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DARKNESS AND DAYLIGHT.
MRS. MARY J. HOLMES,
AUTHOR OF “LENA RIVERS,” “MARIAN GREY,” “MEADOW BROOK,” “HOMESTEAD,” “DORA DEANE,” “COUSIN MAUDE,” “TEMPEST AND SUNSHINE,” “ENGLISH ORPHANS,” ETC.
II. EDITH HASTINGS GOES TO COLLINGWOOD III. GRACE ATHERTON
IV. RICHARD AND EDITH
V. VISITORS AT COLLINGWOOD AND VISITORS AT BRIER HILL VI. ARTHUR AND EDITH
VII. RICHARD AND ARTHUR
VIII. RICHARD AND EDITH
X. EDITH AT HOME
XI. MATTERS AT GRASSY SPRING
XIV. THE MYSTERY AT GRASSY SPRING XV. NINA
XVI. ARTHUR’S STORY
XVII. NINA AND MIGGIE
XVIII. DR. GRISWOLD
XIX. EX OFFICIO
XX. THE DECISION
XXI. THE DEERING WOODS
XXII. THE DARKNESS DEEPENS
XXIV. THE NINETEENTH BIRTHDAY
XXVI. EDITH AND THE WORLD
XXVII. THE LAND OF FLOWERS
XXIX. THE SISTERS
XXX. ARTHUR AND NINA
XXXI. LAST DAYS
XXXII. PARTING WITH THE DEAD AND PARTING WITH THE LIVING XXXIII. HOME
XXXIV. NINA’S LETTER
XXXV. THE FIERY TEST
XXXVI. THE SACRIFICE
XXXVII. THE BRIDAL
XXXVIII. SIX YEARS LATER
DARKNESS AND DAYLIGHT.
Collingwood was to have a tenant at last. For twelve long years its massive walls of dark grey stone had frowned in gloomy silence upon the passers-by, the terror of the superstitious ones, who had peopled its halls with ghosts and goblins, saying even that the snowy-haired old man, its owner, had more than once been seen there, moving restlessly from room to room and muttering of the darkness which came upon him when he lost his fair young wife and her beautiful baby Charlie. The old man was not dead, but for years he had been a stranger to his former home.
In foreign lands he had wandered–up and down, up and down–from the snow-clad hills of Russia to where the blue skies of Italy bent softly over him and the sunny plains of France smiled on him a welcome. But the darkness he bewailed was there as elsewhere, and to his son he said, at last, “We will go to America, but not to Collingwood–not where Lucy used to live, and where the boy was born.”
So they came back again and made for themselves a home on the shore of the silvery lake so famed in song, where they hoped to rest from their weary journeyings. But it was not so decreed. Slowly as poison works within the blood, a fearful blight was stealing upon the noble, uncomplaining Richard, who had sacrificed his early manhood to his father’s fancies, and when at last the blow had fallen and crushed him in its might, he became as helpless as a little child, looking to others for the aid he had heretofore been accustomed to render. Then it was that the weak old man emerged for a time from beneath the cloud which had enveloped him so long, and winding his arms around his stricken boy, said, submissively, “What will poor Dick have me do?”
“Go to Collingwood, where I know every walk and winding path, and where the world will not seem so dreary, for I shall be at home.”
The father had not expected this, and his palsied hands shook nervously; but the terrible misfortune of his son had touched a chord of pity, and brought to his darkened mind a vague remembrance of the years in which the unselfish Richard had thought only of his comfort, and so he answered sadly, “We will go to Collingwood.”
One week more, and it was known in Shannondale, that crazy Captain Harrington and his son, the handsome Squire Richard, were coming again to the old homestead, which was first to be fitted up in a most princely style. All through the summer months the extensive improvements and repairs went on, awakening the liveliest interest in the villagers, who busied themselves with watching and reporting the progress of events at Collingwood. Fires were kindled on the marble hearths, and the flames went roaring up the broad-mouthed chimneys, frightening from their nests of many years the croaking swallows, and scaring away the bats, which had so long held holiday in the deserted rooms. Partitions were removed, folding doors were made, windows were cut down, and large panes of glass were substituted for those of more ancient date. The grounds and garden too were reclaimed from the waste of briers and weeds which had so wantonly rioted there; and the waters of the fish- pond, relieved of their dark green slime and decaying leaves, gleamed once more in the summer sunshine like a sheet of burnished silver, while a fairy boat lay moored upon its bosom as in the olden time. Softly the hillside brooklet fell, like a miniature cascade, into the little pond, and the low music it made blended harmoniously with the fall of the fountain not far away.
It was indeed a beautiful place; and when the furnishing process began, crowds of eager people daily thronged the spacious rooms, commenting upon the carpets, the curtains, the chandeliers, the furniture of rosewood and marble, and marvelling much why Richard Harrington should care for surroundings so costly and elegant. Could it be that he intended surprising them with a bride? It was possible–nay, more, it was highly probable that weary of his foolish sire’s continual mutterings of “Lucy and the darkness,” he bad found some fair young girl to share the care with him, and this was her gilded cage.
Shannondale was like all country towns, and the idea once suggested, the story rapidly gained ground, until at last it reached the ear of Grace Atherton, the pretty young widow, whose windows looked directly across the stretches of meadow and woodland to where Collingwood lifted its single tower and its walls of dark grey stone. As became the owner of Brier Hill and the widow of a judge, Grace held herself somewhat above the rest of the villagers, associating with but few, and finding her society mostly in the city not many miles away,
When her cross, gouty, phthisicy, fidgety old husband lay sick for three whole months, she nursed him so patiently that people wondered if it could be she loved the SURLY DOG, and one woman, bolder than the others, asked her if she did.
“Love him? No,” she answered, “but I shall do my duty.”
So when he died she made him a grand funeral, but did not pretend that she was sorry. She was not, and the night on which she crossed the threshold of Brier Hill a widow of twenty-one saw her a happier woman than when she first crossed it as a bride. Such was Grace Atherton, a proud, independent, but well principled woman, attending strictly to her own affairs, and expecting others to do the same. In the gossip concerning Collingwood, she had taken no verbal part, but there was no one more deeply interested than herself, spite of her studied indifference.
“You never knew the family,” a lady caller said to her one morning, when at a rather late hour she sat languidly sipping her rich chocolate, and daintily picking at the snowy rolls and nicely buttered toast, “you never knew them or you would cease to wonder why the village people take so much interest in their movements, and are so glad to have them back.”
“I have heard their story,” returned Mrs. Atherton, “and I have no doubt the son is a very fine specimen of an old bachelor; thirty- five, isn’t he, or thereabouts?”
“Thirty-five!” and Kitty Maynard raised her hands in dismay. “My dear Mrs. Atherton, he’s hardly thirty yet, and those who have seen him since his return from Europe, pronounce him a splendid looking man, with an air of remarkably high breeding. I wonder if there IS any truth in the report that he is to bring with him a bride.”
“A bride, Kitty!” and the massive silver fork dropped from Grace Atherton’s hand.
SHE was interested now, and nervously pulling the gathers of her white morning gown, she listened while the loquacious Kitty told her what she knew of the imaginary wife of Richard Harrington. The hands ceased their working at the gathers, and assuming an air of indifference, Grace rang her silver bell, which was immediately answered by a singular looking girl, whom she addressed as Edith, bidding her bring some orange marmalade from an adjoining closet. Her orders were obeyed, and then the child lingered by the door, listening eagerly to the conversation which Grace had resumed concerning Collingwood and its future mistress.
Edith Hastings was a strange child, with a strange habit of expressing her thoughts aloud, and as she heard the beauties of Collingwood described in Kitty Maynard’s most glowing terms, she suddenly exclaimed, “Oh, JOLLY don’t I wish I could live there, only I’d be afraid of that boy who haunts the upper rooms.”
“Edith!” said Mrs. Atherton, sternly, “why are you waiting here? Go at once to Rachel and bid her give you something to do.”
Thus rebuked the black-eyed, black-haired, black-faced little girl waited away, not cringingly, for Edith Hastings possessed a spirit as proud as that of her high born mistress, and she went slowly to the kitchen, where, under Rachel’s directions, she was soon in the mysteries of dish-washing, while the ladies in the parlor continued their conversation.
“I don’t know what I shall do with that child,” said Grace, as Edith’s footsteps died away. I sometimes wish I had left her where I found her.”
“Why, I thought her a very bright little creature,” said Kitty, and her companion replied,
“She’s too bright, and that’s the trouble. She imitates me in everything, walks like me, talks like me, and yesterday I found her in the drawing-room going through with a pantomime of receiving calls the way I do. I wish you could have seen her stately bow when presented to an imaginary stranger.”
“Did she do credit to you?” Kitty asked, and Grace replied,
“I can’t say that she did not, but I don’t like this disposition of hers–to put on the airs of people above her. Now if she were not a poor–“
“Look, look!” interrupted Kitty, “that must be the five hundred dollar piano sent up from Boston,” and she directed her companion’s attention to the long wagon which was passing the house on the way to Collingwood.
This brought the conversation back from the aspiring Edith to Richard Harrington, and as old Rachel soon came in to remove her mistress’ breakfast, Kitty took her leave, saying as she bade her friend good morning,
“I trust it will not be long before you know him.”
“Know him!” repeated Grace, when at last she was alone. “Just as if I had not known him to my sorrow. Oh, Richard, Richard! maybe you’d forgive me if you knew what I have suffered,” and the proud, beautiful eyes filled with tears as Grace Atherton plucked the broad green leaves from the grape vine over her head, and tearing them in pieces scattered the fragments upon the floor of the piazza. “Was there to be a bride at Collingwood?” This was the question which racked her brain, keeping her in a constant state of feverish excitement until the very morning came when the family were expected.
