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with one awful stab the horror of what had happened struck into my soul. I had slain the only one I cared for on this earth ; deep into his heart had I sent the fatal bullet. I had killed my friend, my brother !”
Breathlessly following the words of the narrative, little Dot, as Great-heart got to this sad portion of it, had risen slowly from her seat, bewildered and shocked more than words can tell ; motionless and pale she stood before him, her lips parted in suppressed excitement and emotion. When this dreadful avowal came, and her hero had sunk forward, bowed down by grief, his face within his hands, moaning, then the child's tongue was loosed in compassionate pity. She flung herself on to that bent human frame, twined her tiny arms about its neck, and whispered sweet words of comfort.
“My own darling Great-heart, do not give way like this! It saddens me sorely to think that I should have brought the recollection of all this trouble back to you ; but grieve not, I beg and implore: I am with you, and will remain to bless and love you always !” (As if she could do that.) The man looked up; he saw that loving face with those sweet eyes that gazed so truthfully into his, yet was there no touch of tenderness in his voice, as he cried out harshly, “Go, child, go, and learn
experience. Search not the human heart too closely, take care how you lay bare the soul of man in future. Begone!”
But little Dot only the more closely nestled to him, as she said reproachfully, “Oh, Greatheart, love, do not talk so.” Her idol rose, this time with anger on his brow. He shook the fragile form from him, seized the baby wrists between his hands, and seemed disposed to Aing the child from him.
But his eyes met those that were so fearlessly fixed on his from out of that brave face. The unkind look fled away; he laid the little maiden tenderly upon his breast, and bending over her, let the great rush of pent-up tears flow as they listed. Happy tears : generous relief!
Long did Great-heart sit and rock that gentle maid : until the storm had passed away. With no one word of comfort or inquiry did the child break in upon the silence. She knew that the balm was taking effect, that the re-opened wound was closing up again.
At length the man lifted her up, kissed her tenderly, and sat her at his feet once more. Then he said: “Forgive my weakness. I am better now, and will tell you the rest. Listen!”
Dot prepared herself to do so and he went on :“I told you that after I had visited that devil I repaired home at once, previously to going across to see my dear friend, you know?” (Dot remembered.) “During the time I was at my home, looking out the swords and pistols, someone, I need not tell you who, went to my brother's also. This is what passed there, as far as I could gather from other sources afterwards.
“ The one who called told him he visited that he was about to fight a duel with me. As was his customary wont he foully lied in the telling, and misled his companion as to the cause thereof. He swore that he had been the slandered, I the slanderer in thus accusing him, that he would
The other implored him to forego the awful revenge, to no purpose.
He merely repeated his oath, and added that there could be no doubt as to the result, for fight with whatever weapon he might, he could not lose. With sword or pistol his thrust or aim were equally unerring. He cut out a piece of paper, drew thereon the shape of a human heart, and placed it against the wall. Then he stept back, and pierced it through its centre with his death-carrying lead. Horrified, the other looked on.
Suddenly, a great idea struck him ; he scanned the loathsome being before him, marked carefully his height and figure, made one final appeal, pleaded with every nerve, invoked every
fancy that could touch the soul. Alas! there was none there to reach ! all in vain, until he thought of a bribe, by money.
Then he made his resolve: little need to repeat what it was. Feeling the certainty of my death at the hands of this unrelenting villain, worked upon by that fearful influence you have heard of, he would sacrifice his life for mine : I have told you that he did so."
“ And this dastardly coward, what became of him?” asked Dot, when she could trust herself to speak.
“ Fled away to other climes, and was there hanged like a dog."
“Could the 'friends' or 'seconds' not have known?"
“Mine, one only in name, was a stranger, and knew not with whom he parleyed : imagined not that that other ‘friend' he arranged with was but a hireling, paid to act a part.”
" And the poor child ?”
“For a long time mad. Then, after slow recovery, a soldier out at the wars, seeking, longing, praying for death ; amid the roar of cannon, to the front, with bosom bared to coax the welcome steel : to greet the friendly shot which never came."
“You were wounded, though ?"
Yes, a scratch, that only made the disappointment more.”
“Oh, Great-heart !” cried Dot, with reproachful voice.
"I am telling you now of what happened then, ere the great tide of resignation and remorse set in.”
" The former to bring its blessing with it?”
“ In time. And now you will leave me, little one?"
“Yes, love; I will leave you now. regret the opening of the wound?”
He kissed the child and sent her from him. She went slowly, sadly, yet not unhappily. For had she not learnt such lesson that morning as would keep her thoughts in sober, careful mood : yes, always, until the end? Above all, had she not gained the inner confidence of this man she loved and trusted so with all her tender nature ?