It was all for her,—to give her hope and courage; but the light of it was partly kindled by his own hope and gladness that lay behind; and how could she know that, or read it right? It was at once too much, and not enough, for her.
Five minutes after, Luclarion Grapp went by the parlor door with a pile of freshly ironed linen in her arms, on her way up-stairs.
Desire lay upon the sofa, her face down upon the pillow; her arms were thrown up, and her hands clasped upon the sofa-arm; her frame shook with sobs.
Luclarion paused for the time of half a step; then she went on. She said to herself in a whisper, as she went,—
“It is a stump; a proper hard one! But there’s nobody else; and I have got to tell her!”
* * * * *
That evening, under some pretense of clean towels, Luclarion came up into Desire’s room.
She was sitting alone, by the window, in the dark.
Luclarion fussed round a little; wiped the marble slab and the basin; set things straight; came over and asked Desire if she should not put up the window-bars, and light the gas.
“No,” said Desire. “I like this best.”
So did Luclarion. She had only said it to make time.
“Desire,” she said,—she never put the “Miss” on, she had been too familiar all her life with those she was familiar with at all,—“the fact is I’ve got something to say, and I came up to say it.”
She drew near—came close,—and laid her great, honest, faithful hand on the back of Desire Ledwith’s chair, put the other behind her own waist, and leaned over her.
“You see, I’m a woman, Desire, and I know. You needn’t mind me, I’m an old maid; that’s the way I do know. Married folks, even mothers, half the time forget. But old maids never forget. I’ve had my stumps, and I can see that you’ve got yourn. But you’d ought to understand; and there’s nobody, from one mistake and another, that’s going to tell you. It’s awful hard; it will be a trouble to you at first,”—and Luclarion’s strong voice trembled tenderly with the sympathy that her old maid heart had in it, after, and because of, all those years,—“but Kenneth Kincaid”—
“What!” cried Desire, starting to her feet, with a sudden indignation.
“Is going to be married to Rosamond Holabird,” said Luclarion, very gently. “There! you ought to know, and I have told you.”
“What makes you suppose that that would be a trouble to me?” blazed Desire. “How do you dare”—
“I didn’t dare; but I had to!” sobbed Luclarion, putting her arms right round her.
And then Desire—as she would have done at any rate, for that blaze was the mere flash of her own shame and pain—broke down with a moan.
“All at once! All at once!” she said piteously, and hid her face in Luclarion’s bosom.
And Luclarion folded her close; hugged her, the good woman, in her love that was sisterly and motherly and all, because it was the love of an old maid, who had endured, for a young maid upon whom the endurance was just laid,—and said, with the pity of heaven in the words,—