Part 4 out of 8
of Nina during his absence. "But it shall not be," she thought, "I
can prevent her returning to the Asylum, and I will."
She might have spared herself all uneasiness, for Dr. Griswold
knew nothing of Arthur's absence, and seemed more surprised than
she had been.
"I am so glad, so glad," he said; and when Edith looked
inquiringly at him, he answered, "I am glad because it is right
that he should go."
Edith did not in the least comprehend his meaning, and as he
manifested no intention to explain, the conversation soon turned
upon other topics than Arthur and his sudden journey. Since
Arthur's visit to Worcester, Dr. Griswold had heard nothing from
him, and impelled by one of those strange influences which will
sometimes lead a person on to his fate, he had come up to
Shannondale partly to see how matters stood and partly to whisper
a word of encouragement to one who needed it so much. He had never
been very robust or strong; the secret which none save Arthur knew
had gradually undermined his health, and he was subject to
frequent attacks of what he called his nervous headaches. The
slightest cause would sometimes induce one of these, and when on
the morning after his arrival at Grassy Spring he awoke from a
troubled sleep he knew by certain unmistakable signs that a day of
suffering was in store for him. This on his own account he would
not have minded particularly, for he was accustomed to it, but his
presence was needed at home; and the knowledge of this added to
the intensity of his pain, which became so great that to rise from
his pillow was impossible, and Soph, when sent to his room to
announce that breakfast was waiting, reported him to her mother as
"mighty sick with blood in the face."
All the day long he lay in the darkened room, sometimes dreaming,
sometimes moaning, and watching through his closed eyes the
movements of Nina, who had constituted herself his nurse, treading
on tiptoe across the floor, whispering to herself, and apparently
carrying on an animated conversation with some imaginary
personage. Softly, she bathed his aching head, asking every moment
if he were better, and going once behind the door where he heard
her praying that "God would make the good doctor well."
Blessed Nina, there was far more need for this prayer than she
supposed, for when the next day came, the pain and heat about the
eyes and head were not in the least abated, and a physician was
called, who pronounced the symptoms to be those of typhoid fever.
With a stifled moan, Dr. Griswold turned upon his pillow, while
his great, unselfish heart went out after his poor patients in the
Asylum, who would miss him so much. Three days passed away, and it
was generally known in the village that a stranger lay sick of
typhus fever at Grassy Spring, which with common consent was
shunned as if the deadly plague had been rioting there. Years
before the disease had raged with fearful violence in the town,
and many a fresh mound was reared in the graveyard, and many a
hearth-stone desolated. This it was which struck a panic to the
hearts of the inhabitants when they knew the scourge was again in
their midst, and save the inmates of the house, and Edith
Hastings, none came to Dr. Griswold's aid. At first Richard
refused to let the latter put herself in the way of danger, but
for once Edith asserted her right to do as she pleased, and
declared that she WOULD share Nina's labors. So for many weary
days and nights those two young girls hovered like angels of mercy
around the bed where the sick man tossed from side to side, while
the fever burned more and more fiercely in his veins until his
reason was dethroned, and a secret told which otherwise would have
died with him. Gradually the long hidden love for Nina showed
itself, and Edith, who alone could comprehend the meaning of what
he said and did, saw how a strong, determined man can love, even
when there is no hope.
"Little wounded dove," he called the golden-haired maiden, who
bent so constantly over him, caressing his burning face with her
cool, soft hands, passing her snowy fingers through his disordered
hair, and suffering him to kiss her as he often did, but insisting
always that MIGGIE should be kissed also, and Edith, knowing that
what was like healing to the sick man would be withheld unless
she, too, submitted, would sometimes bow her graceful head and
receive upon her brow the token of affection.
"You must hug Miggie, too," Nina said to him one day, when he had
held her slight form for a moment to his bosom. "She's just as
good to you as I am."
"Nina," said Edith, "Dr. Griswold does not love me as he does you,
and you must not worry him so. Don't you see it makes him worse?"
and lifting the hair she pointed to the drops of perspiration
standing upon his forehead.
This seemed to satisfy Nina, while at the same time her darkened
mind must have caught a glimmer of the truth, for her manner
changed perceptibly, and for a day or so she was rather shy of Dr.
Griswold. Then the mood changed again, and to the poor dying man
was vouchsafed a glimpse of what it might have been to be loved by
"Little sunbeam--little clipped-winged bird--little pearl," were
the terms of endearment he lavished upon her, as, with his feeble
arm about her, he told her one night how he loved her. "Don't go
Edith," he said, as he saw her stealing from the room; "sit down
here beside me and listen to what I have to say."
Edith obeyed, and taking her hand and Nina's in his, as if the
touch of them both would make him strong to unburden his mind, he
"Let me call you Edith, while I'm talking, for the sake of one who
loves you even as I love Nina,"
Edith started, and very foolishly replied,
"Do you mean Mr. Harrington?"
She knew he didn't, but her heart was so sore on the subject of
Arthur's absence that she longed to be reassured in some way, and
so said what she did.
"No, Edith, it is not Mr. Harrington, I mean," and Dr. Griswold's
bright eyes fastened themselves upon the trembling girl as if to
read her inmost soul, and see how far her feelings were enlisted.
"It's Arthur," said Nina, nodding knowingly at both.
"Arthur," Edith repeated bitterly. "Fine proof he gives of his
love. Going from home for an indefinite length of time without one
word for me. He hates me, I know," and bursting into tears she
buried her face in the lap of Nina, who sat upon the bed.
"Poor Edith!" and another hand than Nina's smoothed her bands of
shining hair. "By this one act you have confessed that Arthur's
love is not unrequited. I hoped it might be otherwise. God help
you, Edith. God help you."
He spoke earnestly, and a thrill of fear ran through Edith's
veins. Lifting up her head, she said,
"You talk as if it were a certainty that Arthur St. Claire loves
me. He has never told me so--never."
She could not add that he had never given her reason to think so,
for he had, and her whole frame quivered with joy as she heard her
suspicions confirmed by Dr. Griswold.
"He does love you, Edith Hastings. He has confessed as much to me,
and this is why he has gone from home. He would forget you, and it
is right. He must forget you; he must not love. It would be a
wicked, wicked thing; and Edith--are you listening--do you hear
all I say?"
"Yes," came faintly from Nina's lap, where Edith had laid her face
"Then promise not to marry him, so long--so long--Oh, Nina, how
can I say it? Edith, swear you'll never marry Arthur. Swear,
His voice was raised to a shriek, and by the dim light of the
lamp, which fell upon his pallid features, both Edith and Nina saw
the wild delirium flashing from his eye. Nina was the first to
detect it, and wringing Edith's hand she whispered, imploringly,
"Swear, Miggie, once. Say THUNDER, or something like that as
softly as you can. It won't be so very bad, and he wants you to so
Frightened as Edith was at Dr. Griswold's manner she could not
repress a smile at Nina's mistaken idea. Still she did NOT swear,
and all that night he continued talking incoherently of Arthur, of
Edith, of Nina, Geneva, Richard Harrington, and a thousand other
matters, mingling them together in such a manner that nothing
clear or connected could be made of what he said. In the morning
he was more quiet, but there was little hope of his life, the
physician said. From the first he had greatly desired to see
Arthur once more, and when his danger became apparent a telegram
had been forwarded to the wanderer, but brought back no response.
Another was sent, and another, the third one, in the form of a
letter, finding him far up the Red river, where in that sultry
season the air was rife with pestilence, which held with death
many a wanton revel, and would surely have claimed him for its
victim, but for the timely note which called him away.
Night and day, day and night, as fast as the steam-god could take
him, he traveled, his heart swelling with alternate hope and fear
as he neared the north-land, seeing from afar the tall heads of
the New England mountains, and knowing by that token that he was
* * * * * *
It was night, dark night at Grassy Spring, and the summer
rain, which all the day had fallen in heavy showers, beat drearily
against the windows of the room where a fair young girl was
keeping watch over the white-faced man whose life was fast ebbing
away. They were alone,--Dr. Griswold and Nina--for both would have
it so. He, because he felt how infinitely precious to him would be
his last few hours with her, when there was no curious ear to
listen; and she, because she would have Miggie sleep. Nina knew no
languor from wakefulness. She was accustomed to it, and as if
imbued with supernatural strength, she had sat night after night
in that close room, ministering to the sick man as no one else
could have done, and by her faithfulness and tender care repaying
him in part for the love which for long, weary years had known no
change, and which, as life draw near its close, manifested itself
in a desire to have her constantly at his side, where he could
look into her eyes, and hear the murmurings of her bird-like
Thus far Edith and the servants had shared her vigils, but this
night she preferred to be alone, insisting that Edith, who began
to show signs of weariness, should occupy the little room,
adjoining, where she could be called, if necessary. Not
apprehending death so soon the physician acquiesced in this
arrangement, stipulating, however, that Phillis should sleep upon
the lounge in Dr. Griswold's chamber, but the care, the
responsibility, should all be Nina's, he said, and with childish
alacrity she hastened to her post. It was the first time she had
kept the watch alone, but from past experience the physician
believed she could be trusted, and he left her without a moment's
Slowly the hours went by, and Nina heard no sound save the low
breathing of the sleepers near, the dropping of the rain, and the
mournful sighing of the wind through the maple trees. Midnight
came, and then the eyes of the sick man opened wide and wandered
about the room as if in quest of some one.
"Nina," he said, faintly, "Are you here? Why has the lamp gone
out? It's so dark that I can't see your face."
Bending over him, Nina replied,
"I'm here, doctor. Nina's here. Shall I get more light so you CAN
"Yes, darling, more light--more light;" and swift as a fawn Nina
ran noiselessly from room to room, gathering up lamp after lamp,
and candle after candle, and bringing them to the sick chamber,
which blazed as if on fire, while the musical laugh of the lunatic
echoed through the room as she whispered to herself, "Twenty sperm
candles and fifteen lamps! 'Tis a glorious watch I keep to-night."
Once she thought of wakening Edith to share in her transports, but
was withheld from doing so by a feeling that "Miggie" would not
approve her work.
"It's light as noonday," she said, seating herself upon the
bedside. "Can't you see me now?"
"No, Nina, I shall never look on your dear face again until we
meet in Heaven. There you will be my own. No one can come between
us," and the feeble arms wound themselves lovingly around the
maiden, who laid her cheek against his feverish one, while her
little fingers strayed once more amid the mass of disordered hair,
pushing it back from the damp forehead, which she touched with her
"Nina," and the voice was so low that Nina bent her down to catch
the sound, "I am dying, darling. You are not afraid to stay with
me till the last?"
