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minister to Austria adorned the table, which was also decorated with three
splendid pyramids of choicest flowers. An exquisite bouquet bloomed in
front of each lady's plate, and the painted blossoms on the peerless
dinner-service of rare old Sèvres vied in every respect save fragrance
with their living counterparts. An unseen orchestra, stationed in the
conservatory, sent forth strains of music, now grave, now gay, as Gounod
or Offenbach ruled the tuneful spirit of the hour. Twelve guests only were
present, including Mrs. John Archer, to whom Mrs. Rutherford had in this
fashion testified her forgiveness, and who had accepted the proffered
olive-branch with delight, wearing, in order to do honor to the occasion,
an exquisite dress, fresh from one of the most renowned _ateliers_ of
Parisian fashion. Mrs. Rutherford, as usual, notwithstanding her
infirmity, presided with unfailing grace and dignity; and in her splendid
dress of black satin, brocaded with bouquets of flowers in their natural
hues, her cap and collar of priceless old point lace, and her antiquely
set but magnificent ornaments of sapphires and diamonds, she still looked
a queen of society. A well-trained servant was stationed behind her chair,
who from time to time placed before her suitably-prepared portions of the
various delicacies of the entertainment, of which she slightly partook, in
order to obviate the restraint which her presence at the festivity without
participating in it would have occasioned. On her left hand sat her
younger son, Horace, whose watchful eyes followed her every movement, and
whose loving care anticipated her every wish. He was a tall,
stalwart-looking young man, fair-haired and blue-eyed, like his elder
brother, but his frank, joyous expression and winning manners bore no
resemblance to the sullen countenance and surly demeanor of Clement.

The bride was, of course, the, cynosure of all eyes. Attired in rich,
creamy-white satin, the corsage shaded with folds of delicate lace, with
coral ornaments on her neck and arms, and with the heavy masses of her
dark hair interwoven with coral beads, she looked extremely beautiful, and
was pronounced by the ladies present to be "handsome and stylish-looking,
but decidedly dull." This latter accusation was more truthful than such
charges usually are. Mrs. Clement Rutherford did feel unusually stupid.
She was _ennuyé_ by the long, formal, stately dinner; she knew but few of
the persons present; and her point-lace fan was frequently called into
requisition to conceal her yawns. The game had been served before her next
neighbor, a sprightly young New Yorker, who had been rather fascinated by
her beauty, contrived to arouse her into something like animation. He
succeeded at last, however, and it was not long before an unusually
brilliant sally drew a merry laugh from her lips. Her laugh was
peculiar - a low, musical, trilling sound, mirthful and melodious as the
chime of a silver bell.

As its joyous music rang on the air, Mrs. Rutherford turned ghastly pale.
She gasped convulsively, half rose from her seat and fell back in a
deathlike swoon.

Of course all was instantly confusion and dismay. The guests sprang up,
the waiters hurried forward - Horace was instantly at his mother's side.

"She has only fainted," he said in his clear, decided tones. "She will be
better in a few moments. Let me beg of you, my friends, to resume your
seats. Clement, will you oblige me by taking our mother's post?"

With the help of Mrs. Rutherford's special attendant, Horace supported the
already reviving sufferer from the room. They conveyed her to her sleeping
apartment, where restoratives and cold water were freely used, and she
soon regained perfect consciousness. But returning animation seemed to
bring with it a strange and overwhelming sorrow. When the servant had
retired, leaving her alone with her son, she refused to answer any of his
queries, and burying her face in her pillow, she wept with convulsive and
irrepressible violence. At length the very vehemence of her grief seemed,
by exhausting itself, to restore her to comparative calm: her tears ceased
to flow, her heavy sobs no longer shook her frame, and she remained for
some time perfectly quiet and silent. At length she spoke:

"Horace!"

"What is it, mother?"

"Describe to me the personal appearance of your brother's wife - minutely,
as though a picture were to be painted from your words."

It was no unusual request. Horace was in the habit of thus minutely
describing persons and places for his mother's benefit.

