Part 7 out of 8
" but over her an instant, and stretching his hand across the
grave, he laid it on the head of the kneeling girl, giving her the
blessing she so much craved, and then bidding her leave him.
"They are calling to you," he added, as he heard Victor's voice in
the distance, and struggling to her feet, Edith started to go, but
forgetting all sense of propriety in that dreadful parting, she
turned to him again and said,
"I am going, Arthur, but I must ask one question. It will make my
future brighter if I know you love me still, be it ever so little.
Do you, Arthur, and when you know I am Richard's wife will you
think of me sometimes, and pity me, too? I shall need it so much!"
Arthur had not expected this, and he reeled as if smitten with a
heavy blow. Leaning for support against Petrea's monument, whence
Miggie's name had been effaced, he gasped:
"God help me, Edith! You should have spared me this. Do I love
you? Oh Edith, alas, alas! Here with Nina, whom, Heaven is my
witness, I did love truly at the last--here with her, I say, lying
dead between us, I swear to you that never was maiden loved as I
this moment love you; but I cannot make you mine. I dare not prove
thus treacherous to Richard, who trusted you with me, and, Edith,
you can be happy with him, and you will. You must forget that I
ever crossed your path, thinking of me only as one who was your
sister's husband. And God will give you strength to do this if you
ask it of him aright I shall not forgot you, Edith. That cannot
be. Across the sea, wherever I may be, I shall remember you,
enshrining your memory in my heart, together with Nina, whom I so
much wish I had loved earlier, and so have saved us both from
pain. And now go--go back to Collingwood, and keep your vow to
Richard. He is one of God's noblest works, an almost perfect man.
You will learn to love him. You will be happy. Do not write to me
till it is over, then send your cards, and I shall know 'tis done.
Farewell, my sister--farewell forever."
Without a word of reply Edith moved away, nor cast a backward
glance at the faint, sick man, who leaned his burning forehead
against the gleaming marble; while drop after drop of perspiration
fell upon the ground, but brought him no relief. He heard the
carriage wheels as they rolled from the door, and the sound seemed
grinding his life to atoms, for by that token he knew that Edith
was gone--that to him there was nothing left save the little mound
at his feet and the memory of his broken lily who slept beneath
it. How he wanted her now--wanted his childish Nina--his fair
girl-wife, to comfort him. But it could not be, Nina was dead--her
sweet, bird-like voice was hushed; it would never meet his
listening ear again, and for him there was nothing left, save the
wailing wind to whisper sadly to him as she was wont to do, "Poor
Arthur boy, poor Arthur boy."
Oh, what a change it was from sunny Florida to England, just how
both Edith and Victor shivered, arrived at the last stage of their
journey, they looked out upon the snow-clad hills and leafless
trees which fitted out by bare and brown against the winter sky.
West Shannondale! the brakeman shouted, and Edith drew her furs
around her, for in a few moments more their own station would be
"The river is frozen; it must be very cold," said Victor, pointing
to the blue-black stream; skimmered over with a thin coat of ice.
"Yes, very, very cold," and Edith felt the meaning of the word in
more senses than one.
Why wasn't she glad to be home again? Why did her thoughts cling
so to distant Sunnybank, or her heart die within her as waymark
after waymark told her Collingwood was near? Alas! she was not a
loving, eager bride elect, returning to the arms of her beloved,
but a shrinking, hopeless, desolate woman, going back to meet the
destiny she dared not avoid. The change was all in herself, for
the day was no colder, the clouds no greyer, the setting sun no
paler than New England wintry days and clouds and suns are wont to
be. Collingwood was just the same, and its massive walls rose as
proudly amid the dark evergreens around it as they had done in
times gone by, when to the little orphan it seemed a second
Paradise. Away to the right lay Grassy Spring, the twilight
shadows gathering around it, piles of snow resting on its roof,
and a thin wreath of smoke curling from a single chimney in the
All this Edith saw as in the village omnibus she was driven toward
home, Richard was not expecting them until the morrow, and thus no
new fires were kindled, no welcoming lights hung out, and the
house was unusually gloomy and dark. During Edith's absence
Richard had staid mostly in the library, and there he was sitting
now, with his hands folded together in that peculiarly helpless
way which characterized all his motions. He heard the sound of
wheels, the banging of trunks, and then his ear caught a footstep
it knew full well, a slow, shuffling tread, but Edith's still, and
out into the silent hall he groped his way, watching there until
How he hugged her to his bosom--never heeding that she gave him
back but one answering kiss, a cold, a frozen thing, which would
not thaw even after it touched his lips, so full of life and
warmth. Poor, deluded man! he fancied that the tears he felt upon
his face were tears of joy at being home again; but alas! alas!
they were tears wrung out by a feeling of dreary home-sickness--a
longing to be somewhere else--to have some other one than Richard
chafing her cold hands and calling her pet names. He looked older,
too, than he used to do, and Edith thought of what he once had
said about her seeing the work of decay go on in him while she yet
was young and vigorous. Still her voice was natural as she
answered his many questions and greeted Mrs. Matson who came in to
see her as soon as she heard of her arrival.
"In mourning!" the latter exclaimed as with womanly curiosity she
inspected Edith's dress.
Richard started, and putting his hand to Edith's neck, felt that
her collar was of crape, and a shadow passed over his face. He
liked to think of her as a bright plumaged bird, not as sombre-
hued and wearing the habiliments which come only from some grave.
"Was it necessary that my darling should carry her love for a
stranger quite so far as this?" he asked. "Need you have dressed
Without meaning it, his tone implied reproach, and it cut Edith
cruelly, making her wish that she had told him all, when she wrote
that she was coming home.
"Oh, Richard," she cried, "don't chide me for these outward tokens
of sorrow. Nina, dear, darling Nina, was my sister--my fathers
child. Temple was only a name he assumed to avoid arrest, so it
all got wrong. Everything is wrong," and Edith sobbed impetuously,
while Richard essayed to comfort her.
The dress of black was not displeasing to him now, and he passed
his hands caressingly over its heavy folds as if to ask
forgiveness for having said aught against it.
Gradually Edith grew calm, and after she had met the servants, and
the supper she could not taste was over, she repeated to Richard
the story she had heard from Marie, who had stopped for a time in
New York to visit her sister.
A long time they sat together that night, while Richard told her
how lonely he had been without her, and asked her many questions
of Nina's last days.
"Did she send no message to me?" he said. "She used to like me, I
Edith did not know how terrible a message Nina had sent to him,
and she replied, "She talked of you a great deal, but I do not
remember any particular word. I told her I was to be your wife."
and Edith's voice trembled, for this was but a prelude to what she
meant to say ere she bade him good night. She should breathe so
much more freely if she knew her bridal was not so near, and her
sister's death was surely a sufficient reason for deferring it.
Summoning all her courage, she arose, and sitting on Richard's
knee, buttoned and unbuttoned his coat in a kind of abstracted
manner, while she asked if it might be so. "I know I promised for
New Year's night," she said, "but little Nina died so recently and
I loved her so much, May it be put off, Richard--put over until
Edith had not thought of this in Florida, but here at home, it
came to her like succor to the drowning, and she anxiously awaited
A frown for an instant darkened his fine features, for he did not
like this second deferring the day, but he was too unselfish to
oppose it, and he answered,
"Yes, darling, if you will have it so. It may be better to wait at
least six months, shall it be in June, the fifteenth say?"
Edith was satisfied with this, and when they parted her heart was
lighted of a heavy load, for six months seemed to her a great,
The next day when Grace came up to call on Edith, and was told of
the change, she shrugged her shoulders, for she knew that by this
delay Richard stood far less chance of ever calling Edith his
wife. But she merely said it was well, congratulating Edith upon
her good fortune in being an heiress, and asking many questions
about Arthur and Nina, both, and at last taking her leave without
a hint as to her suspicions of the future. To Edith the idea had
never occurred. She should marry Richard of course, and nothing
could happen to defer the day a third time. So she said at least
to Victor, when she told him of the arrangement, and with a very
expressive whistle, Victor, too, shrugged his shoulders, thinking,
that possibly he need not read Nina's letter after all. He would
rather not if it could be avoided, for he knew how keen the pang
it would indict upon his noble master, and he would not add one
unnecessary drop to the cup of sorrow he saw preparing for poor
After a few days of listless languor and pining home-sickness,
Edith settled into her olden routine of reading, talking and
singing to Richard, who thought himself happy even though she did
not caress him as often as she used to do, and was sometimes
impatient and even ill-natured towards him.
"She mourns so much for Nina," was the excuse which Richard wrote
down in his heart for all her sins, either of omission or
commission; and in a measure he was right.
Edith did mourn for sweet little Nina, but mourned not half so
much for her as for the hopes forever fled--for Arthur, at whose
silence she greatly marvelled, thinking that she would write to
him as to her brother, and then shrinking from the task because
she knew not what to say.
Spite of her feelings the six months she had thought so long were
passing far too rapidly to suit her. Time lingers for no one, and
January glided into February, February into March, whose melting
snows and wailing winds gave place at last to April, and then
again the people of Shannondale begun to talk of "that wedding,"
fixed for the 15th of June. Marie had become domesticated at
Collingwood, but the negroes, who now called Edith mistress, still
remained at Grassy Spring, waiting until Arthur should come, or
some message be received from him. It was four months now since
Edith left Sunnybank, and in all that time no tiding had come to
her from Arthur. Grace's letters were unanswered, and Grace
herself was beginning to feel alarmed, when one afternoon, Victor
called Edith to an upper balcony and pointing in the direction of
Grassy Spring, bade her look where the graceful columns of smoke
were rising from all its chimneys, while its windows were opened
wide, and the servants hurried in and out, seemingly big with some
"Saddle Bedouin," said Edith, more excited than she had deemed it
possible for her to be. "Mr. St. Claire must be expected, I am
going down to see."
Victor obeyed, and without a word to Richard, Edith was soon
galloping off toward Grassy Spring, where she found Grace
hurriedly giving orders to the delighted blacks, who tumbled over
each other in their zeal to have everything in readiness for
"Marster Arthur." He was coming that night, so Grace had told
them, she having received a telegram that morning from New York,
together with a letter.
