“Who told you?” she asked.
“No one; but I discovered it from Sarah; she was unguarded.”
“Well, sir,” said Annie, blushing still, but laughing, “there is no reason for your being so grateful, I thought I would mend it, as I formerly laughed at it—and I hope it is neatly done.”
“It is scarcely visible,” I said, with a smile and a bow; “I shall keep this coat always to remind me of your delicate kindness.”
“Pshaw! ’twas nothing.”
And running to the piano, the young girl commenced a merry song, which rang through the old hall like the carol of a bird. Her voice was so inexpressibly sweet that it made my pulses throb and my heart ache. I did not know the expression of my countenance, as I looked at her, until turning toward me, I saw her suddenly color to the roots of her hair.
I felt, all at once, that I had fixed upon her one of those looks which say as plainly as words could utter: “I love you with all the powers of my nature, all the faculties of my being—you are dearer to me than the whole wide world beside!”
Upon my word of honor as a gentleman, I did not know that I loved Annie—I was not conscious that I was gazing at her with that look of inexpressible tenderness. Her sudden blush cleared up everything like a flash of lightning—I rose, set my lips together, and bowed. I could scarcely speak—I muttered “pray excuse me,” and left the apartment.
On the next morning I begged the squire to release me from the completion of my task—I had a friend who could perform the duties as well as myself, and who would come to the hall for that purpose, inasmuch as the account books could not be removed—I must go.
The formal and ceremonious old gentleman did not ask my reasons for this sudden act—he simply inclined his head—and said that he would always be glad to serve me. With a momentary pressure of Annie’s cold hand, and a low bow to the frigid Mrs. Barrington, I departed.
Five years have passed away. They have been eventful ones to me—not for the unhoped for success which I have had in my profession, so much as for the long suffering which drove me, violently as it were, to seek relief in unceasing toil.
The thought of Annie has been ever with me—my pain, though such a term is slight, was caused by my leaving her. I never knew how much I loved her until all those weary miles were thrown between us. My days have been most unhappy, my nights drearier still; for a long time now, I have not thought or said “how good a thing it is to live!”
But I acted wisely, and honorably; did I not? I did my duty, when the temptation to neglect it was exceeding hard to resist. I went away from the woman whom I loved, because I loved her, and respected my own name and honor, too much to remain. It was better to break my heart, I said, than take advantage of my position at the hall, to engage a young girl’s heart, and drag her down, in case she loved me, to the poor low sphere in which I moved. If her father had said to me, “You have abused the trust I placed in you, and acted with duplicity,” I think it would have ruined me, forever, in my own esteem. And would he not have had the right to say it?