It was Edith. He saw her where she stood, apart from all the rest, her long black hair unbound just as she sprang from her pillow, her arms outstretched toward him, and the sight nerved him to the trial. He looked at her once more, it might be for the last time, but he would carry the remembrance of that clear face even to eternity, and with a longing, wistful glance he closed his eyes and prepared to do her bidding. Then it seemed to him that another presence than Edith’s was around him, another voice than hers was whispering words of courage, Nina, who went before, guiding his footsteps, and lightening his load, screening him from the scorching heat and buoying him up, while he walked the blackened beam, which shook and bent at every tread, and at last fell with a crash, but not until the ladder was reached, and a dozen friendly arms were outstretched for Richard, and for him, too, for sight and strength had failed him when they were no longer needed. With countless blessings on the noble young man, they laid him on the grass at Edith’s side, wounded, burned, smoke-stained, and totally unconscious.
It was well for Richard that the entire household of Collingwood were there to care for him, for Edith’s thoughts were all bestowed on Arthur. She hardly looked at Richard, but kneeling down by Arthur, kissed, and pitied, and wept over his poor, raw, bleeding hands, wiped the blood from the wound on the forehead, thinking even then how it would be concealed by the brown hair—the hair all singed and matted, showing how fiercely he had battled for his life. Many gathered around her as she sat there with his head pillowed on her lap, and from the anguish written on her face learned what it was about which the curious villagers had so long been pondering.
“He must go home with me,” Grace Atherton said, “My carriage will soon be here.”
This reminded Edith that she too must act, and beckoning to Victor, she bade him hasten to Collingwood and see that his masters room was made comfortable.
This was the first token she had given that she knew of Richard’s presence near her. She had heard them say that he still lived; that not a hair of his head was singed or a thread of his night garments harmed, and for this she was glad, but nothing could have tempted her to leave Arthur, and she sat by him until the arrival of the carriages which were to convey the still unconscious men to their respective homes.
At Collingwood, however, her whole attention was given to Richard, who, as he began to realise what was passing around him, seemed so much disturbed at having her near him that Victor whispered to her, “Hadn’t you better go out? I think your presence excites him.”
Edith had fancied so too, and wondering much why it should, she left him and going to her own room, sat down by the window, gazing sadly across the fields, to where Grassy Spring lay in the morning sunshine a blackened, mouldering ruin.