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  • 1864
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Does that suit you, dearest?”

She did not often call him thus, and when she did she was sure of accomplishing her purpose. The strong man melted beneath a few words of love, becoming a very tool in the hands of a weak girl.

“Yes, darling,” he replied, “that will do–but supposing we hear that Nina is better, or dead–what then?”

The mere possibility was terrible to Edith, but she answered calmly,

“Then we’ll be married in October, just as first proposed;” and thus was the die cast, and a fresh link added to the chain of Edith’s destiny. She was going to Florida; going to Arthur; and going alone, so far as Richard was concerned.

Spying Victor coming up the walk from the post-office, she ran out to meet him, telling him of the journey before him, and almost crying for joy when he placed in her hand a worn envelope bearing the post-mark of Tallahassee. It was from Arthur, and contained a few lines only, telling of Nina’s increasing illness, and her restless, impatient desire for Miggie. In conclusion he wrote,

“We have had no fever this summer. You will be perfectly safe in coming any time after the middle of October. I shall welcome Mr. Harrington most cordially if he sees fit to accompany you.”

Edith could read this to Richard, and she did, feeling a pang at the perfect faith with which he answered,

“Were it not for the tedious journey I believe I would go with you, but it’s too much of an undertaking. I won’t trammel you with so great a burden. I’d rather stay at home and anticipate my darling’s return.”

Then with the same forethought and careful consideration which marked all his actions, Richard consulted with her as to the beat time for her to start, fixing upon the 15th of October, and making all his arrangements subservient to this. He did not tell her how lonely he should be without her–how he should miss her merry laugh, which, strange to say, grew merrier each day; but he let her know in various ways how infinitely precious she was to him, and more than once Edith felt constrained to give up the journey, but the influences from Florida drew her strangely in that direction, and revolving to pay Richard for his self-denial by an increase of love when she should return, she busied herself with her preparations until the 15th of October came, and her trunks stood ready in the hall.

“If I could only read your letters myself, it would not seem one- half so bad,” Richard said, when at the last moment, he held Edith’s hand, “but there’s a shadow over me this morning–a dark presentiment that in suffering you to leave me I am losing you forever.”

Edith could not answer, she pitied him so much, and kissing his lips, she put from her neck his clinging arms, wiped his tears away, smoothed his ruffled hair, and then went out from his presence, leaving him there in his sorrow and blindness alone.

CHAPTER XXVIII.

SUNNYBANK.

“Berry soon, Miss, an’ we’re thar. We turns the corner yonder, we drives ‘cross the plain, down a hill, up anoder, an’ then we’s mighty nigh a mile from the spot.”

Such was the answer made by Tom, the Bernard coachman to Edith’s repeated inquiries, “Are we almost there.”

For three successive days the Bernard carriage had been to Tallahassee in quest of the expected guest, whose coming was watched for so eagerly at Sunnybank, and who, as the bright October afternoon was drawing to its close, looked eagerly out at a huge old house which stood not very far distant with the setting sun shining on the roof and illuminating all the upper windows. A nearer approach showed it to be a large, square, wooden building, divided in the centre by a wide, airy hall, and surrounded on three sides by a verandah, the whole bearing a more modern look than most of the country houses in Florida, for Mr. Bernard had possessed considerable taste, and during his life had aimed at fitting up his residence somewhat after the northern fashion. To Edith there was something familiar about that old building, with its handsome grounds, and she said aloud,

“I’ve surely dreamed of Sunnybank.”

“Berry likely, Miss,” answered Tom, thinking the remark addressed to him, inasmuch as Edith’s head protruded from the window. “Dreams is mighty onsartin. Git ‘long, you Bill, none o’yer lazy carlicues, case don’t yer mind thar’s Mars’r Arthur on the v’randy, squinting to see if I’s fotched ’em,” and removing his old straw hat, Tom swung it three times around his head, that being the signal he was to give if Edith were in the carriage.

With an increased flush upon his brow, Arthur St. Claire hastened down, pausing at an inner room while he bent over and whispered to a young girl reclining on her pillow,

“Nina, darling, Miggie’s come.”

There was a low cry of unutterable delight, and Nina Bernard raised herself upon her elbow, looking wistfully toward the door through which Arthur had disappeared.

“Be quiet, la petite Nina,” said a short, thick woman, who sat by the bed, apparently officiating in the capacity of nurse; then, as the carriage stopped at the gate, she glided to the window, muttering to herself, “Charmant charmant, magnifique,” as she caught a full view of the eager, sparkling face, turned toward the young man hastening down the walk. Then, with that native politeness natural to her country, she moved away so as not to witness the interview.

“Arthur!”

“Edith!”

That was all they said, for Richard and Nina stood between them, a powerful preventive to the expression of the great joy throbbing in the heart of each, as hand grasped hand, and eye sought eye, fearfully, tremblingly, lest too much should be betrayed.

“Miggie, Miggie, be quick,” came from the room where Nina was now standing up in bed, her white night dress hanging loosely about her forehead and neck.

It needed but this to break the spell which bound the two without, and dropping Edith’s hand, Arthur conducted her to the house, meeting in the hall with Nina, who, in spite of Mrs. Lamotte had jumped from her bed and skipping across the floor, flung herself into Edith’s arms, sobbing frantically,

“You did come, precious Miggie, to see sick Nina, didn’t you, and you’ll stay forever and ever, won’t you, my own sweet Miggie, and Arthur’s too? Oh, joy, joy, Nina’s so happy to-night.”

The voice grew very faint, the white lips ceased their pressure of kisses upon Edith’s–the golden head began to droop, and Arthur took the fainting girl in his arms, carrying her back to her bed, where he laid her gently down, himself caring for her until she began to revive.

Meanwhile Edith was introduced to Mrs. Lamotte, a French woman, who once was Nina’s nurse, and who had come to Sunnybank a few weeks before. Any one at all interested in Nina was sure of a place in Edith’s affections, and she readily took Mrs. Lamotte’s proffered hand, but she was not prepared for the peculiarly curious gaze fastened upon her, as Mrs. Lamotte waved off Teeny, the black girl, and taking her traveling bag and shawl, said to her,

“This way, s’il vous plait, Mademoiselle Marguerite. Pardonnez moi,” she added quickly, as she met Edith’s questioning glance, “Mademoiselle Miggie, as la petite Nina calls you.”

Once in Edith’s room, Mrs. Lamotte did not seem in haste to leave it, but continued talking in both English and French to Edith, who more than once, as the tones fell upon her ear, turned quickly to see if it were not some one she had met before.

“Je m’en irai,” Mrs. Lamotte said at last, as she saw that her presence was annoying Edith; and as the latter offered no remonstrance, she left the room, and Edith was alone with her confused thoughts.

Where was she? What room was this, with the deep window seats, and that wide-mouthed fire-place? Who was this woman that puzzled her so? Edith kept asking herself these questions, but could find for them no satisfactory answer. Struggle as she might, she felt more like a child returned to its home than like a stranger in a strange land. Even the soft south wind, stealing through the open casement, and fanning her feverish cheek, had something familiar in its breath, as if it had stolen in upon her thus aforetime; and when across the fields, she heard the negroes’ song as they came homeward from their toil, she laid her head upon the window sill, and wept for the something which swept over her, something so sweet, so sad, and yet so indescribable.

Fearing lest the Frenchwoman should return, she made a hasty toilet, and then stole down to Nina, who, wholly exhausted with the violence of her emotions at meeting Edith, lay perfectly still upon her pillow, scarcely whiter than her own childish face, round which a ray of the setting sun was shining, encircling it with a halo of glorious beauty, and making her look like an angel of purity and love. She did not attempt to speak as Edith came in, but her eyes smiled a welcome, and her thin, wasted fingers pointed to where Edith was to sit upon the bed beside her. Arthur sat on the other side, holding one of Nina’s hands, and the other was given to Edith, who pressed it to her lips, while her tears dropped upon it like rain. The sight of them disturbed the sick girl, and shaking her wealth of curls which, since Edith saw them, had grown thick and long, she whispered,

“Don’t, Miggie; tears are not for Nina; she’s so glad, for she is almost home. She’ll go down to the river brink with your arms and Arthur boy’s around her. Precious Miggie, nice Arthur. Nina is happy to-night.”

Such were the disjointed sentences she kept whispering, while her eyes turned from Edith to Arthur and from Arthur back to Edith, resting longer there, and the expression of the face told of the unutterable joy within. Softly the twilight shadows stole into the room, and the servants glided in and out, casting furtive and wondering glances at Edith, who saw nothing save the clear blue eyes shining upon her, even through the gathering darkness, and telling her of the love which could not be expressed.

As it grew darker Nina drew the two hands she clasped together– Arthur’s and Edith’s–laid them one above the other upon her bosom, pressed her own upon them, and when, at last, the candles were brought in and placed upon the table, Edith saw that the weary lids had closed and Nina was asleep. Every effort, however, which she made to disengage her hand from its rather embarrassing position, threatened to arouse the sleeper, and for nearly half an hour she sat there with her hand beneath Arthur’s, but she dared not look at him, and with her face turned away, she answered his questions concerning Shannondale and its inhabitants.

After a time Mrs. Lamotte came in and asked if mademoiselle would like to retire. Edith would far rather have gone to her room alone, but Mrs. Lamotte seemed bent upon hovering near her, and as there was no alternative she followed her up the stairs and into the chamber, where she had lain aside her things. To her great relief her companion did not stay longer than necessary, and ere the entire household was still, Edith was dreaming of Collingwood and Richard.

The next morning was bright, balmy, and beautiful, and at an early hour Edith arose and went down to Nina, who heard her step in the hall, and called to her to come.

“Darling Miggie, I dreamed you were gone,” she said, “and, I cried so hard that it woke Arthur up. He sleeps here every night, on that wide lounge,” and she pointed toward a corner, “I’ve grown so silly that I won’t let any body else take care of me but Arthur boy–he does it so nice and lifts me so carefully. Hasn’t he grown pale and thin?”

Edith hardly knew, for she had not ventured to look fully at him, but she assumed that he had, and Nina continued: “He’s a darling boy, and Nina loves him now.”

“How is your head this morning,” Edith asked, and Nina replied, “It’s better. It keeps growing better, some days it’s clear as a bell, but I don’t like it so well, for I know then that you ain’t Miggie,–not the real Miggie who was sent home in mother’s coffin. We have a new burying ground, one father selected long ago, the sweetest spot you ever saw, and they are moving the bodies there now. They are going to take up my last mother, and the little bit of Miggie to-day, and Marie is so flurried.”