"No," she answered, "not afraid, but I do so wish you could see
the splendid illumination. Twenty candles and fifteen lamps--the
wicks of them all an inch in height. Oh, it's grand!" and again
Nina chuckled as she saw how the lurid blaze lit up the window
panes with a sheet of flame which, flashing backward, danced upon
the wall in many a grotesque form, and cast a reddish glow even
upon the white face of the dying.
He was growing very restless now, for the last great struggle had
commenced; the soul was waging a mighty battle with the body, and
the conflict was a terrible one, wringing groans of agony from him
and great tears from Nina, who forgot her bonfire in her grief.
Once when the fever had scorched her veins and she had raved in
mad delirium, Dr. Griswold had rocked her in his arms as he would
have rocked a little child, and remembering this the insane desire
seized on Nina to rock him, too, to sleep. But she could not lift
him up, though she bent every energy to the task, and at last,
passing one arm beneath his neck she managed to sit behind him,
holding him in such a position that he rested easier, and his
convulsive movements ceased entirely. With his head upon her bosom
she rocked to and fro, uttering a low, cooing sound, as if
soothing him to sleep.
"Sing, Nina, sing," he whispered, and on the night air a mournful
cadence rose, swelling sometimes so high that Edith moved uneasily
upon her pillow, while even Phillis stretched out a hand as if
about to awaken.
Then the music changed to a plaintive German song, and Edith
dreamed of Bingen on the Rhine, while Dr. Griswold listened
eagerly, whispering at intervals,
"Precious Nina, blessed dove, sing on--sing till I am at rest."
This was sufficient for Nina, and one after another she warbled
the wild songs she knew he loved the best, while the lamps upon
the table and the candles upon the floor flickered and flamed and
cast their light far out into the yard, where the August rain was
falling, and where more than one bird, startled from its slumbers,
looked up to see whence came the fitful glare, wondering, it may
be, at the solemn dirge, floating out into the darkness far beyond
The gray dawn broke at last, and up the graveled walk rapid
footsteps came--Arthur St. Claire hastening home. From a distant
hill he had caught the blaze of Nina's bonfire, and trembling with
fear and dread, he hurried on to learn what it could mean. There
was no stir about the house--no sign of life, only the crimson
blaze shining across the fields, and the sound of a voice, feeble
now, and sunk almost to a whisper, for Nina's strength was giving
way. For hours she had sung, while the head upon her bosom pressed
more and more heavily--the hand which clasped hers unloosed its
hold--the eyes which had fastened themselves upon her with a look
of unutterable love, closed wearily--the lips, which, so long as
there was life in them, ceased not to bless her, were still, and
poor, tired, crazy Nina, fancying that he slept at last, still
swayed back and forth, singing to the cold senseless clay, an
"Hushaby, my baby--go to sleep, my child."
HE had sung it once to her. SHE sang it now to him, and the
strange words fell on Arthur's ear, even before he stepped across
the threshold, where he stood appalled at the unwonted spectacle
which met his view. Nina manifested no surprise whatever, but
holding up her finger, motioned him to tread cautiously, if he
would come near where she was.
"He couldn't see," she whispered, "and I made him a famous light.
Isn't it glorious here, smoke, and fire and all? He is sleeping
quietly now, only his head is very heavy. It makes my arm ache so
hard, and his hands are growing cold, I cannot kiss them warm,"
and she held the stiffening fingers against her burning cheek,
shuddering at the chill they gave her, just as Arthur shuddered at
the sight, for it needed nothing more to tell him that Dr.
Griswold was dead!
The spacious rooms at Grassy Spring had been filled to their
utmost capacity by those of the villagers, who, having recovered
from their panic, came to join in the funeral obsequies of Dr.
Griswold. In the yard without the grass was trampled down and the
flowers broken from their stalks by the crowds, who, failing to
gain admittance to the interior of the house, hovered about the
door, struggling for a sight of the young girl, whose strange
death watch and stranger bonfire was the theme of every tongue.
Solemnly the voice of God's ambassador was heard, proclaiming, "I
am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that
believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live," and then
a song was sung, the voices of the singers faltering, all but one,
which, rising clear and sweet above the rest, sang of the better
world, where the bright eternal noonday ever reigns, and the
assembled throng without held their breath to listen, whispering
to each other, "It is Nina, the crazy girl. She was the doctor's
Down the gravelled walk,--along the highway,--over the river, and
up the hill to the village churchyard the long procession moved,
and when it backward turned, one of the number was left behind,
and the August sunset fell softly upon his early grave. Sadly the
mourners, Arthur, Edith and Nina, went to their respective homes,
Edith seeking the rest she so much needed, Nina subdued and awed
into perfect quiet, sitting with folded hands in the room where
her truest friend had died, while Arthur, alone in his chamber,
held as it were communion with the dead, who seemed this night to
be so near to him.
Swiftly, silently, one by one, the days came and went until it was
weeks since Dr. Griswold died, and things at Grassy Spring assumed
their former routine. At first Nina was inclined to be melancholy,
talking much of the deceased, and appearing at times so depressed
that Arthur trembled, lest she should again become unmanageable,
wondering what he should do with her now the Dr. was gone.
Gradually, however, she recovered her usual health and spirits,
appearing outwardly the same; but not so with Arthur, whose
thoughts and feelings no one could fathom. It was as if he had
locked himself within a wall of ice, which nothing had power to
thaw. He saw but little of Edith now; the lessons had been tacitly
given up, and, after what she had heard from Dr. Griswold, she
could not come to Grassy Spring just as she used to do, so she
remained at home, marvelling at the change in Arthur, and
wondering if he really loved her, why he did not tell her so. Much
of what Dr. Griswold had said she imputed to delirium, and with
the certainty that she was beloved, she would not dwell upon
anything which made her unhappy, and she waited for the end, now
hastening on with rapid strides.
Behind the icy wall which Arthur had built around himself, a
fierce storm was blowing, and notwithstanding the many midnight
watches kept over Dr. Griswold's grave, the tempest still raged
fearfully, threatening to burst its barriers and carry all before
it. But it reached its height at last, and wishing to test his
strength, Arthur asked Nina one pleasant night to go with him to
Collingwood. She consented readily, and in a few moments they were
on their way. They found the family assembled upon the broad
piazza, where the full moon shone upon them through the broad
leaves of woodbine twining about the massive pillars. Edith sat as
usual upon a stool at Richard's feet, and her face wore a look of
disappointment. Thoughts of Eloise Temple had been in her mind the
entire day, and sitting there with Richard, she had ventured to
ask him again of the young girl in whom she was so much
interested. But Richard shook his head. He was reserving Eloise
Temple for a future day, and he said to Edith,
"I cannot tell you of her yet, or where she is."
"When will you then?" and Edith spoke pettishly. "You always put
me off, and I don't see either why you need to be so much afraid
of telling me about her, unless her mother was bad, or something."
"Edith," Richard replied, "I do not wish to explain to you now. By
and by I'll tell you, it may be, though even that will depend on
circumstances;" and he sighed as he thought what the circumstances
must be which would keep from Edith any further knowledge of
Eloise than she already possessed.
Edith did not hear the sigh. She only knew that it was useless to
question him, and beating her little foot impatiently, she
muttered, "More mystery. If there's any thing I hate it's
She did not finish what she meant to say, for at that moment she
spied Arthur and Nina coming through the garden gate as the
Edith was not in the best of humors. She was vexed at Richard,
because he wouldn't tell and at Arthur for "acting so," as she
termed it,--this acting so implying the studied indifference with
which he had treated her of late. But she was not vexed with Nina,
and running out to meet her, she laid her arm across her neck, and
led her with many words of welcome to the stool she had just
vacated, saying laughingly: "I know Mr. Harrington would rather
you should sit here than a cross patch like me! I'm ill-natured
to-night, Mr. St. Claire," and she bit her words off with playful
"Your face cannot be an index to your feelings, then," returned
Arthur, retaining her offered hand a moment, and looking into her
eyes, just to see if he could do it without flinching.
It was a dangerous experiment, for Edith's soul looked through her
eyes, and Arthur read therein that which sent feverish heats and
icy chills alternately through his veins. Releasing her hand he
sat down upon the upper step of the piazza, and leaning against
one of the pillars, began to pluck the leaves within his reach,
and mechanically tear them in pieces.
Meantime Richard had signified to Edith his wish that she should
bring another stool, and sit beside him just as Nina was doing.
"I can then rest my hands upon the heads of you both," he said,
smoothing the while Nina's golden curls,
"Now tell us a story, please," said Nina; and when Richard asked
what it should be, she replied,
"Oh, tell us about the years ago when you were over the sea, and
why you have never married. Maybe you have, though. You are old
enough, I reckon. Did you ever marry anybody?"
"YES, _I_ DID," returned Richard; "a little girl with hair like
yours, I think, though my eyesight then was almost gone, and I saw
"Wha-a-at!" exclaimed Edith, at the same time asking Arthur if he
was hurt as he started suddenly,
"There it goes. It was a BEE, I guess;" and Nina pointed to an
insect flitting by, but so far from Arthur as to render a sting
from the diminutive creature impossible. Still it served as an
excuse, and blessing Nina in his heart for the suggestion, Arthur
talked rapidly of various matters, hoping in this way to change
the conversation. But Edith was not to be put off, even if Nina
were. She was too much interested to know what Richard meant, and
as soon as politeness would permit, she said to him,
"Please go on, and tell us of the girl you married. Who was the
bridegroom, and where did it occur?"
There was no longer a shadow of hope that the story would not be
told, and folding his arms like one resigned to his fate, Arthur
listened, while Richard related to the two girls how, soon after
his removal to Geneva, he had been elected Justice of the Peace in
place of one resigned. "I did not wish for the office." he said,
"although I was seldom called upon to act, and after my sight
began to fail so fast, people never came to me except on trivial
matters. One night, however, as many as--let me see--as many as
ten years ago, my house keeper told me there were in the parlor
four young people desirous of seeing me, adding that she believed
a wedding was in contemplation."
"Splendid!" cried Edith; "and you married them, didn't you? Tell
us all about it; how the bride looked, and every thing."
"I cannot gratify you in that respect," returned Richard. "There
was a veil of darkness between us, and I could see nothing
distinctly, but I knew she was very slight, so much so, indeed,
that I was sorry afterward that I did not question her age."