Mrs. Matson, the former housekeeper, had resumed her old position, and though she came often to Brier Hill to consult the taste of Mrs. Atherton as to the arrangement of curtains and furniture, Grace was too haughtily polite to question her, and every car whistle found her at the window watching for the carriage and a sight of its inmates. One after another the western trains arrived, and the soft September twilight deepened into darker night, showing to the expectant Grace the numerous lights shining from the windows of Collingwood. Edith Hastings, too, imbued with something of her mistress’ spirit, was on the alert, and when the last train in which they could possibly come, thundered through the town, her quick ear was the first to catch the sound of wheels grinding slowly up the hill.
“They are coming, Mrs. Atherton!” she cried; and nimble as a squirrel she climbed the great gate post, where with her elf locks floating about her sparkling face, she sat, while the carriage passed slowly by, then saying to herself, “Pshaw, it wasn’t worth the trouble–I never saw a thing,” she slid down from her high position, and stealing in the back way so as to avoid the scolding Mrs. Atherton was sure to give her, she crept up to her own chamber, where she stood long by the open window, watching the lights at Collingwood, and wondering if it WOULD make a person perfectly happy to be its mistress and the bride of Richard Harrington.
EDITH HASTINGS GOES TO COLLINGWOOD.
The question Edith had asked herself, standing by her chamber window, was answered by Grace Atherton sitting near her own. “Yes, the bride of Richard Harrington MUST be perfectly happy, if bride indeed there were.” She was beginning to feel some doubt upon this point, for strain her eyes as she might, she had not been able to detect the least signs of femininity in the passing carriage, and hope whispered that the brightest dream she had ever dreamed might yet be realized.
“I’ll let him know to-morrow, that I’m here,” she said, as she shook out her wavy auburn hair, and thought, with a glow of pride, how beautiful it was. “I’ll send Edith with my compliments and a bouquet of flowers to the bride. She’ll deliver them better than any one else, if I can once make her understand what I wish her to do.”
Accordingly, the next morning, as Edith sat upon the steps of the kitchen door, talking to herself, Grace appeared before her with a tastefully arranged bouquet, which she bade her take with her compliments to Mrs. Richard Harrington, if there was such a body, and to Mr. Richard Harrington if there were not.
“Do you understand?” she asked, and Edith far more interested in her visit to Collingwood than in what she was to do when she reached there, replied,
“Of course I do; I’m to give your compliments;” and she jammed her hand into the pocket of her gingham apron, as if to make sure the compliments were there. “I’m to give them to MR. Richard, if there is one, and the flowers to Mrs. Richard, if there ain’t!”
Grace groaned aloud, while old Rachel, the colored cook, who on all occasions was Edith’s champion, removed her hands from the dough she was kneading and coming towards them, chimed in, “She ain’t fairly got it through her har, Miss Grace. She’s such a substracted way with her that you mostly has to tell her twicet,” and in her own peculiar style Rachel succeeded in making the “substracted” child comprehend the nature of her errand.
“Now don’t go to blunderin’,” was Rachel’s parting injunction, as Edith left the yard and turned in the direction of Collingwood.
It was a mellow September morning, and after leaving the main road and entering the gate of Collingwood, the young girl lingered by the way, admiring the beauty of the grounds, and gazing with feelings of admiration upon the massive building, surrounded by majestic maples, and basking so quietly in the warm sunlight. At the marble fountain she paused for a long, long time, talking to the golden fishes which darted so swiftly past each other, and wishing she could take them in her hand “just to see them squirm.”
“I mean to catch ONE any way,” she said, and glancing nervously at the windows to make sure no Mrs. Richard was watching her, she bared her round, plump arm, and thrust it into the water, just as a footstep sounded near.
Quickly withdrawing her hand and gathering up her bouquet, she turned about and saw approaching her one of Collingwood’s ghosts. She knew him in a moment, for she had heard him described too often to mistake that white-haired, bent old man for other than Capt. Harrington. He did not chide her as she supposed he would, neither did he seem in the least surprised to see her there. On the contrary, his withered, wrinkled face brightened with a look of eager expectancy, as he said to her, “Little girl, can you tell me where Charlie is?”
“Charlie?” she repeated, retreating a step or two as he approached nearer and seemed about to lay his hand upon her hair, for her bonnet was hanging down her back, and her wild gipsy locks fell in rich profusion about her face. “I don’t know any boy by that name, I’m nobody but Edith Hastings, Mrs. Atherton’s waiting maid, and she don’t let me play with boys. Only Tim Doolittle and I went huckleberrying once, but I hate him, he has such great warts on his hands,” and having thus given her opinion of Tim Doolittle, Edith snatched up her bonnet and placed it upon her head, for the old man was evidently determined to touch her crow-black hair.
Her answer, however, changed the current of his thoughts, and while a look of intense pain flitted across his face, he whispered mournfully, “The same old story they all tell. I might have known it, but this one looked so fresh, so truthful, that I thought maybe she’d seen him. Mrs. Atherton’s waiting maid,” and he turned toward Edith–“Charlie’s dead, and we all walk in darkness now, Richard and all.”
This allusion to Richard reminded Edith of her errand, and thinking to herself, “I’ll ask the crazy old thing if there’s a lady here,” she ran after him as he walked slowly away and catching him by the arm, said, “Tell me, please, is there any Mrs. Richard Harrington?”
“Not that I know of. They’ve kept it from me if there is, but there’s Richard, he can tell you,” and he pointed toward a man in a distant part of the grounds.
Curtseying to her companion, Edith ran off in the direction of the figure moving so slowly down the gravelled walk.
“I wonder what makes him set his feet down so carefully,” she thought, as she came nearer to him. “Maybe there are pegs in his shoes, just as there were in mine last winter,” and the barefoot little girl glanced at her naked toes, feeling glad they were for the present out of torture.
By this time she was within a few rods of the strange acting man, who, hearing her rapid steps, stopped, and turning round with a wistful, questioning look, said,
“Who’s there? Who is it?”
The tone of his voice was rather sharp, and Edith paused suddenly, while he made an uncertain movement toward her, still keeping his ear turned in the attitude of intense listening.
“I wonder what he thinks of me?” was Edith’s mental comment as the keen black eyes appeared to scan her closely.
Alas, he was not thinking of her at all, and soon resuming his walk, he whispered to himself, “They must have gone some other way.”
Slowly, cautiously he moved on, never dreaming of the little sprite behind him, who, imitating his gait and manner, put down her chubby bare feet just when his went down, looking occasionally over her shoulder to see if her clothes swung from side to side just like Mrs. Atherton’s, and treading so softly that he did not hear her until he reached the summer-house, when the cracking of a twig betrayed the presence of some one, and again that sad, troubled voice demanded, “Who is here?” while the arms were stretched out as if to grasp the intruder, whoever it might be.
Edith was growing excited. It reminded her of blind man’s buff; and she bent her head to elude the hand which came so near entangling itself in her hair. Again a profound silence ensued, and thinking it might have been a fancy of his brain that some one was there with him, poor blind Richard Harrington sat down within the arbor, where the pleasant September sunshine, stealing through the thick vine leaves, fell in dancing circles upon his broad white brow, above which his jet black hair lay in rings. He was a tall, dark, handsome man, with a singular cast of countenance, and Edith felt that she had never seen anything so grand, so noble, and yet so helpless as the man sitting there before her. She knew now that he was blind, and she was almost glad that it was so, for had it been otherwise she would never have dared to scan him as she was doing now. She would not for the world have met the flash of those keen black eyes, had they not been sightless, and she quailed even now, when they were bent upon her, although she knew their glance was meaningless. It seemed to her so terrible to be blind, and she wondered why he should care to have his house and grounds so handsome when he could not see them. Still she was pleased that they were so, for there was a singular fitness, she thought, between this splendid man and his surroundings.
“I wish he had a little girl like me to lead him and be good to him,” was her next mental comment, and the wild idea crossed her brain that possibly Mrs. Atherton would let her come up to Collingwood and be his waiting maid. This brought to mind a second time the object of her being there now, and she began to devise the best plan for delivering the bouquet. “I don’t believe he cares for the compliments,” she said to herself, “any way, I’ll keep them till another time,” but the flowers; how should she give those to him? She was beginning to be very much afraid of the figure sitting there so silently, and at last mustering all her courage, she gave a preliminary cough, which started him to his feet, and as his tall form towered above her she felt her fears come back, and scarcely knowing what she was doing she thrust the bouquet into his hand, saying as she did so, “POOR blind man, I am so sorry and I’ve brought you some nice flowers.”
The next moment she was gone, and Richard heard the patter of her feet far up the gravelled walk ere he had recovered from his surprise. Who was she, and why had she remembered him? The voice was very, very sweet, thrilling him with a strange melody, which carried him back to a summer sunset years ago, when on the banks of the blue Rhine he had listened to a beautiful, dark-eyed Swede singing her infant daughter to sleep. Then the river itself appeared before him, cold and grey with the November frosts, and on its agitated surface he saw a little dimpled hand disappearing from view, while the shriek of the dark-eyed Swede told that her child was gone. A plunge–a fearful struggle–and he held the limp, white object in his arms; he bore it to the shore; he heard them say that he had saved its life, and then he turned aside to change his dripping garments and warm his icy limbs. This was the first picture brought to his mind by Edith Hastings’ voice. The second was a sadder one, and he groaned aloud as he remembered how from the time of the terrible cold taken then, and the severe illness which followed, his eyesight had begun to fail–slowly, very slowly, it is true–and for years he could not believe that Heaven had in store for him so sad a fate. But it had come at last–daylight had faded out and the night was dark around him. Once, in his hour of bitterest agony, he had cursed that Swedish baby, wishing it had perished in the waters of the Rhine, ere he saved it at so fearful a sacrifice. But he had repented of the wicked thought; he was glad he saved the pretty Petrea’s child, even though be should never see her face again. He knew not where she was, that girlish wife, speaking her broken English for the sake of her American husband, who was not always as kind to her as he should have been. He had heard no tidings of her since that fatal autumn. He had scarcely thought of her for months, but she came back to him now, and it was Edith’s voice which brought her.
