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  • 1864
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Albany.

“Without ME?” asked Victor in much surprise, and Richard replied,

“Yes, without you,” adding in an aside to Arthur, “Victor is so much accustomed to waiting upon me that he thinks himself necessary to every movement, but I’d rather travel alone with Edith, she’ll do as well as Victor, and I have a fancy to keep my movements a secret, at least until the child is fairly in the house. It will be a surprise to Mrs. Atherton; I’ll have John drive us to the next station, and meet me there to-morrow,”

So saying, he excused himself for a few moments and groped his way up stairs to make some necessary changes in his dress. For several minutes Arthur was alone, and free to congratulate himself upon his escape from detection.

“In my dread of recognition I undoubtedly aggravated its chances,” he thought. “Of course this Mr. Harrington did not observe me closely. It was night, and he was almost blind, even then. My voice and manner are all that can betray me, and as he is apparently satisfied on that point, I have nothing further to apprehend from him.”

Arthur liked to feel well–disagreeable reflections did not suit his temperament, and having thus dismissed from his mind the only thing annoying him at the present, he began to examine the books arrayed so carefully upon the shelves, whistling to himself as he did so, and pronouncing Arthur St. Claire a pretty good fellow after all, if he had a secret of which most people would not approve. He had just reached this conclusion when Richard reappeared, and breakfast was soon after announced by the valet, Victor. That being over, there was not a moment to be lost if they would reach the cars in time for the next train, and bidding his father a kind adieu, Richard went with Arthur to the carriage, and was driven to the depot of the adjoining town. More than one passenger turned their heads to look at the strangers as they came in, the elder led by the younger, who yet managed so skillfully that but few guessed how great a calamity had befallen the man with the dark hair, and black, glittering eyes. Arthur took a great pride in ministering to the wants of his companion, and in all he did there was a delicacy and tenderness which touched a chord almost fraternal in the heart of the blind man, who, as the day wore on, found himself drawn more and more toward his new acquaintance.

“I believe even I might be happy if both you and Edith could live with me,” he said, at last, when Albany was reached, and they were ascending the steps to the Delevan.

“Poor little Edith,” rejoined Arthur, “I wonder if she has been very lonely? Shall we go to her at once?”

“Yes,” answered Richard, and leaning on Arthur’s arm, he proceeded to the door of Edith’s room.

CHAPTER VIII.

RICHARD AND EDITH.

“Oh, Mr. Arthur, you did come back,” and forgetting, in her great joy, that Arthur was a gentleman, and she a waiting-maid, Edith wound her arms around his neck, and kissed him twice ere he well knew what she was doing.

For an instant the haughty young man felt a flush of insulted dignity, but it quickly vanished when he saw the tall form of Richard bending over the little girl and heard him saying to her,

“Have you no welcoming kiss for me?”

“Yes, forty hundred, if you like,” and in her delight Edith danced about the room like one insane.

Thrusting the locket slily into Arthur’s hand, she whispered,

“I slept with her last night, and dreamed it was not the first time either. Will you ask her when you see her if she ever knew me?”

“Yes, yes,” he answered, making a gesture for her to stop as Richard was about to speak.

“Edith, said Richard, winding his arm around her, “Edith, I have come to take you home–to take you to Collingwood to live with me. Do you wish to go?”

“Ain’t there ghosts at Collingwood?” asked Edith, who, now that what she most desired was just within her reach, began like every human being to see goblins in the path. “Ain’t there ghosts, at Collingwood?–a little boy with golden curls, and must I sleep in the chamber with him?”

“Poor child,” said Richard, “You too, have heard that idle tale. Shall I tell you of the boy with golden hair?” and holding her so close to him that he could feel the beating of her heart and hear her soft, low breathing, he told her all there was to tell of his half-brother Charlie, who died just one day after his young mother, and was buried in the same coffin.

They could not return to Collingwood that night, and the evening was spent in the private parlor which Arthur engaged for himself and his blind friend. It was strange how fast they grew to liking each other, and it was a pleasant sight to look at them as they sat there in the warm firelight which the lateness of the season made necessary to their comfort–the one softened and toned down by affliction and the daily cross he was compelled to bear, the other in the first flush of youth when the world lay all bright before him and he had naught to do but enter the Elysian fields and pluck the fairest flowers.

It was late when they separated, but at a comparatively early hour the next morning they assembled again, this time to bid good-by, for their paths hereafter lay in different directions.

“You must write to me, little metaphysics,” said Arthur, as with hat and shawl in hand he stood in the depot on the east side of the Hudson.

“Yes,” rejoined Richard, “she is to be my private amanuensis, and shall let you know of our welfare, and now, I suppose, we must go.”

It was a very pleasant ride to Edith, pleasanter than when she came with Arthur, but a slight headache made her drowsy, and leaning on Richard’s arm she fell asleep, nor woke until West Shannondale was reached. The carriage was in waiting for them, and Victor sat inside. He had come ostensibly to meet his master, but really to see the kind of specimen he was bringing to the aristocratic halls of Collingwood.

Long and earnest had been the discussion there concerning the little lady; Mrs. Matson, the housekeeper, sneering rather contemptuously at one who heretofore had been a servant at Brier Hill. Victor, on the contrary, stood ready to espouse her cause, thinking within himself how he would teach her many points of etiquette of which he knew she must necessarily be ignorant; but firstly he would, to use his own expression, “see what kind of metal she was made of.”

Accordingly his first act at the depot was to tread upon her toes, pretending he did not see her, but Edith knew he did it purposely, and while her black eyes blazed with anger, she exclaimed,

“You wretch, how dare you be so rude?”

Assisting Richard into the carriage, Victor was about to turn away, leaving Edith to take care of herself, when with all the air of a queen, she said to him,

“Help me in, sir. Don’t you know your business!”

“Pardonnez, moi,” returned Victor, speaking in his mother tongue, and bowing low to the indignant child, whom he helped to a seat by Richard.

An hour’s drive brought them to the gate of Collingwood, and Edith was certainly pardonable if she did cast a glance of exultation in the direction of Brier Hill, as they wound up the gravelled road and through the handsome grounds of what henceforth was to be her home.

“I guess Mrs. Atherton will be sorry she acted so,” she thought, and she was even revolving the expediency of putting on airs and not speaking to her former mistress, when the carriage stopped and Victor appeared at the window all attention, and asking if he should “assist Miss Hastings to alight.”

In the door Mrs. Matson was waiting to receive them, rubbing her gold-bowed spectacles and stroking her heavy silk with an air which would have awed a child less self-assured than Edith. Nothing grand or elegant seemed strange or new to her. On the contrary she took to it naturally as if it were her native clement, and now as she stepped upon the marble floor of the lofty hall she involuntarily cut a pirouette, exclaiming, “Oh, but isn’t this jolly! Seems as if I’d got back to Heaven. What a splendid room to sing in,” and she began to warble a wild, impassioned air which made Richard pause and listen, wondering whence came the feeling which so affected him carrying him back to the hills of Germany.

Mrs. Matson looked shocked, Victor amused, while the sensible driver muttered to himself as he gathered up his reins, “That gal is just what Collingwood needs to keep it from being a dungeon.”

Mrs. Matson had seen Edith at Brier Hill, but this did not prevent her from a close scrutiny as she conducted her to the large, handsome chamber, which Richard in his hasty directions of the previous morning had said was to be hers, and which, with its light, tasteful furniture, crimson curtains, and cheerful blazing fire seemed to the delighted child a second paradise. Clapping her hands she danced about the apartment, screaming, “It’s the jolliest place I ever was in.”

“What do you mean by that word JOLLY?” asked Mrs. Matson, with a great deal of dignity; but ere Edith could reply, Victor, who came up with the foreign chest, chimed in, “She means PRETTY, Madame Matson, and understands French, no doubt. Parley vous Francais?” and he turned to Edith, who, while recognizing something familiar in the sound, felt sure he was making fun of her and answered back, “Parley voo fool! I’ll tell Mr. Harrington how you tease me.”

Laughing aloud at her reply, Victor put the chest in its place, made some remark concerning its quaint appearance, and bowed himself from the room, saying to her as he shut the door,

“Bon soir, Mademoiselle.”

“I’ve heard that kind of talk before,” thought Edith, as she began to brush her hair, preparatory to going down to supper, which Mrs. Matson said was waiting.

At the table she met with the old man, who had seen her alight from the carriage, and had asked the mischievous Victor, “Who was the small biped Richard had brought home?”

“That,” said Victor. “Why, that is Charlie turned into a girl.” And preposterous as the idea seemed, the old man seized upon it at once, smoothing Edith’s hair when he saw her, tapping her rosy cheeks, calling her Charlie, and muttering to himself of the wonderful process which had transformed his fair-haired boy into a black-haired girl.

Sometimes the utter impossibility of the thing seemed to penetrate even his darkened mind, and then he would whisper, “I’ll make believe it’s Charlie, any way,” so Charlie he persisted in calling her, and Richard encouraged him in this whim, when he found how much satisfaction it afforded the old man to “make believe.”

The day following Edith’s arrival at Collingwood there was a long consultation between Richard and Victor concerning the little girl, about whose personal appearance the former would now know something definite.

“How does Edith Hastings look?” he asked, and after a moment of grave deliberation, Victor replied,

“She has a fat round face, with regular features, except that the nose turns up somewhat after the spitfire order, and her mouth is a trifle too wide. Her forehead is not very high–it would not become her style if it were. Her hair is splendid–thick, black and glossy as satin, and her eyes,–there are not words enough either in the French or English language with which to describe her eyes–they are so bright and deep that nobody can look into them long without wincing. I should say, sir, if put on oath, there was a good deal of the deuce in her eyes.”

“When she is excited, you mean,” interrupted Richard. “How are they in repose?”

“They are never there,” returned Victor. “They roll and turn and flash and sparkle, and light upon one so uncomfortably, that he begins to think of all the badness he ever did, and to wonder if those coals of fire can’t ferret out the whole thing.”

“I like her eyes,” said Richard, “but go on. Tell me of her complexion.”

“Black, of course,” continued Victor, “but smooth as glass, with just enough of red in it to make rouge unnecessary. On the whole I shouldn’t wonder if in seven or eight years’ time she’d be as handsome as the young lady of Collingwood ought to be.”