"He started North the first of Feb." she said to Edith, "taking
Richmond on the way, and has been detained there ever since by
sickness. He is very feeble yet, but is anxious to see us all. He
has received no letters from me, it seems, and thinks you are
Edith turned very white for a moment, and then there burned upon
her cheek a round, red spot, induced by the feeling that the
believing she was married had been the immediate cause of Arthur's
illness. Edith was no longer the pale, listless woman who moved so
like a breathing statue around Collingwood, but a flushed, excited
creature, flitting from room to room, and entering heart and soul
into Grace's plans for having everything about the house as
cheerful and homelike as possible for the invalid. She should stay
to welcome him, too, she said, bidding one of the negroes put
Bedouin in the stable and then go up to Collingwood to tell
Richard where she was.
Arthur was indeed coming to Grassy Spring, brought thither by the
knowing that something must be done with the place ere he went to
Europe as he intended doing, and by the feverish desire to see
Edith once more even though she were the wife of Richard, as he
supposed her to be. Grace's first letter had been lost, and as he
had been some weeks on the way he knew nothing of matters at
Collingwood, though occasionally there crept into his heart a
throb of hope that possibly for Nina's sake the marriage had been
deferred and Edith might be Edith Hastings still. It was very sad
coming back to the spot so fraught with memories of Nina, and this
it was in part which made him look so pale and haggard when at
last he stood within the hall and was met by Grace, who uttered an
exclamation of surprise at seeing him so changed.
"I am very tired," he said, with the tone and air of an invalid,
"Let me rest in the library awhile, before I see the negroes.
Their noise will disturb me," and he walked into the very room
where Edith stood waiting for him.
She had intended to meet him as a brother, the husband of her
sister, but the sight of his white, suffering face swept her
calmness all away, and with a burst of tears she cried, "Oh,
Arthur, Arthur, I did not think you had been so sick. Why did you
not let us know; I would have come to you," and she brought
herself the arm-chair which he took, smiling faintly upon her and
"It was bad business being sick at a hotel, and I did sometimes
wish you were there, but of course I could not expect you to leave
your husband. How is he?"
Edith could hear the beating of her heart and feel the blood
tingling her cheeks as she replied, "You mean Richard, but he is
not my husband. He--"
Quickly, eagerly Arthur looked up, the expression of his face
speaking volumes of joy, surprise, and even hope, but all this
faded away, leaving him paler, sicker-looking than before, as
"The marriage was a second time deferred on account of Nina's
death. It will take place in June."
Grace had left the room and an awkward silence ensued during which
Arthur looked absently into the fire, while Edith gazed out upon
the darkening sky, wondering if life would always be as hard to
bear as now, and half wishing that Arthur St. Claire had staid at
Sunnybank until the worst was over.
There was a sound of wheels outside, and Edith heard Richard as he
passed into the hall. He had received her message, and thinking it
proper for him to welcome Mr. St. Claire, he had come to Grassy
Spring to do so, as well as to escort Edith home. Richard could
not see how much Arthur was changed, but his quick ear detected
the weak, tremulous tones of the voice, which tried to greet him
steadily, and so the conversation turned first upon Arthur's
recent illness, and then upon Nina, until at last, as Richard rose
to leave, he laid his arm across Edith's shoulder and said
playfully, "You know of course, that what you predicted, when
years ago you asked me to take a certain little girl, is coming
true. Edith has promised to be my wife. You will surely remain at
Grassy Spring through the summer, and so be present at our wedding
on the 15th of June. I invite you now."
"Thank you," was all Arthur could say, as with his accustomed
politeness he arose to bid his guests good night; but his lip
quivered as he said it, and his eye never for a moment rested upon
Edith, who led Richard in silence to the carriage, feeling that
all she loved in the wide world was left there in the little
library where the light was shining, and where, although she did
not know it, Grace was ministering to the half fainting Arthur.
The sight of Edith and Richard had effected him more than he
supposed it would, but the worst was over now, and as he daily
grew stronger in the bracing northern air he felt more and more
competent to meet what lay before him.
After a week or two had passed, Arthur went occasionally to
Collingwood, where Richard greeted him most cordially, urging him
to come more frequently and wondering why he always seemed in so
much haste to get away. On the occasion of these visits Edith
usually kept out of the way, avoiding him so studiously that
Richard began to fear she might perhaps dislike him, and he
resolved to ask her the first good opportunity. But Edith avoided
him, too, never coming now to sit with him alone; somebody must
always be present when she was with him, else had her bursting
heart betrayed the secret telling so fearfully upon her. Oh, how
hateful to her were the preparations for her bridal, which had
commenced on a most magnificent scale, for Richard, after waiting
so long, would have a grand wedding, and that all who chose might
witness the ceremony, it was to be performed in the church, from
which the guests would accompany him back to Collingwood.
All Shannondale was interested, and the most extravagant stories
were set afloat, not only concerning the trouseau of the bride,
but the bride herself. What ailed her? What made her so cold, so
white, so proudly reserved, so like a walking ghost? She, who had
been so full of vigorous life, so merry, so light-hearted. Could
it be the mourning for sweet little Nina, or was it--?
And here the knot of gossippers, at the corner of the streets, or
in the stores, or in the parlors at home, would draw more closely
together as they whispered,
"Does she love Richard Harrington as she ought? Is not her heart
given rather to the younger, handsomer St. Claire?"
How they pitied her if it were so, and how curiously they watched
her whenever she appeared in their midst, remarking every action,
and construing it according to their convictions.
Victor, too, was on the alert, and fully aware of the public
feeling. Day after day he watched his young mistress, following
her when she left the house alone, and seeing her more than once
when in the Deering woods she laid her face in the springing grass
and prayed that she might die. But for her promise, sworn to
Richard, she would have gone to him, and kneeling at his feet
begged him to release her from her vow, and so spare her the
dreadful trial from which she shrank more and more as she saw it
Edith was almost crazy, and Arthur, whenever he chanced to meet
her, marvelled at the change since he saw her last. Once he, too,
thought of appealing to Richard to save her from so sad a fate as
that of an unloving wife, but he would not interfere, lest by so
doing he should err again, and so in dreary despair, which each
day grew blacker and more hopeless, Edith was left alone, until
Victor roused in her behalf, and without allowing himself time to
reflect, sought his master's presence, bearing with him Nina's
letter, and the soiled sheet on which Richard had unwittingly
scratched out Arthur's marriage.
It was a warm, balmy afternoon, and through the open windows of
the library, the south wind came stealing in, laden with the
perfume of the pink-tinted apple blossoms, and speaking to the
blind man of the long ago, when it was his to see the budding
beauties now shut out from his sight. The hum of the honey-bee was
heard, and the air was rife with the sweet sounds of later spring.
On the branch of a tree without, a robin was trilling a song. It
had sung there all the morning, and now it had come back again,
singing a second time to Richard, who thought of the soft nest up
in the old maple, and likened that robin and its mate to himself
and Edith, his own singing-bird.
But why linger so long over that May-day which Richard remembered
through many, many future years, growing faint and sick as often
as the spring brought back the apple-blossom perfume or the song
of mated robins. It is, alas, that we shrink as Victor did from
the task imposed, that, like him, we dread the blow which will
strike at the root of Richard's very life, and we approach
tearfully, pityingly, half remorsefully, as we stand sometimes by
a sunken grave, doubting whether our conduct to the dead were
always right and just. So Victor felt, as he drew near to Richard;
and sitting down beside him said,
"Can I talk with you awhile about Miss Hastings?" Richard started.
Victor had come to tell him she was sick, and he asked if it were
"Something has ailed her of late," he said.
"She is greatly changed since Nina's death. She mourns much for
"Yes," returned Victor, "she loved Nina dearly, but it is more
than this which ails her. God forbid that I should unnecessarily
wound you, Mr. Harrington, but I think it right for you to know."
The dark face, shaded with the long beard, was very white now, and
the sightless eyes had in them a look of terror as Richard asked,
"What is it, Victor? Tell me."
"Come to the sofa first," Victor rejoined, feeling intuitively
that he was safer there than in that high arm-chair, and with
unusual tenderness he led his master to the spot, then sitting
down beside him, he continued, "Do you remember Nina once made you
write something upon a sheet of paper, and that you bade me
ascertain what it was?"
"Yes, I remember," answered Richard, "you told me you had not read
it, and imputing it to some crazy fancy of no importance, I gave
it no more thought. What of it, Victor?"
"I had not read it then," answered Victor, "but I have done so
since, I have it in my possession--here in my hand. Would you like
to hear it?"
Richard nodded, and Victor read aloud: "I, the blind man, Richard
Harrington, do hereby solemnly swear that the marriage of Arthur
St. Claire and Nina Bernard, performed by me and at my house, is
null and void,"
"What! Read it again! It cannot be that I heard aright," and
Richard listened while Victor repeated the lines. "Arthur and
Nina! Was she the young girl wife, he, the boy husband, who came
to me that night?" Richard exclaimed. "Why have I never known of
this before? Why did Edith keep it from me? Say, Victor," and
again Richard listened, this time, oh, how eagerly, while Victor
told him what he knew of that fatal marriage, kept so long a
secret, and as he listened, the beaded drops stood thickly upon
his forehead and gathered around his ashen lips, for Victor
purposely let fall a note of warning which shot through the
quivering nerves of the blind man like a barbed burning arrow,
wringing from him the piteous cry,
"Oh, Victor, Victor, does she--does Edith love Arthur? Has she
loved him all the time? Is it this which makes her voice so sad,
her step so slow? Speak--better that I know it now than after 'tis
too late. What other paper is it you are unfolding?"
"'Tis a letter from Nina to you. Can you hear it now?"
"Yes, but tell me first all you know. Don't withhold a single
thing. I would hear the whole."
So Victor told him what he knew up to the time of their going to
Florida; and then, opening Nina's letter, he began to read,
pausing, occasionally, to ask if he should stop.
"No, no; go on!" Richard whispered, hoarsely, his head dropping
lower and lower, until the face was hidden from view and the chin
rested upon the chest, which heaved with every labored breath.
Once at the words, "When you hear this Nina'll be there with you.