"She is rather below the middle height, and her form, though slender, is
finely moulded and of perfect proportions. Her hands and feet are
faultless, and her walk is extremely graceful, resembling more the gait of
a French-woman than that of an English girl. Her complexion is pale and
rather sallow, and her countenance is full of expression, which varies
constantly when she talks. The lower part of her face is somewhat too thin
for perfect beauty, and the chin is inclined to be pointed, and the cheeks
are rather hollow, but the upper part is superb. Her brow is low and
broad, and she folds back from it the heavy waves of her black hair in the
plainest possible style. Her eyes are her chief beauty, and would
transfigure any face into loveliness. They are very large, and of a dark,
transparent blue, of so lustrous and so perfect an azure that not even in
shadow do they look black. Stay - I can give you a better idea of her
appearance than by multiplying words. Did you, when you were in Munich,
visit the Gallery of Beauties in the Royal Palace?"

"I did."

"Do you remember the portrait of Lola Montez?"

"Certainly - as though I had seen it yesterday."

"Marion resembles that portrait very strikingly, particularly in the shape
and carriage of her head."

"I am not mistaken - it is she. Would that I had never lived to see this
day!" And Mrs. Rutherford wrung her hands in an agony of helpless,
hopeless distress.

"It is she?" repeated Horace, in perplexity. "Whom do you mean, mother?
Who was Marion Nugent?"

"She is not Marion Nugent - this impostor who has thrust herself into our
midst, bringing scandal and dishonor as her dower."

"And who, then, is she?"

Mrs. Rutherford turned toward him and fixed on his face her tear-bathed
eyes, as though sight were restored to her, and she were trying to read
his thoughts in his countenance.

"Why should I tell you?" she said, after a pause: "why reveal to you the
shameful secret, and tell of a misfortune which is without a remedy?
Clement is married: what words of mine can divorce him? And who will
believe the evidence of a blind woman? If I were not blind, I might openly
denounce her, but now - " And again she wrung her hands in unspeakable
anguish.

Horace knelt beside his mother's couch and folded her hands in his own.

"I will believe you, mother," he said, earnestly. "Trust me - tell me all.
If this woman whom my brother has married be an impostor, he may yet be
freed from the matrimonial chain."

"Could that be possible?"

"It may be. Let me try, at least. I will devote myself to your service if
you will but confide in me."

"Close the door, and then come near me, Horace - nearer still. I _will_
tell you all."

Two days later the steamship Pereire sailed from New York for Brest,
numbering among her passengers Horace Rutherford.



Chapter III.

Striking the Flag.


The events narrated in our last chapter took place early in November, and
it was not till the following March that the astonished friends of Horace
Rutherford saw him reappear amongst them as suddenly and as unexpectedly
as he had departed. "Business of importance" was the sole explanation he
vouchsafed to those who questioned him respecting the motive of his brief
European tour; and with that answer public curiosity was perforce obliged
to content itself. Society had, in fact, grown weary of discussing the
affairs of the Rutherford family. Clement Rutherford's _mesalliance_, his
mother's sudden illness at that memorable dinner-party, her subsequent
seclusion from the world, and Horace's inexplicable absence, had all
afforded food for the insatiable appetite of the scandal-mongers. Then
Gossip grew eloquent respecting the flirtations and "fast" manners of
Clement Rutherford's wife, and whispered that the old lady's seizure had
been either apoplexy or paralysis, brought on by her distress of mind at
her son's marriage, and that she had never been herself since. Next, the
elegant establishment of the newly-wedded pair on Twenty-sixth street,
with its gorgeous furniture and costly appointments, furnished a theme for
much conversation, and doubts were expressed as to whether the "Upper Ten"
would honor with its august presence the ball which Mrs. Clement
Rutherford proposed giving on Shrove Tuesday, which in that year came
about the middle of March. But as to that, it was generally conceded that
they would. Youth, beauty, wealth and the shadow of an old family name
could cover a multitude of such sins as rapid manners, desperate
flirtations and a questionable origin; and notwithstanding her fastness,
and, worse still, her _ci-devant_ governess-ship, Mrs. Clement Rutherford
was a decided social success.

On the day succeeding that oh which he had arrived, Horace made his
appearance at his brother's house. Clement had not heard of his return,
and received him with a cordiality strikingly at variance with his usual
manner.

"Come into the library," he said, after the first greetings had been
exchanged. "I have some fine cigars for you to try, and you can tell me
something about your travels."

"Thank you, Clement: I believe I must decline your offer. I have a message
for your wife: can I see her?"

A cloud swept over the brow of the elder brother.

