Part 6 out of 8
Does that suit you, dearest?"
She did not often call him thus, and when she did she was sure of
accomplishing her purpose. The strong man melted beneath a few
words of love, becoming a very tool in the hands of a weak girl.
"Yes, darling," he replied, "that will do--but supposing we hear
that Nina is better, or dead--what then?"
The mere possibility was terrible to Edith, but she answered
"Then we'll be married in October, just as first proposed;" and
thus was the die cast, and a fresh link added to the chain of
Edith's destiny. She was going to Florida; going to Arthur; and
going alone, so far as Richard was concerned.
Spying Victor coming up the walk from the post-office, she ran out
to meet him, telling him of the journey before him, and almost
crying for joy when he placed in her hand a worn envelope bearing
the post-mark of Tallahassee. It was from Arthur, and contained a
few lines only, telling of Nina's increasing illness, and her
restless, impatient desire for Miggie. In conclusion he wrote,
"We have had no fever this summer. You will be perfectly safe in
coming any time after the middle of October. I shall welcome Mr.
Harrington most cordially if he sees fit to accompany you."
Edith could read this to Richard, and she did, feeling a pang at
the perfect faith with which he answered,
"Were it not for the tedious journey I believe I would go with
you, but it's too much of an undertaking. I won't trammel you with
so great a burden. I'd rather stay at home and anticipate my
Then with the same forethought and careful consideration which
marked all his actions, Richard consulted with her as to the beat
time for her to start, fixing upon the 15th of October, and making
all his arrangements subservient to this. He did not tell her how
lonely he should be without her--how he should miss her merry
laugh, which, strange to say, grew merrier each day; but he let
her know in various ways how infinitely precious she was to him,
and more than once Edith felt constrained to give up the journey,
but the influences from Florida drew her strangely in that
direction, and revolving to pay Richard for his self-denial by an
increase of love when she should return, she busied herself with
her preparations until the 15th of October came, and her trunks
stood ready in the hall.
"If I could only read your letters myself, it would not seem one-
half so bad," Richard said, when at the last moment, he held
Edith's hand, "but there's a shadow over me this morning--a dark
presentiment that in suffering you to leave me I am losing you
Edith could not answer, she pitied him so much, and kissing his
lips, she put from her neck his clinging arms, wiped his tears
away, smoothed his ruffled hair, and then went out from his
presence, leaving him there in his sorrow and blindness alone.
"Berry soon, Miss, an' we're thar. We turns the corner yonder, we
drives 'cross the plain, down a hill, up anoder, an' then we's
mighty nigh a mile from the spot."
Such was the answer made by Tom, the Bernard coachman to Edith's
repeated inquiries, "Are we almost there."
For three successive days the Bernard carriage had been to
Tallahassee in quest of the expected guest, whose coming was
watched for so eagerly at Sunnybank, and who, as the bright
October afternoon was drawing to its close, looked eagerly out at
a huge old house which stood not very far distant with the setting
sun shining on the roof and illuminating all the upper windows. A
nearer approach showed it to be a large, square, wooden building,
divided in the centre by a wide, airy hall, and surrounded on
three sides by a verandah, the whole bearing a more modern look
than most of the country houses in Florida, for Mr. Bernard had
possessed considerable taste, and during his life had aimed at
fitting up his residence somewhat after the northern fashion. To
Edith there was something familiar about that old building, with
its handsome grounds, and she said aloud,
"I've surely dreamed of Sunnybank."
"Berry likely, Miss," answered Tom, thinking the remark addressed
to him, inasmuch as Edith's head protruded from the window.
"Dreams is mighty onsartin. Git 'long, you Bill, none o'yer lazy
carlicues, case don't yer mind thar's Mars'r Arthur on the
v'randy, squinting to see if I's fotched 'em," and removing his
old straw hat, Tom swung it three times around his head, that
being the signal he was to give if Edith were in the carriage.
With an increased flush upon his brow, Arthur St. Claire hastened
down, pausing at an inner room while he bent over and whispered to
a young girl reclining on her pillow,
"Nina, darling, Miggie's come."
There was a low cry of unutterable delight, and Nina Bernard
raised herself upon her elbow, looking wistfully toward the door
through which Arthur had disappeared.
"Be quiet, la petite Nina," said a short, thick woman, who sat by
the bed, apparently officiating in the capacity of nurse; then, as
the carriage stopped at the gate, she glided to the window,
muttering to herself, "Charmant charmant, magnifique," as she
caught a full view of the eager, sparkling face, turned toward the
young man hastening down the walk. Then, with that native
politeness natural to her country, she moved away so as not to
witness the interview.
That was all they said, for Richard and Nina stood between them, a
powerful preventive to the expression of the great joy throbbing
in the heart of each, as hand grasped hand, and eye sought eye,
fearfully, tremblingly, lest too much should be betrayed.
"Miggie, Miggie, be quick," came from the room where Nina was now
standing up in bed, her white night dress hanging loosely about
her forehead and neck.
It needed but this to break the spell which bound the two without,
and dropping Edith's hand, Arthur conducted her to the house,
meeting in the hall with Nina, who, in spite of Mrs. Lamotte had
jumped from her bed and skipping across the floor, flung herself
into Edith's arms, sobbing frantically,
"You did come, precious Miggie, to see sick Nina, didn't you, and
you'll stay forever and ever, won't you, my own sweet Miggie, and
Arthur's too? Oh, joy, joy, Nina's so happy to-night."
The voice grew very faint, the white lips ceased their pressure of
kisses upon Edith's--the golden head began to droop, and Arthur
took the fainting girl in his arms, carrying her back to her bed,
where he laid her gently down, himself caring for her until she
began to revive.
Meanwhile Edith was introduced to Mrs. Lamotte, a French woman,
who once was Nina's nurse, and who had come to Sunnybank a few
weeks before. Any one at all interested in Nina was sure of a
place in Edith's affections, and she readily took Mrs. Lamotte's
proffered hand, but she was not prepared for the peculiarly
curious gaze fastened upon her, as Mrs. Lamotte waved off Teeny,
the black girl, and taking her traveling bag and shawl, said to
"This way, s'il vous plait, Mademoiselle Marguerite. Pardonnez
moi," she added quickly, as she met Edith's questioning glance,
"Mademoiselle Miggie, as la petite Nina calls you."
Once in Edith's room, Mrs. Lamotte did not seem in haste to leave
it, but continued talking in both English and French to Edith, who
more than once, as the tones fell upon her ear, turned quickly to
see if it were not some one she had met before.
"Je m'en irai," Mrs. Lamotte said at last, as she saw that her
presence was annoying Edith; and as the latter offered no
remonstrance, she left the room, and Edith was alone with her
Where was she? What room was this, with the deep window seats, and
that wide-mouthed fire-place? Who was this woman that puzzled her
so? Edith kept asking herself these questions, but could find for
them no satisfactory answer. Struggle as she might, she felt more
like a child returned to its home than like a stranger in a
strange land. Even the soft south wind, stealing through the open
casement, and fanning her feverish cheek, had something familiar
in its breath, as if it had stolen in upon her thus aforetime; and
when across the fields, she heard the negroes' song as they came
homeward from their toil, she laid her head upon the window sill,
and wept for the something which swept over her, something so
sweet, so sad, and yet so indescribable.
Fearing lest the Frenchwoman should return, she made a hasty
toilet, and then stole down to Nina, who, wholly exhausted with
the violence of her emotions at meeting Edith, lay perfectly still
upon her pillow, scarcely whiter than her own childish face, round
which a ray of the setting sun was shining, encircling it with a
halo of glorious beauty, and making her look like an angel of
purity and love. She did not attempt to speak as Edith came in,
but her eyes smiled a welcome, and her thin, wasted fingers
pointed to where Edith was to sit upon the bed beside her. Arthur
sat on the other side, holding one of Nina's hands, and the other
was given to Edith, who pressed it to her lips, while her tears
dropped upon it like rain. The sight of them disturbed the sick
girl, and shaking her wealth of curls which, since Edith saw them,
had grown thick and long, she whispered,
"Don't, Miggie; tears are not for Nina; she's so glad, for she is
almost home. She'll go down to the river brink with your arms and
Arthur boy's around her. Precious Miggie, nice Arthur. Nina is
Such were the disjointed sentences she kept whispering, while her
eyes turned from Edith to Arthur and from Arthur back to Edith,
resting longer there, and the expression of the face told of the
unutterable joy within. Softly the twilight shadows stole into the
room, and the servants glided in and out, casting furtive and
wondering glances at Edith, who saw nothing save the clear blue
eyes shining upon her, even through the gathering darkness, and
telling her of the love which could not be expressed.
As it grew darker Nina drew the two hands she clasped together--
Arthur's and Edith's--laid them one above the other upon her
bosom, pressed her own upon them, and when, at last, the candles
were brought in and placed upon the table, Edith saw that the
weary lids had closed and Nina was asleep. Every effort, however,
which she made to disengage her hand from its rather embarrassing
position, threatened to arouse the sleeper, and for nearly half an
hour she sat there with her hand beneath Arthur's, but she dared
not look at him, and with her face turned away, she answered his
questions concerning Shannondale and its inhabitants.
After a time Mrs. Lamotte came in and asked if mademoiselle would
like to retire. Edith would far rather have gone to her room
alone, but Mrs. Lamotte seemed bent upon hovering near her, and as
there was no alternative she followed her up the stairs and into
the chamber, where she had lain aside her things. To her great
relief her companion did not stay longer than necessary, and ere
the entire household was still, Edith was dreaming of Collingwood
The next morning was bright, balmy, and beautiful, and at an early
hour Edith arose and went down to Nina, who heard her step in the
hall, and called to her to come.
"Darling Miggie, I dreamed you were gone," she said, "and, I cried
so hard that it woke Arthur up. He sleeps here every night, on
that wide lounge," and she pointed toward a corner, "I've grown so
silly that I won't let any body else take care of me but Arthur
boy--he does it so nice and lifts me so carefully. Hasn't he grown
pale and thin?"
Edith hardly knew, for she had not ventured to look fully at him,
but she assumed that he had, and Nina continued: "He's a darling
boy, and Nina loves him now."
"How is your head this morning," Edith asked, and Nina replied,
"It's better. It keeps growing better, some days it's clear as a
bell, but I don't like it so well, for I know then that you ain't
Miggie,--not the real Miggie who was sent home in mother's coffin.
We have a new burying ground, one father selected long ago, the
sweetest spot you ever saw, and they are moving the bodies there
now. They are going to take up my last mother, and the little bit
of Miggie to-day, and Marie is so flurried."
