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FIELD AND FARM. i IIIIr

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I GfARDEff GOSSIP,I

I OUR SHORT STORY.

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OUR SHORT STORY. THE DARK CLOUD OF PERIL. -THE STORY OF AN OPAL. Except for the reason that she feared him with* out exactly knowing why-this fellow countryman of hers, with his dark eyes of the South, his vehement gestures, and his ardent exclamations- she would have risen in anger and left him to his mood. As it was, Irma d'Avorsy said, her beautiful face aflame- You must know, Count, that I am engaged, that I am to be wedded shortly, and yet you speak of love." Yes, I do know it," answered Count Girolamo Tosca, almost fiercely. But this Englishman who claims you is not so worthy of you as I, since he cannot love you with my love." Hush!" she whispered. Bah he cannot hear us," replied Tosca, pre- tending to mistake her meaning. He is dancing in the ball-room we are quite alone here. No, do not leave me. Think what my love must be that declares itself in spite of these conventions. Were your wedding day to-morrow, Irma, I should speak these words. I will tell you that I adore you, and will never surrender you to another man." It was past endurance. The woman rose to leave the conservatory, but the other caught her by the wrist. You will not surrender me!" she said, in a voice trembling with indignation and scorn." You speak in spite of conventions! Say, rather, that you break a. true man's code of honour in talking to me like this. Let go my hand, Count, or I will call for assistance. You are mad! "Yes—with love for you." What right have you to speak that word ?" Two rights. One—because my love is my life. Two—this!" With the word he slipped upon a finger of the hand he still detained a gold ring set with an opal. Irma gave one look, turned white as death, and sank again upon the cushions. By that second right," wont on Tosca pitilessly, "I demand your love." My hate rather," she whispered, faint with some terrible fear. She turned the ring round and round. In the centre of the large opal was a tiny yellow spot of gold, Yes," commenced Girolamo Tosca, guessing her thoughts. I am one of that fraternity whose ranks you treacherously deserted. Let me recall your memory. You belonged to this society (I will not even mention its name here); you vowed to give your life to it; and moving in the good circle to which your social position admitted you, you were of use to us—much use. A certain ambassador at Rome fell in love with you. We wished you to encourage him, for there were one or two secrets of a political nature which you might so have obtained. You chose to take exception to our request. Perhaps you were right; that, however, is beside the point. You were urged, then warned. Fearing these menaces, you fled from Rome, and broke in that abrupt way with the society which had received such pledges from you. You were aware, as well as I, of the means which the society adopts in punishing apostates. It presents such a one with a gold ring in which is set an opal stone. A cavity is within this opal, and it is stopped with a particle of gold. lIe or she who receives it would do well to heat that speck of metal, and to take the drop of deadly poison within the opal. It is a secret made known to every brother to every sister amongst us. But concern- ing the precise nature of what is concealed in the opal, that is a matter known to one only, the presi- dent. However, we can guess. Beyond doubt it is a drop of some malignant poison. Certainly the three who have received this fatal ring within the ast five years died-and died very suddenly. 1 Listen. Your life is as good as forfeited. That you must know. Your lover, Philip Hardy, cannot save you. Who can ? I. You are aware that, as a bearer of their sinister message to you, 1 must have some influence with this society. I can obtain their pardon; but on one condition. That you give me yourself—your love. Come, why this pallor S Do I not worship you ? Would I let harm come to you ? At that moment Philip Hardy entered the con- servatory. Tosca at once rose. As he left he flashed a look of menace upon the Englishman. Irma slipped the ring from the finger and con- cealed it in the palm of her hand. For the third time Irma read the note which she bad just received. It was fro ii Count Girolamo Tosca. So you are to marry Hardy in a week's time. Very well, by so doing {you will bring a great trouble into this man's life. Are you mad, Irma ? You must know how impossible it is to escape from the clutches of the society. I will give you one more chance. Send back to me, by the bearer of this letter, the ring and I will regard that act as an assent to my proposition. Only as my wife will you be safe." Marry him ?" she murmured. I would sooner drink the drop of poison hid in the heart of this opal. What can I do ? I fear to tell Philip, for he will take some rash measure for my protection and draw on himself the displeasure of these murderers. No, 1 will act as I had made up my mind to do before this letter came. I shall leave London at once. No one must know of my where- abouts except Philip, and I will write to him. My only chance is in flight. In the meantime I shall send this 'ring back. He may be watching my movements. If I appear to agree, he will not sus- pect that I intend to elude him." Two hours later Irma, closely veiled, quitted the house at which she had been staying. The coachman was requested to driva her to the terminus