"I suppose you can," he said, coldly, looking at his watch as he spoke.
"Two o'clock. She took breakfast about half an hour ago, so she is
probably at home. You had better go up stairs to her _boudoir_, as she
calls it, and Christine, her maid, will tell her that you wish to see
her."

He turned away, and was about to leave the room when Horace caught his
hand.

"Clement! brother! Answer me one question: Are you happy in your married
life?"

"Go ask the scandal-mongers of New York," was the bitter reply: "_they_
are eloquent respecting the perfection of my connubial bliss."

"If she had been a kind and affectionate wife, if she had made him happy,"
muttered Horace as he ascended the stairs, "my task would have been a
harder one. Now my duty is clear, and my course lies smooth and straight
before, me."

The room into which he was ushered by Christine, the pretty French maid,
was a perfect marvel of elegance and extravagance. It was very small, and
on every part of it had been lavished all that the combined efforts of
taste and expenditure could achieve. The walls had been painted in fresco
by an eminent Italian artist, and bevies of rosy Cupids, trailing after
them garlands of many-hued flowers, disported on a background of a
delicate green tint. The same tints and design were repeated in the
Aubusson carpet, and on the fine Gobelin tapestry which covered the few
chairs and the one luxurious couch that formed the useful furniture of the
tiny apartment. Étagères of carved and gilded wood occupied each corner,
and, together with the low mantelshelf (which was upheld by two dancing
nymphs in Carrara marble), were crowded with costly trifles in Bohemian
glass, Dresden and Sèvres porcelain, gilded bronze, carved ivory and
Parian ware. An easel, drawn toward the centre of the room, supported the
one painting that it contained, the designs on the walls being unsuited
for the proper display of pictures. This one picture had evidently been
selected on account of the contrast which it afforded to the gay coloring
and _riante_ style of the decorations. It was a superb marine view by
Hamilton - a cloudy sunset above a stormy sea, the lurid sinking sun
flinging streaks of blood-red light upon the leaden waters that, in the
foreground, foamed and dashed themselves wildly against the rocks of a
barren and precipitous shore.

Horace stood lost in contemplation before the easel, when the door opened
and his sister-in-law entered. He turned to greet her, and her beauty,
enhanced as it was by the elegance of her attire, drew from him an
involuntary glance of admiration. Her dress was an exemplification of how
much splendor may be lavished on a morning-costume without rendering it
absolutely and ridiculously inappropriate. She wore a robe of
turquoise-blue Indian cashmere, edged around the long train and flowing
sleeves with a broad border of that marvelous gold embroidery which only
Eastern fingers can execute or Eastern imaginations devise. A band of the
same embroidery confined the robe around her slender, supple waist, and
showed to advantage the perfection of her figure. A brooch and long
ear-pendants of lustreless yellow gold, and a fan of azure silk with
gilded sticks, were the adjuncts to this costume, whose rich hues and
gorgeous effects would have crushed a less brilliant and stylish-looking
woman, but which were wonderfully becoming to its graceful wearer.

"Welcome home, Horace!" she said in that low sweet voice which was one of
her most potent charms. "How kind it is of you to pay me a visit so soon
after your return!"

She placed herself on the couch and motioned to him to take a seat near
her. He drew up his chair, and a short, embarrassed pause succeeded.

Mrs. Rutherford toyed with her fan and stole glances from under her long
black lashes at her visitor, who sat twisting one of his gloves and
wishing most ardently that Providence had entrusted the painful task
before him to some one of a more obdurate and less chivalrous nature.

Wearied of silence, the lady spoke at last.

"Have you nothing of interest respecting your travels to tell me?" she
asked.

Her voice seemed to break the spell which paralyzed him. He turned toward
her with the look of one who nerves himself up to take a desperate
resolution:

"Yes: I have a story to relate to you, and one of more than common
interest."

"Really!" She yawned behind her fan. "Excuse me, but I was at Mrs.
Houdon's ball last evening, and the 'German' was kept up till five o'clock
this morning. I am wretchedly tired. Now do go on with your story: I have
no doubt but that I shall find it amusing, but do not be much surprised if
I fall asleep."

"I think you will find it interesting, and I have no fear of its putting
you to sleep. But you must make me one promise. I am but a poor narrator,
and you must engage not to interrupt me."