Arthur's step was now heard in the hall, and this it was which so
excited Edith that she failed to catch the word Marie, or to
understand that it was Mrs. Lamotte who was worried about the
removal of the bodies. In a moment Arthur appeared, bringing a
delicate bouquet for Nina, and a world of sunshine to Edith. He
was changed, Edith saw as she looked at him now, and yet she liked
his face better than before. He seemed to her like one over whom
the fire had passed, purifying as it burned, and leaving a better
metal than it had found. He was wholly self-possessed this
morning, greeting her as if the scene in the Deering woods had
never been enacted, and she could hardly believe that they were
the same, the Arthur of one year ago, and the Arthur of to-day;
the quiet, elegant young man, who, with more than womanly
tenderness, pushed Nina's curls back under her lace cap, kissed
her forehead, and then asked Edith if she did not look like a
little nun with her hair so plain.
Nina liked to be caressed, and she smiled upon him a smile so full
of trusting faith and love, that Edith's eyes filled with tears,
and her rebellious heart went out toward Arthur as it had never
done before, inasmuch as she felt that he was now far more worthy
Very rapidly the morning passed away, and it was after three
o'clock P.M., when, as Arthur sat with Edith upon the cool piazza,
one of the negroes came running up, the perspiration starting from
every pore, and himself almost frantic with excitement.
"What is it, Caesar?" Arthur asked. "What has happened to you?"
"Nothing to me, Mars'r," returned the negro; "but sumfin mighty
curis happen over dar," and he pointed in the direction where his
comrades were busy removing the family dead to a spot selected by
Mr. Bernard years before as one more suitable than the present
location. "You see, we was histin' de box of the young Miss and de
chile, when Bill let go his holt, and I kinder let my hands slip
off, when, Lor' bless you, the box busted open, an' we seen the
coffin spang in the face. Says Bill, says he--he's allus a
reasonin', you know--an', says he, 'that's a mighty narrer coffin
for two;' and wid that, Mr. Berry, the overseer, Miss," turning to
Edith, "He walked up, and findin' de screws rattlin' and loose,
just turned back de top piece, an', as true as Caesar's standin'
here, there wasn't no chile thar; nothin' 'tall but the Miss, an'
she didn't look no how; never should have guessed them heap of
bones had ever been Miss Petry."
Edith started from her chair and was about to speak when a hand
was laid upon her wrist, and turning, she saw Mrs. Lamotte
standing behind her, and apparently more excited than herself.
"Come with me," she said, leading the unresisting Edith away, and
leaving Arthur to follow Caesar.
Of all the household at Sunnybank no one had been so much
interested in the removal of the bodies as Mrs. Lamotte, and yet
her interest was all centered upon the grave of Miggie Bernard's
mother. When that was disturbed, she was watching from her window,
and when the accident occurred which revealed the fraud of years,
she hurried down and, with a cat-like tread, glided behind Edith's
chair where she stood while Caesar told his story.
It would be impossible to describe Edith's feeling as she followed
the strange woman up to her own room, sitting down just where Mrs.
Lamotte bade her sit, and watching nervously the restless rolling
of the eyes, which had no terror for her now, particularly after
their owner said to her in French,
"Do you know me, Edith Hastings, Eloise Temple, Marguerite
Bernard? Have we never met before?"
Like the rushing of some mighty, pent up flood the past swept over
her then, almost bearing her senses down with the headlong tide;
link after link was joined, until the chain of evidence was
complete, and with a scream of joy Edith went forward to the arms
unfolded to receive her.
"Marie, Marie!" she cried, "How is it? When was it? Where was it?
Am I anybody or not, tell me?"
Then question followed question go rapidly that Marie, with all
her voluble French and broken English, was hardly able to keep up.
But the whole was told at last; everything was clear to Edith as
the daylight, and tottering to the bed, she asked to be alone,
while she wept and prayed over this great joy, which had come so
suddenly upon her.
"Nina, Nina. I thank thee, oh, my Father, for sweet, precious
That was all she could say, as with her face in the pillows, she
lay until the sun went down, and night fell a second time on
"No one shall tell her but myself," she thought as she descended
to Nina's room, where Arthur was telling of the discovery they had
made--a discovery for which he could not account, and about which
the negroes, congregated together in knots, were talking, each
offering his or her own theory with regard to the matter, and
never once thinking to question Mrs. Lamotte, who, they knew, had
been with Mrs. Bernard when she died.
"Oh, Miggie!" Nina cried. "HAVE you heard? do you know? Little
Miggie isn't there where we thought she was. She's gone. Nobody's
there but my other mother."
"Yes, I know," Edith answered, and laying her hand on Arthur's she
said, "Please, Mr. St Claire, go away awhile. I must see Nina
alone. Don't let anybody disturb us, will you? Go to Mrs.
Lamotte. Ask her what I mean. She can tell you. She told me."
Thus importuned, Arthur left the room, and Edith was alone with
Oh, how Edith yearned to take that sweet young creature to her
bosom, and concentrate in one wild, passionate hug the love of so
many wasted years; but Nina must not be unduly startled if she
would make her comprehend what she had to tell, and conquering her
own agitation with a wondrous effort she sat down upon the bed,
"How is my darling? Is her head all in a twist?"
Nina smiled, a rational, knowing smile, and answered,
"There wasn't the least bit of a twist in it till Arthur told me
about that in the graveyard, and then it began to thump so loud,
but with you sitting here, I'm better. You do me so much good,
Miggie. Your eyes keep me quiet. Where do you suppose she is--the
other Miggie; and how did she get out of the coffin?"
"Nina," said Edith, "can you understand me if I tell you a story
about a little girl who resembled your sister Miggie?"
Nina liked stories and though she would rather have talked of the
real Miggie, she expressed a willingness to listen, and by the dim
candle light Edith saw that the blue eyes, fixed so intently upon
her, still retained the comparatively rational expression she had
observed when she first came in. Moving a little nearer to her,
"A great many years ago, nearly eighteen, we will say, a beautiful
little girl, eight years old, I guess, with curls like yours,
waited one night in just such a house as this, for her father, who
had been long in Europe, and who was to bring her a new mother,
and a dear baby sister, two years old or thereabouts."
"Didn't I wear my blue dress, trimmed with white?" Nina asked
suddenly, her mind seeming to have followed Edith's, and grasped
the meaning of what she heard.
"I dare say you did," Edith answered; "at all events this little
girl was very beautiful as she waited in the twilight for the
"Call the little girl Nina, please, I'll get at it better then,"
was the next interruption; and with a smile, Edith said,
"Nina, then, waited till they came--her father, her new mother
"Beautiful Petrea," Nina exclaimed, "la belle Petrea, black hair
like yours, Miggie, and voice like the soft notes of the piano.
She taught me a heap of tunes which I never have forgotten, but
tell me more of the black-eyed baby, Nina's precious sister. I did
hug and squeeze her so--'la jolie enfant,' Marie called her."
Nina seemed to have taken the story away from Edith, who, when she
ceased speaking, again went on:
"Eloise Marguerite was the baby sister's name; Eloise, for a proud
aunt, who, after they came home, would not suffer them to call her
so, and she was known as Marguerite, which Nina shortened into
Miggie, Nina darling," and Edith spoke sadly now. "Was your father
always kind to Petrea?"
There was a look in Nina's face like a scared bird, and raising
her hands to her head, she said,
"Go away, old buzzing. Let Nina think what it was they used to do-
-pa and grandma and aunt Eloise. I know now; grandma and auntie
were proud of the Bernard blood, they said, and they called Petrea
vulgar, and baby sister a brat; and pa--oh, Miggie, I reckon he
was naughty to the new mother. He had a buzz in his head most
every night, not like mine, but a buzz that he got at the dinner
and the side-board, where they kept the bottles, and he struck
her, I saw him, and Marie, she was here, too, she stepped between
them, and called him a drunken, deceitful beast, and a heap more
in French. Then one morning when he was gone to New Orleans, and
would come home pretty soon, mother and Marie and Miggie went a
visiting to Tallahassee, or somewhere, and they never came back
again, though pa went after them as soon as he got home. Why
didn't they, Miggie?"
"Petrea was very unhappy here," Edith answered. "Mr. Bernard
abused her, as did his haughty mother, and once when he was gone
Petrea said she would go to Tallahassee to see a lady who had
visited her at Sunnybank. So she went with Marie, and Miggie, then
three years old, but did not stop in Tallahassee. They ran away to
New York, where Marie's sister lived. Here Petrea was taken sick
and died, making Marie promise that Miggie should never go back to
her bad father and his proud family. And Marie, who hated them
bitterly, all but Nina, kept her word. She wrote to Sunnybank that
both were dead, and the letter was forwarded by your grandmother
to Mr. Bernard, who had gone after his wife, but who lay drunk
many days at a hotel. The letter sobered him, and as it contained
Marie's address, he found her at last, crying bitterly for little
Miggie, up stairs asleep, but he thought her in the coffin with
her mother. Marie said so and he believed her, bringing the bodies
back to Sunnybank, and burying them beneath the magnolias."
"And built a great marble there with both their names cut on it,"
chimed in Nina, fearful lest any part of the story should be
"Yes," returned Edith, "he raised a costly monument to their
memory; but don't you wish to know what became of Miggie?"
"Yes, yes, oh, yes, go on," was Nina's answer; and Edith
"Marie was too poor to take care of Miggie, and she put her in the
"The Asylum!" Nina fairly screamed. "Nina's baby sister in the
nasty old Asylum. No, no, it ain't. I won't, I shan't listen to
the naughty story," and the excited girl covered her head with a
But Edith removed it gently, and with a few loving words quieted
the little lady, who said again, "Go on."
"It was the Orphan Asylum, where Nina's sister was put, but they
didn't call her Miggie. Her dying mother gave her another name
lest the father should some time find her, and there in that great
noisy city Miggie lived five or six long years, gradually
forgetting everything in the past, everything but Marie's name and
the airs her mother used to sing. Miggie had a taste for music,
and she retained the plaintive strains sung to her as lullabys."
"I know them, too," Nina said, beginning to hum one, while Edith
"After a time Marie went back to France. She did not mean to stay
long, but she was attacked with a lingering, painful sickness, and
could not return to Miggie, whom a beautiful lady took at last as
her waiting-maid. Then Arthur came--Arthur, a boy--and she saw
"The one in the locket! Nina asked, and Edith answered, "Yes,
'twas in a locket, and it puzzled Miggie till she spoke the name,
but thought it was Arthur who told her."
"Wait, wait," cried Nina, suddenly striking her forehead a heavy
blow; "I'm getting all mixed up, and something flashes across my
brain like lightning. I reckon it's a streak of sense. It feels
Nina was right. It was "a streak of sense," and when Edith again
resumed her story the crazy girl was very calm and quiet.