"A runaway match from the Seminary, perhaps," suggested Arthur, in
tones so steady as to astonish himself.
"I have sometimes thought so since," was Richard's reply, "but as
nothing of the kind was ever known to have occurred, I may have
"But the names?" cried Edith, eagerly, "you could surely tell by
that, unless they were feigned."
"Which is hardly probable," Richard rejoined, "though they might
as well have been for any good they do me now. I was too unhappy
then, too much wrapped up in my own misfortunes to care for what
was passing around me, and though I gave them a certificate,
keeping myself a memorandum of the same, I soon forgot their names
"But the copy," chimed in Edith, "that will tell. Let's hunt it
up. I'm so interested in these people, and it seems so funny that
you should have married them. I wonder where they are. Have you
never heard a word from them?"
"Never, since that night," said Richard; "and what is more
unfortunate still for an inquisitive mother Eve, like you, the
copy which I kept was burned by a servant who destroyed it with
sundry other business papers, on one of her cleaning house days."
"Ah-h," and Arthur drew a long, long breath, which prompted Edith
to ask if be were tired.
"You're not as much interested as I am," she said. "I do wish I
knew who the young bride was--so small and so fair. Was she as
tall as Nina?" and she turned to Richard, who replied,
"I can hardly judge the height of either. Stand up, Snow Drop, and
let me feel if you are as tall as the bride of ten years ago."
"Yes, Nina is the taller of the two," said Richard, as he complied
with his request and stood under his hand. "I have often thought
of this girl-wife and her handsome boy-husband, doubting whether I
did right to marry them, but the young man who accompanied them
went far toward reassuring me that all was right. They were
residents of the village, he said, and having seen me often in
town, had taken a fancy to have me perform the ceremony, just for
the novelty of the thing."
"It's queer you never heard of them afterward," said Edith; while
Nina, looking up in the blind man's face, rejoined,
"YOU DID IT THEN?"
"Nina," said Arthur ere Richard could reply, "it is time we were
going home; there is Sophy with the shawl which you forgot." And
he pointed toward Sophy coming through the garden, with a warm
shawl tucked under her arm, for the dew was heavy that night and
she feared lest Nina should take cold.
"Nina won't go yet; she isn't ready," persisted the capricious
maiden. "Go till I call you," and having thus summarily dismissed
Soph, the little lady resumed the seat from which she had arisen,
and laying her head on Richard's, whispered to him softly, "CAN'T
YOU SCRATCH IT OUT?"
"Scratch what out?" he asked; and Nina replied,
"Why, IT; what you've been talking about. Nothing ever came of it
but despair and darkness."
"I do not know what you mean," Richard said, and as Arthur did not
volunteer any information, but sat carelessly scraping his thumb
nail with a pen-knife, Edith made some trivial remark which turned
the channel of Nina's thoughts, and she forgot to urge the request
that "it should be scratched out."
"Nina'll go now," she said, after ten minutes had elapsed, and
calling Soph, Arthur was soon on his way home, hardly knowing
whether he was glad or sorry that every proof of his early error
was forever destroyed.
The summer was over and gone; its last breath had died away amid
the New England hills, and the mellow October days had come, when
in the words of America's sweetest poetess,
"The woods stand bare and brown,
And into the lap of the South land,
The flowers are blowing down."
Over all there was that dreamy, languid haze, so common to the
Autumn time, when the distant hills are bathed in a smoky light
and all things give token of decay. The sun, round and red, as the
October sun is wont to be, shone brightly upon Collingwood, and
looked cheerily into the room where Edith Hastings sat, waiting
apparently for some one whose tardy appearance filled her with
impatience. In her hand she held a tiny note received the previous
night, and as she read for the twentieth time the few lines
contained therein, her blushes deepened on her cheek, and her
blank eyes grew softer and more subdued in their expression.
"Edith," the note began, "I must see you alone. I have something
to say to you which a third person cannot hear. May I come to
Collingwood to-morrow at three o'clock, P.M.? In haste, Arthur St.
The words were very cold, but to Edith they contained a world of
meaning. She knew she was beloved by Arthur St. Claire. Dr.
Griswold had told her so. Grace had told her so. Nina had told her
so, while more than all his manner had told her so repeatedly, and
now HE would tell her so himself and had chosen a time when
Richard and Victor were both in Boston, as the one best adapted to
the interview. Edith was like all other maidens of eighteen, and
her girlish heart fluttered with joy as she thought what her
answer would be, but not at first,--not at once, lest she seem too
anxious. She'd make him wait a whole week, then see how he felt.
He deserved it all for his weak vacillation. If he loved her why
hadn't he told her before! She didn't believe there was such a
terrible impediment in the way. Probably he had sworn never to
marry any one save Nina, but her insanity was certainly a
sufficient reason for his not keeping the oath. Dr. Griswold was
peculiar,--over-nice in some points, and Arthur had been wholly
under his control, becoming morbidly sensitive to the past, and
magnifying every trivial circumstance into a mountain too great to
This was Edith's reasoning as she sat waiting that October
afternoon for Arthur, who came ere long, looking happier, more
like himself than she had seen him since the memorable day when
she first met Nina. Arthur had determined to do right, to tell
without reserve the whole of his past history to Edith Hastings,
and the moment he reached this decision half his burden was lifted
from his mind. It cost him a bitter struggle thus to decide, and
lest his courage should give way, he had asked for an early
interview. It was granted, and without giving himself time to
repent he came at once and stood before the woman who was dearer
to him than his life. Gladly would he have died could he thus have
blotted out the past and made Edith his wife, but he could not,
and he had come to tell her so.
Never had she been more beautiful than she was that afternoon. Her
dress of crimson merino contrasted well with her clear dark
complexion. Her magnificent hair, arranged with far more care than
usual, was wound in many a heavy braid around her head, while,
half-hidden amid the silken bands, and drooping gracefully behind
one ear, was a single white rose-bud, mingled with scarlet
blossoms of verbena; the effect adding greatly to her beauty.
Excitement lent a brighter sparkle to her brilliant eyes, and a
richer bloom to her glowing cheeks, and thus she sat waiting for
Arthur St. Claire, who felt his heart grow cold and faint as he
looked upon her, and knew her charms were not for him. She
detected his agitation, and as a kitten plays with a captured
mouse, torturing it almost to madness, so she played with him ere
suffering him to reach the point. Rapidly she went from one
subject to another, dragging him with her whether he would or not,
until at last as if suddenly remembering herself, she turned her
shining eyes upon him, and said, "I have talked myself out, and
will now give you a chance. You wrote that you wished to see me."
But for this direct allusion to his note, Arthur would assuredly
have gone away, leaving his errand untold. But he could not do so
now. She was waiting for him to speak, and undoubtedly wondering
at his silence. Thrice he attempted to articulate, but his tongue
seemed paralyzed, and reeking with perspiration, he sat unable to
move until she said again, "Is it of Nina you would tell me?"
Then the spell was broken, Nina was the sesame which unlocked his
powers of speech; and wiping the large drops from his forehead, he
"Yes, Edith, of Nina, of myself, of you. Edith, you know how much
I love you, don't you, darling?"
The words were apparently wrung from him greatly against his will.
They were not what he intended to say, and he would have given
worlds to have recalled them, but they were beyond his reach, and
the very walls of the room seemed to echo in thunder tones,
"You know how much I love you, don't you, darling?"
Yes, she did know; he knew she did by the glance she gave him
back, and laying his head upon the table, he neither moved nor
spoke until a footstep glided to his side, and a soft hand pressed
his burning brow, while a voice, whose tones drifted him far, far
back to the sea of darkness and doubt where he had so long been
bravely buffetting the billows, whispered to him,
"Arthur, I DO know, or rather believe you love me. You would not
tell me an untruth, but I do not understand why it should make you
He did not answer her at once, but retained within his own the
little hand which trembled for a moment like an imprisoned bird
and then grew warm and full of vigorous life just as Edith was,
standing there before him. What should he do? What could he do?
Surely, never so dark an hour had gathered round him, or one so
fraught with peril. Like lightning his mind took in once more the
whole matter as it was. Griswold was dead. On his grave the autumn
leaves were falling and the nightly vigils by that grave had been
of no avail. Nina could never comprehend, the written proof was
burned, Richard had forgotten, there was nothing in the way save
his CONSCIENCE and that would not be silent. Loudly it whispered
to the anguished man that happiness could not be secured by
trampling on Nina's rights; that remorse would mix itself with
every joy and at the last would drive him mad.
"You mistake me, I cannot," he began to say, but Edith did not
heed it, for a sound without had caught her ear, telling her that
Richard had unexpectedly returned, and Victor was coming for her.
There was an expression of impatience on Edith's face, as to
Victor's summons she replied, "Yes, yes, in a moment;" but Arthur
breathed more freely as, rising to his feet, he said, "I cannot
now say all I wish to say, but meet me, to-morrow at this hour in
the Deering Woods, near the spot where the mill brook falls over
those old stones. You know the place. We went there once with--
He wrung her hand, pitying her more than he did himself, for he
knew how little she suspected the true nature of what he intended
to tell her.
"God help us both, me to do right, and her to bear it," was his
mental prayer, as he left her at the door of the room where
Richard was waiting for her.
There were good and bad angels lugging at Arthur's heart as he
hastened across the fields where the night was falling, darker,
gloomier, than ever it fell before. Would it be a deadly sin to
marry Edith Hastings? Would Nina be wronged if he did? were
questions which the bad spirits kept whispering in his ear, and
each time that he listened to these questionings, he drifted
further and farther away from the right, until by the time his
home was reached he hardly knew himself what his intentions were.
Very bright were the lights shining in the windows of his home,
and the fire blazed cheerfully in the library, where Nina, pale
and fair as a white pond lily, had ordered the supper table to be
set, because she thought it would please him, and where, with her
golden curls tucked behind her ears, and a huge white apron on,
she knelt before the glowing coals, making the nicely-buttered
toast he liked so well. Turning toward him her childish face as he
came in, she said,
"See--Nina's a nice little housekeeper. Wouldn't it be famous if
we could live alone, you and I?"