“How should she be dressed?” asked Richard, who knew that Victor’s taste upon such matters was infallible, his mother and sister both having been Paris mantua-makers.

“She should have scarlet and crimson and dark blue trimmed with black,” said Victor, adding that he presumed Mrs. Atherton would willingly attend to those matters.

Richard was not so sure, but he thought it worth the while to try, and he that night dispatched Victor to Brier Hill with a request that she would, if convenient, call upon him at once.

“Don’t tell her what I want,” he said, “I wish to surprise her with a sight of Edith.”

Victor promised obedience and set off for Brier Hill, where he found no one but Rachel, sitting before this kitchen fire, and watching the big red apples roasting upon the hearth.

“Miss Grace had started that morning for New York,” she said, “and the Lord only knew when she’d come home.”

“And as he probably won’t tell, I may as well go back,” returned Victor, and bidding Rachel send her mistress to Collingwood as soon as she should return, he bowed himself from the room.

As Rachel said, Grace had gone to New York, and the object of her going was to repair the wrong done to Edith Hastings, by taking her a second time from the Asylum, and bringing her back to Brier Hill. Day and night the child’s parting words, “You’ll be sorry sometime,” rang in her ears, until she could endure it no longer, and she astonished the delighted Rachel by announcing her intention of going after the little girl. With her to will was to do, and while Victor was reporting her absence to his master, she, half-distracted, was repeating the words of the matron,

“Has not been here at all, and have not heard from her either! What can it mean?”

The matron could not tell, and for several days Grace lingered in the city, hoping Arthur would appear, but as he failed to do this, she at last wrote to him at Geneva, and then, in a sad, perplexed state of mind, returned to Shannondale, wondering at and even chiding old Rachel for evincing so little feeling at her disappointment.

But old Rachel by this time had her secret which she meant to keep, and when at last Grace asked if any one had called during her absence, she mentioned the names of every one save Victor, and then tried very hard to think “who that ‘tother one was. She knowed there WAS somebody else, but for the life of her she couldn’t”–Rachel did not quite dare to tell so gross a falsehood, and so at this point she concluded to THINK, and added suddenly,

“Oh, yes, I remember now. ‘Twas that tall, long-haired, scented- up, big-feelin’ man they call Squire Herrin’ton’s VALLY.”

“Victor Dupres been here!” and Grace’s face lighted perceptibly.

“Yes, he said MOUSE-EER, or somethin’ like that–meanin’ the squire, in course–wanted you to come up thar as soon as you got home, and my ‘pinion is that you go to oncet. ‘Twont be dark this good while.”

Nothing could be more in accordance with Grace’s feelings than to follow Rachel’s advice, and, half an hour later, Victor reported to his master that the carriage from Brier Hill had stopped before their door. It would be impossible to describe Mr. Atherton’s astonishment when, on entering the parlor, the first object that met her view was her former waiting-maid, attired in the crimson merino which Mrs. Matson, Lulu, the chambermaid, and Victor had gotten up between them; and which, though not the best fit in the world, was, in color, exceedingly becoming to the dark-eyed child, who, perched upon the music-stool, was imitating her own operatic songs to the infinite delight of the old man, nodding his approval of the horrid discords.

“Edith Hastings!” she exclaimed, “What are you doing here?” Springing from the stool and advancing towards Grace, Edith replied,

“I live here. I’m Mr. Richard’s little girl. I eat at the table with him, too, and don’t have to wash the dishes either. I’m going to be a lady just like you, ain’t I, Mr. Harrington?” and she turned to Richard, who had entered in time to hear the last of her remarks.

There was a world of love in the sightless eyes turned toward the little girl, and by that token, Grace Athertoa knew that Edith had spoken truly.

“Run away, Edith,” he said, “I wish to talk with the lady alone.”

Edith obeyed, and when she was gone Richard explained to Grace what seemed to her so mysterious, while she in return confessed the injustice done to the child, and told how she had sought to repair the wrong.

“I am glad you have taken her,” she said. “She will be happier with you than with me, for she likes you best. I think, too, she will make good use of any advantages you may give her. She has a habit of observing closely, while her powers of imitation are unsurpassed. She is fond of elegance and luxury, and nothing can please bar more than to be an equal in a house like this. But what do you wish of me? What can I do to assist you?”

In a few words Richard stated his wishes that she should attend to Edith’s wardrobe, saying he had but little faith in Mrs. Matson’s taste. He could not have selected a better person to spend his money than Grace, who, while purchasing nothing out of place, bought always the most expensive articles in market, and when at last the process was ended, and the last dressmaker gone from Collingwood, Victor, with a quizzical expression upon his face, handed his master a bill for five hundred dollars, that being the exact amount expended upon Edith’s wardrobe. But Richard uttered no word of complaint. During the few weeks she had lived with him she had crept away down into his heart just where Charlie used to be, and there was nothing in his power to give which he would withhold from her now. She should have the best of teachers, he said, particularly in music, of which she was passionately fond.

Accordingly, in less than a week there came to Collingwood a Boston governess, armed and equipped with all the accomplishments of the day; and beneath the supervision of Richard and Victor, Grace Atherton and Mrs. Chapen, Edith’s education began.

CHAPTER IX.

WOMANHOOD.

Eight times have the Christmas fires been kindled on the hearths of Shannondale’s happy homes; eight times the bell from St Luke’s tower has proclaimed an old year dead, and a new one born; eight times the meek-eyed daisy struggling through the April snow, has blossomed, faded and died; eight times has summer in all her glowing beauty sat upon the New England hills, and the mellow autumnal light of the hazy October days falls on Collingwood for the eighth time since last we trod the winding paths and gravelled walks where now the yellow leaves are drifting down from the tall old maples and lofty elms, and where myriad flowers of gorgeous hue are lifting their proud heads unmindful of the November frosts hastening on apace. All around Collingwood seems the same, save that the shrubs and vines show a more luxurious growth, and the pond a wider sweep, but within there is an empty chair, a vacant place, for the old man has gone to join his lost ones where there is daylight forever, and the winter snows have four times fallen upon his grave. They missed him at first and mourned for him truly, but they have become accustomed to live without him, and the household life goes on much as it did before.

It is now the afternoon of a mild October day, and the doors and windows are opened wide to admit the warm south wind, which, dallying for a moment with the curtains of costly lace, floats on to the chamber above, where it toys with the waving plumes a young girl is arranging upon her riding hat, pausing occasionally to speak to the fair blonde who sits watching her movements, and whose face betokens a greater maturity than her own, for Grace Atherton’s family Bible says she is thirty-two, while Edith is seventeen.

Beautiful Edith Hastings. Eight years of delicate nurture, tender care and perfect health have ripened her into a maiden of wondrous beauty, and far and near the people talk of the blind man’s ward, the pride and glory of Collingwood. Neither pains nor money, nor yet severe discipline, have been spared by Richard Harrington to make her what she is, and while her imperious temper has bent to the one, her intellect and manners have expanded and improved beneath this influence of the other, and Richard has not only a plaything and pet in the little girl he took from obscurity, but also a companion and equal, capable of entering with him the mazy labyrinths of science, and astonishing him with the wealth of her richly stored mind. Still, in everything pertaining to her womanhood she is wholly feminine and simple-hearted as a child. Now, as of old, she bounds through the spacious grounds of Collingwood, trips over the grassy lawn, dances up the stairs, and fills the once gloomy old place with a world of melody and sunlight. Edith knows that she is beautiful! old Rachel has told her so a thousand times, while Victor, the admiring valet, tells her so every day, taking to himself no little credit for having taught her, as he thinks, something of Parisian manners. Many are the conversations she holds with him in his mother tongue, for she has learned to speak that language with a fluency and readiness which astonished her teachers and sometimes astonished herself. It did not seem difficult to her, but rather like an old friend, and Marie at first was written on every page of Ollendorff. But Marie has faded now almost entirely from her mind, as have those other mysterious memories which used to haunt her so. Nothing but the hair hidden in the chest binds her to the past, and at this she often looks, wondering where the head it once adorned is lying, whether in the noisy city or on some grassy hillside where the wild flowers she loves best are growing, and the birds whose songs she tries to imitate, pause sometimes to warble a requiem for the dead. Those tresses are beautiful, but not so beautiful as Edith’s. Her blue-black hair is thicker, glossier, more abundant than in her childhood, and is worn in heavy braids or bands around her head, adding greatly to her regal style of beauty. Edith has a pardonable pride in her satin hair, and as she stands before the mirror she steals an occasional glance at her crowning glory, which is this afternoon arranged with far more care than usual; not for any particular reason, but because she had a fancy that it should be so.

They were going to visit Grassy Spring, a handsome country seat, whose grounds lay contiguous to those of Collingwood, and whose walls were in winter plainly discernible from the windows of the upper rooms. It had recently been purchased and fitted up somewhat after the style of Collingwood, and its owner was expected to take possession in a few days. Edith’s heart always beat faster when she heard his name, for Arthur St. Claire was one of the links of the past which still lingered in the remembrance. She had never seen him since they parted in Albany, and after his leaving college she lost sight of him entirely. Latterly, however, she had heard from Grace, who knew but little more of him than herself, that he was coming into their very neighborhood; that at he had purchased Grassy Spring, and was to keep a kind of bachelor’s hall inasmuch as he had no wife, nor yet a prospect of any. So much Edith knew and no more. She did not dare to speak of NINA, for remembering her solemn promise, she had never breathed that name to any living being. But the picture in the glass, as she ever termed it, was not forgotten, and the deep interest she felt in Grassy Spring was owing, in a great measure, to the fact that Nina was in her mind intimately associated with the place. Sooner or later she should meet her there, she was sure; should see those golden curls again, and look into those soft blue eyes, whose peculiar expression she remembered as if it were but yesterday since they first met her view.

“It is strange your cousin never married; he must, by this time, be nearly twenty-seven,” she said to Grace, thinking the while of Nina, and carelessly adjusting the jaunty hat upon her head.

