The Guilty Wife
|The light of the dark-lanthern streamed around the spot, where the Merchant stood.
Behind him, all was darkness, while the lanthern, held extended in his left hand, flung a ruddy blaze of light,
over the outlines of the massive bed. Long silk curtains, of rich azure, fell drooping in voluminous folds, to the
very floor, concealing the bed from view, while from within the gorgeous curtaining, that low softened sound, like
a woman breathing in her sleep, came faintly to the Merchant’s ear.
Livingstone advanced. The manner in which he held the lanthern flung his face in shadow, but you could see
that his form quivered with a tremulous motion, and in the attempt to smother a groan which arose to his lips, a
thick gurgling sound like the death-rattle, was heard in his throat.
Gazing from the shadow that enveloped his face, Livingstone, with an involuntary glance took in the details of
the gorgeous couch—the rich curtaining of light azure satin, closely drawn around the bed; the canopy overhead
surmounted by a circle of glittering stars, arranged like a coronet; and the voluptuous shapes, assumed by the
folds, as they fell drooping to the floor, all burst like a picture on his eye.
Beside the bed stood a small table—resembling a lady’s work stand—covered with a plain white cloth. The
silver sheath of a large Bowie knife, resting on the white cloth, shone glittering in the light, and attracted the
He laid the pistol which he held at his right side, upon the table and raised the Bowie knife to the light. The
sheath was of massive silver, and the blade of the keenest steel. The handle fashioned like the sheath, of massive
silver, bore a single name, engraved in large letters near the hilt, Algernon Fitz-Cowles, and on the blade of
polished steel, amid a wreath of flowers glittered the motto in the expressive slang of southern braggarts—
‘Stranger avoid a snag.’
Silently Livingstone examined the blade of the murderous weapon. It was sharp as a razor, with the glittering
point inclining from the edge, like a Turkish dagger. The merchant grasped the handle of this knife in his right
hand, and holding the lanthern on high, advanced to the bedside.
"His own knife—" muttered Livingstone—"shall find its way to his cankered heart—"
With the point of the knife, he silently parted the hangings of the bed, and the red glare of the lanthern flashed
within the azure folds, revealing a small portion of the sleeping couch.
A moment passed, and Livingstone seemed afraid to gaze within the hangings, for he turned his head aside,
more than once, and the thick gurgling noise again was heard in his throat. At last, raising the lanthern gently
overhead, so that its beams would fall along a small space of the couch, while the rest was left in darkness, and
grasping the knife with a firmer hold he gazed upon the spectacle disclosed to his view.
Her head deep sunken in a downy pillow, a beautiful woman, lay wrapt in slumber. By the manner in which
the silken folds of the coverlid were disposed, you might see that her form was full, large and voluptuous. Thick
masses of jet-black hair fell, glossy and luxuriant, over her round neck and along her uncovered bosom, which
swelling with the full ripeness of womanhood, rose gently in the light. She lay on her side, with her head resting
easily on one large, round arm, half hidden by the masses of black hair, streaming over the snow white pillow,
while the other arm was flung carelessly along her form, the light falling softly over the clear transparent skin, the
full roundness of its shape, and the small and delicate hand, resting gently on the coverlid.
Her face, appearing amid the tresses of her jet-black hair, like a fair picture half-hidden in sable drapery, was
marked by a perfect regularity of feature, a high forehead, arching eyebrows and long dark lashes, resting on the
velvet skin of each glowing cheek. Her mouth was opened slightly as she slept, the ivory whiteness of her teeth,
gleaming through the rich vermillion of her parted lips.
She lay on that gorgeous couch, in an attitude of voluptuous ease; a perfect incarnation of the Sensual
Woman, who combines the beauty of a mere animal, with an intellect strong and resolute in its every purpose.
And over that full bosom, which rose and fell with the gentle impulse of slumber, over that womanly bosom,
which should have been the home of pure thoughts and wifely affections, was laid a small and swarthy hand,
whose fingers, heavy with rings, pressed against the ivory skin, all streaked with veins of delicate azure, and
clung twiningly among the dark tresses that hung drooping over the breast, as its globes rose heaving into view,
like worlds of purity and womanhood.