"After a time this Miggie went to live with a blind man--with
Richard," and Edith's hands closed tightly around the snowy
fingers, which crept so quickly toward her. "She grew to be a
woman. She met this golden-haired Nina, but did not know her,
though Nina called her Miggie always, because she looked like
Petrea, and the sound to Miggie was very sweet, like music heard
long ago. They loved each other dearly, and to Miggie there was
nothing in the whole world so beautiful, so precious, as poor
little crazy Nina, Arthur's Nina, Dr. Griswold's Nina, 'Snow-
Drop,' Richard called her. You remember Richard, darling?"
"Yes, yes, I remember everything," and Nina's chest began to
heave, her chin to quiver, her white lips, too, but still she shed
no tear, and the dry, blue eyes seemed piercing Edith's very soul
as the latter continued, rapidly, "Nina came home to Florida; she
sent for Miggie, and Miggie came, finding Marie who told her all--
told her where the baby was--and the real Miggie fell on her face,
thanking the good Father for giving her the sweetest, dearest
sister a mortal ever had. Do you understand me, darling? Do you
know now who I am--know who Miggie is?"
Edith's voice began to falter, and when she had finished she sat
gazing at the fairy form, which trembled and writhed a moment as
if in fearful convulsions, then the struggling ceased, the
features became composed, and raising herself in bed Nina crept
closer and closer to Edith, her lips quivering as if she fain
would speak but had not the power. Slowly the little hands were
raised and met together around Edith's neck; nearer and nearer the
white face came to the dark glowing one, until breath met breath,
lip met lip, golden tresses mixed with raven braids, and with a
cry which made the very rafters ring and went echoing far out into
the darkness, Nina said, "You are--that--that--ba-baby--the one we
thought was dead. You are my--my--Nina's--oh, Miggie, say it for
me or Nina'll choke to death. She can't think what the right word
is--the word that means MIGGIE," and poor exhausted Nina fell back
upon the pillow, while Edith, bending over her, whispered in her
ear, "Miggie means SISTER, darling; your SISTER; do you hear?"
"Yes, yes," and again the wild, glad cry went ringing through the
house, as Nina threw herself a second time on Edith's bosom.
"Sister, sister, Nina's sister. Nina's little Miggie once, great,
tall Miggie now,--mine, my own--nobody's sister but mine. Does
Arthur know, Ho, Arthur! come quick! He is coming, don't you hear
him. Arthur, Arthur, Miggie is mine. My precious sister," and Nina
Bernard fell back fainting just as Arthur appeared in the room,
and just as from the yard without there went up from the
congregated blacks, who together with their master and Victor, had
listened to Marie's story, a deafening shout, a loud huzza for
"Miggie Bernard," come back to Sunnybank, and back to those who
generously admitted her claim, and would ere long acknowledge her
as their mistress.
The few particulars which Edith had omitted in her story to Nina
may, perhaps, be better told now than at any other time. Mr.
Bernard, while in Paris, had been implicated in some disgraceful
affair which rendered him liable to arrest, and taking the name of
Temple, by way of avoiding suspicion, he fled to Germany, where he
met and married the beautiful Swedish Petrea, who, being young and
weary of a governess's life, was the more easily charmed with his
wealth and rather gentlemanly address. Because it suited his
peculiar nature to do so, he kept his real name from her until
they reached New York, when, fearful of meeting with some of his
acquaintances there, he confessed the fraud, laughing at it as a
good joke, and pronounced Petrea over nice for saying he had done
The year which followed their arrival at Sunnybank was a year of
wretchedness and pining home-sickness on the part of both mistress
and maid, until at last the former, with her love for her husband
changed to hate, determined to leave him; and in his absence,
planned the visit to Tallahassee, going instead to New York, where
she died at the house of Mrs. Jamieson, Marie's sister. Even to
the last, the dread of her hated husband prevailed, and she made
Marie swear that her child should not go back to him.
"She will be happier to be poor," she said, "and I would rather
far that not a cent of the Bernard property should ever come into
her possession than that she should return to Sunnybank; but
sometime, Marie, when she is older, you may tell her my sad story,
and if he has become a better man, tell her who she is, and of the
bright-haired Nina. They will love each other, I am sure, for Nina
possesses nothing in common with her father, and lest she should
think ill of me for having married him, tell her how young, how
inexperienced I was, and how he deceived me, withholding even his
This was the point on which Petrea dwelt the most, shrinking, with
a kind of pride, from having it generally known, and persisting in
calling herself Temple to Mrs. Jamieson, who supposed this to be
her real name, inasmuch as Marie had called her so on the occasion
of her first visit after landing in New York the year previous,
and before the deception had been confessed.
"Don't undeceive her," Petrea said to Marie, who did her
mistress's bidding; and as Mrs. Jamieson was sick when Mr. Bernard
came, she did not see him, and was thus effectually kept in
ignorance that Edith's real name was Marguerite Bernard, else she
had divulged it to Richard, when in after years he came inquiring
for her parentage.
The rest the reader knows, except indeed, how Marie came to
Sunnybank a second time, and why she had so long neglected Edith.
She was with her mistress in Germany when Richard saved the child
from drowning. She never forgot him, and when from her sister she
learned that Edith was with him, she felt that interference on her
part was unnecessary. So even after recovering from her illness
she deferred returning to America, marrying, at last, and living
in an humble way in Paris, where she more than once saw Mr.
Bernard in the streets, when he was there with Nina. So many years
had elapsed since his first visit that he had no fears of arrest,
and openly appeared in public, recognised by none save Marie, who
never could forget him. Her husband's sudden death determined her
upon coming to America and looking up her child. The vessel in
which she sailed was bound for New Orleans, and, with a desire to
visit Sunnybank once more, she first wended her way thither,
expecting to find it inhabited by strangers; for, from an American
paper, which accidentally fell into her hands, she had heard of
Mr. Bernard's decease, and later still had heard from one who was
Nina's waiting maid while in Paris, that she, too, was dead. How
this information was obtained she did not know, but believing it
to be authentic, she supposed strangers, of course, were now the
tenants of Sunnybank; and anticipated much pleasure in restoring
to the so-called Edith Hastings her rightful heritage. Great then
was her surprise to find Nina living, and when she heard that
Edith was soon expected in Florida, she determined to await her
This was the story she told to Edith and also to the negroes, many
of whom remembered their unfortunate young mistress and her
beautiful baby Miggie still; but for the missing body they might
have doubted Marie's word, but that was proof conclusive, and
their loud hurrahs for Miss Miggie Bernard were repeated until
Nina came back to consciousness, smiling as she heard the cry and
remembered what it meant.
"Go to them--let them see you, darling," she said; and, with
Arthur as her escort, Edith went out into the midst of the sable
group, who crowded around her, with blessings, prayers, tears and
howlings indescribable, while many a hard, black hand grasped
hers, as negro after negro called her "mistress," adding some word
of praise, which showed how proud they were of this beautiful,
queenly scion of the Bernard stock, which they had feared would
perish with Nina. Now they would be kept together--they would not
be scattered to the four winds, and one old negro fell on his
knees, kissing Edith's dress, and crying,
"Cato bresses yon for lettin' his bones rot on de ole plantation."
Edith was perplexed, for to her the discovery had only brought
sweet images of sistership with Nina. Money and lands formed no
part of her thoughts, and turning to Arthur she asked what it all
Arthur did not reply at once, for he knew he held that which would
effectually take away all right from Edith. After Nina, he was Mr.
Bernard's chosen heir, but not for an instant did he waver in the
course he should pursue, and when the interview was ended with the
negroes, and Edith was again with Nina, he excused himself for a
moment, but soon returned, bearing in his hand Mr. Bernard's will,
which he bade Edith read.
And she did read it, feeling intuitively as if her father from the
grave were speaking to her, the injured Petrea's child, and
virtually casting her aside.
The tears gathered slowly in her eyes, dropping one by one upon
the paper, which without a word she handed back to Arthur.
"What is it, Arthur boy?" Nina asked. "What is it that makes
Arthur doubted whether either of the girls would understand him if
he entered into an explanation involving many technical terms, but
he would do the best he could, and sitting down by Nina, he held
her upon his bosom, while he said, "Does my little girl remember
the time when I met her in Boston, years ago, and Charlie Hudson
brought me papers from her father?"
"Yes," answered Nina; "there was one that had in it something
about straight jackets, and when I read it, I hit my head against
the bureau. It's never been quite right since. Is this the letter
that made Miggie cry?"
"No," returned Arthur. "This is your father's will, made when he
thought there was no Miggie. In it, I am, his heir after you, and
Miggie hasn't a cent."
"You may have mine, Miggie. Nina'll give you hers, she will," and
the little maiden made a movement toward Edith, while Arthur
"Yon can't, darling. It's mine after you;" and this he said, not
to inflict fresh pain on Edith, but to try Nina, and hear what she
There was a perplexed, troubled look in her eyes, and then,
drawing his head close to her, she whispered,
"Couldn't you scratch it out, just as Richard did, only he didn't.
That's a good boy. He will, Miggie," and she nodded toward Edith,
while Arthur rejoined,
"Would it please my child-wife very much to have me scratch it
He had never called her thus before Edith until now, and he stole
a glance at her to witness the effect. For an instant she was
white as marble; then the hot blood seemed bursting from the small
round spot where it had settled in her cheeks, and involuntarily
she extended her hand toward him in token of her approval. She
could not have reassured him better than by this simple act, and
still retaining her hand, he went on,
"When I came to Florida, after Mr. Bernard's death, my first step
was to have the will proved, and consequently this sheet is now of
very little consequence; but as you both will, undoubtedly,
breathe more freely if every vestige of this writing is removed. I
will destroy it at once, and, as soon as possible, take the legal
steps for reinstating Edith."
Then releasing Edith's hand, Arthur took the candle from the
stand, and said to Nina,
"Have you strength to hold it?"
"Yes, yes," she cried, grasping it eagerly, while, with a hand far
steadier than hers, Arthur held the parchment in the flame,
watching as the scorched, brown flakes dropped upon the floor, nor
sending a single regret after the immense fortune he was giving
It was done at last. The will lay crisped and blackened upon the
carpet; Edith, in her own estimation was reinstated in her rights,
and then, as if demanding something for the sacrifice, Arthur
turned playfully to her, and winding his arm around her said,
"Kiss me once as a sister, for such you are, and once for giving
you back your inheritance."
The kisses Arthur craved were given, and need we say returned!
Alas, those kisses! How they burned on Edith's lips, making her so
happy--and how they blistered on Arthur's heart, making him doubt
the propriety of having given or received them. His was the braver
spirit now. He had buffeted the billow with a mightier struggle
than Edith had ever known. Around his head a blacker, fiercer
storm had blown than any she had ever felt, and from out that
tumultuous sea of despair he had come a firmer, a better man, with
strength to bear the burden imposed upon him. Were it not so he
would never have sent for Edith Hastings--never have perilled his
soul by putting himself a second time under her daily influence.