“Poor blind man,” he whispered aloud. “How like that was to Petrea, when she said of my father, ‘Poor, soft old man;'” and then he wondered again who his visitor had been, and why she had left him so abruptly.
It was a child, he knew, and he prized her gift the more for that, for Richard Harrington was a dear lover of children and he kissed the fair bouquet as he would not have kissed it had he known from whom it came. Rising at last from his seat, he groped his way back to the house, and ordering one of the costly vases in his room to be filled with water, he placed the flowers therein, and thought how carefully he would preserve them for the sake of his unknown friend.
Meantime Edith kept on her way, pausing once and looking back just in time to see Mr. Harrington kiss the flowers she had brought.
“I’m glad they please him,” she said; “but how awful it is to be blind;” and by way of trying the experiment, she shut her eyes, and stretching out her arms, walked just as Richard, succeeding so well that she was beginning to consider it rather agreeable than otherwise, when she unfortunately ran into a tall rose-bush, scratching her forehead, tangling her hair, and stubbing her toes against its gnarled roots. “‘Taint so jolly to be blind after all,” she said, “I do believe I’ve broken my toe,” and extricating herself as best she could from the sharp thorns, she ran on as fast as her feet could carry her, wondering what Mrs. Atherton would say when she heard Richard was blind, and feeling a kind of natural delight in knowing she should be the first to communicate the bad news.
“Edith,” said Mrs. Atherton, who had seen her coming, and hastened out to meet her, “you were gone a long time, I think.”
“Yes’m,” answered Edith, spitting out the bonnet strings she had been chewing, and tossing back the thick black locks which nearly concealed her eyes from view. “Yes’m; it took me a good while to talk to old Darkness.”
“Talk to whom?” asked Grace; and Edith returned,
“I don’t know what you call him if ‘taint old Darkness; he kept muttering about the dark, and asked “where Charlie was.”
“Ole Cap’n Harrington,” said Rachel. “They say how’t he’s allus goin’ on ’bout Charlie an’ the dark.”
This explanation was satisfactory to Grace, who proceeded next to question Edith concerning Mrs. Richard Harrington, asking if she saw her, etc.
“There ain’t any such,” returned Edith, “but I saw Mr. Richard. Jolly, isn’t he grand? He’s as tall as the ridge-pole, and—“
“But what did he say to the flowers?” interrupted Grace, far more intent upon knowing how her gift had been received, than hearing described the personal appearance of one she had seen so often.
Edith felt intuitively that a narrative of the particulars attending the delivery of the bouquet would insure her a scolding, so she merely answered, “He didn’t say a word, only kissed them hard, but he can’t see them, Mrs. Atherton. He can’t see me, nor you, nor anybody. He’s blind as a bat–“
“Blind! Richard blind! Oh, Edith;” and the bright color which had stained Grace’s cheeks when she knew that Richard had kissed her flowers, faded out, leaving them of a pallid hue. Sinking into the nearest chair, she kept repeating “blind–blind–poor, poor Richard. It cannot be. Bring me some water, Rachel, and help me to my room. This intensely hot morning makes me faint.”
Rachel could not be thus easily deceived. She remembered an old house in England, looking out upon the sea, and the flirtation carried on all summer there between her mistress, then a beautiful young girl of seventeen, and the tall, handsome man, whom they called Richard Harrington. She remembered, too, the white-haired, gouty man, who, later in the autumn, came to that old house, and whose half million Grace had married, saying, by way of apology, that if Richard chose to waste his life in humoring the whims of his foolish father, she surely would NOT waste hers with him. SHE would see the world!
Alas, poor Grace. She had seen the world and paid dearly for the sight, for, go where she might, she saw always one face, one form; heard always one voice murmuring in her ear, “Could you endure to share my burden?”
No, she could not, she said, and so she had taken upon herself a burden ten-fold heavier to bear–a burden which crushed her spirits, robbed her cheek of its youthful bloom, after which she sent no regret when at last it disappeared, leaving her free to think again of Richard Harrington. It was a terrible blow to her that he was blind, and talk as she might about the faintness of the morning, old Rachel knew the real cause of her distress, and when alone with her, said, by way of comfort,
“Law, now, Miss Grace, ‘taint worth a while to take on so. Like ‘nough he’ll be cured–mebby it’s nothin’ but them fetch-ed water- falls–CAT-A-RATS, that’s it–and he can have ’em cut out. I wouldn’t go to actin’ like I was love-sick for a man I ‘scarded oncet.”
Grace was far too proud to suffer even her faithful Rachel thus to address her, and turning her flashing eyes upon the old woman, she said haughtily,
“How dare you talk to me in this way–don’t you know I won’t allow it? Besides, what reason have you for asserting what you have?”
“What reason has I? Plenty reason–dis chile ain’t a fool if she is a nigger, raised in Georgy, and a born slave till she was turned of thirty. Your poor marm who done sot me free, would never spoke to me that way. What reason has I? I’se got good mem’ry–I ‘members them letters I used to tote forrid and back, over thar in England; and how you used to watch by the winder till you seen him comin’, and then, gal-like, ran off to make him think you wasn’t particular ’bout seein’ him. But, it passes me, what made you have ole money bags. I never could see inter that, when I knowd how you hated his shiny bald head, and slunk away if he offered to tache you with his old, soft, flappy hands. You are glad he’s in Heaven, yon know you be; and though I never said nothin’, _I_ knowd you was glad that Squire Herrin’ton was come back to Collingwood, just as I knowd what made you choke like a chicken with the pip when Edith tole you he was blind. Can’t cheat dis chile,” and adjusting her white turban with an air of injured dignity, Rachel left her mistress, and returned to the kitchen.
“What ails Mrs. Atherton?” asked Edith, fancying it must be something serious which could keep the old negress so long from her bread.
On ordinary occasions the tolerably discreet African would have made some evasive reply, but with her feathers all ruffled, she belched out, “The upshot of the matter is, she’s in love?”
“In love? Who does Mrs. Atherton love?”
“Him–the blind man,” returned Rachel, adding fiercely, “but if you ever let her know I told you, I’ll skin you alive–do you hear? Like enough she’ll be for sendin’ you up thar with more posies, an’ if she does, do you hold your tongue and take ’em along.”
Edith had no desire to betray Rachel’s confidence, and slipping one shoulder out of her low dress she darted off after a butterfly, wondering to herself if it made everybody faint and sick at their stomach to be in love! It seemed very natural that one as rich and beautiful as Grace should love Richard Harrington, and the fact that she did, insensibly raised in her estimation the poor, white-faced woman, who, in the solitude of her chamber was weeping bitterer tears than she had shed before in years.
Could it he so? She hoped there was some mistake–and when an hour later she heard Kitty Maynard’s cheerful voice in the lower hall her heart gave a bound as she thought, “She’ll know–she’s heard of it by this time.”
“Please may I come in?” said Kitty, at her door. “Rachel told me you had a headache, but I know you won’t mind me,” and ere the words were half out of her mouth, Kitty’s bonnet was off and she was perched upon the foot of the bed. HAVE you heard the news?” she began. “It’s so wonderful, and so sad, too. Squire Harrington is not married; he’s worse off than that–he’s hopelessly blind.”
“Indeed!” and Grace Atherton’s manner was very indifferent.
“Yes,” Kitty continued, “His French valet, Victor, who travelled with him in Europe, told brother Will all about it. Seven or eight years ago they were spending the summer upon the banks of the Rhine, and in a cottage near them was an American with a Swedish wife and baby. The man, it seems, was a dissipated fellow, much older than his wife, whom he neglected shamefully, leaving her alone for weeks at a time. The baby’s name was Eloise, and she was a great pet with Richard who was fond of children. At last, one day in autumn, the little Eloise, who had just learned to run alone, wandered off by herself to a bluff, or rock, or something, from which she fell into the river. The mother, Petrea, was close by, and her terrific shrieks brought Richard to the spot in time to save the child. He had not been well for several days, and the frightful cold he took induced a fever, which seemed to settle in his eyes, for ever since his sight has been failing until now it has left him entirely. But hark! isn’t some one in the next room?” and she stepped into the adjoining apartment just as the nimble Edith disappeared from view.
She had been sent up by Rachel with a message to Mrs. Atherton, and was just in time to hear the commencement of Kitty’s story. Any thing relating to the blind man was interesting to her, and so she listened, her large black eyes growing larger and blacker as the tale proceeded. It did NOT seem wholly new to her, that story of the drowning child–that cottage on the Rhine, and for a moment she heard a strain of low, rich music sung as a lullaby to some restless, wakeful child. Then the music, the cottage and the blue Rhine faded away. She could not recall them, but bound as by a spell she listened still, until the word Petrea dropped from Kitty’s lips. Then she started suddenly. Surely, she’d heard that NAME before. Whose was it? When was it? Where was it? She could not tell, and she repeated it in a whisper so loud that it attracted Kitty’s attention.
“I shall catch it if she finds me listening,” thought Edith, as she heard Kitty’s remark, and in her haste to escape she forgot all about Petrea–all about the lullaby, and remembered nothing save the noble deed of the heroic Richard. “What a noble man he must be,” she said, “to save that baby’s life, and how she would pity him if she knew it made him blind. I wonder where she is. She must be most as big as I am now;” and if it were possible Edith’s eyes grew brighter than their wont as she thought how had SHE been that Swedish child, she would go straight up to Collingwood and be the blind man’s slave. She would read to him. She would see for him, and when he walked, she would lead him so carefully, removing all the ugly pegs from his boots, and watching to see that he did not stub his toes, as she was always doing in her headlong haste. “What a great good man he is,” she kept repeating, while at the same time she felt an undefinable interest in the Swedish child, whom at that very moment, Grace Atherton was cursing in her heart as the cause of Richard’s misfortune.
