Miriam woke the next morning with a lighter and happier heart than she had carried in her bosom for years; ever since the tide to the cruel War of the Rebellion had swept away the father upon whom she had been wont to lean from early infancy, her young shoulders had borne burdens all too heavy for their strength.
But now one as strong and even dearer than that loved and honored parent had come forward with gallant, tender entreaties that she would let him bear them for her; he would do it from love, and he was no less capable than willing. What a rest it would be to lean on his strength and look to him for guidance and support in the trials and duties of life!
She was up earlier than her wont, though it was a rare occurrence, indeed, when the sun found her in her bed, and came down-stairs with a glad song upon her lips.
Sandy met her in the lower hall. “Gude-mornin’, Miss Mirry,” he said, and she noticed a slight tremble in his voice, a distressed look on his face.
It stopped the song on her lips, and set her heart to beating faster with a nameless fear (such dreadful, dreadful things had happened of late).
“Sandy, what is wrong?” she asked, catching at the balustrade for support.
“Naething to fright ye, Miss Mirry,” he said, reassuringly, “but come wi’ me and I’ll show ye,” leading the way out through the porch into the garden. “I hae but just found her, the poor, lone creature, and I want you to tell me what shall be done wi’ her.”
“Who, Sandy? Of whom are you talking?” queried Miriam, following, and with difficulty keeping close to him, as he passed with hurried steps around the house and down the path that led to the barn-yard and the fields beyond.
“I’ll show ye in a minute, Miss Mirry. I dinna ken who she is, an’ I much doot if ye’re ony wiser than mysel’ on that point, but she’s in an awfu’ condition, and canna be lang for this warld.”
In another moment he had halted beside a haystack, at the foot of which lay a woman clothed in filthy rags, pale, dishevelled, unconscious, lying with closed eyes, but moaning feebly as if in pain.
“Poor, poor creature!” cried Miriam, leaning over her and dropping hot tears on the pallid face. “Oh, Sandy, who can she be? and what has brought her to this? She doesn’t look like a gypsy, I don’t think she is a foreigner; but, oh, what she must have suffered! What can we do for her?”
“Not much, I fear, my dear young leddy,” answered McAllister. “She’s dyin’, I think, and I dinna ken whether she could be moved without hastenin’ the end that canna be far off.”
“The doctor must be sent for at once,” said Miriam, with decision.
“I’ve started Peter off for him already,” returned McAllister, “and na doot he’ll be here afore lang.”
“Could we give her anything in the mean time?—food or medicine?” Miriam asked. “She looks famished.”
“She does that, Miss Mirry.”
“Stay by her and I’ll run to the house for some warm milk,” Miriam said, speeding away as she spoke.
She was back again almost immediately, and Sandy raising the poor woman’s head, she poured a little of the milk into her mouth. After several trials they succeeded in getting her to swallow a few drops, but she did not open her eyes.
By that time Dr. Jasper had arrived, and Captain Charlton with him. They looked at the wanderer, then exchanged grave, significant glances.
“Do you know her?” asked Miriam, and both answered, “It is Belinda Himes.”
“Is it possible!” exclaimed Miriam, in low, moved tones. “Doctor, can, you do nothing for her?”
“Nothing!” he sighed; “she is dying—will live but a few minutes, I think.”
“Dying,” cried Miriam, deeply moved; “and, oh, I fear she is not ready for heaven!”
Dropping on her knees by the side of the poor creature, and putting her lips to her ear, “Look to Jesus,” she said, in pitying accents; “He is your only hope in this hour, but ‘He is able to save to the uttermost;’ look and live! Oh, cry to Him at once, ‘Lord, save or I perish!’”
“I think she does not hear you,” the doctor said, with emotion.
“Hark! she seems to be trying to speak,” said Mrs. Heath, who had joined the little group a moment before.
At that a deep silence fell on them, each ear being intent to catch the words that presently came slowly, gaspingly, from the pale lips already stiffening in death—“The—way—of—trans—gressors—is hard.”
Her eyes remained closed; she did not seem conscious of their presence or of anything; two or three long-drawn breaths followed the words, and then all was still.
A moment’s solemn silence, broken by the voice of Sandy McAllister in low, moved tones, “Poor, misguided creature! she has, na doot, proved the truth o’ those words o’ inspiration in the sad experience o’ the past few weeks. She’s been in hiding frae the law, and has died o’ want an’ misery.”
They gave her decent burial, paying the expense out of the money left by her husband. They knew of no relative or friend to summon to her obsequies, and there was no one to drop a tear of affection upon her lonely grave. She and Phelim O’Rourke were reaping in another world what they had sown in this.
Deprived of their leader, and fearing to share his fate at the hands of those who had dealt out stern justice to him, the rest of the band had fled the vicinity, and peace, quietness, and security reigned all up and down Wild River Valley; but the story of its tragedy will linger for years, if not forever, in the minds of its inhabitants—a tragedy that was largely the result of a disregard on the part of the law-makers of the State of that law of God—“Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.”