But he felt that there was that within him which would make him
choose the right, make him cling to Nina, and so he wrote to
Edith, meeting her when she came as friend meets friend, and
continually thanking Heaven which enabled him to hide from
everyone the festered wound, which at the sound of her familiar
voice smarted and burned, and throbbed until his soul was sick and
faint with pain.
The discovery of Edith's parentage filled him with joy--joy for
Nina, and joy because an opportunity was thus afforded him of
doing an act unselfish to the last degree, for never for a single
moment did the thought force itself upon him that possibly Edith
might yet be his, and so the property come back to him again. He
had given her up, surrendered her entirely, and Richard's
interests were as safe with him as his gold and silver could have
been. Much he wished he knew exactly the nature of her feelings
toward her betrothed, but he would not so much as question Victor,
who, while noticing his calmness and self-possession, marvelled
greatly, wondering the while if it were possible that Arthur's
love were really all bestowed on Nina. It would seem so, from the
constancy with which he hung over her pillow, doing for her the
thousand tender offices, which none but a devoted husband could
do, never complaining, never tiring even when she taxed his good
nature to its utmost limit, growing sometimes so unreasonable and
peevish that even Edith wondered at his forbearance.
It was a whim of Edith's not to write to Richard of her newly-
found relationship. She would rather tell it to him herself, she
said, and in her first letter, she merely mentioned the incidents
of her journey, saying she reached Sunnybank in safety, that Nina
was no better, that Mr. St. Claire was very kind, and Victor very
homesick, while she should enjoy herself quite well, were it not
that she knew he was so lonely without her. And this was the
letter for which Richard waited so anxiously, feeling when it came
almost as if he had not had any, and still exonerating his singing
bird from blame, by saying that she could not write lovingly to
him so long us she knew that Mrs. Matson must be the interpreter
It was an odd-looking missive which he sent back and Edith's heart
ached to its very core as she saw the uneven handwriting, which
went up and down, the lines running into and over each other, now
diagonally, now at right angles, and again darting off in an
opposite direction as he held his pencil a moment in his fingers
and then began again. Still she managed to decipher it, and did
not lose a single word of the message intended for Nina.
"Tell little Snowdrop the blind man sends her his blessing and his
love, thinking of her often as he sits here alone these gloomy
autumn nights, no Edith, no Nina, nothing but lonesome darkness.
Tell her that he prays she may get well again, or if she does not,
that she may be one of the bright angels which make the fields of
Jordan so beautiful and fair"
This letter Edith took to Nina one day, when Arthur and Victor had
gone to Tallahassee, and Mrs. Lamotte was too busy with her own
matters to interrupt them. Nina had not heard of the engagement,
for Arthur could not tell her, and Edith shrank from the task as
from something disagreeable. Still she had a strong desire for
Nina to know how irrevocably she was bound to another, hoping thus
to prevent the unpleasant allusions frequently made to herself and
Arthur. The excitement of finding a sister in Miggie, had in a
measure overturned Nina's reason again, and for many days after
the disclosure she was more than usually wild, talking at random
of the most absurd things, but never for a moment losing sight of
the fact that Edith was her sister. This seemed to be the one
single clear point from which her confused ideas radiated, and the
love she bore her sister was strong enough to clear away the
tangled web of thought and bring her at last to a calmer, more
natural state of mind. There were hours in which no one would
suspect her of insanity, save that as she talked childish, and
even meaningless expressions were mingled with what she said,
showing that the woof of her intellect was defective still, and in
such a condition as this Edith found her that day when, with
Richard's letter in her hand, she seated herself upon the foot of
the bed and said, "I heard from Richard last night. You remember
"Yes, he made me Arthur's wife; but I wish he hadn't for then you
would not look so white and sorry."
"Never mind that," returned Edith, "but listen to the message he
sent his little Snowdrop," and she read what Richard had written
"I wish I could be one of those bright angels," Nina said,
mournfully, when Edith finished reading; "but, Miggie, Nina's so
bad. I can think about it this morning, for the buzzing in my head
is very faint, and I don't get things much twisted, I reckon. I've
been bad to Arthur a heap of times, and he was never anything but
kind to me. I never saw a frown on his face or heard an impatient
word, only that sorry look, and that voice so sad."
"Don't, Nina, don't.
"Even Dr. Griswold was not patient as Arthur. He was quicker like,
and his face would grow so red. He used to shake me hard, and once
he raised his hand, but Arthur caught it quick and said 'No,
Griswold, not that--not strike Nina,' and I was tearing Arthur's
hair out by handfuls, too. That's when I bit him. I told you
"Yes, I know," Edith replied; "but I wish to talk of something
besides Arthur, now. Are you sure you can understand me?"
"Yes, it only buzzed like a honey-bee, right in here," and Nina
touched the top of her head, while Edith continued.
"Did Arthur ever tell you who it was that fell into the Rhine?"
"Yes, Mrs. Atherton wrote, and I cried so hard, but he did not say
your name was Eloise, or I should have guessed you were Miggie,
crazy as I am."
"Possibly Grace did not so write to him," returned Edith; "but let
me tell you of Edith Hastings as she used to be when a child;" and
with the blue eyes of Nina fixed upon her, Edith narrated that
portion of her history already known to the reader, dwelling long
upon Richard's goodness, and thus seeking to prepare her sister
for the last, the most important part of all.
"After Arthur deceived me so," she said," I thought my heart would
never cease to ache, and it never has."
"But it will--it will," cried Nina, raising herself in bed. "When
I'm gone, it will all come right. I pray so every day, though it's
hard to do it sometimes now I know you are my sister. It would be
so nice to live with you and Arthur, and I love you so much. You
can't begin to know," and the impulsive girl fell forward on
Edith's bosom sobbing impetuously, "I love you so much, so much,
that it makes it harder to die; but I must, and when the little
snow-birds come back to the rose bushes beneath the windows of
Grassy Spring a great ways off, the hands that used to feed them
with crumbs will be laid away where they'll never tear Arthur
boy's hair any more. Oh, I wish they never had--I wish they never
had," and sob after sob shook Nina's delicate frame as she gave
vent to her sorrow for the trial she had been to Arthur. Edith
attempted to comfort her by saying, "He has surely forgiven you,
darling; and Nina, please don't talk so much of dying, Arthur and
I both hope you will live yet many years."
"Yes, Arthur does," Nina rejoined quickly, "him praying so one
night when he thought I was asleep--I make believe half of the
time, so as to hear what he says when he kneels down over in that
corner; and once, Miggie, a great while ago, it was nothing but
one dreadful groan, except when he said, 'God help me in this my
darkest hour, and give me strength to drink this cup.' But there
wasn't any cup there for I peaked, thinking maybe he'd go some of
my nasty medicine, and it wasn't dark, either for there were two
candles on the mantel and they shone on Arthur's face, which
looked to me as if it were a thousand years old. Then he
whispered, 'Edith, Edith,' and the sound was so like a wail that I
felt my blood growing cold. Didn't you hear him, Miggie, way off
to the north; didn't you hear him call? God did, and helped him, I
reckon, for he got up and came and bent over me, kissing me so
much, and whispering, 'My wife, my Nina.' It was sweet to be so
kissed, and I fell away to sleep; but Arthur must have knelt
beside me the livelong night, for every time I moved I felt his
hand clasp mine. The next day he told me that Richard saved you
from the river, and his lips quivered as if he feared you were
Alas! Nina had come nearer the truth than she supposed, and Edith
involuntarily echoed her oft-repeated words, "Poor Arthur," for
she knew now what had preceded that cry of more than mortal
anguish which Arthur sent to Grace after hearing first of the
"Nina" she said, after a moment's silence, "before that time of
which you speak, there came a night of grief to me--a night when I
wished that I might die, because Richard asked me to be his wife--
me, who looked upon him as my father rather than a husband. I
can't tell you what he said to me, but it was very touching, very
sad, and my heart ached so much for the poor blind man."
"But you didn't tell him yes," interrupted Nina. "You couldn't.
You didn't love him. It's wicked to act a lie Miggie--as wicked as
'tis to tell one. Say you told him no; it chokes me just to think
"Nina," and Edith's voice was low and earnest in its tone, "I
thought about it four whole weeks and at last I went to Richard
and said, 'I will be your wife.' I have never taken it back, I am
engaged to him, and I shall keep my word. Were it not that you
sent for me I should have been his bride ere this. I shall be his
bride on New Year's night."
Edith spoke rapidly, as if anxious to have the task completed, and
when at last it was done, she felt that her strength was leaving
her, so great had been the effort with which she told her story to
Nina. Gradually as she talked Nina had crept away from her, and
sitting upright in bed, stared at her fixedly, her face for once
putting on the mature dignity of her years, and seeming older than
Edith's. Then the clear-minded, rational Nina spoke out, "Miggie
Bernard, were you ten thousand times engaged to Richard, it shall
not be. You must not stain your soul with a perjured vow, and you
would, were this sacrifice to be. Your lips would say 'I love,'
but your heart would belie the words, and God's curse will rest
upon you if you do Richard this cruel wrong. He does not deserve
that you should deal so treacherously with him, and Miggie, I
would far rather you were lying in the grave-yard over yonder,
than to do this great wickedness. You must not, you shall not,"
and in the eyes of violet blue there was an expression beneath
which the stronger eyes of black quailed as they had done once
before, when delirium had set its mark upon them.
It was in vain that Edith persisted in saying she did, or at least
should love Richard as he deserved. Nina was not to be convinced,
and at last, in self-defence, Edith broke out bitterly against
Arthur as the immediate cause of her sufferings. Had he not been
faithless to his marriage vow, and might she not keep hers quite
as well as he kept his.
Nina was very white, and the swollen veins stood out full upon her
forehead as she lay panting on her pillow, but the eyes never for
an instant left Edith's, as she replied, "Arthur was in fault,
Miggie, greatly in fault, but there was much to excuse his error.
He was so young; not as old as you, Miggie, and Sarah Warren urged
us on. I knew afterward why she did it, too. She is dead now, and
I would not speak against her were it not necessary, but, Miggie,
she wanted Dr. Griswold, and she fancied he liked me, so she would
remove me from her path; and she did. She worked upon my love of
the romantic, and Arthur's impulsive nature, until she persuaded
us to run away. While we were on the road, Arthur whispered to me,
'Let's go back,' but I said, 'No,' while Sarah, who overheard him,
sneered at him as cowardly, and we went on. Then father took me
off to Paris, and I dared not tell him, he was so dreadful when he
was angry; and then I loved Charlie Hudson, and loved him the more
because I knew I musn't."