She'll sit upon your knee and wind her arms around your neck"--he
started, and seemed to be thrusting something from his lap--
something which made him shiver. Was it Nina? He thought so, and
strove to push her off but when Victor read, "She will comfort you
when the great cry comes in--the crash like the breaking up of the
ice in the Northern ponds," he ceased to struggle, and Victor
involuntarily stopped when he saw the long arms twine themselves
as it were around an invisible form. Then he commenced again: "And
when you feel yourself broken up like they are in the spring,
listen and you'll hear me whispering, 'Poor Richard! I pity you so
much, and I'll kiss your tears away.'"
Did he hear her? hear Nina whispering comfort to his poor bruised
heart? We cannot tell. We only know he bent his ear lower, as if
to catch the faintest breath; but alas! there were no tears to
kiss away. The blind eyes could not weep--they were too hot, too
dry for that--and blood-red rings of fire danced before them as
they did when Nina came to him with the startling news that Miggie
was dead in the Deering woods.
Victor was reading now about these woods and the scene enacted
there, and Richard understood it all, even to the reason why Edith
had persisted in being his wife. The deepest waters run silently,
it is said, and so, perhaps, the strongest heart when crushed to
atoms lies still as death, and gives outwardly no token of its
anguish. True it is that Richard neither moaned, nor moved, nor
spoke; only the head drooped lower, while the arms clung tightly
to the fancied form he held, as if between himself and Nina,
wherever she was that dreary day, there was a connecting link of
sympathy which pervaded his whole being, and so prevented him from
dying outright as he wished he could.
It was finished at last, Nina's letter--and it seemed to Richard
as if the three kinds of darkness, of which she told him, had
indeed settled down upon him, so confused was his brain, so
crushed his heart, and so doubly black his blindness. He looked to
Victor like some great oak, scathed and blasted with one fell
blow, and he was trembling for the result, when the lips moved and
he caught the words, "Leave me little Snow Drop. Go back to
Heaven, whence you came. The blind man will do right."
Slowly then the arms unclosed, and as if imbued with sight, the
red eyes followed something to the open window and out into the
bright sunshine beyond; then they turned to Victor, and a smile
broke over the stormy features as Richard whispered:
"Nina's gone! Now take me to my room."
Across the threshold Victor led the half-fainting man, meeting
with no one until his master's chamber was reached, when Edith
came through the hall, and, glancing in, saw the white face on the
pillow, where Victor had laid his master down, Richard heard her
step, and said, faintly, "Keep her off; I cannot bear it yet!" But
even while he spoke Edith was there beside him, asking, in much
alarm, what was the matter. She did not observe how Richard
shuddered at the sound of her voice; she only thought that he was
very ill, and, with every womanly, tender feeling aroused, she
bent over him and pressed upon his lips a kiss which burned him
like a coal of fire. She must not kiss him now, and, putting up
his hands with the feebleness of a little child, he cried
"Don't Edith, don't! Please leave me for a time. I'd rather be
She obeyed him then, and went slowly out, wondering what it was
which had so affected him as to make even her presence
Meantime, with hand pressed over his aching eyes, to shut out, if
possible, the rings of fire still dancing before them, Richard
Harrington thought of all that was past and of what was yet to
"How can I lose her now," he moaned, "Why didn't she tell me at
the first? It would not then have been half so bad. Oh, Edith, my
lost Edith. You have not been all guiltless in this matter. The
bird I took to my bosom has struck me at last with its talons, and
struck so deep. Oh, how it aches, how it aches, and still I love
her just the same; aye, love her more, now that I know she must
not be mine. Edith, oh, my Edith!"
Then Richard's thoughts turned upon Arthur. He must talk with him,
and he could not meet him there at Collingwood. There were too
many curious eyes to see, too many ears to listen. At Grassy
Spring they would be more retired, and thither he would go, that
very night. He never should sleep again until he heard from
Arthur's own lips a confirmation of the cruel story. He could not
ask Edith. Her voice would stir his heart-strings with a keener,
deeper agony than he was enduring now. But to Arthur he could
speak openly, and then too--Richard was loth to confess it, even
to himself, but it was, never the less, true--Arthur, though a
man, was gentler than Edith. He would be more careful, more
tender, and while Edith might confirm the whole with one of her
wild, impulsive outbursts, Arthur would reach the same point
gradually and less painfully.
"Order the carriage, Victor," he said, as it was growing dark in
the room. "I am going to Grassy Spring,"
It was in vain that Victor attempted to persuade him to wait until
the morrow. Richard was determined, and when Edith came from her
scarcely tasted supper, she saw the carriage as it passed through
the Collingwood grounds on its way to Grassy Spring, but little
dreamed of what would be ere its occupant returned to them again.
THE FIERY TEST.
Arthur was not at home. From the first he had intended making
Edith a bridal present--a life-sized portrait of Nina, which he
knew she would value more than gifts of gold and silver. He had in
his possession a daguerreotype taken when she was just eighteen,
and sent to him by her father among other things, of which Charlie
Hudson was the bearer. From this he would have a picture painted,
employing the best artist in Boston, and it was upon this business
that he left Grassy Spring the previous day, saying he should
probably be home upon the next evening's train.
Just before Richard arrived at Grassy Spring, however, a telegram
had been received to the effect that Arthur was detained and would
not return until midnight. This Phillis repeated to Richard, who
for an instant stood thinking, and then said to Victor, "I shall
stay. I cannot go back to Collingwood till I have talked with
Arthur. But you may go, I would rather be left alone, and, Victor,
you will undoubtedly think it a foolish fancy, but I must sleep in
Nina's room. There will be something soothing to me in a place so
hallowed by her former presence. Ask old Phillis if I may. Tell
her it is a whim, if you like, but get her consent at all
Phillis' consent was easily won, and after Victor was gone,
Richard sat alone in the parlor until nearly eleven, when, feeling
weary, he consented to retire, and Ike led him up the two flights
of stairs into the Den, where he had never been before.
"I do not need your services," he said to the negro, who departed,
having first lighted the gas and turned it on to its fullest
extent out of compliment to the blind man.
Gas was a luxury not quite two years old in Shannondale, and had
been put in Arthur's house just before he left for Florida.
Collingwood being further from the village could not boast of it
yet and consequently Richard was not as much accustomed to it as
he would otherwise have been. On this occasion he did not know
that it was lighted until, as he stood by the dressing bureau, he
felt the hot air in his face. Thinking to extinguish the light by
turning the arm of the fixture just as he remembered having done
some years before, he pushed it back within an inch of the heavy
damask curtain which now shaded the window, and too much absorbed
in his own painful reflections to think of ascertaining whether
the light was out or not, he groped his way to the single bed, and
threw himself upon it, giving way to a paroxysm of grief.
It was strange that one in his frame of mind should sleep, but
nature was at last exhausted, and yielding to the influence of the
peculiar atmosphere slowly pervading the room, he fell away into a
kind of lethargic slumber, while the work of destruction his own
hand had prepared, went silently on around him. First the crimson
curtain turned a yellowish hue, than the scorched threads dropped
apart and the flame crept into the inner lining of cotton, running
swiftly through it until the whole was in a blaze, and the wood-
work of the window, charred and blackened, and bore the deadly
element still onward, but away from the unconscious Richard,
leaving that portion of the room unscathed, and for the present
safe. Along the cornice under the lathing, beneath the eaves they
crept--those little fiery tongues--lapping at each other in
wanton, playfulness, and whispering to the dry old shingles on the
roof above of the mischief they meant to do.
Half an hour went by, and from the three towers of Shannondale the
deep toned bells rang out the watchword of alarm, which the
awakened inhabitants caught up, echoing it from lip to lip until
every street resounded with the fearful cry, "Fire, fire, Grassy
Spring is all on fire."
Then the two engines were brought, from their shelter, and went
rattling through the town and out into the country, a quarter of a
mile away, to where the little forked tongues had grown to a
mammoth size, darting their vicious heads from beneath the
rafters, reaching down to touch the heated panes, hissing defiance
at the people below, and rolling over the doomed building until
billow of flame leaped billow, both licking up in their mad chase
the streams of water poured continually upon them.
Away to the eastward the night express came thundering on, and one
of its passengers, looking from his window, saw the lurid blaze,
just as once before he had seen the bonfire crazy Nina kindled,
and as he watched, a horrible fear grow strong within him,
manifesting itself at last in the wild outcry, "'Tis Grassy
Spring, 'tis Grassy Spring."
Long before the train reached the depot, Arthur St. Claire, had
jumped from the rear car, and was flying across the meadow toward
his burning home, knowing ere he reached it that all was lost.
Timbers were falling, glass was melting, windows were blazing,
while at every step the sparks and cinders whirled in showers
around his head.
And where all this time was Richard? Victor was asking that
question--Victor, just arrived, and followed by the whole
household of Collingwood. They were the last to waken, and they
came with headlong haste; but Victor's longer strides outran them
all, and when Arthur appeared, he was asking frantically for his
master. The negroes in their fright had forgotten him entirely,
and the first words which greeted Arthur were, "Mr. Harrington is
in the building!"
"Where? where?" he shrieked, darting away, and dragging Victor
"In Nina's room. He would sleep there," Victor answered, and with
another cry of horror, Arthur sprang to the rear of the building,
discovering that the stairs leading to the Den were comparatively
unharmed as yet.
"Who will save him?" he screamed, and he turned toward Victor, who
intuitively drew back from incurring the great peril.
There was no one to volunteer, and Arthur said,
"I will do it myself."
Instantly a hundred voices were raised against it. It were worse
than madness, they said. The fire must have caught in the vicinity
of that room, and Richard was assuredly dead.
