Victor was reading now about these woods and the scene enacted there, and Richard understood it all, even to the reason why Edith had persisted in being his wife. The deepest waters run silently, it is said, and so, perhaps, the strongest heart when crushed to atoms lies still as death, and gives outwardly no token of its anguish. True it is that Richard neither moaned, nor moved, nor spoke; only the head drooped lower, while the arms clung tightly to the fancied form he held, as if between himself and Nina, wherever she was that dreary day, there was a connecting link of sympathy which pervaded his whole being, and so prevented him from dying outright as he wished he could.
It was finished at last, Nina’s letter—and it seemed to Richard as if the three kinds of darkness, of which she told him, had indeed settled down upon him, so confused was his brain, so crushed his heart, and so doubly black his blindness. He looked to Victor like some great oak, scathed and blasted with one fell blow, and he was trembling for the result, when the lips moved and he caught the words, “Leave me little Snow Drop. Go back to Heaven, whence you came. The blind man will do right.”
Slowly then the arms unclosed, and as if imbued with sight, the red eyes followed something to the open window and out into the bright sunshine beyond; then they turned to Victor, and a smile broke over the stormy features as Richard whispered:
“Nina’s gone! Now take me to my room.”
Across the threshold Victor led the half-fainting man, meeting with no one until his master’s chamber was reached, when Edith came through the hall, and, glancing in, saw the white face on the pillow, where Victor had laid his master down, Richard heard her step, and said, faintly, “Keep her off; I cannot bear it yet!” But even while he spoke Edith was there beside him, asking, in much alarm, what was the matter. She did not observe how Richard shuddered at the sound of her voice; she only thought that he was very ill, and, with every womanly, tender feeling aroused, she bent over him and pressed upon his lips a kiss which burned him like a coal of fire. She must not kiss him now, and, putting up his hands with the feebleness of a little child, he cried piteously,
“Don’t Edith, don’t! Please leave me for a time. I’d rather be alone!”
She obeyed him then, and went slowly out, wondering what it was which had so affected him as to make even her presence undesirable.
Meantime, with hand pressed over his aching eyes, to shut out, if possible, the rings of fire still dancing before them, Richard Harrington thought of all that was past and of what was yet to come.
“How can I lose her now,” he moaned, “Why didn’t she tell me at the first? It would not then have been half so bad. Oh, Edith, my lost Edith. You have not been all guiltless in this matter. The bird I took to my bosom has struck me at last with its talons, and struck so deep. Oh, how it aches, how it aches, and still I love her just the same; aye, love her more, now that I know she must not be mine. Edith, oh, my Edith!”