An Unbroken Bond.
^T was 8t. Valentine's eve, and at midnight 1 had •jxIl jnst returned, wet and eold, from visiting a pa-^ tient way out in the Thirteenth District. As I hung my dripping coat in the outer closet I stumbled over a box, which, I remembered, the office boy told me had come by express during the morning. It was a small wooden case and (juite light, so I carried it upstairs with me and set it down on the hearth. I put on my slippers and dressing-gown, got down my cigars and was just seating myself to have a good rest, when something familiar in the writing on the box at my feet struck mv attention.
" Why, it is Murcherson's fist," I said. " What can he be sending me?''
Drawing out the nails, I opened the box hastily, finding it, as I thought, filled with the most beautiful cigars, long, slim, black Havanas, every one. " Murch-erson's a trump," I said, taking up a handful of the beauties. As I did so my hand struck something hard underneath. Removing the cigars hastily I found that they covered a man's skull, of the mos exquisite shape and polish, being rich and creamy a^
old ivory. I took it out of the box and examined it closely, marveling much at its matchless beauty and symmetry. By and by I put it up on the mantel in front of me, between the clock and a little brass casket, wherein I kept a few little worthless souvenirs. As I resumed my seat it seemed to me that the eye-sockets in the skull had gathered expression, and that its grinning mouth was ready to speak.
I am a plain, practical man, not given to fantasies, but I could not shake off the hideous fascination which the vacant countenance had for me. I opened book after book, only to turn over the leaves unread. The skull kept glaring at me. I lit my cigar and tried to doze, but my eyes refused to close. I got up by and by and turned the skull with its face to the wall, but then it seemed to me that the thing was leering at me over an imaginary shoulder. It was horrible. I turned out the gas and sat in the semi-darkness, the firelight flickering and throwing long shadows across the room.
By and by I heard the clock strike one.
" It is St. Valentine^s Day," I said, throwing some fresh coal into the grate. St. Valentine's Day! What did that mean to me? It had meant a great deal to me once, and man that I was, with grey hairs beginning to show at ray temples, it seemed to me that I looked more and more eagerly for its coming, grew more and more anxious for the word that was to come to me on St. Valentine's Day—the word that was to make me so happy.
I had been but nineteen when I first knew Christine, and she was just budding into the flower of per-
feet womanhood. I knew 1 loved her from the first, and fancied I could not err in believing that she returned my love as frankly as it was given. Years passed—two, three—yet I did not speak ; there seemed no use. It was but natural that we shoukl love, and I had no fear of the future. It was my last year at college, and I wanted to wait and slu)w lier that it was a man's love that I had to give her.
It was during this year, at mid-term, that Maurice Beaumont came. When I think of him it always seems that what foHowed his coming came but naturally. He was one of those reckless, fascinating, brilliant men who know no Uiw but their own will. Personally, he was the most beautiful man I ever beheld. Tall, lithe, graceful, he possessed that sensuous languor of bearing which so often conceals a fiery intensity of temperament. His brow was broad and expansive and smooth as polished marble; his eyes— were they black or blue? I never knew, but I have seen them flash forth irridescent rays of purple that gleamed like fire. His chin was deeply cleft, his lips were full and mobile and smootli as a woman's.
It was I who introduced this man to Christine. It was upon St. Valentine's Day, and I shall never forget the meeting. When she came into us as we sat awaiting her in the firelit room, Maurice arose as I called her name, and, without speaking, he held out his hand to her, looking at her with his eyes half veiled under his long lashes. And she ? I was standing near her and saw her whole slight frame shudder as with a sudden chill, but her cheeks were burning red when she put her hand in his. During
the months that followed I strove to blind myself to what was happening before my very eyes. I had nothing to offer but my love, and when school was over I went to tell her. I am sure she must have known I should tell her, but I shall never forget the look of anguish that came upon her face as I poured out my love to her.
'^ Oh, Henry," she cried, bending toward me and clasping her hands, " do not, I beseech you, do not say any more."
^' But I love you, Christine," I said.
" If you love me, have pity on me and say no more," she answered. " I cannot, I must not love you. Be my friend, Henry, and help me.''
Her manner alarmed me. '' What is it, Christine?" I cried. ^^ You have but to tell me what you wish."
" There is only one way—do not speak—go away. It must be. I may not, I must not listen. I must not love you."
Ere the words had died upon her lips, Maurice Beaumont had come into the room and stood between us, his eyes flashing flre. His voice was more than calm as he spoke.