"He may not be, and if he is not, I will save him or perish too,"
was Arthur's heroic reply, as he sprang up the long winding
stairs, near which the flames were roaring like some long pent up
He reached the door of the Den. It was bolted, but with superhuman
strength he shook it down, staggering backward as the dense cloud
of yellowish smoke rolled over and around him, warning him not to
advance. But Arthur heeded no warning then. By the light which
illumined the entire front of the house, he saw that two sides of
the room were not yet touched; the bed in the recess was unharmed,
but Richard was not there, and a terrible fear crept over Arthur
lest he had perished in his attempt to escape. Suddenly he
remembered Nina's cell, and groping his way through fire and
smoke, he opened the oaken door, involuntarily breathing a prayer
of thanksgiving when he saw the tall form stretched upon the empty
bedstead. He had probably mistaken the way out, and by entering
here, had prolonged his life, for save through the glass
ventilator the smoke could not find entrance to that spot. Arthur
knew that he was living, for the lips moved once and whispered,
"Edith," causing Arthur's brain to reel, and the cold sweat to
start from every pore as he thought for what and for whom he was
saving his rival. Surely in that terrible hour, in Nina's cell,
with death staring him in the face on every side, Arthur St.
Claire atoned for all the past, and by his noble unselfishness
proved how true and brave he was.
Snatching from the nail the heavy sack, he wound it round
Richard's head to shield him from the flames, then recollecting
that on the bed without there was a thick rose blanket, he wrapped
that too around him, and bending himself with might and main, bore
him in his arms across the heated floor and out into the narrow
hall, growing sick and faint when he saw the wall of fire now
rolling steadily up the stairway.
"Oh, must I die!" he groaned, as he leaned panting against the
wall, listening to the roar without, which sounded in his ear like
demons yelling over their prey.
Life looked very fair to the young man then; even life without
Edith was preferable far to a death like this. He was too young to
die and the heart which had said in its bitterness, "there is
nothing worth living for," clung tenaciously to a world which
seemed so fast receding from view.
By leaving Richard there, by stripping him of his covering, and
folding it about himself, he could assuredly leap down those
stairs, and though he reached the bottom a scarred, disfigured
thing, life would be in him yet; but Arthur did not waver, Richard
should share his fate, be it for weal or woe, and with a prayer
for help, he turned aside into a little room from which a few wide
steps led up into the cupola. Heaven surely saved this way for
him, for the fire was not there yet, and he passed in safety to
the roof, where he stood, many dizzy feet from the shouting
multitude, who, hoping he might take advantage of it, were
watching for him to appear, greeting him with many a loud huzza,
and bidding him take courage. The engines had been brought to bear
on this part of the building, subduing the fire to such an extent
that it was barely possible for him to reach the northern
extremity, where, by jumping upon a flat, lower roof, whose
surface was tin, and then walking a beam over a sea of hissing
flame, he could reach the ladder hoisted against the wall. All
this they made him understand, and with but little hope of his
success they watched him breathlessly as he trod the black,
steaming shingles, which crisped the soles of his boots, and
penetrated even to his flesh. He has passed that point in safety,
he leaps upon the wing, staggering, aye, falling with his burden,
and when he struggles to his feet, the red blaze, wheeling in
circles around him, shows where the blood is flowing from a wound
upon the forehead. The batteries of the engine are directed toward
him now, and they saturate his clothes with water, for the most
fearful, most dangerous part is yet to come, the treading that
single beam. Will he do it? Can he do it? Untrammeled he might,
but with that heavy form he hugs so carefully to him, never! So
the crowd decide, and they shout to him, "Leave him; he is dead.
Save yourself, young man;" but the brave Arthur answers, "No," and
half wishes he were blind, so as to shut out the seething vortex
into which one mistep would plunge him. And while he stood there
thus, amid the roaring of the flames, and the din of the
multitude, there floated up to him a girlish voice,
"Shut your eyes, Arthur, make believe you are blind, and maybe you
can walk the beam."
It was Edith. He saw her where she stood, apart from all the rest,
her long black hair unbound just as she sprang from her pillow,
her arms outstretched toward him, and the sight nerved him to the
trial. He looked at her once more, it might be for the last time,
but he would carry the remembrance of that clear face even to
eternity, and with a longing, wistful glance he closed his eyes
and prepared to do her bidding. Then it seemed to him that another
presence than Edith's was around him, another voice than hers was
whispering words of courage, Nina, who went before, guiding his
footsteps, and lightening his load, screening him from the
scorching heat and buoying him up, while he walked the blackened
beam, which shook and bent at every tread, and at last fell with a
crash, but not until the ladder was reached, and a dozen friendly
arms were outstretched for Richard, and for him, too, for sight
and strength had failed him when they were no longer needed. With
countless blessings on the noble young man, they laid him on the
grass at Edith's side, wounded, burned, smoke-stained, and totally
It was well for Richard that the entire household of Collingwood
were there to care for him, for Edith's thoughts were all bestowed
on Arthur. She hardly looked at Richard, but kneeling down by
Arthur, kissed, and pitied, and wept over his poor, raw, bleeding
hands, wiped the blood from the wound on the forehead, thinking
even then how it would be concealed by the brown hair--the hair
all singed and matted, showing how fiercely he had battled for his
life. Many gathered around her as she sat there with his head
pillowed on her lap, and from the anguish written on her face
learned what it was about which the curious villagers had so long
"He must go home with me," Grace Atherton said, "My carriage will
soon be here."
This reminded Edith that she too must act, and beckoning to
Victor, she bade him hasten to Collingwood and see that his
masters room was made comfortable.
This was the first token she had given that she knew of Richard's
presence near her. She had heard them say that he still lived;
that not a hair of his head was singed or a thread of his night
garments harmed, and for this she was glad, but nothing could have
tempted her to leave Arthur, and she sat by him until the arrival
of the carriages which were to convey the still unconscious men to
their respective homes.
At Collingwood, however, her whole attention was given to Richard,
who, as he began to realise what was passing around him, seemed so
much disturbed at having her near him that Victor whispered to
her, "Hadn't you better go out? I think your presence excites
Edith had fancied so too, and wondering much why it should, she
left him and going to her own room, sat down by the window, gazing
sadly across the fields, to where Grassy Spring lay in the morning
sunshine a blackened, mouldering ruin.
For a few days Edith hoped that the fire might defer her marriage
a little longer but almost the first thing which Richard addressed
directly to her was, "Let the preparations go on as usual; there
need be no delay."
So the dressmakers were recalled and bridal finery tossed about
until the whole was finished and the last sewing woman departed,
taking with her, as her predecessors had done, a large budget of
items touching the cool indifference of the bride elect and the
icy reserve of the bridegroom, who was greatly changed, they said.
It is true he was kind and considerate, as of old, and his voice,
whenever he spoke to Edith, was plaintively sad and touching, but
he preferred to be much alone, spending his time in his chamber,
into which few save his valet was admitted. And thus no one
suspected the mighty conflict he was waging with himself, one
moment crying out, "I cannot give her up," and again moaning
piteously, "I must, I must."
The first meeting between himself and Arthur after the fire had
been a most affecting one, Richard sobbing like a child, kissing
the hands wounded so cruelly for him, and whispering amid his
sobs, "You saved my life at the peril of your own, and I shall
never forget it. God help me to do right."
Many times after this he rode down to Brier Hill whither Edith had
frequently preceded him; but Richard never uttered a word of
reproach when near the window he heard a rustling sound and knew
who was sitting there. Neither would he ask a single question when
soft footsteps glided past him and out into the hall, but he
always heard them until they died away, and he knew those little
feet were treading the verge of the grave he had dug within his
heart. It was not yet filled up--that grave--but his mighty love
for Edith may coffined there, and he only waited for the needful
strength to bury it forever by verbally giving her up.
And while he waited the May-days glided by, and where the apple
blossoms once had been, the green hard fruit was swelling now, the
lilacs, purple and limp, had dropped from the tree, the hyacinths
and daffodils were gone, and June with her sunny skies and wealth
of roses, queened it over Collingwood. It lacked but a week now of
the day appointed for the wedding, and Edith wished the time would
hasten, for anything was preferable to the numb, apathetic feeling
which lay around her heart. She had no hope that she should not be
Richard's wife, and she wondered much at his manner, trying more
than once to coax him from his strange mood by playful words, and
even by caresses, which won from him no response--only once, when,
he hugged her tightly to him, kissing her lips and hair, and
saying to her, "God forgive me, Birdie, I never meant to wrong you
and I am going to make amends." The next day when Victor went up
to his room he was struck with the peculiar expression of his
face--a subdued, peaceful expression which told that he was ready
at last to make the great sacrifice--to fold the darkness more
thickly around himself and give to Arthur the glorious daylight he
once hoped would shine for him and Richard would make this
sacrifice in his own way. Edith should read Nina's letter aloud to
him, with Arthur sitting near, and then, when it was finished, he
would ask if it were true, und why she had not told him before.
Dinner was over, and in the library, where Richard had asked Edith
to be his wife, he sat waiting for her now, and for Arthur who had
been invited to Collingwood that afternoon. The day was much like
that other day when Victor alone sat with him, save that the south
wind stealing through the casement was warmer, more fragrant than
the breath of May had been. The robin was not now singing in the
maple tree, but it would come home ere long, and Richard knew full
well the chirping sounds which would welcome its approach. Once he
had likened himself to the mated robin, but now, alas, he knew he
was but the wounded bird, who finds its nest all desolate, its
hopes all fled--I'm a tough old owl," he said, smiling bitterly as
he remembered when first he used that term. Edith was right; she
could not mate with the owl, he thought, just as Arthur stepped
across the threshold, and Edith came flipping down the stairs.
"Sit on a stool at my feet, as you used to do," Richard said to
her; "and you, Arthur, sit by me upon this sofa."
They obeyed him, and after a moment he began, "I have sent for you
my children, not to inflict pain, but to remove it. Heaven forbid
that through me you should suffer longer, or that any act of mine
should embitter your young lives. Do not interrupt me," he
continued, as Edith was about to speak. "I must hasten on, or my
courage all will fail me. Arthur, give me your hands, the hands
that saved my life. I will touch them as carefully, as tenderly as
I am about to deal with you."
Arthur complied with his request, and pressing the right one,
"I joined this once with another, a tiny, little hand, now laid
away beneath the Southern flowers; and you said after me, 'I,
Arthur, take thee, Nina, for my wife.' You remember it, don't
Arthur could not speak, and, save the violent start which Edith
gave, there came no answer to Richard's question as he went on:
"It is only a few weeks since I learned who was that boy husband
of eighteen and that girlish bride of fifteen and a half, but I
know it now. I know it all, and this explains much that has been
strange in me of late. Edith," and he felt for her bowed head,
"Edith, I have here Nina's letter, written by stealth, and brought
by Victor to me, and you must read it to us--then tell me, if you
can, why I have so long been deceived?"