“I think so too,” returned Grace. “When quite young he was very fond of the ladies, but I am told that he now utterly ignores female society. Indeed, in his last letter to me, he states distinctly that he wishes for no company except occasional calls in a friendly way.”

“Been disappointed, probably,” suggested Edith, still thinking of Nina, and wondering if Arthur did love her so very much as to put faith in no one because of her treachery.

“It may be,” said Grace; “and if so, isn’t it a little queer that he and Mr. Harrington should live so near each other; both so eccentric; both so handsome and rich; both been disappointed; and both so desirable as husbands?”

“Disappointed, Mrs. Atherton! Has Mr. Harrington been disappointed?” and the rich bloom on Edith’s cheek deepened to a scarlet hue, which Grace did not fail to notice.

Her friendship for Edith Hastings had been a plant of sluggish growth, for she could not, at once, bring herself to treat as an equal one whom she formerly held as a servant, but time and circumstances had softened her haughty pride, while Edith’s growing popularity, both in the village and at Collingwood, awakened in her a deep interest for the young girl, who, meeting her advances more than half the way, compelled her at last to surrender, and the two were now as warm friends as individuals well can be when there is between them so great a disparity of years and so vast a difference in disposition. In Grace’s heart the olden love for Richard had not died out, and hitherto, it had been some consolation to believe that no other ear would ever listen to the words of love, to remember which continually would assuredly drive her mad. But matters now were changed. Day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year, a rose had been unfolding itself at Collingswood, and with every opening petal had grown more and more precious to the blind man, until more than one crone foretold the end; and Grace Atherton, grown fonder of gossip than she was wont to be, listened to the tale, and watched, and wondered, and wept, and still caressed and loved the bright, beautiful girl, whom she dreaded as a powerful rival. This it was which prompted her to speak of Richard’s disappointment; and when she saw the effect produced upon Edith, it emboldened her to go on, and tell how, years and years ago, when Richard Harrington first went to Europe, be had sued for the hand of a young girl whom he met there, and who, while loving him dearly, shrank from walking in his shadow, and gave herself to another.

“I must not tell you the name of this faithless girl,” said Grace. “It is sufficient that her refusal made Richard gloomy, eccentric and misanthropical; in short, it nearly ruined him.”

“My curse be on the woman’s head who wrought this ruin, then,” said Edith, her black eyes flashing with something of their former fire.

She had forgotten the scene in the kitchen of Brier Hill when Rachel whispered to her that Grace Atherton was in love, and she had now no suspicion that the calm, white-faced woman sitting there before her was the being she would curse. Neither was her emotion caused, as Grace imagined, by any dread lest the early love of Richard Harrington should stand between herself and him. The thought that SHE could be his wife had never crossed her brain, and her feelings were those of indignation toward a person who could thus cruelly deceive a man as noble and good as Richard, and of pity for him who had been so deceived.

“I will love him all the more and be the kinder to him for this vile creature’s desertion,” she thought, as she beat the floor nervously with the little prunella gaiter, and this was all the good Grace Atherton had achieved.

Edith had cursed her to her face, and with a sigh audible only to herself she arose and said laughingly, “It’s time we were off, and you’ve certainly admired that figure in the glass long enough. What do you think of yourself, any way?”

“Why,” returned Edith, in the same light, bantering tone, “I think I’m rather jolie, as I used to say. I wonder where I picked up that word. Victor says I must have had a French nurse, but I’m sure I was too poor for that. I wish I knew where I did come from and who I am. It’s terrible, this uncertainty as to one’s birth. I may be marrying my brother one of these days, who knows?”

“See rather that you do not marry your father,” retorted Grace, following Edith as she tripped down the stairs and down the walk, whipping the tufts of box as she went, and answering to Grace who asked if she did not sometimes find her duties irksome at Collingwood. “Never, never. The links of my chains are all made of love and so they do not chafe. Then, too, when I remember what Richard has done for me and how few sources of happiness he has, I am willing to give my whole life to him, if need be. Why, Mrs. Atherton, you can’t imagine how his dark features light up with joy, when on his return from riding or from transacting business he hears me in the hall, and knows that I am there to meet him,” and Edith’s bright face sparkled and glowed as she thought how often the blind man had blessed her with his sightless but speaking eyes, when she gave up some darling project which would take her from his side and stayed to cheer his solitude.

They had mounted their horses by this time, and at the speed which characterized Edith’s riding, dashed down the road and struck into the woods, the shortest route to Grassy Spring. With the exception of Collingwood, Grassy Spring was the handsomest country seat for miles around, and thinking, as she continually did, of Nina, Edith rather gave it the preference as she passed slowly through the grounds and drew near to the building. Grace had seen the housekeeper, Mrs. Johnson, a talkative old lady, who, big with the importance of her office, showed them over the house, pointing out this elegant piece of furniture and that handsome room with quite as much satisfaction as if it had all belonged to herself.

In the third story, and only accessible by two flights of stairs leading from Arthur’s suite of rooms, was a large square apartment, the door of which Mrs. Johnson unlocked with a mysterious shake of the head, saying to the ladies, “The Lord only knows what this place is for. Mr. St. Claire must have fixed it himself for I found it locked tighter than a drum, but I accidentally found on the but’ry shelf a rusty old key, that fits it to a T. I’ve been in here once and bein’ you’re his kin,” nodding to Grace, “and t’other one is with you, it can’t do an atom of harm for you to go. He’s took more pains with this chamber than with all the rest, and when I asked what ’twas for, he said it was his “den,” where he could hide if he wanted to.”

“Don’t go,” whispered Edith, pulling at Grace’s dress, “Mr. St. Claire might not like it.”

But Grace felt no such scruples, and was already across the threshold, leaving Edith by the door.

“It’s as bad to look in as to go in,” thought Edith, and conquering her curiosity with a mighty effort, she walked resolutely down stairs, having seen nothing save that the carpet was of the richest velvet and that the windows had across them slender iron bars, rather ornamental than otherwise, and so arranged as to exclude neither light nor air.

Grace, on the contrary, examined the apartment thoroughly, thinking Mrs. Johnson right when she said that more pains had been taken with this room than with all the others. The furniture was of the most expensive and elegant kind. Handsome rosewood easy- chairs and sofas covered with rich satin damask, the color and pattern corresponding with the carpet and curtains. Ottomans, divans and footstools were scattered about–pictures and mirrors adorned the walls, while in one corner, covered with a misty veil of lace, hung the portrait of a female in the full, rich bloom of womanhood, her light chestnut curls falling about her uncovered neck, and her dreamy eyes of blue having in them an expression much like that which Edith had once observed in Nina’s peculiar eyes. The dress was quite old-fashioned, indicating that the picture must have been taken long ago, and while Grace gazed upon it her wonder grew as to whose it was and whence it came.

“Look at the bed,” said Mrs. Johnson, and touching Grace’s elbow, she directed her attention to a side recess, hidden from view by drapery of exquisite lace, and containing a single bed, which might have been intended for an angel, so pure and white it looked with its snowy covering.

“What does it mean?” asked Grace, growing more and more bewildered, while Mrs. Johnson replied in her favorite mode of speech.

“The Lord only knows–looks as if he was going to make it a prison for some princess; but here’s the queerest thing of all,” and she thumped upon a massive door, which was locked and barred, and beyond which her prying eyes had never looked.

Over the door was a ventilator, and Grace, quite as curious as Mrs. Johnson, suggested that a chair or table be brought, upon which she, being taller than her companion, might stand and possibly obtain a view.

“What DO you see?” asked Mrs. Johnson, as Grace, on tip-toe, peered into what seemed to be a solitary cell, void of furniture of every kind, save a little cot, corresponding in size with the fairy bed in the recess, but in naught else resembling it, for its coverings were of the coarsest, strongest materials, and the pillows scanty and small.

Acting from a sudden impulse, Grace determined not to tell Mrs. Johnson what she saw, and stepping down from the table, which she quickly rolled back to its place, she said,

“It’s nothing but a closet, where, I dare say, Mr. St. Claire will keep his clothes when he occupies his den. You must not let any one else in here, for Arthur might be offended.”

Mrs. Johnson promised obedience, and turning the rusty key, followed her visitor down the two long flights of stairs, she, returning to her duties, while Grace went to the pleasant library, where, with her hat and whip upon the floor, Edith sat reading the book she had ventured to take from the well-filled shelves, and in which she had been so absorbed as not to hear the slight rustling in the adjoining room, where a young man was standing in the enclosure of the deep bay window, and gazing intently at her. He had heard from Mrs. Johnson’s daughter that some ladies were going over the house, and not caring to meet them, he stepped into the recess of the window just as Edith entered the library. As the eye of the stranger fell upon her, he came near uttering an exclamation of surprise that anything so graceful, so queenly, and withal so wondrously beautiful, should be found in Shannondale, which, with the city ideas still clinging to him, seemed like an out-of-the-way place, where the girls were buxom, good-natured and hearty, just as he remembered Kitty Maynard to have been, and not at all like this creature of rare loveliness sitting there before him, her head inclined gracefully to the volume she was reading, and showing to good advantage her magnificent hair.

“Who can she be?” he thought, and a thrill of unwonted admiration ran through his veins as Edith raised for a moment her large eyes of midnight blackness, and from his hiding-place he saw how soft and mild they were in their expression, “Can Grace have spirited to her retreat some fair nymph for company? Hark! I hear her voice, and now for the solution of the mystery.”

Standing back a little further, so as to escape observation, the young man waited till Grace Atherton came near.

“Here you are,” she said, “poring over a book as usual. I should suppose you’d had enough of that to do in reading to Mr. Harrington–German Philosophy, too! Will wonders never cease? Arthur was right, I declare, when he dubbed you Metaphysics!”

“Edith Hastings!” The young man said it beneath his breath, while he involuntarily made a motion forward.

“Can it be possible, and yet now that I know it, I see the little black-eyed elf in every feature. Well may the blind man be proud of his protege. She might grace the saloons of Versailles, and rival the Empress herself!”

Thus far he had soliloquised, when something Grace was saying caught his ear and chained his attention at once.

“Oh, Edith,” she began, “you don’t know what you lost by being over squeamish. Such a perfect jewel-box of a room, with the tiniest single bed of solid mahogany! Isn’t it queer that Arthur should have locked it up, and isn’t it fortunate for us that Mrs. Johnson found that rusty old key which must have originally belonged to the door of the Den, as she says he calls it?”