The mature expression was passing rapidly from Nina's face, and
the child-like one returning in its stead as she continued,
"I couldn't bear to think of Arthur, and before I came home I
determined never to live with him as his wife. I didn't know then
about this buzzing in my head, and the first thing I did when
alone with him at the Revere House was to go down on my knees and
beg of him not to make me keep my vow. I told him I loved Charlie
best, and he talked so good to me--said maybe I'd get over it, and
all that. Then he read pa's letter, which told what I would some
time be, and he didn't ask me after that to live with him, but
when he came from Florida and found me so dreadful, he put his
arms around me, loving-like, and cried, while I raved like a fury
and snapped at him like a dog. You see the buzzing was like a
great noisy factory then, and Nina didn't know what she was doing,
she hated him so, and the more he tried to please her the more she
hated him. Then, when I came to my senses enough to think I did
not want our marriage known, I made him promise not to tell, in
Florida or anywhere, so he didn't, and the weary years wore on
with people thinking I was his ward. Dr. Griswold was always kind
and good, but not quite as patient and woman-like as Arthur. It
seemed as if he had a different feeling toward me, and required
more of me, for he was not as gentle when I tore as Arthur was. I
was terribly afraid of him, though, and after a while he did me
good. The buzzing wasn't bigger than a mill-wheel, and it creaked
just as a big wheel does when there is no water to carry it. It
was crying that I wanted. I had not wept in three years, but the
sight of you touched a spring somewhere and the waters poured like
a flood, turning the wheel without that grating noise that used to
drive me mad, and after that I never tore but once. He didn't tell
you, because I asked him not, but I scratched him, struck Phillis,
burned up his best coat, broke the mirror, and oh, you don't know
how I did cut up! Then the pain went away and has never come back
like that. Sometimes I can see that it was wrong for him to love
you and then again I can't, but if it was he has repented so
bitterly of it since. He would not do it now. He needn't have told
you, either, for everybody was dead, and it never would have come
back to me if he hadn't said it in the Deering Woods. Don't you
"Yes, I see," cried Edith, her tears dropping fast into her lap,
"I see that I tempted him to sin. Oh, Arthur, I am most to blame--
most to blame."
"And you will give up Richard, won't you?" Nina said. "Arthur is
just as good, just as noble, just as true, and better too, it may
be, for he has passed through a fiercer fire than Richard ever
did. Will you give up Richard?"
"I can't," and Edith shook her head. "The chords by which he holds
me are like bands of steel, and cannot be sundered. I promised
solemnly that by no word or deed would I seek to break our
engagement, and I dare not. I should not be happy if I did."
And this was all Nina could wring from her, although she labored
for many hours, sometimes rationally, sometimes otherwise, but
always with an earnest simplicity which showed how pure were her
motives, and how great her love for Edith.
ARTHUR AND NINA.
It was rather late in the evening when Arthur returned, looking
more than usually pale and weary, and still there was about him an
air of playful pleasantry, such as there used to be, when Edith
first knew him. During the long ride to Tallahassee, Victor,
either from accident or design, touched upon the expected marriage
of his master, and although Arthur would not ask a single
question, he was a deeply-interested auditor, and listened
intently, while Victor told him much which had transpired between
himself and Edith, saying that unless some influence stronger than
any he or Grace could exert were thrown around her, she would keep
her vow to Richard, even though she died in keeping it.
"Girls like Edith Hastings do not die easily," was Arthur's only
comment, and Victor half wished he had kept his own counsel and
never attempted to meddle in a love affair.
But if Arthur said nothing, he thought the more, and the warfare
within was not the less severe, because his face was so unruffled
and his manner so composed. Thought, intense and almost
bewildering, was busy at work, and ere the day was done, he had
resolved that he would help Edith if all else forsook her. He
would not throw one single obstacle across her pathway. He would
make the sacrifice easier for her, even if to do it, he suffered
her to think that his own love had waned. Nothing could more
effectually cure her, and believing that she might be happy with
Richard if she did not love another, he determined to measure
every word and act so as to impress her with the conviction that
though she was dear to him as a sister and friend, he had
struggled with his affection for her and overcome it. It would be
a living death to do this, he knew--to act so contrary to what he
felt, but it was meet that he should suffer, and when at last he
was left alone--when both wore lost to him forever--Edith and his
child-wife Nina, he would go away across the sea, and lose, if
possible, in foreign lands, all rememberance of the past. And this
it was that made him seem so cheerful when he came in that night,
calling Edith "little sister," winding his arm around Nina,
kissing her white face, asking if she had missed him any, if she
were glad to have him back, and how she and Miggie had busied
themselves during the day.
"We talked of you, Arthur, and of Richard," Nina said. "Miggie has
promised to many him! Did you know it?"
"Yes, I know it," was Arthur's reply; "and there is no person in
the world to whom I would sooner give her than to Richard, for I
know he will leave nothing undone to make her happy."
There was no tremor in Arthur's voice, and Nina little guessed how
much it cost him thus to speak, with Edith sitting near. Looking
up into his face with a startled, perplexed expression, she said,
"I did not expect this, Arthur boy. I thought you loved Miggie."
"Nina, please don't," and Edith spoke entreatingly, but Nina
answered pettishly, "I ain't going to please, for everything has
got upside down. It's all going wrong, and it won't make a speck
of difference, as I see, whether I die or not."
"I think I'd try to live then," Arthur said, laughingly, while
Edith hailed the appearance of Marie as something which would put
a restraint upon Nina.
It had been arranged that Edith should take Arthur's place in the
sick room that night, but Nina suddenly changed her mind,
insisting that Arthur should sleep there as usual.
"There's a heap of things I must tell you," she whispered to him;
"and my head is clearer when it's darker and the candles are on
So Edith retired to her own room, and after a time Arthur was
alone with Nina. He was very tired, but at her request he sat down
beside her, where she could look into his face and see, as she
said, if he answered her for true. At first it was of herself she
spoke--herself, as she used to be.
"I remember so well," she said "when you called me your Florida
rose, and asked for one of my curls. That was long ago, and there
have been years of darkness since, but the clouds are breaking
now--daylight is coming up, or rather Nina is going out, into the
daylight, where there is no more buzzing, no more headache. Will I
be crazy in Heaven, think?"
"No, darling, no," and Arthur changed his seat from the chair to
the bed, where he could be nearer to the little girl, who
"I've thought these many weeks how good you've been to me--how
happy you have made my last days, while I have been so bad to you,
but you musn't remember it against me, Arthur boy, when I'm dead
and there isn't any naughty Nina anywhere, neither at the Asylum,
nor Grassy Spring, nor here in bed, nothing but a teenty grave,
out in the yard, with the flowers growing on it, I say you must
not remember the wicked things I've done, for it wasn't the Nina
who talks to you now. It was the buzzing Nina who tore your hair,
and scratched your face, and bit your arm. Oh, Arthur, Nina's so
sorry now; but you musn't lay it up against me."
"No, my darling, God forbid that I, who have wronged you so
terribly, should remember aught against you," and Arthur kissed
the slender hands which had done him so much mischief.
They were harmless now, those little waxen hands, and they
caressed Arthur's face and hair as Nina went on.
"Arthur boy, there's one question I must ask you, now there's
nobody to hear, and you will tell me truly. Do you love me any--
love me differently from what you did when I was in the Asylum,
and if the buzzing all was gone, and never could come back, would
you really make me your wife just as other husbands do--would you
let me sit upon your knee, and not wish it was some one else, and
in the night when you woke up and felt me close to you would you
be glad thinking it was Nina? And when you had been on a great
long journey, and were coming home, would the smoke from the
chimney look handsomer to you because you knew it was Nina waiting
for you by the hearth-stone, and keeping up the fire? Don't tell
me a falsehood, for I'll forgive you, if you answer no."
"Yes, Nina, yes. I would gladly take you as my wife if it could
be. My broken lily is very precious to me now, far more so than
she used to be. The right love for her began to grow the moment I
confessed she was my wife, and when she's gone, Arthur will be so
"Will you, Arthur boy? Will you, as true as you live and breathe,
miss poor, buzzing Nina? Oh, I'm so glad, so glad," and the great
tears dimmed the brightness of the blue eyes, which looked up so
confidingly at Arthur. "I, too, have loved you a heap; not exactly
as I loved Charlie Hudson, I reckon, but the knowing you are my
husband, makes Nina feel kind of nice, and I want you to love me
some--miss me some--mourn for me some, and then, Arthur, Nina
wants you to marry Miggie. There is no buzzing; no twist in her
head. It will rest as quietly on your bosom where mine has never
lain, not as hers will, I mean, and you both will be so happy at
last--happy in knowing that Nina has gone out into the eternal
daylight, where she would rather be. You'll do it, Arthur; she
must not marry Richard, and you must speak to her quick, before
she goes home, so as to stop it, for New Year's is the time. Will
There was an instant of silence in the room--Nina waiting for
Arthur to speak, and Arthur mustering all his strength to answer
her as he felt he must.
"My darling," laying his face down upon her neck among her yellow
curls, "I shall never call another by the dear name I call you
now, my wife."
"Oh, Arthur," and Nina's cheeks flushed with indignant surprise,
that he, too, should prove refractory. Everything indeed, was
getting upside down. "Why not?" she asked. "Don't you love
"Yes, very, very dearly! but it is too much to hope that she will
ever be mine. I do not deserve it. You ask me my forgiveness,
Nina. Alas! alas! I have tenfold more need of yours. It did not
matter that we both wearied of our marriage vows, made when we
were children--did not matter that you are crazy--I had no right
to love another.
"But you have paid for it all a thousand times!" interrupted Nina.
"You are a better Arthur than you were before, and Nina never
could see the wrong in your preferring beautiful, sensible Miggie,
to crazy, scratching, biting, teasing Nina, even if Richard had
said over a few words, of which neither of us understood the
meaning, or what it involved, this taking for better or worse. It
surely cannot be wrong to marry Miggie when I'm gone, and you
will, Arthur, you will!"
"No, Nina, no! I should be adding sin to sin did I seek to change
her decision, and so wrong the noble Richard. His is the first,
best claim. I will not interfere. Miggie must keep her word
uninfluenced by me. I shall no raise my voice against it."
"Oh, Arthur, Arthur!" Nina cried, clasping her hands together;
"Miggie does not love him, and you surely know the misery of a
marriage without love. It must not be! It shall no be! you can
save Miggie, and you must!"
Every word was fainter than the preceding, and, when the last was
uttered, Nina's head dropped from Arthur's shoulder to the pillow,
and he saw a pinkish stream issuing from her lips. A small blood
vessel had been ruptured, and Arthur, who knew the danger, laid
his hand upon her mouth as he saw her about to speak, bidding her
be quiet if she would not die at once.