It was a strange sight for a man to see, whose only joy, in earth or heaven, was locked within that snowy
bosom, and yet Livingstone, the husband, stood firm and silent, as he gazed upon that strange hand, half hidden
by the drooping curls.
It required but a slight motion of his hand, and the glare of the light flashed over the other side of the couch.
The flash of the lanthern, among the shadows of the bed, was but for a moment, and yet Livingstone beheld the
face of a dark-hued man, whose long dark hair mingled its heavy curls with the glossy tresses of his wife, while
his hand reaching over her shoulder, rested, like a thing of foul pollution upon her bosom.
They slumbered together, slumbered in their guilt, and the Avenger stood gazing upon their faces while their
hearts were as unconscious of his glance, as they were of the death which glittered over them in the upraised
"Wife of mine—your slumber shall be deep and long—"
And as the whisper hissed from between the clenched teeth of the husband, he raised the dagger suddenly
aloft, and then brought it slowly down until its point quivered within a finger’s width of the heaving bosom, while
the light of the lanthern held above his head, streamed over his livid face, and over the blooming countenance of
his fair young wife.
The dagger glittered over her bosom; lower and lower it sank until a deeper respiration, a single heart-drawn
sigh, might have forced the silken skin upon the glittering point, when the guilty woman murmured in her sleep.
“Algernon—a coronet—wealth and power—" were the broken words that escaped from her lips.
Again the husband raised the knife but it was with the hand clenched, and the sinews stiffened for the work of
"Seek your Algernon in the grave—" he whispered, with a convulsive smile, as his blue eyes, all alive with a
glance, like a madman’s gaze, surveyed the guilty wife—"Let the coronet be hung around your fleshless skull—
let your wealth be a coffin, and—ha! ha!—your power corruption and decay—"
It may have been that some feeling of the olden-time, when the image of that fair young wife dwelt in the
holiest temple of his heart, came suddenly to the mind of the avenger, in that moment of fearful suspense, for his
hand trembled for an instant and he turned his gaze aside, while a single scalding tear rolled down his livid cheek.
"Algernon—" murmured the wife—"We will seek a home—"
"In the grave!"
And the dagger rose, and gleamed like a stream of flame overhead, and then sank down with a whirring
Is the bosom red with the stain of blood?
Has the keen knife severed the veins and pierced the heart?
The blow of a strong arm, stricken over Livingstone’s shoulder, dashed his hand suddenly aside, and the knife
sank to the very hilt in the pillow, within a hair’s breadth of Dora’s face. The knife touched the side of her cheek,
and a long and glossy curl, severed from her head by the blow, lay resting on the pillow.
Livingstone turned suddenly round, with a deep muttered oath, while his massive form rose towering to its full
height. Luke Harvey stood before him, his cold and glittering eye, fixed upon his face, with an expression of the
"Stand back, Sir—" muttered Livingstone with a quivering lip—"This spot is sacred to me! I want no witness
to my wrong—nor to my vengeance!"
"Ha—ha!" sneered Luke bending forward until his eyes glared fixedly in the face of the Husband—"Is this a
vengeance for a man like you?"
"Luke—again I warn you—leave me to my shame, and its punishment—"
" ‘Shame,’ ‘Punishment!’ Ha—ha! You have been wronged in secret, slowly and quietly wronged, and yet
would punish that wrong, by a blow that brings but a single pang!"
"Luke, you are right—" whispered Livingstone, his agitated manner subsiding into a look of calm and fearful
determination—"The wrong has been secret, long in progress, horrible in result. So let the punishment be. She
shall see the Death—" and his eyes flashed with a maniac wildness—"She shall see the Death as it slowly
approaches, she shall feel it as it winds its very fangs into her very heart, she shall know that all hope is in vain,
while my voice will whisper in her freezing ear— ‘Dora, it is by my will that you die! Shriek—Dora—shriek for
aid! Death is cold and icy—I can save you! I your—husband! I can save you, but will not! Die—Adultress—
"Algernon—" murmured Dora half-awakened from her sleep—"There is a cold hand laid against my cheek—"
"She wakes!" whispered Luke—"The dagger—the lanthern—"
It required but a single moment for Livingstone to draw the knife, from the pillow, where it rested against the
blooming cheek of the wife, while Luke, with a sudden moment grasped the lanthern, and closed its door,
leaving the Chamber wrapt in midnight darkness.
