“Miss Edith, this is madness—this is folly,” and Victor sat down before her. “I was a fool to think it was Mrs. Atherton.”
“Victor Dupres, what do you mean? What do you know? Why are you here?” and Edith’s eyes flashed with insulted pride; but Victor did not quail before them. Gazing steadily at her, he replied, “You are engaged to your guardian, and you do not love him.”
“Victor Dupres, I do!” and Edith struck her hand upon the table with a force which made the glass lamp rattle.
“Granted you do,” returned Victor, “but how do you love him? As a brother, as a friend, as a father, if you will, but not as you should love your husband; not as you could love Arthur St. Claire, were he not bound by other ties,”
Across the table the blanched, frightened face of Edith looked, and the eyes which never before had been so black, scanned Victor keenly.
“What do you know of Arthur St. Claire’s ties?” she asked at last, every word a labored breath.
Victor made no answer, but hurrying from the room, returned with the crumpled, soiled sheet of foolscap, which he placed before her, asking if she ever saw it before.
Edith’s mind had been sadly confused when Nina read to her the scratching out, and she had forgotten it entirely, but it came back to her now, and catching up the papers, she recognized Richard’s unmistakable hand-writing. He knew, then, of her love for Arthur—of the obstacle to that love—of the agony it cost her to give him up. He had deceived her—had won her under false pretenses, assuming that she loved no one. She did not think this of Richard, and in her eyes, usually so soft and mild, there was a black, hard, terrible expression, as she whispered hoarsely, “How came this in your possession?”
He told her how—thus exonerating Richard from blame, and the hard, angry look was drowned in tears as Edith wept aloud.
“Then he don’t know it,” she said at length, “Richard don’t. I should hate him if he did and still wished me to be his wife.”
“I can tell him,” was Victor’s dry response, and in an instant Edith was over where he sat.
“You cannot, you must not, you shall not. It will kill him if I desert him. He told me so, and I promised that I wouldn’t— promised solemnly. I would not harm a hair of Richard’s head, and he so noble, so good, so helpless, with so few sources of enjoyment; but oh, Victor, I did love Arthur best—did love him so much,” and in that wailing cry Edith’s true sentiments spoke out. “I did love him so much—I love him so much now,” and she kept whispering it to herself, while Victor sought in vain for some word of comfort, but could find none. Once he said to her, “Wait, and Nina may die,” but Edith recoiled from him in horror.