Death, however long and even anxiously expected is unwelcome at
the last, and Nina shrank from its near approach, laying very
still, while Arthur summoned aid. Only once she spoke, and then
she whispered, "Miggie," thus intimating that she would have her
called. In much alarm Edith came, trembling when she saw the
fearful change which had passed over Nina, whose blue eyes
followed her movements intently, turning often from her to Arthur
as If they fain would utter what was in her mind. But not then was
Nina St. Claire to die. Many days and nights were yet appointed
her, and Arthur and Edith watched her with the tenderest care;
only these two, for so Nina would have it. Holding their hands in
hers she would gaze from one to the other with a wistful, pleading
look, which, far better than words, told what she would say, were
It permitted her to speak, but in the deep brown eyes of Arthur,
she read always the same answer, while Edith's would often fill
with tears as she glanced timidly at the apparently cold, silent
man, who, she verily believed, had ceased to love her.
But Nina knew better. Clouded as was her reason, she penetrated
the mask he wore, and saw where the turbulent waters surged around
him, while with an iron will and a brave heart he contended with
the angry waves, and so outrode the storm. And as she watched them
day after day, the purpose grew strong within her that if it were
possible the marriage of Edith and Richard should be prevented,
and as soon as she was able to talk she broached the subject to
"Stay, Miggie," she said to Edith, who was stealing from the room.
"Hear me this once. You are together now, you and Arthur."
"Nina," said the latter, pitying Edith's agitation, "You will
spare us both much pain if you never allude again to what under
other circumstances might have been."
"But I must," cried Nina. "Oh, Arthur, why won't you go to Richard
and tell him all about it?"
"Because it would be wrong," was Arthur's answer, and then Nina
turned to Edith, "Why won't you, Miggie?"
"Because I have solemnly promised that I would not," was her
And Nina rejoined, "Then I shall write. He loved little Snow Drop.
He'll heed what she says when she speaks from the grave. I'll send
him a letter."
"Who'll take it or read it to him if you do?" Arthur asked, and
the troubled eyes of blue turned anxiously to Edith.
"Miggie, sister, won't you?"
Edith shook her head, not very decidedly, it is true, still it was
a negative shake, and Nina said, "Arthur boy, will you?"
"No, Nina, no."
Hia answer was determined, and poor, discouraged Nina sobbed
aloud, "Who will, who will?"
In the adjoining room there was a rustling sound--a coming
footstep, and Victor Dupres appeared in the door. He had been an
unwilling hearer of that conversation, and when Nina cried "who
will?" he started up, and coming into the room as if by accident,
advanced to the bedside and asked in his accustomed friendly way,
"How is Nina to-night?" Then bending over her so that no one
should hear, he whispered softly, "Don't tell them, but I'll read
that letter to Richard!"
Nina understood him and held his hand a moment while she looked
the thanks she dared not speak.
"Nina must not talk any more" Arthur said, as Victor walked away,
"she is wearing out too fast," and with motherly tenderness he
smoothed her tumbled pillow--pushed back behind her ears the
tangled curls--kissed her forehead, and then went out into the
deepening night, whose cool damp air was soothing to his burning
brow, and whose sheltering mantle would tell no tales of his white
face or of the cry which came heaving up from where the turbulent
waters lay, "if it be possible let this temptation pass from me,
or give me strength to resist it."
His prayer was heard--the turmoil ceased at last--the waters all
were stilled, and Arthur went back to Nina, a calm, quiet man,
ready and willing to meet whatever the future might bring.
"Aunt Hannah will stay with me to-night," Nina said to Arthur the
next day, referring to an old negress who had taken cure of her
when a child; and Arthur yielded to her request the more
willingly, because of his own weariness.
Accordingly old Hannah was installed watcher in the sick room,
receiving orders that her patient should not on any account be
permitted to talk more than was absolutely necessary. Nina heard
this injunction of Arthur and a smile of cunning flitted across
her face as she thought how she would turn it to her own advantage
in case Hannah refused to comply with her request, which she made
as soon as they were left alone.
Hannah must first prop her up in bed, she said, and then give her
her port-folio, paper, pen and ink. As she expected, the negress
objected at once, bidding her be still, but Nina declared her
intention of talking as fast and as loudly as she could, until her
wish was gratified. Then Hannah threatened calling Arthur,
thereupon the willful little lady rejoined, "I'll scream like
murder, if you do, and burst every single blood-vessel I've got,
so bring me the paper, please, or shall I got it myself," and she
made a motion as if the would leap upon the floor, while poor old
Hannah, regretting the task she had undertaken, was compelled to
submit and bring the writing materials as desired.
"Now you go to sleep," Nina said coaxingly, and as old Hannah
found but little difficulty in obeying the command, Nina was left
to herself while she wrote that long, long message, a portion of
which we give below.
"DEAR MR. RICHARD:
"Poor blind man! Nina is so sorry for you to-night, because she
knows that what she has to tell you will crush the strong life all
out of your big heart, and leave it as cold and dead as she will
be when Victor reads this to you. There won't be any Nina then,
for Miggie and Arthur, and a heap more, will have gone with their
way out where both my mothers are lying, and Miggie'll cry, I
reckon when she hears the gravel stones ruttling down just over my
head, but I shall know they cannot hit me, for the coffin-lid will
be between, and Nina'll lie so still. No more pain; no more
buzzing; no more headache; no more darkness; won't it be grand,
the rest I'm going to. I shan't be crazy in Heaven. Arthur says
so; and he knows.
"Poor Arthur! It is of him and Miggie I am writing to you, if I
ever can get to them; and Richard; when you hear this read,
Nina'll be there with you; but you can't see her, because you're
blind, and you couldn't see if you wern't, but she'll be there
just the same. She'll sit upon your knee, and wind her arms around
your neck, so as to comfort you when the great cry comes in, the
crash like the breaking up of the winter ice on the northern
ponds, and when you feel yourself all crushed like they are in the
spring, listen and you'll hear her whispering, 'Poor Richard, Nina
pities you so much! She'll kiss your tears away, too, though maybe
you won't feel her. And, Richard, you'll do right, won't you.
You'll give Miggie up. You'll let Arthur have her, and so bring
back the sunshine to her face. She's so pale now and sorry, and
the darkness lies thickly around her.
"There are three kinds of darkness, Richard. One like mine, when
the brain has a buzz in the middle, and everything is topsy-turvy.
One, like yours, when the world is all shut out with its beauty
and its flowers; and then there's another, a blacker darkness when
the buzz is in the heart, making it wild with pain. Such, Richard
is the darkness, which lies like a pall around our beautiful
sister Miggie, and it will deepen and deepen unless you do what
Nina asks you to do, and what Miggie never will, because she
promised that she wouldn't-----"
Then followed the entire story of the marriage performed by
Richard, of the grief which followed, of Arthur's gradually
growing love of Edith, of the scene of the Deering Woods, of the
incidents connected with Edith's sickness, her anguish at parting
with Arthur, her love for him still, her struggles to do right,
and her determination to keep her engagement even though she died
in doing it.
All this was told in Nina's own peculiar style; and then came her
closing appeal that Richard himself should break the bonds and set
poor Miggie free.
"... It will be dreadful at first, I know, and may be all three of
the darknesses will close around you for a time,--darkness of the
heart, darkness of the brain, and darkness of the eyes, but it
will clear away and the daylight will break, in which you will be
happier than in calling Miggie your wife, and knowing how she
shrinks from you, suffering your caresses only because she knows
she must, but feeling so sick at her stomach all the time, and
wishing you wouldn't touch her. I know just how it feels, for when
Arthur kissed me, or took my hand, or even came in my sight,
before the buzz got into my head, it made me so cold and faint and
ugly, the way the Yankees mean, knowing he was my husband when I
wanted Charlie Hudson. Don't subject Miggie to this horrid fate.
Be generous and give her up to Arthur. He may not deserve her more
than you, but she loves him the best and that makes a heap of
"It's Nina who asks it, Richard; dead Nina not a living one. She
is sitting on your knee; her arms are round your neck; her face
against yours and you must not tell her no, or she'll cling to you
day and night, night and day; when you are in company and when you
are alone. When it is dark and lonely and all but you asleep,
she'll sit upon your pillow and whisper continually, 'Give Miggie
up; give Miggie up,' or if you don't, and Miggie's there beside
you, Nina'll stand between you; a mighty, though invisible shield,
and you'll feel it's but a mockery, the calling her your wife when
her love is given to another.
"Good bye, now, Richard, good bye. My brain begins to buzz, my
hand to tremble. The lines all run together, and I am most as
blind as you. God bless you, Mr. Richard; bless you any way, but a
heap more if you give Miggie up. May be He'll give you back your
sight to pay for Miggie. I should rather have it than a wife who
did not love me; and I'll tease Him till He'll let me bring it to
you some day.
"Good bye, again, good bye.
"NINA ARTHUR BERNARD."
The night was nearly worn away ere the letter was finished; and
Nina's eyes flashed with unwonted fire as laughing aloud at the
Arthur added to her name, she laid it away beneath her pillow and
then tried herself to sleep. But this last was impossible, and
when the morning broke she was so much worse that the old nurse
trembled lest her master should censure her severely for having
yielded to her young mistress's whim. Mild and gentle as he
seemed, Arthur could, if necessary, be very stern, and knowing
this, old Hannah concluded at last that if Nina did not betray
herself she would not, and when Arthur came, expressing his
surprise at the change, and asking for its cause, she told glibly
"how restless and onquiet Miss Nina done been flirtin' round till
the blood all got in her head and she was dreadful."
"You should have called me," Arthur said, sitting down by Nina,
whose feverish hands he clasped, while he asked, "Is my little
girl's head very bad this morning?"
Nina merely nodded, for she really was too weak to talk, and
Arthur watched her uneasily, wondering why it was that her eyes
were fixed so constantly upon the door, as if expecting some one.
When breakfast was announced she insisted that both he and Edith
should leave her, and, the moment they were gone, she asked for
Victor, who came at once, half guessing why he was sent for.
"Under my pillow," she whispered, as he bent over her, and in an
instant the letter, of whose existence neither Arthur nor Edith
suspected, was safe in Victor's pocket.
Nina had accomplished her object, and she became unusually quiet.
Richard would get the letter--Richard would do right, she knew,
and the conviction brought to her a deep peace, which nothing ever
after disturbed. She did not speak of him again, and her last days
were thus pleasanter to Edith, who, from the sweet companionship
held with her gentle sister, learned in part what Nina Bernard
was, ere the darkness of which she had written to Richard crept
into her brain. Fair and beautiful as the white pond lily, she
faded rapidly, until Arthur carried her no longer to the window,
holding her in his arms while she looked out upon the yard and
garden where she used to play--but she lay all day upon her bed
holding Edith's hands, and talking to her of that past still so
dim and vague to the latter. Marie, too, often joined them,
repeating to Edith many incidents of interest connected with both
her parents, but speaking most of the queenly Petrea, whom Edith
so strongly resembled. Nina, too, remembered her well, and Edith
was never weary of hearing her tell of the "beautiful new mamma,"
who kissed her so tenderly that night when she first came home,
calling her la petite enfant, and placing in her arms a darling
little sister, with eyes just like the stars!
