There was a moment’s hesitancy, and his face flushed and paled alternately ere the convict could summon courage to begin.
“Take this seat, sir, you need it,” Hugh said, bringing him a chair and then resuming his watch over ’Lina, who involuntarily leaned her throbbing head upon his arm, and with the others listened to that strange tale of sin.
THE CONVICT’S STORY
“It is not an easy task to confess how bad one has been,” the stranger said, “and once no power could have tempted me to do it; but several years of prison life have taught me some wholesome lessons, and I am not the same man I was when, Densie Densmore”—and his glance turned toward her—“when I met you, and won your love. Against you first I sinned. You are my oldest victim, and it’s meet I should begin with you.”
“Yes, with me—me first, and tell me quick of my stolen baby,” she faintly moaned.
Her ferocity of manner all was gone, and the poor, white-haired creature sat quietly where Alice had put her, while the story proceeded:
“You know, Densie, but these do not, how I won your love with promises of marriage, and then deserted you just when you needed me most. I had found new prey by that time—was on the eve of marriage with one who was too good for me. I left you and married Mrs. Eliza Worthington. I—”
The story was interrupted at this point by a cry from ’Lina, who moaned:
“No, no, oh no! He is not my father; is he, Hugh? Tell me no. John, Dr. Richards, pray look at me and say it’s all a dream, a dreadful dream! Oh, Hugh!” and to the brother, scorned so often, poor ’Lina turned for sympathy, while the stranger continued:
“It would be useless for me to say now that I loved her, Eliza, but I did, and when I heard soon after my marriage that I was a father, I said: ’Densie will never rest now until she finds me, and she must not come between me and Eliza,” so I feigned an excuse and left my new wife for a few weeks. Eliza, you remember I said I had business in New York, and so I had. I went to Densie Densmore. I professed sorrow for the past. I made her believe me, and then laid a most diabolical plan. Money will do anything, and I had more than people supposed. I had a mother, too, at that time, a woman old and infirm, and good, even if I was her son. To her I went with a tale, half false, half true. There was a little child, I said, a little girl, whose mother was not my wife. I would have made her so, I said, but she died at the child’s birth. Would my mother take that baby for my sake? She did not refuse, so I named a day when I would bring it. ’Twas that day, Densie, when I took you to the museum, and on pretense of a little business I must transact at a house in Park Row, I left you for an hour, but never went back again.”
“No, never back again—never. I waited so long, waited till I almost thought I heard my baby cry, and then went home; but baby was gone. Alice, do you hear me?—baby was gone;” and the poor, mumbling creature, rocking to and fro, buried her bony fingers in Alice’s fair hair.