Edith had glanced at the beginning, and with a choking voice she
"No, no, oh, Richard, no. Don't require it of me. Anything but
that. I never knew she wrote it. I never meant--oh, Richard,
She laid her head now on his knee and sobbed aloud, while he
"You must read it to me, 'Tis the only punishment I shall inflict
"Read it, Edith," Arthur said, withdrawing one of his hands from
Richard's, and resting it upon her head thus to re-assure her,
Richard guessed his intention and laid his own on Arthur's. Edith
felt the gentle, forgiving pressure, even through the wounded,
bandaged hand, and this it was which gave her strength to read
that message, which brought Nina before them all, a seemingly
living, breathing presence. And when it was finished there was
heard in that library more than one "great cry, like the breaking
up of the ice on the Northern ponds."
Richard was the calmest of the three. The contents of the letter
were not new to him, and did not touch so tender a chord as that
which thrilled and quivered in Arthur's heart as he listened to
the words of his sweet child-wife, the golden haired Nina. Though
dead she was all powerful yet, and Nina, from her grave, swayed a
mightier sceptre than Nina living could have done.
"Edith," Richard said, when her agitation had in a measure
subsided, "you have read the letter, now tell me, is it true?
Crazy people do not always see or hear aright. Did Nina? Has
Arthur loved you all the time?"
"Spare Edith," Arthur cried; "And question me. I did love Edith
Hastings, even when I had no right so to do."
"And would you ask her to be your wife if there were no Richard in
the way, and she was free as when you first knew and loved her?"
Arthur knew the blind man was not trifling with him, and he
"I would, but she will bear me witness that never since Nina died,
have I sought, by word or deed, to influence her decision."
"I believe you," Richard said; "and now, let us compare our love
for her, one with the other. Let us see which is the stronger of
the two. Do you love Edith so much that you would give her to
another, if you knew she loved that other best? If she were
promised to you by a vow she dared not break, would you give her
to me, supposing I was preferred before you?"
Arthur was very white, as he answered,
"That would not be one-half so hard as the yielding her to one
whom she did not love, and, Richard, I have done this. I have
given her to you, even when I knew that a word from me would have
kept her from you."
"That is hardly an answer to my question," Richard rejoined, "but
it shows how honorable you have been. I question whether I could
have done as much. Your sense of right and wrong was stronger than
"But," said Arthur, quickly interrupting him, "you must not think
that I loved Edith less, because I did not speak. Silence only fed
the flame, and she cannot be so inexpressibly dear to you as she
is to me. Oh, Richard, Richard, you do not know how much I love
"Don't I?" and Richard smiled mournfully; then turning to Edith,
he continued, And you, my darling, I would hear from you now. Is
it Richard or Arthur you prefer?"
"Oh, Richard," Edith cried, "I meant to keep my vow, and never let
you know. I was going to be a true, a faithful wife, even if it
killed me--I certainly was--but, forgive me, Richard, I did love
Arthur first, Arthur best, Arthur most of all," and again the
"great cry" smote on Richard's ear, touching a chord like that
which is touched in a mother's bosom when she hears her suffering
"Edith," he said, "if I insist upon it, will you still be my
"Yes, Richard, and it will not be so dreadful now that you know I
do love Arthur best, for I do, I do, I can't help it, and I have
tried so hard. He is young like me, and then I loved him first, I
loved him best."
And in this last the whole was embodied. Edith loved Arthur best.
Richard knew she did, and turning to Arthur, he continued,
"And what will you do if I insist? Will memories of the love you
bore your lost Nina sustain and comfort you?"
Richard spoke half-tauntingly, but Arthur conquered the emotion of
anger he felt arising within him at this allusion to the past, and
"As I hope for Heaven, I did love my poor Nina at the last, with a
love which, had it been sooner born, would have made me a happier
man; and Nina knew it too, I told her so before she died, and I
would fain have kept her with me, but I could not, and now, if I
lose Edith, too, it will not be so hard, because I did love Nina,
and sweet memories of her will keep my soul from fainting, when I
am far away from her little grave, far away from you, and far away
Arthur arose to leave the room, but Richard held him back, saying
"You have answered well. Now listen to me. Edith Hastings cannot
be dearer to you than she is to me, but think you I will compel
her to be mine? Should I be happy, knowing that always in her
dreams another arm than mine encircled her dear form, that other
lips than mine were pressed to hers, which moaned in sleep not
Richard's, but Arthur's name? And this would surely be. The wife I
mockingly called mine would be yours in spirit; whether on land or
sea, and I ask for no such bride. Were I sure I could win her
love, even though it might not be in years, not all the powers of
earth should wrest her from me. But I cannot. Such is her
temperament that she would give me only hatred, and I do not
deserve this from her."
"Oh, I wouldn't, I wouldn't," Edith sobbed, and Richard continued,
"Hush, my child, I know how it would be, even if I did forget it
for a time. You must not be the blind man's wife, though the
giving you up is like tearing me asunder. And now, Edith, let me
hold you once more as I never shall hold you again. It will make
me strong to do what I must do."
Edith could not move, but Arthur lifted her up, and placing her in
Richard's lap, laid one of his own hands pityingly on the head of
the blind man, whose tears dropped on Edith's neck, as he breathed
over her his farewell.
"Light of my eyes, joy of my heart, you know not what it costs me
to give you up, but God in Heaven knows. He will remember all my
pain, removing it in His own good time, and I shall yet be happy.
It is true, a black, dreary waste stretches on into the future,
but beyond it, even in this world, the bright daylight is shining,
and Richard will reach it at last,--will learn to think of you
without a pang, to love you as his sister. Arthur, I give to you
my darling. I release her from her vow, and may the kind Father
bless you both, giving you every possible good. Let no sorrow for
me mingle with your joy. I shall have grief and heaviness for a
time, but I am strong to bear it. Morning will break at last. Let
the wedding night be kept the same as is appointed, there need be
no change, save in the bridegroom, and of that the world will all
approve. And, Edith, if during the coming week I am not much with
you, if I stay altogether in my room, do not try to see me. I once
thought you would be my wife. I know you cannot now, and you must
not come to me at present. But on your bridal night, I shall go
with you to the church. It would look strangely if I did not. I
shall return with you to the house, shall force myself to hear
them call you by another name than mine, and then, the next
morning Arthur must take you away--for a time, I mean. I know you
will wish to thank me, but I'd rather you would not. God will
reward me in some way for the sacrifice I make this day. Now,
Edith, kiss me once, kiss me twice, with your arms around my neck.
Lay your soft cheek against mine. Yes--so--so--" and over the dark
face there broke a shadowy smile, as Edith did his bidding,
kissing him many, many times, and blessing him for the great
happiness bestowed upon her.
"There, that will do. Now, Arthur, lead me to my room, and sit
with me until this horrid giddiness is gone, and my heart beats
He put Edith from his lap--passed his hand slowly over her face as
if thus he would remember it, and then, leaning heavily on
Arthur's arm, tottered from the room--the noble Richard who had
made this mighty sacrifice.
The week went by as all weeks will, whether laden with happiness
or pain, and the rosy light of the 15th morning broke over the New
England hills and over Collingwood, where the servants, headed by
Grace Atherton, were all astir, and busy with their preparations
for the festive scene of the coming night. Edith had made
strenuous efforts to have the party given up, sending message
after message to Richard, who, without any good reason for it, was
determined upon this one point, and always answered "No."
He had adhered to his resolution of staying in his room, and Edith
had not seen him since the eventful day when he had made the great
sacrifice. Arthur, however, was admitted daily to his presence,
always coming from those interviews with a sad look upon his face,
as if his happiness were not unmixed with pain. And still Richard
tried to be cheerful, talking but little of Edith, and appearing
so calm when he did mention her, that a casual observer would have
said he did not care.
In the village nothing was talked about save the change of
bridegrooms and the approaching wedding, and when the morning
came, others than the inmates of Collingwood were busy and
It was a glorious day, for leafy June had donned her gala robes
for the occasion, and every heart, save one, beat with joy, as the
sun rose higher and higher in the heavens, nearer and nearer the
appointed hour. Richard could not be glad, and that bridal day was
the saddest he had ever known. Not even Arthur was permitted to be
with him, and none save Victor saw the white, still anguish
creeping over his face as hour after hour went by, and from the
sounds without he knew that they had come whose business it was to
array his Edith in her bridal robes of costly satin and fleecy
lace. Then two more hours dragged heavily on, and going to his
window he felt that the sun was setting. It was time his own
toilet was commenced, and like a little child he submitted himself
to Victor, groaning occasionally as he heard the merry laugh of
the bridesmaids on the stairs, and remembered a time when he, too,
felt as light, as joyous as they, aye, and almost as young. He was
strangely altered now, and looked far older than his years, when,
with his wedding garments on, he sat in his arm-chair waiting for
the bride. He had sent Victor for her, knowing it would be better
to meet her once before the trying moment at the altar. Edith
obeyed the summons, and in all her wondrous beauty, which this
night shone forth resplendently, she came and stood before him,
"Richard, I am here."
There was no need to tell him that. He knew she was there, and
drawing her to his side, he said,
"I am glad that I am blind for once, for should I behold you as
you are, I could not give you up. Kneel down here, darling, and
let me feel how beautiful you are."
She knelt before him, and her tears fell fast as she felt his hand
moving slowly over her dress, pressing her round arms, pausing for
a moment upon her white neck, tarrying still longer upon her
glowing cheeks, and finally resting in mute blessing upon her
braids of hair, where the orange blossoms were.
"I must have a lock of my Birdie's hair, he said. "Let Arthur cut
it off to-night. It will be dearer to me than if 'tis later
severed, Leave it on the table, where Victor can find it, for,
Edith, when you return from your bridal tour, I shall be gone, and
I have sent for you because I would talk with you again ere we
part--it may be for years, and it may be forever."
"No, Richard, no," Edith sobbed. "You must not go away, I want you
here with us."