The husband stood motionless as a stone, and Luke held his very breath as the voice of Dora broke on their
ears, in tones of alarm and terror.
"Algernon—" she whispered, as she started from her slumber—"Awake—Do you not hear the sound of
voices, by the bedside? Hist! Could it have been the dream? Algernon—"
"Deuced uncomfortable to be waked-up this way—" murmured a sleepy voice—"What’s the matter Dora?
What about a dream?"
"I was awakened just now from my sleep by the sound of voices. I thought a blaze of light flashed round the
room, while my hus—that is, Livingstone stood at the bedstead. And then I felt a cold hand laid against my
"Ha—ha! Rather good, that! D’ye know, Dora, that I had a dream too? I dreamt that I was in the front
parlor, second story you know, in your house on Fourth street, when the old fellow came in, and read your note
on the table. Ha—ha—and then—are you listening?—I thought that the old gentleman while he was reading,
turned to a bright pea-green in the face, and—"
"Hist! Do you not hear some one breathing in the room?"
"Pshaw, Dora, you’re nervous! Go to sleep my love. Don’t loose your rest for all the dreams in the world.
Good night, Dora!"
"A little touch of farce with our tragedy—" half-muttered Luke, as a quiet chuckle shook his frame—"Egad! If
they talk in this strain much longer, I’ll have to guffaw! It’s rather too much for my risibles; this is! A husband
standing in the dark by the bedside, while his wife and her paramour are telling their pleasant dreams, in which
he figures as the hero—"
Whether a smile passed over Livingstone’s face, or a frown, Luke could not tell, for the room was dark as a
starlit night, yet the quick gasping sound of a man struggling for breath, heard through the darkness, seemed to
indicate any thing but the pleasant laugh or the jovial chuckle.
"They sleep again!" muttered Luke—"She has sunken into slumber while Death watches at the bedside. Curse
it—how that fellow snores!"
There was a long pause of darkness and silence. No word escaped the Husband’s lips, no groan convulsed
his chest, no half-muttered cry of agony, indicated the struggle which was silently rending his soul, as with a viper’
"Livingstone—" whispered Luke after a long pause—" Where are you? Confound it man, I can’t hear you
breathe. I’m afraid to uncover the light—it may awaken them again. I say, Livingstone—had n’t we better leave
"I could have borne expressions of remorse from her lips—I could have listened to sudden outpourings of
horror wrung from her soul by the very blackness of her guilt, but this grovelling familiarity with vice!"
"Matter-of-fact pollution, as you might observe—" whispered Luke.
"Luke, I tell you, the cup is full to overflowing—but I will drain it to the dregs!"
"Now’s your time—" whispered Luke, as, swinging the curtain aside, he suffered the light of the lanthern to
fall over the bed—"Dora looks quite pretty. Fitz-Cowles decidedly interesting—"
"And on that bosom have I slept!" exclaimed Livingstone, in a voice of agony, as he gazed upon his
slumbering wife—"Those arms have clung round my neck—and now! Ha! Luke you may think me mad, but I
tell ye man, that there is the spirit of a slow and silent revenge creeping through my veins. She has dishonored
me! Do you read anything like forgiveness in my face?"
"Not much o’ it I assure you. But come, Livingstone—let’s be going. This is not the time nor place for your
revenge. Let’s travel."
Livingstone laid down the bowie knife, and with a smile of bitter mockery, seized a small pair of scissors from
the work-basket which stood on the table.
"You smile, Luke?" he whispered, as, leaning over the bedside, he laid his hand upon the jet-black hair of the
slumbering Fitz-Cowles;— "Ha-ha! I will leave the place, but d’ye see, Luke, I must take some slight keepsake,
to remind me of the gallant Colonel. A lock of his hair, you know, Luke?"
