When Regenia awakened the next morning the sun was high in the heavens. The accusation made by Mr. Foggs, together with his coarse familiarity, had served to keep her sleeplessly tossing from one side of the bed to the other the most of the night. She came down to a late breakfast still nervous and excited. For the first time during her short life she felt the poisonous sting of slander. Conscious of her innocence, she knew how impossible it is to defend a pure life against the insidious touches of that hidden serpent—a lie. She knew too well that error traveled like the hare; while truth took the gait of the tortoise.
Mrs. Landers observed the forlorn look in Regenia's face as she left the table, her breakfast untouched. She could not eat. The cankerous lie had already robbed her of her roses. She returned to her room, locked the door and throwing herself across the bed gave way to a fit of passionate weeping. Again and again did Miss Wilson tap at the door, only to receive no reply. She could hear Regenia's bitter heart-rending sobs, but was powerless to take her that comfort which she knew her companion needed. Regenia had gone directly to her own room the night before, and consequently Miss Wilson was in blissful ignorance of the cause of her trouble.
In the afternoon Dr. Leighton called. He sent up his card, but Regenia refused to make any answer to Mrs. Landers' repeated raps at her door. Mrs. Landers was for awhile non-plussed, but finally succeeded in opening the door. Regenia eyes and hair awry, was sitting on the bed when she entered.
"Why did you not open the door?" demanded Mrs. Landers, in a peremptory way.
"Because I did not wish to be disturbed," said Regenia.
"Dr. Leighton is in the parlor and wishes to see you," said Mrs. Landers, a triumphant smile lurking about the corners of her mouth.
"Tell him I am indisposed," said Regenia, her color heightening in spite of herself.
Mrs. Landers descended to the parlor and shortly returned with Dr. Leighton's message.
"Dr. Leighton wishes to come up and see you if you are ill," she said.
"I have no malady he can cure. Now please go away. I am sick and tired of everybody."
"You certainly do not object to seeing Dr. Leighton after striking Mr. Foggs for the mere mention of his name," said Mrs. Landers, spitefully.
"That's my affair," said Regenia, "and I am under no compulsion to make any explanation to you about it."
"You are under obligations to treat people with common politeness as long as you stay in my house," said Mrs. Landers, hotly.
"I try always to be polite," answered Regenia, "but if your company is as ill bred as that swaggering, familiar old inebriate, Foggs, I wish to be delivered from any contact with them in any way."
"You need not put on any of your high-toned airs," she replied. "Sally Landers knows a thing or two and can call the turn on Miss Regenia Underwood, as well as a good many other high steppers in this town if she is a mind to." She fairly hissed these words out as she left the room, slamming the door after her.
Regenia had risen from the bed, where she had been sitting. She stood there like a statue for some time after Mrs. Landers, in a towering rage, had left the room. What to do she hardly knew. She was not long in reaching a decision. Necessity is a great "encourager of hesitancy." She washed her face, put on her hat and went over to Miss Wilson's room. She told her the cause of her trouble.
There was one other person to whom Regenia lost no time in relating her story and asking his advice. Rev. Simon Thomas was one of the ministers who lived and labored among the people surrounding the steel plant, because he saw in administering to the poor an exemplification of his humble Master. With him, sacrifice for the Master was a labor of love. In the midst of temptations and crime, he led the life of a saint. His sermons were a simple and free from ostentation as his life was pure and humble. He met every requirement of Goldsmith's ideal preacher:
"Who pointed to heaven,
And led the way."
His wife, "Mother Thomas," as she was familiarly called, was a fitting companion for such a husband. In her works of charity she had met Regenia and learned to love her. It was therefore into sympathetic ears Regenia poured her tale of mistreatment. When she had finished, Mrs. Thomas said to her husband, "Simon, go out and get an express and send it over to Mrs. Landers' to get Miss Underwood's trunk." Then turning to Regenia and putting her arm around the young girl's shoulders, she said: "You will stay here with us, dear. We understand you."
How often had Regenia heard almost the same loving words when she had gone with some of her troubles to Mrs. Levitt. It all came back now as her troubled head lay upon Mother Thomas' shoulder, and the load of pain and anguish floated away with the tide of grateful tears that chased each other down her cheeks. After a while the good woman said: "Come to your room, dear, and lie down until supper. By that time Simon will have your trunk sent up."
As Rev. Simon Thomas was an ideal minister so his home was an ideal home. His house, the only two-story frame about the steel plant, had been the dwelling of the original owner of the land from whom the syndicate had purchased the site for their new enterprise. In time, Regenia was thoroughly domesticated, not as a boarder, but as a member of the family.