Anxiously the young man awaited Edith’s answer, his face aglow with indignation and his eyes flashing with anger.

“Fortunate for YOU, perhaps,” returned Edith, tying on her riding- hat, “but I wouldn’t have gone in for anything.”

“Why not?” asked Grace, walking into the hall.

“Because,” said Edith, “Mr. St. Claire evidently did not wish any one to go in, and I think Mrs. Johnson was wrong in opening the door.”

“What a little Puritan it is!” returned Grace, playfully caressing the rosy cheeks of Edith, who had now joined her in the hall. “Arthur never will know, for I certainly shall not tell either him or any one, and I gave Mrs. Johnson some very wholesome advice upon that subject. There she is now in the back-yard. If you like, we’ll go round and give her a double charge.”

The young man saw them as they turned the corner of the building, and gliding from his post, he hurried up the stairs and entering the Den, locked the door, and throwing himself upon the sofa, groaned aloud, while the drops of perspiration oozed out upon his forehead, and stood thickly about his lips. Then his mood changed, and pacing the floor he uttered invectives against the meddlesome Mrs. Johnson, who, by this one act, had proved that she could not be trusted. Consequently SHE must not remain longer at Grassy Spring, and while in the yard below Mrs. Johnson was promising Grace “to be as still as the dead,” Arthur St. Claire was planning her dismissal. This done, and his future course decided upon, the indignant young man felt better, and began again to think of Edith Hastings, whom he admired for her honorable conduct in refusing to enter a place where she had reason to think she was not wanted.

“Noble, high-principled girl,” he said. “I’m glad I told Mr. Harrington what I did before seeing her. Otherwise he might have suspected that her beauty had something to do with my offer, and so be jealous lest I had designs upon his singing-bird, as he called her. But alas, neither beauty, nor grace, nor purity can now avail with me, miserable wretch that I am,” and again that piteous moan, as of a soul punished before its time, was heard in the silent room.

But hark, what sound is that, which, stealing through the iron- latticed windows, drowns the echo of that moan, and makes the young man listen? It is Edith Hastings singing one of her wild songs, and the full rich melody of her wonderful voice falls upon his ear, Arthur St. Claire bows his head upon his hands and weeps, for the music carries him back to the long ago when he had no terrible secret haunting every hour, but was as light-hearted as the maiden whom, as she gallops away on her swift-footed Arabian, he looks after, with wistful eyes, watching her until the sweep of her long riding-skirt and the waving of her graceful plumes disappear beneath the shadow of the dim woods, where night is beginning to fall. Slowly, sadly, he turns from the window– merrily, swiftly, the riders dash along, and just us the clock strikes six, their panting steeds pause at the entrance to Collingwood.

CHAPTER X.

EDITH AT HOME.

It was too late for Grace to call, and bidding her companion good- bye, she galloped down the hill, while Edith, in a meditative mood, suffered her favorite Bedouin to walk leisurely up the carriage road which led to the rear of the house.

“Victor Dupres!” she exclaimed, as a tall figure emerged from the open door and came forward to meet her. “Where did you come from?”

“From New York,” he replied, bowing very low, “Will Mademoiselle alight?” and taking the little foot from out the shoe he lifted her carefully from the saddle.

“Is HE here?” she asked, and Victor replied,

“Certainement; and has brought home a fresh recruit of the blues, too, judging from the length and color of his face.”

“Why did he go to New York?” interrupted Edith, who had puzzled her brain not a little with regard to the business which had taken Richard so suddenly from home.

“As true as I live I don’t know,” was Victor’s reply. “For once he’s kept dark even to me, scouring all the alleys, and lanes, and poor houses in the city, leaving me at the hotel, and taking with him some of those men with brass buttons on their coats. One day when he came back he acted as if he were crazy and I saw the great tears drop on the table over which he was leaning, then when I asked ‘if he’d heard bad news,’ he answered, ‘No, joyful news. I’m perfectly happy now. I’m ready to go home,’ and he did seem happy, until we drove up to the gate and you didn’t come to meet him. ‘Where’s Edith?’ he asked, and when Mrs. Matson said you were out, his forehead began to tie itself up in knots, just as it does when he is displeased. It’s my opinion, Miss Edith, that you humor him altogether too much, You are tied to him as closely as a mother to her baby.”

Edith sighed, not because she felt the bonds to which Victor had alluded, but because she reproached herself for not having been there to welcome the blind man home when she knew how much he thought of these little attentions.

“I’ll make amends though, now,” she said, and remembering the story of his disappointment, her heart swelled with a fresh feeling of pity for the helpless Richard, who, sitting before the blazing fire in the library, did not hear the light step coming so softly toward him.

All the way from the station, and indeed all the way from New York, he had pictured to himself Edith’s sylph-like form running down the steps to meet him; had felt her warm hands in his, heard her sweet voice welcoming him home again, and the world around him was filled with daylight, but Edith was the sun which shone upon his darkness. She was dearer to him now, if possible, than when he left Collingwood, for, during his absence he had learned that which, if she knew it, would bind her to him by cords of gratitude too strong to be lightly broken. SHE owed everything to him, and he, alas, he groaned when he thought WHAT he owed to her, but he loved her all the same, and this it was which added to the keenness of his disappointment when among the many feet which hastened out to meet him, he listened for hers in vain. He knew it was very pleasant in his little library whither Victor led him; very pleasant to sit in his accustomed chair, and feel the fire- light shining on his face, but there was something missing, and the blue veins were swelling on his forehead, and the lines deepening about his mouth, when a pair of soft, white arms were wound about his neck, two soft white hands patted his bearded cheeks, and a voice, whose every tone made his heart throb and beat with ecstasy, murmured in his ear,

“Dear Mr. Richard, I am so glad you’ve come home, and so sorry I was not here to meet you. I did not expect you to-night. Forgive me, won’t you? There, let me smooth the ugly wrinkles away, they make you look so cross and old,” and the little fingers he vainly tried to clasp, wandered caressingly over the knit brows, while, for the first time since people began to call her Miss Hastings, Edith’s lips touched his.

Nor was she sorry when she saw how beautiful the lovelight broke all over the dark, stern face, irradiating every feature, and giving to it an expression almost divine.

“Kiss me again, Birdie,” he said. “It is not often you grant me such a treat,” and he held her arms about his neck until she pressed her lips once more against his own.

Then he released her, and making her sit down beside him, rested his hand upon her shining hair, while he asked her how she had busied herself in his absence, if she had missed the old dark cloud, a bit, and if she was not sorry to have him back.

He know just what her answer would be, and when it was given, he took her face between his hands, and turning it up toward him, said, “I’d give all Collingwood, darling, just to look once into your eyes and see if—” then, apparently changing his mind, he added, “see if you are pleased with what I’ve brought you, look;” and taking from his pocket a square box he displayed to her view an entire set of beautiful pearls. “I wanted to buy diamonds, but Victor said pearls were more appropriate for a young girl like you. Are they becoming?” and he placed some of them amid the braids of her dark hair.

Like all girls of seventeen, Edith was in raptures, nor could he make her sit still beside him until, divested of her riding habit, she had tried the effect of the delicate ornaments, bracelets, ear-rings, necklace and all.

“I am so glad you like them,” he said, and he did enjoy it very much, sitting there and listening to her as she danced about the room, uttering little girlish screams of delight, and asking Victor, when at last he came in–“if she wasn’t irresistible?”

Victor FELT that she was, and in his polite French way he complimented her, until Richard bade him stop, telling him “she was already spoiled with flattery.”

The pearls being laid aside and Victor gone, Edith resumed her accustomed seat upon a stool at Richard’s feet, and folding both hands upon his knee, looked into his face, saying, “Well, monsieur, why did you go off to New York so suddenly? I think you might tell me now unless it’s something I ought not to know.”

He hesitated a moment as if uncertain whether to tell her or not; then said to her abruptly, “You’ve heard, I believe, of the little child whom I saved from drowning?”

“Yes,” she answered. “Don’t you know I told you once how I used to worship you because you were so brave. I remember, too, of praying every night in my childish way that you might some day find the little girl.”

“Edith, I have found her,” and the nervous hands pressed tenderly upon the beautiful head almost resting in his lap.

“Found her!” and Edith sprang to her feet, her large eyes growing larger, but having in them no shadow of suspicion. “Where did you find her? Where is she now? What is her name? Why didn’t you bring her home?” and out of breath with her rapid questioning, Edith sat down again, while Richard laughingly replied, “Where shall I begin to answer all your queries? Shall I take them in order? I found out all about her in New York.”

“That explains your scouring the alleys and lanes as Victor said you did,” interrupted Edith, and Richard rejoined rather sharply, “What does HE know about it?”

“Nothing, nothing,” returned Edith, anxious to shield Victor from his master’s anger. “I asked him what you did in New York, and he told me that. Go on–what is her name?”

“Eloise Temple. Her mother was a Swede, and her father an American, much older than his wife.”

“Eloise–Eloise–Eloise.”

Edith repealed it three times.

“Where have I heard that name before? Oh, I know. I heard Kitty Maynard telling the story to Mrs. Atherton. Where is she, did you say, and how does she look?”

“She is with the family who adopted her as their own, for her mother is dead. Eloise is an orphan, Edith,” and again the broad hand touched the shining hair, pityingly this time, while the voice which spoke of the mother was sad and low.

Suddenly a strange, fanciful idea flashed on Edith’s mind, and looking into Richard’s face she asked, “How old is Eloise?”

“Seventeen, perhaps. Possibly, though, she’s older.”

“And you, Mr. Harrington–how old are you, please? I’ll never tell as long as I live, if you don’t want me to.”

She knew he was becoming rather sensitive with regard to his age, but she thought he would not mind HER knowing, never dreaming that SHE of all others was the one from whom he would, if possible, conceal the fact that he was thirty-eight. Still he told her unreservedly, asking her the while if she did not consider him almost her grandfather.