Arthur groaned inwardly, but made her no reply. Sitting down in
his arm-chair, he watched her intently as she made his tea,
removed her apron, brushed her curls, and then look her seat at
the table, bidding him do the same. Mechanically he obeyed,
affecting to eat for her sake, while his eyes were constantly
fastened upon her face. Supper being over and the table removed,
he continued watching her intently as she flitted about the room,
now perching herself upon his knee, calling him "her good boy,"
now holding a whispered conversation with Miggie, who, she
fancied, was there, and again singing to herself a plaintive song
she had sung to Dr. Griswold. When it drew near her bedtime she
went to the window, from which the curtain was thrown back, and
looking out upon the blackness of the night, said to Arthur,
"The darkness is very dark. I should think poor Dr. Griswold would
be afraid lying there alone in that narrow grave. What made him
die, Arthur? I didn't want him to. It had better been I, hadn't
She came close to him now, and sitting on his knee held his
bearded chin in her hand, while she continued,
"Would my poor boy be very lonesome, knowing that Nina wasn't
here, nor up stairs, nor in the Asylum, nor over at Miggie's, nor
anywhere? Would you miss me a bit?"
"YES, YES, YES!"
The words came with quiet, gasping sobs, for in his hour of
bitterest anguish, Arthur had never for an instant wished HER
gone--the little blue-eyed creature clinging so confidingly to him
and asking if he would miss her when she was dead.
"Nina's would be a little grave," she said, "not as large as
Miggie's, and perhaps it won't be long before they dig it. I can
wait. You can wait; can't you, boy?"
What was it which prompted her thus to speak to him? What was it
which made him see Griswold's glance in the eyes looking so
earnestly to his own? Surely there was something more than mere
chance in all this. Nina would save him. She had grasped his
conscience, and she stirred it with no gentle hand, until the
awakened man writhed in agony, such as the drowning are said to
feel when slowly restored to life, and bowing his head on Nina's,
"What shall I do? Tell me, Nina, what to do!"
Once before, when thus appealed to, she had answered him, "Do
right," and she now said the same to the weeping man, who sobbed
aloud, "I will. I will tell her all to-morrow. I wish it were to-
morrow now, but the long night must intervene, and a weak,
vacillating fool like me may waver in that time. Nina," and he
held her closer to him, "stay here with me till morning. I am
stronger where you are. The sight of you does me good. Phillis
will fix you a bed upon the sofa and make you comfortable; will
Every novelty was pleasing to Nina and she assented readily,
stipulating, however, that he should not look at her while she
said her prayers.
In much surprise Phillis heard of this arrangement, but offered no
objection, thinking that Arthur had probably detected signs of a
frenzied attack and chose to keep her with him where he could
watch her. Alas! they little dreamed that 'twas to save himself he
kept her there, kneeling oftentimes beside her as she slept, and
from the sight of her helpless innocence gathering strength for
the morrow's duty. How slowly the hours of that never-to-be-
forgotten night dragged on, and when at last the grey dawn came
creeping up the east, how short they seemed, looked back upon.
Through them all Nina had slept quietly, moving only once, and
that when Arthur's tears dropped upon her face. Then,
unconsciously, she put her arms around his neck and murmured, "It
will all be right sometime."
"Whether it is or not, I will do right to-day," Arthur said aloud,
and when the sun came stealing into the room, it found him firm as
a granite rock.
Nina's presence saved him, and when the clock pointed to three, he
said to her, "Miggie is waiting for me in the Deering woods, where
the mill-brook falls over the stones. You called it Niagara, you
know, when you went there once with us. Go to Miggie, Nina. Tell
her I'm coming soon. Tell her that I sent you."
"And that you will do right?" interrupted Nina, retaining a
confused remembrance of last night's conversation.
"Yes, tell her I'll do right. Poor Edith, she will need your
sympathy so much;" and with trembling hands Arthur himself wrapped
Nina's shawl around her, taking more care than usual to see that
she was shielded from the possibility of taking cold; then,
leading her to the door and pointing in the direction of the
miniature Niagara he bade her go, watching her with a beating
heart as she bounded across the fields toward the Deering woods.
THE DEERING WOODS.
Edith had been in a state of feverish excitement all the day, so
happy had she been made by the certainty that Arthur loved her.
She had not doubted it before, but having it told her in so many
words was delightful, and she could scarcely wait for the hour
when she was to hear the continuation of a story abruptly
terminated by the return of Richard. Poor Richard! He was sitting
in his library now, looking so lonely, when on her way through the
hall she glanced in at him, that she almost cried to think how
desolate he would be when she was gone.
"I'll coax Arthur to come here and live," she said to herself,
thinking how nice it would be to have Arthur and Nina and Richard
all in one house.
The hands of her watch were pointing to three, as, stepping out
upon the piazza she passed hurriedly through the grounds and
turned in the direction of the Deering Woods. Onward, onward, over
the hill and across the fields she flew, until the woods were
reached--the silent, leafless woods, where not a sound was heard
save the occasional dropping of a nut, the rustle of a leaf, or
the ripple of the mill-brook falling over the stones. The warm sun
had dried the withered grass, and she sat down beneath a forest
tree, watching, waiting, wondering, and trembling violently at
last as in the distance she heard the cracking of the brittle
twigs and fancied he was coming.
"I'll pretend I don't hear him," she said, and humming a simple
air she was industriously pulling the bark from the tree when NINA
stood before her, exclaiming,
"You ARE here just as Arthur said you'd be. The woods were so
still and smoky that I was most afraid."
Ordinarily Edith would have been delighted at this meeting, but
now she could not forbear wishing Nina away, and she said to her
"What made you come?"
"He sent me," and Nina crouched down at Edith's feet, like a
frightened spaniel. "Arthur is coming, too, and going to do right.
He said he was, bending right over me last night, and when I woke
this morning there was a great tear on my face. 'Twasn't mine,
Miggie. It was too big for that. It was Arthur's."
"How came he in your room?" Edith asked, a little sharply, and
"I was in the library. We both staid there all night. It wasn't in
my room, though Arthur has a right, Miggie. IT NEVER WAS SCRATCHED
Edith was puzzled, and was about to question Nina as to her
meaning, when another step was heard, a manly, heavy tread,
precluding all possibility of a mistake this time. Arthur St.
Claire had come!
"It's quite pleasant since yesterday," he said, trying to force a
smile, but it was a sickly effort, and only made more ghastly and
wan his pallid features, over which ages seemed to have passed
since the previous day, leaving them scarred, and battered, and
Edith had never noticed so great a change in so short a time, for
there was scarcely a vestige left of the once handsome, merry-
hearted Arthur in the stooping, haggard man, who stood before her,
with blood-shot eyes, and an humble, deprecating manner, as if
imploring her forgiveness for the pain he had come to inflict.
Nothing could prevent it now. Her matchless beauty was naught to
him. He did not even see it. He thought of her only as a being for
whose sake he would gladly die the most torturing death that human
ingenuity could devise, if by this means, he could rescue her
unscathed from the fire he had kindled around her. But this could
not be; he had fallen, dragging her down with him, and now he must
restore her even though it broke her heart just as his was broken.
He had felt the fibres snapping, one by one; knew his life blood
was oozing out, drop by drop, and this it was which made him
hesitate so long. It was painful for him to speak, his throat was
so parched and dry, his tongue so heavy and thick.
"What is it, Arthur?" Edith said at last, as Nina, uttering a cry
of fear, hid her face in the grass to shut out Arthur from her
sight, "Tell me, what is it?"
Seating himself upon a log near by, and clasping his hands
together with a gesture of abject misery, Arthur replied.
"Edith, I am not worthy to look into your face; unless you take
your eyes from mine--oh, take them away, or I cannot tell you what
Had her very life depended upon it, Edith could not have removed
her eyes from his. An undefinable fear was curdling her blood--a
fear augmented by the position of her two companions--Nina, with
her head upon the grass, and that strange, white-faced being on
the log. Could THAT be Arthur St. Claire, or was she laboring
under some horrible delusion? No, the lips moved; it was Arthur,
and leaning forward she listened to what he was saying,
"Edith, when yesterday I was with you, some words which I uttered
and which were wrung from me, I know not how, gave you reason to
believe that I was then asking you to become my wife, while
something in your manner told me that to such asking you would not
answer no. The temptation then to take you to my arms, defying
earth and heaven, was a terrible one, and for a time I wavered, I
forgot everything but my love for you; but that is past and I come
now to the hardest part of all, the deliberate surrender of one
dearer than life itself. Edith, do you remember the obstacle, the
hindrance which I always said existed to my marrying any one?"
She did not answer; only the eyes grew larger as they watched him;
and he continued,
"I made myself forgot it for a time, but Heaven was kinder far
than I deserved, and will not suffer me longer. Edith, you CANNOT
be my wife."
She made a movement as if she would go to him, but his swaying
arms kept her off, and he went on;
"There IS an obstacle, Edith--a mighty obstacle, I could trample
it down if I would, and there is none to question the act; but,
Edith, I dare not do you this wrong."
His voice was more natural now, and Nina, lifting up her head,
crept closely to him, whispering softly, "Good boy, you will do
His long, white fingers threaded her sunny hair, and this was all
the token he gave that he was conscious of her presence.
"Don't you know now, Edith, what it is which stands between us?"
he asked; and Edith answered, "It is Nina, but how I do not
Arthur groaned a sharp, bitter groan, and rocking to and fro
replied, "Must I tell you? Won't you ever guess until I do? Oh,
Edith, Edith--put the past and present together--remember the
picture found in my room when you were a little girl, the picture
of Nina Bernard; think of all that has happened; my dread to meet
with Richard, though that you possibly did not know; my foolish
fear, lest you should know of Nina; her clinging devotion to me;
my brotherly care for her; Richard's story of the one single
marriage ceremony he ever performed, where the bride's curls were
like these," and he lifted Nina's golden ringlets. "You hear me,
He knew she did, for her bosom was heaving with choking sobs as if
her soul were parting from the body; her breath came heavily from
between her quivering lips, and her eyes were riveted upon him
like coals of living fire. Yes, he knew she heard, and he only
questioned her to give himself another moment ere he cut asunder
the last chord and sent her drifting out upon the dark sea of
"Edith--Edith--Edith," and with each word he hugged Nina closer to
him, so close that she gave a cry of pain, but he did not heed it;
he hardly knew he held her--his thoughts were all for the poor,
wretched girl, rising slowly to her feet. "Edith, you surely
understand me now. The obstacle between us is---; oh, Nina, say it
for me, tell her what you are to me."
"I know," and Edith Hastings stood tall and erect before him,
"NINA IS YOUR WIFE."
Nina looked up and smiled, while Edith crossed her arms upon her
breast, and waited for him to answer.