Monday came and with it the re-opening of school. The division of the work and the new classification necessary, kept Regenia so fully occupied that she had hardly time to think of the sorrow that overshadowed her. Weeks ran rapidly into a month before Regenia was reminded of that most pleasant of all days to a teacher—pay day.
Dr. Leighton had tried every way to see Regenia, but for a month had signally failed. At last he went to the school. Regenia received him as she would have received any other visitor, but went on with her work as if he was not present. He remained until school closed, hoping in this way to have word with her. If he hoped to force Regenia to recognize him, he was not long in learning his mistake. Having dismissed school she called two of her girls, and taking them by the hand, she walked to her home. Dr. Leighton could scarcely hide his chagrin.
Dr. Stone hardly allowed a day to pass that he did not manage to see Regenia. His fertility in manufacturing new excuses for visiting the parsonage, was as amusing as ingenious. Regenia was an enigma to Dr. Stone. He had made a dozen futile attempts to declare his never-dying love for her, but on every occasion some trivial occurrence, real or imaginary, had served to divert her from the burning issue. She had neither encouraged his attentions nor had she discouraged them. He had given her numberless opportunities to say yes, but she had not accepted them. She had also had an equal number of chances to say no, but she had not availed herself of them. Her apparent serenity in the face of his evident devotion he could not understand.
One evening in November the doctor had driven over to Irondale, as the steel plant was beginning to be called, to see a patient, and as usual stopped at the parsonage. For some reason he was low spirited and on that account was rather a grewsome visitor. Regenia was in high spirits.
"What has gone wrong?" she asked. "You are as melancholy as the oft depicted Dane."
"Nothing is wrong that is not usually so," he answered. "Am I such a dull companion that my room to-night would be more cheerful than my presence?" he asked petulantly.
"Oh, no," Regenia answered lightly. "Any kind of company is preferable to being alone. I am alone to-night."
"And as you are alone, you can even endure me!" he said ruefully.
"Don't talk like that. You must know now glad I am always to have you come," she said kindly. "Come, let us have some music. That will charm back your spirits and drive the 'blue devils' away, as poor Mrs. Levitt used to say."
"What shall I sing?" she asked, as she seated herself at the piano and began, in a dreamy way, to play. She chose something light and airy, and as she sung, Lotus sat listening and watching her nimble fingers dance over the keys.
"Now," she said, when the song was ended, "I have sung for you. Come and sing for me."
He walked over to the music rack and having selected a simple ballad, placed it upon the piano, saying, "I will sing this."
"As you like it," she said, as she ran over the prelude. Regenia thought, as she listened to the song, that never in her life had she heard such a world of subdued pathos.
"Adieu! When next our pathways meet,
When down life's stream our boats
A little space have flown
Will you forget our converse sweet,
The past, the happy past, unknown?
"Will you forget
The nights ambrosial,
Days of idle dreaming;
The songs we sung
When love was young
And earth a paradise was seeming.
"When the days shall lengthen into years,
And seared and yellow
Life itself has grown;
Will you resentful,
Or with grateful tears
Seal the past, the happy past, unknown?
"Will you forget
The night ambrosial,
Days of idle dreaming;
The songs we sung
When love was young
And earth a paradise was seeming."
When the last note of the song ceased, Regenia arose and walked over to the window, unable to keep back the tears. Lotus followed her, and taking her hand, said: "I have waited so long, dear heart, you must hear me, for somehow, I am unable to stifle the belief that something dreadful that will separate us for years is about to transpire."
"You must not feel that way. You are only morbid, and the song has served to intensify that feeling," replied Regenia.
"Regenia, darling, I cannot live without you. You must know I worship, I adore you. Will you promise to love me, just a little?" he pleaded.
"Oh, how can you ask me such a question?" she said, her voice falling almost to a whisper.
"How can I help asking?" he replied, his faint heart sinking.
"Do you not know I love you?" she said, at the same time bursting into happy tears.
For a moment it seemed to Lotus Stone that the low ceiling of that dingy parlor was lifted into a vaulted dome and a ray of light from heaven gilded it with celestial brightness.
Pressing the drooping head to his bosom, he covered Regenia's face with passionate kisses.
"My love, my life, and are you at last my very own?" As he uttered these words, steps were heard on the porch, and a sudden noise at the window made the two loving hearts stand still. The door was opened and Mr. Thomas and his wife came in from prayer meeting.
After the untimely interruption Lotus was in no mood to prolong his stay. Regenia, making an excuse to run over to a neighbor's, accompanied her lover to the corner, where his horse was tied.