“Why, no,” she answered; “you don’t look old a bit. You haven’t a single grey hair. _I_ think you are splendid, and so I’m sure did the mother of Eloise; didn’t she?” and the roguish black eyes looked up archly into the blind man’s face.

Remembering what Grace had said of his love affair in Europe many years since, and adding to that the evident interest he felt in little Eloise Temple, the case was clear to her as daylight. The Swedish maiden was the girl who jilted Richard Harrington, and hence his love for Eloise, for she knew he did love her from his manner when speaking of her and the pains he had taken to find her. He had not answered her last question yet, for he did not understand its drift, and when at last he spoke he said,

“Mrs. Temple esteemed me highly, I believe; and I admired her very much. She had the sweetest voice I ever heard, not even excepting yours, which is something like it.”

Edith nodded to the bright face on the mirror opposite, and the bright face nodded back as much was to say, “I knew ’twas so.”

“Was she really handsome, this Mrs. Temple?” she asked, anxious to know how Richard Harrington’s early love had looked.

Instinctively the hands of the blind man met together round Edith’s graceful neck, as he told her how beautiful that Swedish mother was, with her glossy, raven hair, and her large, soft, lustrous eyes, and as he talked, there crept into Edith’s heart a strange, inexplicable affection for that fair young Swede, who Richard said was not as happy with her father-husband as she should have been, and who, emigrating to another land, had died of a homesick, broken heart.

“I am sorry I cursed her to-day,” thought Edith, her tears falling fast to the memory of the lonely, homesick woman, the mother of Eloise.

“Had she married Richard,” she thought, “he would not now be sitting here in his blindness, for SHE would be with him, and Eloise, too, or some one very much like her. I wish she were here now,” and after a moment she asked why he had not brought the maiden home with him. “I should love her as much as my sister,” she said; “and you’d be happier with two of us, wouldn’t you?”

“No,” he answered; “one young girl is enough for any house. I couldn’t endure two.”

“Then _I_ ought to go away,” said Edith promptly, her bosom swelling with a dread lest she should eventually have to go. “Eloise has certainly the best right here. You loved her mother, yon know, and you’d rather have her than me, wouldn’t you?”

She held both his hands now within her own. She bent her face upon them, and he felt her tears trickling through his fingers. Surely he was not to blame if, forgetting himself for the moment, he wound his arms about her and hugging her to his bosom, told her that of all the world SHE was the one he most wanted there at Collingwood, there just where she was now, her head upon his shoulder, her cheek against his own. 0nce she felt slightly startled, his words were so fraught with tender passion, but regarding him as her father, or at least her elder brother, she could not believe he intended addressing her save as his sister or his child, and releasing herself from his embrace, she slid back upon her stool and said, “I’m glad you’re willing I should stay. It would kill me to go from Collingwood now. I’ve been so happy here, and found in you so kind a FATHER.”

She WOULD say that last word, and she did, never observing that Richard frowned slightly as if it were to him an unwelcome sound.

Presently Edith went on, “I think, though, this Eloise ought to come, too, no matter how pleasant a home she has. It is her duty to care for you who lost your sight for her. Were I in her place, I should consider no sacrifice too great to atone for the past. I would do everything in the world you asked of me, and then not half repay you.”

“Every thing, Edith? Did you say every thing?” and it would seem that the blind eyes had for once torn away their veil, so lovingly and wistfully they rested upon the bowed head of the young girl, who, without looking up, answered back,

“Yes, every thing. But I’m glad I am not this Eloise.”

“Why, Edith, why?” and the voice which asked the question was mournful in its tone.

“Because,” returned Edith, “I should not care to be under so great obligations to any one. The burden would be oppressive. I should be all the while wondering what more I could do, while you, too, would be afraid that the little kindnesses which now are prompted in a great measure by love would be rendered from a sense of gratitude and duty. Wouldn’t it be so, Mr. Richard?”

“Yes, yes,” he whispered. “You are right. I should be jealous that what my heart craved as love would be only gratitude. I am glad you suggested this, Edith; very, very, glad, and now let us talk no more of Eloise.”

“Ah, but I must,” cried Edith. “There are so many things I want to know, and you’ve really told me nothing. Had she brothers or sisters? Tell me that, please.”

“There was a half sister, I believe, hut she is dead,” said Richard. “They are all dead but this girl. She is alive and happy, and sometime I will tell you more of her, but not now. I am sorry I told you what I have.”

“So am I if I can’t hear the whole,” returned Edith, beginning to pout.

“I DID intend to tell you all when I began,” said Richard, “but I’ve changed my mind, and Edith, I have faith to believe you will not repeat to any one our conversation. Neither must you tease me about this girl. It is not altogether an agreeable subject.”

Edith saw that he was in earnest, and knowing how useless it would be to question him further, turned her back upon him and gazing steadily into the fire, was wondering what made him so queer, when by way of diverting her mind, he said, “Did Victor tell you that Mr. St. Claire came with us all the way from New York?”

“Mr. St. Claire, no,” and Edith brightened at once, forgetting all about Eloise Temple. “Why then didn’t Mrs. Atherton and I see him? We went over the house this afternoon. It’s a splendid place, most as handsome us Collingwood.”

“How would you like to live there?” asked Richard, playfully. “One of the proposed conditions on which I consented to receive you, was that when Mr. St. Claire had a home of his own he was to take you off my hands; at least, that was what he said, standing here where you sit; and on my way from New York he reminded me of it, inquiring for little Metaphysics, and asking if I were ready to part with her.”

“Do you wish me to go and let Eloise come?” Edith asked, pettishly, and Richard replied,

“No, Edith, I need you more than Arthur ever can, and you’ll stay with me, too, stay always, won’t you? Promise that you will.”

“Of course I shall,” she answered. “I’ll stay until I’m married, as I suppose I shall he sometime; everybody is.”

Richard tried to be satisfied with this reply, but it grated harshly, and it seemed to him that a shadow deeper, darker than any he had ever known, was creeping slowly over him, and that Arthur St. Claire’s was the presence which brought the threatening cloud. He knew this half jealous feeling was unworthy of him, and with a mighty effort he shook it off and saying to Edith, calmly, “Mr. St. Claire asked many questions concerning you and your attainments, and when I spoke of your passion for drawing, lamenting that since Miss Chapin’s departure, there was in town no competent instructor, he offered to be your teacher, provided you would come up there twice a week. He is a very sensible young man, for when I hesitated he guessed at once that I was revolving the propriety of your going alone to the house of a bachelor, where there were no females except the servants, and he said to me ‘You can come with her, if you like.'”

“So it’s more proper for a young lady to be with two gentlemen than with one, is it?” and Edith laughed merrily, at the same time asking if Richard had accepted the offer.

“I did, provided it met your approbation,” was the reply, and as Victor just then appeared, the conversation for the present ceased.

But neither Eloise nor Arthur left the minds of either Richard or Edith, and while in her sleep that night the latter dreamed of the gentle Eloise, who called her sister, and from whom Arthur St. Claire strove to part her, the former tossed restlessly upon his pillow, moaning to him-self, “I am glad I did not tell her. She must answer me for love and not for gratitude.”

CHAPTER XI.

MATTERS AT GRASSY SPRING.

The next morning as the family at Collingwood sat at their rather late breakfast a note was brought to Richard, who immediately handed it to Edith. Breaking the seal, and glancing at the name at the end, she exclaimed, “It’s from Mr. St. Claire, and he says,– let me see:

GRASSY SPRING, Oct. 18–

“Dear Sir:–A wholly unexpected event makes it necessary for me to be absent from home for the next few weeks. During this time my house will be shut up, and I shall be very glad if in her daily rides Miss Hastings will occasionally come round this way and see that everything is straight. I would like much to give the keys into her charge, knowing as I do that I can trust her. The books in my library are at her disposal, as is also the portfolio of drawings, which I will leave upon the writing table.

“When I return, and have become somewhat domesticated, I hope to have her for my pupil, as proposed yesterday. Please let me know at once if she is willing to take charge of my keys.

In haste,

ARTHUR ST. CLAIRE.”

“What does he mean?” asked Edith, as she finished reading this note aloud. “What does he wish me to do?”

“Why,” returned Richard, “He is to shut up his house, which, being brick, will naturally become damp, and I suppose he wishes you to air it occasionally, by opening the windows and letting in the sunlight.

“Wishes me, in short, to perform a servant’s duty,” said Edith, haughtily. “Very well, I’ll do it. Perhaps it will pay my TUITION in part; who knows?” and in spite of Richard’s remonstrances, she seized a pen and dashed off the following:

“Mr. St. Claire:

“Dear Sir,–Miss Hastings accepts the great honor of looking after your house, and will see that nothing gets mouldy during your absence.”

In haste, RICHARD HARRINGTON, “Per Edith Hastings.”

“P.S. Will you have her CLEAN it before you return?”

“Edith!” and Richard’s voice was very stern. “Arthur St. Claire never intended to insult you and you shall NOT send that note. Tear it up at once.”

Edith stood a moment irresolute, while her eyes flashed with indignation, but she had been too long accustomed to obey the man, who, groping his way to her side, stood commandingly before her to resist his authority now, and mechanically tearing the note in pieces, she tossed them into the fire.

“Victor,” said Richard, wishing to spare Edith the mortification of writing a second answer, “tell the man from Grassy Spring that Mr. St. Claire can leave his keys at Collingwood.”

Victor departed with the message, and Edith, somewhat recovered from her pet, said,

“Isn’t it queer, though, that Mr. St. Claire should ask to leave his keys with me? One would suppose he’d trust his cousin to rummage his goods and chattels sooner than a stranger.”

“He has his reasons, I dare say, for preferring you,” returned Richard, adding that he himself would go with her some day to Grassy Spring, and assist her in airing the house.

Toward the middle of the afternoon, the keys of Collingwood were delivered to Edith, together with a sealed note, containing a single line,

“The iron broken key unlocks the DEN.”

Had Arthur wished to puzzle Edith he could not have done so more effectually than he did by these few words.

“What do I care,” she said, “which unlocks the Den. I certainly should not cross its threshold were the door left wide open. What does he mean?” and she was still wondering over the message when Grace Atherton was announced.