"It is best that I go for a while," he replied, "I am almost as
much at home in Europe as I am here, and Victor is anxious to see
Paris again. I have talked with Arthur about it, asking him to
live here while I am gone at least and take charge of my affairs.
He had thought to rebuild Grassy Spring, but finally consented to
defer it for a time and do as I desired. The negroes will be
pleased with this arrangement, and as Grace must wish to be rid of
them, they will come up here at once. I shall be happier knowing
that you are here; and when I feel that I can, I will come back
again, but do not let thoughts of the wanderer mar your bliss. I
have been thinking it over, Edith, and I see more and more that it
was right for me to release you. I do not censure you for aught
except that you did not tell me in the beginning. For this I did
blame you somewhat, but have forgiven you now."
"Oh. Richard, Richard," Edith burst out impetuously, "I never
loved you one half so much as since you gave me to Arthur, and I
have wanted to come and tell you so, but you would not let me."
He knew what kind of love she meant, and his heart beat just the
same as she continued,
"I wanted to tell you how sorry I am that I was ever cross to you,
and I have been many times since that night I promised to be
yours. I don't know what made me. I do not feel so now."
"I know what made you," Richard replied. "You did not love the
blind old man well enough to be his wife, and the feeling that you
must be, soured your disposition. Forgive me, darling, but I don't
believe I should have been happy with you after a time--not as
happy as Arthur, and it is this which helps me to bear it."
This was not very complimentary to Edith, but it comforted her
just as Richard meant it should, and made the future look
brighter. Richard was dearer to her now than he had over been, and
the tender, loving caress she gave him, when at last Arthur's
voice was heard without asking for admission was not feigned, for
she felt that he was the noblest, the best of men, and she told
him so, kissing again and again his face, and sighing to think how
white and wan it had grown within the last few weeks.
"Come, darling, we are waiting for you," Arthur said, as he
advanced into the room, and Richard put from his lap the beautiful
young girl around whose uncovered shoulders Arthur wrapped the
white merino cloak which was to shield her from the night air;
then bending over Richard, he said, "Heaven will bless you, even
as I do, for the peerless gift I have received from you, and
believe me, there is much of pain mingled with my joy--pain at
leaving you so desolate. I cannot tell you all I feel, but if a
lifetime of devotion can in the smallest degree repay you what I
owe, it shall be freely given. Now bless me once more, me and my--
Richard had arisen as Arthur was speaking, and at the word bride
he put out his hand as if to keep from falling, then steadying
that on Arthur's head and laying the other on Edith's he
"To him who saved my life when he believed I was his rival I give
my singing bird, who for eleven years has been the blind man's
sunshine--give her freely, cheerfully, harboring no malice against
him who takes her. My Arthur and my precious Edith, I bless and
love you both."
The nerveless hands pressed heavily for a moment upon the two
bowed heads, and then Arthur led his bride away to where the
The ceremony was appointed for half-past eight, but long before
that hour St. Luke's was filled to overflowing, some coming even
as early as six to secure seats most favorable to sight. And there
they waited, until the roll of wheels was heard and the clergyman
appeared in the chancel. Then seven hundred tired heads turned
simultaneously toward the door through which the party came, the
rich robes of the bride trailing upon the carpet and sweeping from
side to side as she moved up the middle aisle. But not upon her
did a single eye in all that vast assemblage linger, nor yet upon
the bridegroom, nor yet upon the bridesmaid, filing in one behind
the other, but upon the stooping figure which moved so slowly,
blind Richard groping his way to the altar, caring nothing for the
staring crowd, nothing for the sudden buzz as he came in, hearing
nothing but Victor's whispered words, "'twill soon be over."
Yes, it would soon be over. It was commencing now, the marriage
ceremony, and Richard listened in a kind of maze, until the
"Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?"
As Arthur had supposed this part would, of course, be omitted, no
arrangements had been made for it, and an awkward pause ensued,
while all eyes involuntarily turned upon the dark man now standing
up so tall, so erect, among that group of lighter, airier forms.
Like some frozen statue Richard stood, and the minister, thinking
he did not hear, repeated his demand. Slowly Richard moved
forward, and Grace, who was next to Edith, stepped aside as he
came near. Reverently he laid his hand on Edith's head, and said
Then the hand, sliding from her head rested on her shoulder, where
it lay all through that ceremony, and the weeping speculators
sitting near, heard distinctly the words whispered by the white
lips which dripped with the perspiration of this last dreadful
"I, Richard, take thee, Birdie, to be my wedded wife, to have and
to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer
for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish,
till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and
thereto I plight thee my troth."
He said it every word, and when it was Edith's turn, he bent a
little forward, while his hand grasped her bare shoulder so firmly
as to leave a mark when she put Arthur's name where his should
have been, and the quivering lips moaned faintly,
"Don't Birdie, don't."
It was a strange bridal, more sad than joyous, for though in the
hearts of bride and groom there was perfect love for each other,
there were too many bitter memories crowding upon them both to
make it a moment of unmixed bliss--memories of Nina, who seemed to
stand by Arthur, blessing him in tones unheard, and a sadder, a
living memory of the poor blind man whose low wail, when all was
done, smote painfully on Edith's ear.
In a pew near to the altar Victor sat weeping like a child, and
when the last Amen was uttered, he sprang to his master's side and
"Come with me. You cannot wish to go home with the bride."
Instantly the crowd divided right and left as Victor passed
through their midst, leading out into the open air the faint, sick
man, who, when they were alone, leaned his head meekly on his
faithful valet's arm, saying to him,
"You are all there is left to care for me now. Be good to me,
Victor answered with a clasp of his hand and hurried on, reaching
Collingwood before the bridal guests, who ere long came swarming
in like so many buzzing bees, congratulating the newly-wedded
pair, and looking curiously round for Richard. But Richard was not
there. He had borne all he could, and on his bed in his bolted
room he lay, scarcely giving a token of life save when the sounds
from the parlors reached his ear, when he would whisper,
"'Tis done. It is done."
One by one the hours went by, and then up the gravelled walk the
carriages rolled a second time to take the guests away. Hands were
shaken and good nights said. There was cloaking in the ladies'
room and impatient waiting in the gentlemen's; there was hurrying
down the stairs, through the hall, and out upon the piazza. There
was banging to of carriage doors, cracking of drivers' whips, and
racing down the road. There was a hasty gathering up of silver, a
closing of the shutters, a putting out of lamps, until at last
silence reigned over Collingwood, from whose windows only two
lights were gleaming. Arthur was alone with his bride, and Richard
alone with his God.
SIX YEARS LATER.
The New York and Springfield train eastward bound stood waiting in
the depot at New Haven. There had been a slight accident which
occasioned a detention of several minutes, and taking advantage of
this delay many of the passengers alighted to stretch their weary
limbs or inhale a breath of purer air than could be obtained
within the crowded car. Several seats were thus left unoccupied,
one of which a tall, dark, foreign-looking man, with eyes
concealed by a green shade, was about appropriating to himself,
when a wee little hand was laid on his and a sweet baby voice
"That's my mamma's chair, big man, mamma gone after cake for
The stranger started, and his face flushed with some strong
emotion, while his hand rested caressingly upon the flowing curls
of the beautiful three-years-old girl, as he asked,
"Who Is mamma, darling? What is her name, I mean?"
"I can tell that a heap better'n Kina," chimed in a boy of five,
who was sitting just across the aisle, and joining the little
girl, he continued, 'My mother is Edith, so Aunt Grace calls her,
but father says Miggie most all the time.
The stranger sank into the seat, dizzy and faint with the mighty
shock, for he knew now that Edith's children were standing them
before him--that frank, fearless boy, and that sweet little girl,
who, not caring to be outdone by her brother, said, in a half
exultant way, as if it were something of which she were very
"I've got an Uncle 'Ichard, I have, and he's tomin' home bime by."
"And going to bring me lots of things," interrupted the boy again,
"Marie said so."
At this point a tall, slender Frenchman, who had entered behind
the man with the green shade, glided from the car, glancing
backward just in time to see that his master had coaxed both
children into his lap, the girl coming shyly, while the boy sprang
forward with that wide-awake fearlessness which characterized all
his movements. He was a noble-looking little fellow, and the
stranger hugged him fondly as he kissed the full red lips so like
to other lips kissed long years ago.
"What makes you wear this funny thing?" asked the child, peering
up under the shade.
"Because my eyes are weak," was the reply, "People around your
home call me blind."
"Uncle 'Ichard is blind," lisped the little girl, while the boy
rejoined, "but the bestest man that ever lived. Why, he's betterer
than father, I guess, for I asked ma wan't he, and pa told me
"Hush-sh, child," returned the stranger, fearing lest they might
attract too much attention.
Then removing the shade, his eyes rested long and wistfully upon
the little boy and girl as he said,
"I am your Uncle Richard."
"True as you live and breathe are you Uncle Dick," the boy almost
screamed, winding his chubby arms around the stranger's neck,
while Nina standing upon her feet chirped out her joy as she
patted the bearded cheek, and called him "Uncle 'Ick."
Surely if there had been any lingering pain in the heart of
Richard Harrington it was soothed away by the four soft baby hands
which passed so caressingly over his face and hair, while honeyed
lips touched his, and sweet bird-like voices told how much they
had been taught to love the one whom they always called Uncle.
These children had been the hardest part of all to forgive,
particularly the first born, for Richard, when he heard of him had
felt all the old sorrow coming back again; a feeling as if Edith
had no right with little ones which did not call him father. But
time had healed that wound too, until from the sunny slopes of
France, where his home had so long been, his heart had often
leaped across the sea in quest of those same children now
prattling in his ear and calling him Uncle Dick. There was
another, a dearer name by which they might have called him, but he
knew now that 'twas not for him to be thus addressed. And still he
felt something like a father's love stealing into his heart as he
wound his arms around the little forms, giving back kiss for kiss,
and asking which was like their mother.
"Ain't none of us much," Dick replied, "We're like father and Aunt
Nina, hanging on the wall in the library. Mother's got big black
eyes, with winkers a rod long, and her hair shines like my velvet
coat, and comes most to her feet."