"Yes, Edith,--though never before acknowledged as such, Nina is my
wife; but, Edith, I swear it before high Heaven, she is only a
wife in name. Never for a day, or hour, or moment have I lived
with her as such. Were it otherwise, I could not have fallen so
low. Her father came the very night we were married, and took her
away next morning. Griswold and I must have met him just as we
left the yard, after having assisted Nina and her room-mate, Sarah
Warren, to reach the window, from which they had adroitly escaped
little move than an hour before. No one had missed them,--no one
ever suspected the truth, and as Miss Warren died a few months
afterward, only Nina, Griswold and myself knew the secret, which I
guarded most carefully for fear of expulsion from college. You
know the rest. You know it all, Nina is my wife. Nina is my wife,-
-my wife,--my wife."
He kept whispering it to himself, as if thus he would impress it
the more forcibly upon the unconscious Edith, who lay upon the
withered grass just where Nina had lain, rigid and white and free
for the present from all suffering. Arthur could not move; the
blow had fallen on them both with a mightier force than even he
had anticipated, killing her he feared, and so benumbing himself
that to act was impossible, and he continued sitting upon the log
with his elbows resting on his knees and his face upon his hands.
Only Nina had any reason then or judgment. Hastening to Edith she
knelt beside her, and lifting up her head pillowed it upon her
lap, wiping from her temple the drops of blood slowly trickling
from a cut, made by a sharp stone.
"Miggie, Miggie," she cried, "wake up. You scare me, you look so
white and stiff. Please open your eyes, darling, just a little
ways, so Nina'll know that you ain't dead. Oh, Arthur, she is
DEAD!" and Nina shrieked aloud, when, opening herself the lids,
she saw the dull, fixed expression of the glassy eye.
Laying her back upon the grass, she crept to Arthur's side, and
tried to rouse him, saying imploringly, "Miggie's dead, Arthur;
Miggie's dead. There is blood all over her face. It's on me, too,
look," and she held before him her fingers, covered with a crimson
stain. Even this did not move him; he only kissed the tiny hand
wet with Edith's blood, and whispered to her, "Richard."
It was enough. Nina comprehended his meaning at once; and when
next he looked about him she was flying like a deer across the
fields to Collingwood, leaving him alone with Edith. From where he
sat he could see her face, and its corpse-like pallor chilled him
with horror. He must go to her. It would be long ere Nina guided
the blind man to the spot, and, exerting all his strength, he
tottered to the brook, filled his hat with water, and crawling,
rather than walking, to Edith's side, dashed it upon her head,
washing the stains of blood, away, and forcing back the life so
nearly gone. Gradually the eyes unclosed, and looked into his with
a glance so full of love. tenderness, reproach, and cruel
disappointment, that he turned away, for he could not meet that
The blood from the wound upon the forehead was flowing freely now,
and faint from its loss, Edith sank again into a state of
unconsciousness, while Arthur, scarcely knowing what he did, crept
away to a little distance, where, leaning against a tree, he sat
insensible as it were, until the sound of footsteps roused him,
and he saw Nina coming, holding fast to the blind man's wrist, and
saying to him encouragingly,
"We are almost there. I see her dress now by the bank. Wake up,
Miggie; we're coming--Richard and I. Don't you hear me, Miggie?"
* * * * * *
Victor had been sent to the village upon an errand for Richard,
who was sitting in his arm-chair, just where Edith had left him an
hour before, dozing occasionally, as was his custom after dinner,
and dreaming of his singing bird.
"Little rose-bud," he whispered to himself. "It's strange no
envious, longing eyes have sought her out as yet, and tried to win
her from me. There's St. Claire--cannot help admiring her, but
thus far he's been very discreet, I'm sure. Victor would tell me
if he saw any indications of his making love to Edith."
Deluded Richard! Victor Dupres kept his own counsel with regard to
Edith and the proprietor of Grassy Spring; and when questioned by
his master, as he sometimes was, he always answered, "Monsieur St.
Claire does nothing out of the way."
So Richard, completely blinded, trusted them both, and had no
suspicion of the scene enacted that afternoon in the Deering
Woods. Hearing a swift footstep coming up the walk, he held his
breath to listen, thinking it was Edith, but a moment only
sufficed to tell it was Nina. With a rapid, bounding tread she
entered the library, and gliding to his side, startled him with,
"Come, quick, Miggie's dead--dead in the Deering Woods!"
For an instant Richard's brain reeled, and rings of fire danced
before his sightless eyes; then, remembering the nature of the one
who had brought to him this news, hope whispered that it might not
be so bad, and this it was which buoyed him up and made him strong
to follow his strange guide.
* * * * * *
Down the lane, across the road, and over the fields Nina led him,
bareheaded as he was, and in his thin-soled, slippers, which were
torn against the briers and stones, for in her haste Nina did not
stop to choose the smoothest path, and Richard was too intent on
Edith to heed the roughness of the way. Many questions be asked
her as to the cause of the accident, but she told him nothing save
that "Miggie was talking and fell down dead." She did not mention
Arthur, for, fancying that he had in some way been the cause of
the disaster, she wished to shield him from all censure,
consequently Richard had no idea of the crushed, miserable wretch
leaning against the sycamore and watching him as he came up. He
only heard Nina's cry, "Wake up, Miggie, Richard's here!"
It needed more than that appeal, however, to rouse the unconscious
girl, and Richard, as he felt her cold, clammy flesh, wept aloud,
fearing lest she were really dead. Eagerly he felt for her heart,
knowing then that she still lived.
"Edith, darling, speak to me," and he chafed her nerveless hands,
bidding Nina bring him water from the brook.
Spying Arthur's hat Nina caught it up, when the thought entered
her mind, "He'll wonder whose this is." Then with a look of subtle
cunning, she stole up behind the blind man, and placing the hat
suddenly upon his head, withdrew it as quickly, saying, "I'll get
it in this, shan't I?"
Richard was too much excited to know whether he had worn one hat
or a dozen, and he answered her at once, "Use it of course."
The cold water brought by Nina roused Edith once more, and with a
sigh she lay back on Richard's bosom, so trustfully, so
confidingly, that Arthur, looking on, foresaw what the future
would bring, literally giving her up then and there to the blind
man, who, as if accepting the gift, hugged her fondly to him and
said aloud, "I thank the good Father for restoring to me my
She suffered him to caress her as much as he liked, and offered no
remonstrance when lifting her in his strong arms, he bade Nina
lead him back to Collingwood. Like a weary child Edith rested her
head upon his shoulder, looking behind once, and regarding Arthur
with a look he never forgot, even when the darkness in which he
now was groping had passed away, and the full daylight was shining
o'er him. Leading Richard to a safe distance, Nina bade him wait a
moment while she went back for something she had forgotten--then
hastening to Arthur's side she wound her arms around his neck,
smoothed his hair, kissed his lips, and said to him so low that
Richard could not hear,
"NINA won't desert you. She'll come to you again, when she gets
Miggie home. You did do it, didn't you? but Nina'll never tell."
Kissing him once more, she bounded away, and with feelings of
anguish which more than compensated for his error, Arthur looked
after them as they moved slowly across the field, Richard
sometimes tottering beneath his load, which, nevertheless, he
would not release, and Nina, holding to his arm, telling him where
to go, and occasionally glancing backward toward the spot where
Arthur sat, until the night shadows were falling, and he shivered
with the heavy dew. Nina did not return, and thinking that she
would not, he started for home, never knowing how he reached
there, or when; only this he knew, no one suspected him of being
in the Deering Woods when Edith Hastings was attacked with that
strange fainting fit. Thanks for this to little Nina, who,
returning as she had promised, found the forgotten HAT still
dripping with water, and hiding it beneath her shawl, carried it
safely to Grassy Spring, where it would betray no one.
THE DARKNESS DEEPENS.
Death brooded over Collingwood, and his black wing beat
clamorously against the windows of the room to which, on that
fearful night, Richard had borne his fainting burden, and where
for days and weeks she lay so low that with every coming morning
the anxious villagers listened for the first stroke of the bell
which should tell that Edith was dead. Various were the rumors
concerning the cause of her illness, all agreeing upon one point,
to wit, that she had fainted suddenly in the woods with Nina, and
in falling, had received a deep gash upon her forehead. This it
was which made her crazy, the people said, and the physician
humored the belief, although with his experience he knew there was
some secret sorrow preying upon that young mind, the nature of
which he could not easily guess. It never occurred to him that it
was in any way associated with Arthur St. Claire, whose heart-
broken expression told how much he suffered, and how dear to him
was the delirious girl, who never breathed his name, or gave token
that she knew of his existence. Every morning, regularly he rung
the Collingwood bell, which was always answered by Victor, between
whom and himself there was a tacit understanding, perceptible in
the fervent manner with which the faithful valet's hand was
pressed whenever the news was favorable. He did not venture into
her presence, though repeatedly urged to do so by Grace, who
mentally accused him of indifference toward Edith. Alas, she knew
not of the nightly vigils kept by the wretched man, when with dim
eye and throbbing head he humbled himself before his Maker,
praying to be forgiven for the sorrow he had wrought, and again
wrestling in agony for the young girl, whose sick room windows he
could see, watching the livelong night the flickering of the lamp,
and fancying he could tell from its position, if any great change
occurred in her.
Richard was completely crushed, and without noticing any one he
sat hour after hour, day after day, night after night, always in
one place, near the head of the bed, his hands folded submissively
together, and his sightless eyes fixed upon the pillow, where he
knew Edith was, with a hopeless, subdued expression touching to
witness. He did not weep, but his dry, red eyes, fastened always
upon the same point, told of sealed fountains where the hot tears
were constantly welling up, and failing to find egress without,
fell upon the bruised heart, which blistered and burned beneath
their touch, but felt no relief. It was in vain they tried to
persuade him to leave the room; he turned a deaf ear to their
entreaties, and the physician was beginning to fear for his
reason, when crazy Nina came to his aid, and laying her moist hand
upon his said to him, not imploringly, but commandingly, "Come
There was a moment's hesitation, and then Richard followed her out
into the open air, sitting where she bade him sit, and offering no
resistance when she perched herself upon his knee and passed her
arm around his neck.
"Make him cry, can't you? That will do him good," whispered
Victor, who had come out with them.
Nina knew that better than himself. SHE remembered the time when
the sight of Edith had wrung from her torrents of tears, cooling
her burning brow, and proving a blessed relief, the good effects
of which were visible yet. And now it was her task to make the
blind man cry. She recognized something familiar in the hard,
stony expression of his face, something which brought back the
Asylum, with all its dreaded horrors. She had seen strong men
there look just as he was looking. Dr. Griswold had called them
crazy, and knowing well what that word implied she would save
Richard from so sad a fate.
