Five weeks went by—five weeks of busy talk among the villagers, some of whom approved of the engagement, while more disapproved. Where was that proud Southerner? they asked, referring to Arthur St. Claire. They thought him in love with Edith. Had he deserted her, and so in a fit of pique she had given herself to Richard? This was probably the fact, and the gossips, headed by Mrs. Eliakim Rogers, speculated upon it, while the days glided by, until the five weeks were gone, and Edith, sitting in Grace’s boudoir, read, with eyes which had not wept since the day following her betrothal, the following extract from Arthur’s letter to his cousin:
“Richard and Edith! Oh! Grace, Grace! I thought I had suffered all that mortal man could suffer, but when that fatal message came, I died a thousand deaths in one, enduring again the dreadful agony when in the Deering woods I gave my darling up. Oh, Edith, Edith, Edith, my soul goes after her even now with a quenchless, mighty love, and my poor, bruised, blistered heart throbs as if some great giant hand were pressing its festered wounds, until I faint with anguish and cry out, ’my punishment is greater than I can bear.’
“Still I would not have it otherwise, if I could. I deserve it all, aye, and more, too. Heaven bless them both, Richard and his beautiful singing bird. Tell her so, Grace. Tell her how I blessed her for cheering the blind man’s darkness, but do not tell her how much it costs me to bid her, as I now do, farewell forever and ever, farewell.”
It was strange that Grace should have shown this letter to Edith, but the latter coaxed so hard that she reluctantly consented, repenting of it however when she saw the effect it had on Edith. Gradually as she read, there crept over her a look which Grace had never seen before upon the face of any human being—a look as if the pent-up grief of years was concentrated in a single moment of anguish too acute to be described. There were livid spots upon her neck—livid spots upon her face, while the dry eyes seemed fading out, so dull, and dim, and colorless they looked, as Edith read the wailing cry with which Arthur St. Claire bade her his adieu.
For several minutes she sat perfectly motionless, save when the muscles of her mouth twitched convulsively, and when the hard, terrible look gave way—the spots began to fade—the color came back to her cheeks—the eyes resumed their wonted brilliancy—the fingers moved nervously, and Edith was herself. She had suffered all she could, and never again would her palsied heart know the same degree of pain which she experienced when reading Arthur’s letter. It was over now—the worst of it. Arthur knew of her engagement—blessing her for it, and pitying he would not have it otherwise. The bitterness of death was past, and henceforth none save Grace and Victor suspected the worm which fed on Edith’s very life, so light, so merry, so joyous she appeared; and Edith was happier than she