Richard smiled, und was about to speak again, when Dick
forestalled him by asking--not if he had him something but where
"It's in your trunk, I guess," he said, as his busy fingers
investigated every pocket and found nothing savoring of
playthings, except a knife, both blades of which were opened in a
trice, and tried upon the window sill!
Richard, who, never having known much of children, had not thought
of presents, was sorely perplexed, when luckily Victor returned,
bringing a paper of molasses candy, which he slyly thrust into his
master's hand, whispering to him,
"They always like that."
Victor had calculated aright, for nothing could have pleased the
St. Claires more; and when, as she entered at the door, Edith
caught sight of her offspring, she hardly knew them, so besmeared
were their little faces with molasses, Nina having wiped her hands
first upon her hair and then rubbed them upon Richard's knee,
while Victor looked on a little doubtful us to what the mother
"There's mam-ma," Nina cried, trying to shake back her curls,
which nevertheless stuck lightly to her forehead. "There's mam-
ma," and in an instant Little Dick, as he was called, found
himself rather unceremoniously set down upon his feet, as Richard
adjusted his shade, and resumed the air of helplessness so natural
to the blind.
Edith had been to New York with Marie and the children, leaving
the former there for a few weeks, and was now on her way home,
whither she hoped ere long to welcome Richard, whom she had never
seen since the night of her marriage, when Victor led him half
fainting from the altar. He would not join them at the breakfast
next morning, but sent them his good-bye, and when they returned
from their long, happy bridal tour they found a letter for them
saying Richard was in Paris.
Regularly after that they heard from him, and though he never
referred to the past, Edith knew how much it cost him to write to
one whom he had loved so much. Latterly, however, his letters had
been far more cheerful in their tone, and it struck Edith that his
hand-writing too, was more even than formerly, but she suspected
nothing and rather anticipated the time when she should be eyes
for him again, just as she used to be. He had said in his last
letter that he was coming home ere long, but she had no idea that
he was so near, and she wondered what tall, greyish haired
gentleman it was who had taken possession of her seat.
"Mother," little Dick was about to scream, when Victor placed his
hand upon his mouth, at the same time turning his back to Edith,
who, a little surprised at the proceeding, and a little indignant
it may be, said rather haughtily, and with a hasty glance at
"My seat, sir, if you please."
The boy by this time had broken away from Victor, and yelled out,
"Uncle Dick, ma, Uncle Dick;" but it did not need this now to tell
Edith who it was. A second glance had told her, and with face
almost as white as the linen collar about her neck, she reeled
forward, and would have fallen but for Victor, who caught her by
the shoulder and sat her down beside his master.
Richard was far less excited than herself, inasmuch as he was
prepared for the meeting and as she sank down with the folds of
her grey traveling dress lying in his lap, he offered her his
hand, and with the same old sunny smile she remembered so well,
said to her,
"Do you not know me?"
"Yes," she gasped, "but it takes my breath away. I was not
expecting you so soon. I am so glad."
He knew she was by the way her snowy fingers twined themselves
around his own and by the fervent pressure of her lips upon his
"Mam-ma's tyin," said Nina, and then Edith's tears fell fast,
dropping upon the broad hand she still held, which very, very
gradually, but still intentionally drew hers directly beneath the
green shade, and there Richard kept it, his thumb hiding the broad
band of gold which told she was a wife.
It was a very small, white, pretty hand, and so perhaps he
imagined, for he held it a long, long time, while he talked quite
naturally of Arthur, of Grace, of the people of Shannondale, and
lastly of her children.
"They crept into my heart before I knew it," he said, releasing
Edith's hand and lifting Nina to his knee. "They are neither of
them much like you, my namesake says."
This reminded Edith of the mysterious shade which puzzled her so
much, and, without replying directly to him, she asked why it was
worn. Victor shot a quick, nervous glance at his master, who
without the slightest tremor in his voice, told her that he had of
late been troubled with weak eyes, and as the dust and sunlight
made them worse, he had been advised to wear it while traveling as
"I shall remove it by and by, when I am rested," he said.
And Edith hoped he would, for he did not seem natural to her with
that ugly thing disfiguring him as it did.
When Hartford was reached Richard found an opportunity of
whispering something to Victor, who replied,
"Tired find dusty. Better wait, if you want a good impression."
So, with a spirit of self-denial of which we can scarcely conceive
Richard did wait, and the shade was drawn closely down as little
Nina, grown more bold climbed up beside him, and poised upon one
foot, her fat arm resting on his neck, played "peek-a-boo" beneath
the shade, screaming at every "peek," "I seen your eyes, I did."
A misstep backward, a tumble and a bumped head brought this sport
to an end, just as Shannondale was reached, and in her attempts to
soothe the little girl, Edith failed to see that the shade was
lifted for a single moment, while, standing upon the platform,
Richard's eyes wandered eagerly, greedily over the broad meadow
lands and fields of waving grain, over the wooded hills, rich in
summer glory, and lastly toward Collingwood, with its roofs and
slender tower basking in the July sun.
"Thank God thank God," he whispered, just as Victor caught his
arm, bidding him alight as the train was about to move forward.
"There's papa, there--right across the track," and Dick tugged at
his father's coat skirts, trying to make him comprehend, but
Arthur had just then neither eyes nor ears for any thing but his
sobbing little daughter, whose forehead he kissed tenderly,
thereby curing the pain and healing the wounded heart, of his
favorite child, his second golden-haired Nina. Dick, however,
persevered, until his father understood what he meant, and Nina
was in danger of being hurt again, so hastily was she dropped when
Arthur learned that Richard had come. There was already a crowd
around him, but they made way for Arthur, who was not ashamed to
show before them all, how much he loved the noble man, or how glad
he was to have him back.
"Richard has grown old," the spectators said to each other, as
they watched him till he entered the carriage.
And so he had. His hair was quite grey now, and the tall figure
was somewhat inclined to stoop, while about the mouth were deep-
cut lines which even the heavy mustache could not quite conceal.
But he would grow young again, and even so soon he felt his
earlier manhood coming back as he rode along that pleasant
afternoon, past the fields where the newly-mown hay, fresh from a
recent shower, sent forth its fragrance upon the summer air, while
the song of the mowers mingled with the click of the whetting
scythe, made sweet, homelike sounds which he loved to hear. Why
did he lean so constantly from the carriage, and why when Victor
exclaimed, "The old ruin is there yet," referring to Grassy Spring
did he, too, look across the valley?
Arthur asked himself this question many times, and at last, when
they reached Collingwood and Edith had alighted, he bent forward
and whispered in Richard's ear, not an interrogation, but a
positive affirmation, which brought back the response,
"Don't tell her--not yet, I mean." Arthur turned very white and
could scarcely stand as he stepped to the ground, for that answer,
had taken his strength away, and Victor led him instead of his
master into the house, where the latter was greeted joyfully by
the astonished servants.
He seemed very weary and after receiving them all, asked to go to
his room where he could rest.
"You will find it wholly unchanged," Arthur said. "Nothing new but
"I trust I shall not set the house on fire this time," was
Richard's playful rejoinder, as he followed Victor up the stairs
to the old familiar chamber, where his valet left him alone to
breathe out his fervent thanksgivings for the many blessings
bestowed on one, who, when last he left that room, had said in his
sorrow, there were no sunspots left.
The first coming home he so much dreaded was over now, and had
been accompanied with far less pain than he feared. He knew they
were glad to have him back--Arthur and his dear sister, as he
always called her now. Never since the bridal night had the name
Edith passed his lips and if perchance he heard it from others, he
shuddered involuntarily. Still the sound of her voice had not hurt
him as he thought it would; nothing had been half so hard as he
had anticipated, and falling upon his knees, he poured out his
soul in prayer, nor heard the steps upon the threshold as Arthur
came in, his heart too full to tarry outside longer. Kneeling by
Richard, he, too, thanked the Good Father, not so much for his
friend's safe return as for the boon, precious as life itself
which had been given to that friend.
When at last their prayers were ended, both involuntarily advanced
to the window, where, with his handsome, manly face turned fully
to the light, Arthur stood immovable, nor flinched a hair, as
Edith would ere long when passing the same ordeal. He did not ask
what Richard thought of him, neither did Richard tell, only the
"I do not wonder that she loved you best."
They then talked together of a plan concerning Edith, after which
Arthur left his brother to the repose he so much needed ere
joining them in the parlor below. Never before had pillows seemed
so soft or bed so grateful as that on which Richard laid him down
to rest, and sleep was just touching his heavy eyelids, when upon
the door there came a gentle rap, accompanied with the words,
"P'eae, Uncle 'Ick, let Nina tome. She's all dressed up so nice."
That little girl had crept way down into Richard's heart, just as
she did into every body's, and he admitted her at once, suffering
her to climb up beside him, where, with her fat, dimpled hands
folded together, she sat talking to him in her sweet baby
"'Ess go to sleep, Nina tired," she said at last, and folding his
arms about her, Richard held her to his bosom as if she had been
his own. "'Tain't time to say p'ayers, is it?" she asked, fearing
lest she should omit her duty; and when Richard inquired what her
prayers were, she answered,
"Now I lay me--and God bess Uncle 'Ick. Mam-ma tell me that."
Richard's eyes filled with tears, which the waxen fingers wiped
away, and when somewhat later Victor cautiously looked in, he saw
them sleeping there together, Nina's golden head nestled in
Richard's neck, and one of her little hands lain upon his cheek.
Meantime, in Edith's room Arthur was virtually superintending the
making of his wife's evening toilet, a most unprecedented
employment for mankind in general, and him in particular. But for
some reason wholly inexplicable to Edith, Arthur was unusually
anxious about her personal appearance, suggesting among other
things that she should wear a thin pink muslin, which he knew so
well became her dark style of beauty; and when she reminded him of
its shortcomings with regard to waist and sleeves, he answered
"That does not matter. 'Twill make you look girlish and young."
So Edith donned the pink dress, and clasping upon her neck and
arms the delicate ornaments made from Nina's hair, asked of
Arthur, "How she looked."
