He had adhered to his resolution of staying in his room, and Edith had not seen him since the eventful day when he had made the great sacrifice. Arthur, however, was admitted daily to his presence, always coming from those interviews with a sad look upon his face, as if his happiness were not unmixed with pain. And still Richard tried to be cheerful, talking but little of Edith, and appearing so calm when he did mention her, that a casual observer would have said he did not care.
In the village nothing was talked about save the change of bridegrooms and the approaching wedding, and when the morning came, others than the inmates of Collingwood were busy and excited.
It was a glorious day, for leafy June had donned her gala robes for the occasion, and every heart, save one, beat with joy, as the sun rose higher and higher in the heavens, nearer and nearer the appointed hour. Richard could not be glad, and that bridal day was the saddest he had ever known. Not even Arthur was permitted to be with him, and none save Victor saw the white, still anguish creeping over his face as hour after hour went by, and from the sounds without he knew that they had come whose business it was to array his Edith in her bridal robes of costly satin and fleecy lace. Then two more hours dragged heavily on, and going to his window he felt that the sun was setting. It was time his own toilet was commenced, and like a little child he submitted himself to Victor, groaning occasionally as he heard the merry laugh of the bridesmaids on the stairs, and remembered a time when he, too, felt as light, as joyous as they, aye, and almost as young. He was strangely altered now, and looked far older than his years, when, with his wedding garments on, he sat in his arm-chair waiting for the bride. He had sent Victor for her, knowing it would be better to meet her once before the trying moment at the altar. Edith obeyed the summons, and in all her wondrous beauty, which this night shone forth resplendently, she came and stood before him, saying softly,
“Richard, I am here.”
There was no need to tell him that. He knew she was there, and drawing her to his side, he said,
“I am glad that I am blind for once, for should I behold you as you are, I could not give you up. Kneel down here, darling, and let me feel how beautiful you are.”
She knelt before him, and her tears fell fast as she felt his hand moving slowly over her dress, pressing her round arms, pausing for a moment upon her white neck, tarrying still longer upon her glowing cheeks, and finally resting in mute blessing upon her braids of hair, where the orange blossoms were.
“I must have a lock of my Birdie’s hair, he said. “Let Arthur cut it off to-night. It will be dearer to me than if ’tis later severed, Leave it on the table, where Victor can find it, for, Edith, when you return from your bridal tour, I shall be gone, and I have sent for you because I would talk with you again ere we part—it may be for years, and it may be forever.”