As she grew older Grace assumed a more familiar, youthful manner than had characterized her early womanhood, and now, tossing her riding hat and whip upon the bed, she sank into Edith’s easy chair and began: “The funniest thing imaginable has happened at Grassy Spring. His Royal Highness, Lord St. Claire, has flown into a violent passion with Mrs. Johnson for having shown us into that room.”

“Shown YOU, you mean. I didn’t go in,” interrupted Richard, and Grace continued, “Well, shown ME, then, though I think you might at least share in the disgrace. I never saw Arthur as indignant as he was last night when he called on me. ‘Women were curious, prying creatures, anyway,’ he said, ‘and he had no faith in any of them.'”

“Did he say so?” asked Edith, and Grace replied, “Well, not exactly that. He did make a few exceptions, of which you are one. Mrs. Johnson must have told him that you refused to enter. What harm was there, any way, and what’s the room for? I’m beginning to grow curious. Here, he’s dismissed Mrs. Johnson and her daughter, telling her if he could not trust her in small matters he could not in those of greater importance, and the good soul has taken the afternoon express for Boston, where she formerly lived. She says he paid her three months’ extra wages, so he was liberal in that respect; but the strangest part of all is that he is going to Florida, where he has some claim to or owns a plantation of negroes, and he intends to bring a whole cargo of them to Grassy Spring–housekeeper, cook, chambermaid, coachman, gardener, and all. Don’t you think he’s crazy?”

Edith thought the facts would warrant such a conclusion, and Grace went on. “I offered to take charge of his house, telling him it ought not to be shut up for several weeks, but he declined so haughtily, saying he should leave the keys with someone less curious than myself, and asked if I supposed YOU would be offended if he offered them to you. I told him no, and I dare say he will send them here, if indeed, he has not already done so. Has he?” she asked, quickly, as she saw a peculiar smile on Edith’s lip.

“Yes,” Edith answered, feeling the while SO glad that Richard had prevented her from sending that insulting note.

She knew now why the keys were given to her, and the fact that Arthur St. Claire trusted HER even before his own cousin, left a warm, happy spot in her heart. Upon second thought this act was not displeasing to Grace herself. It evinced a preference in Arthur for Edith Hastings, and on her way home she busied herself in building castles of the future, when Edith, as the wife of Arthur and mistress of Grassy Spring, would cease to be her rival. As Grace had said, Mrs. Johnson and Rose, her daughter, were dismissed, the house was shut up, the owner gone, the keys in Edith’s possession, and for many days the leaves of crimson and of gold drifted down upon the walks and lay piled beneath the windows and upon the marble steps, where they rested undisturbed, save when the evening wind whirled them in fantastic circles and then sent them back again to their first lodging place.

Occasionally Edith, on her spirited Bedouin, rode slowly by, glancing at the grounds and garden, where so many flowers were blossoming for naught, and then gazing curiously at the latticed windows looking out toward Collingwood. She knew which ones they were, though the blinds were closed tightly over them, and she wondered if the mystery of that room would ever be revealed to her. Once, as she was riding by, she saw a stranger standing upon the steps of the front door and pulling vehemently at the silver knob which brought him no response. Reining Bedouin at the gate the waited until the gentleman, tired of ringing, came slowly down the walk, apparently absorbed in some perplexing thought. He did not see her until almost upon her, when, bowing politely, he said, “I beg your pardon, Miss, can you tell me where Mr. St. Claire’s to be found?”

“He has gone to Florida,” she answered, “and will not return for some weeks.”

“Gone to Florida, and I not know it! That’s very queer,” and the stranger bit his lip with vexation.

“Did you wish particularly to see him?” asked Edith, and he replied,

“Yes, a friend lies very sick in the–” he paused a moment, looked searchingly at Edith, and added, “in Worcester. We can do nothing with her, and I have come for him.”

Edith thought of NINA, thought of the Den, thought of everything, except that the man seemed waiting for her to speak.

“Won’t be home for some weeks,” he said at last, as she continued silent, “And you don’t know where a letter would reach him?”

“No, sir, but I will deliver any message from you as soon as he returns.”

The stranger scrutinized her closely a second time ere he replied,

“Tell him Griswold has been here and wishes him to come to Worcester at once.”

Edith was mortal, nay more, was a genuine descendant of mother Eve, and with a feeling akin to what that fair matron must have felt when she wondered how those apples did taste, she said to the man, “Who shall I say is sick?”

“A friend,” was the laconic reply, as he walked rapidly away, muttering to himself, “A pretty scrape St. Claire is getting himself into. Poor Arthur, poor Arthur.”

It would seen that Edith, too, was imbued with something of the spirit which prompted him to say, “Poor Arthur,” for she involuntarily sighed, and casting another glance at the windows of the den, gave loose rein to Bedouin and galloped swiftly down the road.

The next morning was clear and bright, and as Richard felt the bracing air, he said to her, “We will visit Grassy Spring to-day. It’s time you gave it a little air.”

The carriage was accordingly brought out, and in half an hour’s time Richard and Edith were treading the deserted rooms, into which they let the warm sunlight by opening wide the windows, all save those of one chamber. Edith did not go near the Den, and she marvelled that Arthur should have given her its key, indicating which it was. She did not know that the rather peculiar young man had lain for her a snare, by which means he would surely know how far her curiosity had led her. He might have spared himself the trouble, for Edith was the soul of honor, and nothing could have induced her to cross the proscribed threshold.

“It’s very pleasant here, isn’t it?” Richard asked, as they went from one room to another, and he felt the soft carpets yield to his tread.

“Yes,” she answered; “but not as pleasant as Collingwood. I like my own home best,” and she looked into his face in time to catch the expression she loved so well–an expression of trusting, childlike happiness, touching to behold in a strong man.

He liked to know that Edith was contented with Collingwood; contented with him; and he hoped it would be so always. He could not bear the thought that he had suffered every fibre of his heart to twine and intertwine themselves around her, only to be one day broken and cast bleeding at his feet. But somehow, here at Grassy Spring, in the home of Arthur St. Claire, he felt oppressed with a dread lest this thing should be; and to Edith, when she asked what made him so pale, he said,

“It’s close in here, I think. Let’s hurry out into the open air.”

She led him to an iron chair beneath a forest maple, and leaving him there alone went back to close the windows she had opened. One of those in the drawing-room resisted all her efforts for a time, but came down at last with a bang, causing her to start, and hit her foot against a frame which she had not before observed, but which she now saw was a portrait standing in the dark corner with its face against the wall.

“Truly there can be no harm in looking at this,” she thought, and turning it to the light she stepped back to examine it.

‘Twas the picture of a black-eyed, black-haired child–a little girl, scarcely three years old, judging from the baby face, and the fat, dimpled hands turning so earnestly the leaves of a picture book. One tiny foot was bare, and one encased in a red morocco shoe.

“Dear, darling baby,” she said aloud, feeling an irresistible desire to hug the little creature to her bosom. “Who are you, baby? Where are you now? and how came you with Mr. St. Claire?”

She asked these questions aloud, and was answered by Richard calling from his seat beneath the maple to know why she tarried so long. With one more lingering glance at the infant, she locked the doors and hastened out to her blind charge. On three or four other occasions she came alone to Grassy Spring, opening the doors and windows, and feasting her eyes upon the beautiful little child. Edith was wonderfully in love with that picture, and many a theory she built as to the original. Grace had told her that Arthur had no sister, and this, while it tended to deepen the mystery, increased her interest.

“I’ll ask him about her when he gets home,” she thought; and she waited anxiously for his return, which occurred much sooner than she anticipated.

It was a cold, raw November day, and the rain was beating against the windows of the little room she called her boudoir, and where she now sat sewing, when Victor, who had been sent to Grassy Spring to see that the storm did not penetrate the western blinds, appeared before her, ejaculating, “Mon Dieu, Miss Hastings. What do you think there is over yonder at Grassy Spring? A whole swarm of niggers, and Guinea niggers at that, I do believe. Such outlandish specimens! There they sit bent up double with the cold and hovering round the kitchen fire, some on the floor, some on chairs, and one has actually taken the tin dish pan and turned it bottom side up for a stool. They come from Florida, they say, and they sorter ‘long to Marsa St. Claire. They called me MARSA, too, and when Mr. St. Claire asked me how my MASTER and young lady were, the old she one who sat smoking in the corner, with a turban on her head as high as a church steeple, took the pipe from her month and actually SWORE.

“Swore, Victor!” exclaimed Edith, who had listened in amazement to his story.

“I don’t know what you call it but swearing; says she, ‘A white nigger, Lor’-a-mighty,’ and the whole bevy of them opened their ranks for time to sit down in their circle–kind of a fellow feeling, you know,” and Victor endeavored to hide the shock his pride had received by laughing loudly at the negroes’ mistake.

“How did you get in?” asked Edith. “He must have been there before you.”

“He had a key to the back door,” returned Victor, “and I gave him up mine. He wants you to send the others. Shall I take them over?”

“Yes–no–I will go myself,” said Edith, remembering Mr. Griswold, from Worcester, and the message she was to deliver.

“YOU go in this rain! Mr. Harrington won’t let you,” said Victor, and Edith rejoined, “I shan’t ask him. I’ve been out in worse storms than this. Bring up Bedouin.”

Victor was never happier than when obeying Edith, and in an inconceivably short space of time Bedouin stood at the back piazza, where his mistress mounted him and rode away. It was not until she had left the Collingwood grounds and was out upon the main road, that she began to feel any doubts as to the propriety of what she was doing. She had not seen Arthur St. Claire for eight years. She must, of course, introduce herself and would he not marvel to see her there in that rain, when a servant could have brought the keys its well. And the message, too–Victor might have delivered that had she been willing to trust him with it, but she was not. Arthur St. Claire had a secret of some kind; Mr. Griswold was concerned in it, and it was to guard this secret from all curious ears that she was doing what she was. Having thus settled the matter to her mind, Edith rode on, unmindful of the rain, which had partially subsided, but still dripped from her black plumes and glanced off from her velvet habit. A slight nervous trepidation seized her, however, as she drew near to Grassy Spring, and noticed the look of surprise with which a stalwart African, standing by the gate, regarded her. Riding up to him she said, good-naturedly, “How d’ye, uncle?” having learned so much of negro dialect from Rachel, who was a native of Georgia.