Very precious to Edith was the memory of those days, when she
watched the dying Nina, who, as death drew near, clung closer and
closer to her sister, refusing to let her go.
"I want you with me," she said, one afternoon, when the late
autumn rain was beating against the window-pane, and the clouds
hung leaden and dull in the Southern sky. "I want you and Arthur,
both, to lead me down to the very edge of the river, and not let
go my hands until the big waves wash me away, for Nina's a wee bit
of a girl, and she'll be afraid to launch out alone upon the
rushing stream. I wish you'd go too, Miggie,--go over Jordan with
me. Why does God make me go alone?"
"You will not go alone, my darling!" and Edith's voice was choked
with tears as she told the listening Nina of one whose arm would
surely hold her up, so that the waters should not overflow.
"It's the Saviour you mean," and Nina spoke reverently. "I loved
Him years ago before the buzzing came, but I've been so bad since
then, that I'm afraid that He'll cast me off. Will He, think? When
I tell him I am little Nina Bernard come from Sunnybank, will He
say, 'Go 'way old crazy Nina, that tore poor Arthur boy's hair?'"
"No, no, oh, no," and Edith sobbed impetuously as she essayed to
comfort the bewildered girl, whose mind grasped but faintly the
realities of eternity.
"And you'll stand on the bank till I am clear across," she said,
when Edith had ceased speaking, "You and Arthur stand where I can
see you if I should look back. And, Miggie, I have a presentiment
that Nina'll go to-night, but I don't want any body here except
you and Arthur. I remember when grandma died the negroes howled so
dismally, and they didn't love her one bit either. They used to
make mouths at her, and hide her teeth. But they do love me, and
their screeches will get my head all in a twist. I'd rather they
wouldn't know till morning; then when they ask for me Arthur'll
tell them sorry like that Nina's dead; Nina's gone into the
daylight, and left a world of love to them who have been so kind
to her. Don't let them crowd up around me, or make too much ado.
It isn't worth the while, for I'm of no account, and you'll be
good to them Miggie--good to the poor ignorant blacks. They are
your's after me, and I love them a heap. Don't let them be sold,
Here Nina paused, too much exhausted to talk longer, and when
about dark Arthur came in, he found her asleep with Edith at her
side, while upon her face and about her nose there was a sharp,
pitched look he had never seen before. Intuitively, however, he
knew that look was the harbinger of death, and when Edith told him
what Nina had said, he felt that ere the morning came his broken
lily would be gone.
Slowly the evening wore on, and one by one the family retired,
leaving Arthur and Edith alone with the pale sleeper whose
slumbers ended not until near the midnight hour; silently, sadly,
Arthur and Edith watched her, she on one side, he upon the other,
neither speaking for the sorrow which lay so heavy at their
hearts, She was very beautiful as she lay there so motionless, and
Arthur felt his heart clinging more and more to his fair, childish
wife, while his conscience smote him cruelly for any wrong he
might have done to her. She was going from him now so fast, and as
the clock struck twelve the soft blue eyes unclosed and smiled up
in his face with an expression which, better than words could do,
told that she bore no malice toward him, nothing but trusting
faith and confiding love. He had been kind to her, most kind, and
she told him so again, for she seemed to know how dear to him such
testimonial would be when she was gone.
"The clouds are weeping for Nina," she said, as she heard the rain
still beating against the window. "Will it make the river deeper,
think? I hear its roar in the distance. It's just beginning to
heave in sight, and I dread it so much. 'Twill be lonesome
crossing this dismal, rainy night. Oh, Arthur--boy, Arthur--boy,
let me stay with you. Can't you keep me? Can't you hide me
somewhere? you, Miggie? I won't be in the way. It's so icy, and
the river is so deep. Save me, do!" and she stretched out her
hands to Arthur as if imploring him to hold her back from the
rushing stream bearing down so fast upon her.
Forcing down his own great grief, Arthur took her in his arms and
hugging her fondly to him, sought to comfort her by whispering of
the blessed Saviour who would carry her in His bosom beyond the
swelling flood, and Nina, as she listened, grew calm and still,
while something like the glory of the better land shone upon her
face as she repeated after him, "There'll be no night, no darkness
there, no headache, no pain,--nor buzzing either?" she suddenly
asked. "Say, will there be any buzzing brains in Heaven?"
Arthur shook his head, and she continued, "That will be so nice,
and Dr. Griswold will be so glad when he knows Nina is not crazy.
He's gone before, I reckon, to take care of me,--gone where
there's nothing but daylight, glorious, grand; kiss me again,
Arthur boy. 'Tis sweet to die upon your bosom with Miggie standing
near, and when you both are happy in each other's love, don't
quite forget little Nina,--Nina out under the flowers, will you?
She's done a heap of naughtiness, I know; but she's sorry, Arthur,
she is so sorry that she ever bit your arm or tore your hair! Poor
hair! Pretty brown hair! Bad Nina made the white threads come,"
and her childish hands caressed the thick brown locks mingling
with her sunny curls, as Arthur bent over her, answering only with
his tears, which fell in torrents.
"Don't, darling, don't," he said, at last. "The bad has all been
on my side, and I would that you should once more say I am
Nina gazed wonderingly at him a moment, then made a motion that he
should lay her back upon the pillow.
"Now put your head down here, right on my neck--so."
He complied with her request, and placing both her bands upon the
bowed head of the young man, Nina whispered,
"May the Good Shepherd, whose lamb Nina hopes to be, keep my
Arthur boy, and bless him a hundred fold for all he's been to me,
and if he has wronged me, which I don't believe, but if he has,
will God please forgive him as fully, as freely as Nina does--the
best Arthur boy that ever lived. I'll tell God all about it, and
how I pestered you, and how good you were, my Arthur boy--Nina's
Arthur first and Miggie's after me. Now put your arms around me
again," she said, as she finished the blessing which brought such
peace to Arthur. "Put them around me tight, for the river is
almost here. Don't you hear its splashing? Miggie, Miggie," she
cried, shivering as with an ague chill, "hold my hand with all
your might, but don't let me pull you in. I'm going down the bank.
My feet are in the water, and it's so freezing cold. I'm sinking,
too, and the big waves roll over me. Oh, Arthur, you said it would
not hurt," and the dim eyes flashed upon the weeping man a most
reproachful glance, as if he had deceived her, while the feet were
drawn shudderingly up, as if they had, indeed, touched the chill
tide of death, and shrank affrighted from it. Edith could only sob
wildly, as she grasped the clammy hand stretched toward her, but
Arthur, more composed, whispered to the dying girl,
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I
will fear no evil, for thou, Lord, art with me; thy staff and thy
rod, they comfort me."
"Look away to the shore," he continued, as Nina ceased to
struggle, and lay still on his bosom. "Look away to the glorious
city--my darling is almost there."
"Yes, yes, I do, I am," came faintly up, and then with a glad cry
of joy, which rang in their ears for many a day and night, Nina
"You may lay me down, my Arthur boy, and take your arm away.
There's a stronger one than yours around me now. The arm that
Miggie told me of, and it will not let me down. I'm going over so
easy, easy, in a cradle-like, and Dr. Griswold's there waiting for
clipped-winged birdie. He looks so glad, so happy. It is very nice
to die; but stand upon the bank, Arthur and Miggie. Wait till I'm
They thought she had left them, when softly, sweetly, as if it
were a note of heavenly music sent back to them from the other
world, there floated on the air the words,
"Climb up the bank, I'm most across. I do not see you now. MOTHER-
-and Miggie's mother--and Dr. Griswold have waded out to meet me.
The darkness is passed, the daylight has dawned; Miggie precious,
and darling Arthur boy, good-bye, for Nina's gone, good-bye."
The white lips never moved again, the waxen hands lay lifelessly
in Arthur's, the damp, bright hair lay half-uncurled upon the
pillow, the blue eyes were closed, the aching head was still, the
"twisted brain" had ceased to "buzz," the Darkness for her was
over, and Nina had gone out into the Daylight.
PARTING WITH THE DEAD, AND PARTING WITH THE LIVING.
Softly the morning broke and the raindrops glittered like diamonds
in the rising sun, whose rays fell mockingly upon desolate
Sunnybank, where the howling of the blacks mingled with the sobs
of those more nearly bereaved. Very troublesome had the beautiful
departed been in life; none knew how troublesome one-half so well
as Arthur, and yet of all the weeping band who gathered around her
bed, none mourned her more truly than did he who had been her
husband in name for eleven years. Eleven years! How short they
seemed, looked back upon, and how much sorrow they had brought
him. But this was all forgotten, and in his heart there was naught
save tender love for the little maiden now forever at rest.
All the day he sat by her, and both Edith and Victor felt that it
was not the mere semblance of grief he wore, while others of the
household, who knew nothing of his past in connection with Edith,
said to each other, "It is strange he should love her so well when
she was so much care to him."
They did not know it was this very care for her; this bearing with
her which made her so dear to him, and as the mother longs for and
wishes back the unfortunate but beloved child which made her life
so wearisome so Arthur mourned and wept for Nina, thanking God one
moment that her poor, pain-worn head was at rest, and again
murmuring to himself, "I would that I had her back again."
He scarcely spoke to Edith, although he knew whenever her
footsteps crossed the threshold of the darkened room; knew when
she bent over Nina; heard the kisses she pressed on the cold lips;
and even watched until it was dry the tear she once left on Nina's
cheek, but he held no communication with her, and she was left to
battle with her grief alone. Once, indeed, she went to him and
asked what Nina should be buried in, and this for a time roused
him from his apathetic grief.
"Nina must be buried in white," he said; "she looked the best in
that; and, Edith, I would have her curls cut off, all but those
that shade her face. You have arranged them every day. Will you do
so once more if I will hold her up?"
Edith would rather the task had devolved upon some one else, but
she offered no objection, though her tears fell like rain when she
brought the curling-stick and brush and began to separate the
tangled locks, while Arthur encircled the rigid form with his arm,
as carefully as if she still were living, watching her with
apparent interest as she twined about her fingers the golden hair.
But when, at last, she held the scissors which were to sever those
bright tresses, his fortitude all gave way, for he remembered
another time when he had held poor Nina, not as he held her now,
but with a stronger, firmer grasp, while, by rougher hands than
Edith's, those locks were shorn away. Groan after groan came from
his broad chest, and his tears moistened the long ringlets he so
"You may cut them now," he said at last, holding his breath as if
the sharp steel were cutting into his heart's core, as, one by
one, the yellowish curls were severed, and dropped, some into
Edith's lap, while others, lodging upon his fingers, curled about
them with a seemingly human touch, making him moan bitterly, as he
pressed them to his lips, and then shook them gently off.
