Chapter XXIII.

When she returned from Sir Anthony's to her mother's lodgings, she found Herminia, very pale, in the sitting-room, waiting for her. Her eyes were fixed on a cherished autotype of a Pinturicchia at Perugia,--Alan's favorite picture. Out of her penury she had bought it. It represented the Madonna bending in worship over her divine child, and bore the inscription: "Quem genuit adoravit." Herminia loved that group. To her it was no mere emblem of a dying creed, but a type of the eternal religion of maternity. The Mother adoring the Child! 'Twas herself and Dolly.

"Well?" Herminia said interrogatively, as her daughter entered, for she half feared the worst.

"Well," Dolores answered in a defiant tone, blurting it out in sudden jerks, the rebellion of a lifetime finding vent at last. "I've been to my grandfather, my father's father; and I've told him everything; and it's all arranged: and I'm to take his name; and I'm to go and live with him."

"Dolly!" the mother cried, and fell forward on the table with her face in her hands. "My child, my child, are you going to leave me?"

"It's quite time," Dolly answered, in a sullen, stolid voice. "I can't stop here, of course, now I'm almost grown up and engaged to be married, associating any longer with such a woman as you have been. No right-minded girl who respected herself could do it."

Herminia rose and faced her. Her white lips grew livid. She had counted on every element of her martyrdom,--save one; and this, the blackest and fiercest of all, had never even occurred to her. "Dolly," she cried, "oh, my daughter, you don't know what you do! You don't know how I've loved you! I've given up my life for you. I thought when you came to woman's estate, and learned what was right and what wrong, you would indeed rise up and call me blessed. And now,--oh, Dolly, this last blow is too terrible. It will kill me, my darling. I can't go on out-living it."

"You will," Dolly answered. "You're strong enough and wiry enough to outlive anything. . . . But I wrote to Walter from Sir Anthony's this morning, and told him I would wait for him if I waited forever. For, of course, while you live, I couldn't think of marrying him. I couldn't think of burdening an honest man with such a mother-in-law as you are!"

Herminia could only utter the one word, "Dolly!" It was a heart-broken cry, the last despairing cry of a wounded and stricken creature.