“Thank you,” was all Arthur could say, as with his accustomed politeness he arose to bid his guests good night; but his lip quivered as he said it, and his eye never for a moment rested upon Edith, who led Richard in silence to the carriage, feeling that all she loved in the wide world was left there in the little library where the light was shining, and where, although she did not know it, Grace was ministering to the half fainting Arthur.
The sight of Edith and Richard had effected him more than he supposed it would, but the worst was over now, and as he daily grew stronger in the bracing northern air he felt more and more competent to meet what lay before him.
After a week or two had passed, Arthur went occasionally to Collingwood, where Richard greeted him most cordially, urging him to come more frequently and wondering why he always seemed in so much haste to get away. On the occasion of these visits Edith usually kept out of the way, avoiding him so studiously that Richard began to fear she might perhaps dislike him, and he resolved to ask her the first good opportunity. But Edith avoided him, too, never coming now to sit with him alone; somebody must always be present when she was with him, else had her bursting heart betrayed the secret telling so fearfully upon her. Oh, how hateful to her were the preparations for her bridal, which had commenced on a most magnificent scale, for Richard, after waiting so long, would have a grand wedding, and that all who chose might witness the ceremony, it was to be performed in the church, from which the guests would accompany him back to Collingwood.
All Shannondale was interested, and the most extravagant stories were set afloat, not only concerning the trouseau of the bride, but the bride herself. What ailed her? What made her so cold, so white, so proudly reserved, so like a walking ghost? She, who had been so full of vigorous life, so merry, so light-hearted. Could it be the mourning for sweet little Nina, or was it—?
And here the knot of gossippers, at the corner of the streets, or in the stores, or in the parlors at home, would draw more closely together as they whispered,
“Does she love Richard Harrington as she ought? Is not her heart given rather to the younger, handsomer St. Claire?”
How they pitied her if it were so, and how curiously they watched her whenever she appeared in their midst, remarking every action, and construing it according to their convictions.
Victor, too, was on the alert, and fully aware of the public feeling. Day after day he watched his young mistress, following her when she left the house alone, and seeing her more than once when in the Deering woods she laid her face in the springing grass and prayed that she might die. But for her promise, sworn to Richard, she would have gone to him, and kneeling at his feet begged him to release her from her vow, and so spare her the dreadful trial from which she shrank more and more as she saw it fast approaching.