She ceased speaking and softened by memories of the past, when he loved Grace Elmendorf, Richard reached for her hand, and holding it between his own, said to her gently, “Grace, I forgave you years ago. I know you have suffered much, and I am sorry for it, but we will understand each other now. You are the widow of the man you chose, I am hopelessly blind—our possessions adjoin each other, our homes are in sight. I want you for a neighbor, a friend, a sister, if you like. I shall never marry. That time is past. It perished with the long ago, and it will, perhaps, relieve the monotony of my life if I have a female acquaintance to visit occasionally. I thank you much for your flowers, although for a time I did not know you sent them, for the little girl would place them in my hands without a word and dart away before I could stop her. Still I knew it was a child, and I preserved them carefully for her sake until she was last here, when I learned who was the real donor. I am fond of flowers and thank you for sending them. I appreciate your kindness. I like you much better than I did an hour since, for the sound of your voice and the touch of your hands seem to me like old familiar friends. I am glad you came to see me, Grace. I wish you to come often, for I am very lonely here. We will at least be friends, but nothing more. Do you consent to my terms?”
She had no alternative but to consent, and bowing her head, she answered back, “Yes, Richard; that is all I can expect, all I wish. I had no other intention in sending you bouquets.”
He knew that she did not tell him truly, but he pitied her mortification, and tried to divert her mind by talking upon indifferent subjects, but Grace was too much chagrined and disappointed to pay much heed to what he said, and after a time arose to go.
“Come again soon,” he said, accompanying her to the door, “and send up that novelty Edith, will you?”
“Edith,” muttered Grace, as she swept haughtily down the box-lined walk, and stepped into her carriage. “I’ll send her back to the Asylum, as I live. Why didn’t she tell me just how it was, and so prevent me from making myself ridiculous?”
Grace was far too much disturbed to go home at once. She should do or say something unlady-like if she did, and she bade Tom drive her round the village, thus unconsciously giving the offending Edith a longer time in which to entertain and amuse the guest at Brier Hill, for Arthur St. Claire had come.
Edith was the first to spy him sauntering slowly up the walk, and she watched him curiously as he came, mimicing his gait, and wondering if he didn’t feel big.