For a few days Edith hoped that the fire might defer her marriage a little longer but almost the first thing which Richard addressed directly to her was, “Let the preparations go on as usual; there need be no delay.”
So the dressmakers were recalled and bridal finery tossed about until the whole was finished and the last sewing woman departed, taking with her, as her predecessors had done, a large budget of items touching the cool indifference of the bride elect and the icy reserve of the bridegroom, who was greatly changed, they said. It is true he was kind and considerate, as of old, and his voice, whenever he spoke to Edith, was plaintively sad and touching, but he preferred to be much alone, spending his time in his chamber, into which few save his valet was admitted. And thus no one suspected the mighty conflict he was waging with himself, one moment crying out, “I cannot give her up,” and again moaning piteously, “I must, I must.”
The first meeting between himself and Arthur after the fire had been a most affecting one, Richard sobbing like a child, kissing the hands wounded so cruelly for him, and whispering amid his sobs, “You saved my life at the peril of your own, and I shall never forget it. God help me to do right.”
Many times after this he rode down to Brier Hill whither Edith had frequently preceded him; but Richard never uttered a word of reproach when near the window he heard a rustling sound and knew who was sitting there. Neither would he ask a single question when soft footsteps glided past him and out into the hall, but he always heard them until they died away, and he knew those little feet were treading the verge of the grave he had dug within his heart. It was not yet filled up—that grave—but his mighty love for Edith may coffined there, and he only waited for the needful strength to bury it forever by verbally giving her up.
And while he waited the May-days glided by, and where the apple blossoms once had been, the green hard fruit was swelling now, the lilacs, purple and limp, had dropped from the tree, the hyacinths and daffodils were gone, and June with her sunny skies and wealth of roses, queened it over Collingwood. It lacked but a week now of the day appointed for the wedding, and Edith wished the time would hasten, for anything was preferable to the numb, apathetic feeling which lay around her heart. She had no hope that she should not be Richard’s wife, and she wondered much at his manner, trying more than once to coax him from his strange mood by playful words, and even by caresses, which won from him no response—only once, when, he hugged her tightly to him, kissing her lips and hair, and saying to her, “God forgive me, Birdie, I never meant to wrong you and I am going to make amends.” The next day when Victor went up to his room he was struck with the peculiar