"I have no hesitation in promising to remain perfectly quiet, no matter
how startling your incidents or how vivid your descriptions may be."

She leaned back among the cushions with another stifled yawn and shaded
her eyes with her fan. Without heeding the veiled impertinence of her
manner, Horace commenced his narrative:

"Some twenty-five years ago a friendless, penniless Englishwoman died at
one of the cheap boarding-schools in Dieppe, where she had officiated for
some time as English teacher and general drudge. She left behind her a
little girl about five years of age - a pretty, engaging child, whose
beauty and infantile fascinations so won the heart of Madame Tellier, the
proprietress of the establishment, that she decided to take charge of the
little creature and educate her, her project being to fit her for the post
of English teacher in her school. But the pretty child grew up to be a
beautiful but unprincipled girl, with an inborn passion for indolence and
luxury. At the age of seventeen she eloped from the school with a young
Parisian gentleman, who had been spending the summer months at one of the
seaside hotels in Dieppe, and her benefactress saw her and heard of her no
more.

"We will pass over the events of the next few years. It would hardly
interest you to follow, as I did, each step by which the heroine of my
history progressed ever downward on the path of vice. We find her at last
traveling in Italy under the protection of the Count von Erlenstein, an
Austrian noble of great wealth and dissolute character. She has cast aside
the name she once bore, and, anticipating the jewel-borrowed cognomens of
Cora Pearl and La Reine Topaze, she adopts a title from the profusion of
pink coral jewelry which she habitually wears, and Rose Sherbrooke is
known as Rose Coral."

Horace paused. A short, sharp sound broke the momentary silence: it was
caused by the snapping of one of the gilded fan-sticks under the pressure
of the white, rigid fingers that clasped it. But the listener kept her
face hidden, and but for that convulsive motion the speaker might have
fancied that she slept, so silent and motionless did she remain. After a
short pause Horace continued:

"The attachment of Count von Erlenstein proved to be a lasting one, and we
find Rose Coral at a later period installed in a luxurious establishment
in Vienna, and one of the reigning queens of that realm of many
sovereigns, the _demi-monde_ of the gay capital of Austria. But the count
falls ill; his sickness speedily assumes a dangerous form; his death
deprives Rose Coral of her splendor; and the sunny streets of Vienna know
her fair face no more. I will not retrace for you, as I could do, each
step in her rapid descent from luxury to poverty, from splendor to vice,
from celebrity to ruin. But one day she makes her appearance, under the
name of Rhoda Steele, on board the steamship America, bound for New York.
The state-room which she occupies is shared by a young girl named Marion
Nugent, whose future career is to be that of a governess in the United
States. On the first night out one of the occupants of the state-room is
taken suddenly ill and dies, the corpse is committed to the deep, and it
is reported throughout the ship that the name of the deceased is Rhoda
Steele. The tale was false: it was Marion Nugent who died - it was Rose
Sherbrooke, _alias_ Rose Coral, _alias_ Rhoda Steele, who lived to rob the
dead girl of her effects and to assume her name!"

The broken fan was flung violently to the floor, and Mrs. Rutherford
sprang to her feet, her face livid with passion and her blue eyes blazing
with a steel-like light.

"How dare you come here to assert such falsehoods?" she cried. "You have
always hated me - you and all the rest of your haughty family - because it
pleased Clement Rutherford to marry me - me, a penniless governess. But I
am your sister-in-law, and I _demand _ that you treat me with proper
respect. You came here to-day simply to insult me. Well, sir, I will
summon my husband, and he shall protect me from your insolence."

She turned toward the door as she spoke, but he motioned her back with an
imperative and scornful gesture.

"Softly, Rose Coral," he said, with a sneer: "the manners of the Quartier
Brèda are not much to my taste, nor do they suit the character you have
been pleased to assume. Do you think me so void of common sense as to
return home without full proof of your identity? I have in my possession a
large colored photograph of you, taken some years ago by Hildebrandt of
Vienna, and endorsed by him on the back with a certificate stating that it
is an accurate likeness of the celebrated Rose Coral. Secondly, I have
brought home with me two witnesses - one is Jane Sheldon, late housekeeper
for the Rev. Walter Nugent, and formerly nurse to the deceased Marion
Nugent; and the other is a French hairdresser who lived many years in
Vienna, and who, for several months, daily arranged the profuse tresses of
Rose Coral. One will prove who you are _not_, and the other will as
certainly prove who you _are_."