Kitty was gone at last, and glad to be alone she wept passionately over this desolation of her hopes, wishing often that the baby had perished in the river ere it had wrought a work so sad. How she hated that Swedish mother and her child–how she hated all children then, even the black haired Edith, out in the autumn sunshine, singing to herself a long-forgotten strain, which had come back to her that morning, laden with perfume from the vine- clad hills of Bingen, and with music from the Rhine. Softly the full, rich melody came stealing through the open window, and Grace Atherton as she listened to the mournful cadence felt her heart growing less hard and bitter toward fate, toward the world, and toward the innocent Swedish babe. Then as she remembered that Richard kissed the flowers, a flush mounted to her brow. He did love her yet; through all the dreary years of their separation he had clung to her, and would it not atone for her former selfishness, if now that the world was dark to him, she should give herself to the task of cheering the deep darkness? It would be happiness, she thought, to be pointed out as the devoted wife of the blind man, far greater happiness to bask in the sunlight of the blind man’s love, for Grace Atherton did love him, and in the might of her love she resolved upon doing that from which she would have shrunk had he not been as helpless and afflicted as he was. Edith should be the medium between them. Edith should take him flowers every day, until he signified a wish for her to come herself, when she would go, and sitting by his side, would tell him, perhaps, how sad her life had been since that choice of hers made on the shore of the deep sea. Then, if he asked her again to share his lonely lot, she would gladly lay her head upon his bosom, and whisper back the word she should have said to him seven years ago.
It was a pleasant picture of the future which Grace Atherton drew as she lay watching the white clouds come and go over the distant tree tops of Collingwood, and listening to the song of Edith, still playing in the sunshine, and when at dinner time she failed to appear at the ringing of the bell, and Edith was sent in quest of her, she found her sleeping quietly, dreaming of the Swedish babe and Richard Harrington.
RICHARD AND EDITH.
On Richard’s darkened pathway, there WAS now a glimmer of daylight, shed by Edith Hastings’ visit, and with a vague hope that she might come again, he on the morrow groped his way to the summer house, and taking the seat where he sat the previous day, he waited and listened for the footstep on the grass which should tell him she was near. Nor did he wait long ere Edith came tripping down the walk, bringing the bouquet which Grace had prepared with so much care.
“Hist!” dropped involuntarily from her lips, when she descried him, sitting just where she had, without knowing why, expected she should find him, and her footfall so light that none save the blind could have detected it.
To Richard there was something half amusing, half ridiculous in the conduct of the capricious child, and for the sake of knowing what she would do, he professed to be ignorant of her presence, and leaning back against the lattice, pretended to be asleep, while Edith came so near that he could hear her low breathing as she stood still to watch him. Nothing could please her more than his present attitude, for with his large bright eyes shut she dared to look at him as much and as long she chose. He was to her now a kind of divinity, which she worshipped for the sake of the Swedish baby rescued from a watery grave, and she longed to wind her arms around his neck and tell him how she loved him for that act; but she dared not, and she contented herself with whispering softly, “If I wasn’t so spunky and ugly, I’d pray every night that God would make you see again. Poor blind man.”
It would be impossible to describe the deep pathos of Edith’s voice as she uttered the last three words. Love, admiration, compassion and pity, all were blended in the tone, and it is not strange that it touched an answering chord in the heart of the “poor blind man.” Slowly the broad chest heaved, and tears, the first he had shed since the fearful morning when they led him into the sunlight he felt but could not see, moistened his lashes, and dropped upon his face.
“He’s dreaming a bad dream,” Edith said, and with her little chubby hand she brushed his tears away, cautiously, lest she should rouse him from his slumbers.
Softly she put back from the white forehead his glossy hair, taking her own round comb to subdue an obdurate look, while he was sure that the fingers made more than one pilgrimage to the lips as the little barber found moisture necessary to her task.
“There, Mr. Blindman, you look real nice,” she said, with an immense amount of satisfaction, as she stepped back, the better to inspect the whole effect. “I’ll bet you’ll wonder who’s been here when you wake up, but I shan’t tell you now. Maybe, though, I’ll come again to-morrow,” and placing the bouquet in his hands, she ran away.
Pausing for a moment, and looking back, she saw Richard again raise to his lips her bouquet, and with a palpitating heart, as she thought, “what if he wern’t asleep after all!” she ran on until Brier Hill was reached.
“Not any message this time either?” said Grace, when told that he had kissed her flowers, and that was all.
Still this was proof that he was pleased, and the infatuated woman persisted in preparing bouquets, which Edith daily carried to Collingwood, going always at the same time, and finding him always in the same spot waiting for her. As yet no word had passed between them, for Edith, who liked the novelty of the affair, was so light-footed that she generally managed to slip the bouquet into his hand, and run away ere he had time to detain her. One morning, however, near the middle of October, when, owing to a bruised heel, she had not been to see him for more than a week, he sat in his accustomed place, half-expecting her, and still thinking how improbable it was that she would come. He had become strangely attached to the little unknown, as he termed her; he thought of her all the day long, and when, in the chilly evening, he sat before the glowing grate, listening to the monotonous whisperings of his father, he wished so much that she was there beside him. His life would not be so dreary then, for in the society of that active, playful child, he should forget, in part, how miserable he was. She was blue-eyed, and golden-haired, he thought, with soft, abundant curls veiling her sweet young face; and he pictured to himself just how she would look, flitting through the halls, and dancing upon the green sward near the door,
“But it cannot be,” he murmured on that October morning, when he sat alone in his wretchedness. “Nothing I’ve wished for most has ever come to pass. Sorrow has been my birthright from a boy. A curse is resting upon our household, and all are doomed who come within its shadow. First my own mother died just when I needed her the most, then that girlish woman whom I also called my mother; then, our darling Charlie. My father’s reason followed next, while _I_ am hopelessly blind. Oh, sometimes I wish that I could die.”
“Hold your breath with all your might, and see if you can’t,” said the voice of Edith Hastings, who had approached him cautiously, and heard his sad soliloquy.
Richard started, and stretching out his long arm, caught the sleeve of the little girl, who, finding herself a captive, ceased to struggle, and seated herself beside him as he requested her to do.
“Be you holding your breath?” she asked, as for a moment he did not speak, adding as he made no answer, “Tell me when you’re dead, won’t you?”
Richard laughed aloud, a hearty, merry laugh, which startled himself, it was so like an echo of the past, ere his hopes were crushed by cruel misfortune.
“I do not care to die now that I have you,” he said; “and if you’d stay with me always, I should never be unhappy.”
“Oh, wouldn’t that be jolly,” cried Edith, using her favorite expression, “I’d read to you, and sing to you, only Rachel says my songs are weird-like, and queer, and maybe you might not like them; but I’d fix your hair, and lead you in the smooth places where you wouldn’t jam your heels;” and she glanced ruefully at one of hers, bound up in a cotton rag. “I wish I could come, but Mrs. Atherton won’t let me, I know. She threatens most every day to send me back to the Asylum, ’cause I act so. I’m her little waiting-maid, Edith Hastings.”
“Waiting maid!” and the tone of Richard’s voice was indicative of keen disappointment.
The Harringtons were very proud, and Richard would once have scoffed at the idea of being particularly interested in one so far below him as a waiting-maid. He had never thought of this as a possibility, and the child beside him was NOT of quite so much consequence as she had been before. Still he would know something of her history, and he asked her where she lived, and why she had brought him so many flowers.
“I live with Mrs. Atherton,” she replied. “She sent the flowers, and if you’ll never tell as long as you live and breathe, I’ll tell you what Rachel says. Rachel’s an old colored woman, who used to be a nigger down South, but she’s free now, and says Mrs. Atherton loves you. I guess she does, for she fainted most away that day I went home and told her you were blind.”
“Mrs. Atherton!” and Richard’s face grew suddenly dark. “Who is Mrs. Atherton, child?”
“Oh-h-h!” laughed Edith deprecatingly; “don’t you know her? She’s Grace Atherton–the biggest lady in town; sleeps in linen sheets and pillow cases every night, and washes in a bath-tub every morning.”
“Grace Atherton!” and Edith quailed beneath the fiery glance bent upon her by those black sightless eyes. “Did Grace Atherton send these flowers to me?” and the bright-hued blossoms dropped instantly from his hand.
“Yes, sir, she did. What makes you tear so? Are you in a tantrum?” said Edith, as he sprang to his feet and began unsteadily to pace the summer-house.
Richard Harrington possessed a peculiar temperament, Grace Atherton had wounded his pride, spurned his love, and he THOUGHT he hated her, deeming it a most unwomanly act in her to make these overtures for a reconciliation. This was why he TORE so, as Edith had expressed it, but soon growing more calm, he determined to conceal from the quick-witted child the cause of his agitation, and resuming his seat beside her, he asked her many questions concerning Grace Atherton and herself, and as he talked he felt his olden interests in his companion gradually coming back. What if she were now a waiting-maid, her family might have been good, and he asked her many things of her early life. But Edith could tell him nothing. The Orphan Asylum was the first home of which she had any vivid remembrance, though it did seem to her she once had lived where the purple grapes were growing rich and ripe upon the broad vine stalk, and where all the day long there was music such as she’d never heard since, but which came back to her sometimes in dreams, staying long enough for her to catch the air. Her mother, the matron told her, had died in New York, and she was brought to the Asylum by a woman who would keep her from starvation. This was Edith’s story, told without reserve or the slightest suspicion that the proud man beside her would think the less of her because she had been poor and hungry. Neither did he, after the first shock had worn away; and he soon found himself wishing again that she would come up there and live with him. She was a strange, odd child, he knew, and he wondered how she looked. He did not believe she was golden-haired and blue-eyed now. Still he would not ask her lest he should receive a second disappointment, for he was a passionate admirer of female beauty, and he could not repress a feeling of aversion for an ugly face.
“Is Mrs. Atherton handsome?” he suddenly asked, remembering the fresh, girlish beauty of Grace Elmendorff, and wishing to know if it had faded.