"It will be lonesome for you when Miggie's gone," she said, as a
prelude, to the attempt; "lonesomer than it has ever been before;
and the nights will be so dark, for when the morning comes
there'll be no Miggie here. She will look sweetly in her coffin,
but you can't see her, can you? You can FEEL how beautiful she is,
perhaps; and I shall braid her hair just as she used to wear it."
There was a perceptible tremor in Richard's frame, and perceiving
it, Nina continued quickly,
"We shall never forget her, shall we? and we'll often fancy we
hear her singing through the halls, even though we know she's far
away heading the choir in Heaven. That will be a pleasanter sound,
won't it, than the echo of the bell when the villagers count the
eighteen strokes and a half, and know it tolls for Miggie? The
hearse wheels, too--how often we shall hear them grinding through
the gravel, as they will grind, making a little track when they
come up, and a deeper one when they go away, for they'll carry
"Oh, Nina! hush, hush! No, no!" and Richard's voice was choked
with tears, which ran over his face like rain.
Nina had achieved her object, and, with a most satisfied
expression she watched him as he wept. Her's was a triple task,
caring for Richard, caring for Arthur, and caring for Edith, but
most faithfully did she perform it. Every day, when the sun was
low in the western sky, she stole away to Grassy Spring, speaking
blessed words of comfort to the despairing Arthur, who waited for
her coming as for the visit of an angel. She was dearer to him now
since he had confessed his sin to Edith, and could she have been
restored to reason he would have compelled himself to make her his
wife in reality as well as in name. She was a sweet creature, he
knew; and he always caressed her with unwonted tenderness ere he
sent her back to the sick room, where Edith ever bemoaned her
absence, missing her at once, asking for pretty Nina, with the
golden hair. She apparently did not remember that Nina stood
between herself and Arthur St. Claire, or, if she did, she bore no
malice for the patient, all-enduring girl who nursed her with so
much care, singing to her the plaintive German air once sung to
Dr. Griswold, and in which Edith would often join, taking one
part, while Nina sang the other; and the members of the household,
when they heard the strange melody, now swelling load and full, as
some fitful fancy took possession of the crazy vocalists, and now
sinking to a plaintive wail, would shudder, and turn aside to
weep, for there was that in the music which reminded them of the
hearse wheels grinding down the gravel, and of the village bell
giving the eighteen strokes. Sometimes, for nearly a whole night
those songs of the olden time would echo through the house, and
with each note she sang the fever burned more fiercely in Edith's
veins, and her glittering black eyes flashed with increased fire,
while her fingers clutched at her tangled hair, as if they thus
would keep time to the thrilling strain. Her hair troubled her, it
was so heavy, so thick, so much in her way, and when she
manifested a propensity to relieve herself of the burden by
tearing it from the roots the physician commanded them to cut away
those beautiful shining braids, Edith's crowning glory.
It was necessary, he said, and the sharp, polished scissors were
ready for the task, when Nina, stepping in between them and the
blue-black locks, saved the latter from the nurse's barbaric hand.
She remembered well when her own curls had fallen one by one
beneath the shears of an unrelenting nurse, and she determined at
all hazards to spare Edith from a like fancied indignity.
"Miggie's hair shall not be harmed," she said, covering with her
apron the wealth of raven tresses. "I can keep her from pulling
it. I can manage her;" and the sequel proved that she was right.
It was a singular power that blue-eyed blonde possessed over the
dark-eyed brunette, who became at last as obedient to Nina's will
as Nina once had been to her's, and it was amusing to watch Nina
flitting about Edith, now reasoning with, now coaxing, and again
threatening her capricious patient, who was sure eventually to do
as she was bidden.
Only once while the delirium lasted did Edith refer to Arthur, and
then she said reproachfully, "Oh, Nina, what made him do so?"
They were alone, and bending over her, Nina replied, "I am so
sorry, Miggie, and I'll try to have the ugly thing SCRATCHED OUT."
This idea once fixed in Nina's mind could not easily be dislodged,
and several times she went to Richard, asking him to SCRATCH IT
OUT! Wishing to humor her as far as possible he always answered
that he would if he knew what she meant. Nina felt that she must
not explain, and with vigilant cunning she studied how to achieve
her end without betraying Arthur. It came to her one night, and
whispering to Edith, "I am going to get it fixed," she glided from
the room and sought the library where she was sure of finding
Richard. It was nearly eleven o'clock, but he had not yet retired,
and with his head bent forward he sat in his accustomed place, the
fire-light shining on his face, which had grown fearfully haggard
and white within the last two weeks. He heard Nina's step, and
knowing who it was, asked if Edith were worse.
"No," returned Nina, "she'll live, too, If you'll only scratch it
He was tired of asking what she meant, and he made no answer. But
Nina was too intent upon other matters to heed his silence. Going
to his secretary she arranged materials for writing, and then
taking his hand, said, in the commanding tone she used toward
Edith when at all refractory, "Come and write. 'Tis the only
chance of saving her life."
"Write what?" he asked, as he rose from his chair and suffered her
to lead him to the desk.
He had written occasionally since his blindness, but it was not a
frequent thing, and his fingers closed awkwardly about the pen she
placed in his hand. Feeling curious to know the meaning of all
this, he felt for the paper and then said to her,
"I am ready for you to dictate."
But dictation was no part of Nina's intentions. The lines traced
upon that sheet would contain a secret which Richard must not
know; and with a merry laugh, as she thought how she would cheat
him, she replied,
"No, SIR. Only Miggie and I can read what you write. Nina will
guide your hand and trace the words."
Dipping the pen afresh into the ink, she bade him take it, and
grasping his fingers, guided them while they wrote as follows;
"I, THE BLIND MAN, RICHARD HARRINGTON,--
"That last was my name," interrupted Richard, who was rewarded by
a slight pull of the hair, as Nina said,
"Hush, be quiet."
A great blot now came after the "Harrington," and wiping it up
with the unresisting Richard's coat sleeve, Nina continued:
"--DO HEREBY SOLEMNLY--"
She was not sure whether "swear" or "declare" would be the more
proper word, and she questioned Richard, who decided upon "swear"
as the stronger of the two, and she went on:
"--SWEAR THAT THE MARRIAGE OF--
"As true as you live you can't SEE?" she asked, looking curiously
into the sightless eyes.
"No; I can't see," was the response, and satisfied that she was
safe, Nina made him write,
"--ARTHUR ST. CLAIRE AND NINA BERNARD, PERFORMED AT MY HOUSE, IN
MY PRESENCE, AND BY ME--"
Nina didn't know what, but remembering a phrase she had often
heard used, and thinking it might be just what was needed, she
"Does 'NULL AND VOID' mean 'SCRATCHED OUT?'"
"Yes," he answered, smiling in spite of himself, and Nina added
with immense capitals,
"--NULL AND VOID," to what she had already written.
"I reckon it will be better to have your name," she said, and the
cramped fingers were compelled to add: "RICHARD HARRINGTON,
COLLINGWOOD, November 25th 18--"
"There!" and Nina glanced with an unusual amount of satisfaction
at the wonderful hieroglyphics which covered nearly an entire page
of foolscap, so large were the letters and so far apart the words.
"That'll cure her, sure," and folding it up, she hastened back to
Old Rachel watched that night, but Nina had no difficulty in
coaxing her from the room, telling her she needed sleep, and
Miggie was so much more quiet when alone with her. Rachel knew
this was true, and after an hour or so withdrew to another
apartment, leaving Edith alone with Nina. For a time Edith slept
quietly, notwithstanding that Nina rattled the spoons and upset a
chair hoping thus to wake her.
Meanwhile Richard's curiosity had been thoroughly roused with
regard to the SCRATCHING OUT, and knowing Victor was still up, he
summoned him to his presence, repeating to him what had just
occurred and saying, "If you find that paper read it. It is surely
right for me to know what I have written."
"Certainly," returned Victor, bowing himself from the room.
Rightly guessing that Nina would read it aloud to Edith, he
resolved to be within hearing distance, and when he heard Rachel
leave the chamber he drew near the door, left ajar for the purpose
of admitting fresher air. From his position he saw that Edith was
asleep, while Nina, with the paper clasped tightly in her hand,
sat watching her. Once the latter thought she heard a suspicious
sound, and stealing to the door she looked up and down the hall
where a lamp was burning, showing that it was empty.
"It must have been the wind," she said, resuming her seat by the
bedside, while Victor Dupres, gliding from the closet where he had
taken refuge, stood again at his former post, waiting for that
deep slumber to end.
"Nina, are you here?" came at last from the pale lips, and the
bright, black eyes unclosed looking wistfully about the room.
Silent and motionless Victor stood, while Nina, bending over
Edith, answered, "Yes, Miggie, I am here, and I've brought you
something to make you well. HE wrote it--Richard did--just now, in
the library. Can you see if I bring the lamp?" and thrusting the
paper into Edith's hands she held the lamp close to her eyes.
"You havn't strength, have you?" she continued, as Edith paid no
heed. "Let me do it for you," and taking the crumpled sheet, she
read in tones distinct and dear:
"I, THE BLIND MAN, RICHARD HARRINGTON, DO HEREBY SOLEMNLY SWEAR
THAT THE MARRIAGE OF ARTHUR ST. CLAIRE AND NINA BERNARD, PERFORMED
AT MY HOUSE, IN MY PRESENCE, AND BY ME, IS NULL AND VOID. RICHARD
HARRINGTON, COLLINGWOOD, NOVEMBER 5TH, 18--"
Slowly a faint color deepened on Edith's cheek, a soft lustre was
kindled in her eye, and the great tears dropped from her long
lashes. Her intellect was too much clouded for her to reason
clearly upon anything, and she did not, for a moment, doubt the
validity of what she heard. Richard could annul the marriage if he
would, she was sure, and now that he had done so, the bitterness
of death was past,--the dark river forded, and she was saved. Nina
had steered the foundering bark into a calm, quiet sea, and
exulting in her good work, she held Edith's head upon her bosom,
and whispered to her of the joyous future when she would live with
As a child listens to an exciting tale only comprehends in part,
so Edith listened to Nina, a smile playing about her mouth and
dancing in her eyes, which at last, as the low voice ceased,
closed languidly as did the soft blue orbs above them, and when
the grey dawn stole into the room it found them sleeping in each
other's arms,--the noble-hearted Nina who had virtually given up
her husband and the broken-hearted Edith who had accepted him.