Arthur’s step was now heard in the hall, and this it was which so excited Edith that she failed to catch the word Marie, or to understand that it was Mrs. Lamotte who was worried about the removal of the bodies. In a moment Arthur appeared, bringing a delicate bouquet for Nina, and a world of sunshine to Edith. He was changed, Edith saw as she looked at him now, and yet she liked his face better than before. He seemed to her like one over whom the fire had passed, purifying as it burned, and leaving a better metal than it had found. He was wholly self-possessed this morning, greeting her as if the scene in the Deering woods had never been enacted, and she could hardly believe that they were the same, the Arthur of one year ago, and the Arthur of to-day; the quiet, elegant young man, who, with more than womanly tenderness, pushed Nina’s curls back under her lace cap, kissed her forehead, and then asked Edith if she did not look like a little nun with her hair so plain.

Nina liked to be caressed, and she smiled upon him a smile so full of trusting faith and love, that Edith’s eyes filled with tears, and her rebellious heart went out toward Arthur as it had never done before, inasmuch as she felt that he was now far more worthy of her.

Very rapidly the morning passed away, and it was after three o’clock P.M., when, as Arthur sat with Edith upon the cool piazza, one of the negroes came running up, the perspiration starting from every pore, and himself almost frantic with excitement.

“What is it, Caesar?” Arthur asked. “What has happened to you?”

“Nothing to me, Mars’r,” returned the negro; “but sumfin mighty curis happen over dar,” and he pointed in the direction where his comrades were busy removing the family dead to a spot selected by Mr. Bernard years before as one more suitable than the present location. “You see, we was histin’ de box of the young Miss and de chile, when Bill let go his holt, and I kinder let my hands slip off, when, Lor’ bless you, the box busted open, an’ we seen the coffin spang in the face. Says Bill, says he–he’s allus a reasonin’, you know–an’, says he, ‘that’s a mighty narrer coffin for two;’ and wid that, Mr. Berry, the overseer, Miss,” turning to Edith, “He walked up, and findin’ de screws rattlin’ and loose, just turned back de top piece, an’, as true as Caesar’s standin’ here, there wasn’t no chile thar; nothin’ ‘tall but the Miss, an’ she didn’t look no how; never should have guessed them heap of bones had ever been Miss Petry.”

Edith started from her chair and was about to speak when a hand was laid upon her wrist, and turning, she saw Mrs. Lamotte standing behind her, and apparently more excited than herself.

“Come with me,” she said, leading the unresisting Edith away, and leaving Arthur to follow Caesar.

Of all the household at Sunnybank no one had been so much interested in the removal of the bodies as Mrs. Lamotte, and yet her interest was all centered upon the grave of Miggie Bernard’s mother. When that was disturbed, she was watching from her window, and when the accident occurred which revealed the fraud of years, she hurried down and, with a cat-like tread, glided behind Edith’s chair where she stood while Caesar told his story.

It would be impossible to describe Edith’s feeling as she followed the strange woman up to her own room, sitting down just where Mrs. Lamotte bade her sit, and watching nervously the restless rolling of the eyes, which had no terror for her now, particularly after their owner said to her in French,

“Do you know me, Edith Hastings, Eloise Temple, Marguerite Bernard? Have we never met before?”

Like the rushing of some mighty, pent up flood the past swept over her then, almost bearing her senses down with the headlong tide; link after link was joined, until the chain of evidence was complete, and with a scream of joy Edith went forward to the arms unfolded to receive her.

“Marie, Marie!” she cried, “How is it? When was it? Where was it? Am I anybody or not, tell me?”

Then question followed question go rapidly that Marie, with all her voluble French and broken English, was hardly able to keep up. But the whole was told at last; everything was clear to Edith as the daylight, and tottering to the bed, she asked to be alone, while she wept and prayed over this great joy, which had come so suddenly upon her.

“Nina, Nina. I thank thee, oh, my Father, for sweet, precious Nina.”

That was all she could say, as with her face in the pillows, she lay until the sun went down, and night fell a second time on Sunnybank.

“No one shall tell her but myself,” she thought as she descended to Nina’s room, where Arthur was telling of the discovery they had made–a discovery for which he could not account, and about which the negroes, congregated together in knots, were talking, each offering his or her own theory with regard to the matter, and never once thinking to question Mrs. Lamotte, who, they knew, had been with Mrs. Bernard when she died.

“Oh, Miggie!” Nina cried. “HAVE you heard? do you know? Little Miggie isn’t there where we thought she was. She’s gone. Nobody’s there but my other mother.”

“Yes, I know,” Edith answered, and laying her hand on Arthur’s she said, “Please, Mr. St Claire, go away awhile. I must see Nina alone. Don’t let anybody disturb us, will you? Go to Mrs. Lamotte. Ask her what I mean. She can tell you. She told me.”

Thus importuned, Arthur left the room, and Edith was alone with Nina.

CHAPTER XXIX.

THE SISTERS.

Oh, how Edith yearned to take that sweet young creature to her bosom, and concentrate in one wild, passionate hug the love of so many wasted years; but Nina must not be unduly startled if she would make her comprehend what she had to tell, and conquering her own agitation with a wondrous effort she sat down upon the bed, and said,

“How is my darling? Is her head all in a twist?”

Nina smiled, a rational, knowing smile, and answered,

“There wasn’t the least bit of a twist in it till Arthur told me about that in the graveyard, and then it began to thump so loud, but with you sitting here, I’m better. You do me so much good, Miggie. Your eyes keep me quiet. Where do you suppose she is–the other Miggie; and how did she get out of the coffin?”

“Nina,” said Edith, “can you understand me if I tell you a story about a little girl who resembled your sister Miggie?”

Nina liked stories and though she would rather have talked of the real Miggie, she expressed a willingness to listen, and by the dim candle light Edith saw that the blue eyes, fixed so intently upon her, still retained the comparatively rational expression she had observed when she first came in. Moving a little nearer to her, she began,

“A great many years ago, nearly eighteen, we will say, a beautiful little girl, eight years old, I guess, with curls like yours, waited one night in just such a house as this, for her father, who had been long in Europe, and who was to bring her a new mother, and a dear baby sister, two years old or thereabouts.”

“Didn’t I wear my blue dress, trimmed with white?” Nina asked suddenly, her mind seeming to have followed Edith’s, and grasped the meaning of what she heard.

“I dare say you did,” Edith answered; “at all events this little girl was very beautiful as she waited in the twilight for the travellers.”

“Call the little girl Nina, please, I’ll get at it better then,” was the next interruption; and with a smile, Edith said,

“Nina, then, waited till they came–her father, her new mother Petrea, and–“

“Beautiful Petrea,” Nina exclaimed, “la belle Petrea, black hair like yours, Miggie, and voice like the soft notes of the piano. She taught me a heap of tunes which I never have forgotten, but tell me more of the black-eyed baby, Nina’s precious sister. I did hug and squeeze her so–‘la jolie enfant,’ Marie called her.”

Nina seemed to have taken the story away from Edith, who, when she ceased speaking, again went on:

“Eloise Marguerite was the baby sister’s name; Eloise, for a proud aunt, who, after they came home, would not suffer them to call her so, and she was known as Marguerite, which Nina shortened into Miggie, Nina darling,” and Edith spoke sadly now. “Was your father always kind to Petrea?”

There was a look in Nina’s face like a scared bird, and raising her hands to her head, she said,

“Go away, old buzzing. Let Nina think what it was they used to do- -pa and grandma and aunt Eloise. I know now; grandma and auntie were proud of the Bernard blood, they said, and they called Petrea vulgar, and baby sister a brat; and pa–oh, Miggie, I reckon he was naughty to the new mother. He had a buzz in his head most every night, not like mine, but a buzz that he got at the dinner and the side-board, where they kept the bottles, and he struck her, I saw him, and Marie, she was here, too, she stepped between them, and called him a drunken, deceitful beast, and a heap more in French. Then one morning when he was gone to New Orleans, and would come home pretty soon, mother and Marie and Miggie went a visiting to Tallahassee, or somewhere, and they never came back again, though pa went after them as soon as he got home. Why didn’t they, Miggie?”

“Petrea was very unhappy here,” Edith answered. “Mr. Bernard abused her, as did his haughty mother, and once when he was gone Petrea said she would go to Tallahassee to see a lady who had visited her at Sunnybank. So she went with Marie, and Miggie, then three years old, but did not stop in Tallahassee. They ran away to New York, where Marie’s sister lived. Here Petrea was taken sick and died, making Marie promise that Miggie should never go back to her bad father and his proud family. And Marie, who hated them bitterly, all but Nina, kept her word. She wrote to Sunnybank that both were dead, and the letter was forwarded by your grandmother to Mr. Bernard, who had gone after his wife, but who lay drunk many days at a hotel. The letter sobered him, and as it contained Marie’s address, he found her at last, crying bitterly for little Miggie, up stairs asleep, but he thought her in the coffin with her mother. Marie said so and he believed her, bringing the bodies back to Sunnybank, and burying them beneath the magnolias.”

“And built a great marble there with both their names cut on it,” chimed in Nina, fearful lest any part of the story should be omitted.

“Yes,” returned Edith, “he raised a costly monument to their memory; but don’t you wish to know what became of Miggie?”

“Yes, yes, oh, yes, go on,” was Nina’s answer; and Edith continued,

“Marie was too poor to take care of Miggie, and she put her in the Asylum.”

“The Asylum!” Nina fairly screamed. “Nina’s baby sister in the nasty old Asylum. No, no, it ain’t. I won’t, I shan’t listen to the naughty story,” and the excited girl covered her head with a pillow.

But Edith removed it gently, and with a few loving words quieted the little lady, who said again, “Go on.”

“It was the Orphan Asylum, where Nina’s sister was put, but they didn’t call her Miggie. Her dying mother gave her another name lest the father should some time find her, and there in that great noisy city Miggie lived five or six long years, gradually forgetting everything in the past, everything but Marie’s name and the airs her mother used to sing. Miggie had a taste for music, and she retained the plaintive strains sung to her as lullabys.”

“I know them, too,” Nina said, beginning to hum one, while Edith continued,

“After a time Marie went back to France. She did not mean to stay long, but she was attacked with a lingering, painful sickness, and could not return to Miggie, whom a beautiful lady took at last as her waiting-maid. Then Arthur came–Arthur, a boy–and she saw Nina’s picture.”

“The one in the locket! Nina asked, and Edith answered, “Yes, ’twas in a locket, and it puzzled Miggie till she spoke the name, but thought it was Arthur who told her.”

“Wait, wait,” cried Nina, suddenly striking her forehead a heavy blow; “I’m getting all mixed up, and something flashes across my brain like lightning. I reckon it’s a streak of sense. It feels like it.”