"Egad! Livingstone, I believe you’re going mad! A lock of his hair? Pshaw! You’ll want a straight jacket
"And a lock of my Dora’s hair—" whispered Livingstone, as his blue eyes flashed from beneath his dark
eyebrows, while his lips wore that same mocking smile—"But you see the knife saved me all trouble. Here is a
glossy tress severed by the Colonel’s dagger. Now let me wind them together, Luke, let me lay them next to my
heart, Luke—yes, smile my fellow—Ha! ha! ha!"
"Hist! Your wife stirs in her sleep—you will awaken them again."
"D’ye know, Luke—" cried Livingstone, drawing his partner close to his side, and looking in his face, with a
vacant glance, that indicated a temporary derangement of intellect—"D’ye know, Luke, that I didn’t do that, o’
my own will? Hist! Luke—closer—closer—I’ll tell you. The Devil was at the bedside, Luke; he whispered it in
my ear, he bade me take these keepsakes—ha, ha, ha—what a jolly set of fellows we are! And then, Luke
—" his voice sank to a thrilling whisper—"He pointed with his iron hand to the last scene, in which my
vengeance shall be complete. She shall beg for mercy, Luke; aye, on her knees, but ha, ha, ha—kill—kill—kill!
is written in letters of blood before my eyes, every where, Luke, every where. Don’t you see it ?"
He pointed vacantly at the air as he spoke, and seized Luke by the shoulder, as though he would command
his attention to the blood-red letters.
Luke was conscious that he stood in the presence of a madman.
Inflexible as he was in his own secret purpose of revenge, upon the woman who had trampled on his very
heart, Luke still regarded the Merchant with a feeling akin to brotherhood. As the fearful fact impressed itself on
his soul, that Livingstone stood before him, deprived of reason, an expression of the deepest feeling shadowed
the countenance of Luke, and his voice was broken in its tones as he endeavoured to persuade the madman, to
leave the scene of his dishonor and shame.
"Come! Livingstone! let us go—" said Luke, taking his partner by the arm, and leading him gently toward the
"But I’ve got the keepsakes safe, Luke—" whispered Livingstone, as that wild light flashed from his large blue
eyes—"D’ye see the words in the air, Luke? Now they change to her name—Dora, Dora, Dora! All in blood-
red letters. I say Luke, let’s have a quiet whist party—there’s four of us—Dora and I; you and Fitz-Cowles—"
"I’ m willing—" exclaimed Luke, as with a quick movement he seized the pistol left by Livingstone on the
table, and concealed it within the breast of his greatcoat—"Suppose we step into the next room, and get every
thing ready for the party—"
"You’re keen, Luke, keen, but I’m even with you—" whispered Livingstone as his livid face lighted up with a
sudden gleam of intelligence—"Here we stand on the threshold of this closet—we are about to leave my wife’s
bed-room. You think I’m mad. Do I look like a madman? I know there is no whist-party to be held this night, I
know that—Hist. Luke. Don’t you see it, all pictured forth in the air? The scene of my vengeance? In colors of
blood, painted by the Devil’s hand? Yonder, Luke—yonder! How red it grows—and then in letters of fire,
every where, every where, is written—Dora—Dora—Dora—"
It was a fearful spectacle to see that strong man, with his imposing figure, raised to its full stature and his
thoughtful brow, lit up with an expression of idiotic wonder, as standing on the verge of the secret door, he
pointed wildly at the blood-red picture which his fancy had drawn in the vacant air while his blue eyes dilated
with a maniac glance, and his face grew yet more livid and ghastly.
"Come, Livingstone—" cried Luke gently leading him through the closet—"You had better leave this place—"
"And yet Dora, is sleeping here? My young wife? The mother of my children? Do‘ye think Luke, that I’d have
believed you last Thursday morning, if you had then told me this? ‘Livingstone, this day-week, you will leave a
chamber in a brothel, and leave your young wife, sleeping in another man’s arms.’ But never mind Luke it will all
be right. For I tell ye, it is there, there before me in colors of blood! That last scene of my vengeance! And
there—there—in letters of flame—Dora!—Dora! Dora!"
And while the fair young wife slept quietly in the bed of guilt and shame, Luke led the Merchant from the
room and from the house.
In next week's concluding chapter of Book the First,
we return to the Rose Chamber,
scene of Lorrimer's horrid debauch
of the innocent Mary