They made a beautiful tableau, and Victor for a time stood
watching them, wiping the moisture from his own eyes, and
muttering to himself, "Poor Edith, I understand it now, and pity
you so much. But your secret is safe. Not for worlds would I
betray that blessed angel, Nina." Then, crossing the hall with a
cautious tread, he entered his own apartment and sat down to
Victor Dupres knew WHAT HAD BEEN SCRATCHED OUT!
It was late the next morning, ere Nina and Edith awoke from that
long sleep, which proved so refreshing to the latter, stilling her
throbbing pulse, cooling her feverish brow, and subduing the wild
look of her eyes, which had in them the clear light of reason.
Edith was better. She would live, the physician said, feeling a
glow of gratified vanity as he thought how that last dose of
medicine, given as an experiment, and about which he had been so
doubtful, had really saved her life. She would have died without
it, he knew, just as Mrs. Matson, who inclined to homoeopathic
principles, knew her patient would have died if she had not slily
thrown it in the fire, substituting in its stead sweetened water
and pills of bread.
Victor and Nina, too, had their theory with regard to the real
cause of Edith's convalescence, but each kept his own counsel,
Victor saying to Richard when questioned as to whether he had read
the paper or not,
"No, Miss Nina keeps it clutched tightly in her hand, as if
suspecting my design."
In the course of the day, however, Nina relaxed her vigilance, and
Victor, who was sent up stairs with wood, saw the important
document lying upon the hearth rug, where Nina had unconsciously
"It's safer with me," he thought, and picking it up, he carried it
to his own apartment, locking it in his trunk where he knew no
curious eyes would ever find it.
In her delight at Edith's visible improvement, Nina forgot the
paper for a day or two, and when at last she did remember it,
making anxious inquiries for it, Mrs. Matson, who was not the
greatest stickler for the truth, pacified her by saying she had
burned up a quantity of waste papers scattered on the floor, and
presumed this was among them. As Nina cared for nothing save to
keep the SCRATCHING OUT from every one except those whom it
directly concerned, she dismissed the subject from her mind, and
devoted herself with fresh energy to Edith, who daily grew better.
She had not seen Arthur since that night in the Deering Woods,
neither did she wish to see him. She did not love him now, she
said; the shock had been so great as to destroy the root of her
affections, and no excuse he could offer her would in the least
palliate his sin. Edith was very harsh, very severe toward Arthur.
She should never go to Grassy Spring again, she thought; never
look upon his face unless he came to Collingwood, which she hoped
he would not do, for an interview could only be painful to them
both. She should tell him how deceived she was in him, and Edith's
cheeks grew red, and her eyes unusually bright, as she mentally
framed the speech she should make to Arthur St. Claire, if ever
they did meet. Her excitement was increasing, when Nina came in,
and tossing bonnet and shawl on the floor, threw herself upon the
foot of the bed, and began to cry, exclaiming between each sob,
"Nina can't go! Nina won't go, and leave you here alone! I told
him so the vile boy, but he wouldn't listen, and Soph is packing
my trunks. Oh, Miggie, Miggie! how can I go without you? I shall
tear again, and be as bad as ever."
"What do you mean?" asked Edith, "Where are you going, and why?"
Drying her tears, Nina, in her peculiar way, related how "Arthur
wouldn't believe it was scratched out; Richard couldn't do such a
thing, he said; nobody could do it, but a divorce, and Arthur
wouldn't submit to that. He loves me better, than he used to do,"
she said; "and he talked a heap about how he'd fix up Sunny Bank.
Then he asked me how I liked the name of Nina St. Claire. _I_ HATE
IT!" and the blue eyes flashed as Edith had never seen them flash
before. "I won't be his wife! I'd forgotten all what it was that
happened that night until he told it to you in the woods. Then it
came back to me, and I remembered how we went to Richard, because
he was most blind, and did not often come to Geneva. That was
Sarah Warren's plan I believe, but my head has ached and whirled
so since that I most forget. Only this I know, nothing ever came
of it; and over the sea I loved Charlie Hudson, and didn't love
Arthur. But, Miggie he's been so good to me so like my mother.
He's held me in his arms a heap of nights when the fire was in my
brain; and once, Miggie, he held me so long, and I tore so
awfully, that he fainted, and Dr. Griswold cried, and said, 'Poor
Arthur; poor boy!' That's when _I_ BIT HIM!--bit Arthur, Miggie,
right on his arm, because he wouldn't let me pull his hair. Dr.
Griswold shook me mighty hard, but Arthur never said a word. He
only looked at me so sorry, so grieved like, that I came out of my
tantrum, and kissed the place. I've kissed it ever so many times
since then, and Arthur knows I'm sorry. I ain't a fit wife for
him. I don't blame him for wanting you. I can't see the WRONG, but
it's because I'm so thick-headed, I suppose! I wish I wasn't!" And
fixing her gaze upon the window opposite, Nina seemed to be living
over the past, and trying to arrange the events of her life in
some clear, tangible form.
Gradually as she talked Edith had softened toward Arthur--poor
Arthur, who had borne so much. She might, perhaps, forgive him,
but to FORGET was impossible. She had suffered too much at his
hands for that, and uttering a faint moan as she thought how all
her hopes of happiness were blasted, she turned on her pillow just
as Nina, coming out of her abstracted fit, said to her,
"Did I tell you we are going to Florida--Arthur and I--going back
to our old home, in two or three days, Arthur says it is better
so. Old scenes may cure me."
Alas, for poor human nature. Why did Edith's heart throb so
painfully, as she thought of Nina cured, and taken to Arthur's
bosom as his wife. She knew SHE could not be that wife, and only
half an hour before she had said within herself, "_I_ HATE HIM."
Now, however, she was conscious of a strong unwillingness to yield
to another the love lost to her forever, and covering her head
with the sheet, she wept to think how desolate her life would be
when she knew that far away, in the land of flowers, Arthur was
learning to forget her and bestowing his affection upon restored,
"Why do you cry?" asked Nina, whose quick ear detected the stifled
sobs. "Is it because we are going? I told him you would, when he
bade me come and ask if you would see him before he goes."
"Did he--did he send me that message?" and the Edith, who wouldn't
for the world meet Arthur St. Claire again, uncovered her face
eagerly. "Tell him to come to-morrow at ten o'clock. I am the
strongest then; and Nina, will you care if I ask you to stay away?
I'd rather see him alone."
Edith's voice faltered as she made this request, but Nina received
it in perfect good faith, answering that she would remain at home.
"I must go now," she added. "He's waiting for me, and I do so hope
you'll coax him to stay here. I hate old Florida."
Edith however felt that it was better for them both to part. She
had caught a glimpse of her own heart, and knew that its bleeding
fibres still clung to him, and still would cling till time and
absence had healed the wound.
"I will be very cold and indifferent to-morrow," she said to
herself, when after Nina's departure, she lay, anticipating the
dreaded meeting and working herself up to such a pitch of
excitement that the physician declared her symptoms worse, asking
who had been there, and saying no one must see her, save the
family, for several days.
The doctor's word was law at Collingwood, and with sinking spirits
Edith heard Richard in the hall without, bidding Mrs. Matson keep
every body from the sick room for a week. Even Nina was not to be
admitted, for it was clearly proved that her last visit had made
Edith worse. What should she do? Arthur would be gone ere the week
went by, and she MUST see him. Suddenly Victor came into her mind.
She could trust him to manage it, and when that night, while Mrs.
Matson was at her tea he came up as usual with wood, she said to
him, "Victor, shut the door so no one can hear, and then come
close to me."
He obeyed, and standing by her bedside waited for her to speak.
"Victor, Mr. St. Claire is going to Florida in a day or two. I've
promised to see him to-morrow at ten o'clock, and Richard says no
one can come in here, but I must bid Arthur good-bye and Nina,
too. Can't you manage it, Victor?"
"Certainly," returned Victor, who, better than any one else knew
his own power over his master. "You shall see Mr. St. Claire, and
see him alone."
Victor had not promised more than be felt able to perform, and
when at precisely ten o'clock next day the door bell rang, he
hastened to answer the summons, admitting Arthur, as he had
"I called to see Miss Hastings," said Arthur, "I start for Florida
to-morrow, and would bid her good-bye."
Showing him into the parlor, Victor sought Richard's presence, and
by a few masterly strokes of policy and well-worded arguments,
obtained his consent for Arthur to see Edith just a few moments.
"It was too bad to send him away without even a good-bye, when she
had esteemed him so highly as a teacher," Richard said,
unwittingly repeating Victor's very words--that a refusal would do
her more injury than his seeing her could possibly do. "I'll go
with him. Where is he?" he asked, rising to his feet.
"Now, I wouldn't if I was you. Let him talk with her alone. Two
excite her a great deal more than one, and he may wish to say some
things concerning Nina which he does not care for any one else to
hear. There is a mystery about HER, you know."
Richard did not know, but he suffered himself to be persuaded, and
Victor returned to Arthur, whom be conducted in triumph to the
door of Edith's chamber. She heard his well known step. She knew
that he was coming, and the crimson spots upon her cheeks told how
much she was excited. Arthur did not offer to caress her--he dared
not do that now--but be knelt by her side, and burying his face in
her pillow, said to her,
"I have come for your forgiveness, Edith. I could not go without
it. Say that I am forgiven, and it will not be so hard to bid you
Edith meant to be very cold, but her voice was choked as she
"I can forgive you, Arthur, but to forget is harder far. And still
even that might be possible were I the only one whom you have
wronged; but Nina--how could you prove so faithless to your
"Edith," and Arthur spoke almost sternly. "You would not have me
live with Nina as she is now."
"No, no," she moaned, "not as she is now, but years ago. Why
didn't you acknowledge her as your wife, making the best of your
misfortune. People would have pitied you so much, and I--oh,
Arthur, the world would not then have been so dark, so dreary for
me. Why did you deceive me, Arthur? It makes my heart ache so
"Oh, Edith, Edith, you drive me mad," and Arthur took in his the
hand which all the time had unconsciously been creeping toward
him. "I was a boy, a mere boy, and Nina was a little girl. We
thought it would be romantic, and were greatly influenced by
Nina's room-mate, who planned the whole affair. I told you once
how Nina wept, pleading with her father to let her stay in Geneva,
but I have not told you that she begged of me to tell him all,
while I unhesitatingly refused. I knew expulsion from College
would surely be the result, and I was far too ambitious to submit
to this degradation when it could be avoided. You know of the
gradual change in our feelings for each other, know what followed
her coming home, and you can perhaps understand how I grew so
morbidly sensitive to anything concerning her, and so desirous to
conceal my marriage from every one. This, of course, prompted me
to keep her existence a secret as long as possible, and, in my
efforts to do so, I can see now that I oftentimes acted the part
of a fool. If I could live over the past again I would proclaim
from the housetops that Nina was my wife. I love her with a
different love since I told you all. She is growing fast into my
heart, and I have hopes that a sight of her old home, together
with the effects of her native air, will do her good. Griswold
always said it would, and preposterous as it seems, I have even
dared to dream of a future, when Nina will be in a great measure
restored to reason."
