
Sob after sob, sad and heart-rending, reached the ears of Mrs. Levitt, who, tired out from watching, sat dozing away the morning hour in an adjoining room. She did not need to be told that it was Regenia weeping so bitterly in the other room. She waited until the girl had spent the first force of her poignant grief and then softly entering the room she lifted the young girl up and led her out from the presence of the dead.
Assisting Regenia upstairs she took her to her own room and sitting down took Regenia in her arms just as she had done a thousand times before and stroked her hair and kissed her forehead until wornout nature came to her relief. Then putting her charge on the bed, she knelt beside the sleeping girl and asked God's aid and guidance through the weary years to come. Mrs. Levitt had a premonition how often and how sadly in the future Regenia would sigh in vain for the return of that kind friend who had been more than a mother to her.
Regenia was not less surprised than the rest of her many friends at the suddenness of Mrs. Underwood's demise. The day she left for Minton as we had before noted, her grandmother complained of a severe headache. For a day or two after Regenia left, Mrs. Underwood commenced to be annoyed with her eyes. She finally concluded to call in Dr. Leighton, who for some reason had not been over to the house since the day he drove Regenia to the boat. The doctor, after a few minutes' examination of his aunt's eyes, hurriedly departed. He signified his intention, however, to return in a short time. When he came back he brought an ophthalmoscope and carefully re-examined the eyes of his aunt. Before he put down the instrument, Mrs. Levitt observed his hand shake and his face assume a deathly pallor. When the examination was concluded he turned to Mrs. Levitt, saying, "Do you know where the office of Dr. S---- is?" Receiving an affirmative answer, he sat down, and drawing a prescription pad from his pocket, rapidly noted thereon Mrs. Underwood's symptoms. Tearing off the paper and carefully folding it, he gave it to Mrs. Levitt, and in tones slightly tremulous said: "Take this to Dr. S----. Ask him to return it with the medicine," he added after a moment's reflection.
The broken tone in which he spoke, in spite of his attempted self-control, somewhat alarmed Mrs. Underwood. "What is it, doctor?" she asked. "Is my condition worse than you expected?"
"Oh, no," he answered lightly, now thoroughly master of himself, "it is only a little stomach trouble. I think you will be all right in a day or two."
"We must go some time," continued Mrs. Underwood, quietly, "but if my time is drawing near I should like to be apprised of it for Regenia's sake."
"You are good for a great many years yet, auntie," he said. "When Mrs. Levitt comes, asked her to save the prescription for me, I wish to keep it for future reference."
Dr. Leighton left the house steeling himself against his conscience. He had enacted a deliberate lie. Well he knew that his aunt was not destined to live three days longer. While examining her eyes, he had made a discovery that curdled his blood and sent a tremor through every nerve. On the optic nerve he had seen signs of a ruptured blood vessel, and he knew full well if something was not done immediately to counteract the effect, Mrs. Underwood must die from paralysis of the brain.
Of this he was aware and knowing the awful consequences, had deliberately decided to permit the death of his aunt. The day after the examination, Mrs. Underwood was no better; the day following she died. Dr. Leighton had lost no time in preparing for the event. He did not want Regenia to know a fact more than that of which he was already in possession.
After Mrs. Underwood's death, this Specialist of Symptoms, who had indirectly led up to her demise, by indicating a false diagnosis, rummaged the library through and through in search of a will or any other papers of value he might secure to aid him in his design. In persual of his intentions, he went to Mrs. Levitt and asked her concerning Mrs. Underwood's papers. Mrs. Levitt quickly divined the purpose of his quest, and unhesitatingly denied any knowledge of Mrs. Underwood's private affairs. This she did with perfect truthfulness, although she might have told him of several sealed packages confided to her by the deceased the day before her death to be kept in trust for Regenia. These papers, Mrs. Levitt had thoughtfully concealed. Dr. Leighton, believing that Mrs. Levitt knew more than she was willing to tell, resolved to get her out of the way before his purpose was made manifest. The day after Mrs. Underwood was buried he again called at the "Elms," and being informed that Regenia was in her room, sent for Mrs. Levitt. After a polite good morning, he said: "My lawyer will probably be over here to-day to learn what you know of the papers my poor aunt left." This he said in order to frighten Mrs. Levitt into some kind of an admission which would assist him to determine his course toward her.
