It might have been a mere fancy, but to Edith it was a reality, and she said within herself,
“Yes, darling mother, I will do right, and as I am sure yon would approve my giving myself to Richard, so I will be his wife.”
One wild, longing, painful throb her heart gave to the past when she had hoped for other bridegroom than the middle-aged man on whose knee she sat, and then laying her hot face against his bearded cheek, she whispered,
“You’ve told the story, Richard. It does not need Marie to confirm it, though she, too, will come sometime to tell me who I am, but when she comes, I shan’t be Edith Hastings, shall I. The initials won’t be changed, though. They will be ‘E.H.’ still—Edith Harrington. It has not a bad sound, has it?”
“Don’t, darling, please don’t,” and Richard’s voice had in it a tone much like that which first rang through the room, when Edith said,
“It cannot be.”
“Richard,” and Edith took his cold face between her soft, warm hands, “Richard, won’t you let the singing bird call you husband? If you don’t, she will fly away and sing to some one else, who will prize her songs. I thought you loved me, Richard.”
“Oh, Edith, my precious Edith! If I knew I could make the love grow where it is not growing—the right kind of love, I mean—I would not hesitate; but, darling, Richard Harrington would die a thousand deaths rather than take you to his bosom an unloving wife. Remember that, and do not mock me; do not deceive me. You think now in the first flush of your gratitude to me for having saved your life and in your pity for my blindness that you can do anything; but wait awhile—consider well—think how I shall be old while you still are young,—a tottering, gray-haired man, while your blood still retains the heat of youth. The Harringtons live long. I may see a hundred.”
“And I shall then be seventy-nine; not so vast a difference,” interrupted Edith.
“No, not a vast difference then,” Richard rejoined, “but ’tis not then I dread. ’Tis now, the next twenty-five years, during which I shall be slowly decaying, while you will be ripening into a matured, motherly beauty, dearer to your husband than all your girlish loveliness. ’Tis then that I dread the contrast in you; not when both are old; and, Edith, remember this, you can never be old to me, inasmuch as I can never see you. I may feel that your smooth, velvety flesh is wrinkled, that your shining hair is thin, your soft round arms more sinewy and hard, but I cannot see it, and in my heart I shall cherish ever the image I first loved as Edith Hastings. You, on the contrary, will watch the work of death go on in me, will see my hair turn gray, my form begin to stoop, my hand to tremble, my eyes grow blear and watery, and when all has come to pass, won’t you sicken of the shaky old man and sigh for a younger, more vigorous companion?”
“Not unless you show me such horrid pictures,” Edith sobbed, impetuously, for in her heart of hearts she felt the truth of every word he uttered, and her whole soul revolted against the view presented to her of the coming time.