Nina was right. It was “a streak of sense,” and when Edith again resumed her story the crazy girl was very calm and quiet.

“After a time this Miggie went to live with a blind man–with Richard,” and Edith’s hands closed tightly around the snowy fingers, which crept so quickly toward her. “She grew to be a woman. She met this golden-haired Nina, but did not know her, though Nina called her Miggie always, because she looked like Petrea, and the sound to Miggie was very sweet, like music heard long ago. They loved each other dearly, and to Miggie there was nothing in the whole world so beautiful, so precious, as poor little crazy Nina, Arthur’s Nina, Dr. Griswold’s Nina, ‘Snow- Drop,’ Richard called her. You remember Richard, darling?”

“Yes, yes, I remember everything,” and Nina’s chest began to heave, her chin to quiver, her white lips, too, but still she shed no tear, and the dry, blue eyes seemed piercing Edith’s very soul as the latter continued, rapidly, “Nina came home to Florida; she sent for Miggie, and Miggie came, finding Marie who told her all– told her where the baby was–and the real Miggie fell on her face, thanking the good Father for giving her the sweetest, dearest sister a mortal ever had. Do you understand me, darling? Do you know now who I am–know who Miggie is?”

Edith’s voice began to falter, and when she had finished she sat gazing at the fairy form, which trembled and writhed a moment as if in fearful convulsions, then the struggling ceased, the features became composed, and raising herself in bed Nina crept closer and closer to Edith, her lips quivering as if she fain would speak but had not the power. Slowly the little hands were raised and met together around Edith’s neck; nearer and nearer the white face came to the dark glowing one, until breath met breath, lip met lip, golden tresses mixed with raven braids, and with a cry which made the very rafters ring and went echoing far out into the darkness, Nina said, “You are–that–that–ba-baby–the one we thought was dead. You are my–my–Nina’s–oh, Miggie, say it for me or Nina’ll choke to death. She can’t think what the right word is–the word that means MIGGIE,” and poor exhausted Nina fell back upon the pillow, while Edith, bending over her, whispered in her ear, “Miggie means SISTER, darling; your SISTER; do you hear?”

“Yes, yes,” and again the wild, glad cry went ringing through the house, as Nina threw herself a second time on Edith’s bosom. “Sister, sister, Nina’s sister. Nina’s little Miggie once, great, tall Miggie now,–mine, my own–nobody’s sister but mine. Does Arthur know, Ho, Arthur! come quick! He is coming, don’t you hear him. Arthur, Arthur, Miggie is mine. My precious sister,” and Nina Bernard fell back fainting just as Arthur appeared in the room, and just as from the yard without there went up from the congregated blacks, who together with their master and Victor, had listened to Marie’s story, a deafening shout, a loud huzza for “Miggie Bernard,” come back to Sunnybank, and back to those who generously admitted her claim, and would ere long acknowledge her as their mistress.

The few particulars which Edith had omitted in her story to Nina may, perhaps, be better told now than at any other time. Mr. Bernard, while in Paris, had been implicated in some disgraceful affair which rendered him liable to arrest, and taking the name of Temple, by way of avoiding suspicion, he fled to Germany, where he met and married the beautiful Swedish Petrea, who, being young and weary of a governess’s life, was the more easily charmed with his wealth and rather gentlemanly address. Because it suited his peculiar nature to do so, he kept his real name from her until they reached New York, when, fearful of meeting with some of his acquaintances there, he confessed the fraud, laughing at it as a good joke, and pronounced Petrea over nice for saying he had done wrong.

The year which followed their arrival at Sunnybank was a year of wretchedness and pining home-sickness on the part of both mistress and maid, until at last the former, with her love for her husband changed to hate, determined to leave him; and in his absence, planned the visit to Tallahassee, going instead to New York, where she died at the house of Mrs. Jamieson, Marie’s sister. Even to the last, the dread of her hated husband prevailed, and she made Marie swear that her child should not go back to him.

“She will be happier to be poor,” she said, “and I would rather far that not a cent of the Bernard property should ever come into her possession than that she should return to Sunnybank; but sometime, Marie, when she is older, you may tell her my sad story, and if he has become a better man, tell her who she is, and of the bright-haired Nina. They will love each other, I am sure, for Nina possesses nothing in common with her father, and lest she should think ill of me for having married him, tell her how young, how inexperienced I was, and how he deceived me, withholding even his real name.”

This was the point on which Petrea dwelt the most, shrinking, with a kind of pride, from having it generally known, and persisting in calling herself Temple to Mrs. Jamieson, who supposed this to be her real name, inasmuch as Marie had called her so on the occasion of her first visit after landing in New York the year previous, and before the deception had been confessed.

“Don’t undeceive her,” Petrea said to Marie, who did her mistress’s bidding; and as Mrs. Jamieson was sick when Mr. Bernard came, she did not see him, and was thus effectually kept in ignorance that Edith’s real name was Marguerite Bernard, else she had divulged it to Richard, when in after years he came inquiring for her parentage.

The rest the reader knows, except indeed, how Marie came to Sunnybank a second time, and why she had so long neglected Edith. She was with her mistress in Germany when Richard saved the child from drowning. She never forgot him, and when from her sister she learned that Edith was with him, she felt that interference on her part was unnecessary. So even after recovering from her illness she deferred returning to America, marrying, at last, and living in an humble way in Paris, where she more than once saw Mr. Bernard in the streets, when he was there with Nina. So many years had elapsed since his first visit that he had no fears of arrest, and openly appeared in public, recognised by none save Marie, who never could forget him. Her husband’s sudden death determined her upon coming to America and looking up her child. The vessel in which she sailed was bound for New Orleans, and, with a desire to visit Sunnybank once more, she first wended her way thither, expecting to find it inhabited by strangers; for, from an American paper, which accidentally fell into her hands, she had heard of Mr. Bernard’s decease, and later still had heard from one who was Nina’s waiting maid while in Paris, that she, too, was dead. How this information was obtained she did not know, but believing it to be authentic, she supposed strangers, of course, were now the tenants of Sunnybank; and anticipated much pleasure in restoring to the so-called Edith Hastings her rightful heritage. Great then was her surprise to find Nina living, and when she heard that Edith was soon expected in Florida, she determined to await her coming.

This was the story she told to Edith and also to the negroes, many of whom remembered their unfortunate young mistress and her beautiful baby Miggie still; but for the missing body they might have doubted Marie’s word, but that was proof conclusive, and their loud hurrahs for Miss Miggie Bernard were repeated until Nina came back to consciousness, smiling as she heard the cry and remembered what it meant.

“Go to them–let them see you, darling,” she said; and, with Arthur as her escort, Edith went out into the midst of the sable group, who crowded around her, with blessings, prayers, tears and howlings indescribable, while many a hard, black hand grasped hers, as negro after negro called her “mistress,” adding some word of praise, which showed how proud they were of this beautiful, queenly scion of the Bernard stock, which they had feared would perish with Nina. Now they would be kept together–they would not be scattered to the four winds, and one old negro fell on his knees, kissing Edith’s dress, and crying,

“Cato bresses yon for lettin’ his bones rot on de ole plantation.”

Edith was perplexed, for to her the discovery had only brought sweet images of sistership with Nina. Money and lands formed no part of her thoughts, and turning to Arthur she asked what it all meant.

Arthur did not reply at once, for he knew he held that which would effectually take away all right from Edith. After Nina, he was Mr. Bernard’s chosen heir, but not for an instant did he waver in the course he should pursue, and when the interview was ended with the negroes, and Edith was again with Nina, he excused himself for a moment, but soon returned, bearing in his hand Mr. Bernard’s will, which he bade Edith read.

And she did read it, feeling intuitively as if her father from the grave were speaking to her, the injured Petrea’s child, and virtually casting her aside.

The tears gathered slowly in her eyes, dropping one by one upon the paper, which without a word she handed back to Arthur.

“What is it, Arthur boy?” Nina asked. “What is it that makes Miggie cry?”

Arthur doubted whether either of the girls would understand him if he entered into an explanation involving many technical terms, but he would do the best he could, and sitting down by Nina, he held her upon his bosom, while he said, “Does my little girl remember the time when I met her in Boston, years ago, and Charlie Hudson brought me papers from her father?”

“Yes,” answered Nina; “there was one that had in it something about straight jackets, and when I read it, I hit my head against the bureau. It’s never been quite right since. Is this the letter that made Miggie cry?”

“No,” returned Arthur. “This is your father’s will, made when he thought there was no Miggie. In it, I am, his heir after you, and Miggie hasn’t a cent.”

“You may have mine, Miggie. Nina’ll give you hers, she will,” and the little maiden made a movement toward Edith, while Arthur continued,

“Yon can’t, darling. It’s mine after you;” and this he said, not to inflict fresh pain on Edith, but to try Nina, and hear what she would say.

There was a perplexed, troubled look in her eyes, and then, drawing his head close to her, she whispered,

“Couldn’t you scratch it out, just as Richard did, only he didn’t. That’s a good boy. He will, Miggie,” and she nodded toward Edith, while Arthur rejoined,

“Would it please my child-wife very much to have me scratch it out?”

He had never called her thus before Edith until now, and he stole a glance at her to witness the effect. For an instant she was white as marble; then the hot blood seemed bursting from the small round spot where it had settled in her cheeks, and involuntarily she extended her hand toward him in token of her approval. She could not have reassured him better than by this simple act, and still retaining her hand, he went on,

“When I came to Florida, after Mr. Bernard’s death, my first step was to have the will proved, and consequently this sheet is now of very little consequence; but as you both will, undoubtedly, breathe more freely if every vestige of this writing is removed. I will destroy it at once, and, as soon as possible, take the legal steps for reinstating Edith.”

Then releasing Edith’s hand, Arthur took the candle from the stand, and said to Nina,

“Have you strength to hold it?”

“Yes, yes,” she cried, grasping it eagerly, while, with a hand far steadier than hers, Arthur held the parchment in the flame, watching as the scorched, brown flakes dropped upon the floor, nor sending a single regret after the immense fortune he was giving up.

It was done at last. The will lay crisped and blackened upon the carpet; Edith, in her own estimation was reinstated in her rights, and then, as if demanding something for the sacrifice, Arthur turned playfully to her, and winding his arm around her said,

“Kiss me once as a sister, for such you are, and once for giving you back your inheritance.”