“Oh, jolly,” said Edith, “I guess she is. Such splendid blue hair and auburn eyes.”
“She must be magnificent,” returned Richard, scarcely repressing a smile. “Give her my compliments and ask her if she’s willing NOW to share my self-imposed labor. Mind, don’t you forget a word, and go now. I’ll expect you again to-morrow with her answer.”
He made a gesture for Edith to leave, and though she wanted so much to tell him how she loved him for saving that Swedish baby, she forbore until another time, and ran hastily away, repeating his message as she ran lest she should forget it.
“Sent his compliments, and says ask you if you’re willing to share, his–his–his–share his–now–something–anyway, he wants you to come up there and live, and I do so hope you’ll go. Won’t it be jolly?” she exclaimed, as half out of breath she burst into the room where Grace sat reading a letter received by the morning’s mail.
“Wants me to what?” Grace asked, fancying she had not heard aright, and as Edith repeated the message, there stole into her heart a warm, happy feeling, such as she had not experienced since the orange wreath crowned her maiden brow.
Edith had not told her exactly what he said, she knew, but it was sufficient that he cared to see her, and she resolved to gratify him, but with something of her olden coquetry she would wait awhile and make him think she was not coming. So she said no more to Edith upon the subject, but told her that she was expecting her cousin Arthur St. Claire, a student from Geneva College, that he would be there in a day or two, and while he remained at Brier Hill she wished Edith to try and behave herself.
“This Mr. St. Claire,” said she, “belongs to one of the most aristocratic Southern families. He is not accustomed to anything low, either in speech or manner.”
“Can’t I even say JOLLY?” asked Edith, with such a seriously comical manner that Grace had great difficulty to keep from smiling.
“Jolly” was Edith’s pet word, the one she used indiscriminately and on all occasions, sometimes as an interjection, but oftener as an adjective. If a thing suited her it was sure to be jolly–she always insisting that ’twas a good proper word, for MARIE used it and SHE knew. Who Marie was she could not tell, save that ’twas somebody who once took care of her and called her jolly. It was in vain that Grace expostulated, telling her it was a slang phrase, used only by the vulgar. Edith was inexorable, and would not even promise to abstain from it during the visit of Arthur St. Claire.
VISITORS AT COLLINGWOOD AND VISITORS AT BRIER HILL.
The morning came at last on which Arthur was expected, but as he did not appear, Grace gave him up until the morrow, and toward the middle of the afternoon ordered out her carriage, and drove slowly in the direction of Collingwood. Alighting before the broad piazza, and ascending the marble steps, she was asked by Richard’s confidential servant into the parlor, where she sat waiting anxiously while he went, in quest of his master.
“A lady, sir, wishes to see you in the parlor,” and Victor Dupres bowed low before Richard, awaiting his commands.
“A lady, Victor? Did she give her name?”
“Yes, sir; Atherton–Mrs. Grace Atherton, an old friend, she said,” Victor replied, marveling at the expression of his master’s face, which indicated anything but pleasure.
He had expected her–had rather anticipated her coming; but now that she was there, he shrank from the interview. It could only result in sorrow, for Grace was not to him now what she once had been. He could value her, perhaps, as a friend, but Edith’s tale had told him that he to her was more than a friend. Possibly this knowledge was not as distasteful to him as he fancied it to be; at all events, when he remembered it, he said to Victor:
“Is the lady handsome?” feeling a glow of satisfaction in the praises heaped upon the really beautiful Grace. Ere long the hard expression left his face, and straightening up his manly form, he bade Victor take him to her.
As they crossed the threshold of the door, he struck his foot against it, and instantly there rang in his ear the words which little Edith had said to him so pityingly, “Poor blind man!” while he felt again upon his brow the touch of those childish fingers; and this was why the dark, hard look came back. Edith Hastings rose up between him and the regal creature waiting so anxiously his coming, and who, when he came and stood before her, in his helplessness, wept like a child.
“Richard! oh, Richard! that it should be thus we meet again!” was all that she could say, as, seizing the groping hand, she covered it with her tears.
Victor had disappeared, and she could thus give free vent to her emotions, feeling it almost a relief that the eyes whose glance she once had loved to meet could not witness her grief.
“Grace,” he said at last, the tone of his voice was so cold that she involuntarily dropped his hands and looked him steadily in the face. “Grace, do not aggravate my misfortune by expressing too much sympathy. I am not as miserable as you may think, indeed, I am not as unhappy even now as yourself.”
“It’s true, Richard, true,” she replied, “and because I am unhappy I have come to ask your forgiveness if ever word or action, or taunt of mine caused you a moment’s pain. I have suffered much since we parted, and my suffering has atoned for all my sin.”
She ceased speaking and softened by memories of the past, when he loved Grace Elmendorf, Richard reached for her hand, and holding it between his own, said to her gently, “Grace, I forgave you years ago. I know you have suffered much, and I am sorry for it, but we will understand each other now. You are the widow of the man you chose, I am hopelessly blind–our possessions adjoin each other, our homes are in sight. I want you for a neighbor, a friend, a sister, if you like. I shall never marry. That time is past. It perished with the long ago, and it will, perhaps, relieve the monotony of my life if I have a female acquaintance to visit occasionally. I thank you much for your flowers, although for a time I did not know you sent them, for the little girl would place them in my hands without a word and dart away before I could stop her. Still I knew it was a child, and I preserved them carefully for her sake until she was last here, when I learned who was the real donor. I am fond of flowers and thank you for sending them. I appreciate your kindness. I like you much better than I did an hour since, for the sound of your voice and the touch of your hands seem to me like old familiar friends. I am glad you came to see me, Grace. I wish you to come often, for I am very lonely here. We will at least be friends, but nothing more. Do you consent to my terms?”
She had no alternative but to consent, and bowing her head, she answered back, “Yes, Richard; that is all I can expect, all I wish. I had no other intention in sending you bouquets.”
He knew that she did not tell him truly, but he pitied her mortification, and tried to divert her mind by talking upon indifferent subjects, but Grace was too much chagrined and disappointed to pay much heed to what he said, and after a time arose to go.
“Come again soon,” he said, accompanying her to the door, “and send up that novelty Edith, will you?”
“Edith,” muttered Grace, as she swept haughtily down the box-lined walk, and stepped into her carriage. “I’ll send her back to the Asylum, as I live. Why didn’t she tell me just how it was, and so prevent me from making myself ridiculous?”
Grace was far too much disturbed to go home at once. She should do or say something unlady-like if she did, and she bade Tom drive her round the village, thus unconsciously giving the offending Edith a longer time in which to entertain and amuse the guest at Brier Hill, for Arthur St. Claire had come.
Edith was the first to spy him sauntering slowly up the walk, and she watched him curiously as he came, mimicing his gait, and wondering if he didn’t feel big.
“Nobody’s afraid of you,” she soliloquised, “if you do belong to the firstest family in Virginia.” Then, hearing Rachel, who answered his ring, bid him walk into the parlor and amuse himself till Mrs. Atherton came, she thought, “Wouldn’t it be jolly to go down and entertain him myself. Let me see, what does Mrs. Atherton say to the Shannondale gentlemen when they call? Oh, I know, she asks them if they’ve read the last new novel; how they liked it, and so on. I can do all that, and maybe he’ll think I’m a famous scholar. I mean to wear the shawl she looks so pretty in,” and going to her mistress’ drawer, the child took out and threw around her shoulders a crimson scarf, which Grace often wore, and then descended to the parlor, where Arthur St. Claire stood, leaning against the marble mantel, and listlessly examining various ornaments upon it.
At the first sight of him Edith felt her courage forsaking her, there seemed so wide a gulf between herself and the haughty- looking stranger, and she was about to leave the room when he called after her, bidding her stay, and asking who she was.
“I’m Edith Hastings,” she answered, dropping into a chair, and awkwardly kicking her heels against the rounds in her embarrassment at having those large, quizzical brown eyes fixed so inquiringly upon her.
He was a tall, handsome young man, not yet nineteen years of age, and in his appearance there certainly was something savoring of the air supposed to mark the F. F. V’s. His manners were polished in the extreme, possessing, perhaps, a little too much hauteur, and impressing the beholder with the idea that he could, if he chose, be very cold and overbearing. His forehead, high and intellectually formed, was shaded by curls of soft brown hair, while about his mouth there lurked a mischievous smile, somewhat at variance with the proud curve of his upper lip, where an incipient mustache was starting into life. Such was Arthur St. Claire, as he stood coolly inspecting Edith Hastings, who mentally styling him the “hatefullest upstart” she ever saw, gave him back a glance as cool and curious as his own.
“You are an odd little thing,” he said at last.
“No I ain’t neither,” returned Edith, the tears starting in her flashing black eyes.
“Spunky,” was the young man’s next remark, as he advanced a step or two toward her. “But don’t let’s quarrel, little lady. You’ve come down to entertain me, I dare say; and now tell me who you are.”
His manner at once disarmed the impulsive Edith of all prejudice, and she replied:
“I told you I was Edith Hastings, Mrs. Atherton’s waiting maid.”
“Waiting maid!” and Arthur St. Claire took a step or two backwards as he said: “Why are you in here? This is not your place.”
Edith sprang to her feet. She could not misunderstand the feeling with which he regarded her, and with an air of insulted dignity worthy of Grace herself, she exclaimed,
“Oh, how I hate you, Arthur St. Claire! At first I thought you might be good, like Squire Harrington; but you ain’t. I can’t bear you. Ugh!”
“Squire Harrington? Does he live near here?” and the face which at the sight of her anger had dimpled all over with smiles, turned white as Arthur St. Claire asked this question, to which Edith replied:
“Yes; he’s blind, and he lives up at Collingwood. You can see its tower now,” and she pointed across the fields.
But Arthur did not heed her, and continued to ply her with questions concerning Mr. Harrington, asking if he had formerly lived near Geneva, in western New York, if he had a crazy father, and if he ever came to Brier Hill.