Immediately the ivories of the darkie became visible, and with a not ungraceful bow, he answered, “Jest tolable, thankee;” while his eyes wandered up the road, as if in quest of something they evidently did not find, for bending forward helooked curiously behind Edith, saying by way of apology, “I’se huntin’ for yer little black boy; whar is he?”

“Where’s who?” and in her fright, lest some one of the little “Guinea niggers” about whom Victor had told her, might be seated behind her, Edith leaped with on bound form the saddle, nearly upsetting the young man hastening out to meet her.

Southern bred as the negro was he could not conceive of a white lady’s riding without an escort, and failing to see said escort, he fancied it must be some diminutive child perched upon the horse, and was looking to find him, feeling naturally curious to know how the negroes of Yankee land differed from those of Florida. All this Edith understood afterward, but she was too much excited now to thing of any thing except that she had probably made herself ridiculous in the eyes of Arthur St. Claire, who adroitly rescued her from a fall in the mud, by catching her about the waist and clasping one of her hands.

“Miss Hastings, I believe,” he said, when he saw that she had regained her equilibrium, “This is a pleasure I hardly expected in this storm,–but come in. You are drenched with rain;” and still holding her hand, he led her into the library, where a cheerful fire was blazing.

Drawing a chair before it he made her sit down, while he untied and removed her hat, brushing the drops of rain from her hair, and doing it in so quiet, familiar, and withal so womanly a manner that Edith began to feel quite at home with him, and to think she had not done so foolish a thing, after all, in coming there. When sure she was comfortable, he drew a chair opposite to her, and for the first time since they met, she had a chance to see what changes eight years had wrought in one she thought so handsome, as a youth. He was larger, more fully developed than when she parted from him in Albany, and it seemed to her as if he were taller, too. He was certainly manlier in his appearance, and the incipient mustache at which her nose was once contemptuously elevated, was now rich, brown beard, adding, as some would think, to the beauty of his face, the pride of his barber, and the envy of his less fortunate comrades. He was a remarkably fine looking man, handsomer even than Richard Harrington, inasmuch as he had not about him the air of helplessness which characterized the blind man. The same old mischievous twinkle lurked in the soft brown eyes, and the corners of the mouth curved just as they used to do. But his smile was not as frequent or as joyous as of old, while on his brow there was a shadow resting–an expression of sad disquiet, as if thus early he had drank deeply from the cup of sorrow. Amid his wavy hair a line of silver was now and then discernible, and Edith thought how much faster he had grown old than Richard Harrington. And well be might, for Richard, in his blindness was happier far than Arthur St. Claire, blessed with health, and riches, and eyesight, and youth. He had no secret eating to his very heart’s core, and with every succeeding year magnifying itself into a greater evil than it really was, as an error concealed is sure to do. Besides that, Richard had Edith, while Arthur, alas, poor Arthur, he had worse than nothing; and as he looked across the hearth to where Edith sat, he ceased to wonder that one who for eight years had basked in the sunshine of her presence, should be as young, as vigorous and happy as Richard had appeared to him. But he must not think of this. He professed to be a woman-hater, he who, in his early boyhood, had counted his conquests by scores; and even if he were not, beautiful Edith Hastings could never be aught to him; and he must not suffer himself for a single moment to think HOW beautiful she was, still he could not help looking at her, and not a movement of her hand or a bund of her head escaped him. But so skillfully did he manage that the deluded girl fancied he never once glanced at her, while he expressed to her his gratitude for having taken so good care of his house.

“There is one room, however, you did not open,” and the eyes of brown met now the eyes of black, but were quickly withdrawn, as he continued, “I mean the one at the head of the stairs, leading from my private sitting-room.”

“How do you know?” asked Edith, a suspicion of the truth flashing upon her. “Did Blue Beard lay a snare in which to catch Fatima?”

“He did,” Arthur answered, “but was nearly as certain then as now that she would not fall into it. Miss Hastings, it gives me more pleasure than I can well express to find one female who is worthy to be trusted–who has no curiosity.”

“But I have a heap of curiosity,” returned Edith, laughingly. “I’m half crazy to know what that room is for and why you are so particular about it.”

“Then you deserve more credit than I have given you,” he replied, a dark shadow stealing over his handsome face.

Edith was about to ask him of the portrait in the drawing room, when he prevented her by making some playful allusion to the circumstances of their first acquaintance.

“I began to think you had forgotten me,” said Edith, “though I knew you could not well forget the theft unjustly charged to me.”

She hoped he would now speak of Nina, but he did not, and as she for the first time remembered Mr. Griswold, she said, after a moment’s pause,

“I came near forgetting my principal errand here. I could have sent your keys, but I would rather deliver Mr. Griswold’s message myself.”

She expected Arthur to start, but she was not prepared for him to spring from his chair as suddenly as he did.

“Mr. Griswold!” he repeated. “Where did you see him? Has HE been here? What did he say? Tell me, Edith–Miss Hastings–I beg your pardon–tell me his errand.”

He stood close to her now, and his eyes did not leave her face for an instant while she repeated the particulars of her interview with the stranger.

“And this is all–you’ve told me all that passed between you?” he asked, eagerly.

“Yes, all,” she answered, pitying him, he looked so frightened, so disturbed.

Consulting his watch, he continued, “There’s time, I see, if I am expeditious, I must take the next train east though I would so much rather stay and talk with you. I shall see you again, Miss Hastings. You’ll come often to Grassy Spring, won’t you? I need the sight of a face like yours to keep me from going MAD.”

He wrung her hand and stepped into the hall just as one of the black women he had brought from Florida appeared.

“Aunt Phillis,” he said, “I wish to speak with you,” and going with her to the extremity of the hall, they conversed together in low, earnest tones, as if talking of some great sorrow in which both were interested.

Once Edith heard Aunt Phillis say, “Blessed lamb, that I’ve done toted so many tunes in these old arms. Go, Marser Arthur; never you mind old Phillis, she’ll get on somehow. Mebby the young lady in thar kin show me the things and tell me the names of yer Yankee gimcracks.”

“I have no doubt she will,” returned Arthur, adding something in a whisper which Edith could not hear.

A moment more and Arthur passed the door, equipped with overcoat and umbrella, and she heard his rapid steps upon the back piazza as he went towards the carriage house. Aunt Phillis now re-entered the library, curtesying low to Edith, who saw upon her old black face the trace of recent tears.

“Is Mr. St. Claire’s friend very sick?” Edith ventured to ask, and instantly the round bright eyes shot at her a glance of alarm, while the negress replied, “Dunno, misses. He keeps his ‘fars mostly to hisself, and Phillis has done larnt not to pry.”

Thus rebuked, Edith arose and began to tie on her hat preparatory to leaving.

“Come in dis way a minute, Miss,” said Phillis. “We’re from Floridy, and dunno more’n the dead what to do in such a shiny kitchen as Marster St. Claire done keeps.”

Edith followed her to the kitchen, in which she found several dusky forms crouched before the fire, and gazing about them with a wondering look. To Edith they were exceedingly polite, and taking a seat in their midst she soon learned from a loquacious old lady, who seemed to be superannuated, that “they were all one family, she being the grandmother, Ike and Phillis the father and mother, and ‘tothers the children. We’re all Ber-NARDS,” she said, “case that was ole marster’s name, but now I dunno who we does ‘long to. Some says to Marster St. Claire and some says to Miss—“

“Mother!” and Phillis bustled up to the old lady, who, uttering a loud outcry, exclaimed,

“The Lord, Phillis; you needn’t done trod on my fetched corns. I warn’t a gwine to tell,” and she loudly bewailed her aching foot, encased in a shoe of most wonderful make.

When the pain had partially subsided, the talkative Judy continued,

“There wasn’t no sense, so I tole ’em, in ‘totin’ us way off here in the dead o’ winter. I’se kotched a misery in my back, and got the shivers all over me. I’se too old any way to leave my cabin thar in Floridy, and I’d a heap sight rather of stayed and died on de old plantation. We has good times thar, me and Uncle Abe– that’s an old colored gentleman that lives jinin’, and does nothin’, just as I do. He lost his wife nex Christmas’ll be a year; and, bein’ lonesome like, he used to come over o’ nights to talk about her, and tell how mizzable it was to be alone.”

“You are a widow, I presume,” said Edith, her black eyes brimming with fun.

“Yes, chile, I’se been a widdy thirty year, an’ Uncle Abe was such a well-to-do nigger, a trifle shaky in the legs, I know; but it don’t matter. Marster St. Claire wouldn’t part the family, he said, and nothin’ to do but I must come. Uncle Abe’s cabin was comfable enough, and thar was a hull chest of Rhody’s things, a doin’ nobody no good.”

Aunt Judy paused, and looked into the fire as if seeing there images of the absent Abel, while Edith regarded her intently, pressing her hands twice upon her forehead, as if trying to retain a confused, blurred idea which flitted across her mind.

“Judy,” she said, at last, “it seems to me I must have seen YOU somewhere before, though where, I don’t know.”

“Like enough, honey,” returned Judy. “Your voice sounds mighty nateral, and them black eyes shine an’ glisten like some oder eyes I seen somewhar. Has you been in Floridy, chile?”

“No,” returned Edith; “I was born in New York City, I believe.”

“Then ‘taint likely we’s met afore,” said Judy, “though you do grow on me ‘mazin’ly. You’re the very spawn o’ somebody. Phillis, who does the young lady look like?”

Phillis, who had been rummaging the closets and cupboards, now came forward, and scrutinizing Edith’s features, said, “She favors Master Ber-nard’s last wife, only she’s taller and plumper.”

But with the querulousness of old age Judy scouted the idea.

“Reckoned she knowed how Marster Bernard’s last wife looked. ‘Twan’t no more like the young lady than ’twas like Uncle Abe,” and with her mind thus brought back to Abel, she commenced an eulogy upon him, to which Edith did not care to listen, and she gladly followed Phillis into the pantry, explaining to her the use of such conveniences as she did not fully understand.

“Two o’clock!” she exclaimed, as she heard the silver bell from the library clock. “Richard’ll think I’m lost,” and bidding her new acquaintances good bye, she hurried to the gate, having first given orders for Bedouin to be brought from the stable.