"Who I _was_" she said, defiantly. "I will deny it no longer: I am Rose
Sherbrooke, once known as Rose Coral, and, what is more to the purpose, I
am the wife of Clement Rutherford. Have a care, my brother Horace, lest
you reveal to the world that your immaculate relatives have been touching
pitch of the blackest hue and greatest tenacity. Prove me to be the vilest
of my sex, I remain none the less a wedded wife - your brother's wife - and
I defy you. The game is played out, and I have won it."

She threw herself back in her chair and cast on him a glance of insolent
disdain. Horace Rutherford looked at her with a scornful smile.

"The game is _not_ played out," he said, calmly. "One card remains in my
hand, and I produce it. It is the Ace of Diamonds, and its title is The
Rose of the Morning."

A livid paleness overspread Mrs. Rutherford's features, and a stifled cry
escaped from her lips. She half rose from her seat, but, seeming to
recollect herself, she sank back and covered her face with her hands.
Horace continued, after a momentary pause:

"My investigations into the history of the Count Wilhelm von Erlenstein
during the last years of his life revealed the fact that he had lost the
most valuable of the jewels of his family. It had been stolen. It was a
pink diamond of great size and beauty, known to gem-connoisseurs by the
name of The Rose of the Morning - one of those remarkable stones which have
a history and a pedigree, and which are as well known by reputation to
diamond-fanciers as are Raphael's Transfiguration and the Apollo Belvidere
to the lovers of art. This gem was worn by Count Wilhelm as a clasp to the
plume in his toque at a fancy ball given by one of the Metternich family,
at which he appeared in the costume of Henri III. of France. He afterward,
with culpable carelessness, placed it, amongst his studs, pins,
watch-chains and other similar bijouterie, in a small steel cabinet which
stood in his bed-chamber. His illness and the dismissal of Rose Coral
occurred soon after the fancy ball in question, and it was not till his
heir, the present count, had been for some time in possession of the
estates that it was discovered that the great diamond was missing. It was
not to be found, and suspicion immediately fell upon the late count's
valet, a Frenchman named Antoine Lasalle; who was found to have been
mysteriously possessed of a large sum of money after the count's death. He
was arrested, and it was conclusively proved that he had stolen a number
of valuable trinkets from his dying master, but still no trace of The Rose
of the Morning could be discovered, and Lasalle strenuously denied all
knowledge respecting it. The family offered large rewards for its
recovery, and the detectives of all the large cities of Europe have been
for some time on the alert to discover it, but in vain. As soon as I heard
this story, I thought that I could make a tolerably shrewd guess as to the
whereabouts of the missing jewel; and I caused investigations to be set on
foot in New York by a trusty agent, which resulted in the discovery that
The Rose of the Morning had been sold some six months before to a jeweler
in Maiden lane for about one-twenty-fifth of its value, the peculiar tint
of the stone, and the purchaser's ignorance of the estimation in which it
is held by the gem-fanciers of Europe, having militated against the
magnitude of the valuation set upon it. It was secured for me at a
comparatively trifling price. The person who sold it to the jeweler some
six months ago, in spite of a partial disguise and an assumed name, was
easy to recognize, from the description given, as that lady of many names,
Mrs. John Archer's governess. Now, Rose Coral, what say you? You may be
Mrs. Clement Rutherford, my brother's lawful wife, but you are not the
less a thief and a criminal, for whom the laws have terrible punishment
and bitter degradation."

"This is but a poor invention: where are your proofs?" she cried, looking
up as she spoke, but her faltering voice and quivering lips contradicted
her words.

"Here is my chief witness." He drew off his left-hand glove as he spoke,
and extended his hand toward her. On the third finger blazed the beautiful
gem of which he had spoken, its great size and purity fully displayed in
the pale afternoon sunlight that flashed back in rosy radiance from its
bright-tinted depths.

"It is almost too large to wear as a ring," he said with great coolness,
looking at the jewel, "but I wish it to run no further risks till I can
transfer it to its lawful owner, which will be as soon as it has played
its talismanic part by freeing my brother from his impostor-wife."

The lady rose from her seat, pale, calm and resolved.

"Further insults are useless, sir," she said. "The game is ended now, and
you have won it. What is it that you wish me to do?"


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