Edith could not move, but Arthur lifted her up, and placing her in Richard’s lap, laid one of his own hands pityingly on the head of the blind man, whose tears dropped on Edith’s neck, as he breathed over her his farewell.
“Light of my eyes, joy of my heart, you know not what it costs me to give you up, but God in Heaven knows. He will remember all my pain, removing it in His own good time, and I shall yet be happy. It is true, a black, dreary waste stretches on into the future, but beyond it, even in this world, the bright daylight is shining, and Richard will reach it at last,—will learn to think of you without a pang, to love you as his sister. Arthur, I give to you my darling. I release her from her vow, and may the kind Father bless you both, giving you every possible good. Let no sorrow for me mingle with your joy. I shall have grief and heaviness for a time, but I am strong to bear it. Morning will break at last. Let the wedding night be kept the same as is appointed, there need be no change, save in the bridegroom, and of that the world will all approve. And, Edith, if during the coming week I am not much with you, if I stay altogether in my room, do not try to see me. I once thought you would be my wife. I know you cannot now, and you must not come to me at present. But on your bridal night, I shall go with you to the church. It would look strangely if I did not. I shall return with you to the house, shall force myself to hear them call you by another name than mine, and then, the next morning Arthur must take you away—for a time, I mean. I know you will wish to thank me, but I’d rather you would not. God will reward me in some way for the sacrifice I make this day. Now, Edith, kiss me once, kiss me twice, with your arms around my neck. Lay your soft cheek against mine. Yes—so—so—” and over the dark face there broke a shadowy smile, as Edith did his bidding, kissing him many, many times, and blessing him for the great happiness bestowed upon her.
“There, that will do. Now, Arthur, lead me to my room, and sit with me until this horrid giddiness is gone, and my heart beats more naturally.”
He put Edith from his lap—passed his hand slowly over her face as if thus he would remember it, and then, leaning heavily on Arthur’s arm, tottered from the room—the noble Richard who had made this mighty sacrifice.
The week went by as all weeks will, whether laden with happiness or pain, and the rosy light of the 15th morning broke over the New England hills and over Collingwood, where the servants, headed by Grace Atherton, were all astir, and busy with their preparations for the festive scene of the coming night. Edith had made strenuous efforts to have the party given up, sending message after message to Richard, who, without any good reason for it, was determined upon this one point, and always answered “No.”