Reverently I folded her in my arms; gathered her to the heart that worshipped her utterly. Henceforth no sorrows could hurt us, no misfortunes vex; for we should walk hand in hand on our earthly pilgrimage and find the way all too short.
Time, whose sands run out with such unequal swiftness for the just and the unjust, the happy and the wretched, lagged, no doubt, with the toilers in the room that we had left. But for us its golden grains trickled out apace and left the glass empty before we had begun to mark their passage. The turning of a key and the opening of a door aroused us from our dream of perfect happiness. Ruth raised her head to listen, and our lips met for one brief moment. Then, with a silent greeting to the friend who had looked on our grief and witnessed our final happiness, we turned and retraced our steps quickly, filling the great, empty rooms with chattering echoes.
“We won’t go back into the dark-room—which isn’t dark now,” said Ruth.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because—when I came out I was very pale; and I’m—well, I don’t think I am very pale now. Besides, poor Uncle John is in there—and—I should be ashamed to look at him with my selfish heart overflowing with happiness.”
“You needn’t be,” said I. “It is the day of our lives and we have a right to be happy. But you shan’t go in, if you don’t wish to,” and I accordingly steered her adroitly past the beam of light that streamed from the open door.
“We have developed four negatives,” said Thorndyke, as he emerged with the others, “and I am leaving them in the custody of Doctor Norbury, who will sign each when they are dry, as they may have to be put in evidence. What are you going to do?”
I looked at Ruth to see what she wished.
“If you won’t think me ungrateful,” said she, “I should rather be alone with my father to-night. He is very weak, and—”
“Yes, I understand,” I said hastily. And I did. Mr. Bellingham was a man of strong emotions and would probably be somewhat overcome by the sudden change of fortune and the news of his brother’s tragic death.
“In that case,” said Thorndyke, “I will bespeak your services. Will you go on and wait for me at my chambers, when you have seen Miss Bellingham home?”
I agreed to this, and we set forth under the guidance of Dr. Norbury (who carried an electric lamp) to return by the way we had come; two of us, at least, in a vastly different frame of mind. The party broke up at the entrance gates, and as Thorndyke wished my companion “Good night,” she held his hand and looked up in his face with swimming eyes.
“I haven’t thanked you, Doctor Thorndyke,” she said, “and I don’t feel that I ever can. What you have done for me and my father is beyond all thanks. You have saved his life and you have rescued me from the most horrible ignominy. Good-bye! and God bless you!”