The kisses Arthur craved were given, and need we say returned! Alas, those kisses! How they burned on Edith’s lips, making her so happy–and how they blistered on Arthur’s heart, making him doubt the propriety of having given or received them. His was the braver spirit now. He had buffeted the billow with a mightier struggle than Edith had ever known. Around his head a blacker, fiercer storm had blown than any she had ever felt, and from out that tumultuous sea of despair he had come a firmer, a better man, with strength to bear the burden imposed upon him. Were it not so he would never have sent for Edith Hastings–never have perilled his soul by putting himself a second time under her daily influence. But he felt that there was that within him which would make him choose the right, make him cling to Nina, and so he wrote to Edith, meeting her when she came as friend meets friend, and continually thanking Heaven which enabled him to hide from everyone the festered wound, which at the sound of her familiar voice smarted and burned, and throbbed until his soul was sick and faint with pain.

The discovery of Edith’s parentage filled him with joy–joy for Nina, and joy because an opportunity was thus afforded him of doing an act unselfish to the last degree, for never for a single moment did the thought force itself upon him that possibly Edith might yet be his, and so the property come back to him again. He had given her up, surrendered her entirely, and Richard’s interests were as safe with him as his gold and silver could have been. Much he wished he knew exactly the nature of her feelings toward her betrothed, but he would not so much as question Victor, who, while noticing his calmness and self-possession, marvelled greatly, wondering the while if it were possible that Arthur’s love were really all bestowed on Nina. It would seem so, from the constancy with which he hung over her pillow, doing for her the thousand tender offices, which none but a devoted husband could do, never complaining, never tiring even when she taxed his good nature to its utmost limit, growing sometimes so unreasonable and peevish that even Edith wondered at his forbearance.

It was a whim of Edith’s not to write to Richard of her newly- found relationship. She would rather tell it to him herself, she said, and in her first letter, she merely mentioned the incidents of her journey, saying she reached Sunnybank in safety, that Nina was no better, that Mr. St. Claire was very kind, and Victor very homesick, while she should enjoy herself quite well, were it not that she knew he was so lonely without her. And this was the letter for which Richard waited so anxiously, feeling when it came almost as if he had not had any, and still exonerating his singing bird from blame, by saying that she could not write lovingly to him so long us she knew that Mrs. Matson must be the interpreter between them.

It was an odd-looking missive which he sent back and Edith’s heart ached to its very core as she saw the uneven handwriting, which went up and down, the lines running into and over each other, now diagonally, now at right angles, and again darting off in an opposite direction as he held his pencil a moment in his fingers and then began again. Still she managed to decipher it, and did not lose a single word of the message intended for Nina.

“Tell little Snowdrop the blind man sends her his blessing and his love, thinking of her often as he sits here alone these gloomy autumn nights, no Edith, no Nina, nothing but lonesome darkness. Tell her that he prays she may get well again, or if she does not, that she may be one of the bright angels which make the fields of Jordan so beautiful and fair”

This letter Edith took to Nina one day, when Arthur and Victor had gone to Tallahassee, and Mrs. Lamotte was too busy with her own matters to interrupt them. Nina had not heard of the engagement, for Arthur could not tell her, and Edith shrank from the task as from something disagreeable. Still she had a strong desire for Nina to know how irrevocably she was bound to another, hoping thus to prevent the unpleasant allusions frequently made to herself and Arthur. The excitement of finding a sister in Miggie, had in a measure overturned Nina’s reason again, and for many days after the disclosure she was more than usually wild, talking at random of the most absurd things, but never for a moment losing sight of the fact that Edith was her sister. This seemed to be the one single clear point from which her confused ideas radiated, and the love she bore her sister was strong enough to clear away the tangled web of thought and bring her at last to a calmer, more natural state of mind. There were hours in which no one would suspect her of insanity, save that as she talked childish, and even meaningless expressions were mingled with what she said, showing that the woof of her intellect was defective still, and in such a condition as this Edith found her that day when, with Richard’s letter in her hand, she seated herself upon the foot of the bed and said, “I heard from Richard last night. You remember him, darling?”

“Yes, he made me Arthur’s wife; but I wish he hadn’t for then you would not look so white and sorry.”

“Never mind that,” returned Edith, “but listen to the message he sent his little Snowdrop,” and she read what Richard had written to Nina.

“I wish I could be one of those bright angels,” Nina said, mournfully, when Edith finished reading; “but, Miggie, Nina’s so bad. I can think about it this morning, for the buzzing in my head is very faint, and I don’t get things much twisted, I reckon. I’ve been bad to Arthur a heap of times, and he was never anything but kind to me. I never saw a frown on his face or heard an impatient word, only that sorry look, and that voice so sad.”

“Don’t, Nina, don’t.

“Even Dr. Griswold was not patient as Arthur. He was quicker like, and his face would grow so red. He used to shake me hard, and once he raised his hand, but Arthur caught it quick and said ‘No, Griswold, not that–not strike Nina,’ and I was tearing Arthur’s hair out by handfuls, too. That’s when I bit him. I told you once.”

“Yes, I know,” Edith replied; “but I wish to talk of something besides Arthur, now. Are you sure you can understand me?”

“Yes, it only buzzed like a honey-bee, right in here,” and Nina touched the top of her head, while Edith continued.

“Did Arthur ever tell you who it was that fell into the Rhine?”

“Yes, Mrs. Atherton wrote, and I cried so hard, but he did not say your name was Eloise, or I should have guessed you were Miggie, crazy as I am.”

“Possibly Grace did not so write to him,” returned Edith; “but let me tell you of Edith Hastings as she used to be when a child;” and with the blue eyes of Nina fixed upon her, Edith narrated that portion of her history already known to the reader, dwelling long upon Richard’s goodness, and thus seeking to prepare her sister for the last, the most important part of all.

“After Arthur deceived me so,” she said,” I thought my heart would never cease to ache, and it never has.”

“But it will–it will,” cried Nina, raising herself in bed. “When I’m gone, it will all come right. I pray so every day, though it’s hard to do it sometimes now I know you are my sister. It would be so nice to live with you and Arthur, and I love you so much. You can’t begin to know,” and the impulsive girl fell forward on Edith’s bosom sobbing impetuously, “I love you so much, so much, that it makes it harder to die; but I must, and when the little snow-birds come back to the rose bushes beneath the windows of Grassy Spring a great ways off, the hands that used to feed them with crumbs will be laid away where they’ll never tear Arthur boy’s hair any more. Oh, I wish they never had–I wish they never had,” and sob after sob shook Nina’s delicate frame as she gave vent to her sorrow for the trial she had been to Arthur. Edith attempted to comfort her by saying, “He has surely forgiven you, darling; and Nina, please don’t talk so much of dying, Arthur and I both hope you will live yet many years.”

“Yes, Arthur does,” Nina rejoined quickly, “him praying so one night when he thought I was asleep–I make believe half of the time, so as to hear what he says when he kneels down over in that corner; and once, Miggie, a great while ago, it was nothing but one dreadful groan, except when he said, ‘God help me in this my darkest hour, and give me strength to drink this cup.’ But there wasn’t any cup there for I peaked, thinking maybe he’d go some of my nasty medicine, and it wasn’t dark, either for there were two candles on the mantel and they shone on Arthur’s face, which looked to me as if it were a thousand years old. Then he whispered, ‘Edith, Edith,’ and the sound was so like a wail that I felt my blood growing cold. Didn’t you hear him, Miggie, way off to the north; didn’t you hear him call? God did, and helped him, I reckon, for he got up and came and bent over me, kissing me so much, and whispering, ‘My wife, my Nina.’ It was sweet to be so kissed, and I fell away to sleep; but Arthur must have knelt beside me the livelong night, for every time I moved I felt his hand clasp mine. The next day he told me that Richard saved you from the river, and his lips quivered as if he feared you were really lost.”

Alas! Nina had come nearer the truth than she supposed, and Edith involuntarily echoed her oft-repeated words, “Poor Arthur,” for she knew now what had preceded that cry of more than mortal anguish which Arthur sent to Grace after hearing first of the engagement.

“Nina” she said, after a moment’s silence, “before that time of which you speak, there came a night of grief to me–a night when I wished that I might die, because Richard asked me to be his wife– me, who looked upon him as my father rather than a husband. I can’t tell you what he said to me, but it was very touching, very sad, and my heart ached so much for the poor blind man.”

“But you didn’t tell him yes,” interrupted Nina. “You couldn’t. You didn’t love him. It’s wicked to act a lie Miggie–as wicked as ’tis to tell one. Say you told him no; it chokes me just to think of it.”

“Nina,” and Edith’s voice was low and earnest in its tone, “I thought about it four whole weeks and at last I went to Richard and said, ‘I will be your wife.’ I have never taken it back, I am engaged to him, and I shall keep my word. Were it not that you sent for me I should have been his bride ere this. I shall be his bride on New Year’s night.”

Edith spoke rapidly, as if anxious to have the task completed, and when at last it was done, she felt that her strength was leaving her, so great had been the effort with which she told her story to Nina. Gradually as she talked Nina had crept away from her, and sitting upright in bed, stared at her fixedly, her face for once putting on the mature dignity of her years, and seeming older than Edith’s. Then the clear-minded, rational Nina spoke out, “Miggie Bernard, were you ten thousand times engaged to Richard, it shall not be. You must not stain your soul with a perjured vow, and you would, were this sacrifice to be. Your lips would say ‘I love,’ but your heart would belie the words, and God’s curse will rest upon you if you do Richard this cruel wrong. He does not deserve that you should deal so treacherously with him, and Miggie, I would far rather you were lying in the grave-yard over yonder, than to do this great wickedness. You must not, you shall not,” and in the eyes of violet blue there was an expression beneath which the stronger eyes of black quailed as they had done once before, when delirium had set its mark upon them.

It was in vain that Edith persisted in saying she did, or at least should love Richard as he deserved. Nina was not to be convinced, and at last, in self-defence, Edith broke out bitterly against Arthur as the immediate cause of her sufferings. Had he not been faithless to his marriage vow, and might she not keep hers quite as well as he kept his.

Nina was very white, and the swollen veins stood out full upon her forehead as she lay panting on her pillow, but the eyes never for an instant left Edith’s, as she replied, “Arthur was in fault, Miggie, greatly in fault, but there was much to excuse his error. He was so young; not as old as you, Miggie, and Sarah Warren urged us on. I knew afterward why she did it, too. She is dead now, and I would not speak against her were it not necessary, but, Miggie, she wanted Dr. Griswold, and she fancied he liked me, so she would remove me from her path; and she did. She worked upon my love of the romantic, and Arthur’s impulsive nature, until she persuaded us to run away. While we were on the road, Arthur whispered to me, ‘Let’s go back,’ but I said, ‘No,’ while Sarah, who overheard him, sneered at him as cowardly, and we went on. Then father took me off to Paris, and I dared not tell him, he was so dreadful when he was angry; and then I loved Charlie Hudson, and loved him the more because I knew I musn’t.”

