It was known to be so now. The secret was out—told by Victor, when closely questioned with regard to Edith’s relationship to Mr. Harrington. It created much surprise and a world of gossip, but shielded Edith from attentions which might otherwise have been annoying, for more than Richard thought her the one of all others whose presence could make the sunshine of their life. But Edith was betrothed. The dun leaves of October would crown her a wife, and so one pleasant morning some half a score young men, each as like to the other as young men at fashionable places of resort are apt to be, kicked their patent leather boots against the pillars of the rear piazza, broke a part of the tenth commandment shockingly, muttered to themselves speeches anything but complimentary to Richard, and then, at the appearance of a plaid silk travelling dress and brown straw flat, rushed forward en masse, each contending frantically for the honor of assisting Miss Hastings to enter the omnibus, where Richard was already seated, and which was to convey a party to the glens of the Kauterskill Falls.
Edith had been there often. The weird wildness of the deep gorge suited her, and many an hour had she whiled away upon the broken rocks, watching the flecks of sunlight as they came struggling down through the overhanging trees, listening to the plaintive murmur of the stream, or gazing with delight upon the fringed, feathery falls which hung from the heights above like some long, white, gauzy ribbon. Richard, on the contrary, had never visited them before, and he only consented to do so now from a desire to gratify Edith, who acted as his escort in place of Victor. Holding fast to her hand he slowly descended the winding steps and circuitous paths, and then, with a sad feeling of helpless dependence, sat down upon the bank where Edith bade him sit, herself going off in girlish ecstasies as a thin spray fell upon her face and she saw above her a bright-hued rainbow, spanning the abyss.
“They are letting the water on,” she cried, “Look, Richard! do look!” and she grasped his hand, while he said to her mournfully,
“Has Birdie forgotten that I am blind, and helpless, and old—that she must lead me as a child?”
There was a touching pathos in his voice which went straight to Edith’s heart, and forgetting the rainbow, she eat down beside him, still keeping his hand in hers, and asked what was the matter? She knew he was unusually disturbed, for seldom had she seen upon his face a look of so great disquiet. Suddenly as she remembered his unwillingness to come there alone, it flashed upon her that it might arise from an aversion to seem so dependent upon a weak girl in the presence of curious strangers. With Victor he did not mind it, but with her it might be different, and she asked if it were not so.
“Hardly that, darling; hardly that;” and the sightless eyes drooped as if heavy with unshed tears. “Edith,” and he pressed the warm hand he held, “ours will be an unnatural alliance. I needed only to mingle with the world to find it so. People wonder at your choice—wonder that one so young as you should choose a battered, blasted tree like me round which to twine the tendrils of your green, fresh life.”