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The Iron Box
by [?]


Twilight dropped its soft, somber curtain upon a handsome southern home. Sadly out of keeping with the peaceful landscape and cheerful hearthstone, were the feelings of a man who crept close to the window shutter, and peered cautiously within the cosy apartment. And brighter grew the twinkle in his rapacious eyes as the brilliant objects upon which he glared shone in the lamplight.

Upon a table in the center of the room was a mosaic casket, the raised lid disclosing a collection of jewels rarely to be found in the possession of a single individual.

With glowing cheeks and radiant eyes Netta Lee surveyed her treasures; but the glow and sparkle were for the tall figure beside her, however her feminine pride might be gratified at this splendid array. So long as Richard Temple honored her among women with his heart’s devotion, there needed not the glitter of gems to complete her happiness.

“Our friends are most kind with their wedding gifts,” said the prospective bridegroom, “these are royal!–“

“Yes, and oh, Richard! just see these pearls. Exquisite, aren’t they! One hundred years old, and a present from my grandmother.”

“What a queer, old-fashioned case,” said Mary, a younger sister taking up the flat, square box of red morocco, where nestled in its white satin lining lay the milky brooch and ear-rings.

“So much the more valuable; in this love-of-the-antique age,” remarked Bertha Lee. “Netta, who sent these gorgeous corals?”

“Aunt Winifred;–wasn’t it good of her?”

“Pooh! No more than she might do for each of us,” replied the saucy girl. “Heigho! I wish my fate, if I have one, might appear. Couldn’t you innocently suggest to the old lady that I have no jewels for the all-important occasion–a bridesmaid, too?”

“Why not select from these?” said Richard. “There is enough here, and to spare, for all. Let’s see–pearl, diamond, amethyst, coral, emerald, turquoise, filagree–I declare it is a veritable jeweler’s display.”

“You must recollect, though, Richard, I had some of these before.”

“Her friends seem to have discovered her weakness,” observed Mrs. Lee, entering the room.

“Now, mother, you shall not say that. You forget the carloads of things that have come–nice, useful, domestic articles—-“

“Richard, what is it? What is the matter?” suddenly exclaimed Mrs. Lee, looking at him.

In alarm Netta glanced at his face, which she saw was clouded from anxiety, or pain. At once she closed the casket and went to his side in great concern.

“What is it, dear? Are you ill?”

“Not ill in body, my love; hardly comfortable in mind,” was his reply, as he sat down upon the davenport close by. “Sit here beside me, and I will tell you what is troubling me. No, don’t go,” he added, as the others started to leave the room, “it concerns us all.”

“Don’t look so alarmed,” he said, reassuringly, to his betrothed. “It is only this. News reached Columbus to-day that Baywater’s gang is near Villula, and as usual their progress is marked by bloodshed and outrage. The feature that concerns me most is that if I am detailed for duty, it will of necessity postpone our marriage.”

Various expressions broke from the ladies, and Netta exclaimed in terror:

“But you will be in danger, Richard. Can no one else go?” and she clung to him as though her frail clasp could keep him in safety at her side.

“I fear not. The state militia must do its duty. You would not have me skulk in the hour of danger. But there really is no danger for me, Netta. The sole trouble is in the change of our plans.”

But they remembered too distinctly Baywater’s last visit to derive the comfort conveyed in his words.

“And where must you go? What must you do?” tearfully asked Netta.

“I can scarcely tell. We shall be required to watch the premises of the citizens, and to convey all valuables to places of safety. The policy is not to provoke a battle, but to entrap them nearer and nearer the city by holding out baits till they can be apprehended in a body. To do this, we shall be divided into small squads, perhaps only two persons allotted to a station.”