The mature expression was passing rapidly from Nina’s face, and the child-like one returning in its stead as she continued,

“I couldn’t bear to think of Arthur, and before I came home I determined never to live with him as his wife. I didn’t know then about this buzzing in my head, and the first thing I did when alone with him at the Revere House was to go down on my knees and beg of him not to make me keep my vow. I told him I loved Charlie best, and he talked so good to me–said maybe I’d get over it, and all that. Then he read pa’s letter, which told what I would some time be, and he didn’t ask me after that to live with him, but when he came from Florida and found me so dreadful, he put his arms around me, loving-like, and cried, while I raved like a fury and snapped at him like a dog. You see the buzzing was like a great noisy factory then, and Nina didn’t know what she was doing, she hated him so, and the more he tried to please her the more she hated him. Then, when I came to my senses enough to think I did not want our marriage known, I made him promise not to tell, in Florida or anywhere, so he didn’t, and the weary years wore on with people thinking I was his ward. Dr. Griswold was always kind and good, but not quite as patient and woman-like as Arthur. It seemed as if he had a different feeling toward me, and required more of me, for he was not as gentle when I tore as Arthur was. I was terribly afraid of him, though, and after a while he did me good. The buzzing wasn’t bigger than a mill-wheel, and it creaked just as a big wheel does when there is no water to carry it. It was crying that I wanted. I had not wept in three years, but the sight of you touched a spring somewhere and the waters poured like a flood, turning the wheel without that grating noise that used to drive me mad, and after that I never tore but once. He didn’t tell you, because I asked him not, but I scratched him, struck Phillis, burned up his best coat, broke the mirror, and oh, you don’t know how I did cut up! Then the pain went away and has never come back like that. Sometimes I can see that it was wrong for him to love you and then again I can’t, but if it was he has repented so bitterly of it since. He would not do it now. He needn’t have told you, either, for everybody was dead, and it never would have come back to me if he hadn’t said it in the Deering Woods. Don’t you see?”

“Yes, I see,” cried Edith, her tears dropping fast into her lap, “I see that I tempted him to sin. Oh, Arthur, I am most to blame– most to blame.”

“And you will give up Richard, won’t you?” Nina said. “Arthur is just as good, just as noble, just as true, and better too, it may be, for he has passed through a fiercer fire than Richard ever did. Will you give up Richard?”

“I can’t,” and Edith shook her head. “The chords by which he holds me are like bands of steel, and cannot be sundered. I promised solemnly that by no word or deed would I seek to break our engagement, and I dare not. I should not be happy if I did.”

And this was all Nina could wring from her, although she labored for many hours, sometimes rationally, sometimes otherwise, but always with an earnest simplicity which showed how pure were her motives, and how great her love for Edith.

CHAPTER XXX.

ARTHUR AND NINA.

It was rather late in the evening when Arthur returned, looking more than usually pale and weary, and still there was about him an air of playful pleasantry, such as there used to be, when Edith first knew him. During the long ride to Tallahassee, Victor, either from accident or design, touched upon the expected marriage of his master, and although Arthur would not ask a single question, he was a deeply-interested auditor, and listened intently, while Victor told him much which had transpired between himself and Edith, saying that unless some influence stronger than any he or Grace could exert were thrown around her, she would keep her vow to Richard, even though she died in keeping it.

“Girls like Edith Hastings do not die easily,” was Arthur’s only comment, and Victor half wished he had kept his own counsel and never attempted to meddle in a love affair.

But if Arthur said nothing, he thought the more, and the warfare within was not the less severe, because his face was so unruffled and his manner so composed. Thought, intense and almost bewildering, was busy at work, and ere the day was done, he had resolved that he would help Edith if all else forsook her. He would not throw one single obstacle across her pathway. He would make the sacrifice easier for her, even if to do it, he suffered her to think that his own love had waned. Nothing could more effectually cure her, and believing that she might be happy with Richard if she did not love another, he determined to measure every word and act so as to impress her with the conviction that though she was dear to him as a sister and friend, he had struggled with his affection for her and overcome it. It would be a living death to do this, he knew–to act so contrary to what he felt, but it was meet that he should suffer, and when at last he was left alone–when both wore lost to him forever–Edith and his child-wife Nina, he would go away across the sea, and lose, if possible, in foreign lands, all rememberance of the past. And this it was that made him seem so cheerful when he came in that night, calling Edith “little sister,” winding his arm around Nina, kissing her white face, asking if she had missed him any, if she were glad to have him back, and how she and Miggie had busied themselves during the day.

“We talked of you, Arthur, and of Richard,” Nina said. “Miggie has promised to many him! Did you know it?”

“Yes, I know it,” was Arthur’s reply; “and there is no person in the world to whom I would sooner give her than to Richard, for I know he will leave nothing undone to make her happy.”

There was no tremor in Arthur’s voice, and Nina little guessed how much it cost him thus to speak, with Edith sitting near. Looking up into his face with a startled, perplexed expression, she said, “I did not expect this, Arthur boy. I thought you loved Miggie.”

“Nina, please don’t,” and Edith spoke entreatingly, but Nina answered pettishly, “I ain’t going to please, for everything has got upside down. It’s all going wrong, and it won’t make a speck of difference, as I see, whether I die or not.”

“I think I’d try to live then,” Arthur said, laughingly, while Edith hailed the appearance of Marie as something which would put a restraint upon Nina.

It had been arranged that Edith should take Arthur’s place in the sick room that night, but Nina suddenly changed her mind, insisting that Arthur should sleep there as usual.

“There’s a heap of things I must tell you,” she whispered to him; “and my head is clearer when it’s darker and the candles are on the stand.”

So Edith retired to her own room, and after a time Arthur was alone with Nina. He was very tired, but at her request he sat down beside her, where she could look into his face and see, as she said, if he answered her for true. At first it was of herself she spoke–herself, as she used to be.

“I remember so well,” she said “when you called me your Florida rose, and asked for one of my curls. That was long ago, and there have been years of darkness since, but the clouds are breaking now–daylight is coming up, or rather Nina is going out, into the daylight, where there is no more buzzing, no more headache. Will I be crazy in Heaven, think?”

“No, darling, no,” and Arthur changed his seat from the chair to the bed, where he could be nearer to the little girl, who continued,

“I’ve thought these many weeks how good you’ve been to me–how happy you have made my last days, while I have been so bad to you, but you musn’t remember it against me, Arthur boy, when I’m dead and there isn’t any naughty Nina anywhere, neither at the Asylum, nor Grassy Spring, nor here in bed, nothing but a teenty grave, out in the yard, with the flowers growing on it, I say you must not remember the wicked things I’ve done, for it wasn’t the Nina who talks to you now. It was the buzzing Nina who tore your hair, and scratched your face, and bit your arm. Oh, Arthur, Nina’s so sorry now; but you musn’t lay it up against me.”

“No, my darling, God forbid that I, who have wronged you so terribly, should remember aught against you,” and Arthur kissed the slender hands which had done him so much mischief.

They were harmless now, those little waxen hands, and they caressed Arthur’s face and hair as Nina went on.

“Arthur boy, there’s one question I must ask you, now there’s nobody to hear, and you will tell me truly. Do you love me any– love me differently from what you did when I was in the Asylum, and if the buzzing all was gone, and never could come back, would you really make me your wife just as other husbands do–would you let me sit upon your knee, and not wish it was some one else, and in the night when you woke up and felt me close to you would you be glad thinking it was Nina? And when you had been on a great long journey, and were coming home, would the smoke from the chimney look handsomer to you because you knew it was Nina waiting for you by the hearth-stone, and keeping up the fire? Don’t tell me a falsehood, for I’ll forgive you, if you answer no.”

“Yes, Nina, yes. I would gladly take you as my wife if it could be. My broken lily is very precious to me now, far more so than she used to be. The right love for her began to grow the moment I confessed she was my wife, and when she’s gone, Arthur will be so lonely.”

“Will you, Arthur boy? Will you, as true as you live and breathe, miss poor, buzzing Nina? Oh, I’m so glad, so glad,” and the great tears dimmed the brightness of the blue eyes, which looked up so confidingly at Arthur. “I, too, have loved you a heap; not exactly as I loved Charlie Hudson, I reckon, but the knowing you are my husband, makes Nina feel kind of nice, and I want you to love me some–miss me some–mourn for me some, and then, Arthur, Nina wants you to marry Miggie. There is no buzzing; no twist in her head. It will rest as quietly on your bosom where mine has never lain, not as hers will, I mean, and you both will be so happy at last–happy in knowing that Nina has gone out into the eternal daylight, where she would rather be. You’ll do it, Arthur; she must not marry Richard, and you must speak to her quick, before she goes home, so as to stop it, for New Year’s is the time. Will you, Arthur?”

There was an instant of silence in the room–Nina waiting for Arthur to speak, and Arthur mustering all his strength to answer her as he felt he must.

“My darling,” laying his face down upon her neck among her yellow curls, “I shall never call another by the dear name I call you now, my wife.”

“Oh, Arthur,” and Nina’s cheeks flushed with indignant surprise, that he, too, should prove refractory. Everything indeed, was getting upside down. “Why not?” she asked. “Don’t you love Miggie?”

“Yes, very, very dearly! but it is too much to hope that she will ever be mine. I do not deserve it. You ask me my forgiveness, Nina. Alas! alas! I have tenfold more need of yours. It did not matter that we both wearied of our marriage vows, made when we were children–did not matter that you are crazy–I had no right to love another.

“But you have paid for it all a thousand times!” interrupted Nina. “You are a better Arthur than you were before, and Nina never could see the wrong in your preferring beautiful, sensible Miggie, to crazy, scratching, biting, teasing Nina, even if Richard had said over a few words, of which neither of us understood the meaning, or what it involved, this taking for better or worse. It surely cannot be wrong to marry Miggie when I’m gone, and you will, Arthur, you will!”

“No, Nina, no! I should be adding sin to sin did I seek to change her decision, and so wrong the noble Richard. His is the first, best claim. I will not interfere. Miggie must keep her word uninfluenced by me. I shall no raise my voice against it.”

“Oh, Arthur, Arthur!” Nina cried, clasping her hands together; “Miggie does not love him, and you surely know the misery of a marriage without love. It must not be! It shall no be! you can save Miggie, and you must!”

Every word was fainter than the preceding, and, when the last was uttered, Nina’s head dropped from Arthur’s shoulder to the pillow, and he saw a pinkish stream issuing from her lips. A small blood vessel had been ruptured, and Arthur, who knew the danger, laid his hand upon her mouth as he saw her about to speak, bidding her be quiet if she would not die at once.