'^ Who speaks of love to thee, ma belle ? " he said, as he took Christine's hand in his. I could almost have killed him when he stooped and kissed her. Without a word she sank back, flushed but passive. I turned and fled from the house, and I think neither knew that I was gone.
Two years passed before I ever saw either again. I was returning from the dissecting room one night,
wheu I felt an arm slipped into mine and heard a familiar voice greeting me. It was Beaumont. Bitter as I felt toward him, I could not shake off his grasp, could not resist the fascination which he had always exerted over me. He went with me to niy room and ensconsed himself in my best arm-chair. We talked of anything, everything but Christine. I dared not ask him of her, and I knew nothing save that they were not married.
" \yhat day is this?" he asked at last.
'^ Tuesday," I answered.
''And the day after to-morrow is St. Valentine's Day," he said. '' Do you remember St. Valentine^s Dav two years ago, Henry ? "
'Without waiting for me to reply he pulled out his Avatch, exclaiming: " Just two o'clock. Come, hustle into a fresh rig. AVe shall have time to catch the south-bound train, and on Valentine\s Day we shall be with Christine. What do you say? Come."
It was a very strange meeting, that with Christine. I could not help feeling that she was glad of my coming, though she gave me scarce a word more than the greeting. Brilliant as I knew Beaumont to be, I had never seen him as he was that night. He was gay, witty, sparkling ; he was grave, calm, tender, passionate, intense, as the mood suited him, but always fascinating. By and by he sat down to the open piano and let his fingers fly over the keys till they seemed possessed of the very demon of music, weird and fantastic. Suddenly, while still the spell of his playing was on us, he came and stood before us.
^' I am going away/' he .said. " I shall never trouble you again, if you will only wait patiently. I know not where I shall go, nor when I shall return, but it will be on St. Valentine's Day. Wait, and expect me."
Stooping over he pressed his lips to Christine's brow, then, tossing into my lap a long, slender cigar, such as he always smoked, he grasped my hand and ,was gone.
Ten years passed slowly for us, and still there came no word of Beaumont. It had been needless for me to urge Christine to become my wife.
" I am bound to him by a sacred promise, Henry," she said, ^^ and I love you too well to have you suffer. We must await his coming. You do not know his power."
I was thinking of all these things that night while the skull kept leering at me from the mantel. The fire had burned low in the grate as I mused, and it had grown quite dark in the room. Sinking back into the chair, I closed my eyes. Did I sleep ? I know not what time passed, but suddenly I heard the sharp stroke of a match, a faint light gleamed and faded, and opening my eyes I saw that the skull had turned its face to me, and between its grinning rows of teeth was a cigar, a long, black Havana.
^' How are you, Henry, old boy ? " Could I be asleep and dreaming, or was it really Beaumont's voice coming to me from the skull? I was too startled to speak, and the voice went on :
'' I tried to come back sooner, but I was afraid. She would have married me, and it had been better
for her to die than to be tied to such a reprobate as I. Do not reproach me for keeping you waiting so long; I was afraid to come while I was alive. I loved her so; my God, how I loved her I But, adieu forever. Morning will soon be here—the morning of St. Valentine's Day! May it bring joy to you and her? I didn't mean you to keep this weed for me, but I have enjoyed it. Thanks. Good-by."
I shook myself up with a start. Had I been asleep? The room was dark with the blackness that harbingers the coming day. The fire was neai-ly out, my limbs were numb with cold. Hastily lighting the gas, I looked about me. The skull sat upou the mantel, its vacant sockets staring, its mouth grinning. The teeth on one side were slightly discolored as fioni tobacco, and <m the shelf beside lay a little heap of ashes and a cigar stump!
Unlocking the casket with the key, which always hung to my watch chaiu, 1 searched for the cigar which Beaumont had given me the last night 1 had seen him. It w^as gone I
As I closed the casket hastily, my elbow brushed against the skull, knocking it over upon the hearth below. A little bit of paper fell from within it, dislodged by the jar. Picking it U[) eagerly, I read :
'' Dear Doc :—I found this queer skull in a curio shop in Havana. The old fellow who kept the shop was hard up at the time, else he would never have parted with it. He told me it was the skull of a queer (!hap named Beaumont, who used to frequent his shop and smoke his best cigars. Beaumont died a year or
so ago, and left a request that my old curio dealer should preserve his skull, himself giving directions how it should be prepared. It struck me as being somewhat out of the common order, so I send it to you as a Valentine, along with these weeds.
'^ Yours, Tom Murcherson."
I passed my hand before my eyes. I was not dreaming now, at any rate. Between the curtains the faintest streak of gray was showing. The day was breaking—St. Valentine's Day.