Nina's hair, like her sister's, had been her crowning glory--so
thick, so wavy, so luxuriant it was; and when the task was done,
and the tresses divided, five heavy curls were Arthur's and five
more were Edith's.
"Where shall I put yours?" Edith asked, and for a moment Arthur
did not answer.
In a rosewood box, into which he had not looked for years, there
was a mass of longer, paler, more uneven curls than these, but
Arthur would not distress Edith by telling her about them, and he
replied, at last, "I will put them away, myself." Then taking them
from her and going to his own private chamber, he opened the box
and dropped them in, weeping when he saw how strongly they
contrasted with the other faded crazy curls, as he called them.
In a plain white muslin, which had been made for Nina at Grassy
Spring, they arrayed her for the coffin, the soft, rich lace
encircling her throat and falling about her slender arms folded so
meekly together. Flowers were twined about her head--flowers were
on her pillow--flowers in her hands--flowers upon her bosom--
flowers of purest white, and meet emblems of the sweet young girl,
whose features, to the last, retained the same childlike, peaceful
expression which had settled upon them when she called back to
Arthur, "Climb up the bank. I'm most across."
The day of her burial was balmy and warm, and the southern wind
blew softly across the fields as the weeping band followed the
lost one across the threshold and laid her away where the flowers
of spring would blossom above her little grave. Very lonely and
desolate seemed the house when the funeral train returned to it,
and the lamentations of the blacks broke out afresh as they began
to realize that their young mistress was really gone, and
henceforth another must fill her place. Would it be Arthur or
would it be the queenly Edith, whose regal beauty had captivated
all their hearts? Assembled in the kitchen they discussed this
question, giving to neither the preference, for though they had
tried Arthur and found him a kind and humane master, they felt
that after Nina, Edith had the right. Then, as other than blacks
will do, they speculated upon the future, wondering why both
Arthur and Edith could not rule jointly over them; they would like
that vastly, and had nearly decided that it would be, when Victor,
who was with them, tore down their castle by telling them that
Edith was already engaged to some one else. This changed the
channel of conversation, and Victor left them wondering still what
the future would bring.
Slowly the evening passed, in kitchen and in parlor and only those
who have felt it can tell the unspeakable loneliness of that first
evening after the burial of the dead. Several times Arthur started
as if he would go to the bed standing empty in the corner, while
Edith, too, fancied that she heard the name "Miggie," spoken as
only Nina could speak it. Then came a feeling of desolation as the
thought was forced upon them, "She is gone;" and as the days went
on till three suns had risen on her grave, the loneliness
increased until Edith could bear it no longer, and to Victor she
said, "We will go back to Richard, who is waiting so anxiously for
Everything which Arthur could do he did to reinstate Edith in her
rights. Not one dollar of the Bernard estate had he ever spent for
himself and very little for Nina, preferring to care for her out
of his own resources and thus the property had increased so
rapidly that Edith was richer than her wildest hopes. But not one
feather did this weigh with her, and on the day when matters were
arranged, she refused to do or say anything about it, persisting
so obstinately in her refusal, that the servants whispered slily
to each other, "That's a heap of old marster's grit thar."
For a time Arthur coaxed and reasoned with her; then finding that
this did not avail, he changed the mode of treatment, and, placing
a chair by his own, said to her commandingly, "Edith, sit here!"
and she sat there, for there was that in Arthur's sternness which
always enforced obedience.
"It cannot be more unpleasant for you than for me, but it is
necessary," he said to her, in a low tone, as she sank into her
seat, and ashamed of her willfulness, Edith whispered back, "I am
sorry I behaved so like a child. Forgive me won't you?"
Still it grated harshly, this being compelled to listen while the
lawyer, summoned by Arthur, talked to her of lands and mortgages,
of bank stock, and, lastly, of the negroes. Would she have them
sold, or what? Then Edith roused from her apathy. Nina had
entrusted them to her, and she would care for them. They should
not be sold, and so she said; they should still live at Sunnybank,
having free papers made out in case of accident to herself, or, if
they preferred, they should go with her at once to Collingwood,
and Sunnybank to be sold.
"Oh, Heavens!" exclaimed Victor, who had stationed himself behind
Edith. "Forty niggers at Collingwood! Mr. Harrington never would
stand that. Leave them here."
Arthur smiled at the Frenchman's evident distress, while Edith
made a gesture that Victor should be still, and then continued,
"It may be better to leave them here for a time at least, and Mr.
Harrington shall decide upon their future home."
She said this naturally, and as a matter of course, but her heart
leaped to her throat when she saw the pallor which for an instant
overspread Arthur's face at her allusion to one who would soon
have the right to rule her and hers.
"Is Mr. Harrington your guardian, Miss Bernard?" the lawyer asked,
and ere Edith could reply, Arthur answered for her, "He is to be
The lawyer bowed and went on with his writing, all unconscious of
the wounds his question had tore open, leaving them to bleed
afresh as both Arthur and Edith assumed a mask of studied
indifference, never looking at or addressing each other again
while that painful interview lasted. It was over at length, and
the lawyer gone. Matters were adjusted as well they could be at
present. The negroes were to remain at Sunnybank under charge of
an overseer as usual, while Arthur was to stay there, too, until
he decided upon his future course. This was his own proposition,
and Edith acceded to it joyfully. There were no sweet home
associations, connected in her mind with Sunnybank, it is true,
for she was too young when she left it to retain more than a dim,
shadowy remembrance of a few scenes and places; but it had been
Nina's home; there she was born, there she had lived, there she
had died, and Edith felt that it would not be one half so dreary
looked back upon, if Arthur would stay there always.
"Why can't you?" she asked of him when in the evening she sat with
him in the rather gloomy parlor. "I'll make you my agent in
general, giving you permission to do whatever you please, or would
you rather live at Grassy Spring?"
"Anywhere but there," was Arthur's quick response, "I shall sell
Grassy Spring and go abroad. I shall be happier so. I have never
known the comfort of a home for any length of time, and it does
not matter where I am. My mother, as Grace may have told you, was
a gay, fashionable woman, and after the period of mourning had
expired, I only remember her resplendent in satin and diamonds,
kissing me good-night ere her departure for some grand party.
Then, when I was eight years old, she, too, died, leaving me to
the care of a guardian. Thus, you see, I have no pleasant memories
of a home, and the cafes of Paris will suit me as well as
anything, perhaps. Once I hoped for something better, but that is
over now, Nina is dead, while you, on whom, as my wife's sister, I
have some claim, will soon be gone from here and I shall be alone.
I shall sell Grassy Spring,--shall place the negroes there in your
keeping, and then next spring leave the country, never to return,
it may be."
He ceased speaking, and there was a silence in the room which
Edith could not break. Arthur had told her frankly of his intended
future, but she could not speak of hers--could not tell him that
Collingwood's doors were ever open to him--that she would be his
sister in very deed--that Richard would welcome him as a brother
for her sake, and that the time might come when they could be
happy thus. All this passed through her mind, but not a word of it
escaped her lips, lest by doing so she would betray her real
feelings. Arthur did not seem to her now as he had done a few days
previous; their relations to each other had changed, and were
there no Richard, it would not be wicked to love him now. Nina was
gone; the past was more than atoned for; the marble, at first
unsightly to some degree, had been hewn and polished, and though
the blows had each struck deep, they wrought in Arthur St. Claire
a perfect work. Ennobled, subdued, and purified, he was every way
desirable, both as brother, friend, and husband, but he was not
for her, and the consciousness that it was so, palsied her powers
Wishing to say something to break the awkward silence, Arthur
asked at last, if it were true, as Victor had said, that she
intended starting for Collingwood the day after to-morrow, and
then she burst into tears, but made him no reply, only passionate
sobs which smote cruelly upon his heart, for well he guessed their
meaning. He could read Edith Hastings aright--could fathom her
utmost thoughts, find he knew how she shrank from the future
dreading a return to Collingwood, and what awaited her there. He
knew, too, that but a few words from himself were needed to keep
her at Sunnybank with him forever. Others might be powerless to
influence her decision, but he was not; he could change her whole
future life by whispering in her ear, "Stay with me, Edith; don't
go back," but the Arthur of to-day was stronger than the Arthur of
one year ago, and though the temptation was a terrible one, he met
it bravely, and would not deal thus treacherously with Richard,
who had so generously trusted her with him. Edith must keep her
vow, and when at last he spoke, it was to say something of the
journey, as if that had all the time been uppermost in his mind.
"He does not love me any more, and I don't care," was Edith's
mental comment, as she soon after left him and hurried to her
room, where she wept herself to sleep, never suspecting how long
and dreary was that night to the young man whose eyelids never for
a moment closed, and who, as the day was breaking, stole out to
Nina's grave, finding there a peace which kept his soul from
At the breakfast table he was the same easy, elegant, attentive
host he always was in his own house, conversing pleasantly upon
indifferent topics, but he could not look at her now, on this her
last day with him; could not endure to hear her voice, and he
avoided her presence, seeing as little of her as possible, and
retiring unusually early, even though he read in her speaking eyes
a wish that he would tarry longer.
The next morning, however, he knew the instant she was astir,
listening eagerly to the sound of her footsteps as she made her
hasty toilet, and watching her from his window as she went to
Nina's grave, sobbing out her sad farewell to the loved dead. He
saw her, too, as she came back to the house, and then with a
beating heart went down to meet her.
The breakfast was scarcely touched, and the moment it was over
Edith hurried to her chamber, for it was nearly time to go. The
trunks were brought down--Edith's and Marie's--for the latter was
to live henceforth with her young mistress; the servants had
crowded to the door, bidding their mistress good bye, and then it
was Arthur's turn. Oh, who shall tell of the tempest which raged
within as he held for a moment her soft, white hand in his and
looked into the face which, ere he saw it again, might lose its
girlish charm for him, inasmuch as a husband's kisses would have
been showered upon it. Many times he attempted to speak, but could
not, and pressing his lips to hers, he hastened away, going
straight to Nina's grave which had become to him of late a Bethel.
Scarcely was he gone, when Tom, the driver, announced that
something was the matter with the harness, and by this delay,
Edith gained a few moments, which she resolved to spend with Nina.
She did not know that Arthur, too, was there, until she came close
upon him as he bent over the little mound. He heard her step, and
turning toward her, and, half bitterly, "Edith, why will you tempt
"Oh, Arthur, don't," and with a piteous cry Edith sank at his
feet, and laying her face on Nina's grave, sobbed out, "I did not
know that you were here, but I am so glad that you are, for I
cannot be without your blessing, you must tell me I am doing
right, or I shall surely die. The world is so dark--so dark."
Arthur had been tempted before--sorely, terribly tempted--but
never like this, and recoiling a pace or two, he stood with the
dead Nina between himself and she weeping heavily, while the wild
thought swept over him, "Is it right that I should fiend her away?