Death, however long and even anxiously expected is unwelcome at the last, and Nina shrank from its near approach, laying very still, while Arthur summoned aid. Only once she spoke, and then she whispered, “Miggie,” thus intimating that she would have her called. In much alarm Edith came, trembling when she saw the fearful change which had passed over Nina, whose blue eyes followed her movements intently, turning often from her to Arthur as If they fain would utter what was in her mind. But not then was Nina St. Claire to die. Many days and nights were yet appointed her, and Arthur and Edith watched her with the tenderest care; only these two, for so Nina would have it. Holding their hands in hers she would gaze from one to the other with a wistful, pleading look, which, far better than words, told what she would say, were It permitted her to speak, but in the deep brown eyes of Arthur, she read always the same answer, while Edith’s would often fill with tears as she glanced timidly at the apparently cold, silent man, who, she verily believed, had ceased to love her.

But Nina knew better. Clouded as was her reason, she penetrated the mask he wore, and saw where the turbulent waters surged around him, while with an iron will and a brave heart he contended with the angry waves, and so outrode the storm. And as she watched them day after day, the purpose grew strong within her that if it were possible the marriage of Edith and Richard should be prevented, and as soon as she was able to talk she broached the subject to them both.

“Stay, Miggie,” she said to Edith, who was stealing from the room. “Hear me this once. You are together now, you and Arthur.”

“Nina,” said the latter, pitying Edith’s agitation, “You will spare us both much pain if you never allude again to what under other circumstances might have been.”

“But I must,” cried Nina. “Oh, Arthur, why won’t you go to Richard and tell him all about it?”

“Because it would be wrong,” was Arthur’s answer, and then Nina turned to Edith, “Why won’t you, Miggie?”

“Because I have solemnly promised that I would not,” was her reply.

And Nina rejoined, “Then I shall write. He loved little Snow Drop. He’ll heed what she says when she speaks from the grave. I’ll send him a letter.”

“Who’ll take it or read it to him if you do?” Arthur asked, and the troubled eyes of blue turned anxiously to Edith.

“Miggie, sister, won’t you?”

Edith shook her head, not very decidedly, it is true, still it was a negative shake, and Nina said, “Arthur boy, will you?”

“No, Nina, no.”

Hia answer was determined, and poor, discouraged Nina sobbed aloud, “Who will, who will?”

In the adjoining room there was a rustling sound–a coming footstep, and Victor Dupres appeared in the door. He had been an unwilling hearer of that conversation, and when Nina cried “who will?” he started up, and coming into the room as if by accident, advanced to the bedside and asked in his accustomed friendly way, “How is Nina to-night?” Then bending over her so that no one should hear, he whispered softly, “Don’t tell them, but I’ll read that letter to Richard!”

Nina understood him and held his hand a moment while she looked the thanks she dared not speak.

“Nina must not talk any more” Arthur said, as Victor walked away, “she is wearing out too fast,” and with motherly tenderness he smoothed her tumbled pillow–pushed back behind her ears the tangled curls–kissed her forehead, and then went out into the deepening night, whose cool damp air was soothing to his burning brow, and whose sheltering mantle would tell no tales of his white face or of the cry which came heaving up from where the turbulent waters lay, “if it be possible let this temptation pass from me, or give me strength to resist it.”

His prayer was heard–the turmoil ceased at last–the waters all were stilled, and Arthur went back to Nina, a calm, quiet man, ready and willing to meet whatever the future might bring.

CHAPTER XXXI.

LAST DAYS.

“Aunt Hannah will stay with me to-night,” Nina said to Arthur the next day, referring to an old negress who had taken cure of her when a child; and Arthur yielded to her request the more willingly, because of his own weariness.

Accordingly old Hannah was installed watcher in the sick room, receiving orders that her patient should not on any account be permitted to talk more than was absolutely necessary. Nina heard this injunction of Arthur and a smile of cunning flitted across her face as she thought how she would turn it to her own advantage in case Hannah refused to comply with her request, which she made as soon as they were left alone.

Hannah must first prop her up in bed, she said, and then give her her port-folio, paper, pen and ink. As she expected, the negress objected at once, bidding her be still, but Nina declared her intention of talking as fast and as loudly as she could, until her wish was gratified. Then Hannah threatened calling Arthur, thereupon the willful little lady rejoined, “I’ll scream like murder, if you do, and burst every single blood-vessel I’ve got, so bring me the paper, please, or shall I got it myself,” and she made a motion as if the would leap upon the floor, while poor old Hannah, regretting the task she had undertaken, was compelled to submit and bring the writing materials as desired.

“Now you go to sleep,” Nina said coaxingly, and as old Hannah found but little difficulty in obeying the command, Nina was left to herself while she wrote that long, long message, a portion of which we give below.

“DEAR MR. RICHARD:

“Poor blind man! Nina is so sorry for you to-night, because she knows that what she has to tell you will crush the strong life all out of your big heart, and leave it as cold and dead as she will be when Victor reads this to you. There won’t be any Nina then, for Miggie and Arthur, and a heap more, will have gone with their way out where both my mothers are lying, and Miggie’ll cry, I reckon when she hears the gravel stones ruttling down just over my head, but I shall know they cannot hit me, for the coffin-lid will be between, and Nina’ll lie so still. No more pain; no more buzzing; no more headache; no more darkness; won’t it be grand, the rest I’m going to. I shan’t be crazy in Heaven. Arthur says so; and he knows.

“Poor Arthur! It is of him and Miggie I am writing to you, if I ever can get to them; and Richard; when you hear this read, Nina’ll be there with you; but you can’t see her, because you’re blind, and you couldn’t see if you wern’t, but she’ll be there just the same. She’ll sit upon your knee, and wind her arms around your neck, so as to comfort you when the great cry comes in, the crash like the breaking up of the winter ice on the northern ponds, and when you feel yourself all crushed like they are in the spring, listen and you’ll hear her whispering, ‘Poor Richard, Nina pities you so much! She’ll kiss your tears away, too, though maybe you won’t feel her. And, Richard, you’ll do right, won’t you. You’ll give Miggie up. You’ll let Arthur have her, and so bring back the sunshine to her face. She’s so pale now and sorry, and the darkness lies thickly around her.

“There are three kinds of darkness, Richard. One like mine, when the brain has a buzz in the middle, and everything is topsy-turvy. One, like yours, when the world is all shut out with its beauty and its flowers; and then there’s another, a blacker darkness when the buzz is in the heart, making it wild with pain. Such, Richard is the darkness, which lies like a pall around our beautiful sister Miggie, and it will deepen and deepen unless you do what Nina asks you to do, and what Miggie never will, because she promised that she wouldn’t—–“

Then followed the entire story of the marriage performed by Richard, of the grief which followed, of Arthur’s gradually growing love of Edith, of the scene of the Deering Woods, of the incidents connected with Edith’s sickness, her anguish at parting with Arthur, her love for him still, her struggles to do right, and her determination to keep her engagement even though she died in doing it.

All this was told in Nina’s own peculiar style; and then came her closing appeal that Richard himself should break the bonds and set poor Miggie free.

“… It will be dreadful at first, I know, and may be all three of the darknesses will close around you for a time,–darkness of the heart, darkness of the brain, and darkness of the eyes, but it will clear away and the daylight will break, in which you will be happier than in calling Miggie your wife, and knowing how she shrinks from you, suffering your caresses only because she knows she must, but feeling so sick at her stomach all the time, and wishing you wouldn’t touch her. I know just how it feels, for when Arthur kissed me, or took my hand, or even came in my sight, before the buzz got into my head, it made me so cold and faint and ugly, the way the Yankees mean, knowing he was my husband when I wanted Charlie Hudson. Don’t subject Miggie to this horrid fate. Be generous and give her up to Arthur. He may not deserve her more than you, but she loves him the best and that makes a heap of difference.

“It’s Nina who asks it, Richard; dead Nina not a living one. She is sitting on your knee; her arms are round your neck; her face against yours and you must not tell her no, or she’ll cling to you day and night, night and day; when you are in company and when you are alone. When it is dark and lonely and all but you asleep, she’ll sit upon your pillow and whisper continually, ‘Give Miggie up; give Miggie up,’ or if you don’t, and Miggie’s there beside you, Nina’ll stand between you; a mighty, though invisible shield, and you’ll feel it’s but a mockery, the calling her your wife when her love is given to another.

“Good bye, now, Richard, good bye. My brain begins to buzz, my hand to tremble. The lines all run together, and I am most as blind as you. God bless you, Mr. Richard; bless you any way, but a heap more if you give Miggie up. May be He’ll give you back your sight to pay for Miggie. I should rather have it than a wife who did not love me; and I’ll tease Him till He’ll let me bring it to you some day.

“Good bye, again, good bye.

“NINA ARTHUR BERNARD.”

The night was nearly worn away ere the letter was finished; and Nina’s eyes flashed with unwonted fire as laughing aloud at the Arthur added to her name, she laid it away beneath her pillow and then tried herself to sleep. But this last was impossible, and when the morning broke she was so much worse that the old nurse trembled lest her master should censure her severely for having yielded to her young mistress’s whim. Mild and gentle as he seemed, Arthur could, if necessary, be very stern, and knowing this, old Hannah concluded at last that if Nina did not betray herself she would not, and when Arthur came, expressing his surprise at the change, and asking for its cause, she told glibly “how restless and onquiet Miss Nina done been flirtin’ round till the blood all got in her head and she was dreadful.”

“You should have called me,” Arthur said, sitting down by Nina, whose feverish hands he clasped, while he asked, “Is my little girl’s head very bad this morning?”

Nina merely nodded, for she really was too weak to talk, and Arthur watched her uneasily, wondering why it was that her eyes were fixed so constantly upon the door, as if expecting some one. When breakfast was announced she insisted that both he and Edith should leave her, and, the moment they were gone, she asked for Victor, who came at once, half guessing why he was sent for.

“Under my pillow,” she whispered, as he bent over her, and in an instant the letter, of whose existence neither Arthur nor Edith suspected, was safe in Victor’s pocket.

Nina had accomplished her object, and she became unusually quiet. Richard would get the letter–Richard would do right, she knew, and the conviction brought to her a deep peace, which nothing ever after disturbed. She did not speak of him again, and her last days were thus pleasanter to Edith, who, from the sweet companionship held with her gentle sister, learned in part what Nina Bernard was, ere the darkness of which she had written to Richard crept into her brain. Fair and beautiful as the white pond lily, she faded rapidly, until Arthur carried her no longer to the window, holding her in his arms while she looked out upon the yard and garden where she used to play–but she lay all day upon her bed holding Edith’s hands, and talking to her of that past still so dim and vague to the latter. Marie, too, often joined them, repeating to Edith many incidents of interest connected with both her parents, but speaking most of the queenly Petrea, whom Edith so strongly resembled. Nina, too, remembered her well, and Edith was never weary of hearing her tell of the “beautiful new mamma,” who kissed her so tenderly that night when she first came home, calling her la petite enfant, and placing in her arms a darling little sister, with eyes just like the stars!