The night was beautiful. The full moon, playing hide-and-seek with the clouds, hid her face just often enough to make the night an ideal one for lovers.
Lotus insisted that Regenia go with him for a drive, but she did not accept his urgent invitation. She stood for a moment watching him, as he slowly drove away, half inclined to come back and go with him. The buggy turned a corner and she walked slowly in the opposite direction, performed the duty which she had set out to accomplish, and in a brown study was returning to her home, when just as she was entering the back gate she came face to face with Dr. Leighton. His back against the gate, standing under the shade of a giant tree, whose abundant foliage hid him completely from view, he smoked his favorite Havana with no apparent intention of moving to give her entrance.
Regenia screamed with fright, as she nearly ran into the smoking statue.
"Hush!" he said. "There is no occasion for fear." His words served to reassure her
"Dr. Leighton, how you scared me! What are you doing here?"
"I might ask the same of you," he answered with cool assurance.
"I live here," she replied. "I fail to see the impropriety of entering my own house."
"The impropriety preceded your attempt to enter, perhaps," he said tauntingly.
"Let me pass. I will not stand here and listen to your implied insults."
"Don’t be in a rush. I have had a word to whisper in your ear for sometime, but untoward circumstances robbed me of the opportunity. It is a case of now or never and I have decided to take the bit between my teeth irregardless of consequences," he said in a cold, villainous tone. She turned to retrace her steps, but he caught her by the wrist and prevented her.
"Stay, Regenia, I have something to relate that concerns your friend." Instantly she was all attention. "You might as well hear me calmly," he continued with provoking deliberation, "to make a scene and awaken the neighborhood would only injure you. You are not in Mt. Clare."
She knew too well how truthfully he spoke.
"What have you to say that concerns my friend?" she asked, her excitement having vanished at the very mention of Dr. Stone's name.
"Not so fast. We are in no hurry. What I have to say about your friend, the doctor, will keep. To return to the first question, What are you doing away from your home at such an hour?"
"I consider such a question the height of impertinence. Your are neither my guardian nor father confessor," she said sharply.
"Suppose I was both, or either, what account of your warbling lover would you give?"
"Such a supposition is preposterous, since I have passed the age when I need the first, and you are too wicked to assume the role of the second—especially with me."
"I hope you will live long enough to verify that opinion," he answered ironically.
"Oh, as to that, I have lived more than long enough to know that Dr. Leighton is not the friend he pretends to be," answered Regenia disdainfully.
"Dr. Stone comes up to your ideal I hope, judging from a painful discovery I made to-night. His theatrical platitudes were useless, however. He did well to make the most of his chances—this was his last," laughed the doctor scornfully.
"What do you mean?" said Regenia, now thoroughly alarmed for the safety of Lotus.
"He is arrested. He sleeps to-night behind prison bars," he coolly averred.
"This is some of your work. It is in keeping with what I already know of you."
"Have a care, young lady, you are in my power," he answered angrily.
"What do I care for you or your power?" retorted Regenia.
"You had better care," he answered under his breath.
"Oh, I do not fear you, coward, forger, thief, villain," she hissed.
"Shut up," he said, "or by the gods, I'll throttle you," hissed Dr. Leighton, assuming a threatening attitude.
"Do it. It will be a fitting climax to the other crimes you have committed—forged a will, spirited away, perhaps murdered, an innocent old woman, killed your own aunt, and now you are planning the murder of a man toward whom you have been masquerading as a friend. The sum of your villainies would be incomplete without my life. Take it, but remember, Dr. Leighton, there is a day of terrible retribution, awaiting you. A day when the black page of your checked career will be made manifest."
"Stop," he cried, "you minx, I will strangle you." Throwing himself upon the girl, his fingers on her throat tightened; she tried to release herself, but it was of no use.
"I'll shut your mouth you indiscreet little fool," he muttered as the girl writhed and twisted beneath his iron grip. Slowly she sank toward the earth; her muscles began to relax; she had given up to die, when a black hand from out of the darkness closed about the neck of Dr. Frank Leighton with the power of a vise. He slowly unclasp his hands from Regenia's neck, and as his face slowly turned up to the moonlight he looked into the flashing eyes of a black hero, already marked for death. The giant lifted the would-be murderer from the ground, tightening his hold until the victim's face took on the hue of his antagonist's. Walking across the road that followed the creek bank in its tortuous route, he dropped Dr. Leighton, more dead than alive, into the sand below. Then coming back, he picked up the unconscious girl and carried her into the house. He cautioned the inmates to keep the matter quiet and await developments.
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