Standing at the one window of the room where we left her six months ago, prematurely old and gray beyond recognition, looking out at the grim lighthouse and watching the glinting rays of the setting sun as their reflections fall aslant the restless waters, is Mrs. Levitt. Sometimes praying, oftener singing and talking to herself, she passes her days within the enclosure of those four walls. Believing herself forgotten by the world, she begins to wear the look of stolid indifference characteristic of the hopeless.
Several times in the last few months, almost crazed by the gnawings of hunger and the bitter cold, she has been on the verge of betraying her trust and for the sake of freedom, disclosing her knowledge of Mrs. Underwood's last wishes. At such times, however, she would think of Regenia and what an opportunity it would give Dr. Leighton to wrong her and bearing her misfortunes she had resolved to hold out a little longer. Escape she has long since despaired of. The lighthouse-keeper's wife had on several occasions showed that only fear of the cruel brute she had promised to love and obey kept her from treating Mrs. Levitt with the leniency her age and sex demanded. If Dr. Leighton had searched the world over her could not have found a man more thoroughly devoid of human qualities than this drunken lighthouse-keeper. A human vulture would have been an angel of sweetness and light beside this man. He had answered a heart-rending plea of Mrs. Levitt's, during the coldest night of that long severe winter, to be allowed to come out and warm, by a most unmerciful beating. The wretch kicked and bruised the helpless old woman until fearing he had killed her, he slunk off to the lighthouse and remained all night. When his wife drew Mrs. Levitt out to the fire and bathed her bruises, she was more dead than alive.
"Why did he not kill me?" the old lady gasped. "I should much prefer death to the life I am living."
"I am so sorry, but he's in his cups, and when he's a drinkin' there's no doin' ner livin' fer 'im. If I'd said a word he'd like as not pitched onto me."
Mrs. Levitt was not long in detecting the note of true sympathy in the woman's voice.
"What do they intend to do with me any-how? I am nothing but an old woman, of little account to myself and of less service to anybody else."
"Dear me, dogged 'fi know what they mean. Laws-a-me! That man wouldn't tell me nothin' fi's a dyin'."
"How can you live with such a brute?" said Mrs. Levitt indignantly.
"He's my man. An' I s'ppose if fi didn't live with him, plenty others would."
"May be so," replied Mrs. Levitt, growing sleepy under the influence of the warm fire. "Let me sleep here before the fire to-night, won't you? If I was to die in this house from ill treatment there would be no living her afterward."
"Why, ye wouldn't come back, would ye?" queried the woman, shivering with fear at the very thought of such a probability.
"Of course! My spirit would hover around that lighthouse and in this room as long as they stayed here," said Mrs. Levitt, now fully awakened to the fact that by playing upon the woman's superstitious fears, she might obtain, at least, a little more humane treatment.
At that moment a gust of wind blew the door open, and the light which flickered and sputtered in a pan of swimming fat, went out.
By the dim glare of the wood fire, burning low, the shadows of the waving trees fell in weird and grotesque figures on the walls of the room. The coincidence was providential. The woman stealthily walked to the door and pushed it shut. She came back to the fire and stood stretching out her long, lean fingers, while she narrowly watched Mrs. Levitt.
Finally, lighting the tallow dip, she said: "I've often heern kullard folks could conjure. Kin you do that?"
"Don't trouble me now," said Mrs. Levitt, "I am sleepy."
The woman pulled Mrs. Levitt's bed in before the fire, helped her into it, blew out the candle and went to bed herself. From that time forward, she secret connived at many little privileges Mrs. Levitt took.
The only incident concerning this story necessary to relate is the plan Mrs. Levitt devised to communicate with her friends. As the summer came on she was sometimes allowed to sit in the door while the woman, who was for the most part her guard, worked in the garden or about the house. This was a coveted privilege. Mrs. Levitt's rheumatism made escape impossible.
One day, seeing some hunters come by and knowing that they would probably pass that way again on their return to the city, she racked her brain for some device to send a message by them. At last she fell upon this plan: she procured a strip of brown paper and with a piece of charred wood sharpened to a point scratched these words:
"I am a prisoner at Lighthouse, N. W. of Mt. Clare, on road crossing Scranton street Ferry. MRS. LEVITT."
She did not believe that Regenia was still at the Elms, and as she could think of no other address, she turned the paper over and scrawled on the back: Mr. Lotus Stone, Washington, D. C.
This she concealed about her clothing and watched for the return of the hunters. A few days afterward she succeeded, by dint of bribing and playing upon the superstitious fears of the lighthouse-keeper's wife, to smuggle the note into the hands of one of the hunters and get his promise to properly address and mail it.
