By the smoldering wood fire, the evening paper having fallen from her slender hands, her eyes closed, her head resting on the back of the big arm chair, sits Regenia Underwood, thinking of the past. She has just finished reading Clement St. John's stirring report of the events at the mines. Through all the long weary months which have elapsed since Lotus was snatched away, he has been the center of her thoughts by day, the object of her prayers by night. She is recalling a moonlit night in the long ago; reflecting upon the loving words, remembered now with a thrill of passionate sadness. How vividly the picture comes back. How she hears over and over again the pathetic refrain:
"Will you forget
The nights ambrosial,
Days of idle dreaming;
The songs we sung
When love was young,
And earth a paradise was seeming?"
She had striven to forget the song, but tonight thoughts of the past rise unbidden like a dream, and through the dreary isolation of her starved and broken heart, ring anew in a minor chord of sadness. "Can I forget?" she murmurs through her tears. "How can I forget the nights ambrosial, days of idle dreaming?"
She covered her face with her hands, while sob after sob resounded through the quiet room.
Mrs. Thomas had come in and sat down by her side, bringing that comfort she knew so well how to administer. While the two women sat there holding each other's hands, someone opened the gate. The steps approached the door. Regenia was thinking of Lotus, Mrs. Thomas was wondering when Simon had left the house. There was a ring, Mrs. Thomas busied herself making a light. Another ring, this time a little louder than before.
Regenia, after drying her eyes on her apron, opened the door. It was Clement St. John.
"Well, Miss Underwood, are you not glad to see me?"
Regenia was disappointed. She was hoping it was Lotus. Being thus addressed she made haste to give Clement a hardy welcome.
"You know how glad I am to see you. And Lucile, is she well?"
"Quite well when I left home. I have not heard from her since my arrival."
"Of course not," said Regenia, smiling. "How long have you been here?"
"I came this morning," he answered.
"And have you been all this time finding us?" she asked with evident surprise.
"No, I have been down to find Lotus," he said carelessly.
"How is he? Is the report in the paper true? Have you read it? Here it is," she said in a breath.
"No, I have not read it," he said with a quizzical smile.
She handed him the paper, pointing out the glaring head lines.
"I do not care to read any fake newspaper report," he said, waving the paper away.
"Do read it," she said. "It is so kind to my—" she colored violently—"to Dr. Stone," she added.
"Some other time," he said laughing. Then noting the tears gathering in her eyes, he said, "There, dear, don't look like that. I do not care to read my own scribbling. I wrote the account."
"You dear, good Clement," she said, calling him by his first name, "how Lucile must love you." Getting up from her chair, she walked over to the big, kind-hearted, red-headed, homely fellow and gave him a kiss.
"That's from Lucile," she said.
"I accept it for the Doctor," he replied laughingly. "If I had known such pay was awaiting me at this end of my journey, I would have doubled the length of my article with the hope of receiving double pay," he said with a knowing look at Mrs. Thomas.
By this time, Rev. Simon Thomas, who had been in the library, making final preparations for his Sunday sermon, came into the room. He was introduced to Clement, whom both he and his wife felt they already knew from hearing Regenia speak of him so frequently.
The trio gathered about Mr. St. John and listened with breathless interest while he related the experiences of the day. He touched lightly upon the condition of Dr. Stone, softened into a minimum the sufferings and deprivations through which Lotus had passed and ended with a glowing description of the heroic fortitude exhibited by Lotus in bearing uncomplainingly his unjust sentence.
Regenia's eyes expressed the thanks she could not find words to express. "Your account in the paper is very different from the version you give to us," she said, fearing that Mr. St. John had been more influenced by what his auditors wished to hear than by a strict adherence to the actual facts.
"I plead guilty to the soft impeachment," said Clement, his face assuming a questionable smile, "but the first account was to influence the public; the second," he added laughingly, "is for private consumption only. I was in duty bound to present the affair in the way best calculated to forward the ends I wished to attain—the delivery of my friend from the unjust imprisonment he is undergoing. That may not be in keeping with your code of morals, Reverend," he said, glancing at Mr. Thomas and vainly trying to ascertain that gentleman's opinion of the course pursued, "but this is one of the cases where the ends justify the means." In his heart he was thinking "What a dilemma I have got into by my twice told tale, and neither of them will stand the test of the ten commandments."