"Your lawyer or anybody else can come, but they will never succeed in drawing blood from a turnip."
"You must know something," said the doctor, exhibiting a pretended impatience. "Tell me you could live in confidential relations with my aunt all these years and never have heard her intimate in any way what disposition she intended to make of her property."
"I am not obliged to divulge everything I have heard during the years I have lived here. If I were, I might tell you something not very complimentary to you, Dr. Leighton," she replied with some heat.
"I do not care a cent what you have heard concerning me, but you know something of my aunt's private affairs, and I am going to get it out of you, cost what it may," said the doctor, unguardedly.
"Suppose you try it," said Mrs. Levitt in a towering rage. "What I know I know, and any trust Mrs. Underwood reposed in my I will be true to, if it cost me my life. I know what you are after," she cried as he stalked angrily out, "but you will never accomplish it while my head is hot."
He did not speak—he dared not. His blood was up. "Shall I be balked in my plans by this old negress? No! not if I have to kill her to attain my ends," he muttered to himself.
That night Dr. Leighton went to a low dive he had often frequented and concocted a plan to rid himself of this old woman, whom he had every reason to believe was all that stood between him and the consummation of his designs. He surmised that Mrs. Levitt carried Mrs. Underwood's last will and testament about with her, but in this he was mistaken. If he could get possession of the old woman, search her, abstract he papers and destroy them, he would be master of the wealth of the Underwood estate. The only way to do this was to kidnap her, but he hesitated to run this risk. To his credit, it might be said, that he also disliked to leave Regenia without a friend in the world.
He had fully resolved to rob her of her property, but he excused himself by saying that Regenia had no business to be born, anyway. It would be just punishment meted to the heir of his cousin, who had so far forgotten the pride of her birth as to make such a mesalliance.
After a week of cogitation, he could find no other way to dispose of Mrs. Levitt but to send her back to her native land, as he called Canada. Having once determined upon this plan he had not difficulty in securing dupes to carry out his designs.
He knew a drunken lighthouse keeper who lived in an unfrequented place far up among the hills near the light he tended. If this man would take care of Mrs. Levitt during her long visit in Canada it would be worth a pretty penny to him.
He visited the lighthouse keeper and had no trouble in arranging for Mrs. Levitt's detention. Accordingly one cold Sunday night in December, as Mrs. Levitt was returning from church alone, she was hailed by a cabman, who asked her some question sufficient to detain her. The carriage drove up to the curb, the driver alighted and while he engaged Mrs. Levitt in conversation a confederate stealthily appeared from out the darkness, and throwing a heavy shawl over her head, she was forced into the cab and rapidly driven toward the river. They crossed the ferry and pushed on until nearly daylight. At last the cab stopped. Not a word had been said from the time they started until Mrs. Levitt was lifted from the carriage, frozen almost stiff. They helped her up a hill to a cabin which contained but two rooms, into one of which she was ushered. The men tied her hands, after which a tall, gaunt woman came into the room and thoroughly searched her.
"One of them men says along, ahow that if you tell him where them papers is, how that he'll let you go," said the woman.
"Who said that?" asked Mrs. Levitt warily.
"Tell her she knows well enough who said it," cried a well-known voice.
"Tell him to hunt till he finds them," replied Mrs. Levitt.
"Keep her here and you shall be paid every month in advance," said the well known voice.
He went out and slammed the door, but shortly Mrs. Levitt heard him return.
"Don't let the woman leave this room," he continued, "and should she every attempt it, shoot her down like a dog."
Mrs. Levitt sat down on the bare floor and drawing her hymnal and common prayer, she opened the prayer book and by the light of the wood fire, repeated the forms in which Christians have found consolation for centuries.
Chapter 13 -- Chapter 15