About this time Dr. Stone was beginning to reap golden opinions in the practice of his profession. Regenia was with Clement and Lucile and Dr. Frank Leighton, secure in his possessions, had begun to congratulate himself that "All is well that ends well."
* * * * * * * *
Let us look in on Dr. Lotus Stone, who seated by the window on this June evening, is reading his first letter from Regenia. There is a look of disappointment on his face as if the contents of the letter were not to his liking. He reads it over and over again, vainly trying to extract some meaning from between the lines that he is morally certain is not there and ought not to be there, and no one would have been more surprised than he if it had been there. Yet he is looking for it. The letter is frank and informal to a remarkable degree for a first letter. She tells him all about Clement and Lucile and the kind friends in the North and how they were all talking of him the evening she wrote, and at last one little word that a less obtuse man than Lotus Stone would have seized upon and hugged the flattering unction to his heart. This was the sentence: "I have not forgiven you for not coming to the station to see the last of me."
As he sat there using over the letter, Dr. Leighton came in. The doctor had called several times since the incident at the closing of Regenia's school. Lotus was not only pleased to talk with a physician of Dr. Leighton's experience and well known celebrity, but flattered to have him call. Lotus Stone was neither vindictive nor suspicious. The pleasing manner and apparent interest which Dr. Leighton evinced in the success of the young physician was not long in winning, to a limited extent, his confidence. This evening he brought some book of rare value to the profession and asked Lotus to keep it and read it. This kind of treatment is not at all unusual in the South. The educated professional men of all classes are rarely unkind to their brothers in black. It is to be doubted if in the North there is half the courtesy between professional men of opposite races as there exists in the South. In this way Dr. Leighton and Dr. Stone often spent an evening investigating some subject or discussing some disputed point in which the older man's wide experience and thorough scholarship gave to his opinions on some subjects the weight on an authority.
"Hello! reading a letter from your girl," he said cheerily, as he entered. "I have brought you the book I was telling you about."
Lotus folded the letter, placed it in his pocket, and picking up the book, remarked: "Thank you. I'll look over it when I have time." And while he turned to the index of the book to look up a subject on which he wished to compare the assertions of the author with one of the well known opinions of one of his favorites, Dr. Leighton picked up the envelope, glanced at the postmark, and said: "From Regenia. How is my fair cousin?"
"All O. K.," said Lotus.
"Where is she? She promised to write to me, but I suppose she naturally thinks of you first."
"She is at Minton at St. John's," Lotus replied.
"I remember him. Wonder you wouldn't marry Regenia, Doctor?"
"I wonder if I wouldn't if I could get her over to my way of thinking. She don't seem to go in for that sort of thing much," said Dr. Stone, laughingly.
"You don't use the right kind of bait. Ask her again. Any woman will marry you, if you are persistent enough."
"It has not gone that far. I would not ask a woman to be my wife unless I had more assurance of making her a comfortable living than I have found in my present locality," said Dr. Stone.
He changed the subject and the two men sat there smoking and talking until far into the night. When Dr. Leighton left Dr. Stone's office, he swore by all the stars never to go there again on any pretext. He knew in part now what he had every reason to believe before. Lotus Stone wanted, and ultimately would, marry Regenia. So far his suit was not successful. Regenia has Leighton enough in her blood not to "show her hand until she is ready to play her cards," he said aloud. At heart, he rather liked Lotus Stone. But having taken so many chances in the desperate game he was playing, should he let professional courtesy keep him from separating these two people. If he did not fear Dr. Stone's superior intelligence would ferret out the real reason why Mrs. Levitt disappeared, he might go further and do more—produce Mrs. Levitt herself—and thus balk entirely the game that up to the present, he had played without an error.
Lighting a cigar and drifting into a saloon, he found a worthless spittoon cleaner, sitting there nursing a broken leg.
"Hello, Abe, what's the matter?"
"Down wid broken laig, doctah."
"Why didn't you come around and let me fix it up for you?"
"I had that new fellow to fix it up for me, but I don't believe he knowed what he was doin', 'pears to me its worse now than it was at first."
The doctor examined the leg and found it had been set once and before the fracture healed it had been broken again in the same place.
"Who did you say reduced this fracture?" asked the doctor.
"What you say, Massa Leighton?"
"Who set the bone for you?" repeated the doctor.
"Oh, that new doctah—What's his name? Oh, yes, that's it! Dr. Stone!" repeating after Dr. Leighton.
Taking the half-drunken, wholly profligate old negro into a back room, the doctor reset the broken limb and ordered him home, to remain until his leg was better.
Chapter 20 -- Chapter 22