Edith’s negative answer to this last query seemed to satisfy him, and when, mistaking his eagerness for a desire to see her divinity, Edith patronizingly informed him that he might go with her some time to Collingwood, he answered her evasively, asking if Richard recognized voices, as most blind people did.
Edith could not tell, but she presumed he did, for he was the smartest man that ever lived; and in her enthusiastic praises she waxed so eloquent, using, withal, so good language, that Arthur forgot she was a waiting maid, and insensibly began to entertain a feeling of respect for the sprightly child, whose dark face sparkled and flashed with her excitement. She WAS a curious specimen, he acknowledged, and he began adroitly to sound the depths of her intellect. Edith took the cue at once, and not wishing to be in the background, asked him, as she had at first intended doing, if he’d read the last new novel.
Without in the least comprehending WHAT novel she meant, Arthur promptly replied that he had.
“How did you like it?” she continued, adjusting her crimson scarf as she had seen Mrs. Atherton do under similar circumstances.
“Very much indeed,” returned the young man with imperturbable gravity, but when with a toss of her head she asked; “Didn’t you think there was too much ‘PHYSICS in it?” he went off into peals of laughter so loud and long that they brought old Rachel to the door to see if “he was done gone crazy or what.”
Taking advantage of her presence, the crest-fallen Edith crept disconsolately up the stairs, feeling that she had made a most ridiculous mistake, and wondering what the word COULD be that sounded so much like ‘PHYSICS, and yet wasn’t that at all. She know she had made herself ridiculous, and was indulging in a fit of crying when Mrs. Atherton returned, delighted to meet her young cousin, in whom she felt a pardonable pride.
“You must have been very lonely,” she said, beginning to apologize for her absence.
“Never was less so in my life,” he replied. “Why, I’ve been splendidly entertained by a little black princess, who called herself your waiting maid, and discoursed most eloquently of METAPHYSICS and all that.”
“Edith, of course,” said Grace. “It’s just, like her. Imitated me in every thing, I dare say.”
“Rather excelled you, I think, in putting on the fine lady,” returned the teasing Arthur, who saw at once that Edith Hastings was his fair cousin’s sensitive point.
“What else did she say?” asked Grace, but Arthur generously refrained from repeating the particulars of his interview with the little girl who, as the days went by, interested him so much that he forgot his Virginia pride, and greatly to Mrs. Atherton’s surprise, indulged with her in more than one playful romp, teasingly calling her his little “Metaphysics,” and asking if she hated him still.
She did not. Next to Richard and Marie, she liked him better than any one she had ever seen, and she was enjoying his society so much when a most unlucky occurrence suddenly brought her happiness to an end, and afforded Grace an excuse for doing what she had latterly frequently desired to do, viz. that of sending the little girl back to the Asylum from which she had taken her.
Owing to the indisposition of the chambermaid, Edith was one day sent with water to Mr. St. Claire’s room. Arthur was absent, but on the table his writing desk lay open, and Edith’s inquisitive eyes were not long in spying a handsome golden locket, left there evidently by mistake. Two or three times she had detected him looking at this picture, and with an eager curiosity to see it also, she took the locket in her hand, and going to the window, touched the spring.
It was a wondrously beautiful face which met her view–the face of a young girl, whose golden curls rippling softly over her white shoulders, and whose eyes of lustrous blue, reminded Edith of the angels about which Rachel sang so devoutly every Sunday. To Edith there was about that face a nameless but mighty fascination, a something which made her warm blood chill and tingle in her veins, while there crept over her a second time dim visions of something far back in the past–of purple fruit on vine-clad hills–of music soft and low–of days and nights on some tossing, moving object– and then of a huge white building, embowered in tall green trees, whose milk-white blossoms she gathered in her hand; while distinct from all the rest was this face, on which she gazed so earnestly. It is true that all these thoughts were not clear to her mind; it was rather a confused mixture of ideas, one of which faded ere another came, so that there seemed no real connection between them; and had she embodied them in words, they would have been recognized as the idle fancies of a strange, old-fashioned child. But the picture–there WAS something in it which held Edith motionless, while her tongue seemed struggling to articulate a NAME, but failed in the attempt; and when, at last, her lips did move, they uttered the word MARIE, as if she too, were associated with that sweet young face.
“Oh, but she’s jolly,” Edith said, “I don’t wonder Mr. Arthur loves her,” and she felt her own heart throb with a strange affection for the beautiful original of that daguerreotype.
In the hall without there was the sound of a footstep. It was coming to that room. It was Grace herself, Edith thought; and knowing she would be censured for touching what did not belong to her, she thrust the locket into her bosom, intending to return it as soon as possible, and springing out upon the piazza, scampered away, leaving the water pail to betray her recent presence.
It was NOT Grace, as she had supposed, but Arthur St. Claire himself come to put away the locket, which he suddenly remembered to have left upon the table. Great was his consternation when he found it gone, and that no amount of searching could bring it to light. He did not notice the empty pail the luckless Edith had left, although he stumbled over it twice in his feverish anxiety to find his treasure. But what he failed to observe was discovered by Grace, whom he summoned to his aid, and who exclaimed:
“Edith Hastings has been here! She must be the thief!”
“Edith, Grace, Edith–it cannot be,” and Arthur’s face indicated plainly the pain it would occasion him to find that it was so.
“I hope you may be right, Arthur, but I have not so much confidence in her as you seem to have. There she is now,” continued Grace, spying her across the yard and calling to her to come.
Blushing, stammering, and cowering like a guilty thing, Edith entered the room, for she heard Arthur’s voice and knew that he was there to witness her humiliation.
“Edith,” said Mrs. Atherton, sternly, “what have you been doing?”
No answer from Edith save an increase of color upon her face, and with her suspicions confirmed, Grace went on,
“What have you in your pocket?”
“‘Taint in my pocket; it’s in my bosom,” answered Edith, drawing it forth and holding it to view.
“How dare you steal it,” asked Grace, and instantly there came into Edith’s eyes the same fiery, savage gleam from which Mrs. Atherton always shrank, and beneath which she now involuntarily quailed.
It had never occurred to Edith that she could be accused of theft, and she stamped at first like a little fury, then throwing herself upon the sofa, sobbed out, “Oh, dear–oh, dear, I wish God would let me die. I don’t want to live any longer in such a mean, nasty world. I want to go to Heaven, where everything is jolly.”
“You are a fit subject for Heaven,” said Mrs. Atherton, scornfully, and instantly the passionate sobbing ceased; the tears were dried in the eyes which blazed with insulted dignity as Edith arose, and looking her mistress steadily in the face, replied,
“I suppose you think I meant to steal and keep the pretty picture, but the one who was in here with me knows I didn’t.”
“Who was that?” interrupted Grace, her color changing visibly at the child’s reverent reply.
“God was with me, and I wish he hadn’t let me touch it, but he did. It lay on the writing desk and I took it to the window to see it. Oh, isn’t she jolly?” and as she recalled the beautiful features, the hard expression left her own, and she went on, “I couldn’t take my eyes from her; they would stay there, and I was almost going to speak her name, when I heard you coming, and ran away. I meant to bring it back, Mr. Arthur,” and she turned appealingly to him. “I certainly did, and you believe me, don’t you? I never told a lie in my life.”
Ere Arthur could reply, Grace chimed in.
“Believe you? Of course not. You stole the picture and intended to keep it. I cannot have you longer in my family, for nothing is safe. I shall send you back at once.”
There was a look in the large eyes which turned so hopelessly from Arthur to Grace, and from Grace back to Arthur, like that the hunted deer wears when hotly pursued in the chase. The white lips moved but uttered no sound and the fingers closed convulsively around the golden locket which Arthur advanced to take away.
“Let me see her once more,” she said.
He could not refuse her request, and touching the spring he held it up before her.
“Pretty lady,” she whispered, “sweet lady, whose name I most know, speak, and tell Mr. Arthur that I didn’t do it. I surely didn’t.”
This constant appeal to Arthur, and total disregard of herself, did not increase Mrs. Atherton’s amiability, and taking Edith by the shoulder she attempted to lead her from the room.
At the door Edith stopped, and said imploringly to Arthur,
“DO you think I stole it?”
He shook his head, a movement unobserved by Grace, but fraught with so much happiness for the little girl. She did not heed Grace’s reproaches now, nor care if she was banished to her own room for the remainder of the day. Arthur believed her innocent; Uncle Tom believed her innocent, and Rachel believed her innocent, which last fact was proved by the generous piece of custard pie hoisted to her window in a small tin pail, said pail being poised upon the prongs of a long pitch-fork. The act of thoughtful kindness touched a tender chord in Edith’s heart, and the pie choked her badly, but she managed to eat it all save the crust, which she tossed into the grass, laughing to see how near it came to hitting Mrs. Atherton, who looked around to discover whence it could possibly have come.
That night, just before dark, Grace entered Edith’s room, and told her that as Mr. St. Claire, who left them on the morrow, had business in New York, and was going directly there, she had decided to send her with him to the Asylum. “He will take a letter from me,” she continued, “telling them why you are sent back, and I greatly fear it will be long ere you find as good a home as this has been to you.”
Edith sat like one stunned by a heavy blow. She had not really believed that a calamity she so much dreaded, would overtake her, and the fact that it had, paralyzed her faculties. Thinking her in a fit of stubbornness Mrs. Atherton said no more, but busied herself in packing her scanty wardrobe, feeling occasionally a twinge of remorse as she bent over the little red, foreign-looking chest, or glanced at the slight figure sitting so motionless by the window.
“Whose is this?” she asked, holding up a box containing a long, thick braid of hair.
“Mother’s hair! mothers hair! for Marie told me so. You shan’t touch THAT!” and like a tigress Edith sprang upon her, and catching the blue-black tress, kissed it passionately, exclaiming, “‘Tis mother’s–’tis. I remember now, and I could not think before, but Marie told me so the last time I saw her, years and years ago. Oh, mother, if I ever had a mother, where are you to- night, when I want you so much?”
