It was indeed a beautiful place; and when the furnishing process began, crowds of eager people daily thronged the spacious rooms, commenting upon the carpets, the curtains, the chandeliers, the furniture of rosewood and marble, and marvelling much why Richard Harrington should care for surroundings so costly and elegant. Could it be that he intended surprising them with a bride? It was possible—nay, more, it was highly probable that weary of his foolish sire’s continual mutterings of “Lucy and the darkness,” he bad found some fair young girl to share the care with him, and this was her gilded cage.
Shannondale was like all country towns, and the idea once suggested, the story rapidly gained ground, until at last it reached the ear of Grace Atherton, the pretty young widow, whose windows looked directly across the stretches of meadow and woodland to where Collingwood lifted its single tower and its walls of dark grey stone. As became the owner of Brier Hill and the widow of a judge, Grace held herself somewhat above the rest of the villagers, associating with but few, and finding her society mostly in the city not many miles away,
When her cross, gouty, phthisicy, fidgety old husband lay sick for three whole months, she nursed him so patiently that people wondered if it could be she loved the surly dog, and one woman, bolder than the others, asked her if she did.
“Love him? No,” she answered, “but I shall do my duty.”
So when he died she made him a grand funeral, but did not pretend that she was sorry. She was not, and the night on which she crossed the threshold of Brier Hill a widow of twenty-one saw her a happier woman than when she first crossed it as a bride. Such was Grace Atherton, a proud, independent, but well principled woman, attending strictly to her own affairs, and expecting others to do the same. In the gossip concerning Collingwood, she had taken no verbal part, but there was no one more deeply interested than herself, spite of her studied indifference.
“You never knew the family,” a lady caller said to her one morning, when at a rather late hour she sat languidly sipping her rich chocolate, and daintily picking at the snowy rolls and nicely buttered toast, “you never knew them or you would cease to wonder why the village people take so much interest in their movements, and are so glad to have them back.”