Edith sat like one stunned by a heavy blow. She had not really believed that a calamity she so much dreaded, would overtake her, and the fact that it had, paralyzed her faculties. Thinking her in a fit of stubbornness Mrs. Atherton said no more, but busied herself in packing her scanty wardrobe, feeling occasionally a twinge of remorse as she bent over the little red, foreign-looking chest, or glanced at the slight figure sitting so motionless by the window.
“Whose is this?” she asked, holding up a box containing a long, thick braid of hair.
“Mother’s hair! mothers hair! for Marie told me so. You shan’t touch that!” and like a tigress Edith sprang upon her, and catching the blue-black tress, kissed it passionately, exclaiming, “’Tis mother’s—’tis. I remember now, and I could not think before, but Marie told me so the last time I saw her, years and years ago. Oh, mother, if I ever had a mother, where are you to-night, when I want you so much?”
She threw herself upon her humble bed, not thinking of Grace, nor yet of the Asylum, but revelling in her newborn joy. Suddenly, like a flash of lightning, an incident of the past had come back to her bewildered mind, and she knew now whose was the beautiful braid she had treasured so carefully. Long ago—oh, how long it seemed to her—there had come to the Asylum a short, dumpy woman, with a merry face, who brought her this hair in a box, telling her it was her mother’s, and also that she was going to a far country, but should return again sometime—and this woman was Marie, who haunted her dreams so often, whispering to her of magnolias and cape-jessamines. All this Edith remembered distinctly, and while thinking of it she fell asleep, nor woke to consciousness even when Rachel’s kind old hands undressed her carefully and tucked her up in bed, saying over her a prayer, and asking that Miss Grace’s heart might relent and keep the little girl. It had not relented when morning came, and still, when at breakfast, Arthur received a letter, which made it necessary for him to go to New York by way of Albany, she did suggest that it might be too much trouble to have the care of Edith.
“Not at all,” he said; and half an hour later Edith was called into the parlor, and told to get herself in readiness for the journey.
“Oh, I can’t, I can’t,” cried Edith, clinging to Mrs. Atherton’s skirt, and begging of her not to send her back.
“Where will you go?” asked Grace. “I don’t want you here.”
“I don’t know,” sobbed Edith, uttering the next instant a scream of joy, as she saw, in the distance, the carriage from Collingwood, and knew that Richard was in it. “To him! to him!” she exclaimed, throwing up her arms. “Let me go to Mr. Harrington! He wants me, I know.”
“Are you faint?” asked Grace, as she saw the sudden paling of Arthur’s lips.
“Slightly,” he answered, taking her offered salts, and keeping his eyes fixed upon the carriage until it passed slowly by, “I’m better now,” he said, returning the salts, and asking why Edith could not go to Collingwood.