Chapter XXIV.
 

That night, Herminia Barton went up sadly to her own bed-room. It was the very last night that Dolores was to sleep under the same roof with her mother. On the morrow, she meant to remove to Sir Anthony Merrick's.

As soon as Herminia had closed the door, she sat down to her writing-table and began to write. Her pen moved of itself. And this was her letter:--

"MY DARLING DAUGHTER,--By the time you read these words, I shall be no longer in the way, to interfere with your perfect freedom of action. I had but one task left in life--to make you happy. Now I find I only stand in the way of that object, no reason remains why I should endure any longer the misfortune of living.

"My child, my child, you must see, when you come to think it over at leisure, that all I ever did was done, up to my lights, to serve and bless you. I thought, by giving you the father and the birth I did, I was giving you the best any mother on earth had ever yet given her dearest daughter. I believe it still; but I see I should never succeed in making you feel it. Accept this reparation. For all the wrong I may have done, all the mistakes I may have made, I sincerely and earnestly implore your forgiveness. I could not have had it while I lived; I beseech and pray you to grant me dead what you would never have been able to grant me living.

"My darling, I thought you would grow up to feel as I did; I thought you would thank me for leading you to see such things as the blind world is incapable of seeing. There I made a mistake; and sorely am I punished for it. Don't visit it upon my head in your recollections when I can no longer defend myself.

"I set out in life with the earnest determination to be a martyr to the cause of truth and righteousness, as I myself understood them. But I didn't foresee this last pang of martyrdom. No soul can tell beforehand to what particular cross the blind chances of the universe will finally nail it. But I am ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is close at hand. I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith I started in life with. Nothing now remains for me but the crown of martyrdom. My darling, it is indeed a very bitter cup to me that you should wish me dead; but 'tis a small thing to die, above all for the sake of those we love. I die for you gladly, knowing that by doing so I can easily relieve my own dear little girl of one trouble in life, and make her course lie henceforth through smoother waters. Be happy! be happy! Good-by, my Dolly! Your mother's love go forever through life with you!

"Burn this blurred note the moment you have read it. I inclose a more formal one, giving reasons for my act on other grounds, to be put in, if need be, at the coroner's inquest. Good-night, my heart's darling. Your truly devoted and affectionate

MOTHER.

"Oh, Dolly, my Dolly, you never will know with what love I loved you."

When she had finished that note, and folded it reverently with kisses and tears, she wrote the second one in a firm hand for the formal evidence. Then she put on a fresh white dress, as pure as her own soul, like the one she had worn on the night of her self-made bridal with Alan Merrick. In her bosom she fastened two innocent white roses from Walter Brydges's bouquet, arranging them with studious care very daintily before her mirror. She was always a woman. "Perhaps," she thought to herself, "for her lover's sake, my Dolly will kiss them. When she finds them lying on her dead mother's breast, my Dolly may kiss them." Then she cried a few minutes very softly to herself; for no one can die without some little regret, some consciousness of the unique solemnity of the occasion.

At last she rose and moved over to her desk. Out of it she took a small glass-stoppered phial, that a scientific friend had given her long ago for use in case of extreme emergency. It contained prussic acid. She poured the contents into a glass and drank it off. Then she lay upon her bed and waited for the only friend she had left in the world, with hands folded on her breast, like some saint of the middle ages.

Not for nothing does blind fate vouchsafe such martyrs to humanity. From their graves shall spring glorious the church of the future.

When Dolores came in next morning to say good-by, she found her mother's body cold and stiff upon the bed, in a pure white dress, with two crushed white roses just peeping from her bodice.

Herminia Barton's stainless soul had ceased to exist forever.

THE END.