She threw herself upon her humble bed, not thinking of Grace, nor yet of the Asylum, but revelling in her newborn joy. Suddenly, like a flash of lightning, an incident of the past had come back to her bewildered mind, and she knew now whose was the beautiful braid she had treasured so carefully. Long ago–oh, how long it seemed to her–there had come to the Asylum a short, dumpy woman, with a merry face, who brought her this hair in a box, telling her it was her mother’s, and also that she was going to a far country, but should return again sometime–and this woman was Marie, who haunted her dreams so often, whispering to her of magnolias and cape-jessamines. All this Edith remembered distinctly, and while thinking of it she fell asleep, nor woke to consciousness even when Rachel’s kind old hands undressed her carefully and tucked her up in bed, saying over her a prayer, and asking that Miss Grace’s heart might relent and keep the little girl. It had not relented when morning came, and still, when at breakfast, Arthur received a letter, which made it necessary for him to go to New York by way of Albany, she did suggest that it might be too much trouble to have the care of Edith.
“Not at all,” he said; and half an hour later Edith was called into the parlor, and told to get herself in readiness for the journey.
“Oh, I can’t, I can’t,” cried Edith, clinging to Mrs. Atherton’s skirt, and begging of her not to send her back.
“Where will you go?” asked Grace. “I don’t want you here.”
“I don’t know,” sobbed Edith, uttering the next instant a scream of joy, as she saw, in the distance, the carriage from Collingwood, and knew that Richard was in it. “To him! to him!” she exclaimed, throwing up her arms. “Let me go to Mr. Harrington! He wants me, I know.”
“Are you faint?” asked Grace, as she saw the sudden paling of Arthur’s lips.
“Slightly,” he answered, taking her offered salts, and keeping his eyes fixed upon the carriage until it passed slowly by, “I’m better now,” he said, returning the salts, and asking why Edith could not go to Collingwood.
Grace would rather she should go anywhere else, but she did not say so to Arthur. She merely replied that Edith was conceited enough to think Mr. Harrington pleased with her just because he had sometimes talked to her when she carried him flowers.
“But of course he don’t care for her,” she said. “What could a blind man do with a child like her? Besides, after what has occurred, I could not conscientiously give her a good name.”
Arthur involuntarily gave an incredulous whistle, which spoke volumes of comfort to the little girl weeping so passionately by the window, and watching with longing eyes the Collingwood carriage now passing from her view.
“We must go or be left,” said Arthur, approaching her gently, and whispering to her not to cry.
“Good bye, Edith,” said Mrs. Atherton, putting out her jewelled band; but Edith would not touch it, and in a tone of voice which sank deep into the proud woman’s heart, she answered:
“You’ll be sorry for this some time.”
Old Rachel was in great distress, for Edith was her pet; and winding her black arms about her neck, she wept over her a simple, heartfelt blessing, and then, as the carriage drove from the gate, ran back to her neglected churning, venting her feelings upon the dasher, which she set down so vigorously that the rich cream flew in every direction, bespattering the wall, the window, the floor, the stove, and settling in large white flakes upon her tawny skin and tall blue turban.
Passing through the kitchen, Grace saw it all, but offered no remonstrance, for she knew what had prompted movements so energetic on the part of odd old Rachel. She, too, was troubled, and all that, day she was conscious of a feeling of remorse which kept whispering to her of a great wrong done the little girl whose farewell words were ringing in her ear: “You’ll be sorry for this some time.”
ARTHUR AND EDITH.
If anything could have reconciled Edith to her fate, it would have been the fact that she was travelling with Arthur St. Claire, who, after entering the cars, cared for her as tenderly as if she had been a lady of his own rank, instead of a little disgraced waiting maid, whom he was taking back, to the Asylum. It was preposterous, he thought, for Grace to call one as young as Edith a waiting maid, but it was like her, he knew. It had a lofty sound, and would impress some people with a sense of her greatness; so he could excuse it much more readily than the injustice done to the child by charging her with a crime of which he knew she was innocent. This it was, perhaps, which made him so kind to her, seeking to divert her mind from her grief by asking her many questions concerning herself and her family. But Edith did not care to talk. All the way to Albany she continued crying; and when, at last, they stood within the noisy depot, Arthur saw that the tears were still rolling down her cheeks like rain.
“Poor little girl. How I pity her!” he thought, as she placed her hand confidingly in his, and when he saw how hopelessly she looked into his face, as she asked, with quivering lip, if “it wasn’t ever so far to New York yet?” the resolution he had been trying all the day to make was fully decided upon, and when alone with Edith in the room appropriated to her at, the Delavan House, he asked her why she supposed Richard Harrington would be willing to take her to Collingwood.
Very briefly Edith related to him the particulars of her interviews with the blind man, saying, when she had finished,
“Don’t you believe he likes me?”
“I dare say he does,” returned Arthur, at the same time asking if she would be afraid to stay alone one night in that great hotel, knowing he was gone?”
“Oh, Mr. Arthur, you won’t leave me here?” and in her terror Edith’s arms wound themselves around the young man’s neck as if she would thus keep him there by force.
Unclasping her hand’s, and holding them in his own, Arthur said,
“Listen to me, Edith. I will take the Boston train which leaves here very soon, and return to Shannondale, reaching there some time to-night. I will go to Collingwood, will tell Mr. Harrington what has happened, and ask him to take you, bringing him back here with me, if he will—“
“And if he won’t?” interrupted Edith, joy beaming in every feature. “If he won’t have me, Mr. Arthur, will you? Say, will you have me if he won’t?”
“Yes, yes, I’ll have you,” returned Arthur, laughing to himself, as he thought of the construction which might be put upon this mode of speech.
But a child nine and a half years old could not, he knew, have any designs upon either himself or Richard Harrington, even had she been their equal, which he fancied she was not. She was a poor, neglected orphan, and as such he would care for her, though the caring compelled him to do what scarcely anything else could have done, to wit, to seek an interview with the man who held his cherished secret.
“Are you willing to stay here alone now?” he said again. “I’ll order your meals sent to your room, and to-morrow night I shall return.”
“If I only knew you meant for sure,” said Edith, trembling at the thought of being deserted in a strange city.
Suddenly she started, and looking him earnestly in the face, said to him,
“Do you love that pretty lady in the glass–the one Mrs. Atherton thinks I stole?”
Arthur turned white but answered her at once.
“Yes, I love her very, very much.”
“Is she your sister, Mr. Arthur?” and the searching black eyes seemed compelling him to tell the truth.
“No, not my sister, but a dear friend.”
“Where is she, Mr. Arthur? In New York?”
“No, not in New York.”
“In Albany then?”
“No, not in Albany. She’s in Europe with her father,” and a shade of sadness crept over Arthur’s face, “She was hardly a young lady when this picture was taken, and he drew the locket from its hiding place. She was only thirteen. She’s not quite sixteen now.”
Edith by this time had the picture in her hand, and holding it to the light exclaimed, “Oh, but she’s so jolly, Mr. Arthur. May I kiss her, please?”
“Certainly,” he answered, and Edith’s warm red lips pressed the senseless glass, which seemed to smile upon her.
“Pretty–pretty–pretty N-n-n-Nina!” she whispered, and in an instant Arthur clutched her so tightly that she cried out with pain.
“Who told you her name was Nina?” he asked in tones so stern and startling that Edith’s senses all forsook her, and trembling with fright she stammered,
“I don’t know, sir–unless you did. Of course you did, how else should I know. I never saw the lady.”
Yes, how else should she know, and though he would almost have sworn that name had never passed his lips save in solitude, he concluded be most have dropped it inadvertently in Edith’s hearing, and still holding her by the arm, he said, “Edith, if I supposed yon would repeat the word Nina, either at Collingwood or elsewhere, I certainly should be tempted to leave you here alone.”
“I won’t, I won’t, oh, Mr. Arthur, I surely won’t!” and Edith clung to him in terror. “I’ll never say it–not even to Mr. Harrington. Ill forget it, I can, I know.”
“Not to Mr. Harrington of all others,” thought Arthur, but he would not put himself more in Edith’s power than he already was, and feeling that he must trust her to a certain extent, he continued, “If you stay at Collingwood, I may sometime bring this Nina to see you, but until I do you must never breathe her name to any living being, or say a word of the picture.”
“But Mr. Harrington,” interrupted the far-seeing Edith, “He’ll have to know why Mrs. Atherton sent me away.
“I’ll attend to that,” returned Arthur. “I shall tell him it was a daguerreotype of a lady friend. There’s nothing wrong in that, is there?” he asked, as he noticed the perplexed look of the honest- hearted Edith.
“No,” she answered hesitatingly. “It is a lady friend, but–but– seems as if there was something wrong somewhere. Oh, Mr. Arthur– “and she grasped his hand as firmly as he had held her shoulder. “You ain’t going to hurt pretty Nina, are you? You never will do her any harm?”
“Heaven forbid,” answered Arthur, involuntarily turning away from the truthful eyes of the dark-haired maiden pleading with him not to harm the Nina–who, over the sea, never dreamed of the scene enacted in that room between the elegant Arthur St. Claire and the humble Edith Hastings. “Heaven forbid that I should harm her—“
He said it twice, and then asked the child to swear solemnly never to repeat that name where any one could hear.
“I won’t swear,” she said, “but I’ll promise as true as I live and breathe, and draw the breath of life, and that’s as good as a swear.”
Arthur felt that it was, and with the compact thus sealed between them, he arose to go, reaching out his hand for the picture.
“No,” said Edith, “I want her for company. I shan’t be lonesome looking in her eyes, and I know you will come back if I keep her.”
Arthur understood her meaning, and answered laughingly, “Well, keep her then, as a token that I will surely return,” and pressing a kiss upon the beautiful picture he left the room, while Edith listened with a beating heart, until the sound of his footsteps had died away. Then a sense of dreariness stole over her; the tears gathered in her eyes, and she sought by a one-sided conversation with her picture to drive the loneliness away.