Very precious to Edith was the memory of those days, when she watched the dying Nina, who, as death drew near, clung closer and closer to her sister, refusing to let her go.

“I want you with me,” she said, one afternoon, when the late autumn rain was beating against the window-pane, and the clouds hung leaden and dull in the Southern sky. “I want you and Arthur, both, to lead me down to the very edge of the river, and not let go my hands until the big waves wash me away, for Nina’s a wee bit of a girl, and she’ll be afraid to launch out alone upon the rushing stream. I wish you’d go too, Miggie,–go over Jordan with me. Why does God make me go alone?”

“You will not go alone, my darling!” and Edith’s voice was choked with tears as she told the listening Nina of one whose arm would surely hold her up, so that the waters should not overflow.

“It’s the Saviour you mean,” and Nina spoke reverently. “I loved Him years ago before the buzzing came, but I’ve been so bad since then, that I’m afraid that He’ll cast me off. Will He, think? When I tell him I am little Nina Bernard come from Sunnybank, will He say, ‘Go ‘way old crazy Nina, that tore poor Arthur boy’s hair?'”

“No, no, oh, no,” and Edith sobbed impetuously as she essayed to comfort the bewildered girl, whose mind grasped but faintly the realities of eternity.

“And you’ll stand on the bank till I am clear across,” she said, when Edith had ceased speaking, “You and Arthur stand where I can see you if I should look back. And, Miggie, I have a presentiment that Nina’ll go to-night, but I don’t want any body here except you and Arthur. I remember when grandma died the negroes howled so dismally, and they didn’t love her one bit either. They used to make mouths at her, and hide her teeth. But they do love me, and their screeches will get my head all in a twist. I’d rather they wouldn’t know till morning; then when they ask for me Arthur’ll tell them sorry like that Nina’s dead; Nina’s gone into the daylight, and left a world of love to them who have been so kind to her. Don’t let them crowd up around me, or make too much ado. It isn’t worth the while, for I’m of no account, and you’ll be good to them Miggie–good to the poor ignorant blacks. They are your’s after me, and I love them a heap. Don’t let them be sold, will you?”

Here Nina paused, too much exhausted to talk longer, and when about dark Arthur came in, he found her asleep with Edith at her side, while upon her face and about her nose there was a sharp, pitched look he had never seen before. Intuitively, however, he knew that look was the harbinger of death, and when Edith told him what Nina had said, he felt that ere the morning came his broken lily would be gone.

Slowly the evening wore on, and one by one the family retired, leaving Arthur and Edith alone with the pale sleeper whose slumbers ended not until near the midnight hour; silently, sadly, Arthur and Edith watched her, she on one side, he upon the other, neither speaking for the sorrow which lay so heavy at their hearts, She was very beautiful as she lay there so motionless, and Arthur felt his heart clinging more and more to his fair, childish wife, while his conscience smote him cruelly for any wrong he might have done to her. She was going from him now so fast, and as the clock struck twelve the soft blue eyes unclosed and smiled up in his face with an expression which, better than words could do, told that she bore no malice toward him, nothing but trusting faith and confiding love. He had been kind to her, most kind, and she told him so again, for she seemed to know how dear to him such testimonial would be when she was gone.

“The clouds are weeping for Nina,” she said, as she heard the rain still beating against the window. “Will it make the river deeper, think? I hear its roar in the distance. It’s just beginning to heave in sight, and I dread it so much. ‘Twill be lonesome crossing this dismal, rainy night. Oh, Arthur–boy, Arthur–boy, let me stay with you. Can’t you keep me? Can’t you hide me somewhere? you, Miggie? I won’t be in the way. It’s so icy, and the river is so deep. Save me, do!” and she stretched out her hands to Arthur as if imploring him to hold her back from the rushing stream bearing down so fast upon her.

Forcing down his own great grief, Arthur took her in his arms and hugging her fondly to him, sought to comfort her by whispering of the blessed Saviour who would carry her in His bosom beyond the swelling flood, and Nina, as she listened, grew calm and still, while something like the glory of the better land shone upon her face as she repeated after him, “There’ll be no night, no darkness there, no headache, no pain,–nor buzzing either?” she suddenly asked. “Say, will there be any buzzing brains in Heaven?”

Arthur shook his head, and she continued, “That will be so nice, and Dr. Griswold will be so glad when he knows Nina is not crazy. He’s gone before, I reckon, to take care of me,–gone where there’s nothing but daylight, glorious, grand; kiss me again, Arthur boy. ‘Tis sweet to die upon your bosom with Miggie standing near, and when you both are happy in each other’s love, don’t quite forget little Nina,–Nina out under the flowers, will you? She’s done a heap of naughtiness, I know; but she’s sorry, Arthur, she is so sorry that she ever bit your arm or tore your hair! Poor hair! Pretty brown hair! Bad Nina made the white threads come,” and her childish hands caressed the thick brown locks mingling with her sunny curls, as Arthur bent over her, answering only with his tears, which fell in torrents.

“Don’t, darling, don’t,” he said, at last. “The bad has all been on my side, and I would that you should once more say I am forgiven.”

Nina gazed wonderingly at him a moment, then made a motion that he should lay her back upon the pillow.

“Now put your head down here, right on my neck–so.”

He complied with her request, and placing both her bands upon the bowed head of the young man, Nina whispered,

“May the Good Shepherd, whose lamb Nina hopes to be, keep my Arthur boy, and bless him a hundred fold for all he’s been to me, and if he has wronged me, which I don’t believe, but if he has, will God please forgive him as fully, as freely as Nina does–the best Arthur boy that ever lived. I’ll tell God all about it, and how I pestered you, and how good you were, my Arthur boy–Nina’s Arthur first and Miggie’s after me. Now put your arms around me again,” she said, as she finished the blessing which brought such peace to Arthur. “Put them around me tight, for the river is almost here. Don’t you hear its splashing? Miggie, Miggie,” she cried, shivering as with an ague chill, “hold my hand with all your might, but don’t let me pull you in. I’m going down the bank. My feet are in the water, and it’s so freezing cold. I’m sinking, too, and the big waves roll over me. Oh, Arthur, you said it would not hurt,” and the dim eyes flashed upon the weeping man a most reproachful glance, as if he had deceived her, while the feet were drawn shudderingly up, as if they had, indeed, touched the chill tide of death, and shrank affrighted from it. Edith could only sob wildly, as she grasped the clammy hand stretched toward her, but Arthur, more composed, whispered to the dying girl,

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou, Lord, art with me; thy staff and thy rod, they comfort me.”

“Look away to the shore,” he continued, as Nina ceased to struggle, and lay still on his bosom. “Look away to the glorious city–my darling is almost there.”

“Yes, yes, I do, I am,” came faintly up, and then with a glad cry of joy, which rang in their ears for many a day and night, Nina said,

“You may lay me down, my Arthur boy, and take your arm away. There’s a stronger one than yours around me now. The arm that Miggie told me of, and it will not let me down. I’m going over so easy, easy, in a cradle-like, and Dr. Griswold’s there waiting for clipped-winged birdie. He looks so glad, so happy. It is very nice to die; but stand upon the bank, Arthur and Miggie. Wait till I’m across.”

They thought she had left them, when softly, sweetly, as if it were a note of heavenly music sent back to them from the other world, there floated on the air the words,

“Climb up the bank, I’m most across. I do not see you now. MOTHER- -and Miggie’s mother–and Dr. Griswold have waded out to meet me. The darkness is passed, the daylight has dawned; Miggie precious, and darling Arthur boy, good-bye, for Nina’s gone, good-bye.”

The white lips never moved again, the waxen hands lay lifelessly in Arthur’s, the damp, bright hair lay half-uncurled upon the pillow, the blue eyes were closed, the aching head was still, the “twisted brain” had ceased to “buzz,” the Darkness for her was over, and Nina had gone out into the Daylight.

CHAPTER XXXII.

PARTING WITH THE DEAD, AND PARTING WITH THE LIVING.

Softly the morning broke and the raindrops glittered like diamonds in the rising sun, whose rays fell mockingly upon desolate Sunnybank, where the howling of the blacks mingled with the sobs of those more nearly bereaved. Very troublesome had the beautiful departed been in life; none knew how troublesome one-half so well as Arthur, and yet of all the weeping band who gathered around her bed, none mourned her more truly than did he who had been her husband in name for eleven years. Eleven years! How short they seemed, looked back upon, and how much sorrow they had brought him. But this was all forgotten, and in his heart there was naught save tender love for the little maiden now forever at rest.

All the day he sat by her, and both Edith and Victor felt that it was not the mere semblance of grief he wore, while others of the household, who knew nothing of his past in connection with Edith, said to each other, “It is strange he should love her so well when she was so much care to him.”

They did not know it was this very care for her; this bearing with her which made her so dear to him, and as the mother longs for and wishes back the unfortunate but beloved child which made her life so wearisome so Arthur mourned and wept for Nina, thanking God one moment that her poor, pain-worn head was at rest, and again murmuring to himself, “I would that I had her back again.”

He scarcely spoke to Edith, although he knew whenever her footsteps crossed the threshold of the darkened room; knew when she bent over Nina; heard the kisses she pressed on the cold lips; and even watched until it was dry the tear she once left on Nina’s cheek, but he held no communication with her, and she was left to battle with her grief alone. Once, indeed, she went to him and asked what Nina should be buried in, and this for a time roused him from his apathetic grief.

“Nina must be buried in white,” he said; “she looked the best in that; and, Edith, I would have her curls cut off, all but those that shade her face. You have arranged them every day. Will you do so once more if I will hold her up?”

Edith would rather the task had devolved upon some one else, but she offered no objection, though her tears fell like rain when she brought the curling-stick and brush and began to separate the tangled locks, while Arthur encircled the rigid form with his arm, as carefully as if she still were living, watching her with apparent interest as she twined about her fingers the golden hair. But when, at last, she held the scissors which were to sever those bright tresses, his fortitude all gave way, for he remembered another time when he had held poor Nina, not as he held her now, but with a stronger, firmer grasp, while, by rougher hands than Edith’s, those locks were shorn away. Groan after groan came from his broad chest, and his tears moistened the long ringlets he so lovingly caressed.

“You may cut them now,” he said at last, holding his breath as if the sharp steel were cutting into his heart’s core, as, one by one, the yellowish curls were severed, and dropped, some into Edith’s lap, while others, lodging upon his fingers, curled about them with a seemingly human touch, making him moan bitterly, as he pressed them to his lips, and then shook them gently off.

