Not long after, the two were thrown near together, when an introduction took place. The conversation of the young lady interested Florence, and in her society he passed half an hour most pleasantly. While talking with more than usual animation, in lifting his eyes he saw that some one on, the opposite side of the room was observing him attentively. For the moment this did not produce any effect. But, in looking up again, he saw the same eyes upon him, and felt their expression as unpleasant. He now, for the first time, became aware that the aunt of Edith Walter was present. She it was who had been regarding him so attentively. From that instant his heart sunk in his bosom. Memory’s magic mirror was before him, and in it he saw pictured the whole scene of that last meeting with Edith.
A little while afterward, and Edwin Florence was missed from the pleasant company. Where was he? Alone in the solitude of his own chamber, with his thoughts upon the past. Again he had been reading over those pages of his Book of Life in which was written the history of his intimacy with and desertion of Edith; and the record seemed as fresh as if made but the day before. It was in vain that he sought to close or avert his eyes. There seemed a spell upon him; and he could only look and read.
“Fatal error!” he murmured to himself, as he struggled to free himself from his thraldom to the past. “Fatal error! How a single act will curse a man through life. Oh! if I could but extinguish the whole of this memory! If I could wipe out the hand-writing. Sorrow, repentance, is of no avail. The past is gone for ever. Why then should I thus continue to be unhappy over what I cannot alter? It avails nothing to Edith. She is happy—far happier than if she had remained on this troublesome earth.”
But, even while he uttered these words, there came into his mind such a realizing sense of what the poor girl must have suffered, when she found her love thrown back upon her, crushing her heart by its weight, that he bowed his head upon his bosom and in bitter self-upbraidings passed the hours until midnight, when sleep locked up his senses, and calmed the turbulence of his feelings.
Months elapsed before Edwin Florence ventured again into company.
“Why will you shut yourself up after this fashion?” said an acquaintance to him one day. “It isn’t just to your friends. I’ve heard half a dozen persons asking for you lately. This hermit life you are leading is, let me tell you, a very foolish life.”
The friend who thus spoke knew nothing of the young man’s heart history.
“No one really misses me,” said Florence, in reply.
“In that you are mistaken,” returned the friend. “You are missed. I have heard one young lady, at least, ask for you of late, more than a dozen times.”
“Indeed! A young lady?”