"Splendidly," he replied, "Handsomer even than on our bridal
And Edith was handsomer than on the night when she stood at the
altar a bride, for six years of almost perfect happiness had
chased away the restless, careworn, sorrowful look which was fast
becoming habitual, and now, at twenty-six, Edith St. Claire was
pronounced by the world the most strikingly beautiful woman of her
age. Poets had sung of her charms, artists had transferred them to
canvas; brainless beaux, who would as soon rave about a married
woman as a single one, provided it were the fashion so to do, had
stamped them upon their hearts; envious females had picked them
all to pieces, declaring her too tall, too black, too hoydenish to
be even pretty; while little Dick and Nina likened her to the
angels, wondering if there were anything in heaven, save Aunt
Nina, as beautiful as she. And this was Edith, who when her toilet
was completed went down to meet Grace Atherton just arrived and
greatly flurried when she heard that Richard had come. Very
earnestly the two ladies were talking together when Arthur glanced
in for a moment and then hastened up to Richard, whom he found
sitting by the window, with Dick and Nina both seated in his lap,
the former utterly astounded at the accuracy with which his blind
uncle guessed every time how many fingers he held up!
"Father! father!" he screamed, as Arthur came in, "He can see just
as good as if he wasn't blind!" and he looked with childish
curiosity into the eyes which had discovered in his infantile
features more than one trace of the Swedish Petrea, grandmother to
Arthur smiled and without replying to his son, said to Richard,
"I have come now to take you to Edith. Grace Atherton is there,
too--a wonderfully young and handsome woman for forty-two. I am
not sure that you can tell them apart.
"I could tell your wife from all the world," was Richard's answer,
as putting down the children and resuming the green shade, he went
with Arthur to the door of the library, where Grace and Edith,
standing with their backs to them were too much engaged to notice
that more than Arthur was coming.
Him Edith heard, and turning towards him she was about to speak,
when Richard lowered the green shade he had raised for a single
moment, and walking up to her took her hand in his. Twining his
fingers around her slender wrist he said to her,
"Come with me to the window and sit on a stool at my feet just as
you used to do."
Edith was surprised, and stammered out something about Grace's
being in the room.
"Never mind Mrs. Atherton," he said, "I will attend to her by and
by--my business is now with you," and he led her to the window,
where Arthur had carried a stool.
Like lightning the truth flashed upon Grace, and with a nervous
glance at the mirror to see how she herself was looking that
afternoon, she stood motionless, while Richard dashing the shade
to the floor, said to the startled Edith,
"The blind man would know how Petrea's daughter looks."
With a frightened shriek Edith covered up her face, and laying her
head in its old resting place, Richard's lap, exclaimed,
"No, no, oh no, Richard. Please do not look at me now. Help me,
Arthur. Don't let him," she continued, as she felt the strong
hands removing her own by force. But Arthur only replied by
lifting up her head himself and holding in his own the struggling
hands, while Richard examined a face seen now for the first time
since its early babyhood. Oh how scrutinisingly he scanned that
face, with its brilliant black eyes, where tears were glittering
like diamonds in the sunlight, its rich healthful bloom, its
proudly curved lip, its dimpled chin and soft, round cheeks What
did he think of it? Did it meet his expectations? Was the face he
had known so long in his darkness as Edith's, natural when seen by
daylight? Mingled there no shadow of disappointment in the
reality? Was Arthur's Edith at all like Richard's singing bird?
How Arthur wished he knew. But Richard kept his own counsel, for a
time at least. He did not say what he thought of her. He only
kissed the lips beginning to quiver with something like a grieved
expression that Arthur should hold her so long, kissed them twice,
and with his hand wiped her tears away, saying playfully,
"'Tis too bad, Birdie, I know, but I've anticipated this hour so
He had not called her Birdie before, and the familiar name
compensated for all the pain which Edith had suffered when she saw
those strangely black eyes fastened upon her, and knew that they
could see. Springing to her feet the moment, she was released, she
jumped into his lap in her old impetuous way, and winding her arms
around his neck, sobbed out,
"I am so glad, Richard, so glad. You can't begin to guess how
glad, and I've prayed for this every night and every day, Arthur
and I. Didn't we, Arthur? Dear, dear Richard. I love you so much."
"What he make mam-ma cry for?" asked a childish voice from the
comer where little Dick stood, half frightened at what he saw, his
tiny fist doubled ready to do battle for mother in case he should
make up his mind that her rights were invaded.
This had the effect of rousing Edith, who, faint with excitement,
was led by Arthur out into the open air, thus leaving Richard
alone with his first love of twenty-five years ago. It did not
seem to him possible that so many years had passed over the face
which, at seventeen, was marvellously beautiful, and which still
was very, very fair and youthful in its look, for Grace was
wondrously well preserved and never passed for over thirty, save
among the envious ones, who, old themselves, strove hard to make
others older still.
"Time has dealt lightly with you, Grace," Richard said, after the
first curious glance. "I could almost fancy you were Grace
Elmendorff yet," and he lifted gallantly one of her chestnut
curls, just as he used to do in years agone, when she was Grace
This little act recalled so vivedly the scenes of other days that
Grace burst into a flood of tears, and hurried from the room to
the parlor adjoining, where, unobserved, she could weep again over
the hopes forever fled. Thus left to himself, with the exception
of little Dick, Richard had leisure to look about him, descrying
ere long the life-sized portrait of Nina hanging on the wall. In
an instant he stood before what was to him, not so much a picture
painted on rude canvas, as a living reality--the golden-haired
angel, who was now as closely identified with his every thought
and feeling as even Edith herself had ever been. She had followed
him over land and sea, bringing comfort to him in his dark hours
of pain, coloring his dreams with rainbow hues of promise, buoying
him up and bidding him wait a little--try yet longer, when the
only hope worth his living for now seemed to be dying out, and
when at last it, the wonderful cure, was done, and those gathered
around him said each to the other "He will see," he heard nothing
for the buzzing sound which filled his ear, and the low voice
whispering to him, "I did it--brought the daylight straight from
heaven. God said I might--and I did. Nina takes care of you."
They told him that he had fainted from excess of joy, but Richard
believed that Nina had been with him all the same, cherishing that
conviction even to this hour, when he stood there face to face
with her, unconsciously saying to himself, "Gloriously beautiful
Nina. In all my imaginings of you I never saw aught so fair as
this. Edith is beautiful, but not--"
"As beautiful as Nina was, am I?" said a voice behind him, and
turning round, Richard drew Edith to his side, and encircling her
with his arm answered frankly,
"No, my child, you are not as beautiful as Nina."
"Disappointed in me, are you not? Tell me honestly," and Edith
peered up half-archly, half-timidly into the eyes whose glance she
scarcely yet dared meet.
"I can hardly call it disappointment," Richard answered, smiling
down upon her. "You are different-looking from what I supposed,
that is all. Still you are much like what I remember your mother
to have been, save that her eyes were softer than yours, and her
lip not quite so proudly curved."
"In other words, I show by my face that I am a Bernard, and
something of a spitfire," suggested Edith, and Richard rejoined,
"I think you do," adding as he held her a little closer to him,
"Had I been earlier blessed with sight, I should have known I
could not tame you. I should only have spoiled you by indulgence."
Just at this point, little Nina came in, and taking her in her
arms, Edith said,
"I wanted to call her Edith, after myself, as I thought it might
please you; but Arthur said no, she must be Nina Bernard,"
"Better so," returned Richard, moving away from the picture, "I
can never call another by the name I once called you," and this
was all the sign he gave that the wound was not quite healed.
But it was healing fast. Home influences were already doing him
good, and when at last supper was announced, he looked very happy
as he took again his accustomed seat at the table, with Arthur
opposite Edith just where she used to be, and Grace, sitting at
his right. It was a pleasant family party they made, and the
servants marvelled much to hear Richard's hearty laugh mingling
with Edith's merry peal.
That night, when the July moon came up over the New England hills,
it looked down upon the four--Richard and Arthur, Grace and Edith,
sitting upon the broad piazza as they had not sat in years, Grace
a little apart from the rest, and Edith between her husband and
Richard, holding a hand of each, and listening intently while the
latter told them how rumors of a celebrated Parisian oculist had
reached him in his wanderings; how he had sought the rooms of that
oculist, leaving them a more hopeful man than when he entered; how
the hope then enkindled grew stronger month after month, until the
thick folds of darkness gave way to a creamy kind of haze, which
hovered for weeks over his horizon of sights growing gradually
whiter and thinner, until faint outlines were discovered, and to
his unutterable joy he counted the window panes, knowing then that
sight was surely coming back. He did not tell them how through all
that terrible suspense Nina seemed always with him; he would not
like to confess how superstitious he had become, fully believing
that Nina was his guardian angel, that she hovered near him, and
that the touch of her soft, little hands had helped to heal the
wound gaping so cruelly when he last bade adieu to his native
land. Richard was not a spiritualist. He utterly repudiated their
wild theories, and built up one of his own, equally wild and
strange, but productive of no evil, inasmuch as no one was
admitted into his secret, or suffered to know of his one
acknowledged sphere where Nina reigned supreme. This was something
he kept to himself, referring but once to Nina during his
narrative, and that when he said to Edith,
"You remember, darling, Nina told me in her letter that she'd keep
asking God to give me back my sight."
Edith cared but little by whose agency this great cure had been
accomplished, and laying her head on Richard's knee, just as a
girl she used to do, she wept out her joy for sight restored to
her noble benefactor, reproaching him for having kept the good
news from them so carefully, even shutting his eyes when he wrote
to them so that his writing should be natural, and the surprise
when he did return, the greater.
Meanwhile Grace's servant came up to accompany her home, and she
bade the happy group good night, her heart beating faster than its
wont as Richard said to her at parting, "I was going to offer my
services, but see I am forestalled. My usual luck, you know," and
his black eyes rested a moment, on her face and then wandered to
where Edith sat. Did he mean anything by this? Had the waves of
time, which had beaten and battered his heart so long, brought it
back at last to its first starting point, Grace Elmendorff? Time
only can tell. He believed his youthful passion had died out years
ago, that matrimony was for him an utter impossibility.
He had been comparatively happy across the sea, and he was happier
still now that he was at home, wishing he had come before, and
wondering why it was that the sight of Edith did not pain him, as