“Pretty Nina! Sweet Nina! Jolly Nina!” she kept repeating, “I guess I used to see you in Heaven, before I came down to the nasty old Asylum. And mother was there, too, with a great long veil of hair, which came below her waist. Where was it?” she asked herself as Nina, her mother and Marie were all mingled confusedly together in her mind; and while seeking to solve the mystery, the darkness deepened in the room, the gas lamps were lighted in the street, and with a fresh shudder of loneliness Edith crept into the bed, and nestling down among her pillows, fell asleep with Nina, pressed lovingly to her bosom.
At a comparatively early hour next morning, the door of her room, which had been left unfastened, was opened, and a chambermaid walked in, starting with surprise at sight of Edith, sitting up in bed, her thick black hair falling over her shoulders, and her large eyes fixed inquiringly upon her.
“An, sure,” she began, “is it a child like you staying here alone the blessed night? Where’s yer folks?”
“I hain’t no folks,” answered Edith, holding fast to the locket, and chewing industriously the bit of gum which Rachel, who knew her taste, had slipped into her pocket at parting.
“Hain’t no folks! How come you here then?” and the girl Lois advanced nearer to the bedside.
“A man brought me,” returned Edith. “He’s gone off now, but will come again to-night.”
“Your father, most likely,” continued the loquacious Lois.
“My father!” and Edith laughed scornfully, “Mr. Arthur ain’t big enough to be anybody’s father–or yes, maybe he’s big enough, for he’s awful tall. But he’s got the teentiest whiskers growing you ever saw,” and Edith’s nose went up contemptuously at Arthur’s darling mustache. “I don’t believe he’s twenty,” she continued, “and little girl’s pa’s must be older than that I guess, and have bigger whiskers.”
“How old are you?” asked Lois, vastly amused at the quaint speeches of the child, who replied, with great dignity,
“Going on TEN, and in three years more I’ll be THIRTEEN!”
“Who are you, any way?” asked Lois, her manner indicating so much real interest that Edith repeated her entire history up to the present time, excepting, indeed, the part pertaining to the locket held so vigilantly in her hand.
She had taken a picture belonging to Mr. Arthur, she said, and as Lois did not ask what picture, she was spared any embarrassment upon that point.
“You’re a mighty queer child,” said Lois, when the narrative was ended; “but I’ll see that you have good care till he comes back;” and it was owing, in a measure, to her influence, that the breakfast and dinner carried up to Edith was of a superior quality, and comprised in quantity far more than she could eat.
Still the day dragged heavily, for Lois could not give her much attention; and even Nina failed to entertain her, as the western sunlight came in at her window, warning her that it was almost night.
“Will Arthur come? or if he does, will Mr. Harrington be with him?” she asked herself repeatedly, until at last, worn out with watching and waiting, she laid her head upon the side of the bed, and fell asleep, resting so quietly that she did not hear the rapid step in the hall, the knock upon the door, the turning of the knob, or the cheery voice which said to her:
“Edith, are you asleep?”
Arthur had come.
RICHARD AND ARTHUR.
It was not a common occurrence for a visitor to present himself at Collingwood at so early an hour as that in which Arthur St. Claire rung for admittance, and Victor, who heard the bell, hastened in some surprise to answer it,
“Tell Mr. Harrington a stranger wishes to see him,” said Arthur, following the polite valet into the library, where a fire was slowly struggling into life.
“Yes, sir. What name?” and Victor waited for a moment, while Arthur hesitated, and finally stammered out:
“Mr. St. Claire, from Virginia.”
Immediately Victor withdrew, and seeking his master, delivered the message, adding that the gentleman seemed embarrassed, and he wouldn’t wonder if he’d come to borrow money.”
“St Claire–St. Claire,” Richard repeated to himself. “Where have I heard that name before? Somewhere, sure.”
“He called himself a stranger,” returned Victor, adding that a youth by that name was visiting at Brier Hill, and it was probably of him that Mr. Harrington was thinking,
“It may be, though I’ve no remembrance of having heard that fact,” returned Richard; “but, lead on,” and he took the arm of Victor, who lead him to the library floor and then, as was his custom, turned away.
More than once during the rapid journey, Arthur had half resolved to turn back and not run the fearful risk of being recognized by Richard Harrington, but the remembrance of Edith’s mute distress should he return alone, emboldened him to go on and trust to Providence, or, if Providence failed, trust to Richard’s generosity not to betray his secret. He heard the uncertain footsteps in the hall, and forgetting that the eyes he so much dreaded could not see, he pulled his coat collar up around his face so as to conceal as much of it as possible.
“Mr. St. Claire? Is there such a person here?” and Richard Harrington had crossed the threshold of the door, and with his sightless eyes rolling around the room, stood waiting for an answer.
How well Arthur remembered that rich, full, musical voice. It seemed to him but yesterday since, he heard it before, and he shrank more and more from the reply which must be made to that question, and quickly, too, for the countenance of the blind man was beginning to wear a look of perplexity at the continued silence.
Summoning all his courage he stepped forward and taking the hand groping in the air, said rapidly, “Excuse me, Mr. Harrington, I hardly know what to say, I’ve come upon so queer an errand. You know Edith Hastings, the little girl who lived with Mrs. Atherton?”
He thought by introducing Edith at once to divert the blind man from himself; but Richard’s quick ear had caught a tone not wholly unfamiliar as he replied,
“Yes, I know Edith Hastings, and it seems to me I ought to know you, too. I’ve heard your name and voice before. Wasn’t it in Geneva?” and the eagle eves fastened themselves upon the wall just back of where Arthur stood.
Arthur fairly gasped for breath, and for an instant he was as blind as Richard himself; then, catching at the word Geneva, he answered, “Did you ever live in Geneva, sir?”
“Not in the village, but near there on the lake shore,” answered Richard, and Arthur continued,
“You probably attended the examinations then at the Academy, and heard me speak. I was a pupil there nearly two years before entering the college.”
Arthur fancied himself remarkably clever for having suggested an idea which seemed so perfectly to satisfy his companion and which was not a falsehood either. He had been a student in the Academy for nearly two years, had spoken at all the exhibitions, receiving the prize at one; he had seen Richard Harrington among the spectators, and had no doubt that Richard might have observed him, though not very closely, else he had never put himself in his power by the one single act which was embittering his young life.
“It is likely you are right,” said Richard, “I was often at the examinations, and since my misfortune I find myself recognizing voices as I never could have done when I had sight as well as hearing upon which to depend. But you spoke of Edith Hastings. I trust no harm has befallen the child. I am much interested in her and–wonder she has not been here long ere this. What would you tell me of her?”
Briefly Arthur related the particulars of his visit at Brier Hill, a visit which had ended so disastrously to Edith, and even before he reached the important point, Richard answered promptly, “She shall come here, I need her, I want her–want her for my sister, my child. I shall never have another;” then pressing his hands suddenly up on his forehead, whose blue veins seemed to swell with the intensity of his emotions, he continued. “But, no, Mr. St. Claire. It cannot be, she is too young, too merry-hearted, too full of life and love to be brought into the shadow of our household. She would die upon my hands. Her voice would grow sadder and more mournful with the coming of every season, until at last when I had learned to love her as my life, I should some morning listen for what, would never greet my ear again. It’s a great temptation, but it must not be. A crazy old man and his blind son are not fit guardians for a child like Edith Hastings. She must not walk in our darkness.”
“But might not her presence bring daylight to that darkness?” asked Arthur, gazing with mingled feelings of wonder and admiration upon the singularly handsome noble-looking man, who was indeed walking in thick darkness.
“She might,” said Richard. “Yes, she might bring the full rich daylight to us, but on her the shadow would fail with a fearful blackness if she linked her destiny with mine. Young man, do you like Edith Hastings, if so, take her yourself and if money—-“
Arthur here interrupted him with, “I have money of my own, sir; but I have no home at present. I am a student in college. I can do nothing with her there, but–” and his voice sunk almost to a whisper. “Years hence, I hope to have a home, and then, if you are tired of Edith I will take her. Meantime keep her at Collingwood for me. Is it a bargain?”
“You are young, I think,” said Richard, smiling at Arthur’s proposition, and smiling again, when in tones apologetical, as if to be only so old were something of which he ought to be ashamed, Arthur returned,
“I am nineteen this month.”
“And I was thirty, last spring,” said Richard. “An old man, you think, no doubt. But to return to Edith Hastings. My heart wants her so much, while my better judgment rebels against it. Will she be greatly disappointed if I refuse?”
“Oh, yes, yes,” said Arthur, grasping the hand laying on Richard’s knee. “I CAN’T go back to her without you. But, Mr. Harrington, before I urge it farther, let me ask as her friend, will she come here as a SERVANT, or an equal.”
There was an upward flashing of the keen black eyes, a flush upon the high, white forehead, and Richard impatiently stamped upon the floor as he answered proudly,
“She comes as an equal, or not at all. She shall be as highly educated and as thoroughly accomplished as if the blood of the Harrington’s flowed in her veins.”
“Then take her,” and Arthur seemed more anxious than before. “She will do justice to your training. She will be wondrously beautiful. She will grace the halls of Collingwood with the air of England’s queen. You will not be ashamed of her, and who knows but some day–“
Arthur began to stammer, and at last managed to finish with, “There is NOT such a vast difference in your ages. Twenty-one years is nothing when weighed against the debt of gratitude she will owe you–“
“There, I’ve made a fool of myself,” he thought, as he saw the forehead tie itself up in knots, and the corners of the mouth twitch with merriment.
“By that last speech you’ve proved how YOUNG and romantic you are,” answered Richard. “Winter and spring go not well together. Edith Hastings will never be my wife. But she shall come to Collingwood. I will return with you and bring her back myself.”
Ringing the bell for Victor, he bade him see that breakfast was served at once, saying that he was going with his friend to