“He has his reasons, I dare say, for preferring you,” returned Richard, adding that he himself would go with her some day to Grassy Spring, and assist her in airing the house.
Toward the middle of the afternoon, the keys of Collingwood were delivered to Edith, together with a sealed note, containing a single line,
“The iron broken key unlocks the den.”
Had Arthur wished to puzzle Edith he could not have done so more effectually than he did by these few words.
“What do I care,” she said, “which unlocks the Den. I certainly should not cross its threshold were the door left wide open. What does he mean?” and she was still wondering over the message when Grace Atherton was announced.
As she grew older Grace assumed a more familiar, youthful manner than had characterized her early womanhood, and now, tossing her riding hat and whip upon the bed, she sank into Edith’s easy chair and began: “The funniest thing imaginable has happened at Grassy Spring. His Royal Highness, Lord St. Claire, has flown into a violent passion with Mrs. Johnson for having shown us into that room.”
“Shown you, you mean. I didn’t go in,” interrupted Richard, and Grace continued, “Well, shown me, then, though I think you might at least share in the disgrace. I never saw Arthur as indignant as he was last night when he called on me. ’Women were curious, prying creatures, anyway,’ he said, ’and he had no faith in any of them.’”
“Did he say so?” asked Edith, and Grace replied, “Well, not exactly that. He did make a few exceptions, of which you are one. Mrs. Johnson must have told him that you refused to enter. What harm was there, any way, and what’s the room for? I’m beginning to grow curious. Here, he’s dismissed Mrs. Johnson and her daughter, telling her if he could not trust her in small matters he could not in those of greater importance, and the good soul has taken the afternoon express for Boston, where she formerly lived. She says he paid her three months’ extra wages, so he was liberal in that respect; but the strangest part of all is that he is going to Florida, where he has some claim to or owns a plantation of negroes, and he intends to bring a whole cargo of them to Grassy Spring—housekeeper, cook, chambermaid, coachman, gardener, and all. Don’t you think he’s crazy?”
Edith thought the facts would warrant such a conclusion, and Grace went on. “I offered to take charge of his house, telling him it ought not to be shut up for several weeks, but he declined so haughtily, saying he should leave the keys with someone less curious than myself, and asked if I supposed you would be offended if he offered them to you. I told him no, and I dare say he will send them here, if indeed, he has not already done so. Has he?” she asked, quickly, as she saw a peculiar smile on Edith’s lip.
“Yes,” Edith answered, feeling the while so glad that Richard had prevented her from sending that insulting note.