of a northern line. The journey should not have occupied more than twenty minutes, yet fifty passed, and still the closed carriage rumbled on. But the peril of the situation in which she found herself draw Irma's attention from the indirectness and slowness of the carriage's progress. She told j herself that if she could conceal her whereabouts from Tosca, at any rate for the present, she would be safe. It had taken the society three years to discover her. From the northern town to which she was travelling she would write to Philip, beg- ging his immediate presence; and then she would confide her secret to him. She feared to reveal it to him in London, telling herself that his impetu- ous nature would send him at once to Tosca. Perhaps he would not wish to wed .her in such circumstances. She fought this doubt. In spite of all, he will make me his wife," she said. And he will take me abroad, where we must live for some years, moving from place to place, until the society has forgotten me." Suddenly the reflection was shattered in a most startling manner. The carriage had stopped, and a man turned the handle of the door and sprang quickly in. Irma cried out; but a handkerchief was roughly pressed over her lips. Instantly all ■was confusion—a chaos of sensations; then dark- ness. The voice of Count Tosco appeared to bring her senses back. You are awake. Look at me, Irma. I assure you that you have nothing to fear; no harm will corqe to you in this place." Irma opened her eyes, and she saw the swathy face of Girolamo bending over her. She was rest- ing upon a sofa in a neat and poorly furnished room. As recollection forced itself upon her she shuddered and would have risen, but the numbing effects of the chloroform had sapped her strength. "Whtíre are you ?" said Tosca, replying to the question which he read in her face. In a small house by the river side. I brought you here. You were about to fly from me, were you not? I anticipated that move from the beginning. Your coachman was bribed by me. Ah, do not look at me in that way I am not such a villain as you suppose. I love you so that I am capable of any- thing, any means whereby to win you." What do you mean to do with me ? said Irma, quite unable to conceal the abhorrence which showed in her face and voice. I ask you to wed me." "I would sooner die." Tosea turned pale. He poured out a glass of wine, which he drank at a gulp. He an- Blv6r6d • That is what will happen. You forget the ring." "Give it to me." "You sent it to me, Irma; but I waw not so easily deceived. Yetl am glad that yon did. It is a deadly trinket. Yes, I am glad that it is no longer in your possession." Irma rose to her feet; she was so weak, how- ever, that she must have fallen bad he not caught her in his arms. She repulsed him with a gesture of loathing. I begin to see that you will never love me," said the Count. It is a fresh experience for in c. I thought that all women loved a bold heart which does not stick at trifles when battling for a great pri?e. I had hoped to find YOll amenable to reason'; had hoped to persuade you to marry me within the next few hours, and then we could have quietly left England. But I see that you will refoae to do I)," Ten thousand times!" « Very well," said Tosca, loomily. f; I shall nof detain you. Only be certain that I shall have my revengZ. Your days are numbered. Your English lover will not for long call you wife. Bufcyou shall not have this ring—at least, not until I have taken the poison from its heart." He took up the ring as he spoke, and for a moment steadfastly regarded the spot of gold upon the stone. He put it upon the mantel, drew a pin from his tie, and heated the pointed end in the flame of a match. He murmured—half to himself —as he waited- I presume that my surmise must be correct. That the opal contains death there can be no doubt whatever, Surely it must be through a drop or two of some virulent poison;" He flung the match aside and took the ring in his left hand. The end of the pin glowed redly, and he placed the point upon the gold stopping in the opal, and began to bore it into the metal. It broke through suddenly. The next instant there was a sharp explosion, a terrible cry. Irma screamed and cowered back as Count Tosca, pressing both hands to his face, which was scorched by the flames, reeled and fell heavily, full length, upon the carpet. He had been killed outright. Death indeed had lurked within the opal; but not in the form of a poison. The stone concealed a deadly explosive; the same action which ens- solved the gold stopping touched of tlie-terrible compound. Someone knocked at the door, and a woman, alarmed by the report, rushed into the room. Irma could speak no word of explanation her fear-stricken eyes were fixed upon the body of Count Girolamo Tosca, which reposed ill a sinister and final attitude of abandon. Thoroughly scared by so disastrous a termina- tion to what she believed was an abduction, and to which she had lent her services, the woman offered no opposition when Irma quited the river-side house. The day was not dead when Irma told Philip Hardy each detail of her startling adventure. In the circumstances, he agreed as to the advisability of maintaining as much secrecy as was compatible with such inquiries as were bound to follow Tosca's death. Immediately on the con- elusion of that matter he married Irma, and they left England together. They returned after three years, rightly judging that the dark cloud of. peril had passed.

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