"If she does, Arthur, what then?" and, in her excitement, Edith
raised herself in bed, and sat looking at him with eyes which grew
each moment rounder, blacker, brighter, but had in them, alas, no
expression of joy; and when in answer to her appeal, Arthur said,
"I shall make her my wife," she fell back upon her pillow,
uttering a moaning cry, which to the startled Arthur sounded like,
"No, no! no, no! not your wife."
"Edith," and rising to his feet Arthur stood with folded arms,
gazing pityingly upon her, himself now the stronger of the two.
"Edith, you, of all others, must not tempt me to fall. You surely
will counsel me to do right! Help me! oh, help me! I am so weak,
and I feel my good resolutions all giving way at sight of your
distress! If it will take one iota from your pain to know that
Nina shall never be my acknowledged wife, save as she is now, I
will swear to you that, were her reason ten times restored, she
shall not; But, Edith, don't, don't make me swear it. I am lost,
lost if you do. Help me to do right, won't you, Edith?"
He knelt beside her again, pleading with her not to tempt him from
the path in which he was beginning to walk; and Edith, as she
listened, felt the last link, which bound her to him, snapping
asunder. For a moment she HAD wavered; had shrank from the thought
that any other could ever stand to him in the relation she once
had hoped to stand; but that weakness was over, and while chiding
herself for it, she hastened to make amends.
Turning her face toward him, and laying both her hands on his
bowed head, she said,
"May the Good Father bless you, Arthur, even as you prove true to
Nina. I have loved you, more than you will ever know, or I can
ever tell, and my poor, bruised heart clings to you still with a
mighty grasp. It is so hard to give you up, but it is right. I
shall think of you often in your beautiful Southern home, praying
always that God will bless you and forgive you at the last, even
as I forgive you. And now farewell, MY Arthur, I once fondly hoped
to call you, but mine no longer--NINA'S Arthur--go."
She made a gesture for him to leave her, but did not unclose her
eyes. She could not look upon him, find know it was the last, last
time, but she offered no remonstrance when he left, upon her lips
a kiss so full of hopeless and yearning tenderness that it burned
there many a day after he was gone. She heard him turn away, heard
him cross the floor, knew he paused upon the threshold, and still
her eye-lids never opened, though the hot tears rained over her
face in torrents.
"The sweetest joy I have ever known was my love for you, Edith
Hastings," he whispered, and then the door was closed between
Down the winding stairs he went, Edith counting every step, for
until all sound of him had ceased she could not feel that they
were parted forever. The sounds did cease at last, he had bidden
Richard a calm good-bye, had said good-bye to Victor, and now he
was going from the house. He would soon be out of sight, and with
an intense desire to stamp his image upon her mind just as he was
now, the changed, repentant Arthur, Edith arose, and tottering to
the window, looked after him, through blinding tears, as he passed
slowly from her sight, and then crawling, rather than walking back
to her bed, she wept herself to sleep.
It was a heavy, unnatural slumber, and when she awoke from it, the
fever returned with redoubted violence, bringing her a second time
so near the gates of death that Arthur St. Claire deferred his
departure for several days, and Nina became again the nurse of the
sick room. But all in vain were her soft caresses and words of
love. Edith was unconscious of everything, and did not even know
when Nina's farewell kiss was pressed upon her lips and Nina's
gentle hands smoothed her hair for the last time. A vague
remembrance she had of an angel flitting around the room, a
bright-haired seraph, who held her up from sinking in the deep,
dark river, pointing to the friendly shore where life and safety
lay, and this was all she knew of a parting which had wrung tears
from every one who witnessed it, for there was something
wonderfully touching in the way the crazy Nina bade adieu to
"Miggie," lamenting that she must leave her amid the cold northern
hills, and bidding her come to the southland, where the magnolias
were growing and flowers were blossoming all the day long. Seizing
the scissors, which lay upon the stand, she severed one of her
golden curls, and placing it on Edith's pillow, glided from the
room, followed by the blessing of those who had learned to love
the beautiful little girl as such as she deserved to be loved.
* * * * * *
One by one the grey December days went by, and Christmas fires
were kindled on many a festal hearth. Then the New Year dawned
upon the world, and still the thick, dark curtains shaded the
windows of Edith's room. But there came a day at last, a pleasant
January day, when the curtains were removed, the blinds thrown
open, and the warm sunlight came in shining upon Edith, a
convalescent. Very frail and beautiful she looked in her crimson
dressing gown, and her little foot sat loosely in the satin
slipper, Grace Atherton's Christmas gift. The rich lace frill
encircling her throat was fastened with a locket pin of
exquisitely wrought gold, in which was encased a curl of soft,
yellow hair, Nina's hair, a part of the tress left on Edith's
pillow. This was Richard's idea,--Richard's New Year's gift to his
darling; but Richard was not there to share in the general joy.
Just across the hall, in a chamber darkened as hers had been, he
was lying now, worn out with constant anxiety and watching. When
Nina left, his prop was gone, and the fever which had lain in wait
for him so long, kindled within his veins a fire like to that
which had burned in Edith's, but his strong, muscular frame met it
fiercely, and the danger had been comparatively slight.
All this Grace told to Edith on that morning when she was first
suffered to sit up, and asked why Richard did not come to share
her happiness, for in spite of one's mental state, the first
feeling of returning health is one of joy. Edith felt it as such
even though her heart was so sore that every beat was painful. She
longed to speak of Grassy Spring, but would not trust herself
until Victor, reading her feelings aright, said to her with an
assumed indifference, "Mr. St. Claire's house is shut up, all but
the kitchen and the negro apartments. They are there yet, doing
nothing and having a good time generally."
"And I have had a letter from Arthur," chimed in Mrs. Atherton,
while the eyes resting on Victor's face turned quickly to hers.
"They reached Sunny Bank in safety, he and Nina, and Soph."
"And Nina," Edith asked faintly, "how is she?"
"Improving, Arthur thinks, though she misses you very much."
Edith drew a long, deep sigh, and when next she spoke, she said,
"Take me to the window, please, I want to see the country."
In an instant, Victor, who knew well what she wanted, took her in
his arms, and carrying her to the window, set her down in the
chair which Grace brought for her; then, as if actuated by the
same impulse, both left her and returned to the fire, while she
looked across the snow-clad fields to where Grassy Spring reared
its massive walls, now basking in the winter sun. It was a
mournful pleasure to gaze at that lonely building, with its barred
doors, its closed shutters, and the numerous other tokens it gave
of being nearly deserted. There was no smoke curling from the
chimneys, no friendly door opened wide, no sweet young face
peering from the iron lattice of the Den, no Arthur, no Nina
there. Nothing but piles of snow upon the roof, snow upon the
window-sills, snow upon the doorsteps, snow upon the untrodden
walk, snow on the leafless elms, standing there so bleak and
brown. Snow everywhere, as cold, as desolate as Edith's heart, and
she bade Victor take her back again to the warm grate where she
might perhaps forget how gloomy and sad, and silent, was Grassy
"Did I say anything when I was delirious--anything I ought not to
have said?" she suddenly asked of Grace; and Victor, as if she had
questioned him, answered quickly,
"Nothing, nothing--all is safe."
Like a flash of lightning, Grace Atherton's eyes turned upon him,
while he, guessing her suspicions, returned her glance with one as
strangely inquisitive as her own.
"Mon Dieu! I verily believe she knows," he muttered, as he left
the room, and repairing to his own, dived to the bottom of his
trunk, to make sure that he still held in his possession the paper
on which it had been "scratched out."
That night as Grace Atherton took her leave of Edith, she bent
over the young girl, and whispered in her ear,
"I know it all. Arthur told me the night before he left. God pity
you, Edith! God pity you!"
THE NINETEENTH BIRTH-DAY.
Edith was nineteen. She was no longer the childish, merry-hearted
maiden formerly known as Edith Hastings. Her cruel disappointment
had ripened her into a sober, quiet woman, whose songs were seldom
heard in the halls of Collingwood, and whose bounding steps had
changed into a slower, more measured tread.
Still, there was in her nature too much of life and vigor to be
crushed out at once, and oftentimes it flashed up with something
of its olden warmth, and the musical laugh fell again on Richard's
listening ear. He knew she was changed, but he imputed it all to
her long, fearful sickness; when the warm summer days came back,
she would be as gay as ever, he thought, or if she did not he
would in the autumn take her to FLORIDA, to visit Nina, for whom
he fancied she might be pining. Once he said as much to her, but
his blindness was a shield between them, and he did not see the
sudden paling of her cheek and quivering of her lip.
Alas, for Richard, that he walked in so great a darkness. Hour by
hour, day by day, had his love increased for the child of his
adoption, until now she was a part of his very life, pervading
every corner and crevice of his being. He only lived for her, and
in his mighty love, he became selfishly indifferent to all else
around him. Edith was all he cared for;--to have her with him;--to
hear her voice,--to know that she was sitting near,--that by
stretching forth his hand he could lay it on her head, or feel her
beautiful cheeks,--this was his happiness by day, and when at
night he parted unwillingly from her, there was still a
satisfaction in knowing that he should meet her again on the
morrow,--in thinking that she was not far away--that by stepping
across the hall and knocking at her door he could hear her sweet
voice saying to him,
"What is it, Richard?"
He liked to have her call him Richard, as she frequently did. It
narrowed the wide gulf of twenty-one years between them, bringing
him nearer to her, so near, in fact, that bridal veils and orange
wreaths now formed a rare loveliness walked ever at his side;
clothed in garments such as the mistress of Collingwood's half
million ought to wear, and this maiden was Edith--the Edith who,
on her nineteenth birth-day, sat in her own chamber devising a
thousand different ways of commencing a conversation which she
meant to have with her guardian, the subject of said conversation
being no less a personage than Grace Atherton. Accidentally Edith