Nina’s hair, like her sister’s, had been her crowning glory–so thick, so wavy, so luxuriant it was; and when the task was done, and the tresses divided, five heavy curls were Arthur’s and five more were Edith’s.

“Where shall I put yours?” Edith asked, and for a moment Arthur did not answer.

In a rosewood box, into which he had not looked for years, there was a mass of longer, paler, more uneven curls than these, but Arthur would not distress Edith by telling her about them, and he replied, at last, “I will put them away, myself.” Then taking them from her and going to his own private chamber, he opened the box and dropped them in, weeping when he saw how strongly they contrasted with the other faded crazy curls, as he called them.

In a plain white muslin, which had been made for Nina at Grassy Spring, they arrayed her for the coffin, the soft, rich lace encircling her throat and falling about her slender arms folded so meekly together. Flowers were twined about her head–flowers were on her pillow–flowers in her hands–flowers upon her bosom– flowers of purest white, and meet emblems of the sweet young girl, whose features, to the last, retained the same childlike, peaceful expression which had settled upon them when she called back to Arthur, “Climb up the bank. I’m most across.”

The day of her burial was balmy and warm, and the southern wind blew softly across the fields as the weeping band followed the lost one across the threshold and laid her away where the flowers of spring would blossom above her little grave. Very lonely and desolate seemed the house when the funeral train returned to it, and the lamentations of the blacks broke out afresh as they began to realize that their young mistress was really gone, and henceforth another must fill her place. Would it be Arthur or would it be the queenly Edith, whose regal beauty had captivated all their hearts? Assembled in the kitchen they discussed this question, giving to neither the preference, for though they had tried Arthur and found him a kind and humane master, they felt that after Nina, Edith had the right. Then, as other than blacks will do, they speculated upon the future, wondering why both Arthur and Edith could not rule jointly over them; they would like that vastly, and had nearly decided that it would be, when Victor, who was with them, tore down their castle by telling them that Edith was already engaged to some one else. This changed the channel of conversation, and Victor left them wondering still what the future would bring.

Slowly the evening passed, in kitchen and in parlor and only those who have felt it can tell the unspeakable loneliness of that first evening after the burial of the dead. Several times Arthur started as if he would go to the bed standing empty in the corner, while Edith, too, fancied that she heard the name “Miggie,” spoken as only Nina could speak it. Then came a feeling of desolation as the thought was forced upon them, “She is gone;” and as the days went on till three suns had risen on her grave, the loneliness increased until Edith could bear it no longer, and to Victor she said, “We will go back to Richard, who is waiting so anxiously for us.”

Everything which Arthur could do he did to reinstate Edith in her rights. Not one dollar of the Bernard estate had he ever spent for himself and very little for Nina, preferring to care for her out of his own resources and thus the property had increased so rapidly that Edith was richer than her wildest hopes. But not one feather did this weigh with her, and on the day when matters were arranged, she refused to do or say anything about it, persisting so obstinately in her refusal, that the servants whispered slily to each other, “That’s a heap of old marster’s grit thar.”

For a time Arthur coaxed and reasoned with her; then finding that this did not avail, he changed the mode of treatment, and, placing a chair by his own, said to her commandingly, “Edith, sit here!” and she sat there, for there was that in Arthur’s sternness which always enforced obedience.

“It cannot be more unpleasant for you than for me, but it is necessary,” he said to her, in a low tone, as she sank into her seat, and ashamed of her willfulness, Edith whispered back, “I am sorry I behaved so like a child. Forgive me won’t you?”

Still it grated harshly, this being compelled to listen while the lawyer, summoned by Arthur, talked to her of lands and mortgages, of bank stock, and, lastly, of the negroes. Would she have them sold, or what? Then Edith roused from her apathy. Nina had entrusted them to her, and she would care for them. They should not be sold, and so she said; they should still live at Sunnybank, having free papers made out in case of accident to herself, or, if they preferred, they should go with her at once to Collingwood, and Sunnybank to be sold.

“Oh, Heavens!” exclaimed Victor, who had stationed himself behind Edith. “Forty niggers at Collingwood! Mr. Harrington never would stand that. Leave them here.”

Arthur smiled at the Frenchman’s evident distress, while Edith made a gesture that Victor should be still, and then continued, “It may be better to leave them here for a time at least, and Mr. Harrington shall decide upon their future home.”

She said this naturally, and as a matter of course, but her heart leaped to her throat when she saw the pallor which for an instant overspread Arthur’s face at her allusion to one who would soon have the right to rule her and hers.

“Is Mr. Harrington your guardian, Miss Bernard?” the lawyer asked, and ere Edith could reply, Arthur answered for her, “He is to be her husband.”

The lawyer bowed and went on with his writing, all unconscious of the wounds his question had tore open, leaving them to bleed afresh as both Arthur and Edith assumed a mask of studied indifference, never looking at or addressing each other again while that painful interview lasted. It was over at length, and the lawyer gone. Matters were adjusted as well they could be at present. The negroes were to remain at Sunnybank under charge of an overseer as usual, while Arthur was to stay there, too, until he decided upon his future course. This was his own proposition, and Edith acceded to it joyfully. There were no sweet home associations, connected in her mind with Sunnybank, it is true, for she was too young when she left it to retain more than a dim, shadowy remembrance of a few scenes and places; but it had been Nina’s home; there she was born, there she had lived, there she had died, and Edith felt that it would not be one half so dreary looked back upon, if Arthur would stay there always.

“Why can’t you?” she asked of him when in the evening she sat with him in the rather gloomy parlor. “I’ll make you my agent in general, giving you permission to do whatever you please, or would you rather live at Grassy Spring?”

“Anywhere but there,” was Arthur’s quick response, “I shall sell Grassy Spring and go abroad. I shall be happier so. I have never known the comfort of a home for any length of time, and it does not matter where I am. My mother, as Grace may have told you, was a gay, fashionable woman, and after the period of mourning had expired, I only remember her resplendent in satin and diamonds, kissing me good-night ere her departure for some grand party. Then, when I was eight years old, she, too, died, leaving me to the care of a guardian. Thus, you see, I have no pleasant memories of a home, and the cafes of Paris will suit me as well as anything, perhaps. Once I hoped for something better, but that is over now, Nina is dead, while you, on whom, as my wife’s sister, I have some claim, will soon be gone from here and I shall be alone. I shall sell Grassy Spring,–shall place the negroes there in your keeping, and then next spring leave the country, never to return, it may be.”

He ceased speaking, and there was a silence in the room which Edith could not break. Arthur had told her frankly of his intended future, but she could not speak of hers–could not tell him that Collingwood’s doors were ever open to him–that she would be his sister in very deed–that Richard would welcome him as a brother for her sake, and that the time might come when they could be happy thus. All this passed through her mind, but not a word of it escaped her lips, lest by doing so she would betray her real feelings. Arthur did not seem to her now as he had done a few days previous; their relations to each other had changed, and were there no Richard, it would not be wicked to love him now. Nina was gone; the past was more than atoned for; the marble, at first unsightly to some degree, had been hewn and polished, and though the blows had each struck deep, they wrought in Arthur St. Claire a perfect work. Ennobled, subdued, and purified, he was every way desirable, both as brother, friend, and husband, but he was not for her, and the consciousness that it was so, palsied her powers of speech.

Wishing to say something to break the awkward silence, Arthur asked at last, if it were true, as Victor had said, that she intended starting for Collingwood the day after to-morrow, and then she burst into tears, but made him no reply, only passionate sobs which smote cruelly upon his heart, for well he guessed their meaning. He could read Edith Hastings aright–could fathom her utmost thoughts, find he knew how she shrank from the future dreading a return to Collingwood, and what awaited her there. He knew, too, that but a few words from himself were needed to keep her at Sunnybank with him forever. Others might be powerless to influence her decision, but he was not; he could change her whole future life by whispering in her ear, “Stay with me, Edith; don’t go back,” but the Arthur of to-day was stronger than the Arthur of one year ago, and though the temptation was a terrible one, he met it bravely, and would not deal thus treacherously with Richard, who had so generously trusted her with him. Edith must keep her vow, and when at last he spoke, it was to say something of the journey, as if that had all the time been uppermost in his mind.

“He does not love me any more, and I don’t care,” was Edith’s mental comment, as she soon after left him and hurried to her room, where she wept herself to sleep, never suspecting how long and dreary was that night to the young man whose eyelids never for a moment closed, and who, as the day was breaking, stole out to Nina’s grave, finding there a peace which kept his soul from fainting.

At the breakfast table he was the same easy, elegant, attentive host he always was in his own house, conversing pleasantly upon indifferent topics, but he could not look at her now, on this her last day with him; could not endure to hear her voice, and he avoided her presence, seeing as little of her as possible, and retiring unusually early, even though he read in her speaking eyes a wish that he would tarry longer.

The next morning, however, he knew the instant she was astir, listening eagerly to the sound of her footsteps as she made her hasty toilet, and watching her from his window as she went to Nina’s grave, sobbing out her sad farewell to the loved dead. He saw her, too, as she came back to the house, and then with a beating heart went down to meet her.

The breakfast was scarcely touched, and the moment it was over Edith hurried to her chamber, for it was nearly time to go. The trunks were brought down–Edith’s and Marie’s–for the latter was to live henceforth with her young mistress; the servants had crowded to the door, bidding their mistress good bye, and then it was Arthur’s turn. Oh, who shall tell of the tempest which raged within as he held for a moment her soft, white hand in his and looked into the face which, ere he saw it again, might lose its girlish charm for him, inasmuch as a husband’s kisses would have been showered upon it. Many times he attempted to speak, but could not, and pressing his lips to hers, he hastened away, going straight to Nina’s grave which had become to him of late a Bethel.

Scarcely was he gone, when Tom, the driver, announced that something was the matter with the harness, and by this delay, Edith gained a few moments, which she resolved to spend with Nina. She did not know that Arthur, too, was there, until she came close upon him as he bent over the little mound. He heard her step, and turning toward her, and, half bitterly, “Edith, why will you tempt me so?”

“Oh, Arthur, don’t,” and with a piteous cry Edith sank at his feet, and laying her face on Nina’s grave, sobbed out, “I did not know that you were here, but I am so glad that you are, for I cannot be without your blessing, you must tell me I am doing right, or I shall surely die. The world is so dark–so dark.”

Arthur had been tempted before–sorely, terribly tempted–but never like this, and recoiling a pace or two, he stood with the dead Nina between himself and she weeping heavily, while the wild thought swept over him, “Is it right that I should fiend her away?