"Do you think there is any hope of Dr. Stone being pardoned?" asked Mrs. Thomas.
"You angel," thought Clement. "Anything is better than a continuancy of the explanation of why I told two tales." He said: "That depends upon how much influence we can bring to bear upon the governor. If we strike the iron while it is hot, I have every reason to believe we can secure his release."
"The account in the paper ought to awaken an interest in his favor," Mr. Thomas answered.
Clement had no wish to revert to the paper or anything it contained; having got safely away from that subject, he was determined to give it a wide berth the rest of the evening.
"If we can get the signatures of some of your influential citizens and bring their prestige to bear upon the governor, we may succeed beyond our expectations. I have been thinking we might see what we can do to-morrow," said Clement, looking at Regenia.
"Why not go to-night?" she said. "If his pardon depends upon our energy, I am ready to begin work now. I do not think I shall sleep a wink to-night, anyway, and lying awake idle, will be such a loss of time, " she added unable, to suppress her excitement.
"Not to-night," said Clement kindly, "to-morrow will be early enough. Go to sleep and get all the rest you can; it will stand you in excellent need during the work of the next few days."
It was decided that the next day Regenia, accompanied by Mr. Thomas and Clement, should take the initiatory steps toward securing a pardon for Dr. Stone.
When the sun rose the next morning and fell in golden beams through the half-open shutters of Regenia Underwood's room, it disclosed the anxious girl sitting by the window, her chin resting on her hand, impatiently awaiting the hour to begin her work. She had not been to bed. Unmindful of Clement's admonition, she knew that there would be no sleep for her eyes until at least an effort had been made to bring her lover back to her side. Mr. Thomas, too, was up by times. Indeed an air of restlessness pervaded the whole house.
Breakfast over, the three friends started upon their mission, fraught with so much interest to the sick convict, fretting his life away at the mines. The prosecuting attorney was first visited and his name secured to head the paper. Then followed the manager of the Steel Plant, and before the day was done, a long list of signatures representing the solid citizens of Grandville were added to the paper. Indeed few could listen to the sad story so touchingly related by the attenuated petitioner and withhold their signatures. Rev. Simon Thomas was also a tower of strength. He had numberless friends among the best people of Grandville, as what upright Afro-American has not? The men who signed the petition were not politicians. They had long since become disgusted with the methods pursued by this gentry and withdrew from their blighting influence, such men are the real leaven of the state. Their names attached to a paper gave it the weight of a worthy cause.
The next day the petition was carried to the governor. He listened with interest to Regenia's story, and taking the petition glanced down the list, nodding his head as some name of particular interest met his eyes. Calling Regenia to him when he had gone over the list he said kindly: "Your matter shall have my attention at the very earliest convenience."
Regenia thanked him and the three bowed themselves out of the great man's presence.
The worry and loss of sleep consequent upon Regenia's anxiety, left her in a very debilitated state. Clement insisted, her doctor joining him in the opinion, that Regenia should resign her work and go home. He wished to have her leave Grandville before the issue of the petition was disclosed. He believed, whether the issue was favorable or otherwise, it would be alike injurious to Regenia. Day after day she searched the papers for notice of the governor's action upon the cause nearest her heart. When a week had passed away and nothing had been done, she began to evince symptoms of the return of her old malady.
One day, nearly a week after the petition had been presented, Clement came to the parsonage with word from the governor that action would be taken the next day. Before Regenia, however, he read to her a letter from his wife, bemoaning the loneliness of her state and beseeching Regenia to come home and keep her company. Clement, seeing he had touched a tender chord in Regenia's nature, put on the wind harp stop and in half suppressed tones, eloquently supplemented his wife's request. Regenia was convinced and accordingly the next day left for Minton.
As the train left the depot, Clement called after her, "I will be home soon and bring the doctor with me."
The day following he left for the mines, bearing the governor's permit to remove Lotus to a neighboring house and attend him until he was well enough to move. He did not grant the pardon, but Clement considered this a good omen.
Chapter 28 -- Chapter 30