“Shan’t I go home wid you, Miss?” asked the negro, who held the pony; “it’s hardly fittin’ for you to go alone.”

But Edith assured him she was not afraid, and galloped swiftly down the road, while the negro John looked admiringly after, declaring to his father, who joined him, that “she rode mighty well for a Yankee girl.”

CHAPTER XII.

LESSONS.

Arthur St. Claire had returned from Worcester, but it was several days ere he presented himself at Collingwood; and Edith was beginning to think he had forgotten her and the promised drawing lessons, when he one evening was ushered by Victor into the parlor, where she was singing to Richard his favorite songs. He was paler than when she saw him before, and she fancied that he seemed weary and worn, as if sleep and himself had been for a long time strangers.

“Did you leave your friend better?” she asked.

“Yes, better,” he answered hurriedly, changing the conversation to topics evidently more agreeable.

One could not be very unhappy in Edith’s presence. She possessed so much life, vivacity and vigor, that her companions were sure to become more or less imbued with her cheerful spirit; and as the evening advanced, Arthur became much like the Arthur of Brier Hill memory, and even laughed aloud on several occasions.

“I wish I was sure of finding at Grassy Spring somebody just like you,” he said to Edith when at last he arose to go. “Yon have driven away a whole army of blues. I almost believe I’d be willing to be blind, if, by that means, I could be cared for as Mr. Harrington is.”

“And crazy, too?” slily interrupted Edith, who was standing near him as he leaned against the marble mantel.

“No, no–oh, heavens, no! anything but that,” and the hand he placed in Edith’s shook nervously, but soon grew still between her soft, warm palms.

There was something life-giving in Edith’s touch, as well as soul- giving in her presence, and standing there with his cold, nervous hand in hers, the young man felt himself grow strong again, and full of courage to hope for a happier future than the past had been. He knew SHE could not share the future with him–but he would have as much of her as possible, and just as she was wondering if he would remember the lessons, he spoke of them and asked when she could come.

“Just when Mr. Harrington thinks best,” she replied, and thus appealed to, Richard, guided by Edith’s voice, came forward and joined them.

“Any time,” he said. “To-morrow, if you like,” adding that he believed he, too, was to be always present.

Edith’s eyes sought those of Arthur, reading there a reflection of her own secret thoughts, to wit, that THREE would he one too many, but they could not tell him so and Arthur responded at once, “Certainly, I shall expect you both, say to-morrow at ten o’clock; I am most at leisure then.”

The next morning, at the appointed time, Richard and Edith appeared at Grassy Spring, where they found Arthur waiting for them, his portfolio upon the table, and his pencils lying near, ready to be used.

“I am afraid you’ll find it tiresome, Mr. Harrington,” he said, as he assigned his visitor a chair, and then went back to Edith.

“I shall do very well,” answered Richard, and so he did for that lesson, and the next, and the next, but at last, in spite of his assertion to the contrary, he found it dull business going to Grassy Spring twice each week, and sitting alone with nothing to occupy his mind, except, indeed, to wonder how NEAR Arthur was to Edith, and if he bent over her as he remembered seeing drawing teachers do at school.

Richard was getting very tired of it–very weary of listening to Arthur’s directions, and to Edith’s merry laughs at her awkward blunders, and he was not sorry when one lesson-day, the fifth since they began, Grace Atherton’s voice was heard in the hall without asking for admission. He had long since forgiven Grace for jilting him, and they were the best of friends; so when she suggested their going into the adjoining room, where it was pleasanter and she could play to him if he liked, he readily assented, and while listening to her lively conversation and fine playing, he forgot the lapse of time, and was surprised when Edith came to him with the news that it was 12 o’clock.

“Pray, don’t go yet,” said Arthur, who was loth to part with his pupil. “You surely do not dine till three, and I have already ordered lunch. Here it comes,” and he pointed to the door where Phillis stood, bearing a huge silver salver, on which were wine and cake and fruit of various kinds.

“Grapes,” screamed Edith, as she saw the rich purple clusters, which had been put up for winter use by poor, discarded Mrs. Johnson. “I really cannot go till I have some of them,” and as there was no alternative Richard sat down to wait the little lady’s pleasure.

He did not care for lunch, but joined in the conversation, which turned upon matrimony.

“It must be a very delightful state,” said Edith, “provided one were well matched and loved her husband, as I am sure I should do.”

“Supposing you didn’t love him,” asked Grace, “but had married him from force of circumstances, what then?”

“I’d kill him and the circumstances too,” answered Edith. “Wouldn’t you, Mr. St. Claire?”

“I can hardly tell,” he replied, “not having matrimony in my mind. _I_ shall never marry.”

“Never marry!” and the pang at Edith’s heart was discernible in her soft, black eyes, turned so quickly toward this candidate for celibacy.

“How long since you came to that decision?” asked Grace; and in tones which indicated truth, Arthur replied,

“Several years at least, and I have never for a moment changed my mind.”

“Because the right one has not come, perhaps,” put in Richard, growing very much interested in the conversation.

“The right one will never come,” and Arthur spoke earnestly. “The girl does not live, who can ever be to me a wife, were she graceful as a fawn and beautiful as—” he glanced at Edith as if he would call her name, but added instead–“as a Hebe, it could make no difference. That matter is fixed, and is as changeless as the laws of the Medes and Persians.”

“I am sorry for you, young man,” said Richard, whose face, notwithstanding this assertion, indicated anything but sorrow.

He could now trust Edith alone at Grassy Spring–he need not always be bored with coming there, and he was glad Arthur had so freely expressed his sentiments, as it relieved him of a great burden; so, at parting, when Arthur said to him us usual, “I’ll see you again on Friday,” he replied,

“I don’t know, I’m getting so worried with these abominably tedious lessons, that for once I’ll let her come alone.”

Alas, poor, deluded Richard! He did not know that to attain this very object, Arthur had said what he did. It is true, he meant every word he uttered. Matrimony and Edith Hastings must not be thought of together. That were worse than madness, and his better judgment warned him not to see too much of her–told him it was better far to have that sightless man beside them when they met together in a relation so intimate as the teacher bears to his pupil. But Arthur would not listen; Edith was the first who for years had really touched a human chord in his palsied heart, and the vibration would not cease without a fiercer struggle than he cared to make. It could do no harm, he said. He had been so unhappy–was so unhappy now. Edith would, of course, be Richard’s wife; he had foreseen that from the very first–had predicted it long ago, but ere the sacrifice was made, he was surely pardonable if, for a little while, he gave himself to the bewildering intoxication of basking in the sunshine of her eyes, of bending so near to her that he could feel her fragrant breath, feel the warm glow of her cheek, of holding those little hands a moment in his own after he had ceased to teach her fingers how to guide the pencil.

All this passed in rapid review before his mind while his lips uttered the words which had so delighted Richard, and when he saw the shadow on Edith’s face, his poor, aching heart throbbed with a joy as wild and intense as it was hopeless and insane. This was Arthur St. Claire with Edith present, but with Edith gone, he was quite another man. Eagerly he watched her till she disappeared from view, then returning to the library he sat down where she had sat–laid his head upon the table where her hands had lain, and cursed himself for daring to dream of love in connection with Edith Hastings. It would be happiness for a time, he knew, to hang upon her smile, to watch the lights and shadows of her speaking face, to look into her eyes–those clear, truthful eyes which had in them no guile. All this would be perfect bliss, were it not that the end must come at last–the terrible end–remorse bitterer than death for him, and for her–the pure, unsullied, trusting Edith–ruin, desolation, and madness, it might be.

“Yes, MADNESS!” he exclaimed aloud, “hateful as the word may sound.” And he gnashed his teeth as it dropped from between them. “No, Edith, no. Heaven helping me, I will not subject you to this temptation. I will not drag you down with me, and yet, save Griswold, there lives not the person who knows my secret. May be he could be bought. Oh, the maddening thought. Am I a demon or a brute?” And he leaped from his chair, cursing himself again and again for having fallen so low as to dream of an act fraught with so much wrong to Edith, and so much treachery to one as fair, as beautiful as she, and far, far more to be pitied.

Arthur St. Claire was, at heart, a noble, upright, honorable man, and sure, at last, to choose the right, however rugged were the road. For years he had groped in a darkness deeper, more hopeless than that which enshrouded the blind man, and in all that time there had shone upon his pathway not a single ray of daylight. The past, at which he dared not look, lay behind him a dreary waste, and the black future stretched out before him, years on years it might be, in which there would be always the same old cankering wound festering in his soul. He could NOT forget this plague spot. He never had forgotten it for a single moment until he met with Edith Hatings, who possessed for him a powerful mesmeric charm, causing him in her presence to forget everything but her. This fascination was sudden but not less powerful for that. Arthur’s was an impulsive nature, and it seemed to him that he had known Edith all his life, that she was a part of his very being. But he must forget her now, she must not come there any more, he could not resist her if she did; and seizing his pen he dashed off a few lines to the effect that, for certain reasons, the drawing lessons must henceforth be discontinued.

Arthur though himself very strong to do so much, but when he arose to ring for the servant who was to take this note to Collingwood, his courage all forsook him. Why need he cast her off entirely? Why throw away the only chance for happiness there was left for him? ‘Twas Arthur’s weaker manhood which spoke, and he listened, for Edith Hastings was in the scale, a mighty, overwhelming weight. She might come just once more, he said, and his heart swelled within his throat as he thought of being alone with her, no jealous Richard hovering near, like a dark, brooding cloud, his blind eyes shielding her from harm even more than they could have done had they been imbued with sight. The next time she came, the restraint would be removed. She would be alone, and the hot blood poured swiftly through his veins as he thought how for one brief moment he would be happy. He WOULD wind his arm around that girlish waist, where no other manly arm save that of Richard had ever been; he WOULD hug her to his bosom, where no other head than hers could ever lie; he would imprint one burning kiss upon her lips; would tell her how dear she was to him; and then–his brain reeled and grew dizzy as he thought that THEN he must bid her leave him forever, for an interview like that must not he repeated. But for once, just once, he would taste of the forbidden